There are a lot of web pages out there that are like wet toilet paper thrown at a board. They just see what sticks.
Your website is an extension of you and your thinking in creating it. If you are clear in your purpose and goals then the project will follow suit.
This is my impressions on what makes for an effective website.
1. Be clear what your site is about
Make sure it has a clear purpose and that you have explored your own reasons for making the site. If it’s a music website for example, make it easy to listen to the music and invite people into your world. If it’s a news website, let the blog be out front and try to update it often with clear informative content.
A website that has a clear sense of what it is about will flag down your audience and make it easy for people to decide if what you have to offer is for them. If you fail to do that you have alienated both parties!
2. Give your visitor’s eyes (and ears) room to breath
Resist the urge to fill up all the space with links and images and new gadgets. It will start looking like MySpace if you’re not careful.
It’s a lot easier to process information when there is simply not too much of it. This is especially true if you’re trying to sell something. People do nothing when they are confronted with too much data.
3. Have a simple color scheme
Unless it is done very skilfully, having too many colors makes for an overload of information for the eyeballs and again people can get confused. Ideal is to use colors that reinforce your brand or focus i.e. orange for warm etc.
With color there are user expectations and useability to consider. For example people generally consider blue text to be a link so if you go making words blue that are not links it creates confusion.
4. Cross your Ts and dot your I’s
Details are important. Check your spelling and make sure that your wording feels natural and smooth. Start a new sentence if you have to make a lot of points. Take your time and come back to it if you have to.
Many times I find myself coming back to articles and changing small things. It’s a good thing to take pride in your work even if only a few people read it. Which comes first?
5. Clean simple navigation
There are 2 basic areas for navigation. The top bar, then the sidebar or table of contents. The top bar should be simple and move your visitor through a sequence of action.
The sidebar is for bolstering your credibility and for extra links and information. For example on a music site you might have Home (about your music) – Sound Samples – Order CD – Contact on the top bar and FAQ – Gigs Schedule – Press Downloads - Photos on the sidebar or secondary navigation.
6. Make every element count
Don’t add a page or a feature or an image just because you can. Only add something that adds credibility or contributes to your story.
Press clippings of a major exhibition and some photos (if you’re an artist) will show people you are active and successful. Adding a guest book or ANY glitzy flashing stuff will only distract your visitors.
7. Place ads skillfully if at all
Ads generally get in the way. Sure, for most really popular sites it’s how they add to their income, but for anyone else it only distracts the user and comes across as cheap. If you must have them, make sure they are contextual (i.e specific to the content on the page) or make sure they truly are a great product or service.
8. Have a professional developer make your site
Sometimes doing it yourself is a great way to signal, “I’m an amateur”. Unless you know how to use tools like Dreamweaver or WordPress, have a sense of design and/or have the time to learn, you may be creating more trouble for yourself than it is worth.
9. Use WordPress
One of the things that really attracted me to WordPress initially was the themes and the fact that you couldn’t change the layout too much! This was a relief because I had been endlessly messing around with all the previously mentioned elements. In horrible style I might add.
The structured nature of the layout gets you focused on the content, and keeps your visitor at ease. This is key to conversion.
Of course there are other systems like iWeb for mac that provide many beautiful clean layouts and themes to help you start making sites with, but, if you combine the dynamic nature of WordPress, its plugins, and all the excellent free and premium themes, there really is no competition.
10. Focus on Content
Ask the most important questions:
- What value can I provide for others?
- How best can I present this so that it is accessible?
- What is this page or article about?
- Who are my target audience and what are their fears and concerns?
- Where do they go for solutions both off and online?
- How can I best communicate my story/art/information?
People are only interested in you to the degree that you can solve a problem or provide a service.
Here’s a bonus step and it’s something bloggers to do naturally but small businesses tend to have a problem with. It’s vital that your organization have a people oriented marketing strategy and your web presence, especially your blog, is the most important of those. You can find an awesome guide to blogging here.
11. Make it Personal
On the internet personal is professional.
I can’t believe the number of people who resist putting their photo or some kind of personal touch on their websites. People connect with people, not to computers!
Which one of these steps do you most need to start using now?