9 Keys to an Effective Website

Many small companies choose not to invest in a professionally designed website, although a well-designed Web site may raise the company's level of professionalism and exposure ? AND drive business and sales!

Make sure your website is working for you with the following characteristics:

Usability enables your users to get the most out of your site. This means that the site's navigation is consistent, clear and easy to follow; forms and links are in working order; and the information on the site is current and answers incoming clients' potential questions.

Findable: If people can't find you, then they won't buy from you. Make sure your pages have text coded in HTML instead of embedded in the graphics, so that search engines can read it. Put ALT tags on the images you do have ? search engines look at these, and they can improve your rankings. Include META tags in your code and submit them to at least the major search engines. You can do this for free ? ask me how! Finally, find some online directories where your site would be a fit and add your site to those directories. This is one more way potential clients can find your site; having directories and other sites linked to yours can also increase your ranking in the search engines.

Legible fonts, sized for easy reading on different platforms and browsers. Also, make sure your font is either significantly lighter or darker than your background color or pattern, so that your site is readable for colorblind people, too. If you're using a background pattern, make sure that it doesn't interfere with the text.

Cleanly designed, with graphics that enhance the website's message, instead of detracting from it. This applies to animations as well, which should be designed with a purpose.

Reinforces and repeats elements of your brand image, building upon the design of your corporate logo and other materials and repeating your company's message. Consistency of your company's brand is important across all media.

High-quality graphics that are optimized and saved in the correct format for their content ? JPEG format should be used for gradients or photos, and GIF format should be used for images with areas of solid color.

Fast loading: Optimizing your graphics and writing clean code will ensure that your users only wait a minimal amount of time for the page to come up. If people don't see your site quickly, they're more likely to click away from it or not return in the future.

Cross-platform compatible: Make sure that your site looks the same on PC and Macintosh systems, and on Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla and all the other browsers ? that way, you're not missing any of your audience! You'll also want to make sure that the site looks equally as good in older versions of the browsers ? not everyone updates their browser software when new versions come out.

Clean code will load fast! Well-written code is also less likely to load incorrectly in different browsers. Clean code will also enable other web designers to pick up the maintenance of your site easily if you decide to transfer those responsibilities to a new designer.

A well-designed website works as a qualifying agent and also provides information 24/7 about your business to all your potential clients. It is a vital resource and marketing tool for doing business in today's global marketplace.

About the Author

Erin Ferree, Founder and Lead Designer of elf design, is a brand identity and graphic design expert. She has been helping small businesses grow with bold, clean and effective logo and marketing material designs for over a decade. elf design offers the comprehensive graphic and web design services of a large agency, with the one- on-one, personalized attention of an independent design specialist. Erin works closely in partnership with her clients to create designs that are visible, credible and memorable ? and that tell their unique business stories in a clear and consistent way. For more information about elf design, please visit: Logo design at http://www.elf-design.com

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