Making Good Software

A blog by Alberto G (Alberto Gutierrez)

Archive for October, 2010

Tips to create a new business website

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There are many businesses that decide to create their webpage without having the expertise or the resources to hire professionals.

For these businesses is difficult to get started, as they usually get the priorities wrong. Many new businesses start developing the web page by building a prototype that looks nice, and then they try to adapt their content to it, so they only care about the visuals.

There is much more to a webpage than a nice layout, actually a nice layout is not going to get you any customers. What follow are in my opinion the main key areas to understand before developing any business website.

Customer, customer, customer.

Nothing is more important in your website than your customer.This may seem obvious but many websites still look like if they have been designed for the directors of the company.

Elements like: flash animations, paragraphs explaining why this company is the best company, pointless images, text or data… Are only going to make your customer go away.

Figuring out what the customer wants to see is tough. One technique that is helpful is to use “personas”. “Personas” is an extremely simple but very powerful technique to help you guess what your customer reactions are going to be when they visit the website.

For example if we were making the website for a shoe maker, we could start by doing a website targeted only to customers summarised in three personas.

Sam “The casual guy” Alfred “The professional guy” Hellen “The pro”
Gender Male Male Female
Age 32 28 38
Budget 60$ 140$ 120$
Buys shoes Once every year Once every 6 months Once every 2 months
Description Not really into shoes, looking for an easy way to buy them. Looking for a nice looking, quality pair of shoes for the office. Looks for everything: quality, design, brand…
Computer skills Medium High Medium
Connects from Home Home and office Home, office and mobile devices
Priorities -Fast delivery
-Guarantee
-Quality
-Brand
– Information.
– Quality
– Fast delivery.

Having decided that these are the three personas that are going to define the user type of our web application makes simpler now decisions like, “What should be the links on the home page?”, “What content are we going to display in the search result page?”…

Even if you don’t use personas, is critical that you have a picture of who you are targeting with your webpage and what type of data are they going to be looking for.

Usability and simplicity

Usability, and not visuals, is the most important quality of a web page. Unfortunately that’s something that many businesses fail to identify when launching their new website.

Usability measures how friendly to the user a web page is. If I had to highlight only one technique to enhance your usability, that would be: “Hire people, to make usability testing”.

I found this technique mentioned for first time in the book by Steve Krug “Don’t make me think”. What basically says is that there isn’t any better feedback than real feedback. You need to find people to test your application usability. Once you have found them, ask them to perform diverse operations on your web page and pay attention at their reactions and feedback. I usually find it useful to record them so you can go over the session again or with other people from your company.

Other key area of usability is simplicity. If something can be simpler, then it should be simpler. Complex web pages are not friendly to users, unnatural navigational elements, scroll bars or navigation structures…

At last is important to remember some very basic navigation rules that should never be broken or would affect your usability otherwise:

  1. The user must always know where he is.
  2. The user must know how he got to where he is.
  3. The user must easily be able to go back to any previous page he visited.
  4. The user must easily know how to get to the home page.
  5. The user must easily identify what are the navigation elements and content areas of the page are.
  6. The user interface must be kept consistent in all the pages.
  7. The user must easily be able to read the any text in the web page.

Content

There is a golden rule, “decide your content first, then design your website”. Nowadays there are many websites that are first designed, and then the content is created to fit in them.

If you find yourself too often restricted to publish some content, because is too long, or it doesn’t have a header, or because you want it to have an image… then you are likely to be in this category.

Users only care about how good your website looks for around 2 seconds. Then they are going to look into your content, and if your content is limited because of your design, they are going to find other web page that simply has better content and not such a nice interface.

Reporting and management

A website, in 99% of the cases, needs to be updated continuously, otherwise it will die. User habits keep changing, and the content that is not up to date, is not taken seriously.

There is nowadays very powerful and usually free tools to help you to understand how your users are interacting with your web page so you can take an informed decision next time you want to change your website to improve the user experience.

Some of these tools are freely available and should be enough for a new website, like google analytics or feedburner.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

99% of the functionality you need has already been created and is freely available in Internet. This is something hard to grasp for inexperienced people, but is not an exaggeration, actually the other 1% is the reason why web development shops exists.

Written by Alberto Gutierrez

October 29th, 2010 at 4:17 am