Give Your Site a Facelift

So, you’ve had your site for a while and you’re ready to give it a "facelift". What should you do first? Design new graphics? Change the color scheme? Those are both good ideas, but I think you should consider doing a couple of other things first. Namely, you should see if you can find ways to eliminate anything that might be confusing to your visitors and you should check to see if there are any ways to speed your download time.

While it might be more fun to tinker with colors, graphics, animation, and cool, new page elements, it could be better for your bottom line if you do what I’ve suggested.

In GVU’s 10th WWW Survey of Internet users (an overview of the findings is not yet available), it appears that those two factors – confusing site and slow download time – seem to drive the most visitors away from sites that provide "product/service information".

The question then becomes, "How do I redesign my site to make it download faster and make it less confusing?" If you have a normal, run-of-the-mill page, doing the former (speeding up d/l time) might just be easier than you think.

Slow download time can usually be chalked up to graphics or page elements, such as applets. The first thing you can do is eliminate any superfluous graphics or elements. You don’t have to pare it down to plain text, but take a critical look at your page and see if everything on it is really necessary and cut what isn’t. When you’ve trimmed the excess, you’ll need to optimize the graphics that remain. This simply means you need to reduce the file size to speed download time. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways.

Software programs exist that are designed specifically for optimizing graphics. You might be able to do it, to some extent, yourself with your image-editing program. The easiest way I’ve found to do it, though, is to use NetMechanic’s GifBot; it’s simple, free, and works great.

Back to the applets. Once again I would remind you to take a hard look at the applets you’ve included. Remember, it doesn’t matter how "cool" the page is if there’s no one around to see it when it’s finished downloading. Applets are fine as long as they don’t cause excessive download time.

The second portion of your facelift is endeavoring to rid your page of anything visitors might find confusing. This would also include adding things that would simplify the site and, in general, make it easier for the visitor to find what he’s looking for.

A few things to consider are: adding a site map and/or a "you are here"-type navigation system, clearly differentiating between LINKs and VLINKs, making contact information visible or accessible from every page on the site, linking every page to home, displaying products clearly, using consistent navigation throughout, and making the order process as simple as possible.

As a site owner, there are probably tons of things you could be doing to your site, but few will have a greater impact than speeding the download time and making the site less confusing for the visitor.

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