Before beginning the execution of creating a website for your business, spend some time determining if you're really ready. Does this medium help your business accomplish its objectives? Are you willing to devote the resources needed to maintain the site over time? (Having as much up-to-date information as possible on your site is important for establishing a polished image. This requires maintenance of the site.) While the Web is opening up new marketing opportunities for businesses large and small, it's still just one of the many marketing tools you might use and it might not be right for your business.
If you decide that having a website is right for your business, invest time in developing a plan. An overall diagram of the layout of your pages and how they link to one another is an important first step. Identify who will maintain the website and how much time-sensitive material to include.
If you plan to use a designer to create your code and graphics, the more time you invest in pre-planning, the faster and mor effective the designer can be. Before you select a designer, take the time to review their previous work, comparing costs of both the design and the ongoing revision process. When you meet with her, present copies of your logo, photographs, and other literature, as well as your website diagram.
You're probably aware that your website will be viewed not only by your customers, but also by many others such as prospects, suppliers, potential employees, loan officers and web community members around the globe. Identify your most important audience and focus your message on them. Don't try to please everyone.
"Engage" the viewer quickly with your home page. It should:
- display a sharp logo, graphic and/or other caption at the top that invites the reader to stay and conveys the core mission of your business
- load fairly quickly without large graphics or lengthy text
- contain details like your company's mailing or email address somewhere on the page
- provide quick and logical ways to move to sections of interest within the website using navigation icons, a side bar with a list of links, or a map.
- offer a returning viewer links to sections that contain updated news
Your home page should not provide background information such as your company's history or a company "Who's Who" listing. If such information is included, it belongs on another page.
On all pages, be consistent in "look and feel" and in navigation methods.
- Give each page a consistent background and set of navigation links or icons.
- Use meaningful key words or icons for these links so the viewer knows what they will find when they select it.
Select graphics and photographs that match the site's purpose.
- Use appropriate graphics to communicate the concept of your company, service or product.
- When an enlarged graphic might be helpful, give the visitor the option to open it by clicking on a "postage stamp" (a smaller version of the graphic). This reduces the time required for bringing up the page containing the postage stamp for your visitors who might not be interested in the enlarged graphic.
Content must be relevant and current.
- Provide information that is clear and interesting to the online visitor, with links to additional details if needed.
- Consistently update your site for relevance and accuracy. Hire or assign someone who has the necessary time and skills to maintain your site.
- Link to sites outside your site only when serious consideration has been given to how the links would benefit your site. (You may "lose" your viewer!)
- Arrange for a test group of customers and colleagues to identify needed improvements.
- Indicate on the site that inquiries and suggestions are welcome. Offer visitor several ways to respond: e-mail, fax, phone, mail