Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like The visual design should match the site's purpose.

I've written about this extensively in my EMP Book. For many industries, it's OK to have a mom and pop feel to your website, but in no case should you have a website that looks circa 1992. As the look of the average website has improved significantly over the past few years, web users are expecting more from site's they do business with. If your site looks like something that was thrown up on a shoestring budget, you're not giving your visitors much confidence in how you run your business.

You need to look at your competitor's websites. If your site cannot match or surpass them in appearance then you need to consider a re-design. It's tricky though, because much of that is subjective. Usually, though, you can easily tell when not much effort, or thought, was put into the design of a website.

While a more professional looking site may be in order, don't go overboard. Different industries require different styles. Again, check out what your competitors are doing and if there is an overall consistency of tone, you might want to try to find a similar tone with your site. In other words, don't go corporate when your competitors are going artsy. Don't go mom and pop when your competitors are going high tech. Don't create an overly busy website when your competitors have opted for simplicity. But also, don't trust your competitors to always make the best decisions.

You know your audience, do what is right for them, but by all means, give them a site worth looking at and doing business with. If your site has not undergone a major re-design in the past few years, it's probably time to get one underway. Even a minor facelift can do wonders to improving the appearance of your site.

Make your site easy to use and useful.

We're squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company's ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology.

How do you make your site easy to use? Clear, concise and consistent navigational elements.

It is important to let your visitors know where they are on your site and how to quickly navigate to where they want to be, or where they need to click to get what they want. There are a few very easy things you can do to accomplish this:

Breadcrumbs: While most users do not utilize breadcrumbs as a navigational element, the simple presence of these allows the visitor to know exactly what page they are on and how deep into the site. They also provide a one click option to get to each backward level of your site.

Contextual Links: Don't rely on your main right, left or top navigation to get your visitors from point A to point B. While these are an important part of your site, using links within the text body of your website helps drive visitors to areas of the site which interest them, or to take the course of action you desire.

Calls to Action: Whether it be contextual links or obvious image that say "click here to", calls to action let your visitors know where they need to go to get the information they need.

Consistent Navigation: Sites where the main navigation changes location from page to page often confuse their visitors. Confused visitors leave. They don't have time to "figure out" your site, they can just as easily find another site where the navigation is intuitive to helping them find what they need. Make it easy for your visitors as they flow from one page to the next.

The other issue here is to make your site useful. This is relatively easy to accomplish, especially for those who know their stuff. If you're trying to sell a product, don't just offer that product, but provide information that will help the visitor see why they should purchase this product, and why they should purchase it from you.

Providing extra information including features and benefits of your product will help users make the decision to buy. Adding information such as pricing comparisons, warranties, and quality customer service helps users realize why they should purchase from you.

A useful site is a site buyers will return to time and time again. Maybe you attract them with the information as they do their research. Maybe they don't buy from you today, but if your site is one that provides them information that helps them make their decision, you'll be the first site on their mind when they are ready to purchase.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 28, 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.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Establishing Web Credibility - Part 3