07/27/11 5 Simple Tips For Better Business Websites

There is one rule that typically holds true for all small businesses: they care about their customers. To a small company, customers aren’t just another cog in the mechanism, they’re the lifeblood of the business. Many small businesses rely on the support and repeated business of a loyal user base. So as a small business owner, naturally, you want to take care of your customers.

Here are a few tips for how “going the extra mile” can be applied to your website. We’ve put together a list of five things you can do to make your customer’s time on your site more enjoyable and more productive.

1. Have a mobile version

With mobile device usage skyrocketing, a mobile-friendly website is practically essential. A mobile site means your customers can access information on the go, wherever they may be. It also means they’ll be more likely to share your site with friends since they’ll be able to pull it up and show it to others, even when not at a computer.

As an added bonus, mobile sites can often be more accessible to those with visual impairments, or who may have difficulties using a mouse, but find touch displays easier to manipulate.

If you can’t afford to go all out and have a separate version of your site for mobile users, then at least speak with your developer and make sure they are aware that you want the website as functional and legible as possible on mobile devices.

2. Provide supplemental information

Your users are looking for information. Period. Even if they’ve come to your site to make a purchase, they’ll first want to research their options and check out the details of what it is they’re buying. Consider making this task easier by providing supplemental information that complements your site’s primary content.

Take the time to provide your customers with information such as product manuals, warranty information, manufacturer contact details, sizing charts and troubleshooting guides. This not only says “We care about you,” but it also makes your site an invaluable resource that visitors will keep coming back to again and again.

3. Use AJAX for simple tasks—but don’t overdo it

Implementing AJAX functionality—using JavaScript to load content into portions of your page without reloading the entire Web page—can go a long way toward making your visitor’s experience on your site enjoyable. AJAX can make retrieving and browsing information faster and more intuitive, and it also creates a more seamless experience for the user. Be careful, though—too much JavaScript can slow things down and make interactions confusing, causing more harm than good. (It can also make bookmarking or sharing portions of your page more difficult for users.)

Finding the right balance varies based on the type of site you have and the products or services you offer, so it’s best to work out the details with your developer. Some examples of good AJAX usage include: loading and switching between product images and checking for and reporting errors in order forms or updating shopping carts.

4. Make it easy to get help

Sometimes, no matter how much supplemental information or details about your product or service you provide, it’s just not going to be enough. Some of your customers are just going to need more help. Make it easy for them by providing answers to frequently asked questions (include links to additional resources) and by placing your company’s contact information (or help desk information) prominently on your website.

Your users should be able to find a way to contact you from every page, be it an e-mail address in the footer, a phone number in the header or a button or link within the content prompting them to inquire for more information.

5. Keep it simple and organized

We’ve talked a lot about providing additional information, using AJAX to build a responsive website and prominently displaying contact and support information. With all of that in mind, it may seem like your website could quickly get out of hand—and without proper attention to detail, it certainly could. You don’t want your site to look cluttered or give your users a case of information overload, so it’s key to keep your site clean and well-organized. Work with your designer to develop ways to keep information accessible, yet unobtrusive.

If you’re building your own site, a good rule of thumb is to look at the design you’ve chosen and then ask yourself, “What can I remove to make this easier to use?” It could be an entire block of text or simply a background color or border. Once you start de-cluttering, you’ll be able to see if items should be shifted to other places in the layout, different pages or removed entirely. Keep revising until you have a site that’s clean, well organized and easy to navigate.

OPENForum.com – Kelli Shaver (Mashable)

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