Web Design Pointers
I have to scratch my head about companies that ignore the important role that their web site can have and abdicate responsibility to a computer engineer who doesn't know diddle about business or marketing. But boy-howdy can he download animated GIFS! We're probably talking about the same bamboozled, middle-aged guy from a couple of columns ago who thinks the smart-ass with the goatee is a genius.
Here are some hints for your web site. Mr. Goatee probably doesn't get the concept, so you'll have to hold a 12 gauge to his head. But if you want to have your web site be useful to your customers, make some money and look professional, try some of these obvious (to you and me) suggestions.
Try to make your web site more than just an on-line brochure. Provide technical information and specs for your products; include links to industry information, and write your own white papers and reports. Publish an on-line newsletter and make archives of the newsletter available on the site. In other words, put some meat out there. Make the site useful to your customers...not just pretty.
Avoid lots of graphics. Your pages need to download FAST. On the other hand, don't ignore images. Just use them wisely. Graphics will make the site comfortable and enjoyable to visit. But don't use them to impress. Are you in the web design or the widget business? Don't let your webmaster use your site to demonstrate his abilities to his next employer. Let your products and company impress your visitors, not the music and video that the customer has to deal with, just to get pricing information.
Give the responsibility and final approval for the web page to your marketing people, NOT the webmaster. In fact, have the webmaster report to the marketing department. That'll really frost his shorts.
Always put your street address and phone number on the page. I can't tell you how many sites and businesses I've never re-visited, simply because they felt that their geographical location was somehow a secret. And heaven forbid that I might want to buy something and the only way I can ask a simple question is via an email to the webmaster. Think of the web page as a business card - make sure that basic information is always accessible to the user.
Remember the first rule of sales: make it easy for the customer to buy something.
List real people as contacts, not just generic email addresses. Obviously, this can be abused by headhunters and sales reps, so only give the email addresses of high level executives. You don't have to provide direct phone numbers. But at least give your readers a real person to identify with.
If you only provide generic email addresses, like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, how do I know that the message is going anywhere? These addresses are useful (heck, we even use them here at Gadwall), but ALWAYS give your customers an alternate way of contacting you (emails to specific persons, 800 numbers, snail mail addresses, etc.).
Show that the page is being regularly updated. The best way is via a "what's new" section. Of course, if you're not keeping your page up to date, that's another problem.
Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Have an outsider do this if you don't have the time. Your page is completely counterproductive when your text obviously wasn't even run through a spell checker.
Speaking of basic quality, make sure all of your links work. You're always going to miss a couple of these, but at least the ones from the main page should work.
Give customers a sense of the real company. Show photographs of executives, names, addresses, pictures of buildings, etc. You want them to envision a real organization, not just a set of web pages.
Provide an introduction, for someone who is new to the products or to your company.
Avoid gimmicks on your site until you've gotten the basics covered.
It's worth pointing out that I got EVERY idea for this column from ONE web site. Needless to say, it was pretty lousy. As it happens, I know the company, the people and the products. They are much better than their page would seem to show. Who knows how much goodwill they're losing every time someone visits?
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