Here are some very basic thoughts about what goes into your website based on a book I published at Adams Media, The Best Internet Businesses You Can Start by Marian Betancourt.
Where to Start?
Work out what you want to say and do on paper first. It is critical to get the sequential order of the website right. You need to consider page length and page layout and create a style sheet for uniformity. Make some rules for yourself. How will your customers navigate from the front page to the next page? And how will they go farther in or back to the front if they want to recheck something? Don’t offer too many choices, either, because the customer will have to go back and forth too many times.
Be cautious with links to related sites as well. Users could click off to a related link and never come back to you. Figure out how to use repetition. Some things should be on every page, such as the name of your company. The navigation bar should appear on each page. Your name or the site’s author, along with copyright information, should be on every page, and so should your email link.
What a Home Page Should Include
The home page should include a welcome paragraph, a site map and navigation bar, FAQs, a help page, and related links. Most business sites also need a way to search for a particular product, give background about the company, and show customers how to register, how to shop, and how to pay.
Include a hit counter so you—as well as your visitors—know how many people have already visited your site. This is a continuous market survey for the business owner and one of the great advantages of doing business in cyberspace. Every time you add another product or service or revise an existing one, this new information should show in a special banner or starburst with the word “New” inside.
Text and Typefaces
Reading on a screen is different from reading on a printed page. You need to keep paragraphs shorter, use bold type to emphasize things, and use breakout lists. The text needs variation and interest. Most users of the Web like to click onto another page or link, but they will not read a long story that seems to scroll on forever. A few hundred words on a page is enough.
How the type is laid out is critical to readability. You don’t want your customers to have to read small print or lines of print close together that goes all the way across the page. Leave space between the lines, make the lines short, such as half the screen width or less, and keep paragraphs short.
Make sure you proofread it. You would be amazed at the number of typos you can find on a website. It always looks more conspicuous on a screen than it does on a sheet of paper.
Don’t use too many different sizes and typefaces on a page, and don’t use elaborate typefaces that look like calligraphy. Condensed typefaces are also hard to read. The body text is easiest to read in a serif face, such as Times Roman. Use a larger version for headlines, or a sans serif font such as Helvetica, a plain and clean-looking typeface.
Keep photographs and artwork small. They always look bigger on the screen. Clip art, or common commercial images that are in the public domain and free to use, are included in most computer software programs. Most websites have photos of products or people scanned in. You can find other art on the Web.
Jazz up your site with some of the available vast arrays of bullets, stars, marquees, navigation bars, page transitions, shared borders, tables, and so on. You can even add animation, video, and audio. However, websites loaded with gizmos such as animated characters, flashing buttons, all the colors in the rainbow, and hard-to-read type are not the most successful.
There may be a great headline and bulleted list, but if the colors are wrong, nobody will bother looking further. For example, a fluorescent color headline written over an equally intense background screen will be difficult to read and will hurt the eyes. On the other hand, some color combinations can be especially attractive.
Many people find a picture they like online and copy it to their website. Unless the picture is in the public domain or the website owner specifically advertises that you are free to use the picture, you are violating copyright law. Even if it is a picture of a nineteenth-century advertisement for shoes that has long been in the public domain, the photograph itself belongs to the person who took it. You must get permission to use intellectual property, and that includes words, music, and pictures. For example, you may want to put audio on your used car site with Willie Nelson singing “On the Road Again,” but you need to get Willie’s permission first and pay for its use. You then have to show that permission on the site. Copyright infringement is a common occurrence, and it is usually up to the holder of the rights to be the watchdog. Furthermore, there is software available today that allows copyright holders to instantly search the Internet and spot anyone who is violating their copyrights.
Takeaways You Can Use
- Don’t make your website too busy—less is more.
- Identify the key elements that should appear on every page.
- Sketch out what a visitor’s journey will look and feel like on your website.