How Reader Friendly Is Your Company Web Site?

Here are 10 guidelines to increasing your website's level of communication...

1. Mastery, not mystery

There is a special skill to communicating the essence of your business to a very diverse audience in a few easy-to-read lines. Use a conversational, but not familiar, style - i.e. use 'we' and 'you' in your communications, but not phrases like 'have I got a deal for you?!' Think of your Web site as a tool for dialogue.

2. Content breeds loyalty

Visitors to your site judge the professionalism of your business by the content presented. Good quality, topical and readable content can engage the visitor and encourage repeat visits. Keep your content up-to-date, otherwise visitors may suspect that the site is lying dormant. Build content resources at your Web site around specific themes that visitors to your Web site may find interesting.

3. Three clicks and you're in

Impatient users want to go through no more than three clicks between identifying your site and finding the information they require. Make site maps and internal search facilities available at the home page. Use hyperlinks and easy-to-use menus throughout your site and always provide a route directly back to the home page.

4. Keep it simple, stupid

When people are surfing they generally don't want to spend more than a few seconds on any one page until they have found exactly what they are looking for. Too much text on your home page will cause visitors to move on. Provide brief introductions using short sentences and display clear and enticing links to more detailed information.

5. Lower the entry ramps

Following on from the last point, don't leave the visitor waiting too long to receive your pages, especially the home page. There are some tricks for speeding up the process.

1. Use small graphics (i.e. keep dimensions and file sizes small), especially for the essential images that appear on the top of the page.

2. Avoid complicated animated graphics.

3. Use alt tags on images so the user can see what is coming.

4. Use standard HTML text and avoid the need for extra plug-ins, unless this is essential to your site.

6. Encourage follow-up

Visitors need signals of credibility, especially if you are hoping to engage them in e-commerce. Easily accessible contact details including telephone, fax numbers, postal address, and automatic email links build trust. Provide contact details for specific departments if necessary. Respond promptly to queries.

7. Cross-Link

Clear internal links between your pages and among documents presented at your site will increase the number of page views from one visitor. Cross-linking your material with documents and information at other Web sites is not going to lead visitors away from your site. If a visitor remembers you as a source of many valuable links you will be used as a starting point for searches for particular types of information - again and again. Make sure that you are linking your visitor to quality content and that links are clearly categorized. Investigate the possibility of establishing reciprocal links back to your site from sites you provide cross-links to.

8. Make it easy for downloaders

Users may want to print off interesting material from your site to read later. HTML Web pages are difficult to print because of the frames and because it is not possible to bloc off only desired material. Copying from the Web page and pasting on a word processing changes spacing and looses font and graphics. PDF format allows for printing of specific pages, but is a more cumbersome download. Give the visitor options. Where you make long documents available in HTML, provide the visitor with the option of downloading the document in PDF or Word format.

9. Be coherent

Make sure that visitors feel like they are moving about in the same environment as they move from one page to the next on your site. Keep your business logo and name ever-present. Maintain a similar format for page layouts. Use a consistent writing style and business line throughout your site. Links to previous pages and to your home page orientate the visitor.

10. Make sure they can find you

Maximize traffic to your site by creating strategic external cross link arrangements and registering multiple pages of the site with major search engines.

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