Leap Onto the Web

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the February 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

If your business doesn’t have a website yet, then this month’s column is especially for you. And even if you do have a site, it may still be worth the read. If you’ve been holding out on making the leap to the web, well it’s time to move past that. Web access is available in more businesses and homes than ever, and thanks to smart phones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, people have access to the web 24/7, just about anywhere they are.

Let’s talk about this thing called “web design.” We’re going to bypass the do-it-yourself discussion. If you want to play around on your own with a hobby site or site for your family, great, but don’t jeopardize the image of your business while trying to learn web design — there’s much more to it than just understanding a little HTML code. Businesses will either have staff on hand or, more likely, will outsource the development of their site. It is very important to understand up front that graphic design and web design are extremely different things.

Layout and graphics are only one part of web design — just go to a web page and right-click your mouse, and select “View Source.” As you can see, there is a lot more under the surface of a web page.

A little self-education is important to be able to talk intelligently with potential designers or your own staff. Since there isn’t enough space in this column to go into this in detail, here are seven important basics that you may want to consider and learn more about on your own. And over the next few months, we’ll tackle some of these in more detail.

Web Standards – developing websites around recommended technical best practices.

Table-less design – not relying on HTML tables to control the visual layout of a web page.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) – separates presentation from content and can dramatically reduce the amount of code per page, enable greater visual consistency across a site, and simplify styling and even visual layout changes to an entire site.

Accessibility – making a site accessible to as many users as possible; including the blind, visually impaired, those with motor-skill challenges, etc. — which also includes search engine spiders.

JavaScript and Flash usage – these technologies can provide great functionality, but can also hinder users and search engines, even preventing them from using your site.

Content Management System (CMS) – allows site owners to manage, edit, and update their sites on their own. However, there are many systems available, each with their own complexities, pros and cons.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – while actually outside of the web design arena, SEO is an area of search marketing that deals with making a site optimal for search engines and helping to get site pages to rank higher in search engines. Designers that focus on web standards, accessibility, CSS, and table-less designs may indicate a better understanding of SEO, or at the very least, may help get your site part way there.

While this little run down is just scratching the surface, hopefully it helps to get the ball rolling. Today, having a website is expected and running a business without one is akin to having a business without a mailing address or a phone — although without one, you may never know how much business you lost.

5 Tips to getting the most out of your website

  • Be sure to add it to all literature: business cards, letterhead, sales materials, etc.
  • Running an ad through traditional marketing? Create a special landing page on your site and include the URL to that page in the ad instead of your homepage. Then you can track the amount of traffic and measure the effectiveness of the ad.
  • Get a lot of the same basic questions over and over? Add an FAQ or information section to your site to help field these.
  • Get links to your site from business partners or organizations you are in.
  • Your website as an investment in your business. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it, whether that is time or money.