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The top seven tips for business owners.

The finer points that create a must-see Internet presence

You've heard for months that your business should have a Web site, and you've finally decided to take the plunge. But where do you start? Although you're the final arbiter of what goes on your site, there are some basic things that any commercial Web presence should have. Whether you plan on creating a full-fledged interactive e-commerce site or a simple brochure, heed this advice and you'll be on your way to a successful launch.

1. Give complete contact information. Your full legal business name, street and mailing address, phone number and e-mail address should be prominently displayed on your home page. Be sure to direct e-mail to appropriate departments, such as customer service or accounting. However, don't go overboard on the home page--include your basics with hyperlinks to contact information for specific departments.

Many businesses provide a form for e-mail correspondence without giving an actual e-mail address for the company. This can cost you customers and free publicity, especially if the "contact" is a third-party Web master who may not understand or care about your business.

Besides, e-mail forms don't work with all browsers. Don't forget to include a press contact. Marketing your site is just as important as building it.

2. Offer abundant pre-sale information. Make it easy for people to buy your products over the Web. If you're not certain what to include, look at all the information advertisers squeeze into a TV commercial--then do better. People want to know absolutely everything about your product--from color, size and cost of replacement parts to the terms of warranties and money back guarantees. They want exact prices, including shipping costs and delivery dates. Note this information before you prompt customers to add items to their on-line shopping cart.

3. Make navigation easy and consistent. Arrange your site by your visitors' needs, not your organizational structure. For example, a customer looking for replacement parts doesn't want to navigate a Web site by geographical sales divisions or departmental lines. Get inside your customers' heads and consider their needs: product specifications, delivery, returns, technical help, billing information and accessories. Take this opportunity to answer your customers' most frequently asked questions. Approach Web site building the way visitors do and they'll buy into your goals.

Once you determine your site's organization, create user-friendly navigational tools. "Navigation should be transparent to the user," says James M. DiPina Jr., chief Web designer and chief technology officer for MelaNet, (www.melanet.com), a Norfolk, Virginia-based Internet services company.

No one should have to figure out a pictorial map on page one, decipher a navigation bar on page two and negotiate a row of poorly marked buttons on page three. These tools should also offer clear, concise text with corresponding images.

4. Get a Web designer. Unless you have a graphic designer on staff, hire a well-rounded Web designer who has HTML programming experience. "Many companies waste money on traditional artists or digital artists who don't understand the dynamics of the Web," warns DiPina. "You need to find someone who designs human interfaces."

Don't go on unproven claims. When possible, interview the designer's present and/or former clients. The most important aesthetic criterion is a unified look. The site should be easy on the eyes. If you plan a commerce site, have prospective Web designers show you similar sites they've created that look great and work well from navigation through purchase. Once the site is created, maintenance should be a snap.

5. Make your site 100% plain-text compatible. Anyone can experience your site if you make everything available to those with plain-text browsers. Many people turn off everything but plain text to shorten wait time for graphically rich Web pages. Make your information accessible to them and you won't have to worry about who wins the browser wars. Plain-text visitors will download relevant pictures and sounds if you describe them adequately, including file sizes and formats.

6. Offer a choice of formats for video and audio. AVI and MOV are popular video formats that users download to play full-motion video clips via the Web. Typically users also need to download a viewer to access these images. Real Video (www.real.com) and Gee Emblaze (www.emblaze.com) are good formats that play simple video, such as an executive talking, as it downloads. Gee Emblaze is based on Java and doesn't require users to download a viewer at all, although they'll need a Java-enabled browser to view the footage. WAV and AU sound clips cover downloadable audio for most visitors. Rea[Audio plays sound as it downloads and works fine for speech. Don't forget to provide links to the players for all the formats at your site. Nothing is worse than including features in your site that visitors can't access easily and quickly.

7. Downsize image files without sacrificing quality. If you've ever nixed a Web page that took too long to download, you know why you should shrink images. It's easy with products like Ulead's Smart-Saver for GIF, JPG, and PNG files, and Ulead's Animation SmartSaver. Pictures look great and show up a lot faster. Visit www.ulead.com for free trials. Along those same lines, go easy on the graphics. Most surfers aren't at your site for pretty pictures; they want information. "Keep it simple and practical," advises DiPina.

To obtain back issues containing other parts of this series, please contact our circulation department at 212-886-9568.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:tips on using Web sites for electronic commerce
Author:Rohan, Rebecca Frances
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Words:909
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