An article by Claire Brown

In an age where the internet is the fastest growing business phenomenon ever, getting online is perhaps one of the most crucially important moves you can make for you and your organisation. A huge resource of information is at your fingertips and if you want to succeed further in your field, nowadays getting your own website is seen as a natural progression. In fact, if your business does not yet own one, you will find that you are in the minority and even behind in the game: now is the time to change all that.

Easy to use, low cost and offering the most cost-effective means of advertising, the internet enables all businesses, regardless of size, the opportunity to market themselves effectively. In essence, the possibilities of going online are endless. Conventional marketing and advertising are fast becoming a thing of the past. In its place there are now search engines and referrals. The numbers of visitors to a ˜shop’ in the traditional sense are no match for the sheer volume of ˜foot traffic’ which can be created on its virtual equivalent the website. If you want to establish a dynamic presence for your business or organisation on the internet, not to mention generate more customers and sales, then undoubtedly a website is essential. Furthermore, a well designed professional website will help you target the right customers i.e. the ones who want your service.

However, like most things that are worth doing properly, it goes without saying that doing your research beforehand is a must. Parting with your hard-earned cash and handing it over to anyone claiming to be a website designer is not recommended. Due to the availability of affordable website design software there are countless website designers out on the market now plying their trade. Viewing their portfolio, ideally in the same business genre that you are in, will give you a flavour of their work and what they can potentially do for you to ultimately help generate more sales. Looking at other websites on the internet you like may also help give you inspiration in achieving the right look and image to enhance your business. Whilst you want to demonstrate your own unique business identity and not ˜follow the crowd’ too much, it is equally as important not to alienate any potential customers by being too adventurous. For example, whilst bright colours may attract attention, it may compromise your company’s professionalism and yell ˜cheap gimmick’ rather than ˜quality’. However, having an idea you think will work is worth telling your web designer. An experienced one who is worth their salt will guide you down the right path to produce what should be an impressive website and most importantly one that you are happy with.

You can now perhaps begin to see why it is important to ensure your website is designed well, as it has the potential to:

  • Add credibility to your business
  • Increase product awareness
  • Communicate with customers more efficiently
  • Generate and qualify leads
  • Decrease cost of sales, support, marketing, and training
  • Improve customer service
  • Gather feedback
  • Expand distribution

It is also important to ensure that your website is easy to access and will not be too overloaded with fine print information. It is one thing to attract visitors but holding their attention to ultimately turn into a conversion on your site is another. It is vital they are able to quickly grasp the gist of what you have to offer in a very short time – often within seconds – if you are to avoid them losing focus and consequently, your business losing sales.

The design of your website, together with its contents, will play a crucial role in attracting online users. A visually appealing website is one of the main factors in ensuring repeat visits. Killer content is imperative but so is satisfying visitors’ eyes to keep them fixed on your website.

Tips on how to achieve effective website design:

  1. Simplicity is the key. Don’t overcomplicate – keep things simple in order to make your site accessible and easy to navigate by all types of online users.
  2. Visualise. How would you like your website to look? What colours and fonts would you like to use? Are you considering using flash, images, animations, etc. on all of your pages? These questions will act as a guide so you have a good idea how the end result will look. Remember, a good website should have eye-catching layout and design. Contrasting colours and a uniform font type are elements you need to bear in mind.
  3. Become acquainted with design tools. Learning how to use HTML and webpage editors doesn’t just have to be a website designer’s role. You can easily pick up the basics of website design with these editors. There are online tutorials available that can help you get started.
  4. Create accessible links. Strategically place them all where your visitors can easily see them – ideally, on your homepage. Each page on the site should also have a link back to the homepage. Visitors who have to click on a link several times to access a page could lose interest. They also need to have a reference point to stop them getting lost.
  5. Give your target market what they want. If you are targeting the younger generation, try using audio and video files and experimenting with colour. Alternatively, if your website is centred on financial services, keep it professional: statistics and content will effectively get your message across, not graphics or animations.
  6. Optimize your website loading time. Any longer than ten to fifteen seconds will lose visitors’ interest, causing them to leave. Avoid overuse of graphics, especially high-resolution graphics with no particular function as they will only increase your site’s loading time. Use thumbnails for any multiple pictures (e.g. pictures of products), as they save on space but always ensure they can be enlarged by clicking on them. Utilizing Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) will also optimize your site.

After your site goes live, maintenance is imperative. Any links to other sites must be regularly checked to see if these sites still exist or if they have changed to another Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Update information accordingly. Use a site map feature as this will help visitors find the page they want.

As a last point, avoid disclosing too much private details and/or personal information for security measures and to ensure privacy.