10 Tips for a Better Web Site

10 Tips for a Better Web Site

We all want a better Web site. IB included.

That’s why – on your behalf as well as ours – we recently secured the services of Web experts Paul J. Gibler and Ben Seigel for a special Web project.

Ben Seigel is principal of Exp Design (www.expdesign.net) a Madison Web design and development firm, and he runs the Madison Web Design & Development Meetup. Though this is his first venture with IB, his clients include WEA Trust and a variety of others.

Gibler is principal for ConnectingDots (www. connectingdots. com), which offers higher resolution marketing, consulting, training, and public speaking. Gibler also – through his persona “The Web Chef” – is a frequent guest on “In Business Radio with Jody and Joan”. He’s a popular blogger (the Web Chef’s e-Bytes), and Gibler is also columnist for Wisconsin Technology Network (“Buzz Networks”).

Having assembled the judges, IB then invited you to send an email with your company Web site and contact information to be considered for a “best practices” Web design article for your peers. Using their own criteria, judges selected several screen captures to highlight tips.

In addition to the sites illustrated below, here are some additional examples of role model area Web sites, along with some suggestions from our judges to make them even more alluring!

Examples of General Tips:

SmartDental (www.smartdentalmadison.com): The “About Us” page for this small Madison dental practice conveys information on the dental practice as well as the owner in very clear, direct, readable language. Some visitors to this site will not have heard of the dental practice; perhaps they came via a Yahoo search. Others may have been referred by a friend or relative, and they will be looking to see if the Web site information is in line with what the referrer told them about the business. A well-written “About us” page can help impress a business’ quality on customers; this one does.

Accentdecks (www.accentdecks.com): There are some nice sample photographs of the different decks, sunrooms, gazebos, etc. the firm created. You can click on the picture and see a larger picture. There is a loan calculator to determine what a monthly payment would be under different assumptions.

The judges advised adding testimonials from customers as part of each gallery. To drive even more traffic, they suggested adding some affiliate arrangements with credit unions or banks that can provide financing options.

Ascentive (www.ascentivescss.com): Ascentive personalizes company contacts by providing a full listing of employees and e-mail addresses along with the year that they joined the company. This reinforces the longevity and size of the company.

Judge recommendations included putting photos by staff names, along with direct dial telephone numbers or extensions. Also suggested was defining the “css” part of the URL more directly. (The judges understood when they saw the imprinted cup on the homepage of the site that said Ascentive Corporate Specialty Solutions).

Habitat for Humanity Dane County (www.habitatdane.org): The site features several calls to action, using active statements like “Get involved” and “Volunteer now” in a prominent location in the upper left-hand corner of the home page. The site is clean and not overly cluttered with almost all of the content above the fold. It has “family stories” written by the people helped in the form of homes. These stories are a positive way of reinforcing the purpose of the nonprofit.

The site has set up a donations page that allows for secured donations of ones choice. Judges suggested that a visual logo of the security service being used (Verisign, Thawte, etc.) be included on the page to reinforce measures taken to secure info and payments.

Specific Tips for Your Site

Tip 1: Create One-Click Contact Points

Action Insurance Screen Cap

Action Insurance


Action Insurance uses Live Chat on its site, allowing direct communication with the insurance agency. Online instant messaging gives an alternative communications channel for users wanting “instant” responses to questions.

One judge wrote: “I tested it out during business hours and found an immediate response from the company. This is an excellent feature for customer service and support. They have a request – a quote form that is a good call to action given that more and more consumers are shopping for insurance online. They also have a clock that indicates the time of day in real time.”

Suggestion: Update copyright to 2009.


Nanny Companions Screen Cap

Nanny Companions


This nanny placement service presents a "gentle, pleasing light blue and pink color scheme to reflect a focus on childcare."

One notable feature is its contact form, which is linked from each page at the bottom of the navigation. The contact page provides a simple form to fill out, and also gives a phone number.

