Any time is a great time to spruce up your Web site. Whether it needs a complete overhaul or just a little tidying up, your site can probably benefit from a thorough going-over.

To help you know what to look for, let me tell you about the top four fatal mistakes many designers make with their sites. These mistakes may seem like innocent blunders, but they can really kill your sales. Fortunately, once you know what they are, it's a small matter to simplify the design of your site to improve its effectiveness and really get your profits soaring.

Remember, if you really want to be successful online, you have to develop a site that serves the needs of your visitors in a user-friendly fashion. It's surprising how many people don't think about this when they plan their sites!

An important rule of thumb when it comes to designing a web site is this: Simplify, simplify, simplify. Your site should be easy to use and easy to understand. It should guide visitors through the sales process in a simple and convenient manner. Your visitors should never have to guess at what you mean or what you're trying to get them to do.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the common mistakes businesses owners make when developing their Web sites.

Fatal Mistake #1: Trying to "dazzle" customers instead of trying to sell to them. A lot of new business owners want their sites to be as eye-catching as possible. They think that by including a lot of flashy graphics and nifty animation effects, they'll capture their visitors' attention. That may be true, but these special effects can also distract visitors from what you really want them to focus on: the value of your product.

Never confuse eye-candy with content. Graphics should only ever be used to support the main purpose of your site: to get people to buy what you have to sell. You may want to impress people with your technical know-how by including lots of banners and links on your site, but too much visual clutter looks unprofessional and can ruin your credibility. Anything that distracts visitors from your copy is guaranteed to lose you sales. So if a graphic doesn't directly relate to your product or service, then it shouldn't be on your site. It's just that simple.

You also don't want to chase your visitors away with long, unnecessary Flash presentations and splash pages. If your customers have to spend too much time trying to figure out how to stop your Flash presentation so they can get through to the "meat" of your site, they'll be gone, most likely never to return.

Believe it or not, studies have shown that most first-time visitors spend only 10 seconds on a site before deciding whether or not it offers any value for them. You don't want to waste these precious seconds with a pointless splash page or distracting animation.

The best way to drive sales is to design a simple, clean site using only two or three colors and one or two fonts throughout the entire site. Avoid using colored or patterned backgrounds-you might think they look cool, but they make it really difficult to read your sales copy. Also be sure to keep your link colors and format consistent. People generally expect links to be blue and underlined. This may seem boring from a design point of view, but the links will be instantly recognizable and that's what really matters.

Fatal Mistake #2: Making your site too large. One of the worst mistakes people can make is building massive, multipaged sites that take forever to load. "The more, the better," is not the case, at least when it comes to web site design.

Studies have shown that 30 to 60 percent of visitors drop off with each click they're made to take. Your site has to be as streamlined as possible if you want it to reach its true profit potential.

As you spruce up your site, try to reduce the number of pages wherever possible. If you're selling 10 or less products, include them on your homepage. Why make visitors click through to a separate "Products" page to see what you have to offer? Remember, every click loses sales! If you can't feature all your products on your home page, group them in categories and display each category of products on its own page, instead of including a separate page for each product.

Wherever possible, try to reduce the number of files on your web pages. The more files a page has, the longer it'll take to load-especially if they're large graphics files. Use colored text instead of graphics to grab attention. If you must use a graphic, make sure it's a small file. Too many people make the mistake of using high-resolution images when they really don't need to. You need only 72 dpi (dots per inch) for screen resolution. And most graphics only need to be 256 colors or less.

Don't forget, you have only 10 seconds to grab people's attention. The longer visitors have to wait for your site to load, the less likely they are to stick around and find out about your products or services.

Fatal Mistake #3: Designing confusing navigation. Some Web designers like to show off their skills by creating new and different ways to navigate through a multipaged site. Sometimes they hide links beneath icons or images, so that users can't find the links unless they mouse over the graphics. This may be very clever, but it certainly doesn't help people find what they're looking for.

Other designers put their navigation bars in different places on each page of the site, or change the look of the navigation bar itself, which can be awfully confusing. Navigation bars are like traffic signs: They have to be consistent and easily understandable to be effective.

The best way to deal with your navigation is to make it simple and obvious. It might seem boring and unoriginal, but that's the point. People don't want to have to spend time figuring out how to make their way through your site-they want it to be easy to understand. Otherwise, they'll go somewhere else to find what they're seeking.

Fatal Mistake #4: Burying essential information too deep within the site. Web surfers are impatient people! They don't want to spend a lot of time trying to find what they're seeking on your site. According to market research done by the Garner Group, more than 50 percent of all Web sales are lost because site visitors can't find what they're looking for.

If you've buried important information too deep within your site, you're losing out on more than half of your sales!

A Web site should be like a newspaper story. All the really important information about your site-what you're selling and how it benefits people-should be the first thing your visitors see. That's the best way to capture their attention and get them to read more.

If you have only 10 seconds to grab your visitors' interest, don't make them waste time scrolling down your homepage or clicking through to deeper pages. People don't want to take any extra time to find out what you're offering-you have to provide it to them right up front. Don't make them look for it; hit them between the eyes with it!


Corey Rudl, author of Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet and founder of www.marketingtips.com, is widely recognized as an Internet marketing expert because what he teaches are not theoretical approaches to online marketing but real examples of what works.