Seven key ingredients of effective business/non-profit websites

Thu, 10/01/2009 - 1:53pm
By: The Citizen

By Joe Domaleski
President, AIS Solutions Group

In today’s Internet-connected world, an organization’s online presence is in many ways even more important than their physical presence. There’s no denying the importance of a physical office to an organization in providing a place to meet, conduct business, and conveying an image. The scope of the physical office is, obviously, limited to those who drive by or enter the premises.

An online presence is generally available for everyone to see. The audience is wider and the attention span is shorter when dealing with an online audience.
In order to attract and maintain interest of customers, employees, and stakeholders and organization such as a business or non-profit organization must have an effective website. While website design is somewhat subjective, the key ingredients of an effective website are not. How well does your organization’s website measure up to the following?

• Attractive design – although general web design is subjective, a special web design prepared for your specific target audience is not. A website owner must understand their target audience and prepare a visual design that’s compelling and draws in

An effective design will be pleasing to the eye to existing site users as well as serve as an attraction to potential new users. The design should prominently feature the organizational logo and color scheme to reinforce the brand image. The most effective designs impart a specific mood such as a call to action, safety and security, trust, ease-of-use, community building, etc.

• Purposeful layout – there are many ways to layout out the content of a site, but the most effective sites present their content in a way that is most useful to its users. A good layout features pictures only when they enhance the message. Stock images that don’t add value to the layout should be avoided. A good mix of pictures, borders, and written content provides

Place the important information near the top. Provide multiple paths to the same information so as to be flexible to the needs of the users. Navigation should be obvious. A well laid-out website needs no supplemental documentation on how to use it – it should be self-documenting.

• Meaningful content – once a user is initially attracted to the site, it’s important to keep their attention and keep them coming back again in the future. In this regard, “content is king.”
Content must be related to the overall website purpose and not merely be a collection of links to other websites. Content on a homepage needs to be very brief and link deeper into a website for more information. Users have a short attention span and will quickly determine if content is meaningful or useless.

• Fresh content – content must be kept up to date. Date articles and posts to your website so users can determine the content “freshness.” Because the web has been around for 15-plus years, there are a lot of “old” websites out there with outdated information. An effective website should have regular updates.

• Useful features – all websites should contain standard features such as: search, sitemap, navigation, and contact page. Depending upon the nature of one’s organization, additional important features may include one or more of the following features: blog, calendar, registration, membership, forum, e-catalog, payment processing, wiki, knowledge base, podcasts, video, and others.

An effective website leverages itself to be not a secondary, but a primary means from which a user can meet his/her information needs.

• Search Engine Optimized – in order to be effective, a website must be able to be “found” on the web. The most common way a user finds a website is through a search engine such as Google. An effective website has an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plan to ensure top linking in the main search engines.

Despite the proliferation of bad “get top ranking fast” advice, the best advice is to simply have a well-constructed website that makes use of meaningful tags for key word searches.

Reciprocal links with other sites also enhance website credibility and help boost SEO. Most all of the major search engines, including Google, offer free “webmaster tips” on how to get top ranking.

• Linkages to Social Networks – initially, the web was a one-way communication mechanism where organizations would post content as web pages and users would read those pages. The web has evolved into a two-way system whereby people and an organization can communicate with each other. An effective website offers links to social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Additionally, storing multimedia such as pictures or video on external sites like YouTube and Flickr provides additional social outlets. Bookmarking systems like Delicious, StumbleUpon, and Digg allows users to create paths to your website.
There are many websites in our local community, but only a few are truly effective. What are the sites you use most often in our local area? Why do you use them?

[About the author: Joe Domaleski is president of AIS Solutions Group, a Peachtree City-based technology consulting firm that specializes in website design, development, and technical support. Joe has over 15 years of website development experience. Some of the local area’s largest websites have been developed by AIS Solutions Group. For more information, contact Joe at or 678-783-0138.]

login to post comments