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Providing cost-effective IT solutions to small to medium size businesses here in the Twin Cities. We combine safer "face-to-face" interaction with the cost-effectiveness of global sourcing
Skip Navigation LinksServices > Website Design > Best Practices

Best Practices

Below is a list of website design "best practices" we've found to be helpful, particularly for small to medium sized businesses (our target customers). We hope you'll find this list useful when it's time to design and build your next website!

Web Design best practices for Twin Cities, Minnesota businessBest Practices for Website Design

  1. Keep Design Simple

    • Purpose of website should be clear.  Design your website with a top-down approach. Home page should include a compelling summary of who you are, and what you can do for your customers. This should be at the highest level, and the first thing visible on your homepage (potential customers can drill down into detailed information later, but you can't force them to). Your have only 20 to 30 seconds to "make your case" before the user moves on to the next website!

    • Purpose of each page on website should be clear.  Each page should be an important component of the overall message communicated by the website as a whole. The idea concept for any given page should be summarizable into an easily understandable "sound bite" of 1 sentence or less. All information on the page should either directly support this concept, or be collected and moved to another page supporting a different idea concept.

    • Keep User Navigation habits in mind.  Research has shown when users visit a website, they tend to visually scan the top of the page (left to right), then left side (top to bottom). Critical first elements of the "conversion funnel" should be placed on both top of page (left to right), and left side (top to bottom) in order of importance. The goal is to attract your most likely potential customers, and present with information they want, so they can easily retrieve information and/or make purchases from your website.

    • Avoid Crowded Pages. For a professional look, websites should allow for a reasonable amount of white space. What is white space? White space is the space between design components (such as graphics, margins, gutters, columns, lines of type or figures and objects). Reducing white space (within an area) helps combine similar information together; Increasing white space (between areas) allows for visual separation between them. In summary, appropriate use of white space allows users to more quickly scan a website and locate useful information, making for an improved user experience.

    • Avoid Gimmicks.  Ever clicked on a website from a search engine, and discovered the site has disabled the "back" button? This is but one annoying example of cheap website gimmicks. Moves such as this are generally counterproductive, and rarely result in sales. Some tricks (such as those designed to increase SEO page rank under false pretense), can result in complete "black listing" on major search engines!

  2. Promote Products and Services

    • Gather reviews for your products and services.  Make sure there are as many reviews as possible for your products and services. Product reviews are high value content, tending to increase both SEO page rank, as well as sales for the specific products involved. Most people don’t want to be the first to try a product or service; Reviews full of positive information from previous buyers will simplify their buying decision.

      Encourage your existing customers to provide reviews for your products or services. New users will tend to trust positive reviews by those already using the products and services you’re selling.

    • Showcase your very best products. Do some analysis to determine which of your products generate the most customer interest and sales volume. Add a special product category (Most Popular or Top 20) for these products.

      New Arrivals should also have a special category, allowing your customers to immediately see what’s new, without having to search through existing product lists. More time can be spent on detailed product introductions in the new arrivals section. It's also a great place to offer special promotions and / or discounts to encourage your customers to try some of these new items.

    • Organize product lists by category. Spend some time getting to know how your customers think of your products. Generate easily understood product categories. Make them easy to navigate, allowing even the most novice users to buy from you. Provide icons or small images to select on, as your customers navigate through these product categories.

      Where appropriate, try to keep product categories as non-technical as possible. Don’t forget, different customers may think of the same product in different ways, therefore add multi-use products into multiple categories where needed.

    • Provide free demo or trial period. Another great way to promote your products is to offer a free trial period for some products and/or services. If you have physical products, offer a limited money back guarantee (less shipping, possibly adding re-stocking or other fees as needed.). If you provide services, offer a free consult; The consult should not give away too many services you want to sell, just enough to provide some value, hopefully selling additional products and/or services to the potential client.

    • Provide guides and/or instructional materials. If you sell less common and/or more complicated products or services, the use of instructional videos can be very helpful. Videos can be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of such products, making the potential customer more comfortable with his or her buying decisions.

