Keep Your Website Focused

Staying focused on your purpose is important. Your website has a purpose, too, and it’s just as important to keep your website focused. Different websites can have drastically different purposes. Individual websites can even have multiple purposes, provided that they do not conflict with one another.

Website fluff comes in all shapes and sizes, and what’s fluff on one website could belong on another. Before you have anything put on your website, first define your website’s purpose. Then ask yourself if what you want to put on you website helps carry out that purpose. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, either change the purpose of your website, or leave the content off.

Look, I know that cat picture you have is cute and all, but does it serve your website’s purpose? If you run a veterinary clinic, that cat might just be the thing missing from your website. If you run an electronics store, you probably should leave the cute little kitty on your hard drive.

Unless, of course, one of your employees helps place homeless cats in her spare time and this is the 1,000th cat she’s help find a loving home and you want to congratulate her on her continued efforts in the humane treatment of felines. Hey, it doesn’t always have to be about direct marketing.

Just make sure what you put out there falls inside the borders of what you want your website to do. If it doesn’t serve the purpose of your website, it doesn’t belong on your website.

Don’t Hide From Your Visitors

Websites are, inherently, a very public thing. Anyone in the world (barring local filtering) can see your website. It’s enough to make many queasy thinking about people on the other side of the world having access to their phone number or, brace yourself, their email address.

Exposing your email address on a website does open you up to spam emails, but these days, many businesses have catchall email addresses anyway. If you have a catchall email address, the “I don’t want to get spam email” argument is already invalid.

Personally, I’m a bit of an on-line privacy nut. And with that said, hiding your business address and phone number has never made sense to me, since anyone can find the information on any number of government and yellow-pages-type sites.

If it’s on your business card, put it on your website, and make it easy to find. If your address, email, and phone number are not on your business card, it might be time to redesign those as well.

Hiding your business’s information usually only hides it from the people you want to have it: your website’s legitimate visitors. Not to mention that it leaves the impression that you have something besides your address to hide.

Easy-Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

Ever been to that website that is visually just stunning? I mean, it just looks so cool. And then you try to use it to get some information, only to find out you have no idea what to click on and, when you do find something, have no idea where it’s going to take you.

There’s a term for it in web design: Mystery Meat Navigation. Much like the mystery meat in the school cafeteria of your childhood, it looks good enough, but it’s difficult to digest and there’s no telling just where you’ll end up afterward. As a side note, that’s exactly why it’s called mystery meat navigation.

These websites usually hit a home run in the first few seconds of interaction. After all, they really do look awesome. The problem with mystery meat is that visitor satisfaction quickly goes into the garbage.

Don’t ever, ever, ever sacrifice an effective user interface for stunning design. (Like, ever.) Your website provides its visitors with information. It might go without saying, but if your visitors can’t figure out how to use your website, they can’t use your website. Hundreds of thousands of websites use navigation bars to allow their visitors to easily find what they are looking for. They do it because it works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As soon as it stops being useful to your visitors, it stops being useful.

It’s OK to Speed (On-line)

In the real world, they put up big reflective signs that tell you how fast you are allowed to go. In the digital world, no such signs exist. Like a top fuel dragster on a quarter-mile strip, the speed of the Internet is only limited by the equipment and techniques you use. Also just like the dragster, faster is better.

At best, a slow website frustrates your visitors and prevents them from trusting you. At worst, they leave before the page even loads. Website load times depend on a variety of factors, only some of which are under your control.

Don’t go super-budget when you decide who is going to host your website. I’m all for saving a buck, providing that you’re not sacrificing quality hosting to save a couple dollars a year. If just one potential customer doesn’t get frustrated with your slow website and ends up buying from you, then you’ll easily pay for the better hosting.

Make sure that the design of your website is current. Websites that use outdated technology only get slower with time, and will sometimes stop working completely if the technology becomes deprecated. Be wary of web designers that only offer a limited maintenance period, as web technology advances pretty quickly.

Another heavy hitter is the size of the images on your site. Doubling the image size in each direction actually quadruples the size on disk (and in transit), so that an image that might take a half a second to load now takes two seconds.  Double the size again, and it’ll take eight seconds.

Bottom line: keep it speedy. Don’t lose your website’s visitors before they even see your website.

They Like Me, and You Should Too

You’ve invested all this time and money in a new dynamite website. You think it’s great, and your current customers have all told you how much they love it, too. The problem is, it isn’t generating any new interest.

Translating current customers into future customers is the holy grail for any business. Throughout the entire history of business, word of mouth is the only advertising form that has never went up in cost. There are fewer better feelings than hearing how much a current customer likes your work. One of them is hearing it from a new customer.

But, be realistic: We don’t call each other anymore, we text. We don’t mail, we email. We don’t network in person, we network on-line. The development of the Internet allows us to communicate to almost anyone in the world. The problem is, we tend to interact the same way with the person in Italy as the person on the next street. We have fewer chances to interact directly, but we have unlimited chances to interact on the web, so we have to harness word of mouth advertising in a slightly different way.

Facebook ‘Likes’ and Twitter ‘followers’ have the direct advantage of allowing you to contact current customers. If you include those fans on your website, you get the indirect advantage of proving to potential customers that people, in fact, do like you and would recommend you. It’s social networking’s version of the word of mouth.

Website Left for Dead

I often tell my clients that one of the worst things you can do to an existing website is not keep it current. In many ways, an out of date website is worse than no website at all.

One of the first items on my checklist when I analyze someone’s site is to look for a ‘last updated’ tag, because it says a lot about the information there. Believe it or not, ‘Last updated January, 24th, 2004’ doesn’t build a website visitor’s confidence.

A website that is out of date suggests to visitors that the site has been abandoned. With the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the length of time between ‘fresh’ and ‘out of date’ is getting shorter and shorter. It can be challenging to keep your website fresh without becoming a professional writer, especially if you are part of a sector or business that simply doesn’t change all that much.

The solution can depend a bit on how much time you have. If you can invest a couple hours a week, including a blog on your website can be a great way to keep people interested, and it has the nice side effect of proving that you are an expert in what you do. However, this can be daunting if you’re not comfortable writing.

If you are a little tighter on time, consider including your Facebook Page’s feed (or Twitter feed) on your website. That way, you can make quick posts here and there throughout the day, or pass on industry news and notes. This can also be a good option if writing isn’t for you, as the post will be shorter and visitors are more likely to forgive spelling and grammatical errors on social networking sites.

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) rewrite you website every week, but a little new content here and there will let your visitors know there is still someone on the other end of the Internet interested in hearing from them.

The Importance of Good Website Design

We have all seen that website. Harsh colors, distracting frames, and all of the text is crammed together in tight little bunches. Every page you browse to has a different layout and color scheme. Scrolling text or (gasp) flashing text. And what’s with all those animated hamsters? Maybe it’s the website of the widget factory down the street.

Perhaps the website is yours.

OK, take a deep breath. There are worse things in life than a poorly designed website, and the last time I checked, having a bad website wasn’t a criminal offense. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it could be having an impact on turning your website’s visitors into your customers. The fact is, about 70% of people won’t buy products from a company with a poorly designed website.

Let’s face it: your website design casts a shadow that the people visiting can clearly see. Something that is difficult to read or has distracting elements makes it look like you threw something together with very little thought or effort. Visitors will focus more on the poor design than the information contained.

The design should be attractive and relevant, but should be secondary to the content provided.  A well designed website shows an investment of time and money, and will make your visitors trust you more.