A Web presence can be a powerful resource for your business, and your Web site is a key piece of that resource. With it you advertise, sell your products, and communicate with customers and business partners. To many customers, your Web site is your business. For that reason, having an attractive, professional-looking Web site is critical. The Web site tools that are a part of Microsoft Office Live Small Business will help you build just such a site-and you don't have to be a Web designer to do it.

The Web design tools in Office Live Small Business enable you to quickly create a site with a professional look and feel while integrating the advanced features of Office Live Small Business into your site. Choosing and applying different site styles and themes to your site is as easy as selecting options from a menu. Selecting a color scheme is also easy, thanks to the many professionally-coordinated schemes that you can apply with a single click of the mouse. All of the tools-Site Designer, Page Editor, Image Gallery, Document Gallery, and Page Manager-make it possible to add design elements to the site and individual pages without any Web programming background or special skills. What you do need is a good understanding of what you want to present to your site visitors, and that means doing some planning.

Things to consider before you design your site
The site design tools in Office Live Small Business eliminate the need for Web design skills, but you still need the raw material that will become your site content. You also need to decide how you want to present that information to your site visitors.

Note: Decide on a domain name before you start designing your site to avoid having to duplicate design effort after a domain name change. See Register a domain name for help in choosing your domain name.

Here is a list of key questions to answer before you dive into designing your site:

  • What do you want the site to look like? A professional and distinctive Web site is a must. Consider your current business' advertising and promotional materials, and any existing or new logos or other elements that you want to use. You'll want to integrate your non-Web and Web business presences for a homogenous look. Gather the product images, logo, and other design elements you will use. Decide on a color scheme that represents your business in a professional but attractive way. See Branding your site with your company logo for tips on building brand recognition on your site.

Note: This could be a good time to revamp your existing logo and other non-Web promotional materials. Make sure to include your Web address and appropriate e-mail addresses in your materials.

  • Who is your audience? Identify the target audience for your site and design it accordingly. Are you focusing on selling products online? Are you primarily interested in presenting information about your business offerings? Will the site provide articles and other information to help drive customers to your site? Understanding your site's audience will help you determine what content to build into the site.
  • What do you want to achieve with your site? This question is tightly tied to the site's audience, but there are other considerations. List at least five goals that you have for your site and prioritize them. These might include: advertise your products and services, communicate with customers and business partners, sell products online, collaborate with suppliers, and educate your customers. With your goals defined, you can determine how the site will best meet those goals within the context of your own business needs.

Note: For more tips and ideas on creating your company's Web presence, see 5 reasons to have a Web presence now and Planning your Web site. If you are going to sell products on line, see Getting started with Store Manager to learn more about online store options.

Designing your site
After you have finished the planning stages for your Web site, you're ready to start designing it. This falls into two main areas-overall site design and individual page design.

Designing your Web site

Your Web site pages
Based on the decisions that you made about your site's audience and what you want to achieve with it, you can determine what pages your site should contain. This will vary somewhat depending on your business, but most well-designed sites have certain types of pages in common. For example, you will likely want the following pages:

  • About Us This page that offers information about what your company does, its mission, and history.
  • Contacts This page should include physical address, phone numbers, and e-mail contacts for your company and key people or departments.
  • Products If your company sells products, your site should include a Products page that lists your products-or at least product categories-to educate site visitors.
  • Services If you sell services, your site should include a Services page that describes those services.

When naming your pages, stick to conventional page names, like Contacts instead of How to Contact Us, to help reinforce the professionalism of the site design and make it user-friendly.

With the pages identified, turn your efforts to page content for each page. Choose images that fit the theme of the page and present the right look for both the site and your business. Also make sure that the text content for each page is clear, concise, and of course, spelled correctly.

It's also important to help your site visitors navigate your site easily. If yours is a relatively simple site, you could probably place all of your pages at the top level. As the site becomes more complex, it makes sense to create child pages (also called subpages). These second-level pages appear in the navigation bar only when their parent pages are selected. Think about how your site should be organized for easy navigation, and make a list of pages and their subpages that you will need to create. For example, if your site includes a Products page, you might create individual product pages as subpages children of that main page. Individual service offerings would be subpages child pages of your main Services page.

Web Site page navigation

Note: The changes that you make to pages on your site take effect immediately-you are always editing your pages "live" in Office Live Small Business.

Design schemes and page navigation styles
You have several issues to consider at the overall site level. The first is to choose a color scheme for the site, and usually, that means choosing a scheme that matches your company color scheme. If you don't have a company color scheme, this is a perfect time to create one! Different styles use color schemes in different ways, so experiment with the choices available to achieve the look that you want. Other design decisions at this point include page width and alignment, the fonts that you will use for the site (be consistent and use easily-read fonts), and the header images that will appear on each page of the site. You can also specify footer information, which will typically include text-based links for the main pages in your site, along with copyright notices, if needed.

Site color themes

See First steps to a more attractive site for design tips that will help you build a great-looking site.

Office Live Small Business offers three page navigation styles, and you can easily switch between them as you design your site. The navigation style determines where the page links appear for the site. You can choose to have them appear at the left, with subpages listed under each page link, at the top, with subpages listed as a separate navigation bar under the main page navigation bar, or use a mix of top and left links, where main page links appear in a top navigation bar and subpages appear in the left navigation area when the site visitor selects a main page. Consider how you want visitors to navigate your site and choose the style that best fits your needs. See Lay out a better Web page for tips on navigation design and page layout.

Navigation layouts

As you are designing your site, review your existing business, marketing, and product content. It's likely that you already have the majority of the content for your site in one form or another, as photos, digital images, or sales and marketing documents. Reusing that content will speed up your site design and bring consistency to your printed and Web content. In some cases, you might want to use the documents themselves in the site, rather than incorporating the content of the documents into your sites. Product image libraries, process documents, and existing electronic sales brochures are good examples of documents you can use directly in the site. To learn more about the Image Gallery, see Using pictures on your Web site. For more information about using document libraries, see Add, change, or remove a link to a file from a Web page.

Make the right first impression
Your business's Web site is your business, at least to site visitors. You would not want a cluttered, unattractive physical office or shop, and your Web site should be no different. The site should be easy to navigate, esthetically pleasing, have a cohesive color scheme, be easy to read, and most of all, present a professional image of your business on the Web. In many cases, your Web site will be your customers' first-and perhaps only-contact with your business. You want that contact to be a positive and engaging experience. Plenty of planning and some thoughtful site and page design will make that positive experience a reality.