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Design Your Online Success

Web site design has always been a fascinating area for me -- not entirely in the realm of graphic design but also of flow, navigation, appearance, and content. I love to surf the web almost exclusively to learn about different feels and flavors. In the process of doing so, it amazes me to see how some sites appear smooth and refined, while others smack of being put together horrendously quick -- even when the company, product, or service is reputably of high quality.

But web site design is, in and of itself, a powerful marketing process. Many people tend to forget that people make UPAs -- unconscious paralleled assumptions -- in all areas of business (and life, for that matter). In other words, when they visit a site, they unconsciously assume that a parallel exists between the web site's design and the business behind it -- not to mention the products and/or services it promotes. If the design is poor, unprofessional or unclear people will assume that the product or company is just the same.

Regard for the human inclination to "judge books by their covers" is of utmost importance on the web, for the design is the only thing that separates you from your customer and thus is representative of the whole. Your site can either emphasize, support, or contradict your marketing message -- and do so almost effortlessly, even inconspicuously, and sometimes dramatically.

A large airline company recently conducted a survey among passengers in order to perform some marketing research. The following question was asked: "If your food trays were dirty, would you assume that the airline also does poor maintenance on its engines?" And the answer was, as illogical as it sounds, "yes" for an overwhelming majority of participants.

In "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," Ries and Trout made what I believe to be the most powerful notion ever conceived in the world of business, in that marketing is not a battle of products but a battle of perceptions. My mentor used to say "perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself," and I agree. Marketing is all about perception.

The same goes for perceived value. If you place your web site side-by-side with a competitor, and both of you offer the same product in the same way at the same price, the company that will win the customer over will be the one that, through its design, communicates to the customer that there is an implied added value in their choice.

In my seminars, I teach something I call the "Ketchup Principle." Let's say you've just met a salesperson and, after introducing himself, gives you a sales presentation. He is dressed absolutely impeccably, gave a perfect spiel, was thoroughly interested in serving your needs, and conducted a more than perfect meeting with you. But all throughout the encounter, you couldn't stop but notice that he had a little spot on his tie -- a little ketchup stain, if you will. Two weeks later, however, if I would ask you, "What do you remember most about your meeting," more than likely the first thing that would pop into mind is the ketchup stain!

As the old saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression!" This applies to everything you do or present, even to the simplest of things such as your web site's design. Therefore, pay attention to your web site's overall appearance, its appeal, its ease-of-navigation, and -- most importantly -- its content.


The Top 10 Web Site Design Don'ts

1. Don't make visitors wait, because they won't.

This is absolutely the most important thing to keep in mind as you design your web site. Remember that you only have a few seconds to capture a visitor's interest and attention - and you can't even attempt to do that if your pages take more than a few seconds to load. Don't underestimate the importance of this. Your income is directly proportional to the speed at which your web pages load.

Until analog modems are a thing of the past, the general rule of thumb is to keep each of your web pages under 50k - including the HTML code itself and all graphics. And even that's pushing it. There's rarely a need for a page to be over 25k in total size.

There are several things you can do to ensure that your pages load as quickly as possible. It all starts with using the fastest web server that you can find, but in terms of designing your web pages here a few tips to help keep your pages loading quickly:

Use physically small images, and then optimize your images to make the filesizes even smaller using software such as Adobe's ImageReady, ULead's WebRazor or any of the free services.

Re-use images on multiple pages. Once an image is loaded it will be cached in the user's web browser and therefore you can use it as often as you want on other pages without increasing load time.

Specify "height" and "width" in all image tags. By doing so, the written text of your web pages will be displayed before all of the images are done loading - rather than after.

2. Don't use cutting-edge or beta technology.

Don't worry about always trying to use the "latest and greatest technology" because many of your visitors' web browsers won't be able to handle it. And if your visitors experience technical problems with your web site, or even worse it crashes their computer, you can rest assured that they will never return. You don't need anything fancy to have an extremely effective and profitable web site -- it's a fact -- so why take the chance?

Just look at any of the top sites on the web - you won't see them using cumbersome Java apps, buggy JavaScript, proprietary plug-ins, or fancy audio. Unless your site is being designed exclusively for sophisticated users with fast computers and the latest web browsing software - a small minority - just say no to cutting-edge technology.

