Let’s just say up front what we all know to be true: a lot small and medium’sized businesses’ Web sites are lame, plain and simple. Sometimes they’re woefully lacking on the graphics side. They can be text-heavy. Others are difficult to navigate. Maybe nobody’s visiting them because they’re not attracting the attention of the key search engines.While getting the visual side of Web site design right is one of the most difficult things Web designers grapple with, there are a few golden rules companies can stick to in order to punch up the look of their sites and pull in a few more hits from potential customers.

Here are six keys to fixing graphics-related Web site problems:

  1. Be image conscious. Perhaps the biggest problem found on Web sites built by amateurs has to do with the way they handle images. Specifically, file sizes are too darn big. Designers will often upload photos that have yet to be worked on (optimized). For example, if you take a digital picture and it is about one megabyte in size, even if you make it smaller, you will probably still end up with too large a file. “As a Web designer, you need to take that photo and reduce it to an optimal file size,” says Doris Kotscha, owner of Affordable Web Design of Kelowna, BC. “The best program for this is Adobe Photoshop, which allows you to ‘save for Web,'” she adds. With Photoshop you can make the file 10 times smaller. It won’t be good enough quality to print out, but for the Web it’s just fine — and quick to download.
  2. See the big picture. There’s another common problem that can happen behind the scenes, even on a great-looking site. Some designers create the index page as one big image. This becomes a problem when potential customers try to find you on the Internet. “It looks great, it’s visual, it’s very fancy, but the search engines will skip it because search engines do not read images,” Kotscha says. A Web designer might have done a great job using the latest software tools, but it’s all for nothing. Search engines look for clear, targeted key words. For more information about search engine optimization, see our past coverage on the subject.
  3. Be focused. Sometimes Web sites get designed, quite unintentionally, for the wrong audience. It’s important to reach your target market. If you’re marketing to Joe Average, you want to make certain that all your site’s images download quickly so, of course, you want to keep file sizes small. According to Kotscha, old Macromedia Flash files used to take a lot of space and slow browsers down, but later releases can actually provide the means to make a beautiful — and nimble — graphic. “I do a lot of fading in, fading out, so it really catches attention, but the whole file size is less than 100k. A lot of this depends on the actual programs that are used. The more modern Web sites take that into account,” she says.
  4. Better letters. Style-wise, bold type can be effective, but Web designers should try to avoid using capital letters for full sentences. Search engines’ efforts to see these letters will be hampered and, well, they just don’t look very good. However, for certain headings they can be effective.
  5. Color my world. Color choices are also very important. Kotscha recommends designers avoid black backgrounds. White lettering on a black background may be just fine if your target market is the under 20-year-old, after age 40 most people “have a heck of a hard time” reading up close, she says. Try to keep backgrounds white if possible. You can still add a lot of color, but it’ll be easier to read on a light background. And make sure the colors you choose go well together. If you add a green and blue image to a site with burgundy and yellow themes throughout, the result is a major color clash.î
  6. Play it safe. Consider that when people view your site they are affected by the type of, and to an extent the quality, of their software and hardware. As a result, it is sometimes a good idea to stick with Web-safe colors, which everyone sees the same way, regardless of equipment (Mac or PC, Navigator or Internet Explorer) used. Details about such colors can be found on several sites, including this one.

Doris Kotscha is the owner of Affordable Web Design in Kelowna, BC.

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