What Design Will Work for Your Commerce Site?

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Successful Web sites are built with online behavior patterns in mind - what it takes to get visitors to a site, how they are motivated to go beyond the home page, and why visitors return to the same sites again and again. To keep visitors interested, follow these guidelines:


• From the first moment, keep visitors involved. When clients get to your site, you have their attention. Do not lose it. Involve visitors immediately in making choices about where to go next. Find out how to make each visit an active experience.


• Make your site consumer-oriented. Identify your target audiences. Focus on their needs. Guide them to sections of the site where they can find answers. Consider providing relevant hypertext links to other sites and review those sites before sending your visitors on their way so that your filter is seen as a portal - a guided tour into other worlds.


• Deliver a high return on time invested. Design the site around features that address the concerns of key audiences. Visitors want answers to the problems on their desks. They also are attracted to features offering interesting sidelights on their profession or background on some aspect of their job.


• Make your site easy to navigate. The Web user's biggest complaint is getting lost within sites. Successful sites are not just attractive, they are architecturally sound. Movement through each page is planned around reader behavior - from entry to exit. Visitors must understand the icons and navigational aids that will guide them through the site. Graphic elements should be used consistently throughout the site.


Keep visitors no more than two clicks beyond the home page in order to keep them at ease. This will improve their experience.


• Don't keep customers waiting. Time weighs heavy in cyberspace. Some day, the Net will equal television's standards for speed. Meanwhile, site design must recognize the speed limitations of today's modems. However, strategies for optimizing graphic elements enable content rich sites to be visually rich as well.


• Look and feel are important. The visual style of your site is every bit as important as the material in it. Communication occurs through two channels - the head and the heart. The visual style of your site makes one kind of impression while the verbal makes another. The more lasting, more affective impression is likely to be the visual.


• Move clients and customers closer to making the right decision. Ask yourself, "What will give clients the confidence they need to use our service?" Then deliver as much evidence as possible: specific expertise, industry experience, technical backgrounds of your employees, languages, alternative billing arrangements - and invite visitors to ask for more information.


The quality of your content is critical. Practice descriptions should be concise, focusing on representative matters and what was achieved for clients. The single, biggest mistake a marketer can make is to focus on the firm's needs and not the client's.


All company descriptions should be edited for the Web. The average length of a sentence in a well-written article is 17 words. The average length of a lawyer's sentence is 35! Use bullets. Use subheads and headlines.


• Define value for the client. The Web's unique advantage over other media is that we can customize messages to different audiences. In planning your site, decide which information you should give away to visitors. Which information can you make available to clients only? Which information should you sell by subscription?


Do Web sites really attract new clients? It depends who you ask.


Web sites trying to attract prospective clients by themselves do very little unless they are hitched to appropriate search engines with well-defined search criteria, promotional activity by traditional media that support the site, consistent public relations efforts and excellent legal work.


Recent ads for a New York intellectual property firm drove clients to the Internet (no phone number was given) resulting in nine new clients in the first month. Why? Because the firm employed an integrated marketing campaign, every component of which satisfied buyer expectations.


An effective Web site does more than enable new customers and clients to find your firm. It helps sustain a firm by bringing the best qualified recruits in the door. And, finally, it helps existing customers recognize the value you add to the relationship.
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