Your website is an electronic extension of your business. Poorly designed web pages often fail to provide users with a satisfactory online browsing or shopping experience. By nature of being an electronic medium, web surfers have constantly growing expectations from the sites they visit while online. The web page equivalent of local kid's $5 car wash flier, or a poorly produced cable show or infomercial is no longer effective when it comes to convincing shoppers that you take your business—or them—seriously. The appearance of your business website lends directly to your credibility. If you can establish credibility then sales will likely follow.

Meet Industry Expectations

A "professional" look can vary from industry to industry. For one industry you might need a site that screams "corporation," while another industry might perform best with a mom and pop feel, still another might need a fun or artsy look. Building your site to meet industry expectations simply means knowing your audience and what they expect. Be careful that you don't confuse any of the above with shoddy design. Whatever "feel" you give your site, make sure it comes out looking great.

Start by researching your competitors and taking an in-depth look at their websites. If all your competitors are going for a particular feel then maybe there's something to that. Be sure to do your own research so you aren't solely relying on what your competitors are doing. Often times you'll find that your competitors are doing the wrong thing entirely.

Overall, make sure you are doing what's right for your audience. In your design you don't just want to match your competitors, you should seek to exceed them. Have your site designed to look and perform better, while still providing the overall tone your target audience is looking for.

Incorporate Usability Elements

As you put together your design elements, think: usability. There is nothing more frustrating to a visitor than trying to navigate through a website that is poorly constructed and does not provide obvious, user friendly markers directing them to the information they came looking for.

Intuitive Linking

Use textual links within the body content as part of your navigation scheme. Your website is not a brochure where people flip from one page to another; it is an active document that should allow visitors to navigate as they read, following links to wherever interest strikes them. Contextual linking in the body content provides that avenue without forcing the visitor to rely on the main site navigation to decide what to do next.

It's the difference between asking your spouse what movie they want to see or asking if they would like to watch a comedy, sci-fi, action, drama or chick flick. With the first, you're forcing her to do all the thinking and decision making for herself. With the other you are simply presenting options, allowing her to make a decision based on what she desires. That is how you want your visitors to feel. You want them to go where they want, but at the same time be leasing them, through various routs, to the point of action (i.e. sale, conversion, sign-up, etc.)

Emotive Colors

Colors fuel emotions so be sure the colors you use for your website bring out the emotions that best reach your audience. Integrating color elements effectively can create a more inviting website that can easily lead your visitors to take the desired actions.

Calls to Action

You've heard the saying, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." On the web, many people try to get the horse to drink without even leading him to water. When visitors come to your site they need to be lead to their desired destination. Use visual calls to action throughout your site that will direct your visitors to click, buy, purchase, read, get, view, order, continue, apply, enter, or whatever else you want them to do.

Careful and strategic planning before you begin developing (or re-developing) your website can help you build the best possible website that meets both your, and your customer's needs. Consideration and implementation of the above mentioned elements will ensure that your website is effective at pulling traffic and converting your visitors into buyers. Throw in some quality customer service and you've got something for your customers to tell others about, which is the most effective kind of marketing there is.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

May 5, 2006

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

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