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Fatal Attraction

Could your Web site be harming your business?

By Andreas Thomson

(SOHO Business Magazine, Spring 2007)

Customers worldwide are looking for products and services online, and there is no shortage of Web sites from which to choose. Broken links, spelling and grammatical errors, technical errors, annoying flashing graphics or pop-ups can actually drive visitors away as quickly as they came.

Does your Web content, layout and page links come across as professional and say the things you want to say about your business? Do too many bells and whistles essentially dilute your main message?

Business owners and entrepreneurs should perform periodic Web site maintenance to their sites to ensure that they continue to look professional and that the sites work hand-in-hand with their business.

Quality Design:
Design quality is subjective buy a good recommendation is to cater your site design to your industry and customer tastes. For example, if you are a dentist, a design with a light, clean, simple layout will better instill confidence for inquiring patients.

Maintain your branding by using your logo, picking colours that match your other materials and including pictures that support the imagery you want associated with your business. Regardless of the style of your site, the best indicator of quality design is page consistency.

Page Consistency:
When you click on a link in a Web page, it can take you almost anywhere. When your customers click on links within your site, add to their comfort level by making it clear that they are still in your site. The number one way to do this is to have a consistent page template by using the same colours, style and placement of page elements on each page.

Colour is important. People make associations based upon colour all the time. Keep it consistent or have a good reason why you are changing them from page to page. A rainbow of colour can be overwhelming.

Stick to one style, either organic or linear. Organic elements use soft curves that flow together. Linear elements are straight with sharp angles. Either might be appropriate for your business, but pick one and stick to it.

Keep one page template. Site visitors expect the structural elements to stay in place. When someone visits your site, they become oriented to the site structure and expect the elements (navigation, logo, page headers) in the same place on every page.

Site Navigation:
Site navigation is the primary element in a professional Web site. If your customers cannot easily find what they are looking for, they will look elsewhere and that usually means your competition.

Ensure you have a distinct navigation bar positioned either along the left hand side of the page, along the top or a combination of both. Try to organize your content in as few categories as possible and use a table of contents page when the visitor clicks each category with a brief description of the category and links to subcategories with more information. To make it easier to maintain your site, it’s best to be able to add new subcategories as page content in the page without having to rework your site navigation bar each time.

Site Activity:
A stale Web site makes the rest of your business look stale. This does not mean you have to change the design of your Web site every month or even every year, but it does mean that you should keep an eye on the content. Does your Web site list an “upcoming event” from 2004? Is an old promotion still on the site?

If you can change the sign on your store or the message on your voice mail, you should also have an easy way to change the content of your Web site. Do some research and find the best Web site editing software or service for you. You should also have a professional developer resource available for questions and more complicated changes that you cannot do yourself. Some editing services include both do-it-yourself editing and expert developers when you need them.

There are many factors that can contribute to or take away from your trustworthiness online. Displaying outdated information is one thing, but others are just as glaring, if not more so. Broken images, bad links, misleading site navigation are all examples of things that lower credibility. Visit your site frequently to ensure your pages are displaying properly, links are updated as things change and content is current.

Make it clear that you are a real business and people can trust and contact you. Show that on each and every page. Place some testimonials and prominently display your contact information. List your e-mail address and always include a phone number.

Take a Look at Your Site Again: Chances are you are already doing some of the above correctly. If not, take notes about what you would like to do better and consult a professional Web site company about implementing these principles.

Andreas Thomson is a Web site maintenance expert at Edit.com, a Web maintenance service provider for small businesses. Visit www.edit.com
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