10 rules for your small business website

1. WHO ARE YOU?

Does your homepage have your logo prominently displayed in the top left area? Can I go to your home page and click a link for email or find your telephone number? If not, smack your Web developer and tell them that contact information is critical to your site visitors and it shouldn’t be hidden on the “contact us” page.

2. WHAT DO YOU DO?

Your mission and vision are lovely sentiments, but I want to know what you do. Can I use your services? Do you sell to my business or are you wholesale only? How do I find out what products you sell and what they cost? If your site says, “Call for pricing,” I’m not calling because someone else displays the price online. Is there a single statement that says what you do or sell smack in the middle of your homepage?

3. WHERE IS IT?

Does your site have a homepage search field? If your links aren’t complete or itemized, I’m not clicking all over to find what I want because I’m a firm believer in single-clicking to get where I want to be. Give me a search box, please.

4. OUCH! MY EYES!

Did you go through your font list for the weirdest fonts that exist, add neon color and then enlargify them? Don’t think I’m going to use my credit card on a site that drips bright colors in a mishmash of fonts (or for that matter, on a site whose home page is titled, “Home Page”).

5. BIGGER ISN’T BETTER

Did you take the photo on your homepage with your new digital camera and then slap it up on the Web site, maybe dragging the corners to make it smaller? That giant photo (which only looks smaller) takes at least 20 seconds to load in my browser and I’ve already clicked the next link in my Google search results. If you don’t know how to work with photos on the Web, hire someone who does.

6. LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION!

Whileit’s true that Flash-driven sites are very cool and some spectacular, when I hit a Flash-only site, I rarely hang around for the file to play. When I see one that’s fresh, I might watch it but soon I’m off to another site where I can buy something. Generally, if you’re selling anything online, lose the total-page Flash and make the site look sleek, professional and trustworthy.

7. TOO BIG, TOO SMALL, JUST RIGHT

It’s difficult to know what size monitors your visitors have, so why is your home page so wide that it doesn’t fit in my browser window? Scrolling left-to-right is a big no-no on a homepage (or any other page). If you’re not sure how to make the page flexible, then make it wide enough for an average monitor (750 pixels, and if you don’t know what pixels are, please hire a Web person).

8. NEWS FROM 2004!

If your homepage has news or upcoming events and the latest one happened in 2004, get it off your homepage. In fact, get “news” off your homepage because no one updates their site often enough. Is your photo album so hopelessly out of date that you can’t identify the pictures? (Hint: lose the calendar. No one uses it. If you’re event-driven, get one from Google.)

9. HELP! I’M LOST!

Navigation (links) should be clear, logical and intuitive. If I can’t find what I want from your homepage, I’m leaving. Write a simple outline of what pages you want on your site. (Remember the Roman numerals and capital/small letters from seventh grade? That’s an outline.) Give that to your Web developer and wait for the kiss that is sure to follow.

10. NOTHING TO SAY?

If you have nothing to say, delete that page from your site. Bigger isn’t better and there are no prizes for number of links on your homepage. You need concrete information that visitors and buyers want to read and not a lot of fluff, but we expect at least one fluffy page (usually “About Us”).

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