Web Design That Works
Attract new clients and satisfy current ones with inviting Web design.
Now that the Web as revolutionary business communication tool has become a fait accompli, a number of personal trainers have discovered ways to elevate the medium to world-class heights and create glistening icons of e-commerce.
“I get about 89 percent of my referrals off the Net,” says Dean Demarest (www.deandemarest.com), a personal trainer whose site has been up for about 4 years. “My site really wasn’t difficult to design. I used Microsoft FrontPage, along with some page templates I found on the Web.” Matthew Beeners (www.mrtrainer.com) agrees: “My site was pretty easy to set up. I just bought a bunch of books and read up on how to go about it.”
Is your Web site designed in a way that best expresses your message and attracts clients? Learn what works well from Web experts and personal trainers with successful Web sites.
Seasoned Web designers say that people who create sites that achieve worthy-of-note status realize that a Web site is much more than a “billboard in cyberspace.” The best Web sites create inviting, easy-to-use environments with interactive tools that allow both prospective and existing clients to learn about the business—and actually begin to transact business, at least on a limited scale. For example, a Web site might feature an interactive form a prospective client could use to schedule a first-time appointment.
The Webscape is littered with showy, take-forever-to-download sites that look “so cool” but are, in fact, little more than severe impediments to e-commerce. Don’t add yours to the heap.
“Usability rules the Web,” says Jakob Nielsen, a principal in the Nielsen Norman Group (www.nngroup.com), a Web design consultancy. “The Web is the ultimate customer-empowering environment. [The person] who clicks the mouse gets to decide everything. It is so easy to go elsewhere; all the competitors in the world are but a mouse-click away.”
If you don’t have a Web site or you want to improve yours, consider whether you’d like to design it yourself or hire a designer. If you enjoy mastering moderately technical challenges, creating your own Web page will be a no-brainer. (See “Web Design Tools” on page 31.) If you consider yourself illiterate when it comes to computers, you’re probably better off hiring a Web designer. In either case, make sure your site includes the following key features.
People serious about doing business on the Web want their Web pages served up fast and clear. That means your site needs to instantly communicate what you’re about and what you can do for visitors. And it also means you should forget about showy “splash page” animations and elaborate introductions that take forever to download.
“People often ask me, ‘What is the most important thing I should do to make sure my Web site is easy to use?’” says Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, published by New Riders (www.newriders.com). “It is: Don’t make me think. . . . As far as humanly possible, when I look at a Web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.”
Fortunately you can make a significant impression by deftly using graphics and color. Authoring programs like Microsoft FrontPage, for example, come with a number of themed corporate page sets for those who would rather leave color coordination to others.
If you’re more courageous and plan on doing your own coloring, you’ll want to pick colors that make sense and don’t offend anyone. Companies designing sites for an international audience need to be aware that colors, symbols and other graphic nuances have different meanings in different cultures, says Paul Fox, vice president of engineering at Excel Translations (www.xltrans.com), a business that specializes in Web site localization. Disney’s decision to use purple lavishly throughout its French theme park a few years back, for example, proved disastrous. The French associate purple with death and funerals.
Once you’ve leapt the cultural sensitivity hurdles, you may want to bring in an industrial-strength graphics program for your images, such as Adobe Photoshop (www.adobe.com), $649. The program may be a little pricey for some budgets, but Photoshop’s reputation as a robust, extremely versatile program is legendary throughout the computer graphics industry. It consistently receives top honors in PC reviews. A less costly alternative is Ulead’s PhotoImpact (www.ulead.com), $90. PhotoImpact has fewer features, but the program still regularly garners rave reviews in the PC press as well. It is a kind of scaled-down version of Photoshop, and can handle basic photo-editing needs.
One of the most graphically arresting sites in the personal training industry is Dean Demarest’s (www.deandemarest.com). Demarest creates an attention-grabbing site with a few well-chosen graphics accented with interesting color combinations. Says Demarest, “I snapped the photos myself with a digital camera, and picked the rest of the design ideas off the Web.”
Once you’ve established what your site is about, take great pains to ensure that getting around the site is a snap. That means creating an intuitive navigation bar that enables visitors to make quick jumps to key interest areas with a single click. If you have a fairly extensive site, you’ll also want to use drop-down menus or similar tools that enable visitors to “drill down” to highly specific categories of interest in a flash.
Brad Minns uses this approach on his site (www.bradminns.com), which offers easily understandable quick clicks to key interest areas. Muscle Energy (www.musclenergy.com) also makes expert use of navigability.
As America Online has proved, finding ways to enable people to easily communicate on the Web can get you far in life. Once considered an upstart in the mid-’90s, AOL has zoomed to the number-one spot among Internet service providers, largely because of its easy-to-use chatrooms.
Many commercial Web sites provide basic communication interactivity by posting e-mail addresses of key personnel and/or offering mailing lists. You can experiment with mailing list technology for free at online services like Yahoo! Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com), MSN Groups (http://groups.msn.com), AOL Groups (http://groups.aol.com) and Topica (www.topica.com). Mailing lists are generally used to nurture ongoing relationships with current and potential customers, and to alert customers to special deals and new products and services.
