Small businesses are succeeding online as American’s turn to the Internet to search for products and services of all kinds. Competition could get rather fierce as unemployment rates increase; traditionally, this coincides with an increase in small business startups. Whether starting a website from scratch or revamping one, these pointers will help guide small businesses convey their messages consistent with web surfers’ expectations.
Pictures tell a thousand words
Ineffective: These websites have many characteristics—photos take more than 10 seconds too load or Flash animation looks great, but doesn’t convey important messages or grainy, low-resolution product photos look unprofessional.
![filekey=|2323| align=|left| caption=|The Segway.com website: an example of good balance between page elements| alt=|the segway website home page|]Effective: Product details combined with captions guide the untrained eye toward features and benefits quickly. Be mindful of optimizing pictures in a few different methods. Work with sizes, colors and pixels of every graphic so they load in a timely manner and look great. When creating code, make sure there are Alt Tags, descriptive words that pop up when a mouse pointer is hovered over a photo. First, this improves search engine content. Second, viewers who either cannot see the graphics or choose to block them are still able to get the full experience.
White space offers a place to rest
Ineffective: Overcrowded, dreary palates of colors on one hand, and barren wastelands of white space randomly spattered with brightly colored graphics on the other. Both distract visitors from understanding where their eyes should go and what they should do when they get there.
Effective: Colors used to enhance logos and pivotal graphics help establish patterns quickly, letting visitors focus on finding what they need. Using white or light colored backgrounds paired with dark colored text helps prevent eyestrain; dark backgrounds sometimes work, just be careful to keep a balance.
Plan pages in regions and have a specific goal for each region. All regions should work together to accomplish one goal—click throughs.
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Words seal the deal
Ineffective: Websites often present like brochures. Lengthy descriptions about a company’s mission and goals on the homepage miss the mark. It doesn’t address a customer’s needs. Surfers don’t read—they skim pages for the information that best suits their immediate needs.
Effective: Cut to the chase. Web surfers are seeking solutions to their problems or filling voids. Present common problems and how products and services offered through the site can help solve those—dark rooms need stylish lighting solutions and growing small businesses need offsite helpdesk support. Write around 150 words about the company’s main offerings using basic and direct terms that potential customers will use in search engines.
![filekey=|2322| align=|right| caption=|The Seo Book keyword suggestion tool page| alt=|The Seo Book keyword suggestion tool page|]Search engines rank sites on keyword content. While it is necessary for good rankings to have keywords, it is pivotal to have meaningful, well-crafted words that drive readers to action. Try using Google Adwords to find popular words and phrases used by searchers (requires a Google account). SEObook.com also has a keyword suggestion tool which is very useful for creating effective lists.
Many designers default to using Flash to design websites because they look great and do fancy tricks. Flash uses complex codes to render the images, which impedes search engines as they often move on before getting to the content. Consider going with an html site with Flash components to present the most important visual elements.
Navigation bars point out important sections
Ineffective: Some websites hide the navigation bar in odd locations or make it so fancy that is difficult to identify as a basic component of the site.
Effective: Featuring the navigation bar through highlighting, bold colors (that reflect the logo) and short words helps readers immediately identify this essential component.
Navigation bars are the call to action. Make it clear. About and contact pages are usually the most clicked links; help visitors find them. Avoid Flash as it makes links difficult to locate, which means only the homepage will be indexed by search engine spiders.
![filekey=|2324| align=|left| caption=|The CoffeeCup.com product page| alt=|The CoffeeCup product page|]Forms identify action
Ineffective: Poorly designed forms dominate small business websites. Alignment and stylizing are often issues that impede a cohesive look. Web surfers may assume low-end looking sites are phony, not reputable or too new to take a chance on.
Effective: Flash-based forms provide a high-end look and come with several benefits, one of those is avoiding spam emails. Results can be posted to files or sent to an email address and codes are complex, keeping the email address hidden.
There are a few inexpensive form builder programs that create Flash products without the high price. Check out CoffeeCup.com for their line of well-priced programs utilizing Flash technology.
Blog, blog, blog
Ineffective: Many users start to blog then feel overwhelmed or underappreciated, so give up soon after starting.
Effective: Develop a plan that features online resources, industry specific tips, how to solve common problems, advice about today’s markets and other information that demonstrates knowledge. Avoid the temptation to stray off topic. It’s okay to reveal some personal information, but business should be the guiding principal.
Check out common blog programs, such as WordPress.org, Blogger.com and Blogster.com, for freeware the makes getting content online easier than html coding.
The last and possibly one of the most important aspects of driving traffic to websites is marketing. Without visitors, there are no sales. Try adding comments to other industry-related blogs (include a link back), develop a pay-per-click campaign on Yahoo! and Google using keywords, trade links with businesses that have similar customer profiles, participate in social networks and submit press releases to free media outlets.