DIY business website design

by Crucible Multimedia

If you have decided to design your website in-house, there are some basic design rules you should be aware of. But if your site follows a logical structure, has useful and readable content and doesn't include any of the give-away signs of an amateur website, you can be confident of making a good impression.

How should I structure my website?

Successful and well-designed websites tend to have similar navigational layouts, in the same way that most books have a table of contents and an index.

Before you start to design your site, remember these three basic rules:

1.†††††††† tell people exactly what is available on your site

2.†††††††† help them to get to the parts they want quickly

3.†††††††† make it easy to request additional information

Each page within your website should ideally never be more than three clicks away from the home page, and contact details should never be more than one (unless you are specifically set up as an online business and want to deter, say, a large volume of telephone calls). Every page should be designed to do a job and affirm your company's message - if it doesn't, then it is wasting space and diluting the clarity of your site. Try to package information in a number of small structured pages rather then one long text page to keep the attention level up.

What should be on the home page?

Your home page should be complete picture of what lies behind the front door of your site. But don't try to cram in too much actual content - show visitors what you've got and how to get there, then get out of the way.

The home page should always look good. A splash page (a highly graphical front page with little or no content) may be appropriate for a design company which wants to showcase its talents, but for a business site the front page should always contain useful information as well.

What about the technology?

Don't feel that you can't use the latest technologies to spice up your site's look and feel, but make sure that low end users can still see key information. You don't want to turn potential customers away just because they don't have the latest browser, although you may be prepared to exclude certain users depending on the audience you are aiming for.

Always test your website thoroughly before publishing. Once your site is up and running, consider any customer feedback you get. Check your site logs to see how many 'hits' you are getting, which pages are popular and which aren't. This will help you to plan your strategy for future developments on the site.

There are some basic Web design tips you should follow to help ensure your website's success:

  1. keep the file size of each page, including graphics, to a maximum of 30 - 40k
  2. use graphics sparingly, keep them small in size and learn when to use JPG of GIF files for maximum compression. JPGs are best for photographs, whereas GIFs are better for line art or logos with a small colour palette
  3. a navigation bar, or "navbar", which sits at the top or side of each page, is an essential part of a well-designed site. It aids navigation by providing a consistent and intuitive reference point with which to reach each main section
  4. include text captions for all images and try not to use a graphic where text will do
  5. "if they have to ask they'll never understand it" - make it clear where links go and what buttons do. Don't just put "click me"
  6. avoid frames - they can be a useful navigation aid, but are difficult to master and can get you into trouble if used carelessly to capture and display other organisationsí intellectual property as if it is your own
  7. use tables to divide the page into sections. This will make it easier to read, but the main content should only be in one column
  8. don't include "under construction" pages, either publish or do not publish. If you have a forthcoming feature, then announce it on the page that you intend to link it from
  9. make the site easy on the eye by avoiding dark backgrounds and complicated images in the background. Use a light coloured background with dark text
  10. don't specify a particular browser, platform or screen resolution. Professional websites are designed to look acceptable in all major browsers
  11. get your own domain name, it will give your site a more professional image

And finally, if you are stuck for inspiration, remember that imitation is the quickest way to mastery in Web design. If you see something on another website which works for you, look at the source code and apply the same techniques to your own site.

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011

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