I'm often asked by readers to look over the websites they've just built to see that they are as good as they can be, and these are some of the most common suggestions I make.
1. Make it easy for your website visitors to contact you.
It's madness to make your website visitors hunt around for your contact details. Put a "Contact" link either in your main menu - it's usually the last item, and it's here that people will look first - or in a footer menu. Better still, put your telephone number and email address (and any other contact details you want to supply) on every page.
2. Show your email address.
Include a visible email address on your website, as well as a contact form; many website visitors don't like contact forms, and prefer to contact you directly by email. Your email address isn't a secret - you have no worries in making it visible, as long as you spam-protect it so it can't be "harvested."
3. Organise your menu.
You shouldn't have a "wrapping" main menu - that is, one that continues over two lines because it has too many elements; this makes your site look messy and amateurish. Instead, group your menu items and stack them up using sub-menus, perhaps grouped under headings, if you have a lot of items you want to include in your main menu.
4. Keep up your blog.
If you don't have time to blog regularly, don't include a blog on your site. You don't have to post all the time - for a business site, this isn't even necessary; just make sure you post regularly, even if it's only once a month.
5. Integrate social media into your website.
Consider including activity streams on your site - your latest tweets, or recent activity on your Facebook page - rather than the static badges. If you're not into blogging, this is another way of showing you're alive and active. Plus, if you integrate your social media, you're not directing your website visitors away from your own website.
6. Make use of images.
These days nearly everyone has a fast internet connection and we can see this change reflected in the way websites are designed - the use of pictures has become more and more prevalent and we are no longer shy about including many images, and sometimes even very large ones on our sites. So, don't hesitate to include images on your blog posts and elsewhere on your website (your About page, for example) - and don't make them tiny in size, as it makes your site look old fashioned.
If you don't have your own photos you can use images from stock libraries; if you are original in your choice, these don't have to look like stock photos, and you'll find them surprisingly inexpensive.
7. Make your content easily readable.
People's concentration tends to be short when they are reading on screen - they want to find what they're looking for as quickly as possible. So space out your text, use plenty of headings, and keep your sentences short. Break up your text into easily-accessible chunks and include plenty of white space on your pages.
8. Flaunt your testimonials.
I know many people feel shy about displaying testimonials (everyone I talk to does!) but you mustn't let this stop you. Think of your own surfing experiences - reading customer testimonials can make the difference between whether you buy an item from one site, or another - so if you have great customer feedback, make sure everyone can see it.
9. Include a Google map.
If you have a real-world store or office, make it easy for people to find where you are. It's also helpful to include any useful information about public transport or parking.
10. Use a meta description.
This one is really important! Make sure you control the description of your website that people will see in Google. You need to make sure it's as enticing as possible, to encourage people to click on your link instead of someone else's. The way to do this is to include a meta description in your website code - otherwise just the first words of text on your home page will show up, instead of text you have carefully crafted expressly for Google. Depending what platform you use for your website, there may be a built-in way to add a meta description (as there is with Wix), or you may need to add an extension (for WordPress, you can use the All in One SEO plugin or WordPress SEO by Yoast). A meta description shouldn't be longer than 160 characters and you can include useful information such as opening hours and a telephone number, if relevant. See the following screenshot to see what I am talking about.
11. Include an FAQ page.
The job of a "frequently asked questions" page is to remove any potential objection or doubt a customer may have in their mind that is preventing them from contacting you, hiring you, or buying your products (or whatever it is that your website aims to do). You'll want to include all possible details (terms, refunds, how it works, etc...) on the FAQ page - it'll cut down on your time answering basic questions via phone or email, as well.
12. Have a mobile version of your website.
More and more people are surfing the web on the move, and this includes making purchases. So you need to make sure your site is legible on all sizes of screen, if necessary implementing a special "responsive" or mobile version of the site for those accessing it via a smartphone. How you do this again depends on the platform you're using; many systems have inbuilt mobile versions or responsive templates available.
13. Allow people to share your content.
If people want to share your content, make it easy for them; include "send by email" links, and "Share" buttons so they can post your content to their own Facebook or LinkedIn networks, or tweet it.
14. Put yourself in your site visitors' shoes.
What do they want to know? How will they benefit? What information can you give them that will make them choose you over one of your competitors? When you're writing the text for your website, make sure you focus on the benefits for your customer of choosing your product or your service. It's astonishing how many sites I'm asked to review where the website owner has just listed the features of their products or services when really, this should be turned right around to show the benefits for the prospective customer.
One of the very best examples of writing with your customer in mind that I know of is the website for JohnLewis.com. This is a very well respected UK department store and their website is a lesson in how to write for the web. Take this example, and marvel at how, instead of listing the dull-sounding features of the washing machine they are trying to sell, the copywriter has managed to make the description positively exciting by turning around every single feature into a benefit the prospective customers can actually visualise applying to themselves, and in effect, improving their lives. Do click over and take a look - making this change in the way you write, to really engage your visitors - whether your site offers objects for sale or encourages people to hire you for a service, or simply showcases your designs or your knowledge - will have a huge impact on the impression you give and the ultimate success of your website.
15. Be clear about the purpose of your website.
This is the last item but perhaps it should be the first, as it is certainly the most important. What purpose do you want your website to serve? Do you want customers to buy from you? Do you want them to sign up to your email list? Do you want to provide information to your site visitors, thus presenting yourself as an expert in your chosen area? Once you're clear about your aim (or aims - you can obviously have more than one), ask yourself if your site is achieving your goals. If not, there will be plenty of changes that you can make.
Good luck - and please do leave your comments below to share your experiences with other readers. Have you made a change to your website that has had an immediate impact?