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15 Ways to Boost Your Website

Anyone can do a website these days starting from elementary school children to retired pensioners and no experience is required. With tools straight at our fingertips such as online website builders to fully ready Content Management Systems we can get a live site in less time. But even with the most elaborated theme generator out there you still need to know what goes best and what doesn’t. So here are 15 tips to help you boost your site and turn it into an effective web landmark.

1. Visual Design

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Creativity is always hard to achieve and not everyone has it in him. Good visual design is crucial for a successful website however good does not mean flood your website with images don’t overdo it! Keep it plain and simple. If like me you have been a web designer for a while you surely know that the web is going backwards in design by backwards I mean simple & clean. I remember a time where I spent hours designing and slicing a visual due to the heavy art I used to place but things change and we had to adapt & evolve. Today you are better off with a great color combination and a great blend of solids. Simplicity is key, keep it as clean as possible but always add that little personal touch that keeps it different from other sites.

One major issue I see in a lot of websites is there width. Today we have a lot of different Monitors Starting from the old CRT which comes in various sizes to the HDTV which is the latest trend when hooking up your PC in your living room. For this reason the website width should be standard the 960 Grid system has been created in order for your site to always look great in any resolution. This system in short is a 960px width divided into segments. I will not explain this in detail because I plan to have a dedicated post just for it however for more info can be found at 960.gs which also has templates ready for any DTP (Desktop Publishing Software)

The visual is important but as the old saying says “there’s more to than meets the eye” A great visual alone will not keep visitors on your website. The visual is there to attract people but if your interface is not friendly enough people will leave your site.

2. Easy Interface

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A good interface is key to get your visitors where you want. I can’t keep emphasizing on how important this is for a website.

To build a great interface one must understand their visitor. By knowing what your visitors want you can be confident that your site will deliver. The best way to know your visitors is to place yourself as one. You need to make it easy for them to get where you want without frustration. Remember not all visitors are the same and you will need to consider a lot of aspects such as age group and computer knowledge to make things work. For instance don’t force people to get their reading glasses because your text is too small. Don’t make them go nuts just to find obvious things such as your contact details or your opening hours if you own a shop.

Make sure that your website navigation is straight forward and people can understand where the button they are clicking will take them. For example don’t place an icon instead of text if you really have to include a symbol use both text and icons and if there is going to be a drop down menu make it clear that this can happen once a user hovers a link by placing an arrow near it for example.

3. Header & Navigation

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A site is all about its header and a smooth navigation. The header is what visitors look for as soon as they visit through your site. This top part of the website should include your logo (which should link to your homepage) and the main navigation such as Home | About us | Contact us ecc… don’t insert sub headings in the main navigation keep it plain and simple. Sub pages should be placed under main links and those only should go in the navigation. You can also include language flags if your site is multi-lingual. What I also usually add is a back button. I know what you’re thinking, while on earth you would add one since the browser has it already? The reason is simple I find that a back button is the most clicked item when placed on a site and if you know where your visitors are clicking you can turn those areas into great profit by placing a nearby banner. You get the idea :)

4. The Hidden Footer

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While the footer is hidden at the very bottom of your site it is essential to have a proper one up. The footer is not just there for the copyright text and links to the terms/privacy sections.

For instance if you use hover images or flash as a main navigation it is important to repeat those links in the footer as standard URL’s (see no.9). You can also add your social bookmarks here or even a subscription field. Its your choice in the end just remember that the footer is always shown on every page so what you add in your homepage might not go on other pages.

5. The Content

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Content is key. If you can design like Picasso but your content is boring be sure that visitors will not stick around much. Be unique and truthful while writing and write about what visitors want to read rather then what you want to see. Be informative and write as clear as possible. Don’t use hard words unless you link them to their meaning. While proper writing is important it is also not essential what matters is that people understand the message you are trying to deliver.

Detail is crucial in content. If you are trying to sell something online make sure you elaborate on the item you are trying to sell and always place yourself as the customer/visitor. Think about the questions he/she might ask so you can add that answer to your content before even that question gets asked.

6. It’s all About you

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Believe it or not one of the most popular pages on a site is the About page. The reason is because people like to know who they are dealing with they like to know who designed the site and who founded it.

To build a strong About page all you have to do is be yourself! Include information about you and your company such as background and what your site is all about. This page is all about creating a connection with your visitors and build the trust you need with them in order to turn them into frequent traffic towards your site. Don’t be shy or afraid to give your personal information. The more personal info you give out the more you will show that your site is trustworthy.

7. Contact Details

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This page is the gateway between you and your visitors. Make sure you create an easy way of how people can get in touch with you. A common mistake I see in contact pages is the contact form. Have you ever gone into a website to try to find opening hours or a simple e-mail address? Most websites don’t give us that luxury these days. A good reason why this is happening is spam because if your contact details gets exposed your inbox will go tilt. However if a genuine visitor just needs your basic information and he does not find it be sure that he will go somewhere else. While spam is an issue there are good spam filters these days that can help you get around this issue. In my professional opinion it’s a must to have an e-mail address, Tel number (always with country prefix for your international visitors), postal address, fax (if you have one), opening hours (if you have a shop) social account, instant messengers ecc… while the contact form is important more should be your contact details. If you have a way on how to get reached don’t be afraid to use it the easier you are to get reached the more enquires you will get.

