So…you want to design a website?
Designing a site is as easy or as difficult as you can make it! To help you with this process, let’s explore a few topics to help you design your site. We will cover the site design and layout, content suggestions, and other improvements that will turn your visitors into customers, or assist the customers you already have. First of all, we’ll cover the basics of a good site design, then we’ll give you tips on what we need to help you design the ideal site for your business or personal use.
Color, layout and design are the first things that hit a visitor’s eye, so first impressions count for a lot in web designing! Colors should be attractive and professional. Your favorite hues of hot pink and lime green might look good on your draperies or linens, but could spell doom for your website! You want a crisp, clean appearance that is inviting to look at. If you must include your favorite colors, we suggest using them as a simple decoration–perhaps a fine line or small embellishments used as accents. Your main colors should lean toward the neutral–you can go “warm” with shades of off-white and earth tones, or “cool” with greys and muted colors. Keep it simple! Stick to just a few colors. If your business already has an established color theme, use it online as well, and your business image will be consistent across all media.
Layout is also important. Avoid cluttered home pages that are a jumble of information. If you have a lot of information to give customers, spread it out in short, simple segments across several pages on your site. It is easier to digest information when it is presented in smaller nibbles, rather than one large bite on a single page. Don’t keep it buried in your site, either: a good, simple navigation system is all you need, whether it’s a menu in your header or sidebar, or “previous/next” buttons on relevant pages. Never make it difficult for a customer to find information on your site. Your site header should include your company name and logo. And depending on your site, your contact information should be accessible on each page, or at the most, one single click away.
Design combines these elements: your site’s design is what frames your content. Our graphics will include your company logo–it is your identity. Headers, sidebars and footers should remain consistent on each page, to avoid confusing customers. While some effects are attractive, we prefer to keep these to a minimum. Your visitor’s experience is the primary goal in site design: make it easy for a customer to learn all about you and your company.
Interaction includes ways your customer can contact you. At the minimum, have a contact form on your site that customers can use to send you messages. On a contact page, give your complete business name, business address, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, or anything else you use to keep in touch with customers. Include a map so they know where you are located, if you have a walk-in type of business. More advanced interaction can take place via a guestbook, a comments page, or you can have a full-blown discussion board (forum) where customers can ask questions, and either your staff, or fellow customers and visitors, can reply in a discussion-based environment. Active discussion boards keep visitors returning regularly.
Content on your site should always be current. Our design philosophy is to enable our clients to keep their own content updated, using simple tools to accomplish this. Whether you post your news on your home page, or keep your current month’s special offers and sales in your site’s sidebar, you have something new each time a customer visits. An outdated site looks abandoned to visitors. In addition, create a FAQ (“Frequently Asked Questions”) page to cover any of the common questions you are asked on a daily basis.
Extras you can host on your site include photo galleries, discussion boards, blogs (web logs), discography systems, links databases, or anything else you can imagine. Data is stored in a database, making retrieval fast and easy, and giving us maximum opportunities for customization with minimal effort.
“I’m confused! How do I tell you what I want in our new website?”
First of all, what are your needs? Look over our options above, and make a note of each page and feature that you’d like to have on your site. We can offer suggestions for the type of pages you could have on your site, but the decision is yours. Tell us what your business offers to your clients or customers, and we can help you lay out a set of pages and functionality that will serve you best. Don’t forget to visit your competitors’ sites–you need to offer something different to make your site stand out from theirs!
Next, choosing your design. Not sure what colors you would like to use? Make use of the colors your business uses, and remember that your company logo also plays a major part in your image. Visit the websites of your competitors, and make note of any other sites you encounter daily that you like the design of. Also, send us links to sites you don’t like, and tell us what you don’t like about them.
Finally, have your content ready! In other words, once the “shell” of your site is finished, we are ready to add all of your unique content to the site, and give you the tools to keep it updated. If you have an idea of what kind of content you would like to share with your visitors, that helps us prepare the appropriate pages for the content.
“I already have a website! Why would I need your services?
Consider the following:
When was your site last updated? If it is stale, visitors will click away to a competitor that has fresher content. If your menu navigates to non-existent or broken pages, or your images aren’t loading, then your current site is doing you no good.
Does your site look professional? It need not look like Google, Microsoft, QVC, Amazon or anyone else’s, but it should be attractive and look current. Rough graphics, outdated navigation, “gimmicky” special effects that serve no purpose, odd color choices or poor layout are good reasons to have your site rebuilt. It does not take much to make your site look like a million bucks, even if you’re a small “mom and pop” operation!
Are you at the mercy of your last web developer? A site should give you the power to update your own site content. Our job at Canton Web Services is to set you up with the tools to keep as much of your site updated as possible, without our assistance. We are available to help you at any time, but you should not have to depend on a developer to keep your own content fresh.
Have you outgrown your site? Maybe you need to start selling product online. Or perhaps you want to have a current news page or “blog” system in place. Or, you may need a photo gallery that you can regularly update with the latest products, or “jobs” you’ve completed. These added applications add value to your website, and a simple “calling card” text and graphics site may be something you’ve outgrown at this point.
“What kind of applications do you offer?”
We have been mentioning “extras” that you can add to your websites. We have an assortment of applications that we can install on your site–some of these are developed by others and adapted by us to fit individual sites, while others were developed in-house for specific needs. Either way, they add increased functionality to your site, and in many cases, will provide you with return traffic to your site. Here are some live “samples” of the types of applications we offer, with explanations of what they are used for.
Blog (aka “web log”): this is an application that allows visitors to read current articles posted by the author (or authors) of the blog. These are popular as they are very easy to use, and they also invite comments from visitors. A blog can be a valuable business tool–you can create helpful “articles” for your visitors to read, or post regular news and special offers. Entire websites can be created around a blog, actually…including our site here at Canton Web Services! Our preferred blogging application is WordPress, but we can work with any of the others out there.
Forum (aka “discussion board”): you can conduct two-way conversation with your visitors via a forum. Topics are started by any authorized individual (even your visitors), and any member can reply if they have appropriate permissions. You will need someone to regularly monitor the posts in your forum, but with regular staff participation, a busy forum will keep visitors coming back regularly. It is a great way for customers to ask questions about your products or services, as they can further interact within the topic if they have additional comments or questions.
Gallery: we offer a couple of different gallery options. A gallery allows you to upload photos or other graphics to your website, include a caption for additional information, and present them in any order you choose. This is great if you are in a service business where you like to show your completed work online! A gallery is also a great way to show off products that you sell, although for some businesses, a catalog-like application may work better.
Catalog: whether you want to display some of your products online in categories, or offer them for sale, we have a couple of different catalog options to offer. If you need a shopping cart, we can integrate a cart such as the Americart service, or PayPal’s cart offering, into your site.
Database applications: rather than put your information in “static” pages that require our programming to change, it is much easier to put this information into a database that you can keep updated at all times. To date, we have created such applications as a discography database (for music artist that have a catalog of recordings they want to provide information on), a web links database, a database-driven FAQ system, and others. Whatever your storage needs, a database is the best way to go.