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Carrie Hill

25 Design Best Practices for Your Small Business Web Site

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Designing a Web site can be a daunting task. Where do you start after your business plan is worked out and you're secure in what you're going to place on your Web site?

Whether you plan to hire a designer or figure it out for yourself, there are definitely some best practices you should follow. Use this list to get a good start on finding the best Web site platform and design elements for your businesses audience.

These are general best practices for creating a great site -- from design and coding elements to arranging content and calls to action on your page. The goal is to have a site that will please your visitors and the search engines.

  1. Install Analytics! Notice how I bolded that one? It's so important it's at the top of the list!

  2. Create an eye-catching header/logo. This makes an impression on visitors, much like the façade, front door, or foyer of your store.

  3. Ensure you have the right balance between text and graphics. Graphics-heavy Web sites with little (or no) text can make it hard for a search engines to determine the relevancy of your site to queries you should rank for. Images and graphics, on the other hand, help tell a story about your products and services.

  4. Allow space for a minimum of 250 words of relevant text if possible.

  5. Consider how easy the home page and interior pages will be to manage in the future. Can you easily add pages and redirect old pages to new ones?

  6. Write unique page titles and meta descriptions for each page. This is ad copy, so take advantage of it. Sell using great keyword phrases and calls to action.

  7. Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to keep excessive code out of the way. This leaves a clean and concise interface for the search engines.

  8. Your phone number should be prominent and located at top of page in large type. The higher the better.

  9. Use a readable font and font size, and one that is hopefully easily scalable for low-vision users.

  10. Buying or reserving information should be prominent and above the fold (book now, checkout, shopping cart, etc).

  11. Break up long paragraphs with photos or bullet points. Having great paragraphs of text bores your user -- give them information in a concise and easy to skim manner. Search engines don't care how the words are delivered -- paragraphs or bullet points are fine -- just as long as your services and products are fully described on each page.

  12. Bold only key ideas in the text. Adding too much bold will over-emphasize the whole page, which is counterproductive.

  13. Create logical and custom navigation with "Product" and "Purchase" links in clear view.

  14. Use text navigation not JavaScript. Text navigation is easier for search engines to follow, allows deeper access to your site, and helps get your pages indexed.

  15. Place strong call to actions throughout the site. Make it very easy for your user to find the "buy" button and get through your checkout process.

  16. A simple few hyperlinked keywords (make them blue underlined) in a paragraph can also be a simple call to action that encourages visits to interior pages. Don't overdo it or the text will become difficult to read.

  17. Use header tags (H1-H6) on every page -- your tag should support the page title and be relevant to on page content that follows it.

  18. Use quality graphics and photos, including Flash elements and photo slideshows. Poor photography can lead to less trust in what you're offering. Remember: a picture is worth 1,000 words.

  19. Don't overload your contact or RFP forms with information. Make it simple and easy to fill out and submit -- name, phone, e-mail address, and comments are the basics.

  20. If you ask for personal information via a sign up or contact form, then you need a privacy policy.

  21. Physical address and phone number in text form on every page is a great way to associate your storefront or service business with a geographic location. Make sure you don't skip this step.

  22. Location of business should be prominent/obvious on the page -- town, region or even a regional colloquialism. For example: Finger Lakes, SoHo, DIA, Orange County.

  23. Have a static HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap that can be uploaded to your Google Webmaster Tools account.

  24. Remember: when you add pages to a site, update your navigation and sitemap.

  25. Consider having static sitemap links that use main keyword phrase for the page it links to. It doesn't hurt to wrap some descriptive text around those sitemap links either.

Of course this isn't everything to consider, but it's certainly a start. If you go into the process with some knowledge, hiring someone who can build you exactly what you need to be successful will be much easier and you'll have some realistic and positive expectations of the finished product. You can know that what you're getting is right for your needs.

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