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Your Website is your spokesperson

Often the only way your customers and prospects will interact with your company is through its website. In fact, our experience indicates that the Internet has become an integral part in the way businesses and consumers go about their purchasing today.

It’s this web experience that helps build your reputation and also helps boost your revenues. If you’re a web based business, your website is the reason you exist. As web surfers get spoilt for choice thanks to an abundance of online companies- it’s important to follow these well researched tips to deliver a rewarding web experience:

1. Research Customer Behaviour

Before you start designing your website, it pays to learn as much as possible about your customers and their expectations from your business/offerings. The design of effective websites typically starts with thorough analysis of customer needs and identifying the tasks that web-visitors seek to accomplish. This also helps you to eliminate costly mistakes. Some of the important questions that a well planned customer research approach should answer are:

– Are customers expecting a website that looks professional, playful, conservative, or sophisticated?
– Do your services/products lend themselves to photography / custom graphics?
– Will you be changing web-content frequently, and over what period

2. Skip Troublesome Techniques

Avoid using frames, sound, doorway pages, custom mouse pointers and such technologies that require web-visitors to download uncommon plug-ins. These techniques usually draw away potential users as they could be confusing, increase download times, and may even complicate usability.

3. Design should be Search Engine Friendly

Most web surfers reach a website through search engines. Thus, it is important to work towards a better site listing with its design facilitating inclusion of all the web-content. Ensure that you have good internal linking with your site, and that all the important web-pages can be reached from home page with no more than three mouse clicks. Use the popular keywords and phrases people are using to find your product / service, and also create relevant page titles and descriptions.

4. Don’t Confuse Usability with Branding

Many websites pursue a unique look and feel that differentiates them as well as builds brand awareness. While your site design should reinforce the brand, it should never compromise its usability, as usability problems may send potential customers surfing elsewhere. They may also associate your brand with poor user-friendliness and this can even damage your credibility in the long run.

For example readability may be compromised if you use fonts / colour palettes consistent with your brand but they maybe hard to read. Try to avoid designs that rely on highly customised text appearance. You could be tempted to change menu text and links to differentiate your firm from others or to highlight specific products / capabilities; however these practices may make site navigation difficult for people who are not familiar with your company as top level link structure is a commonly used feature. Commonly used top-level menu items are Home, About Us, Products, Services, Resources, News, and Contact. At the same time, lower-level menus should be descriptive enough for web-users unfamiliar with the material on your website to easily find what they seek.

5. Simplicity versus Sparkle

Flash and other multimedia tools have their place, but not in site navigation. Utilise multimedia to tell a tightly scripted story, providing a feature-rich / realistic demonstration, or even to entertain. Try not to use multimedia if web-visitors want quick and easy access to your information.

Resist from using Flash for your menus, as it is inconsistent with “standard” web navigation. This is because generally users expect a new page to quickly appear on clicking an item and when they click on “back” it should take them to the last page viewed. Flash navigation often introduces unconventional interaction requirements & time consuming animation. Some sites have home pages that act like a splash page / company advertisement which the user must read to get to the “real” home page. Such “doorway” web pages are useful only in very specific cases e.g. entertainment for strong consumer branding; otherwise they annoy repeat visitors and even complicate route control if links to pages within your website are shared amongst your web-users.

6. Speed is Essential

Global research surveys on website usability indicates that site speed is generally in the top 3 things you need to deliver upon to provide quality customer website usability. It pays to consider how much graphical and dynamic content is needed to convey your message, as there is a risk of alienating website visitors with long download times. Always choose graphic file formats that have better representation and compactness.

7. Let Text be Text

Many websites embed text in graphical elements to have complete control over appearance. While this is appropriate for logos and other critical brand elements, it presents two problems. Firstly search engines cannot “read” this text, and therefore you may miss opportunities to be indexed and found by search engine users. Second problem is that graphics generally take longer to download which often irritates users.

8. Using Headings and Bullets

When scanning text, people’s eyes generally fall first on headings and bulleted lists. Since many web-visitors are usually not inclined to read large blocks of text, careful use of headings and bulleted information can help them quickly scan and navigate your website. This is a great way to provide specific details in eye-catching and quickly digestible chunks. Headlines are also important for search engines as their spiders generally determine the importance of words based partly upon their location (keywords used in headings may be given more weight).

9. Get an Impartial Second Opinion

It always helps to look at your website through someone else’s eyes. If you are the site’s designer or owner, you are too close to the material to be really objective. You know how the website is “supposed” to be used rather than “how customers are likely to use it”. Just remember that the customer is always right: if they don’t use the website the way you intended, there may be a problem with your web-design.

10. You are never done – the process of continuous improvement

You may have invested an immense amount of time and resources into developing a great website. It’s been published on the web and is getting traffic. Yet you may have to re-visit its development again: your products / services and marketplace could change, as could change customer expectations, the competitive environment, browser and search engine technology, your brand, etc.

You may launch web-advertising campaigns, start / end critical business partnerships, invest in new product lines/technology, or drop old ones. Most of these changes may not require complete redesign as they only need minor adjustments. Remember that your customers are unlikely to tell you that your site needs updating (except by leaving), so it’s better to have a plan in place for periodic updates.

Website development and maintenance can get complicated if insourced. It could easily suffer from limited exposure and resources. Specialist web designers,developers and content writers at roi.com.au can help your business strike the best balance between your budget, industry best practice and exceeding customer expectations.