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Tips for Business Websites

For a site to be successful, designers need to go ahead of the rules. Breaking the rules is not a problem. Not being able to find something on a website is.


Web Design, as design in general, is subject to changes andtrend influences. Words like “fresh, modern, innovative” seem to conquer theworld of design while artists strive to discover new directions. Websites aredifferent: objectives, resources and users are the factors shaping theprofitability of a site.

The truth is that web design is not easy. There are several factors shaping theweb layout and the architecture of a site, some see them as rules, othersbelieve there are no rules at all. Yet, as far as business websites areconcerned, there are some guidelines.

About Us and Contact Us

The role of a business website is to represent a company and its products on theweb, describing the company’s objectives and providing enough information forthe users. Users want to know who they are dealing with. The “about us” areashould enclose general information about the management team, company historyand company philosophy. This is also the right place to display photos of theteam and the managers for a simple reason: pictures enhance credibility, aspeople believe that you are not trying to hide.

Some websites show within the “about us” category maps and addresses for thecompany, while others use a “contact us” area where they display contact forms,phone and fax numbers or department emails. For some users there is nothing moreannoying than being forced to fill in long contact formularies or registrations.Try to avoid such practices. Let your users decide if they want to fill in allthe details or if they’d rather save some time and fill in a short form. Provideoptions, be flexible.

Products and Services

Depending on what a company has to offer the “products” and “services” areasdescribe goods or services that are either sold on the website or advertisedthere in order to be sold somewhere else. The categories should be clearlystructured, the descriptions simple and relevant, if necessary illustrated byrelated pictures or graphics. Too many images though distract users from thecontent. Use them carefully.

News

This is quite simple: what’s new about your company or products and services? Doyou have any recent awards or events worth a web presentation? Write a text andpublish it in this category. Keep it simple and try to use as many businessrelated keywords as possible. More: distribute your news and press releases onrelevant web outlets and drive traffic to your site.

Try to get testimonials from your clients and display them online. Sometimeseven a critique shown online can bring you positive reactions. People willappreciate your honesty, and will trust you more than they trust companies whichpraise their own success too much. Be realistic, careful and show concern forthe users, not for yourself.

Disclaimer or Privacy Policy

This is not a rule: it’s a must! Companies deal with clients; people who wishtheir privacy to be protected and sometimes other sites can provide illegal orharmful information. Wikipedia defines a disclaimer as follows: “A disclaimer isa legal statement which generally states that the person/group authoring thedisclaimer is not responsible for any mishap in the event of using whateverobject or information the disclaimer is attached to.”   The privacy policy is,according to the same source, a disclaimer as well: “A privacy policy is adisclaimer placed on a website informing users about how the website deals witha user’s personal information.”

Put simply, maintaining audience expectations and delivering usable content arethe main factors influencing the success of a business website. But the websitearchitecture has to be followed by a cutting edge design and reliable ways toincrease users’ loyalty.

Newsletters 

Sites with fresh content that changes often offer users the option to sign upfor eNewsletters. These should not be sent too often: studies show that too manyreminders become an annoyance for many clients.  Due to the fact that they feelmore personal than websites, email newsletters will generate different emotionalreactions for the users. The subscribe and unsubscribe options allow companiesto measure success: how many users are interested in receiving periodicinformation and how many lose their interest? The key to successful eNewslettercampaigns is simple: DO NOT SPAM! Let people go if they choose to unsubscribe.If your messages become annoying the negative feelings from one client willeasily go to another. “Verba Volant!” 

As with website design, the newsletter design should be uncomplicated and userfriendly. People should be able to find what they are looking for fast. Even thesubscribe and unsubscribe processes should be fast: the longer the time neededto subscribe or unsubscribe, the higher the lost of customer satisfaction.

So keep the newsletters simple, useful and easy to deal with. Do not overloadclients with information. Just tell them the basics and, if they are interested,they will certainly come to you, email or call, requesting more information. Tosucceed, write good subject lines that will help users distinguish thenewsletter from spam. Each headline has to make sense and preferably be followedby a short abstract of the general content. Plain language is the best approach.People don’t need to get the feeling they are teased or led on. For referencevisit Pamil Visions and get the “Writing Newsletters” *.pdf document you canfind in the downloads area.

Other Issues

Branding your business doesn’t refer only to stationery and printed brochures.The website is an ideal mean to promote your business visual standards. Includeyour logo at the top left of all pages and respect your corporate colour scheme.Have a consistent look and feel in all your pages. Again, I encourage you tovisit Pamil Visions for advice in this matter, or other branding and publicrelations related sites.

Consistency is a powerful tool. When things are the same users know what toexpect. They will not feel intimidated by new approaches or exasperated byunnecessary artifices. For example Flash collected the bronze medal forannoyance. Let it out. Why should you open your site with an intro most of theusers will skip anyways? The same goes for pop-ups!

Make the site easy to read. That means you need choose the fonts and theircolours carefully: not too big or too light. The most legible fonts are standardserif and sans-serif (Times, Arial; Verdana). The pictures and graphics shouldhave small file sizes to avoid slow loading pages. Optimise your pictures forthe web.

Content you write for the web should be short, scannable and to the point. Somebusiness sites are afraid that users will copy their valuable texts and use themsomewhere else, getting commercial advantages. For this reasons they ask thedesigners to display texts as a picture. Wrong: have you ever heard of printscreen? If someone wants to copy your work that will happen anyway no matter ifwe talk about text or graphics.


 Mihaela Lica is the founder of Pamil Visions.

http://www.pamil-visions.com/

She is now a freelance writer, public relations consultant and an artist. Previously she used to be a respected TV redactor, working for the Romanian Ministry of Defense. At the moment she works with small and new business helping them in their branding efforts.

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