Does your website suck?Every business, large or small, local or virtual, needs a website. You already know you need a nice looking site with content that is free of typographical and grammatical errors. What you may not know is that in order to create credibility and build relationships with potential and current customers you need the following:

A professional design: You have the option of hiring a web designer who will create a custom design for you, or you can choose a template or theme. Some templates and themes are free, while others are available for a minimal investment.

Consistent navigation: It is normal to have your navigation in more than one place on your website. Perhaps it is on the right side of your page and in your footer; but no matter where it is located, all navigation elements must be identical to prevent your visitors from getting lost!

Visible contact information: Only criminals profit from having their contact information hidden. If you are a virtual company, you do not have to provide an address, but always provide a telephone number and an e-mail address. If your visitors cannot find you, they cannot do business with you.

A list of products and services: Create uncluttered pages with your products or services on them, and give enough information so that readers can decide if they want to purchase from you. Include pictures wherever possible.

Hours of operation: This is critical information for brick and mortar businesses, but it is also important for virtual companies that only work certain hours.

Information about management and staff: Always have an “About Us” page that includes biographies of the owner and key staff. This helps potential customers build a relationship with your company. Include pictures if possible.

A company history: Include this even if your company is new. If your business is well established, include a detailed history. If your business is new, talk about your motivation for going into business and how you plan to help your customers.

A list of current and past clients: This information is critical for establishing credibility. If you haven’t signed your first customer, then offér to do non-profit work for a small business or your church in exchange for listing them on your website as a customer. Don’t make this information up. Potential customers can tell whether you are weaving a story or telling the truth.
A return policy: Establishing and communicating a return policy for products is essential; and it is even required by some local jurisdictions. If you only provide services, you may want to discuss whether or not you give refunds if a client is unsatisfied.

A privacy policy: This is required by many government agencies, and it is good business to establish how you will handle visitor information and if it will be shared with anyone else.

A way to capture visitor information: Offér a way to keep in touch with your customers, so you can tell them about upcoming specials, or new products and services. Some people do this by sending out a regular newsletter.

Sitemap: A sitemap has value not only for visitors but also for search engines. Don’t make your visitors feel like they are hunting for treasure when visiting your website. Make your sitemap easy to follow, so it guides your visitors through your site.

If you include all of the above information in your website, then you will be miles ahead of your competition. If you want to go a bit further, consider adding the information below.

Case studies: Tell the stories of what problems your customers had and how you solved them. This works best for companies that provide services, but it might also work for those that sell products.

A Portfolio: If you are an artist or web designer, then a portfolio is a must. Include many examples of previous work to help your website visitor understand what you can create for them.

Search capability: Google makes it easy to add a custom search box to your website. This is especially helpful if your website has many pages.

A Blog: If you like to write, and can commit to posting at least twice a week, then a blog might be for you. Do some research first to discover if this would be helpful for your type of clients.

Capitalize on the investment of time and money you have put into your website by creating something that captures the interest and attention of your visitors. Keep your website up-to-date, and constantly add new information so that your visitors will enjoy the experience enough to want to come back often!

By Bonnie Jo Davis (c) 2011