Additionally, company phone numbers are listed at the bottom of each page. To encourage users to call, it's important to make contact information prominent or accessible with one click. Good job.

Suggestion: Add a direct e-mail link. Some visitors still prefer this option.


Tip 2: Use Client Testimonials on Your Site

Concourse Screen Cap

The Concourse Hotel


The Concourse Hotel was praised for its use of testimonials throughout the site to reinforce the positive experiences that different target audiences have had working with the hotel – from meeting planners, to guests, to event-goers.

The site also was applauded for having a one-click link to a third party reservation service that allows guests to reserve a room right from the Concourse Hotel site. (While that level of service is slowly becoming the standard, don’t automatically expect it from every hotel site you visit, judges advised.)


Waun-a-Clean Screen Cap



The judges liked the Web site for its "simple, folksy feel." Most people do not associate passion with dry cleaning, the judges noted; however, customer quotes indicate people really like this store. In this manner, those important client testimonials were used to reinforce an emerging brand image.

The judges also pointed out that the store's "notable feature is its short slide show (with audio) on the home page, which gives a nice visual overview of the store and connects with the small-town feel of the business, reinforcing the brand."

The slide show lasts just 36 seconds – sufficient time to showcase the store but not so long that it would bore users.


Tip 3: Reinforce Your

Company’s Brand

Fiscal Fitness Screen Cap

Fiscal Fitness Madison


Fiscal Fitness Madison uses a favicon in their URL. The stylized “F” of their logo becomes part of what you see in the URL when you “favorite” the site. This is a positive brand reinforcer and one that other sites should consider.

Also, the judges were impressed that the site has forms for potential clients and provide the plug-ins (Adobe Reader, etc.) to help you open the forms should you not have these tools on your computer. They have a nice list of resources for prospects and clients.

The judges also were happy that the cost of their service is clearly identified – “an issue that someone looking into a fee for financial planning service would be interested in knowing early in the process.”


Sconne Nation Screen Cap

Sconnie Nation


Sconnie Nation sells "original apparel celebrating the Wisconsin lifestyle." The site is notable for its modern design using a collegiate-style font which conveys a college feel. This clearly takes into account the site's product line and target audience. As noted earlier, design conveys, sometimes subtly, the credibility of your business.

Noted a judge, "Sconnie Nation has clearly taken the tiem to create a design which appropriately represents its brand."


Tip 4: Be Aware of Search Conventions

Home Health United Screen Cap

Home Health United


Home Health United’s site offers a simple but effective search. A search for “hospice,” for example, gives a useful and readable result, showing an excerpt of each page in the site that matches the search term.

Suggestion: Moving the search to the top right corner of each page will make it easier for users to find it. This has become a Web site convention, and unless you have a compelling reason to break it, it’s best to match your users’ expectations. Also, instead of making “site search” a link, offer a text box where the user can enter a search term and submit right from the home page.


Verona Flowers Screen Cap

Verona Flowers


Verona Flowers' online store is notable for its refined search options. The site's basic search accepts a variet of keywords such as "daisy," or "anniversary." On the search results page, if there is no match for a keyword, instead of presenting an empty page, the site displays a selection of popular items, encouraging sales. Judges liked that.

Additionally, an advanced search by occasion, price range, color, flower, keywords or item number gives users great flexibility. The site was tailored to the customer rather than the vendor: florists may categorize flower by type, genus, etc.; customers may use a more general search, like "Mom, daisies."



Tip 5: Provide a Clear Navigation Path

Wisconsin Made Screen Cap

Wisconsin Made


Wisconsin Made Wisconsin Made sells a wide range of products including apparel, food, pottery, and jewelry. The site runs on a very advanced and detailed e-commerce platform with great navigation. Wisconsin Made presents a row of drop-down menus for several broad categories. Mousing over “Gift Recipient,” for example, displays a sub-menu of gifts for children, family, her, and him. This makes navigation easy while not cluttering up the screen with an excess of options.

Suggestion: These menus can be improved on by slowing down the drop-down speed. They move a little too fast, which can disorient users.