3. Don't use frames unless you know what you're doing.

Using frames in your web pages can get you into a lot of trouble if you don't know what you're doing. Navigation of your site is adversely affected, the URL in the location field of a user's browser won't always point where they think it does, users with non-frame browsers won't be able to view your pages, most browsers can't print a full page of frames, and most of the search engines won't be able to properly index your site.

Frames are overused, and there are really just a few things that can't be accomplished any other way. If you use frames, the benefits had better be more important than the negatives. As with just about any other web design issue, when in doubt take a look at top sites like Yahoo - you'll never see them using frames.

4. Don't use free or generic "clip art" graphics.

While you don't need the fanciest graphics in the world, you will need to incorporate at least a few of them into your web pages. At the very least you should include your company name or logo somewhere in every page - usually as part of a header or footer.

Rather than using free or generic clip art graphics, spend some time learning to create your own - or hire a graphic designer. For a few hundred bucks you can hire someone to create a really professional logo and other supporting graphics for your site - and it will make a world of a difference when compared to nothing but plain old boring text or using generic clip art graphics that can also be found on 100,000 other web sites.

5. Don't spend too much time talking about yourself.

Visitors don't care too much about you, they only want to know how you can help them - so don't waste too much time talking about yourself or tooting your own horn. The last thing you want to do is start out a web page by talking about yourself.

Create a page or a section of your site devoted to information about you and your company, and link to it somewhere. Those who are interested will read it, but don't force it down every visitor's throat. Instead, focus on how you can help the visitor.

If you find that you use your company name or words like "I" and "we" often in the text of your pages, you need to shift the focus away from yourself and more towards the visitor. Instead of talking about yourself, use phrases like "YOU will ..." to tell the visitor exactly how they will benefit from exploring your site, and by taking the action that you want them to take.

6. Don't make your site so "busy" that visitors are overwhelmed.

Take it easy with the bright fluorescent colors, blinking and scrolling text, animated gifs that loop forever, JavaScript marquees, and anything else that might be distracting to visitors. This isn't Hollywood, give visitors a chance to actually read your content - that's what they came for and that's the only thing that's going to impress them.

7. Don't send visitors away with offsite links in prime locations.

Unless your primary income is derived from selling advertising, don't send visitors away with links to other sites - especially not in prime locations like at the top of your main page. It's one thing to swap links or banner ads with a small number of strategic partners but don't put them at the top of your pages where it's the first thing a visitor will see.

When you do need to link to another web site, consider adding "target=_new" to the "href" tag in your HTML. This will open the link in a new browser window, which means that when the visitor is through with that link they will hopefully remain at your site.

8. Don't forget to test your site with other web browsers.

One of the frustrating things about web design is that there are still no real standards that you can depend on. Each and every web browser has it's own little quirks and displays web pages a little differently - even different versions of the same browser.

On top of that, no two people are using the same computer system or configuration. You have to remember that some people will be using 15" monitors at low-resolution, and others will be using 21" monitors at super-high resolution. While it's not always entirely possible, make an effort to design your site so that it's usable by all. Never make any of your pages wider than 600 pixels - horizontal scrolling is unacceptable.

Something that looks beautiful on your screen may look terrible on someone else's, so spend some time checking your web pages in various browsers. At the very least, always check your pages using the latest versions of both Netscape and Internet Explorer as the majority of users will be using one of these browsers.

9. Don't forget to proofread and spell check your entire site.

There is nothing more unprofessional than poor grammar and misspelled words in the content of your site. At best visitors will think that you pay no attention to details, and at worst they will think that you're illiterate. Sure everyone makes mistakes once in a while, but that's what Spell Check is for.

Before you launch your web site for the entire world to see, be sure to run every page through a spell checker. And if your writing skills aren't the best, have someone who is qualified to do so proofread your site. Remember, for most of your visitors your web site is the only thing they will have to form an impression of you and your company.

10. Don't forget to track your site and analyze your traffic.

Your web site is useless if it doesn't do it's job, no matter what that may be. And the only way you're going to be able to tell is if you track your site using a comprehensive site tracking system. Your web site is the heart of your online presence, and knowing how people use it -- or don't use it -- is the only way to make it even more effective.

About the Author
Michel Fortin is an author, speaker and Internet marketing consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. Visit
SuccessDoctor.com. He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 100,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/.



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