I’ve been saying for the last four years that every business needs at least a basic Web presence. It’s as important today as business cards were in the 60’s – a verification that you’re a real business.
William Rice, president of the Web Marketing Association, has contributed an article that summarizes the key elements you need to consider in creating your business Web site.
Seven Characteristics of an Effective Small Business Web Site
By William Rice
According to 400 plus WebAward judges, who have been judging award winning websites for more than a decade, the best small business are a product of constant evolution. Sure, your business might be competing against giants in the industry, but with an outstanding Web site, you can be doing business from anywhere in the world.
Here are 7 characteristics to consider when creating and/or refining your small business website into an award winning site.
Design – Most of us judge the book by its cover and the same goes for Web sites. If a site looks old and unsophisticated, the site loses much of its credibility. If the design is current and up to date, then the user will be more likely to continue and dig deeper into the content. Digging deeper into the content means they stay on the site longer and will be more likely to have a positive feeling for the brand or convert to a sale.
Content – “Content is king” has been the mantra of most award winning Web sites. Visitors go to Web sites for the content and if the content is missing then they will leave disappointed.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) now means that content can be easily syndicated and seamlessly integrated into a page design.
Innovation – Sometimes called the “wow” factor, innovation is probably the most difficult to achieve. As soon as everyone realizes what is on your site and copies it, you have lost the innovative edge, leaving you with the need to create something new again.
Widgets, or tiny applications that sit on a desktop or added to a social media site, are the new “cool” thing. Remember to develop something that someone will actually want to use, not something the marketing department wants them to use.
Technology – Use of technology can significantly impact a Web site’s usefulness and ability to deliver its content. If a site uses too much technology, users may have to work harder to find the information they crave. On the other hand, effective use of emerging technology can enhance the user experience by adding to the sense of innovation and “coolness”.
Flash and AJAX are wonderful technologies that can dramatically enhance a user experience — or make it a nightmare.
Interactivity – Some small business Web sites are designed only to supply information. The best small business Web sites use calculators, tools and/or video.
For example, video allows a user to see the people involved in the operations or demo new products. A more interactive site means a more engaged visitor and an increased likelihood of a positive user experience.
Copywriting – Thousands of dollars are spent designing and programming a small business Web site and all too often the content is confusing or inadequate to convey the proper meaning. Think of the effects of a typo in computer programming. One wrong character and you can spend hours debugging. On the other hand, the best small business sites are well written and proofread to eliminate typos.
Ease of use– In the early days, some of the “coolest” sites were impossible to navigate. Today Web sites are much better at letting the user know where they are in the site, via breadcrumb navigations and how to find the information they desire by leveraging call out buttons and additional information in side navs.
Keep in mind that the best Web sites deliver content in three “clicks” or less.
It is also critical to make the Web site easy to use for the search engines spidering the site, so make sure to include a text site map to make sure the search engines can index each page.
For more than a decade, the Web Marketing Association has been evaluating Web sites as part of its annual WebAward (www.WebAward2008.org) competition.
We have identified seven criteria necessary for a successful Web site and have effectively used these criteria as the basis of judging Web site development in 96 industries, including small business, for more than a decade.
Of course, the trick is to make sure all of these factors work together to meet the needs of your visitors. Every industry has its own standards that sites need to meet and the small business category has generally produced some outstanding sites, including dLife Website, winner of the 2007 Best Small Business WebAward.
Remember, excellence is relative. What works for a mutual fund site might not be effective on a small business site, so be sure to check out your competition and what they are doing online.
The other truism is that what is innovative today is commonplace tomorrow, so constant evolution is a must.
Bill Rice is President of the Web Marketing Association and has been judging Web site development for more than a decade. The 2008 WebAward Competition is currently accepting entries through June 15th! Enter your website at www.webaward.org/small_business