Tips for Effective Websites

How can you build a website that effectively delivers information to your target audience? Here are a few tips from the professionals:

Choosing a Domain Name

It's important to recognize that your domain name doesn't matter to visitors on the internet, who will be clicking on links or bookmarks to navigate. In addition, although domain names DO have some effect on search engine optimization, it's not enough to be a primary concern. We recommend using the following criteria when choosing a domain name: First, is the name easy to write down correctly when spoken aloud? Second, is it understandable at a glance when read off of a sign? Third, is it short enough for a slow typer to enter it easily and correctly?

Keep It Simple

When you start building your website, it's natural to want to implement all of the interesting and engaging features you've seen online. Before you begin, ask yourself what YOU value about OTHER websites. Most people find that the websites they would tend to design are much more cluttered than the websites they prefer to visit. Consider the merits of simplicity, and carefully weigh the benefits of any desired feature to ensure that it's right for your specific website.

Cater To Search Engines

When trying to keep your website clear of unneeded features, it's helpful to understand the role that the homepage plays on a modern website. Most visitors to your website will NOT set it as their homepage. In fact, many visitors will reach a specific page within your website via a search result, and will never see the homepage. Although some visitors will browse your website after arriving, many will simply leave after skimming the page they arrived at. Thus, it's much more important to have cohesive pages that present their information well than to have a featureful homepage.

Create High-Quality Pages

Regardless of how someone arrives at your website, they will expect all information on a specific topic to be located in the same area of the site. Most of the time, this means a single page or a subsection of related pages. Avoid creating alternate locations on your website that a visitor would need to check, such as a "links" page. Instead, present any additional resources somewhere on the same page as the related information. Try NOT to direct visitors to a file (such as a PDF or Word document) as part of the main content of your website. Document formats are appropriate as additional resources, but not for presenting main concepts.

Utilize Common Conventions

While it's tempting to try to create a new and creative way for visitors to navigate your site, it's important to remember that visitors will often leave rather than take the time to figure out a new feature. For this reason, it's important to use conventions that are well-understood, such as underlined links or images that look clickable. It's also common for you to want to "keep" the visitor on your site by forcing links to open in a new window. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect, as the "back" button in a new window will not be able to return the viewer to your site.

Display Original Content

It's common for people to want to build a "one stop shop" for their subject. However, it's better to link to any related content that's available on other websites, rather than copying it. This can help you avoid copyright infringement, and can also ensure that your copies of the information do not become outdated. Remember that many visitors to your site will be using a search engine to locate information, and the most authoritative source of any piece of information will appear first in the search results. This means that copying content from other websites is relatively futile, as you will never be the most authoritative source of that information.

Be Yourself

In order to appear in search engine results as an authority in your subject area, focus on the specific value that you add to your topic. Make it your website's primary mission to present that specific value to your audience, without watering it down with information gathered from other authorities. In this way, your target audience will find you more easily, and visitors to your website won't be overwhelmed by content that they may have already seen elsewhere.

Know Your Audience

It's important to design your website with a single audience in mind. Though you may get traffic from all types of visitors, an effective website has a single main audience, which is specific to the value that the website provides. Try not to add features or information "just in case" you get traffic from other types of visitors. Instead, be mindful of the needs of your target audience, and try to design your website to meet those needs as simply as possible.

Maintain Your Content

As time passes, consider going back over existing pages to verify that the information on your website is still accurate. Although it's ok to have archives of news or events that don't get updated, resist the impulse to simply add more and more content to your website as time passes. Instead, try to maintain an up-to-date resource for your topic area that changes with time and always provides good information. Delete information that's not currently relevant - such content confuses new visitors, who will simply leave your website rather than sift through large amounts of data.

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