Five Easy Ways to Improve a Web Site

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When something is fashionable, everyone wants to be in style. But the current styles disrupt the reader’s experience. In reviewing hundreds of sites as a judge and receiving submissions for the CSS Collection, I discovered lousy content trends. Daring to be different often leads to sacrificing experience, usability and credibility. Here are five ways to instantly improve a Web site.

1. Avoid grey text on light backgrounds

Recently, the design industry decided black bored, so it was time for something different — gray. Somehow this trend caught on as many designs dumped black text for gray.

Black worked. That’s why it was boring and overused. Our monitors typically display colors differently. What I see as strong gray may appear as light gray on your monitor. Most shades of gray on a light background strain the eyes. The problem is worse on monitors that turn regular gray into a shadowy gray giving text a ghostly, hard-to-see look.

Black is hard to miss. Black makes finding links easier. Black is cool. Black needs to come back.

2. Use a larger default font size

Web 2.0 style logo design changed the bad habit of small text, but many sites still shrink their default text especially on Flash based sites and flash logo designs. To make the situation more dreadful, small text in Flash appears blurry.

Though using the Internet is routine for most businesses, many visitors still don’t know they can increase the text size. Besides, it’s an extra step they shouldn’t have to take.

A site has a short open window to convince the reader to stick around. When seeing small text, do you think users stay on the site longer once they get what they want? Boost the text size, save a step and prolong their stay.

3. Avoid using big headers/banners

Web 2.0 also brings the trend of big headers with the Website’s title and lots of space around it. Whitespace works well, but not for headers. Big headers shove valuable content “below the fold” requiring the user to scroll to get the goods.

Vertical scrolling is a mainstay in Web browsing. Agreed. But pushing the important stuff off the screen lowers your chances of keeping a “just browsing” visitor and more so in the business world. Many sites use big headers complemented with a large image, which hides their content below the fold requiring scrolling to get to it.

4. Show readers what your site or business is about — quickly

How many visitors arrive at business sites through a search engine? As you know, search engines don’t distinguish the home page from the other pages. If visitors arrive on an inner page, will they know where they are? Will they know what this site or business does?

Sites need to quickly communicate what they do … on every page. A slogan, title or tagline usually takes care of this. However, not just any tagline will do. What does “We deliver high performance” tell you? Try this. Go to a search engine and enter a keyword for an industry. Randomly click on a few results and see if you can figure out what the business does.

5. Tell readers who is behind the site or business

When you can’t find an “About Us” or “About the Company” page, what do you think?

Though a business or site could be one of the more trustworthy ones, the lack of a decent “About” page hurts. An effective “About” page contains a summary about the company or site, what it does for its customers and includes biographies of people behind the company or site. Take care to avoid jargon. Even better, have an outsider read the “About” page to see if it’s understandable. Go the extra mile and name names accompanying them with photos.

Gain trust by posting privacy and security policies. A simple “We respect your privacy” next to the form requesting information works. You can have a link to the long, blah blah policies to make legal and for those who take this stuff seriously happy. You can turn “We respect your privacy” into a link to the privacy page or put the link in the footer.

Kick butt, take notes

I learned many of these lessons simply from surfing sites, noting first impressions and paying attention to what bothers me or disrupts the experience. If you’re about to embark on a Web design project for a real estate logos company, surf as many real estate websites as possible, noting the things that work and don’t work. Anything that prompts a feeling, note that too. If something makes you smile, note it. If something frustrates you, note it.

About the author

Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl.net, helping companies build relationships with clients and prospects through content. She is the author of Brilliant Outlook Pocketbook.