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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Best Practices for Small Business Websites

As with any website, when it comes to what to put on your business website, there's a line between the right message and the wrong one, what’s enough and what’s too much. Here are a few tips to make that line a little clearer.
Remember what your visitor is looking for, and provide it. Most likely, your visitor is looking for a product or service. So your website, from its design down to the actual words you use, needs to tell the visitor that you can deliver what they’re looking for. That may seem obvious, but in doing the actual work — writing, designing and uploading stuff for your site — it’s easy to lose focus of this. So for every piece of your site, continually ask yourself: Does it clearly say who you are? Does it clearly say what you offer? Does it tell your visitor how to become your customer?
For design, simple is best. Our computer screens are a jumble of windows, buttons, icons, taskbars, notification areas, colors, lines, edges, boxes, animations, sounds—all asking for our attention. How can you make your website stand out against all that? Try doing the opposite, and make your website an oasis of simplicity and calm. That means this isn’t the place to try out wild and wacky color combinations, or make something flash, or include lots of images and text blocks all over the screen, just to fill it up. Use fewer boxes, fewer images, fewer words. And make the ones you do have carry some weight by meaning something and serving a purpose (see the first tip again).
For text, less is more. Don’t fool yourself: your visitors won’t read everything on your site, and probably won’t even see every page. Get to the point, and again, make sure it’s the point your visitor is looking for.
Watch the marketing talk. Web users see a lot of different websites, and you can bet they’ve seen some variation of just about any “marketing-ese” language you can come up with. Vague, empty phrases that every other site uses just don’t communicate. Don’t just say, “Providing professional tax preparation services since 1960.” Try something like “We did your grandparents’ taxes, and we know we’ll do a great job on yours.” (Well, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but you get the idea.)
Clearly identify your business. It's surprising how many sites make it tough to figure out just whose website it is. Don’t make your visitor struggle to find your company info, including how to contact you, how to get to your office, and when you’re open.
Say what you do. Again, make this clear. Your potential customer shouldn't be left wondering whether you can prepare an S corporation return, for example.
Don’t confuse your business website with a personal website. Aim for a professional tone and presentation, and avoid anything that could alienate or lose you a potential customer. This means your company website is probably not the best place to display your pets, children, hobbies, political/religious sentiments, vacation photos, and so forth. You may not want to hear that, especially if you’re the sole person in your business and you feel that these personal touches humanize your business and make it seem friendlier. But ask yourself, would you put these on a billboard on a busy highway? Because on the Internet, that’s what a website is. And remember, most of your visitors aren’t trying to get to know you as a person through your website, they’re just trying to decide if you can do their taxes.
Bottom line: Remember why you have a company website in the first place. It’s to help your business succeed, right? So, every piece of content on your site should help you get the word out about your business, get more customers, and boost your revenue. Don’t do anything on your site just because your competitors do. Do it because it’s right for your business.