Beauty is only skin deep...Often times, I’ll get a request for a website, and all the client wants is a good looking site. That’s a great start, but it’s just like the old saying goes: Good looks can only take you so far. Same is true for a website.

If you’re on the market for a new website, you must remember that it takes more than a nice face to give you a return on your investment. After all, your website is an extension and representation of your business. If you have a great look but your visitors get lost with a couple clicks (“Where do I find the contact info??”) or can’t figure out what your business does, then your website might as well not exist at all.

On average, it takes less than 10 seconds for a visitor to decide whether or not you are what they are looking for. While this may seem simple to conceptualize, it is much harder than it seems. It takes lots of planning to produce a beautiful yet functional website. The common promise to give you a website in ‘just 2 days’ or ‘quick website templates’ do little to cater to the many facets of maximizing results on your website presence (ROI).

While I could spend forever detailing the many factors of intelligent website design, here are a few:

User Interface (a.k.a. UI)
This is essentially the design. The beauty. The logical positioning of every button and graphic and content on the site. This encompasses several factors that you would be wise not to underestimate, including: Colors, easy-to-read text, attractive graphics, quality photo images and most importantly, simplicity.

Rich Content
Yes, this can co-exist with good looks. Often times, my clients will tell me “I want it to be CLEAN.” On your very first page, give a short statement on the nature of your business. I’m not saying you need a book on the front page (simple is best!) but you must tell them what you do – after all, you have less than 10 seconds before they hit the ‘Back” button and return to their Google results.

If your business is a bit complex and requires more explanation, then by all means, TELL THEM as soon as they land on your website. Don’t make them click to figure out what you do.

The rest of your website needs to have information that the visitor will find useful. Blogs that are industry-related are perfect. Graphic explanations that simplify concepts that your customers are often confused about are also helpful. In fact, you can even provide them with the ability to share the article/blog with their friends on Facebook (using a Share button). Basically, your content should convince them you are an expert at what you do. This will not only convert visitors into customers, and give them a reason to recommend your site to their friends, but will also boost your search engine ranking (triple whammy)!

So remember: Quality over quantity on this one. Don’t fill up your site with boring, useless information. Instead, focus on what you know your visitors want to know and nothing more.

User Experience (a.k.a. UX)
I can’t begin to express just how important this is to your website. This is one of the most critical, yet most often ignored or underused component because of lack of skills/knowledge.  It requires the ability to easily read, understand and navigate your website. The valuable rule of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) applies here. If you’re a web designer and want to read more, Smashing Magazine published an informative article on User Experience. Detailing every focus point for this component would require a book, but I’ll cover a few of the most important general concepts here.

  • Keep it clean!
    Overuse of graphics or content is a common enemy. Excessive “junk” can and will confuse users. Be wary of overwhelming ads, and keep the important calls to action easy to see and find. If your website exists for the sole purpose of getting visitors to make a hair appointment online, by all means, make sure that “Make an Appointment” button is on every page! Make sure they can always find their way “Home.” Make sure you don’t bury them in the Press Releases only to forget what your website does because the menu has disappeared. Leave breadcrumbs for poor Hansel and Gretel.
  • Don’t keep them waiting
    Good design should not keep the visitors waiting for graphics to load. If it takes more than a few seconds to load the page on a DSL line, you may lose your audience. Optimizing images is standard practice with professional designers, so be wary if they deliver a site that takes a long time to load.
  • Be consistent
    The navigation and layout should be the same throughout the site. You can easily lose your visitors when you’ve got different layouts for multiple pages. Remember: people should not have to hunt around for the ‘way back’ (“Where did that button go? I just saw it a minute ago…”).
  • Descriptive links
    It’s much easier to understand “Read more about our Web Design Services” than “Click Here to Learn More“. Users are ‘trained’ to look for links and are drawn to the text that is linked rather than reading an entire paragraph to find out what that link is really for. If you keep that in mind,  your visitor’s experience will be more pleasant, less stressful and less time-consuming. Not to mention, the search engines love it too! Web crawlers don’t know what “click here” means, but they can interpret “why search engine optimization is important.”
  • Cross-platform compatibility
    There are many platforms to design for nowadays, including, Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. But let’s not forget the mobile devices such as the iPad and smart phones. If you didn’t already know, something that may look fantastic on IE may look terrible in Firefox if you do not design it properly. It is no longer acceptable to test only IE for website compatibility. A bad appearance on any of the other browsers or devices will cost you your audience.
Whether you’re hiring a company to build your website or  you are building the site yourself, you and your web designer should be clear about what the goals are (to generate sales leads, to promote the brand, to create an online community, to allow users to book a reservation, etc.).
Don’t settle for half-baked quick web solutions that provide a great look but ignore what’s most important: The ability of the website to do its job.
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Black Hat SEO