GWC Technologies Screen Cap

GWC Technologies


A judge said, reviewing the Web site for GWC Technologies, "The navigation is logical with a breakdown by products, applications and technology – it's a logical cut at looking at their offerents that could be useful for prospects" Both reviewers also liked the fact that news and events are prominent on the homepage.

GWC Technologies also won praise for having a site that was clean and simple: a recurring theme with both judges.

And remember their fondness for testimonials? "Right on the homepage, they include some endorsements of clients who are using their technology," a judge noted.


Tip 6: Incorporate Blogs to Pull Readers In

Studio Noveau Screen Cap

Studio Noveau


Rebecca Eby is the wedding and portrait photographer behind Studio Noveau. The site offeres a fun-to-read, informative blog, which, the judges said, “gives visitors a feel for the photographer and owner’s personality.”

As one reviewer noted, “This is especially appropriate for couples choosing a wedding photographer, as they are hiring an individual with his or her own unique approach.”

The blog provides some insight in to Eby’s approach, which may convert more leads into paying customers.


Cronometro Screen Cap



Cronometro is a bicycle shop that also is using social media in the form of blogs. Given the target audience of dedicated bikers, our judges felt this could be a very good way to engage – not only existing customers, but also to prospects who find the site through a Web search.

Suggestion: Readers may expect more regular updates than once monthly when the material is presented as a blog – even when it is a “Tech Blog.”

However, they noted that there are other updates in other areas of this particular site which gives the feeing of lots of conversation. That is why it was picked as a role model.


Tip 7: Offer Info Through Other Channels

Gammex Screen Cap



Gammex offers a prominent newsletter sign-up for people who want to find out about new products offered by the company. Gammex also has a dual navigation scheme so it’s easy to find content from multiple perspectives.

Suggestion: With a newsletter offering, consider having a sample for visitors to review prior to signing up so they can see if the content is something they are interested in receiving. Also, don’t forget to follow a double opt-in approach for all sign-ups. (Then the visitor has to reconfirm their desire to receive e-mail communications from you, which avoids problematic third-party sign-ups.)


SciClips Screen Cap



SciClips is a Web-based company that facilitates scientific collaboration and problem-solving among scientists and researchers from around the world.

This site’s notable feature is its useof nine videos to demonstrate lab techniques.

A judge said, “Video is an excellent way to share the kind of information SciClips presents. Many people are visual learners, and will benefit from seeing how a technique is performed, rather than just reading about it.”

Suggestion: Future videos will benefit from providing a lapel or overhead microphone for the presenter, and doing some post-production polishing.


Tip 8: The "About Us" Presentation Counts

Aovatech Screen Cap



Aovatech is a nicely designed site overall, judges noted. The graphic treatment, navigation, and brand presentation are all positive elements for this business-to-business company catering to the animal agriculture sector.

One especially nice creative treatment is the firm’s presentation of their key team with black-and-white pictures of six key employees. A rollover effect “colorizes” the team member’s picture as you rollover the photograph, and generates a brief description of his or her title, role within the organization, and an e-mail address.

Suggestion: The judges liked the site, especially noting its photography. The homepage graphics were also well received. In fact, because of its positive reception overall, the judges wanted to use it to create a “teachable moment” for suggestions as well, to illustrate other points.

Their first suggestion is a graphics one: the team page, they felt, could be enhanced with a more precise clipping path around each of the images of the key staff, eliminating some of the jagged edges of the photographs. (Now you know why they are called “judges.”)

Our duo also recommended that the point size for the description of each member be increased. If sites don’t have a variable font option built in (which allows users to choose smaller or larger custom font sizes), the advice is to go for bigger sizes to increase readability – to grab us.

In addition, rather than a rollover, they prefer a click effect, where you click to view each of the team members. In that case, the link would go to another page, where the information could be larger.

Next suggestion: that the e-mail address be turned into an active mail-to link to allow the visitor to automatically generate an e-mail directly from the team page.

