Everything that was a status symbol in the 1990s quickly went from a successful expression to a common accessory, ending up as a boring appendage of modern life in the first decade of 2000, then coming back in vogue in the second. It applies to everything from cell phones to mustaches, from wristwatches to websites. At the dawn of the internet, having a website was the way a company projected itself into the future. With the spread of social media, the website became a superfluous accessory, but one that was worth saving to avoid having the domain name stolen. A website should be a tool for selling and spreading the brand. Here are ten simple rules to get real benefits and avoid presenting yourself to the world with the online equivalent of a cell phone the size of a 90s iron.
Content first and foremost
Don’t put it online until you have enough content to justify its existence, because nobody is interested in seeing a static page with your logo and phone number. For this basic information, there are yellow pages. To have an effective website, present yourself to the world with interesting content, useful information, clear messages. The visitor who more or less accidentally arrives on your site and finds two half-empty pages with nothing to suggest a future update. He will then classify it as an uninteresting place on the web to visit and go elsewhere. To launch your new business, it’s best to get the word out through a promotional event.
What to write and how much to write: finding a balance
There are many reasons to have an effective website. In some cases, the e-commerce platform for selling your catalog may be the core of your online presence. Nevertheless, especially if your brand is not particularly well known. Your site should have interesting content that is different from just promotion in order to sell. Among the most useful tools for a website, there is the news section, which very often, depending on the structure of the site, can become a real blog section. This will be a window for you to communicate with the public in an interactive way, sharing information and opinions about what you are passionate about and what qualifies you as an expert in your field. Always keep in mind, however, that it is counterproductive to fill your site with unnecessary or redundant information. It is very difficult for you to produce content that is not available anywhere else on the web, but at least your approach should be unique and personal, to give visitors a reason to use this information with you and not elsewhere. When in doubt, remember that one useful and meaningful post is always better than ten useless ones.
The devil is in the details: correct drafts
The Internet is a bad place, especially because it’s the realm of the troll. Resign yourself and act accordingly. Proofread drafts of what you write and, if possible, let others read them before you publish them. This will help you avoid the wrath of the many deadbeats who spend their days berating others for typos. Your only defense is to always check that the information you share is correct and that the texts are well written and free of errors, that the sources are reliable.
Updates: a dead website is a dead website
Again, don’t bombard the web with dozens of updates a day. It is just as bad to be silent for months and wake up just to promote, with a post, a business promotion or an anniversary. Update the site regularly, so your regular visitors know when to expect new content, but don’t overdo it, or you’ll discourage anyone from adding your site to their RSS feed (i.e., receiving automatic updates about you).
Design: the importance of simplicity
Until a while ago, it would have been called “usability” or “navigability”, but even those terms are clearly too “user-friendly” in an age where web design tends to go back to basics. Your website is a tool, not a conceptual work of art (unless you are conceptual artists and, again, you are reading the wrong article). The design should be simple and structured so that you can access the important content immediately. There are many tools online to assess the level of usability of a site, but none of them can beat a simple empirical check. Ask the person who is less familiar with the technologies you know. If the content is clear even to a visitor who is not familiar with web languages and if it is easy to navigate from one section to another to get where you want to go and perform certain actions, then the site is well designed.
Web design for all budgets and skills
You don’t have to be a web designer or programmer to have an effective website. Of course, relying on a professional is the best way to get a good quality result. However, it is also important to put yourself in a position to not depend on someone else for every update. There are many web publishing platforms that allow you to manage your website with very simple interfaces. Some of them have already been discussed when talking about blogs, but there are also simpler ones. The complexity and beauty of the design will suffer, but at least you can maintain your web presence even if you can’t afford a webmaster. If you have any inclination for this sort of thing and some time to study the basics of web publishing, WordPress can be a good compromise between design versatility and self-management.
The horror of vacuity
Don’t fill your website with words. Leave plenty of room for images and don’t be afraid of emptiness. Baroque is a style destined not to take root on the web. A site with a huge wall of words, perhaps white on a black background, has an unmistakably amateurish taste. It’s the kind of look reminiscent of forums or sites built by teenage fans of metal bands or manga. Give your visitors a break and don’t expect them to spend twenty minutes reading the 50,000 characters you’ve filled your home page with. This kind of arrogance is unforgivable on the web.
The importance of lightness
If a site doesn’t load instantly it will be abandoned. The web is about getting everything you want instantly and having the attention span of a not particularly smart newborn. As discouraging as this may seem to you, the best way to combat this phenomenon is not to put a Flash animation at the beginning of your website that takes four seconds to load on a normal broadband connection. First, because in four seconds, the average user has already left you and started at least two different fights on Facebook. Second, the mere mention of Flash guarantees you a place in a paleontological museum with the other dinosaurs.
Call to action: What do you want your visitors to do?
Before you even put your site online, it is important to know what you want to do on your site (sell or offer a service, promote your brand or invite visitors to a point of sale or promote cultural, artistic or multimedia content). Clearly express your intention with a call to action, i.e. an explicit invitation. This does not mean that you have to cover your website’s homepage with noisy buttons marked “Buy! Play! Download! Look!” or in general to look like an online betting site. Simplicity is the key. A short, clear introduction (who you are) and a single, simple, unambiguous but not too intrusive call to action (what do you want from your visitors). This way, your site users will know exactly what to do, but won’t feel attacked or find your request unpleasant.
If you want your potential customers to find you, you must first know who they are and what they are looking for. This preliminary analysis will help you make good use of the most important tool available: keywords. Matching your content with the right tags and keywords is essential for your site to be easily found on search engines. Keep in mind that Google keeps a close eye on keyword abuse and penalizes those who attempt to index their site with popular search terms that are not relevant to the content. If, for example, you have the wonderful idea of indexing your pizzeria’s website using the keyword “bikini models”, be aware that it won’t work. Unless your pizzeria is actually a well-known meeting place for bikini models. In that case, again, there’s a good chance you’re reading the wrong article.