1. Make Sure the Visual Elements Reinforce Your Company or Brand Identity
The essence of your company can most likely be summarized using words; but your identity is also accompanied by many intangible qualities. Brands are as much about attitudes, feelings, and emotions as they are about factual information. The overall look of your Web site must support these defining factors. Is your brand identity best served by hard edges or softer, rounded shapes? Do primary colors capture the company philosophy or would earth tones be a better match? Experiment
and find the right fit before settling on a design scheme.

2. Forget Cool, Think Useful
You can’t compete with TV, you can’t compete with movies, you can’t even compete with entertainment Web sites. Luckily there’s no need to compete, though, because what really counts is making your site useful, not cool.

3. Lead Visitors Where You Want Them to Go
While your content may fulfill the needs of your visitors, your site design should guide them naturally to the places you want them to go. For instance, before visitors can download a sample chapter of a book, they might be shown a page that makes them aware of the full-length version and how to order it. Determine your goals and find a way to deliver value to your visitors while also getting what you want.

4. Offer Clear, Limited Choices
Some Web sites are so cluttered with navigation bars, banner ads, links, promotional blurbs, image maps, and the like, it’s difficult to choose what to do first. Make it too hard for your visitors and they may decide to go elsewhere. Decide what information is most important for your visitors, particularly on your home page, and resist the urge to add more information.

5. Let Visitors Know What Your Site is About
The worst thing you can do is promote your Web site, get curious people to take a first look, and confuse the heck out of them when they arrive. View your home page through the eyes of a new visitor. Does it spell out exactly what you offer and what your brand stands for? If not, redesign it so it does. Also, remember that many people will arrive at your site through a secondary page, especially if they hear about it through a search engine or recommendation. Therefore, every page needs to explain what your site is about.

6. Avoid Long, Scrolling Pages
Sites overdo page length on both sides of the issue. Some sites make visitors scroll through endless reams of announcements, news items, articles, and more—all on a single page. The solution is to break things up. As a general rule, design with one item or concept per page. Provide a menu to related pages. On the other hand, don’t break things up too much. Some experts contend that Web pages shouldn’t be any longer than one screen length. As a result, many Web sites force readers to hit a Next button and wait for a new page to load before they can continue reading a relatively short article. If the content on a single page takes up only two or three screens, it’s easier to do a little scrolling than to keep hyperlinking to more pages.

7. Use Simple, Clean Layouts
Basic is better when it comes to Web site design. That doesn’t mean your site has to be boring. Your goal is to keep your pages clutter free, using lots of white space to allow visual breathing room. Have fun with your page layout; but make sure every design choice you make helps you communicate your brand identity.

8. Keep a Consistent Theme Throughout
Most designers start by creating the home page, since that’s the page most people see first. That’s a smart move as long as you carry the home page’s look and feel throughout the rest of your site. Wherever the navigation menu is positioned on your home page, make sure the menu is in that same spot on every other page. If you use a fuchsia-colored border under the logo on one page, use fuchsia on all pages. Got it?

9. Think Big—Type, That Is
Along with creating a simple, clean design, you also want a site that is easy to read. Don’t make surfers squint to absorb your information. Make it as easy as possible for people to get the details they want. Avoid putting small text on colored or busy backgrounds.

10. Use Color Tastefully and Sparingly
Color is a funny thing. Used properly, color can have a good impact. Used irresponsibly, it can look ugly, scream “amateur site, run for your life,” and cause thousands to get queasy instantly. Make sure your Web site color choices lean more toward the former.

11. Provide Navigation Along the Top, Left Side, and Bottom
When people surf the Web, they love to slip and slide from site to site and page to page. Make sure each of your pages has easy-to-find navigation options along the top and bottom of the page. When visitors come to the end of an article, don’t make them scroll all the way back up to the top to get to their next destination. Most well designed pages also have menu options in a left column. In this column, you can either duplicate the navigation options you offer at the top and bottom or create a separate set of links to pages directly related to the content on that page.

12. Adhere to the Three-Click Rule
Many experts advise that any piece of information on your site should be no further than three clicks away from your home page. I suggest you go further and limit the rule to two clicks. Think of your home page as the first level. All pages you provide a link to from the home page would be considered the second level. Any additional pages you direct people to from the second level would be considered the third level. Third-level pages are two clicks away from the home page. Don’t create
pages that go any deeper than the third level, if you can help it.

13. Stay Away From Autoplay Sounds
For some reason, many Web site owners love heaping musical ditties on visitors the minute they arrive. It may seem like a good idea; but autoplay sounds take extra time to load. They can also come blaring out of someone’s speakers when he or she least expects it, for example, at work near the boss’s office or at home when the baby is sleeping.

14. Check for Browser Compatibility
The most common Web browsers display pages in pretty much the same way; but there are variations. The last time I checked statistics; close to 80 percent of Internet users listed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as their browser of choice. You definitely want to make sure your site is designed to accommodate Bill Gates’ favorite browser. However, Netscape Navigator is still used by a significant number of people, as are many other, lesser-known browsers. Try to view your Web pages
using different browsers to make sure everything displays correctly. Three sites that can help you determine the browser-friendliness of your pages are Net Mechanic
(http://www.netmechanic.com/maintain.htm), Web Site Garage (http://websitegarage.netscape.com/), and AnyBrowser.com (http://www.anybrowser.com/).

15. Update Your Site Often
While your goal should be to make your site appealing to first-time visitors, you also need to give visitors good reasons to return. Keep your site fresh by adding new content on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean you should make radical changes to your design all the time, but you can add new articles, products, giveaways, and so on.

16. Go Easy on the Gizmos.
Though the free-enterprise system is trying hard to make it one, the Web is not currently set up to be a multimedia entertainment center. I once heard morning radio jock Howard Stern joke about how he waited an hour to download a movie clip that eventually played in a grainy frame about two inches wide. He suddenly realized that in the next room was a life-size TV hooked up to 120 clear channel cable stations. Why do people continue to squeeze basketball-size media files through a connection the size of a garden hose? Your visitors will reward you if you chill out on the special effects and don’t force them to download dozens of plug-ins to view your pages.

17. Make Good Use of Page Titles
This is a simple but often-overlooked design tip. The words you put between the and tags show up at the top of your visitor’s browser. Those words are also indexed by many search engines. Make sure they describe the specific page, your name, and some reference to your brand image. Commercial HTML editing programs generally provide an easy way to insert page titles.

18. Stick With Standard Link Colors
Certain standards have developed on the Web. One of those standards concerns the colors given to various types of hyperlinks. Blue is used for unvisited links, red for an active link as it is being clicked, and purple for links that have been recently visited. With all the skepticism that exists on the Internet, your brand will benefit by providing your visitors with some surfing standards they can count on.

19. Use Hyperlinks, Especially Within Your Site
One of the most appealing aspects of the Web is its interconnectivity. Some of the best sites encourage visitors to bounce around from page to page within the site—or even section to section on the same page. One article can reference a topic covered in another article. Instead of plainly stating, You’ll find more information on Labradors in my FAQ on hunting dogs, make the words FAQ on hunting dogs an active hyperlink that takes the reader straight to that page.

20. Conduct Informal Usability Research
Once you’ve come up with a site design plan you’re happy with, invite a few friends over who know little about your planned site. Have them visit your home page. Ask them to tell you what the site is about; then ask them to browse around and click what interests them. Observe the pges they go to and which navigation links they use to get there. Next, give them specific tasks: Place an order; subscribe to the newsletter, and so on. Note which steps come easily and which ones reveal obstacles.
This isn’t rocket science; but this kind of casual research will help you find your site’s strengths and weaknesses quickly.