Judged by Your Looks

It’s sometimes all too easy to spot a small business online.

The design and architecture of the site give it away.

Things flashing. Weird fonts. Slabs of text reversed out of dark backgrounds. A homepage that’s one single column, sometimes centered. A “hit-o-meter” at the end of the homepage. Poorly written text. Broken links. A layout that changes from page to page.

Am I being a design and language snob? Probably.

But there’s a much more important issue here for any small business hoping to generate significant income online.

The issue revolves around trust.

Doing business with your company over the Internet is going to require a leap of faith for every first-time customer. They’ll be placing their trust in a company they don’t really know.

They’ll judge you, in large part, by how you look.

So take a peek at your site and be honest with yourself. Does it really look like a solid and professional place of business?

If not, it’s time to move things up a notch or two.

And if that sounds like a daunting task, it needn’t be.

Just take a few lessons from the many other businesses in your category. Leverage the money that others have already spent on finding out what works best.

Am I suggesting that you steal their designs? No. But I am suggesting that you needn’t reinvent the wheel. Other people have already invested big slabs of cash in finding out what works and what doesn’t.

If your site is about delivering content, check out the sites of the leading content deliverers.

If you sell stuff, check out the leading e-tail sites.

And don’t just browse. Dig deep and in detail.

Print out the homepages of the top ten sites in your category. Pin them on a wall, side by side. Analyze how and why things have been done. Look for design points in common between them and points of difference.

Then print out the homepages of a few top sites in totally different categories.

For instance, if I’m a small e-tailer, I might be looking at how eToys, Amazon, and CDNow organize their homepages. But it would also help me to print out the homepages of some content providers like ClickZ.com, an auction site like eBay, and a search engine like GoTo.com.

What are the differences and why are they significant?

What’s the difference between a publisher’s site and a site that sells stuff? And why?

There’s a lot of very simple stuff you can learn.

How many columns do people use? Which fonts and at what size? How many screens long are their homepages? Which colors do the big guys favor and how much of it do they use? How many photos and at what size? How much text? How many products shown or articles listed? Which sites have a “Search” option on their homepage? How does it work and where is it located?

Studying the work and results of others in your space is just a smart thing to do. You can learn a huge amount, avoid a lot of costly mistakes, and build a look that reassures your visitors.

Hey, it’s the beginning of the new millennium – what better time to rebuild the look and structure of your site?

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