Please note the “V1” in the title is not a typo. It stands for Version One. I think as people respond to this “Site Review 101” topic we will be able to create better guidelines than this original post. I will create a second post (V2) as new elements are compiled.
If you’re prepared for criticism on your newly created site, by all means, ask for a critique! But remember. There are several levels of professionalism when talking about a website. Make sure your site is being critiqued on the proper level.
Everyone wants a website review, but many are not ready for one. It’s easy to become excited about having a “working” website. You finally bought that domain! You’ve taken at least 10 hours to learn to code, and upload your homepage. You’re an educated, successful professional. There should be no reason you can’t build a website, just as your daughter or the 15 year old down the block did!
Although it’s possible to find that occasional “natural” at web design, most designers take years to learn and apply effective design and layout. Typically it takes a team of 5 to create an effective site. This isn’t a post about creating a site, so I will keep this tangent short. … Speaking in very basic terms here.
1. Graphic Artist: A Graphic Artist is needed to create an effective visual design and layout to your online web page. It doesn’t matter what you are selling; product, service, or information. They all need to be displayed in a manner, which compels people to continue reading or otherwise be involved.
2. Photographer: A picture paints a thousand words. We’ve all heard the expression, but it also keeps your attention. Without effective photography on your site, words become stale and less inspiring.
3. Copywriter: With an effective Copywriter you are much more likely to capture your readers attention. You might be thinking, “I use words daily. There’s no reason I can’t write it myself.” In reality, there is an entire collegially trained group of people who’s time has been spent finding ways to improve the effectiveness of words and to inspire action. Try using one of them.
4. Programmer: In the beginning days of the Internet, programming was basic and all you needed was to spend some time playing around with HTML code. Nowadays, with the necessity of search engines indexing and serving sites of interest to you, or your viewer, it is necessary to program your site so the search engines can find your site. This takes a lot of time and breaks down into several sub topics. Having a programmer well versed in HTML is no longer enough.
5. Security Officer: There’s probably a better term for this, but the Security Officer is to be the person(s) responsible for making sure transactions or any other information passed through your site is secure from malicious intent. This “position” is critical, especially when making transactions over the internet.
The 5 team players required to create an effective site will grow in some situations, when applying the Internet to your business. In other situations, you may find the desire to “do it yourself.” This works fine, if you are not attempting to “play ball with the big boys.” If you are not a “professional” in one of the 5 team player positions listed above, you should not pretend to be.
Just because the site is “live” doesn’t mean it is ready for visitors. I understand the necessity of a site critiqued, at any stage of development. When giving a critique it is valuable to understand the professional level the site is competing for. Opinions regarding what should be found on a webpage will vary. But key factors continually restate their presence. I hope to create a list which helps differentiate between the professional levels of website design.
This list should provide a basic understanding as to what a new viewer should expect from your site, once visiting. It’s possible to make lemonade and sell it on the street corner. It’s also possible to open an executive level lemonade stand in your favorite mall location. Each sells the same product, but at different prices and to different people. They have different selling points and that makes them both successful. Please tell us what level of business you are trying to do. It might even be a good idea to answer this question on your website while answer the, “What is the purpose of this site?” question.
When asking to have your site reviewed, please check that the following, standards, have been achieved for the level of business you are trying to conduct. … Speaking in very basic terms here.
Active URL: If you want a site review make sure the link or URL (domain name) you direct reviewers to is active. All to often, the site is not even activated or functioning online.
Site Theme: Look closely at the site’s theme. Do the colors and fonts (type style / size) used, complement the design of the site? Is it easily read?
Image Size: In nearly all cases, images should have low resolution setting. A good resolution to start is 72 dpi. If you don’t know enough about manipulating the image size for a proper fit, this is a topic you should explore before placing images on your website.
Browser Compatibility: Do you know how many are out there? You know the major players by name. You should have tested your site using these browsers to ensure your site is readable to the masses. Did you know, Macintosh and PC do not render a site in the same way even when using the same (brand name) browser?
If you did not design your own site, it is likely your web designer has addressed these issues. In many cases, they are not addressed. There are lessons to be learned and much time wasted for the person who doesn’t take the time to qualify the skills of anyone helping you. Even if your designer is free, there is still something to be said about doing it right the first time.
Assuming you have effectively accomplished the tasks in Level One, it’s time for Level Two.
Professional Layout: Template is better than, “first try” designs. Just make sure your template isn’t someone else’s “first try.” In order to compete with others on this level, your site must look clean, polished and professional. There shouldn’t be any visual distractions due to poor background or font colors. The page flow should take the reader on a journey. It should not lead them on a hunt for the reason they are on the page in the first place. It doesn’t hurt to create a “personality” for your website. Do something visually that sets your site apart from others. Some ways this can be accomplished is in the layout, copy choice, or even image selection.
Professional Copy: Professional copy isn’t professional because you paid for it. Your copy should motivate the majority of readers to continue reading or take action. Style is one thing, but word content is another. A professional copywriter should be able to address “keyword” issues to assist in search engine recognition also. In general, the most important verbiage on your home page should contain a 10 words (or so) heading, and a few sentences to reinforce that heading.
Function-able Navigation: All links should be functioning. The mistake of one misdirected link does nothing to reinforce the professionalism of your site. Site navigation must be easy to find, easy to use, and functioning.
Professional Photography: Digital technology has made it extremely easy to upload your personal photos to the Internet. Although it’s easy to take a photo from your low-resolution camera and upload it to your site, in order to compete in the marketplace, you must devote some attention, and resources to this.
Images: Make certain your images are “linked” properly. You should have no broken image links, just as you should have no broken text links.
About Us Page: People don`t ordinarily feel as comfortable viewing a site where they have no idea who the people are behind that site. This isn’t particularly important when viewing Macy’s website (http://www.macys.com), but we are not being asked to critique the Macy’s site.
Sound, Bells & Whistles: First, if using music or sound on your site, you must have an easily located, “sound off” button. Many people surf the web in situations where sound is not permitted in their environment. You don’t want to make your site unusable because of your constant theme music. Rarely, are bells & whistles effective at bringing revenue, long-term or returning visitors to your site. Remember, the Internet is about information, not how many fascinating programmable “click here” moments you can achieve.
Flash: Flash content should really go under the “Sound, Bells & Whistles” topic. Using flash isn’t bad, but relying on flash to convey your message to people looking for your content on a search engine is ineffective. If you are serious about competing with other bonafide businesses online, you will need to loose your love for programming an entire site using Flash. This is also the case when describing your product or service by using Flash. If the search engines cannot effectively search your site for cataloging purposes, you are likely not to be found by anyone but the people you directly market to. That is a huge waste of Internet resources.
Assuming you have effectively accomplished the tasks in Level One & Two, it’s time for Level Three. If you are attempting to achieve this level of expertise in your site evaluation, you should probably seek more professional, facts backed, detailed results by hiring a research team.
This is not intended to determine the functionality of your site. That is your job, and you should do that on a regular basis, as your online business progresses. As a site critique, we are only discussing face value of your site. Does it make us want to read more? Does it look appealing? Does it do the job the site was intended?
---Vincent Wilcox (a.k.a. KRAKR)
My band: Letters Make Words