The fifth in a series of seven essential secrets of a successful web presence

Bullet trainWhen looking at the mechanics of your site design, there are several areas that are critical to keep in mind.

Site Navigation

Clear, consistent navigation makes it easy for your visitors to find exactly what they need. Consider what they will most often look for on your web site and make sure those things are easy to find.

Consider including a “bread crumb trail.” A bread crumb trail is a series of links, usually at the top of the body of the content, that show the visitor where they are within the site and allows them to quickly get back to the main section or the home page. An example of a bread crumb trail is “Home > Products > Hammer > B21 Wooden Hammer.” Each of those words would be a link back to the bigger section.

Be Easy to Contact

You will always want to provide a way to contact you with multiple methods of contact (phone, email, physical address, fax). We recommend that you put your phone number and address at the bottom of every page in addition to the Contact Us page.

Graphics and other Design Elements

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. The appropriate graphics can make a world of difference in a web site. Graphics are not there to just look pretty, but instead should be chosen to increase functionality and to better convey your message.

It is very important that the graphics are optimized through a good graphics program, such as Adobe Photoshop, Fireworks or others. A great free online tool is also available at www.picnik.com. They are able to optimize the file size of the image (not dimensions) so that it is small as possible and still look good on screen. The smaller the file size, the faster the images will download. Quick downloads enable your visitors to find their information in a timely manner.

You will also want to consider the use of advanced elements, such as Javascript. These can be used with a good effect when used sparingly and appropriately. Be intentional about your use of these advanced elements. Never use them just because they are “neat.” Be sure to test them extensively in different browsers and different computer operating systems before using them on your site.

Page Layout

It is important to use headings and to keep the content short and to the point. This makes it much easier to scan a page to find specific information. Visitors will rarely be patient enough to read long, drawn out pages. Providing headings with short concise content allows your visitors to quickly get an idea of what the page contains and decide if they want to read further or move to another page.

Most designers design for a minimum 1024x760 resolution screen. If possible, keep your width to no more than 960 pixels wide. This helps to ensure that visitors won’t have to scroll horizontally to read your text, which can really be annoying to your visitors. As mobile devices become more popular, you may want to consider “responsive design”, which is a newer technique of making your site work on a larger variety of devices and screens.

Contemplate creating a printer friendly version. Some people remain more comfortable reading printed materials, but printing for other reasons may be required as well. Many content management systems can create a printer-friendly version automatically. It’s more work for you but also more flexibility for your visitors!

Accessibility

Your web page should be accessible to as broad an audience as possible. People with vision impairments often will rely on various assistive devices, such as screen readers, which translate what is on the computer screen into automated audible output and refreshable Braille displays. Making your website accessible also has the added benefit of making it more accessible to search engines.

Avoid using graphical images for your menus or when displaying other text. This not only speeds the download time, but it also makes these items more accessible to people with vision impairments. Always use the “Alt Text” tag for any graphics that you do include. This allows the screen reader to read a textual description of the image.

Consider making your site, or portions of your site, available to wireless devices such as smart phones. Research currently shows that approximately one third of American Internet users have checked email or browsed web pages through a wireless connection. This number will only continue to grow. You do not want to miss out on capturing the attention of this type of user.

Next: The sixth secret - Design to Increase Traffic