By John Eberhard
I believe there are a lot of misconceptions today about what are the most important aspects of web design. I will discuss various topics.
Flash is a program made by Adobe that allows one to create animations, slide shows and so on for the web. Plus, you can also build an entire web site out of Flash.
For most commercial web sites today, Flash is a desirable, not vital aspect of web design. First of all I do not EVER recommend designing an entire web site in Flash. The problem with this is that if you design the entire site in Flash, search engines such as Google cannot index the site. That means your site will not appear when someone searches on that search engine. Since search engines are one of the largest sources of traffic for web sites today, you do not want to eliminate this source of traffic.
However, you can create Flash animations that get incorporated into an HTML page, and that is what I recommend. That way you get the movement and interest, but don't lose search engine traffic.
Identity Capture Devices
By "identity capture devices," I mean where you offer something for free on your site, in exchange for the visitor filling out a form giving you his name and contact information. I consider this a vital part of any web site, but especially web sites promoting high-ticket products and services. Here's why.
You exert effort or expend resources to get people to come to your site. Virtually no one will arrive at a site today unless you drive them there. There are just too many sites and too much competition. So you expend resources, either time or money to get someone there. Then what happens?
Well a certain percentage of people are going to be interested in your product or service and will either call you or fill out a "more information" form on the site. But what about the rest? Once they leave the site, in most cases, that's it. You've lost them. So that means those resources expended to get them there are, for the most part, wasted.
But let's say you have several identity capture devices on the site, such as:
a. A free email newsletter subscription
b. A free report or "white paper" on a topic related to one of your products and services
c. A demo download or free software utility (applies to software sales)
Now, a certain additional percentage of people, who are interested, but not ready to buy just yet, will fill out one of these forms for one of the free offers. So you send them the free report or put them on your email list, and now you have more opportunities to sell them. Or, by sending them material regularly by email, you will build "top of mind awareness" and they will think of you when they reach the point when they're ready to buy.
I consider identity capture to be a vital aspect of a web site, one that many web designers don't even know or think about.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) means to select a group of keywords that is appropriate for your business, and then to put those keywords into your site as much as possible. There are a variety of places where these keywords can be placed and there are right and wrong ways to do it, with the wrong ways being ways that the search engines consider "spam."
By optimizing your site for search engines, it will now be able to rank well in the search engine results for the keywords you select.
I consider SEO to be vital for your site, but not as important as the next section on links.
Links to Your Site
Google states that the number of links from other sites linking to your (also called inbound links) is considered by them to be the most important criteria in determining the ranking of a web site for any given keyword. In other words, the more sites there are that have a link to yours, the better your site will rank in their results.
Even better than a simple link to your site is what is called "anchor text." This means a keyword that is linked to your site. For example, let's say your site sells gourmet coffee and the term "gourmet coffee" is one of the keywords you are trying to have your site rank well for. If you can get other web sites to have the words "gourmet coffee" on their site somewhere, with those words linking to you (usually appearing in blue with an underline) then that is anchor text. And that is vital.
Getting links to your site, preferably anchor text, is even more important than doing SEO to your site. It's best to do both, but it would be a mistake, for example, to just do SEO and then not do any link building, especially if the number of links to your site is low (let's say, under 1,000).
Video and Audio
Adding video and audio elements (like an audio clip that plays as soon as someone lands on your home page) is very desirable. It's not vital, but these are excellent elements to add to your site, and make it stand out from competing sites. By the same token, if most of your competition has videos or audio clips on their web sites and you don't, yours will suffer by comparison.
I consider lots of photos to be absolutely vital in the design of a web site. You might say "duh" to that but I see many sites today designed with a nice shell but very few if any photos. Adding photos that are relevant to your sales text can greatly increase the impact. Also, don't make them tiny (1-3 inches), make them bigger, like 4-6 inches, so they have greater impact.
Music is a good idea to put on your site especially if your site is some of entertainment industry site. But do it with a Flash player that the visitor can find easily to turn off if he wants to. Nothing is more annoying than music on a site that you don't want to hear, and not being able to turn it off. And not everyone's taste in music is the same.
a. Flash – desirable, but don't make the whole site in Flash
b. Identity capture devices – vital
c. Search engine optimization – vital
d. Links to Your Site – even more vital
e. Video and Audio – desirable
f. Photos – vital
g. Music – desirable, but with a button for visitors to turn it off