A Website Checklist

If you've just finished building your new website (or revamping your old one), how can you be sure it's "ready for prime time"? Or maybe your site's been around for awhile and you think it may be due for a makeover. Because Web technologies, techniques and standards change so rapidly, even a website that seems "cutting edge" when it's built can look obsolete a year later. Or maybe you started out with a barebones website and finally have the time and/or money to take it to the next level. If you'd to give your website the once over, here are ten aspects you should consider:

Compatibility: Will your website display correctly for most people regardless of their computer hardware, operating system, browser and monitor resolution? Make sure your site renders properly for as many users as possible. If any features of your website require certain browser plug-ins, provide a download link. Remember that not everyone will have Javascript enabled and that graphics can be turned off by the user; make sure your site will still work without them.

Completeness: None of your website should be "Under Construction". Websites tend to evolve over time and are never truly "finished", but that's no reason for your website look like a construction zone. If you must include pages that aren't completed, at least put some informative content on the page to motivate people to check back later. Otherwise leave out the section altogether until it's ready for prime time.

Content: Do you need to update the text on your site? Have you added services, expanded your product line, targeted new markets, or changed your business strategy? Is your website's description of your company current and accurate, including your contact information? Could the content be written more clearly, convincingly, or succinctly? Could your website be more informative, helpful, interesting or relevant? Would customer testimonials or an FAQ section strengthen your sales message? Check all of your site content for incorrect grammar, spelling errors and typos.

Graphics: Do your graphics contribute to or detract from your website? A website with no graphics would be uninteresting, but a site with too many graphics, animations, and different fonts is overwhelming and distracts from your sales message. The trick is to find the right balance. Use animations sparingly, especially those that "loop" (play over and over). They can easily become annoying and distract from your sales message. Remember that banner ads count as graphics, too, and one or two per page is plenty.

Interactivity: You might consider making your site interactive by adding a mailing list, message board, poll, ezine or guest book. A contest or trivia quiz can attract visitors and bring them back more often. Rotating content like a joke, quote, or tip of the day keeps your website interesting. Don't feel obliged to add all the latest bells and whistles just because you can, but ask yourself whether some advanced features might give your website the edge. If you don't want to provide the content yourself, check into content available from syndicators (just keep it relevant to your target market and your other site content).

Links: Are all the links on your website working? First make sure any links between pages on your site are directing site visitors to the correct page. Check all of your links to other websites, too; the webmaster may have renamed the page or removed it altogether, and those dead links will make your site look unprofessional and frustrate your site visitors. If you've removed some of the pages from your own site, set up a custom 404 page that redirects your visitors to your home page (or a search page) when they try to access a page that no longer exists.

Speed: Does your site load quickly enough in the viewer's browser? The "Eight Second Rule" is a good rule of thumb, meaning no site visitor should have to wait longer than eight seconds to view the opening page of your website. After eight seconds have elapsed, chances are good the viewer will give up and go elsewhere. If you have graphics or animations that take awhile to download, provide some engaging content to hold their interest while they wait. Adding graphic elements always comes at a cost in terms of slower loading times, so only include graphics if they really contribute to visual impact of your website and strengthen your sales message.

Navigation: Is it easy to find information on your site? The opening page should tell visitors, at a glance, who you are, what you do, and how to find what they're looking for. From there your visitors should be able to follow a logical path to learn more about various aspects of your business. If you list products or services on your site, organize them in a logical way. If you decide to use graphic icons instead of text, make sure their meaning is obvious. Make it easy for your site visitors to find what they came for.

Search engine optimization: Is your website optimized to rank for important keywords in the most popular search engines? Double check your page titles and meta tag keywords and descriptions to make sure they are accurate and descriptive. Did you work your keywords into the actual page content as well (including variations)? Is your website focused on a specific theme, and do you have plenty of informative content related to that theme? Is your website spider-friendly (meaning search engine spiders can access every page and read the most important content from the source code)?

Style: Is your website's style consistent with your business goals? Ask yourself what you want your business image to be, and make sure your website enhances that image. Is your company's style polished? Friendly? Trendy? High tech? The look and feel of your site should reflect that style. Does your website still compare favorably with those of your competitors? Your website should reflect favorably on your business and help you to build your corporate image. If yours doesn't, maybe it's due for a makeover.

Usability: Usability refers to how easily site visitors can use your site. The best measure of usability is feedback from users -the people who visit and try to navigate the site. If you have received complaints, comments, questions, or suggestions from site visitors, change your site accordingly. Of course, dissatisfied customers won't always let you know. That's why you should also analyze your Web logs to see whether visitors quickly abandon certain pages or don't visit some of your pages at all. Think in terms of building pathways through your site that visitors can follow. A well-designed website leads visitors deeper into the site without frustrating or confusing them and doesn't lose them along the way.

Jane McLain is a Web developer and SEO specialist and the webmaster of EClaunchsite.com, an online resource center for netrepreneurs with tools and information to help you plan, build, launch and grow your e-business.

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