      For the more detail-oriented customer, include a PDF copy of the product manual available for download. In a addition to providing detailed information, it may reduce sales calls, and/or customer support calls from existing customers who have lost their product manual.

  3. Provide Content Users Want to See

    • Make it Simple and Informative. How many times have you visited a website looking for a specific product or piece of information, only to be frustrated by a confusing array of unrelated options, and crowded pages which seem  to take forever to load? Unfortunately, this can be all too common...

      We view quality, clarity, and accessibility of information as three of the most important important attributes of a website. On the web, you have mere seconds to capture the attention of your potential audience. In our opinion, it's best to spend your time and resources laying a great foundation to quickly and easily provide your viewers what they're looking for. If you do this, you can always add more content, and will be far more likely to build a loyal following.

    • Streamline the Registration Process.  We’ve all been there... you’ve nearly completed the long application process required by (for example) a company you’re interested in working for. Suddenly, there’s either a validation error on the form, or session timeout, and you’re again presented with the original blank form!

      Login and/or registration processes should be streamlined as much as possible, keeping required fields to a minimum. Session state should also be maintained throughout form entry and validation of input data; Users should only be required to re-enter invalid data (not the entire form) when errors are encountered.

    • Don’t forget the Social Media. Links to common social networking sites such as FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are now considered essential. Most people now visit these sites, and you’ll also need to participate to properly establish your brand identity. This is also your chance to spy on the competition, to see what you’re up against... make sure you have something better!

      Social Media presents a unique opportunity to hear feedback from your customers, and provides an opportunity for you to respond in a constructive way.

    • Focus on SEO. SEO is the process of improving a website's visibility to search engines, by making improvements which target known algorithms of the search engine. This method is also referred to as the "organic" method of achieving search results. The earlier (and more frequently) a website appears in a search results list, the more visitors it receives from the search engine.

      There's a great deal of overlap between what's needed to build a great website customers want to see, and one which will do well from an SEO point of view. After all, the primary goal of the search engines is to provide high quality content to their customers (which allows them to sell related advertising).

      First, research your proposed product to determine interest for what you have to offer. If you know you have information and/or products people want to see, try to organize it into subject areas, putting related information together (research appropriate keywords for each of these areas). Sprinkle specific keywords you're targeting as much as is reasonably possible within the text of your content. Keywords referred to correctly within page titles, meta tags, headings, and content will help increase your page rank within a given subject area.

      Secondly, "get the word out" about your website by registering your website with the major search engines, and by getting other websites to link back to yours. Links from credible websites within a given subject area help increase the credibility of your site to the search engines (one-way links have higher value than mutual links). Product reviews may be a great starting point.

      Finally, make sure your website is also built for speed. Neither users or search engines like websites where pages take a long time to load. In the case of users, they will quickly abandon your site in favor of another. In the case of search engines, slow sites will be heavily penalized in terms of page rank, decreasing the likelihood potential customers will find you.

  4. Make it reliable, safe, and secure

    • Web Browser Compatibility. If you’re a successful Webmaster, you already know web design bears little resemblance to creation of word processing documents on the desktop. Web pages can be accessed using a variety of hardware, web browsers (and web browser versions). Therefore, you won’t be able to control absolute positioning or appearance on a page, or whether the browser accessing your page has even the required tools to properly view your page.

      Fortunately, there are a number of tools to the rescue. Most Webmasters consider Mozilla Firefox, (along with FireFly and Web Developer plug-ins) to be indispensable for debugging browser compatibility; these tools allow you to make and test web page changes on the fly. Additionally, many cool new features are enabled through the use of jQuery libraries (a rich set of libraries created by a group of open source web developers). Using jQuery (instead of individual JavaScript routines) can take away a great deal of the drudgery related to cross-browser compatibility.

    • Use Software Versioning, and test thoroughly. As we've previously mentioned, seemingly minor changes to software can cause major problems if due diligence has not been performed. Problems can and will occur, occasionally bringing down the website of even a very large Minnesota company. Risk management, along with attention to quality and detail are very important in this business!

