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10 Things Your Site Must Have

Getting these 10 things right will help you impress potential customers and compete more effectively with larger businesses.

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When customers visit your website, they want information andthey want it now. If they can't find what they're lookingfor, they can get frustrated pretty quickly and leave, orworse--they could wind up looking to one of your competitors forwhat they need.

It's important to keep the user experience in mind when itcomes to your site. This means you need to find a balance betweenyour need to promote your business and your customers' need toget the information they want.

So just what are customers looking for when them come to yoursite? Let's get right to it. Here--in no particular order--arethe top 10 things customers are trying to find on your site:

1. Contact information, such as phone numbers, e-mailaddresses and physical location

2. Product information, which means in-depth informationon the products or services you provide, including prices

3. Samples of your products or previous work

4. Support, including product information,troubleshooting help, FAQs, etc.

5. The ability to shop, so customers can purchaseproducts online or at least find a physical location where yourproducts are being sold

6. Company information, such as background information onthe business and the management team

7. News and announcements, including press releases andupdated product or service enhancements

8. Employment opportunities

9. An easy way to get back to your home page. The homepage is where all paths begin in the customer's mind, and theywant to be able to get back to your home page easily.

10. Simple navigation that makes all these other itemseasy to find

Appearances Do Matter

Probably the most important item on this list is the last one...simple navigation. Even if your website effectively covers theother nine, this one item is the key because if the navigation onyour site is difficult to understand or follow, your websitevisitors may never find all that wonderful information you socarefully put together.

Your first step is to find out if your site is as easy tonavigate as you think it is. Ask friends who are unfamiliar withyour site to find a particular piece of information on it, thenlisten carefully to their experience. You may just besurprised.

Once you know what you're dealing with, your goal is to makesure your navigation is as straightforward as possible. This can beachieved by creating a simple, streamlined, page layout design.Large amounts of disparate information can make a web pagedifficult to understand, so your page layout should be wellstructured and easy to scan for information.

Drop-down menus are pretty and tempting, but if you need them,your site may be too complex. Use them with care, and make surethey can be used in all browsers. Microsoft Internet Explorerisn't the only browser on the market--many users are switchingback to Netscape or using Mozilla's Firefox to avoidExplorer's inherent security woes.

Keep your top-level navigation broad, and let visitors"drill down" to the next level. But keep the number oflevels to a minimum. Visitors shouldn't have to click more thatthree times to get their information, though two clicks is betterand one is fantastic.

If you provide a search function, make sure your search resultsare relevant and that they provide enough information for a visitorto determine where to go next.

If your site encompasses the ten elements I've noted above,you'll be well on your way to having an effective website thatserves the needs of your business and your customers. But iftraffic on your site isn't what you think it could be, take thetime to carefully evaluate your site against these ten items andmake sure each provides the maximum impact for your visitors andreturn customers.

Matthew Krabbenhoft is president and creative director ofAustin, Texas-based Fat Hat Design Inc., a full-service design firm withan emphasis on web design, identity design, branding and printcollateral. Copyright 2005 Fat Hat Design Inc.

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