As the old saying goes – you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That statement is especially true when referring to a business Web site. Customers – whether down the street, in the next county, state or region, or halfway across the globe – increasingly are looking for dependable suppliers of both goods and services, and there is no shortage of sites from which to choose. Broken links, spelling and grammatical errors, html errors, annoying flashing graphics or pop-ups actually can drive visitors away as quickly as they came. Do your Web content, layout and page links come across as professional and say the things you want about your business? Do too many bells and whistles essentially dilute your main message? Business owners and entrepreneurs should perform periodic Web site maintenance to their sites to ensure that they continue to come off professionally, and that their sites work hand-in-hand with furthering their businesses.

When evaluating your company’s Web site, five important things to check:
  • design quality

  • page consistency

  • ease of navigation

  • site activity

  • credibility

Design quality –Because design quality can be subjective, a good recommendation is to cater your site to your industry and customers’ tastes. For example, if you are marketing to residential property owners, your Web site probably should have a “homier” feel to it than if your customers are engineers. Different groups speak different languages – speak to your audience. Maintain your firm’s branding band image by using your logo and including visuals that support the imagery that you want associated with your business.

Page consistency –The Web can be a frightening place. When you click on a link on a Web page, it can take you almost anywhere. When your customers click on links within your site, add to their comfort level by making it clear that they still are on your site. The number one way to do this is to have a consistent page template by using the same colors, style and placement of elements of each page. Color is important. We make associations based upon color all the time. Keep it consistent or have a good reason why you are changing them from page to page. A rainbow of color can be overwhelming. Stick to one style – organic or linear. Organic elements use soft curves that flow together; linear elements are straight with sharp angles. Either must be appropriate for your business, but pick one and stick to it. Keep a consistent page template. Site visitors expect the structural elements to stay in place. When a customer visits your site, they become oriented to the site structure, and expect the elements (navigation, logo, page headers, etc.) in the same place on every page.

Site navigation – This is a very important aspect of a professional-looking Web site. If your customers cannot easily find what they are looking for, they quickly will look elsewhere (your competi tors). Ensure that you have a distinct navigation bar positioned either along the left-hand side of the page, along the top, or combination of both. Organize your content in as few categories as possible, and use a table of contents page that enables a customer to click each category and see a description of the category and links to subcategories with more detailed information. Proper organization of the subcategories allows you to add or delete topics without having to redo the navigation bar each time.

Keep it fresh – A stale Web site makes the rest of your business look stale. This does not mean you constantly have to change the design of your Web site. Does your site list an upcoming event from 2006? Is an expired promotion still there? Simply make sure that outdated items are removed.

Credibility – There are many factors that can contribute to – or take away from – your trustworthiness online. Broken images, disconnected links, misleading site navigation and the like can harm your reputation. Visit your site regularly to ensure everything is displaying properly and that all content is current. Make yourself available; it instills confidence in your customers. Your contact information – telephone and fax numbers, e-mail and physical address – should be prominently displayed. Place some customer testimonials on your site.

Take a look at your site again. Chances are you already are doing most of these things. If you can look at your site and say you are doing everything right, congratulations. If not, take note of what you’d like to do better and consult an expert about implementing these principles. The changes will not cost a lot of money, but the results might produce some.