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Keys for Designing a Successful Site

By Caroline Waxler
October 17, 2006

What to strive for when designing your business website.

Justin Kitch, CEO and co-founder of Homestead Technologies, Inc., runs a business providing users with website creation software. This can be both a good and a bad thing -- for a business ownerís ultimate goal of creating a successful site. While the webmaster or other person designing the site can add bells and whistles at their discretion, sometimes they do go overboard.

Kitch had to intervene in one clientís case. The business chose multiple add-ons, such as a plethora of twinkling lights and twirling letters Ė so much that it became a customer turn off. As they say in a certain fashion magazine, that was an example of a Glamour Donít!

Hereís how your business can avoid such a fate.

Think elegant

Just like in any well-run office or home, getting rid of clutter is key. The same applies to your website. There should be lots of white space, no background, and no sounds, says Kitch. "People arenít going to a restaurant website to be entertained. They are going there to find out information about eating at the restaurant." Unless you are a running a site made for entertaining viewers, leave the dazzle to Hollywood.

Make sure that the design doesnít overwhelm the content, says Andrew McLendon, chief creative officer at Web Advanced, an Irvine, Calif. website design company. The website should be clean and straightforward. Period.

Why it exists

It should be evident why the site exists. "If itís not clear, then you have already failed," says Kitch. It should have a single header. The name and simple tagline should describe exactly what you do. "Your site should reflect what your company delivers," adds Victor Liu, CEO of Web Advanced

People tend to forget that their sites have to have a purpose and a reason for visitors to go there. And, if thatís not apparent, thereís a problem.

Usually, says Kitch, what users want is to be able to sign up for a newsletter, be recognized as a repeat customer and/or be given the benefits of being such, and want to be able to give feedback. Does your site let visitors accomplish this?

Navigate this

The site should have a navigation system thatís simple. Think about what people would want to get from your site or what theyíd want to do on your site. Then have it designed so that the information or activities are easily attained or accomplished. Writes Harley Manning, vice president and research director of Forrester Research, Inc., of Cambridge. Mass. in his June, 2006 report, "Donít Rationalize Bad Site Design": "The acid test for any design is that it must help target users achieve their goals." If that canít happen, whatís the point?

According to Liu, "When people are looking for information on the Internet you have about five seconds to give it to them." Nike can get away with more flashy effects because of who they are. A lot of small and medium sized businesses arenít Nike. They have to be more direct.

"Years ago people talked about Web surfing. I think today consumers are more interested in going in and getting the info that they need," says Paul Epstein, CEO of High Voltage Interactive, a Sausalito, Calif. online marketing firm. "Today, itís less about surfing and more about finding right kind of information."