Good Internet Site Design
Anyone visiting this site is likely to have been on the net for some time and visited hundreds if not thousands of sites to date. Whether a site specifically provides an e-commerce function (ie. it has stuff for sale) or simply provides information about some or other commercial concern, there is just no excuse for bad design. You may not have done any Internet site design yourself (although if you do, you'll find it can be fun), for those that are involved with Internet site design, I offer the following list of points of good Internet site design. The page on writing tips, while primarily written for printed text, is also applicable to text on Internet sites.
l Browser fecundity If you need to hijack your visitor's browser with self-propagating windows to get their attention, the layout and content of your site are obviously not achieving this.
l Browser support Allow your site to be viewed by visitors no matter what browser they are using, be it Firefox, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape, Safari or any other. Restricting the visitors' choice of browsers is simply insulting.
l Colours Avoid colour combinations that cannot be distinguished by persons with the more common types of colour blindness.
l Contact details Enable visitors to select a country, state, province, county etc. and be given the name and contact details of the company office or distributor closest to them.
l Provide contact details As you will have no means of knowing whether a visitor will want to phone you, e-mail you, fax you or send a delivery to you, provide all contact details on your site. Not doing so suggests you have something to hide. I have even found sites that list job vacancies, but will not disclose their address - who is going to apply for a job when they have absolutely no idea where they would be working!
l Design contact forms correctly A surprising number of American companies, oblivious to a world outside of the 50 states, have contact forms that require a two-letter state, a ten-digit telephone number and a five-digit postal code. New South Wales, for example, abbreviates to NSW and I have not yet managed to get NSW to fit into a two-letter field. New Zealand has neither states nor postal codes. Ensure visitors from such places can use the form.
l Date format Avoid displaying days in nn/nn/nn format. The fourth of May 2010 is 05/04/10 in the United States and 04/05/10 in the entire rest of the world. Use 4 May or May, 4 instead.
l Distributors If you have distributors for your products and/or services, include them and their contact details. Sites that don't list distributors but only provide information for signing up of potential distributors are not doing potential customers much of a service.
l Ease of navigation I can't put it any more clearly - a site should be easy to navigate. The means of going from one page to another should be easy, and the 'go back' function must work.
l Provide an e-mail address Contact forms are fine for some applications, but for general enquiries, it is equivalent to requiring visitors to complete a form before being allowed into the lobby of your office! Every vendor listed in the vendor's pages on this site has been asked for a general e-mail address, preferably an e-mail address specific to the Australian and/or New Zealand office, but a few stubbornly refuse.
l E-mail address If you have a general e-mail address such as firstname.lastname@example.org which is translated to email@example.com and Fred leaves XYZ's employment, ensure that the translation of firstname.lastname@example.org is changed before Fred's e-mail address is cancelled. And if Fred goes on a four-week vacation, ensure email@example.com is translated to someone else's e-mail address for the duration.
l Entry pages In short, avoid them. There is really no benefit achieved from having pretty pictures with a 'click here to enter' button.
l Go back function DO NOT disable this function - this only irritates visitors, it serves no other purpose.
l Graphics Unless you are designing a site for the Museum of Contemporary Art, avoid excessive use of graphics and pretty pictures which ensure a site takes as long to load as it takes the telephone company to fix a fault. If I want pretty pictures, I'll go to www.webshots.com.
[On a related topic, whenever I go to a presentation and find that the presenter has used every possible transition from one PowerPoint slide to the next, I can't avoid concluding that this focus on gimmicks has come at the expense of content. Avoid gimmicks on your site.]
l Phone number Include a phone number, complete with the country code. 1800, 1300, 0800 and other toll free numbers are great, but also provide a number that can be dialled from outside the country.
l Phone number format For total sloppiness, nothing beats having a list of offices, distributors, parthers or whatever else, each with the telephone number in a different format. When a site has a list in a format such as:
Office 1, phone number 01 (987) 555 1111
Office 2, phone number 789.555.2222
Office 3, phone number "+1" (897) 555-3333
European office 1, phone number 01144 (0) 197835512
European office 2, phone number 011-33 1 33 44 55 66
European office 3, phone number +34 (0) 91 22/344-0
Asian office, phone number 01+6-03 444.55.55, extn 443322
what does this tell you about their attention to detail?
l Regional Contact If your site enables visitors to select a country and region and having done so, the visitor selects contact, provide them the contact details of the office(s) in that country or region, not just the head office.
l Search function Limit any search function to the site. Visitors will be well aware of search engines to search the Internet as a whole and don't need your site to do this for them.
Within the search function, offer search by business unit, search by product etc. Thus, if a person searches for sales, ensure that they can find the contact details of the sales offices rather than a list of 371 documents containing the word 'sales'.
l Site text Site visitors will often copy a page's text into a word processing file for subsequent reading. Ensure that the site's text is in text format, not a GIF file so this function copies all of the text, including the titles, but without superfluous blank lines, spaces etc.
l Spelling If you are an Australian company, have your site use Australian spelling and terminology (PABX, not PBX). Spell check your site! And use the apostrophe correctly - the plural of PABX is PABXs, not PABX's.
l Text fields in contact forms If the site has a text or comments field in a request form, ensure that no matter how much text the visitor enters, all of it is captured and passed to the person receiving the enquiry.
In summary, while I don't claim to be an expert in Internet site design, I know what I like and don't like on a site. A well-designed site might not bring visitors back repeatedly, but a badly-designed site is sure to discourage them from returning, ever.
© Occidental Communications, 2010