In my Internet marketing & web design experience the most important aspects of a winning web site design & layout incorporates 5 essential elements.
1) Visually Appealing
When a website opens, the visitor makes a split second decision – to click or not to click. This 1st impression causes an immediate value judgment about the perceived worth of your product or service. A well organized, visually appealing presentation sends a positive message about your product or service & it could mean the difference between a sale and a non-sale. Visually appealing sites have a balance between, content, color & graphics. There is a unifying theme that unites the content on the page as well as the pages within the site.
2) Useful, Current, Concise Information
The way text information is presented (content) is important since it encourages or discourages visitor interactions, & effects the way a website is found & ranked in search engines. In short content is the critical component of a business website.
If you have a simple message present it simply. If your message is more complex, then break it into organized manageable messages. Tell the broad picture then use links to give more specifics for interested visitors to follow – like this – read more about website content do’s & don’ts.
3) Easy to Find
The beauty of the web is the bane of the web. Namely, tons of information reside at our fingertips – both useful & irrelevant. If a user does not get your web address directly then your site must be easy to find in search engines. The ability to find a website on the Internet is related to the interplay of content, design, meta tags (the title & description tags) & reciprocal linking.
• Content - When writing content make sure you are using language that the visitor will use to search for your site. Organize the content into page or paragraph groupings using key word phrases as page titles or as paragraph headers.
• Meta Tags - Use the title & paragraph headers on the page to construct the title meta tag & description meta tag of the page that the headers appear on. Also, try to stick to a single theme or product on each page.
• Design - Technically sound pages that meet WC3 website design standards incorporate all of the elements that are required to promote page crawling & indexing by the search engines. Tip: All graphics elements should have alt tags even if they are empty.
• Linking - Getting inbound links to the home page is a crucial element in how your site will perform in the search engines. Theses links can be from directories or from other websites. Links from similarly themed sources (content similar or loosely related to yours) is better that from unrelated websites.
4) Easy to Use & Navigate.
When your site opens the user should know the theme & be able to get to information that interests them in a coupe of clicks or in 5 seconds – which ever comes 1st. To accomplish this the primary site navigation must be easy to see, organized logically & it must give the visitor command over the site.
The primary navigation must be located in the same location on all internal pages. Since there is no cyber GPS navigation available for websites, the internal pages should be labeled such that the user knows where they are in the site at all times. There should be no internal dead end pages or orphans. In short, the visitor should be able to get anywhere in the site from any page.
Since all of our brains work differently, large sites with complex content should have secondary & in some cases, tertiary routes to key information. This is easier said than done because a site can seem redundant if you do not use different methods to get to the same places. For instance you could use a rollover linking system as the primary navigation, a drop down box labeled “jump to topic” as the secondary route & finally a site map as the tertiary route.
5) Optimized for Performance - the major operating systems & software configurations
A site should load quickly & the graphics should be compressed & optimized to facilitate this end. All internal links should be developed according to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) conventions since they will operate more efficiently & render more quickly in browsers.
A site should work in all the major browsers & operating platforms – Internet Explorer, Netscape, & Firefox browsers. And PC & MAC operating systems. Granted there will be some differences in text & graphic sizes since the 6 combinations yield different renderings of the same content. But, there should be no errors displaying content, graphics, and interactive media or running code.
High volume, multimedia files such as video clips should be compressed & offered to viewers with a link for visitors with a high-speed connection (dsl, broadband) & for visitors using a dial-up connection.