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The 20 Rules of a Killer Website

You have no choice. If you want to be successful online, you need to develop a website that serves the needs of your visitors in a manner that is both user-friendly and easily understood. This sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, no one thing is going to make your website a success. You will need to constantly be trying and testing new things, even if you currently have a website that is doing well. Why? Because what works today isn't necessarily going to work tomorrow!

In order to help you, here are a few rules that you should follow when developing and maintaining your own website:

1. Fast loading
If your home page does not load quickly, your visitors will lose patience and click away. Get out a timer or a watch that registers seconds. Now stare at your screen for 10 seconds. It seems like an eternity, doesn't it? Web surfers are extremely impatient - if they can't begin reading or viewing your homepage in less than 10 seconds, they will simply leave.
2. Focused
Make sure your offer is immediately apparent! If visitors can't instantly tell what your site has to offer, they'll leave. We've all arrived at sites, only to leave seconds later because we couldn't figure out what the site was all about. Your visitors are no different! Be sure that your site has a clear and distinct focus - and that your focus is immediately revealed in your titles or headings. Even a site that sells thousands of products should have a focus. Need an example? Office products - thousands of products, one focus! Or even DVD downloads - thousands of titles, one focus!
3. Believable
You need to establish credibility. If your visitors don't trust you, they're certainly not going to trust your offer! As a result, developing rapport with your visitors is critical to your success. Don't make fantastic promises or offers that you can't back up. Emphasize benefits, but also share information - facts! Use percentages and give real, concrete examples. Use testimonials. The more information you give your visitors, the more secure they're going to feel about buying from you.
4. Guarantee
We've all been burned before and every time it happens, it becomes harder for us to trust anyone. Online, it's worse. Guarantees help to alleviate any anxiety the customer may be feeling about ordering from you. If you are marketing a quality product or service, then you should not be afraid to back it up! Offer a 100%, no hassles, no questions asked, money-back guarantee. Be sure to keep your promises!
5. Collect Email Addresses
Do this as quickly as possible, from your home or index page. Give your visitors a reason to give you their email addresses. Offer them a free report, a free newsletter or free updates. Get their addresses and their permission to contact them.
6. Limit Your Visitor's Choices
Don't give visitors hundreds of choices on your main page. Lead them through your site. If you are selling a product or service, lead visitors towards the "decision to buy." Don't leave it to chance that out of a hundred choices on your main page, they might decide to look at and buy your product. In fact, if you give them too many choices, they simply won't make one. Take control and lead them to your offer!
7. Simple to Navigate
Your website should be easy to navigate. Don't make your visitors wade through dozens of irrelevant pages before you give them the information they need. Make it easy for your visitors to move through your site - they'll stick around much longer, and will be more likely to visit you again!
8. Consistent
Be sure that the look and design of your site is consistent. Choose a background color and stick with it. Choose link and text colors, and use them consistently throughout the site. Always put your navigation buttons in the same place, be it along the side, or across the bottom of the page. Consistency of design will ensure that the experience at your site is a pleasant one. It will also let visitors know that they are still at your site, and haven't linked off somewhere else!
9. Be wise when using Colored Text
Use colored text to indicate links (blue is traditional) and to emphasize important concepts or points. Too many different colors make your text hard to read - and look unprofessional. You are designing a web page, not a circus poster!
10. Be careful when choosing Colored Backgrounds
Don't get carried away using fancy background textures or colors. While it might look fabulous on your computer, it may look putrid on other computers using different browsers. Be particularly careful about using brightly colored backgrounds in combination with colored text. I've come across sites where I could barely read the text because it blended with the background color. Use contrast. Remember that different browsers read colors differently - some folks purposefully set their browsers to read only 16 or 256 color combinations. So be warned! While a white background with black text may seem pretty boring, everyone will be able to read your copy!
11. Keep Graphics Small
Graphic size (kilobytes) should be kept to a minimum so that images load quickly. You can control graphic size by reducing the total number of colors used or "crunch" them using any of the popular GIF or JPEG crunching programs available.
12. Headlines
Always remember that your headlines are the most important element of your sales copy. Test them extensively to see what attracts and holds your visitor's attention.
13. Links
Your links can be boring, or they can invite people to click on them. They can either detract from your site, or contribute to it. Think creatively when developing your links!
14. File names
Use descriptive and meaningful file names. Your files names not only show up in the search engines, but also at the top of your visitors browser and in their bookmarks! Would you remember why you bookmarked a page that looked like this:  http://www.neatsite.com/cgi-bin/900wty/f862uz?5331a7qw334   Or would you be more likely to return to   http://www.neatsite.com/cgi-bin/Newsletter
15. Java, Animation and Wild Graphics
I'm not going to tell you NOT to use them. If, for example, you are a multimedia game designer demonstrating your skills, then it may be appropriate. But if you are selling vitamins, should you create a singing, dancing vitamin troupe? Again, it depends on who your audience is and what you are trying to accomplish. A singing, dancing vitamin troupe might be just the thing to teach children what the various vitamins are for. However, whether or not this kind of animation would help you to effectively sell vitamins to parents is another question. The technology you choose will depend largely on the kind of site you have and who your target audience is.
16. Let visitors know who you are
Make is easy for visitors to contact you - don't make them hunt through your site for your email address or phone number. Part of building credibility involves letting people know exactly who you are and how they can contact you. Real phone numbers, real names and real addresses make a HUGE difference!
17. Sales and Site Strategy
Do you let your visitors wander aimlessly through your site, or do you gently lead them where you want them to go? If you are selling a product or service, you should definitely be leading them through your offer to a purchase. Even if your site is information based, you should still have a strategy. For example, at the end of an article, you could suggest another article that the visitor might be interested in viewing. Remember: Your goal is to keep people at your site!
18. Taking Money
Make it easy for people to buy from you. I'm sure this sounds ridiculous but I've seen far too many order forms that cause people to leave in frustration. People who make purchases on the web expect your ordering process to be fast and easy.

- If you want to compete on the Internet then you must be able to take credit cards. And if you don't, you will lose out - BIG TIME! Online credit card processing will dramatically increase the number of orders you receive. In fact, when you start accepting credit cards you can expect your orders to increase by as much as 400%. That's a big difference!

- You must offer a secure order page! This does not mean that your entire site needs to be "secure" - just the page that people place their final order on. If your web host does not offer secure order pages, do not despair! You don't need to move your entire site - simply have your ordering page hosted by someone who does offer a secure server.

- If you sell more than a handful of items, shopping cart software will help increase your sales. However, visitors should be able to access and use shopping carts easily - they should be able to add and subtract items effortlessly, and they should understand what is happening each step of the way. If they don't, they will leave in frustration.

- Be sure to accommodate those customers who wish to order (or to consumate their orders) offline. You need to be able to process orders by phone, fax and postal mail. You also must be prepared to handle checks and money-orders. We still receive many orders this way - why say "No" to a sale?

19. Fresh Content
Your website content must be up-to-date and relevant to your audience. If your site is information based, then you need to be sure that you are adding new content on a regular basis. Why would your visitors come back if there is nothing new for them? Plus, you lose credibility when your information is old and out of date. Make regular changes to your site. They do not need to be drastic changes - for example, quote recent web statistics instead of those from 5 years ago, change your testimonials regularly and update your copy.
20. Keep Your Purpose in Focus at All Times!
Don't lose site of why you developed your website in the first place. Every aspect of your site should somehow contribute to your goal - be it to sell, inform, or simply entertain!

----------- Condensed from the IMC Private Website -----------

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