From the June 2001 issue of Startups

You're surfing the Internet, and a random site grabs your attention. But when you get there, it's nothing but glaring spelling errors, vague descriptions of the site's offerings and hideous graphics-not to mention that it's completely unclear what the company is selling or why the site even exists. Do you click the e-mail address at the bottom and ask for more information? Unless you've been practicing your Tai Chi patience exercises, probably not.

The importance of good Web site copy and design can't be overstated. Surfers will only stick around for a few seconds if they can't find the information they need or if they don't see the benefit of your product or service. "Lots of sites lose out by hiding their most important benefits further down the page or on inner pages," says Dr. Kevin Nunley, a Web consultant in Salt Lake City. "Some people read a few paragraphs and quickly decide to buy. Others want to read as much copy as you can give them before making [a buying decision]."

To make sure your Web site is delivering what your target audience wants, first think about that audience's typical frustrations. Next, make a list of your product or service's benefits. Now think about how your offering is the solution to those frustrations-and put that information on your Web site. When evaluating your site, ask yourself these questions:

1. When you look at your site, can you quickly identify what your site is all about and why visitors will want to stick around for a while?
2. Are you certain who your target audience is, and have you talked to them to find out what they value most? Have you incorporated that information into your site?
3. Are you cramming too much information and too many design elements on one page, or is it easy to see the theme of your site?
4. Is your content interesting, and are there clear calls to action?
5. Can you easily find contact and ordering information?
6. If you were a customer, would you buy anything from this site? Why or why not?
7. Does your copy focus on selling something rather than just providing information?
8. Is the copy consistent throughout the site? (You don't want a product priced at $9.99 in one place and $19.99 in another.)

These are just a few of the questions to consider. If you feel like you're in over your head, you probably are. Hire a designer, and make sure someone well-versed in delivering clean copy (such as a writer or editor) looks at your site before it goes live.

Remember, once prospects clearly understand the benefits of your product or service, they'll be more inclined to buy. And isn't that the point of having a Web site in the first place?