Design Your Website to Support Your Business

So you have a website, but it isn't helping your business very much. Having a website which actively supports your business objectives is more than a pretty design, flashing videos, and pictures of products.

A good website is designed to attract your target visitors, encouraging them to stay longer and interact more. It also discourages non-target visitors, those you do not want to serve for various reasons.

Here are eight different factors you must evaluate as you analyze your website’s business performance. They address the features and functions which establish the online interface your customers use to interact with you.

diagram showing website design ranges along a continuum from functional to aesthetic, information to experiential

Website design can range along a continuum
from functional to aesthetic, from
information to experiential.

Look and Feel Sets Your Image

The look-and-feel of your website reinforces your company’s image and sets visitor expectations. Website designs range along a continuum from a functional layout providing information to sites which strive to create an experience.

Clear Navigation is Essential
Whatever look-and-feel you choose, your navigation scheme must be easy to understand, providing a clear trail for visitors throughout the site. Use standard conventions, such as underlining for hyperlinks, so visitors do not waste time, become frustrated, and leave.

Content Attracts Visitors

Content, the reason visitors come to a website, falls into three broad categories:
• Information: your own or aggregated from others
• Products: from a narrow range to multiple categories
• Services: provided offline or online
Online stores can use any or all of these in various combinations to construct a unique offering for their target markets. Good principles for content production and evaluation are:
• What does your target market want to know?
• Not: What do you want to tell them?
• How do you make it easy for them to find this information?

Customization, Just for Me

diagram showing website content can be personalized by visitors or tailored by the website itself.

Website content can be customized by visitors
themselves or tailored by the website based on
what it knows about the vistor.

Wherever they shop, people like customization, offerings designed just for them. Websites are great at offering customized content, since the material shown can be adjusted on the fly. Website content can be customized in two ways:
• Personalization where visitors indicate their own preferences
• Tailoring where the website adjusts its content based on what it knows about visitors and what actions they take.

Social Connections Count

Shopping has been a social activity for years, meeting friends and sharing the event. Online stores have difficulty replicating this shopping experience through the limitations of a computer screen. However, social media has given online retailers new tools to help visitors build their own networks of fellow shoppers and share their discoveries.

There is no single social network which will bring success. Just as people belong to separate groups for work, family, clubs, etc., there are online social sites which cater to different interests. You must select the best social media for your business and your particular audience, then incorporate them into your own website. You must make it easy for your visitors to share with others directly from your website. Having to go from your site to another just to share a link is a sure way to encourage visitors to leave and never return.

Accessible Sites for Everyone

diagram showing hard to read text with low contrast colors and easy to read text with high contrast colors.

Use colors with high contrast to
make text easy to read on a screen.

Accessibility originally referred to making websites usable by people with disabilities such as vision, hearing and motor skills. General principles for accessibility involve making websites easy:

  • to see and hear, with alternative methods
  • to use, no matter what device is chosen
  • to understand, with simple, clear text.

Many of these can be readily accomplished by using good design principles as you build your website. In the end, making websites accessible and easy to use makes good business sense, because an inaccessible site means fewer visitors. Linking In and Out Hyperlinks, clicking on a link and being taken to a different site, are one of the great features of the Web. Links are a two-way street where outgoing links let you provide directions to valuable information for your visitors, while incoming links from other sites enable potential customers to find you. You should have an active program to build incoming links from reputable websites which are related to your business, as well as providing outgoing links which customers can use to help them evaluate and decide.

Make Communication Easy

The Internet is a great communication tool where businesses can make it easy for visitors to communicate with them.

Communications can be responding where two-way conversations are held or non-responsive where information is sent to them only when they request it.

The variety of online communication tools has grown rapidly, there are plenty of choices for every business to communicate effectively with its customers.

Commerce that Just Works

If you are selling products or services on your website, you must be able to process financial transactions fast, easily and securely. Here is a list of basic e-commerce processes. These are minimums, you must do all of these well.

  • Registration
  • Order selection and configuration
  • Shopping cart operation
  • Delivery options, time and cost
  • Payment approval
  • Order tracking
  • Returns

Many websites fail because they were designed without taking business needs into account. Every business and website is different, but they all must consider how these eight factors affect the interactions with their customers.

A version of this article appeared in 2011 on the PowerRetail website as Getting Started Online: Designing Your Website to Support Your Business.


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