What annoys an Internet user the most? A quick unscientific
survey of a local Internet café suggests the top three turn-offs
- Sites that are very slow to download; - Ones that are
confusing to use; - Sites that do not contain the promised
The single most common reaction to sites like these is that the
visitor very quickly moves on to another web site. Clearly, if
you get things wrong there is usually no second chance.
How can you avoid this happening to your business? Well, here
are twenty tips to help you when designing or redesigning your
company’s web site.
Start with a clear understanding of the purpose of your site.
Is the aim of your site to sell, entertain, or inform? The
design of your site should be consistent with its purpose. The
requirements for a site selling software online will be very
different from say the web site of a local community newspaper.
Plan the site with the customer in mind.
Imagine how your customers (existing and prospects) will use
your site. Consider their reasons for visiting and their needs.
Something that looks logical to you may not appear so to a
Design for cross-browser compatibility.
Although Internet Explorer dominates, do not overlook those
people who use alternatives such as Mozilla, Opera and Netscape.
Make sure your site can be viewed in other browsers; that way
you will not unintentionally reduce the number of visitors to
Choose simplicity over complexity.
Unless you are a design company showcasing its skills, keep
things simple. Visitors (especially frequent ones) may not be
impressed by your complex animated graphics especially if they
serve no apparent useful purpose. Make it simple for visitors to
get to the content – that is what most of them are coming to
your site for anyway.
Make the navigation intuitive and easy to use.
This is probably one of the two most important aspects of
designing a web site, the other being content. Make your site’s
navigation logical and clear. Ensure the most important and most
often-accessed information is easy to find. Link names should be
concise and self-explanatory. Test navigational links to make
sure they work and keep them up-to-date.
Your site should be as visually appealing as possible.
Visual appeal is subjective but the design of your site will
undoubtedly influence customers’ perceptions of your business as
a whole. An uncluttered layout, careful choice of font size and
colors and appropriate use of graphics and images should go a
long way to ensuring your site creates a good impression of your
Apply a consistent design or ’look and feel’ to your site.
Keep design consistent across your site unless you want your
visitors to ask themselves whether they have wandered into
another company’s site by accident.
Integrate your web site design with your offline branding.
For many, the Internet is still an alien environment so reassure
your customers by applying the same branding online as you do
offline. After all, if you have spent a lot of money building
your brand why spend more appearing to build an entirely
different online brand (unless, of course, this is your
Keep page size manageable to ensure speedy downloads.
Online visitors’ patience is measured in milliseconds and not
everyone has hi-speed or broadband Internet connections. So,
keep page sizes within reasonable limits to ensure that they
download quickly. Optimize graphic size and avoid putting an
image on a page unless it adds something for the visitor.
Ensure your site’s content reflects its purpose.
If yours is a sales site for example, ensure that your content
concentrates on selling. Stay focused and avoid the temptation
to upload content that is not relevant to your web site’s
Enable quick and easy location of information.
Quite simply, most customers will quickly leave your site if
they cannot locate the information they are seeking. Internet
users increasingly require information to be instantly available
and there is no shortage of other sites eager to take business
from you. Think what information customers are likely to want
and do not hide it away.
Make sure content is relevant, accurate and up-to-date.
Provide accurate and relevant content and keep it up-to-date.
Failure to do this will make your company look inefficient and
reflects badly on your customer service levels. Search engines
also appreciate content that is updated regularly.
Get visitors to interact with your site and spend more time on
it. Make a visit an interesting experience for them by including
useful online tools, etc. Just make sure they are relevant to
Personalize your site.
Depending on the technology you have available to you, it may be
possible to greet visitors to your site by name and serve up
content tailored specifically to their needs. If you can do it
then do so.
Give your customers the opportunity to contact you via email,
online forms, a call-back/call-me facility, web chat, etc. Ask
for their feedback via online surveys and feedback forms. Invite
them to subscribe to a customer newsletter.
Acknowledge customer contact.
It is common courtesy to say ‘thank you’. Very little effort is
required to set up an email auto-responder. When requiring
customers to complete and submit a form, make sure there is a
‘thank you’ page or pop-up. It reassures the customer that you
have received their communication and does not leave them
wondering whether or not your site is working properly.
Make it a ‘seamless’ experience.
Aim to give customers the same level of service online as you
give them offline. Your goal should be to facilitate the
customer’s interaction with your company and allow them to
choose how to do business with you. You know that customers are
your most valuable asset and that retaining them is vitally
Give your customers support.
Reassure visitors to your site by providing elements such as
policy. They will appreciate it.
Ensure that your site works properly and its content is
up-to-date. Check error messages make sense and forms and data
entry fields are logical. Get someone to proofread your site and
spot any grammatical and spelling mistakes. The quality of your
site tells customers a lot about the quality of service they can
expect from you.
Get to know your customers.
Learn as much as you can about your customers and the way they
use your site (and, if you can, find out how they use your
competitors’ sites). Then use this learning to improve your site
and increase your return on investment.
The number of web sites is growing every day and now just about
anyone can create one. If you want your site to stand out from
the rest, plan it carefully and design it with your customers in
mind. Far too many web site owners just do not bother.
About the author:
Christopher Smith is owner of YourSiteAssessed.com
(http://www.yoursiteassessed.com) and President of eNewsWriters,
Inc. – a company which writes customer newsletters for