Building your reputation online
Greg Muller, founder and MD of Bullseye. Photo: Simon Schluter
Dynamic and interactive pages have most impact, writes Julia Talevski.
Paragraph upon paragraph of text, large picture files, heavy-handed Flash animations, generic stock-photo images and static content. These are some of the common mistakes businesses make when establishing an online presence.
The web is known for fast-paced change, so it's absolutely crucial that your business website meets a customer's expectations.
"There's a misguided belief that the more words they have, it will help their search engine optimisation," says Alex Hill from Webtron, a web consultancy company. "Most small businesses want to be found on Google now because the Yellow Pages are not really used any more."
According to Hill, a home page full of text doesn't help it rank higher in a Google search and serves only to turn potential customers away.
The managing director of web design company Bullseye, Greg Muller, agrees. "If users have to read a lot to do anything, that can put them off the site," he says.
So the message is to keep your home page simple and have short, sharp text that will engage the visitor. Avoid colour on colour because it can be difficult to read and make sure it's readable text size.
Another area where websites commonly get it wrong is in the use of images. Large picture files or flashy content takes time to load. "People will move on to some other site if yours doesn't load quickly," Muller says.
"Make sure you've got something already loaded that someone can look at if you've got a big feature on your website that might take a while to upload," he says.
Pictures should also be unique and reflect your brand. Avoid using stock photos. "Being online is about being found and when you're found, you should have something different and inviting about your site," Hill says.
Muller says: "You can use interactive elements on the site to really focus on your brand and how you want it to be perceived." These can include Google Maps and video, however, avoid useless gimmicks, such as a customer counter.
Once the website is built, it should also be updated regularly.
"The biggest mistake a lot of websites make is that once they've got it up, they don't pay any attention to it," Hill says. "If people can see something happening on the site every day, they know it's a functioning site and business."
Businesses also need to analyse how visitors spend their time on the website. Hill says business owners should use Google Analytics to help gather this data to see what is needed to improve their site.
And if your business uses social media such as Twitter and Facebook to promote customer interest, be sure to link to these accounts from your website to make it easy for customers to join. Be aware that not all your potential customers have the same internet speeds, Muller says. "Find out how your customers are going to be accessing your website and design it for them."
Research your customer base and find out what information they would be interested in.
"Before you put any pixels to a page, you need to understand your users," Muller says.
As the nature of the web keeps changing, so has the nature of website design. Hill says websites are moving from a magazine-style format of pictures and text to being more interactive and dynamic.
"Websites were designed like that in the past because everyone thought that was the way that it needed to be and broadband speeds were slower," Hill says.
"It's a cornerstone of your marketing and communication activities. Today's generation doesn't look at the Yellow Pages, they look online and you need to be found online."
Muller says: "It's important to get the right design, align to user needs and make sure it's attractive and easy. If you marry those two, then you're going to be successful."
Tips that hit home
The do's and don'ts of designing a business website.
Keep text to a minimum on your home page and write it to engage your audience to explore your site.
Ensure images are unique and load quickly.
Analyse your website regularly to see where visitors are spending time and what you can improve.
Research your customers thoroughly before building a new website or redesign.
Promote social media accounts through the home page.
Fill the home page full of text in the hope of improving your search optimisation.
Use large pictures or flashy content that will slow loading.
Leave your site static.
Use colours on colours for text, making it difficult to read.
Use generic stock images.