On the Web, as in person, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Delivering a succinct message and easy-to-navigate Web site will make it more likely that visitors will find the information they’re looking for, stay longer, and return.
Unless you have the design skills and time to create a professional-looking Web site yourself, you will need to either use existing Web-page templates or hire an outside designer. Obviously, the cheaper option is to use templates.
Templates can range in price from a few dollars to hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the advanced features you want and whether or not you want the exclusive right to use the templates. Some templates are as easy as dragging and dropping your images and text into predetermined slots, while other templates require some level of technical proficiency. The overall downside to templates is that you might come across other Web sites that look very similar to yours.
You can find templates from any number of sources, including TemplateMonster.com, Templates Box, CoolHomepages.com, Templates Factory, and Dreamlinestudio. Some Web hosts also offer their own templates.
If you need a more custom look or specific functionality, then hire a professional designer. A professionally built Web site can range in price from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands depending on the number of pages and technical requirements. For around $1,000 you should be able to get a basic Web site that offers a home page, contact page, and a few content pages. As your needs expand, so will the price.
There are two parts to navigation: global navigation and local navigation. Global navigation links will connect the main pages of your Web site to all the other pages. For example, a newspaper’s global links are generally: Local News, Sports, Business, etc. Local navigation are links within each section, but not found on all pages of the site. For example, under Sports, a newspaper might have a link dedicated to just
Football stories. By using a hierarchy, users can navigate through your site without being overwhelming with too many links and too much content.
There are other techniques you can use to help users navigate your site. You can assign individual colors to each section. These color assignments can be very subtle — such as changing the heading color — or they can be more overt — wrapping the entire page in the channel color. This is where a design professional can really make or break your navigation design.
Another technique employed is called breadcrumbs. Breadcrumb links offer a mini-link tree of where you are and the navigation levels you passed through to arrive at your page. For example, Newspaper Homepage > Sports > Football > Standings. Each of these words would link to their identified section. Breadcrumb links are particularly helpful in content-rich Web sites with multiple channels and sub-channels.
These navigation tools don’t have to live independent of each other either. The easiest sites to navigate are those that combine multiple tricks, always allowing the visitor to know where they are, how they got there, and how to get back.
To have a better understanding of your channels and sub-channels, you’ll want to build a site map. A site map is a list of all your main pages and channels (or categories), but not necessarily every page on your Web site. So, for example, a newspaper would not list individual articles, but only Newspaper Homepage > Sports > Football. Even if you’re not a big site, offering a site map is a good idea because search engines use site maps to crawl the pages on your site.
When putting together your site map and navigation, follow this general rule: Don’t bury your content too deep. As a rule, try to make all channels and content accessible within 5 to7 links.
Your navigation and site map can have a direct impact on your search engine optimization (SEO). What is SEO? Simply put, it’s strategies that help make your Web site search-engine friendly (i.e., making your site appear higher in Google search results). To boost your SEO ranking be sure each page has a unique and relevant title, your meta keywords and page descriptions (background data for search engines — which appears in the “head” portion of your Web page code) are filled out, the content on each page includes the keywords mentioned in your meta tags, and that you do not have any broken links.
There are some things search engines don’t like. For example, stuffing a single page with a keyword or duplicating a page. There are specialists in this field called search engine optimizers who focus solely on getting your Web site ranked high in search engines.