The Working Area - Helpful Hints for Building Better Websites
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Helpful Hints

Building a Website That Works!

If you own a business or have a non-profit or community group that deals with the public, you need a website. Customers expect it. Not having a website tells the world that you are "small potatoes," and not a professional, legitimate organization. Once you realize the importance of being on the internet and having a website, how do you get started? Consider the purpose of your website or focus of your organization. Your website should attract and inform customers. At the very least, it should not be turning away potential clients. The following tips are some of the ways to ensure that your website is attracting people and not driving them away.

Do's and Don'ts For Creating Dynamic Websites That Enhance Your Business

1. Do have a "Contact Us" page? Your website is there to create interest and drive customers to you. Once they're interested, they will want to email, call, write, or visit you. They will be looking for a Contact Us page. Unless your website is a single page, it is a critical mistake to not have a prominent Contact Us page. Avoid forcing people to use a form to to contact you. Although this may help reduce the amount of spam email you receive, it looks as though you are hiding something if you have a form asking for someone's contact information without supplying your own. If you do have a form, ask for the minimum information you need and make sure that you supply the same information you are asking for. Users are becoming less comfortable with forms as Identity Theft is steadily on the rise. Forms do serve a purpose, though having a hyperlink that opens a user's email program isn't always a good idea. Including both a very short form in addition to your contact information is a nice balance. Check out our Contact Us page for an example.

2. Don't make customers look for you. Even if you have a "Contact Us" page your address, phone number, email address, and any other contact information should be in the header area of every page.

3. Don't use hard-to-read fonts and color combinations. Even if your logo is red and black, red against a black background is difficult to read and can drive traffic away from your site. Typically a darker font against a lighter background is easier for viewing. Contrasting with a darker background and a lighter font in your header will make that stand out as well.

4. Don't underline normal text. Typically an underlined word or phrase is a link to another page or site. Users will expect the word to be a hyperlink, or worse yet, an embedded advertisement.

5. Do be careful of Single-Page Overwhelm. With a web page; three is key. Any more than three different concepts on a single page is overload. Notice this is concepts, not products. It is perfectly fine to have a table of 9 to 12 different lamps on a page, what you don't want is Lamps, Bedding, Lawn and Garden, hours of operation, and news releases on the same page. This is especially true for your Home or Index page. The home or index page should be the welcome mat to your web site, not the whole house. Tell visitors in broad terms what you offer and then direct them where they can find more detail on other pages. Overwhelm them up front and they might just move on.

6. Don't get too wrapped up in the WOW Factor. You want your website to stand out and that's understandable. Many times designers will go for a really flashy index or home page trying to grab the user's attention. They are on your page, so by definition, you already have their attention. What they're looking for now is content.

7. Do limit audio and video content. Unless you are in the music or video business, you probably don't need either. Even then, don't force users to listen to an audio track or watch an animation or video, have a "Listen to ..." or "View this ..." link. If you absolutely must have a flash animation on load up (not recommended) have a "Skip Animation" link underneath. Speaking of "On Load" animation, avoid any sounds that autostart with your page. Imagine you are at work, in a cubicle with 30 other people. You decide to check out a surf board website and upon loading the page, "Wipe Out" by The Surfaris starts blaring at full volume. How fast are you going to click away from that site?

8. Don't waste your user's time. Nothing is more irritating than waiting for a page to finish loading due to an excessive amount of graphics, animations, or video content. Everything that gets loaded from an outside source, like a graphic, slows down load time. As mentioned in point number 7, audio and video files load even slower. Before you add a photo, soundtrack, or animation, ask yourself whether it is important enough to the content of the page to slow it down, possibly losing viewers.

9. Do be organized. This applies to how content is laid out on a single page as well as how you navigate between pages. Pages should be consistent with the navigational controls in the same place on every page. The best way to accomplish this is with a template. Lay everything out once and keep this layout consistent throughout. Coding in PHP will help here as things like Headers and Button Bars can be written to a separate file and imported where needed. CSS also helps define the color scheme and fonts for the entire website.

10. Do be generous. Give viewers something for taking the time to visit your site. You may be giving them a reason to bookmark your site for future inspection. An example would be this handy list of "Do's and Don'ts." This is good information for anyone that is planning to design their own website. Many of these lessons are very expensive if learned the "hard way." However, by visiting The Working Area, viewers leave with the lessons leaned from professionals with years of web programming.

11. Don't have Pop-Up windows. They are a nuisance to most users. Find another way to get your message across. Most browsers are going to disable them anyway.

12. Don't mess with the user's default settings. Never change the size of the browser window. Visitors may have negative attitude toward this kind of intervention. You should be aware that by changing the user’s settings, you will most likely turn the visitors away from your website. Along with that, don't force open a new window. This is very close to Pop-Up windows on the irritation scale. Unless a link takes the visitor away from your site, each link should load in the existing window. If the user wants it loaded separately, they can right click the link.

13. Do have a Search Box. Customers have come to expect them. A small site might be able to get away with not having a search feature, but only if they don't have products. And whose to say that your site will stay small? Part of planning for the future is planning for growth. As your website grows, so will the need for a search box.

14. Do tests. Then do more tests. Then retest everything. Don't just click on what you should click on, but click everywhere, on every link, and every image. Make sure you view it on every version of every browser you can find. Something that looks great on your 17" monitor running Google Chrome may look awful on a 3" touch screen running Safari. Make sure every graphic you use loads. Nothing points to a lack of professionalism faster than the iconic broken link symbol where your snazzy photo was supposed to be. Along with testing the site, proofread the content. Then have your spouse proofread it, then your neighbor, then a stranger. You are going to make typographical, grammatical, or spelling mistakes. What you don't want is for a potential customer to be the one that finds those mistakes.

15. Do hire a professional. The above do's and don'ts are a great guideline for building your own web design, however unless this is a school project, or a hobby, your website will be vital for attracting new clients and providing information to your existing ones. Hiring a professional will do two things for you. It will free up your time to focus your attention on building your business, and as long as you hire The Working Area, your website will be fast-loading, easy to navigate, and content rich.