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ICBS, Inc.

Techniques to Improve Your Web Site
By  Dr. Jacob Mathew, President, ICBS, Inc.

For many small and big businesses, developing and hosting a web site is very expensive. Not only that you have spent time and money developing it, it is also the face of your business to the outside world. So, it is important that you keep your website sharp.

Here are some ideas on how to make your Web site work harder for you according to Deborah Whitman.

1. Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Your website should have a clean image. Avoid speckled backgrounds, unreadable type fonts and a bewildering gaggle of buttons and animated gewgaws running across your Web site. Go for a simple, clean design. To get some ideas of which designs work, take a look at successful websites such as that of Yahoo, Amazon.com etc. You don't see them using pink marble or shadowy logos for their site backdrop. There is a reason for that. The background can quickly get in the way of the site itself. If your visitors cannot read your site it does not do any good for you. So keep it simple.

2. Catch Them In The First 10 Seconds

Initial impressions are very important in face to face meetings as well as in website exposure. Many experts suggest that you have less tan 10 seconds to make a favorable impression on your visitor. Otherwise they may just click off. Your front page needs to be both a stop sign and a fast, effective messenger.

In two to three seconds your visitor should know exactly what your site is all about or what your business does. Determine what image and message you want the customer to "get" in those first few seconds, and design your front page toward that objective. A short mission statement, or a summary of what your business does can be very helpful.

There are exceptions to the rule of course. If your site is information rich and the visitor came specifically in search of the information, thy will already know why they are there and will have a less chance of clicking away. For example, in our holisticonline.com website, 95% of visitors come through an inside page specifically directed by a search engine. Of course, they are looking for specific information and if they don't find it they will search somewhere else. However, most of our visitors end up in staying and visiting other parts of the web site. This shows that your navigation structure has to be carefully designed such that the visitor can go from one part of your website to other part relatively easily.

3. The First Page Should Load Fast

It is only logical that if you only have less than 10 seconds to capture the attention of your visitor, your front page cannot take 60 seconds to load! Avoid unnecessary graphics and other items that delays loading your front page. If you have graphics, try to make them as small as possible by means of clever graphic designs. Also provide alternative tags for graphics so that the visitor will know what they are all about before they load.

Photographs are usually the culprits when pages load too slowly. Many small business websites contain scanned photos. Just scanning a photo and throwing it up on your site is one of the main reasons for a slow website. You should process your pictures before putting it on the website. You can reduce the resolution of the photographs, compress it as well as reduce the quality slightly by reducing number of color information. A good graphic designed using professional software can make a photo take up much smaller size without compromising too much on the quality. In some cases, the quality of the photograph is important. In such case, use a smaller picture (called thumb nail) on your main web page with a link to your larger photo. This way, only those who are really interested in seeing the photo will go there and they won't mind the wait. This again shows the importance of having a competent web designer work with you in developing your website. A good designer often gets better results than a novice.

4. An Easy Navigation System

Make it extremely easy for people to find their way around your site. On the Web, the system that helps you find your way around a site is known as its navigational elements. Navigation is easiest to find if it's on the left side of the screen. If you are using graphical elements such as buttons for navigation, make sure that you provide alternative text links for those who prefer to navigate with their graphics turned off.

In holisticonline.com, for example, we provide a main navigation menu on the left. This does not change so that visitors can know where to go always. Then there are context sensitive text links on the bottom that takes people to the home page of the section or to the next page in a series of pages etc. We were highly praised for the easy navigation scheme employed in a complex site as holisticonline.com that has more than 2500 pages. Careful attention has to be paid in designing your site so that you will keep your visitor to your site.

5. Update Your Site Regularly With Fresh Information

We cannot stress the importance of this often enough. People use Internet to locate information. Provide it in your website and provide the latest information. This means that you have to update your web site often.
Bring people back to your site by providing important or difficult-to-find information. You can sometimes get news by subscribing to a number of sources. You can also use your website to give information about your latest sales. Connectingtouch.com, a web site ICBS developed and maintains, provides their latest specials for Valentines Day, Mothers Day, Christmas, etc. There is one caveat though. If you decide to give time sensitive information on your website, make sure that you update it often. There is nothing more irritating than to find details of New Years Party - 2002 in December, 2002. If you don't have time to keep your website current, avoid time-sensitive information altogether. Make sure that your web designer/hosting firm will update your site.

6. Hire Professionals To Design Your Site

We recommend that you use a professional web designer to develop your site. It is not worth your time and effort to design your site. You are better off using your time to work on the aspects of your business you are good at. A competent firm will have access to the latest software tools and information about internet that they can use in making your site. Invariably you will save time and money and you will have a professional product.

When you work with a designer, provide them with a project brief outlining:

bulletGoals for your Web site (e.g. sell goods online, provide information to convince people to choose your company, communicate to existing customers)
bulletThe type of image you want the site to create for your business.
bulletThe reactions or emotions you want the site to evoke in potential customers (e.g. to project you as an expert (this guy seems like he really knows about management consulting or investing, law etc. eg., Kollath Consulting Group Website), a great place to relax (eg., holisticonline.com Living section) - I'd like to visit this place it seems so restful, or encourages the visitor to buy a product (eg., holistic-online.com select), information about a business, institution, etc. (eg., Mar Thoma College Website) etc.)?
bulletWho your current customers are and what they really like about your business.
bulletThe size of your budget for this project.
bulletExamples of your current marketing materials (business cards, stationery, brochures).
bulletA history of your business and why you have a passion and energy about this business.

You have to do your homework before assigning the job to someone else. Have a clear idea what you want your web site to do and convey it to your web designer. Be involved in the process. Pick a designer that will work with you in coming up with a product that you will be proud to show to your customers.

(Source: Deborah Whitman.)

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