Is it time to treat your Web site as a necessary asset?

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It wasn't that long ago when having a Web site truly was a big deal. Business owners would spend a great deal of focused time and effort to create and promote a site because of its novelty. It had gained the aura of being a status symbol, rather than existing as a mere business asset.

Today, having a Web site is routine. Perhaps too routine. Since the novelty has worn off, many businesses spend neither the precious time nor the necessary effort on improving their Web site or even in considering the basics. Once it's up, it may well be months or years before they think about it's functionality again.

This is a critical mistake because a Web site now serves as a key business asset. It's become one of the first places people look for information about your products and services.

A Web site can play a number of important roles for your business. It serves as a brochure for your business. It's also a sales lead generator, a customer relationship tool, a catalog of your products and a technical support option. Most importantly for many businesses, it's also a way for your customers to quickly and convienently make purchases.

So, these issues beg the question: Is your Web site pulling its own weight? Is it providing the information potential customers expect? Does it help to generate leads or to make sales?

If it's been a while since you've taken a good look at your Web site, maybe it's time for a quick evaluation. Here are a number of questions to help you clean up the basics of such a central part of your business.

Home page

Is your home page an informative doorway to your site or just an annoying splash page that, truth be told, most people skip? Is it possible for visitors tell at a glance who you are and what you offer? Is the organization of your site obvious from looking at your navigational links?

Does the home page give a good first impression? Do you have copy and links that entice people deeper into your site? Does your home page load quickly?

Key pages

Do you include an "about" page with an overview of your organization? Is there a page outlining your primary products or services?

Do you have a section for testimonials? Is there a contact page for reaching key personnel, offering multiple options, including phone, e-mail, contact form and street address?

Do you have a clear, comprehensive and well organized FAQ page, with answers to common questions? Is there a way to view or request samples? Are your order pages or information-request pages easy to find?

Content

Do you include information on how to use or benefit from your products or services? Is there extra content your visitors may find interesting and relevant to their needs? Have you included case studies, reports, how-to articles and other useful content? Is everything written clearly and persuasively?

Architecture

Is your site organized intuitively? Do you group similar items so information is easy to find? Have you included a site map that shows your visitors how your site is organized, and that provides links to all the key pages on your site?

Navigation

Is your navigational menu consistent from page to page? Are the button labels and links throughout the site easy to understand? Does your menu provide one-click access to every major section of your site? Are there secondary navigational menus in areas with lots of content? Are the secondary menus consistent and clearly labeled?

Links

Do all your links work? Are you using informative links within your text, such as "free report," or ambiguous links, such as "click here?" Are you confusing people with text underlines that look like links, but aren't?

Typography

Are you using type that is easy to read? Is it large enough on the average computer screen (not just on a designer's oversized screen)? Are you using cascading style sheets, so you can set reader-friendly line spacing? Are you using an optimum column width?

Have you tested the legibility of your site on a variety of browsers and monitors? Are you using headlines, subheads, bullet points and other typographic elements to organize content and make scanning your site easy, or do you have big blocks of solid text?

Performance

Do your pages load quickly? Are your photos and graphics optimized for speed? Does your site use lean code to improve performance? Is your search function fast? Does your search function return useful information? Is your server adequate to handle your average traffic level? How does your server perform when you have traffic spikes? Have you looked at your site from a variety of outside computers, so you see what your visitors are seeing?

If you're serious about evaluating your site, you should ask people who are unfamiliar with your company to take a look and tell you what they think. You can also survey your regular visitors or customers for their input.

Also, don't forget to survey the sites of your competitors. They might just be doing a lot of smart things that you should be doing to stay competitive. .

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