The site is so interesting, the judges want to make sure that readers don’t wander when they hit that team page!


Tip 9: Design with a Clean Purpose

Match Savings Screen Cap

Match Savings


This nonprofit campaign distinguishes itself with a modern, clean, well-branded, and unobtrusive design site. the use of a warm yellow color and subtle graphics, along with high contrast, makes the site both appealing and readable.

It is said that good design is invisible. It should simply support the goals of the business clearly and unobtrusively. Our judges noted that Web users can't articulate why they like or don't like a particular design, but they do notice. Good design establishes credibility and creates warm customer feelings toward the organization associated with the site.


Orange Tree Imports Screen Cap

Orange Tree Imports


Orange Tree Imports' site provides information on the store's background, cooking schol, wedding registry, and other features. While not offering online sales, the store does let customers see a sampling of unique items. Each item has a short description and good-sized photo.

Most customers connect to a product visually, especially the unique items offered by this company, so it is more valuable to present good images rather than just a list of items.

Suggestion: Product display can be improved by offering a "click for larger view" link for each image. This should overlay a window with a larger image to even better showcase color and details.


Tip 10: Don't Forget Policy Statements

La Bella Vita Screen Cap

La Bella Vita


La Bella Vita’s e-commerce site

offers a variety of unique art pieces and gifts. The online store has a clear, concise shipping and return policy. One of the first things new customers look for, a judge said, is information on shipping. Online shipping costs vary widely, so it’s an edge to tell shoppers what to expect before choosing items. Also, knowing the estimated time of arrival for a gift is important if the customer has a deadline to receive it.

Suggestion: For easier navigation, this page can be improved by linking the “contact us” text of the shipping information directly to the “contact us” page.


Rate Oasis Screen Cap

Rate Oasis


Rate Oasis provides South Central Wisconsin with mortgage rate info, commentary, and other resources. A notable site feature is its extensive privacy policy, complete with lots of legalese. While that is intended to protect the site owner more than the customer, it does add site credibility.

To craft a Web privacy policy, our experts suggest first looking at the policies of other sites in your industry. If you are not selling online or collecting personal information, you’ll have less to say.

You can also create one online with The Direct Marketing Association’s tool: http://www.dmaresponsibility.org/PPG – (or consult an attorney).


Now that you've got a Web site…

Should you use a newsletter, too? And don't forget the little, bitty details!

Catalyst Coaching, LLC (www.patbarone.com) offers life coaching, weight loss, and wellness consulting, and features a link to join a mailing list offered by a reputable service (Constant Contact). Though the judges wanted some other sections redesigned for readability and easier navigation, the firm received two thumbs up for making good use of an e-mail newsletter sign-up feature.

Noted our experts, “An e-mail newsletter is an inexpensive and effective way to reach customers. However, since most people and businesses are deluged with both spam and an excess of messages from vendors, using a service like Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, or InBoxFox can increase potential sign-ups. A good e-mail newsletter will feature both opt-in – requiring subscribers to follow a link from their email to confirm sign-up – and an ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of every e-mail newsletter.”

On a related note, how often should you send e-mail newsletters? To determine this, first answer these two questions:

  • If you were a customer, how often would you want to receive a newsletter?
  • As a vendor, how often do you have news, product specials, or events that you believe will interest your list subscribers?

If you’re unsure of your answers, consider a frequency of once per month.

Meanwhile, detail is critical. MSA Professional Services (www.msa-ps.com) provides a wide range of transportation, municipal, development, and environmental services. Though this site has many notable features, the judges particularly liked that the site’s copyright was up to date. A judge explained: “One simple but overlooked aspect is its up-to-date copyright footer. A subtle thing, however many companies neglect to display the current year in the copyright statement, sending a message that the company does not pay attention to detail."

If you would like your Web site considered for the August 2009 roundup and judging, send an e-mail to jodyp@magnapubs.com with the URL of the Web site typed in the subject line. Send your contact information in the body of the e-mail. It's that easy!