The Wrong Way

A few years ago, “Black Hat SEO” techniques dramatically increased website rankings. Nowadays, using these techniques will win you a fast ticket to the ‘banned’ list on search engines. While many folks want fast results in SEO, one should understand the risks and/or repercussions for using such tactics. This practice is a deliberate manipulation of search engine indexes, and is undoubtedly ‘unethical’ in the SEO field.

So what are these Black Hat techniques, you ask? You’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore the world of what NOT to do.
  1. Duplicating Content
    This is the act of literally duplicating pages for the purpose of making your website larger (increasing the number of pages, which would naturally boost your website relevance if the content is rich). Another way to duplicate content is to create something called a microsite, which contains the exact same content as the original site. This microsite is also used to increase the amount of inbound links to the original site.
  2. Creating Doorway PagesDoorways (a.k.a. portal pages, jump pages, gateway pages) spam the index of a search engine by inserting results for keywords/phrases. The purpose is to redirect visitors to a different page.
  3. Cloaking
    Doorway pages that trick visitors by redirecting without their knowledge use a form of cloaking. Cloaked content is hidden from the users, but presented to the search engine spider differently. The purpose of cloaking is to deceive the search engines so they display the page when it would not otherwise be shown.
  4. Link Spamming
    You’ve probably seen these a few times – A website that is full of links to dozens of sites for a particular topic. These are called Link Farms. These are tightly-knit communities of pages referencing each other, existing solely for purpose of providing external links to these sites to boost their website rankings.
  5. Hidden Text and Links
    An example of this is to create links that are ‘invisible’ to the visitors (sometimes disguising links/keywords by making them invisible by giving them the same color as the background). Again, this tricks the search engines into thinking the page is full of relevant links and keywords.
  6. Keyword Stuffing
    This is the act of stuffing your webpage full of keywords in the meta tags or content. The abuse of this technique is the reason why search engines no longer pay much attention to meta tags.

So, now that you know a little more about Black Hat SEO, you should keep in mind that the risks far outweigh the temporary benefits of implementing it. Just ask JCPenney, who got caught gaming Google, and whose rankings dropped as a result.Technorati published a great article on how Google Says Goodbye to Black Hat SEO. Google changed its algorithms to find more high-quality sites in search (and block the cheaters in the process).

So what should you remember when implementing an SEO strategy?
  • Always put your users first. If you design your pages to be right for your audience, it will likely be okay with the search engines too.
  • Create rich content. If your content is truly relevant, and contains information the users are looking for, you will set yourself up to be found organically.
  • Build links logically, and regularly. Avoid the farms, for crying out loud. Don’t overdo it all at once (red flag). A little bit goes a long way. Just a few links from good quality sources are much better than hundreds of links from ‘spammy,’ untrustworthy sites.
  • Plan ahead. The impact of your SEO strategies will come over time. So be patient, organized and consistent.
  • I know it’s tempting to want to be found with every keyword under the sun, but sticking to a few specific keywords will bring better results.