      We strongly believe in versioning of software, and separating larger projects into smaller "Phases", to spread out the risk of a large implementation. Source code libraries can be organized by version/revision level; Major changes require a new high-level version number, and smaller changes are supplied as revisions within a major version. Major changes should be introduced slowly: If any problems are discovered later, you have the ability to restore to the last fully functioning version of the software.

    • Listen to Customer Feedback.  Provide clearly defined places on the website where customers can contact you with individual requests (for example, "Contact Us" area), and another area where they can contact you for general site improvement (for example, "FAQ" area). When you are contacted with requests and/or constructive criticism, respond quickly.

    • Server Uptime. Reliability should be the most important factor in choosing a web hosting provider, because potential customers are unlikely to return to an offline site. When a site is offline, your search engine rankings also suffer, as spiders visiting the site find it unavailable. A website is your 24 hour salesperson, and you want to keep it "on the job" at all times!

      Many small Minnesota companies use "shared hosting" providers. When you're hosting with such a provider, it's important to know what your options are when the site goes down. Does the provider have an accessible phone number, where you can speak to a real person? How well do they respond to their support tickets when there's a problem? It's best to know both what you need, (also what you can reasonably expect from your potential hosting company) BEFORE you have problems.

      Many hosting companies claim high uptime statistics, however you may want to do your own research. Netcraft (an Internet services company based in Bath, England) provides web server and web hosting market-share analysis, including web server and operating system detection. Depending on the operating system of the hosting company, their service maintains uptime statistics for many hosting providers on the internet.

      Even after you've selected a hosting company, it's a good idea to have another company monitor your website uptime. Think about it, if your hosting company is having issues, what is their motivation to report the problems to you, unless you're already aware of the problem? Fortunately, there are many free services out there which will check your website every 30 minutes (much more often, for a small fee), and send you an email whenever your site is not functioning properly.

    • Secure Encryption. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), is a protocol developed by Netscape, for transmitting private documents via the Internet. SSL uses an encryption system which has two keys; There's a public key, and also a private (secret) key known only to the message recipient. All major browsers support SSL. Many Web sites use SSL to obtain confidential information, such as credit card numbers.

      URLs requirURLs requiring an SSL connection start with https: instead of http:

      As a practical matter, if you are operating an ecommerce website, you will need to buy and install an SSL certificate from a widely known Certificate Authority (CA), otherwise web browsers will not automatically "trust" your website for secure transactions. Commercial CAs charge to issue certificates which are automatically trusted by most web browsers. Prices for these certificates have been coming down in recent years; It is now possible to buy a certificate with a reasonable amount of security for $20 or less per year.

  5. Keep it as interactive as possible

    • Use a variety of tools. Tools such as galleries, testimonials, and chat applications make the website more interactive, and can be used to provide a higher level of customer service. When direct communication channels are provided to customers, they receive help with their issues right away, allowing them to feel more comfortable with the site.

    • Fix problems quickly. Serious technical issues reported by customers should be communicated immediately to technical personnel, for prompt resolution.

    • Provide relevant images and animations. Potential customers will not have patience to search through many pages on a website to find what they want.

      Make your pages interesting and interactive, by supporting them with images and animations. Apply only those images and animations which contribute to the message the web page is intended to convey; This allows readers to quickly understand your message.

    • Blog Communication. The goal of a good website isn't just to attract visitors, the goal is to attract repeat visitors. When people surf the web, they usually aren't looking for new sites. They're usually browsing the same set of web sites (sometimes repeatedly), mostly looking for new content. You want your website to be included in this daily rotation; One of the best ways to do this is to start a blog, where you can easily post new content to your site every day.

      From a technical standpoint, you'll need to choose whether you want a customized or a hosted blog. For a customized blog, you and your web developer design and implement a blog as another page, tightly integrated to all aspects of your website. Alternatively, you could join an existing blogging community (such as, otherwise download a popular open source blogging software such as WordPress (installed on most shared hosting providers, however please check with yours first).

      After you've handled the above-mentioned technical details, you'll need to "get the word out" about your new blog. A great way to do this is to post articles to other websites. You could also post your blog to general news aggregating web sites like or There may also be news aggregating websites targeted your specific field: For example, to post your computer and web related blog, try