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Tips for Business Websites

Web Design, as design in general, is subject to changes and trend influences. Words like  fresh, modern, innovative  seem to conquer the world of design while artists strive to discover new directions. Websites are different: objectives, resources and users are the factors shaping the profitability of a site. For a site to be successful, designers need to go ahead of the rules. Breaking the rules is not a problem. Not being able to find something on a website is.   
 
The truth is that web design is not easy. There are several factors shaping the web layout and the architecture of a site, some see them as rules, others believe there are no rules at all. Yet, as far as business websites are concerned, there are some guidelines. 
 
About Us and Contact Us
 
The role of a business website is to represent a company and its products on the web, describing the company's objectives and providing enough information for the users. Users want to know who they are dealing with. The  about us  area should enclose general information about the management team, company history and company philosophy. This is also the right place to display photos of the team and the managers for a simple reason: pictures enhance credibility, as people believe that you are not trying to hide. 
 
Some websites show within the  about us  category maps and addresses for the company, while others use a  contact us  area where they display contact forms, phone and fax numbers or department emails. For some users there is nothing more annoying than being forced to fill in long contact formularies or registrations. Try to avoid such practices. Let your users decide if they want to fill in all the details or if they d rather save some time and fill in a short form. Provide options, be flexible. 
 
Products and Services
 
Depending on what a company has to offer the  products  and  services  areas describe goods or services that are either sold on the website or advertised there in order to be sold somewhere else. The categories should be clearly structured, the descriptions simple and relevant, if necessary illustrated by related pictures or graphics. Too many images though distract users from the content. Use them carefully. 
 
News 
 
This is quite simple: what's new about your company or products and services? Do you have any recent awards or events worth a web presentation? Write a text and publish it in this category. Keep it simple and try to use as many business related keywords as possible. More: distribute your news and press releases on relevant web outlets and drive traffic to your site. 
 
Try to get testimonials from your clients and display them online. Sometimes even a critique shown online can bring you positive reactions. People will appreciate your honesty, and will trust you more than they trust companies which praise their own success too much. Be realistic, careful and show concern for the users, not for yourself. 
 
Disclaimer or Privacy Policy
 
This is not a rule: it's a must! Companies deal with clients; people who wish their privacy to be protected and sometimes other sites can provide illegal or harmful information. Wikipedia defines a disclaimer as follows:  A disclaimer is a legal statement which generally states that the person/group authoring the disclaimer is not responsible for any mishap in the event of using whatever object or information the disclaimer is attached to.    The privacy policy is, according to the same source, a disclaimer as well:  A privacy policy is a disclaimer placed on a website informing users about how the website deals with a user's personal information.  
 
Put simply, maintaining audience expectations and delivering usable content are the main factors influencing the success of a business website. But the website architecture has to be followed by a cutting edge design and reliable ways to increase users  loyalty.
 
Newsletters  
 
Sites with fresh content that changes often offer users the option to sign up for eNewsletters. These should not be sent too often: studies show that too many reminders become an annoyance for many clients.  Due to the fact that they feel more personal than websites, email newsletters will generate different emotional reactions for the users. The subscribe and unsubscribe options allow companies to measure success: how many users are interested in receiving periodic information and how many lose their interest? The key to successful eNewsletter campaigns is simple: DO NOT SPAM! Let people go if they choose to unsubscribe. If your messages become annoying the negative feelings from one client will easily go to another.  Verba Volant!   
 
As with website design, the newsletter design should be uncomplicated and user friendly. People should be able to find what they are looking for fast. Even the subscribe and unsubscribe processes should be fast: the longer the time needed to subscribe or unsubscribe, the higher the lost of customer satisfaction.
 
So keep the newsletters simple, useful and easy to deal with. Do not overload clients with information. Just tell them the basics and, if they are interested, they will certainly come to you, email or call, requesting more information. To succeed, write good subject lines that will help users distinguish the newsletter from Spam. Each headline has to make sense and preferably be followed by a short abstract of the general content. Plain language is the best approach. People don't need to get the feeling they are teased or led on. For reference visit Pamil Visions and get the  Writing Newsletters  *.pdf document you can find in the downloads area.
 
Other Issues
 
Branding your business doesn't refer only to stationery and printed brochures. The website is an ideal mean to promote your business visual standards. Include your logo at the top left of all pages and respect your corporate colour scheme. Have a consistent look and feel in all your pages. Again, I encourage you to visit Pamil Visions for advice in this matter, or other branding and public relations related sites. 
 
Consistency is a powerful tool. When things are the same users know what to expect. They will not feel intimidated by new approaches or exasperated by unnecessary artifices. For example Flash collected the bronze medal for annoyance. Let it out. Why should you open your site with an intro most of the users will skip anyways? The same goes for pop-ups! 
 
Make the site easy to read. That means you need choose the fonts and their colours carefully: not too big or too light. The most legible fonts are standard serif and sans-serif (Times, Arial; Verdana). The pictures and graphics should have small file sizes to avoid slow loading pages. Optimize your pictures for the web.
 
Content you write for the web should be short, scan-able and to the point. Some business sites are afraid that users will copy their valuable texts and use them somewhere else, getting commercial advantages. For this reasons they ask the designers to display texts as a picture. Wrong: have you ever heard of print screen? If someone wants to copy your work that will happen anyway no matter if we talk about text or graphics.


About the Author: Mihaela Lica is the founder of Pamil Visions - http://www.pamil-visions.com/. She is now a freelance writer, public relations consultant and an artist. Previously she used to be a respected TV redactor, working for the Romanian Ministry of Defense. At the moment she works with small and new business helping them in their branding efforts. 

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