Some companies are taking the concept of interactive communication to a higher level, featuring chatrooms where visitors can ask questions about purchases or “talk shop.” Many of these chatrooms are hosted by remote application-service providers like LivePerson.com, InstantService.com, Live2Support.com and MayWeHelp.com. Costs for these services range from $9 to $99 per month, depending on the features you’d like.
Offering ways to actually get business done on the Web is one of the rarer applications found on Web sites, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Scores of software companies and application- service providers have all sorts of solutions for those interested in engaging in e-commerce, accepting job applications, getting “quick quotes” back to prospective customers and posting various forms that speed data directly from the Web to company databases for quick manipulation.
For example Steven Reichert’s site (www.stevenreichert.com) allows Web cruisers to schedule their first appointment with a personal trainer right from the Web site—while their interest is still at its keenest. And Matthew Beeners (www.mrtrainer.com) gathers valuable demographic data at his site by providing 8 data fields for visitors to enter their name, e-mail address and telephone number when corresponding with him via e-mail.
Sometimes less really is more. While too many Web sites seem to feature numerous technological bells and whistles, savvy Web designers know that “stripping the bloat” out of Web multimedia results in speedy downloads and visitors who don’t click away in frustration. Both Adobe’s Photoshop and Ulead’s PhotoImpact have “image optimizer” tools that help reduce a graphic’s size to its bare essentials.
Some companies even offer text-only versions of their Web sites for visitors who are cruising in on extremely low-power modems—including visitors outside U.S. borders.
You’ll want to be sure that you’ve hooked up with a high-powered site host. “Your Web-hosting company should have at least a T1 connection,” says Peter Kent, coauthor of Poor Richard’s Internet Marketing and Promotions, published by Top Floor (http://topfloor.com). “You don’t want a Web-hosting company with, for instance, an ISDN connection—that’s simply too slow.”
Now that the gee-whiz novelty of applications like audio, video and 3-D over the Web has run its course, Web pioneers are finding ways to leverage these advanced technologies with finesse. Audio/video applications, such as Helix Producer from Real Networks (www. realnetworks.com), $200, and Microsoft Windows Media (www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia), free for Web owners, are being used by corporate executives to broadcast quarterly meetings, new product introductions and the like.
In addition 3-D software like Apple’s QuickTime VR (www.apple.com), $338, and hardware/software solutions like those from IPIX (www.ipix.com), starting at $595, are being used to create product- and service-related “walk-throughs” and similar, virtual reality experiences that help close the deal. Achieve Fitness (www.achieve-fitness.com) uses multimedia in a novel way, offering “clickable” audio clips of client testimonials.
Of course, once you’re fully engaged in the creative process of Web design and maintenance, you’ll likely come up with a few ideas of your own about what works and what doesn’t—which is just fine. One of the most inspiring qualities of the Web is its never-ending evolution and its never-ending ability to make doing business easier, faster—and much more profitable.
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Not savvy about Web design? Here are some terms to know.
Navigation Bar: a table of links, generally found on the left side of a Web page, each of which leads to key interest areas within the site.
Drop-Down Menu: a collection of links leading to key interest areas within the Web site that “drop down” into view when clicked.
Web Page Templates: predesigned Web pages that can be downloaded and customized with a Web-authoring program.
Image Optimizer: a program that reduces the size of Web graphics to allow faster downloads.
Text-Only Web Sites: sites that generally download faster than those with graphics and are gratefully appreciated by Web cruisers with slow dial-up connections (less than 56K).
Splash Page Animations: generally, extremely large animations that feature a logo or other identifying graphic that establishes the “image” of a company before the actual home page loads.
ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network): a high-speed Internet connection, generally about twice the speed of a 56K connection.
T1 Line: a very high-speed Internet connection, faster than home cable or DSL.
If you are designing your own Web site, start with a good site-authoring tool that enables you to design a basic site, which you can later enhance with supplementary specialty design programs. Here are a few examples.
Microsoft FrontPage, www.microsoft.com, $199. This all-around decent authoring tool gets good reviews in the PC press. It can get the job done without requiring hours of learning. Generally, after spending a little time with the program, you’re ready to post a Web page. The downside is that FrontPage sometimes inserts unnecessary HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) code into a Web page, resulting in slightly slower downloads.
Dreamweaver, www.macromedia.com, $399. Many users say that the Dreamweaver authoring program has a steeper learning curve than FrontPage, but that they believe it is worth the extra effort. The reason: Dreamweaver is a more versatile tool because it is part of a family of products like Shockwave, an animation/multimedia creation program that can be added on to achieve advanced Web-design tasks. Learn the logic behind Dreamweaver, and you’ll intuitively grasp the workings of these add-on programs as well.
“It did take me a couple of months to master Dreamweaver,” says Steven Reichert (www.stevenreichert.com). “But I wouldn’t say the program is overly difficult.”
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