Legal Law

A website checklist

If you’ve just finished building your new website (or renovating your old one), how can you be sure it’s “ready for prime time”? Or maybe your site has been around for a while and you think a makeover may be in order. Because technologies, techniques, and web standards change so quickly, even a website that looks “state of the art” when it’s built can look out of date a year later. Or maybe you started with a basic website and finally have the time and/or money to take it to the next level. If you want to review your website, here are ten things to consider:

Compatibility: Will your website display correctly for most people, regardless of their computer hardware, operating system, browser, and monitor resolution? Make sure your site displays correctly for as many users as possible. If any features on your website require certain browser plugins, please provide a download link. Remember that not everyone will have Javascript enabled and that graphics can be disabled by the user; make sure your site will continue to function without them.

Integrity: None of your websites should be “under construction”. Websites tend to evolve over time and are never really “done”, but that’s no reason to make your website look like a construction zone. If you must include pages that aren’t complete, at least include some informative content on the page to encourage people to check back later. Otherwise, skip the section entirely until you’re ready for prime time.

Content: Do you need to update the text of your site? Have you added services, expanded your product line, targeted new markets, or changed your business strategy? Is your website description of your business current and accurate, including your contact information? Could the content be written more clearly, convincingly, or succinctly? Could your website be more informative, useful, interesting or relevant? Would customer testimonials or an FAQ section strengthen your sales message? Check all the content on your site for incorrect grammar, misspellings, and typos.

Graphics: Do your graphics add or detract from your website? A website without graphics would be uninteresting, but a site with too many different graphics, animations, and fonts is overwhelming and distracts from your sales message. The trick is finding the right balance. Use animations sparingly, especially those that loop (play over and over). They can become annoying and easily distract from your sales message. Remember that banner ads also count as graphics, and one or two per page is sufficient.

Interactivity: You may consider making your site interactive by adding a mailing list, message board, survey, ezine, or guestbook. A quiz or trivia quiz can attract visitors and keep them coming back more often. Rotating content like a joke, quote, or tip of the day keeps your website interesting. Don’t feel compelled to add all the latest bells and whistles just because you can, but ask yourself if some advanced features could give your website an edge. If you don’t want to provide the content yourself, check out the content available from distributors (just keep it relevant to your target market and the rest of the content on your site).

Links: Are all the links on your website working? First, make sure the links between the pages on your site direct site visitors to the correct page. Also check all your links to other websites; the webmaster may have renamed the page or removed it entirely, and those dead links will make your site look unprofessional and frustrate your site visitors. If you’ve removed some of your own site’s pages, set up a custom 404 page that redirects your visitors to your home page (or a search page) when they try to access a page that no longer exists.

Speed: Does your site load fast enough in the viewer’s browser? The “eight second rule” is a good rule of thumb, which means that no site visitor should wait more than eight seconds to view the home page of your website. After eight seconds have elapsed, the viewer will most likely give up and go elsewhere. If you have graphics or animations that take a while to download, provide compelling content to keep them engaged while they wait. Adding graphic elements always comes at a cost in terms of slower loading times, so only include graphics if they really add to the visual impact of your website and strengthen your sales message.

Navigation: Is it easy to find information on your site? The home page should tell visitors, at a glance, who you are, what you do, and how to find what they’re looking for. From there, your visitors should be able to follow a logical path to learn more about various aspects of your business. If you include products or services on your site, organize them logically. If you decide to use graphic icons instead of text, make sure their meaning is obvious. Make it easy for your site visitors to find what they came looking for.

Search Engine Optimization: Is your website optimized to rank for important keywords in the most popular search engines? Double check your page titles and meta tag keywords and descriptions to make sure they are accurate and descriptive. Did you integrate your keywords into the actual content on the page as well (including variations)? Is your website focused on a specific topic and does it have a lot of informative content related to that topic? Is your website spider-friendly (meaning that search engine spiders can access all pages and read the most important content in the source code)?

Style: Is the style of your website consistent with your business goals? Ask yourself what you want the image of your business to be, and make sure your website enhances that image. Is your company’s style polished? Friendly? Fashion? High technology? The appearance of your site should reflect that style. Does your website still compare favorably with those of your competitors? Your website should favorably reflect your business and help you build your corporate image. If yours doesn’t, a makeover may be in order.

Usability – Usability refers to the ease with which site visitors can use your site. The best measure of usability is user feedback: the people who visit and attempt to navigate the site. If you have received complaints, comments, questions or suggestions from site visitors, please change your site accordingly. Of course, dissatisfied customers won’t always let you know. That is why you should also analyze your web logs to see if visitors are leaving certain pages quickly or not visiting some of your pages at all. Think in terms of building pathways through your site that visitors can follow. A well-designed website takes visitors deeper into the site without frustrating or confusing them, and it doesn’t lose them along the way.