Fifteen ways to keep your website in business

John
John Gushue
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

This spring, a friend of mine asked me to take a look at his company's website. "Are we doing it right?" he asked. I told him what I'll tell you now: I don't build websites for a living and I'm certainly not in a position to give the best advice.

I do, though, spend a remarkable amount of time online, and a fair bit of that time is spent looking stuff up. If I have any thoughts about how companies, organizations, governments and individuals organize their websites, it's because I've seen many of the same problems crop up again and again.

Surf's up - This spring, a friend of mine asked me to take a look at his company's website. "Are we doing it right?" he asked. I told him what I'll tell you now: I don't build websites for a living and I'm certainly not in a position to give the best advice.

I do, though, spend a remarkable amount of time online, and a fair bit of that time is spent looking stuff up. If I have any thoughts about how companies, organizations, governments and individuals organize their websites, it's because I've seen many of the same problems crop up again and again.

This column is a collection of questions and pointers you may want to keep handy, should you be involved in managing or contributing to a website.

1,2,3: The basics

I can't get over how often I land on a company's website, and one basic question is not easily answered. What, exactly, do you do? Any website should include several primary, and easily seen, elements, which I call ABC: About, Business Card and Contact.

Let's break them out

1. An "About" section, particularly on a separate tab, is a handy, simple way to introduce your business or organization. (You can use this area as a springboard for information about governance, etc., which is important, but is certainly not what's driving traffic to your site.

2. Business card: Your site should offer the same information as the card in your wallet, and be as easy for anyone else to read.

3. Contacts: Similarly, provide a clearly marked section where readers can learn how to get in touch. If there's one element that is mysteriously missing from some sites, it's a simple phone number. You don't have to list the company directory online, but key numbers are handy. Enable your site to handle e-mail, though be wary of posting addresses outright, as they become spam magnets.

4. Thinking design, from scratch: You're no doubt familiar with your site. Perhaps a little too familiar. Get someone to have a cold, hard look, and by "cold," I mean someone who's never seen it before.

Ask them to locate something well inside your site, and watch how they navigate it.

You should know there's a large body of research showing that readers often miss visual clues that designers lay out for them.

That's depressing for those of us in the web world, but it's worth bearing in mind.

5. Navigation: One stunning bit of design research I've seen showed how readers often skip right over navigation bars, those (usually vertical, sometimes horizontal) strips that categorize what's inside a site. As depressing as that is, I'm a keen advocate of a so-called nav bar: if users can't quickly find out what they want, the nav bar will provide guidance. Where appropriate, also consider a site map. These are a lot of work to build, but I've never found a site map that didn't point me in a useful direction. (Know, though, that the site map needs updating, every time you add or subtract to your site).

6. Audience: Who is this site for - really? I looked at two corporate sites last week that appear to have lost their way. In both, I easily found information about corporate leadership (including, on one, lots of details about an award won several years ago), but could not easily find what I was looking for. For a business, the customer's needs are always paramount. Businesses that forget that do so at their peril.

Other points

7. Keep it clean: The web pretty much demands change and evolution. Has the design of your site become too static, or even mouldy? I can't get over how often I see a small business's site that looks like it was designed by someone's nephew, for free, in the 1990s.

You should plan on redesigns at least every two or three years, and to take advantage of new applications as they become available. At the very least, you should be on guard to prevent clutter and maintain a clean, welcoming presentation.

8. Going mobile: More and more people are getting more and more of their information over their phones. With the rapid improvement in cell technologies and platforms, your clients now expect to find your site on their phone.

Talk with your designer or developer to ensure that your site is optimized for phone users.

9. Got FAQ? If your switchboard is frequently asked the same questions, consider posting a FAQ online, and make it easy to locate. Think of it as an investment in customer service. Also, build your FAQ on what people ask for, not what you think they need to know. Many people create FAQs based on the organization's priorities, not on what the customer is actually seeking.

10. Accessibility check. Many websites are built on the assumption that every reader has A-OK vision (and, where appropriate, hearing). How does your site compare?

11. News: Does your outfit issue news releases? Archive them here, with appropriate resources (media contacts, etc.) for journalists' queries.

12. Branding: Does your site have a consistent look and feel that matches your logo and corporate identity?

13. Search: Does your site rank highly when you Google it, as well as important keywords in your field? If not, get expert advice for search engine optimization, but start with key elements, like the very title of your site.

14. Know your stats. Take some time to look at your traffic, and what's driving it.

Even if you have your own package, consider Google Analytics, a free and easy-to-use source that will expand your metrics.

15. Talk up your site, and talk about it. Ask friends, family and outsiders for candid opinions on what they see, and take the time to listen.

John Gushue is a writer in St. John's. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com. Twitter: twitter.com/JohnGushue.

Geographic location: St. John's

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Hilarious you John giving web site design advice here on a web site that itself could do with a massive overhaul. It's like a jungle on here with all these ads and boxes of links and snippets. Care to comment?

  • Ted
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    My thoughts exactly.....this website is autrocious...surprised you don't suffer a seizure browsing through...

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    VOCM.COM is a good example of a real dog.

    What a mess!!

  • Blogger
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    And also make sure the design is compatible with all (or most) web browsers! ;)

  • Tom
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Hilarious you John giving web site design advice here on a web site that itself could do with a massive overhaul. It's like a jungle on here with all these ads and boxes of links and snippets. Care to comment?

  • Ted
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    My thoughts exactly.....this website is autrocious...surprised you don't suffer a seizure browsing through...

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    VOCM.COM is a good example of a real dog.

    What a mess!!

  • Blogger
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    And also make sure the design is compatible with all (or most) web browsers! ;)