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Before You Ask For A Website Critique - Do's and Don'ts
by Cassie Germsheid
Every day there are hundreds of requests in internet marketing and web design forums to review websites. While some of the websites or blogs are really well done and link-worthy, others are poorly written, unprofessional looking, or just plain confusing.
I know that a lot of people starting out with a brand new website can be unaware of what type of pages convert better than others, so I thought I'd compile a list of "Do's and Don'ts" to clarify.
* Do have one marketing purpose for each page. This could be getting visitors to optin to a mailing list, subscribing to a membership area, purchasing a product, clicking on an Adsense ad, reading an article and sending it to a friend, downloading a tool or software, etc.
Some people may argue that adding Adsense at the bottom of an affiliate page is fine, but my feelings are that it gives the visitor an opportunity to click AWAY from your page without you making a sale. Sure you might get a few cents for the click, but wouldn't you rather have a 50% commission on a best-selling ebook instead?
* Do make sure that any decision required by your visitors is as easy as possible for them to make. For example, an easy navigational menu will show your visitor exactly where they want to go versus links spread out all over the place which will ultimately make them search (which is bad).
* Do have a nice clean template that's easy on the eyes and inviting to the reader. Clean lines, appealing colors, easy-to-read fonts, and clear graphics all add to the professionalism and aesthetics of a website.
* Do splurge and have someone design a banner or logo for your site to 'brand' it. Or if you can do it yourself, by all means save yourself some money and design your own.
* Do use a different color font for visited links. This will help your reader navigate your site better instead of revisiting the same pages over and over. I find this annoying myself when I'm on other websites.
* Do test your site in all web browsers and validate the code. There are lots of sites that offer this service for free. Some sites require you to download software to your computer, others have a feature where you can simply submit your URL to a form and have your results immediately displayed. Many times, you will find tiny errors that can cause your page to not load properly in some browsers, therefor some of your visitors are not seeing your pages correctly. It's worthwhile to take a look and fix any errors.
* Do go to your favorite internet marketing forums and submit your site for review. You will find plenty of useful feedback and constructive criticism. You may need a thick skin for this as some people can be brutally honest, but its for your own good in most cases.
* Do resize any large images. Many images can be small on the page but are still big files and can make your page load slowly. Dial-up users may find your site loads painfully slow and will simply hit the 'back' button before its finished. There are a few good tools that you can download for free that will take care of this for you.
* Do make sure your content can be 'scanned' easily by including informative headlines and subheadlines to help break up long text.
* Do continually test and track your website statistics and performance. Constantly tweak and modify to increase your conversion rates. The old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't apply to designing websites.
* Do write as if you're speaking to someone. You don't have to use big fancy words to impress anyone, but on the same note, you shouldn't use terms like "ur" or "c-ya" like many people use when instant messaging. Use proper spelling and punctuation.
* Don't use free web hosting services. If you're wanting to come across as a professional, and you're serious about your online business, its worth it to throw in a few extra dollars a month and splurge on paid hosting and your own domain name. You'll have more control over your own site and no banner ads to lure away your hard earned traffic. Some free web sites can also take a long time to load which can be especially annoying to dial-up users.
* Don't use flashy animated banners and graphics. A bunch of happy faces dancing around doesn't scream professionalism to me. Unless your website it targeting young kids, I would avoid them.
* Don't change colors and fonts throughout your site. Its best to pick a few fonts and colors, and stick with them to maintain consistency and familiarity within your website.
* Don't write for search engines instead of real people in hopes that your site will rank higher in the search engine results pages. Its blatantly obvious when people do this and it doesn't give your content authenticity that will attract viewers. Using the same keyword or phrases over and over again becomes redundant and annoying to the average reader and will lessen the quality of your website.
* Don't leave any spelling or grammar mistakes in your website. If you suck at spelling and grammar and the spellcheck is broken, ask someone you know to read over it for you. Proper grammar and spelling can do a lot for your credibility, so take care when you're writing that you don't make any mistakes. The occasional slip-up is fine, but I've seen plenty of website review requests where there are mistakes in every sentence!
* Don't use patterned backgrounds. In most cases, they're distracting and make the text or images hard to read and see. Also, bright neon fonts against neon backgrounds don't work. You would be surprised how many people actually do this.
* Don't bombard your visitors with nothing but affiliate banners or contextual ads. One woman's review request was a website with nothing but banners and I had to wonder how serious she really was about working online. Even when I started my first website, I had enough common sense to know that a page full of banners and nothing else wouldn't generate any sales or traffic.
* Don't use hidden text or any other 'black hat' SEO tactics. Getting banned from search engines like Google is one of the worst things that can happen to your website, so don't even risk it by trying to 'trick' them.
* Don't assume that your visitors know everything you do. Make sure that you explain things clearly so there is no confusion. For example, if you write about widgets, the first thing you should do is give a definition of a widget. Many people would like to know more about widgets, but aren't exactly sure what they are.
* Don't annoy your visitors with too much scrolling vertically or horizontally. Many people will argue that you can design for at least a 1024 x 768 resolution, but don't forget that many people still have their screens set to a lower resolution (including myself up until about a month ago). Also, if your pages tend to be long, consider shortening them or continuing to another page.
Ultimately, you should think minimalistic. Each page on your site should have a clear purpose, it should be easy on the eyes and it should load quickly. If not, you could lose traffic, subscribers, and sales.
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