10. The Search

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Having a search feature on your site it’s not a luxury but a must. I personally hate when I go in a site and I can’t find what I want. It’s fairly easy to integrate a search field in your site these days a good example is Google Search for those who are not so experienced in building a website Google Search can help you build a little search engine for your site in a jiffy.

9. Sitemap

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The Sitemap is like a map where not only visitors but also search engines can see the whole site structure in one go. A link to this page is usually placed in the footer some people prefer to have the page links listed in the actual footer rather than on a separate page. The only advantage I see between the two is that by having the links directly in the footer will make it easier for your visitors to navigate through your site so if you have the height space go for it. If you have no idea on how to link/build a sitemap there are a lot of FREE sitemap generators on line ready to be discovered.

10. Subscribers

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If you publish a lot of new content on your website on a daily basis it’s a good idea to have your visitors signing up for these updates. This is another feature which should be on your site without thinking about it because it’s also easy to setup and it will make your life easier in the end. If you own a blog for example FeedBurner can help you achieve what you need even a mailing list a feature which a normal RSS Feed subscription can’t give you. If you don’t have a blog and maybe want your visitors to join for your email newsletter there are great sites out there that will help you manage your mailing list, some of them will also give you a newsletter editor and others even a subscription form to place on your website. While these sites might not be free they are a good investment because they can save you hours in maintaining your mailing list.

11. Breaking Design from Content

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Before in Web Design we were forced to use HTML Tables which limited us in design, they were slower to load in any web browser and also were limited in flexibility to update a website design. Today we use a combination of XHTML and Cascading Style Sheets also known as CSS files which break design from the actual content.

If you delete the CSS file/s in your website you will see that your site will break into just the content. This is great because not only you can make changes easily from just these file/s but also Search Engines will see what they need without getting lost in your code basically you are giving them direct shortcuts to relative content which is what they need to get you out there.

These CSS file/s hold information such as your Fonts, Colors, Images ecc… By having these files you can change practically anything you see in a website visual (depends on how you have designed the site). No longer you have to go into each HTML page to change the header for example and this way your website will load faster and is more flexible to changes!

12. Validate Your Source Code

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Having your site design with a clean code it’s not enough. It has to be clean and without errors everyone can do a mistake here and there we are all human and even if you are a perfectionist and you are 100% sure that your code is fine you have to still validate it for your own good.

Thankfully the The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have created tools to help us out. With these tools you can easily validate your XHTML and even the CSS this has to be done to make sure that your site will look good within different browsers (see no.13) and will help you with search engines as well.

13. Cross Browser Integration

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By having your site compatible in a lot of browsers not only you are showing how professional you are but also you can have peace of mind that your website is showing how it should be. There are a lot of browsers out there that you can test on. I personally test on 5 main browsers: Firefox, Internet Explorer 6 (yes some users still use it) 7/8/9, Chrome, Safari & Opera. It’s a matter of choice on what to test on I use these because my Analytics (se no.15) show me that the top 5 browsers used to view my sites are the above.

Most of the users are on a PC so platforms are not an issue however if you can also target for Mac’s it’s a plus. Most creative individuals use this system so if your site aim is for these users maybe you want to consider testing on a Mac as well. But not everyone has a Mac right? So what to do if you want to check how your site looks on this system or if you don’t want to have all these browsers installed. Well you have 3 options; Buy a Mac (which can turn out to be quite expensive as a solution) Go to a friend/Internet cafe where they own one (this can turn out to be very time consuming) or visit browser shots to do it for you. This website is a life saver you can go in add your url’s select which browsers to test on and in few seconds you have screen shots across different browsers/platforms very handy indeed. By the way don’t select all browsers because it can take a while to load all shots ;P

14. Resizing Images

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Thanks to broadband these days the Internet is very fast and loading times have decreased significantly however most users don’t have broadband in fact some visitors still use the old 56k modem and Isdn connections. Let’s be honest even with broadband sometimes a site takes a while to load (unless you have more than 10mbps connection and a monster processor) so you always need to optimize what you can in order for your site to load up fast. A good solution is optimizing your images.

If you are used to do print work or you just print good quality photos you should know that images should be 300dpi. The web it’s totally another story you have to convert the images to 72dpi which will make the images smaller. If you use software like Photoshop the save for web feature is ideal to help you out on a task like that and if you are a pro using Photoshop the actions feature will save you time in doing them in batches. I my self prefer to use Fireworks because of many reasons which I would need to create a separate post just to explain what they are. Compression settings is one of them you don’t want to get your image too pixilated so when you scale always make sure you are viewing the image at 100% so the quality stays nice and crisp as it should be.

When saving your images the right format would be either jpg, png or gif depends where the images are going to be used. Example: a standard photo should be saved in Jpg while an image that needs to be transparent (part of the website visual for example should be saved in png or gif).

15. Monitor Your Site

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Ok, so now your site is live, optimized and functional. You can stop there and stare at it while you gain traffic or go a step further by using Analytics and improve it according to your visits. A good point to start is by visiting Google Analytics (I don’t know what I would do without this tool) first I should mention that Google Analytics is FREE and very effective. This tool will help you understand better where your visitors are coming from, what pages are getting the hits, even where visitors are clicking all this information can help you manage your site better. It’s actually amazing what kind of information you can gather from your site and by experience you will change the layout a lot after you start seeing what really works and what doesn’t. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is something you should consider after finishing your site because it will help you improve your site’s traffic and also your search engine rankings!

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