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Before we dive into more detail about Search Engine Optimization, I wanted to cover something very basic, but VERY important to a website...the design. This section will be a bit shorter than the first, but the information you find here will be just as wondrous and mind-blowing (ok, maybe not mind-blowing, but still pretty darn good.)
It happens all the time: you're online searching for something and you run across a website that has the w o r s t design ever, and you instinctively hit the back button. I mean, hey, who can blame you? Who wanted to look at THAT crap? Even if the information was *exactly* what you were looking for...it was FUGLY.
So what is a bad design and why is a good one important? The answer is fairly simple - people window shop. When people are online looking at websites, they are "window shopping." Exactly as they do with department stores on 5th Avenue, the store with the prettiest or coolest display in the window gets the most traffic. Even if the store next to it has a higher quality good or a lower price on an identical product, they failed to capture your attention...which is what a good website design does for you. It captures the attention of your audience in order to keep them on your page to read/view all of that wonderful information you painstakingly put there.
At this point, dear reader, I must remind you that everything contained within this website are my THOUGHTS and OPINIONS only. But these thoughts and opinions are backed by years of working with, consulting on and delivering high quality and effective websites.
With that out of the way, let's look at some of the more major design elements of websites and how you can ensure you make the right choices.
Site Background: Avoid solid dark color backgrounds at all costs (black, for instance.) These tend to put your reader to "sleep" and give an overall blah impression of the site. Instead you should consider a lighter color (grays, pastels etc) that lend to an easy experience reading text/images on the site. You can also consider using an image as the background of your site, which can be very effective and beautiful. See www.stpventures.com & www.wbarbee.com for examples.
Calls-To-Action: The staple to any website, a call-to-action is exactly what it sounds like...a section or feature of the website that is "calling" to the viewer to look at a certain section or click a certain button. The key to implementing successful CTA's is to keep it classy and not overload your viewer with banners, star bursts and other crazy things. Let the contrast of one or two simple CTA's stand against your website and pull the viewer in without trying to "force" the issue. If you become too aggressive with this element of your site you can very easily alienate and drive away your viewers. A great example can be found at www.onepropertysource.com.
Images & other Pretty Things: We all have a lot to say and love to hear ourselves ramble...which is perfectly alright on your website! As long as you use relevant photos, images and other design tactics (such as creative placement of textures/design aspects) to break up the monotony of huge blocks of text. If history has taught us one thing, it is that by-and-large website viewers do NOT want to see pages full of paragraph after paragraph with nothing to break up the page. I mean really - who DOESN'T like to look at pictures?
Order of Presentation: This is one of the more advanced concepts to grasp when putting together an effective and successful website, but it is also one of the most important. You need to temper your presentation of text/information into 3 different stages.
This is by no means meant to be an "inclusive" list of what can help make your website successful, but it is certainly many of the major points and ones that I feel need to be focused on. Stick to these, use common sense and remember to put yourself in your viewers shoes (or chair) and you can't go wrong!