You need to use a web site designer for small business — a specialist — if you own a medium sized business. He will understand your needs for a simple, clean site that delivers information and appeal to the visitor.
You can tell if your small business web site is efficient if it immediately does two things for the visitor. First, it tells him your business is professional and well run — because the web site is both of these. Second, it quickly shows the visitor where to find the thing he’s looking for — because the layout and navigation is clear and easy to follow.
Big companies with big advertising and Internet budgets can get web sites that do this by hiring expensive consultants and designers who have offices in the corporate parts of the city. But a small business has less money and must do a lot of the thinking about design itself.
Here’s a list of four things to talk about with the less expensive web designer you want to hire.
1. Do you know those little ‘movies’ that display in some Internet advertisements, and sometimes take up all the home page of a site? This is a technology called flash. If you want to use a flash element you need to know the search engines won’t be able to read it. Search engines use the words on your site and links coming into your site, to know what your site is about. So if you have a lot of flash make doubly sure you also have plenty of words about your business and your industry on your important pages. Also, get your designer to keep the flash movies small. They usually take up huge amounts of bandwidth and this makes your pages load slowly. People get irritated by slow pages. So be reluctant to use flash.
2. My next point carries on from that. Graphics on a page are great. They add color and they can help direct the visitor’s eye to the areas you want him to see quickly. But graphics can also be bloated, and too many big ones and you end up with a slow-loading page. Ask your designer to make sure his graphics use very little bandwidth.
3. Even a small site can get complicated, the way pages are linked together may become confusing, and you will probably be deleting pages and sections of your site. In all this, the links that connect pages can get broken. It’s bad enough when a visitor clicks on a link, expecting to find what he is looking for, only to be told there is an error and that page is ‘no longer available’. But it’s worse when these broken links are noticed by the search engines’ little robots that scamper tirelessly through your site checking for changes. A broken link tells the search engines the site is sloppily built or not well maintained. And your site goes down the rankings. So ask your designer to check for broken links frequently. He can do this by looking at his site statistics. And as a back-up for your visitors, ask him to design a 404 page which apologies for the inconvenience and gives the visitor links back to the pages that do exist.
4. Most people use the Internet Explorer browser when they are on the Internet. But there are others. Like the increasingly popular Firefox browser. (I use this one, myself.) Then, some people will be looking at your site on a Mac computer. Each browser has a different way of interpreting parts of the html code your designer must use to build your site. This should not happen. The html code is standard, worldwide. But browsers are huge and complex, and parts of them are built with proprietary code. So there are quirks and your site may look fine in Internet Explorer but fall over on a Mac or in Firefox. So ask your designer to build with validated code that will work on all the major browsers. He will not like you for this. It will sometimes mean a lot of extra work for him. But you can then be sure your site looks the same for all visitors.