How to Build a Better Web Site

Follow these tips, and the world will beat a path to your URL.

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The Internet has brought a lot of business to My1Stop LLC, a Fort Scott, Kan., printing company. About half of its $20 million in annual revenue comes from Web traffic, says Michael Joseph, vice president of e-commerce.

Given those figures, My1Stop cant afford anything less than a top-notch site. And although it won a 2006 Web Marketing Association award for outstanding achievement in Web site development, its workers know thats not what drives business.

The company that takes the best care of the customer is going to win, and e-commerce is not an exception to this rule, says senior programmer Mike Wulz.

But what does it take to deliver that kind of customer service in cyberspace? Here are 10 steps garnered from those who run and evaluate top corporate Web sites:

1. Build it for users.

Development needs to support what users want, not necessarily what the company wants to promote, says Kerry Bodine, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. You design with your users in mind at every key decision point, she says.

It sounds simple, but it often requires a shift in thinking. Developers are very focused on building the technology and not necessarily looking at whether it makes sense to the user, says Helen Galasso, vice president of interactive marketing at Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp. in Parsippany, N.J. I had a developer say, If [the users] cant figure out how to use it, then they shouldnt use it. Thats what you have to combat.

2. Listen to users.

Forrester has reviewed more than 200 Web sites and found that a mere 2% pass its usability tests. Companies could do better if they recruited actual users to test their sites, Bodine says. You want to see where they stumble, what theyre confused by, she adds, noting that the companies with the highest-ranked sites run usability tests frequently.

3. Make information easy to find.

Users want a Web site they can easily navigate, says Jeff Sluder, digital brand manager for PG.com, the Web site for The Procter & Gamble Co. in Cincinnati. Site visitors are frustrated when they land on a page, realize it is not what they thought it would be and have to use the Back button and try again. Usually, they will simply leave and go on to the next site on their search engines list, he says.

The Web team at Merrill Lynch agrees. It designed its site to remember the page each customer uses when visiting ML.com. Theyre often trying to log onto one of the smaller sites, such as ML Direct, says Joseph Infozino, director of Merrill Lynch corporate technology. So the first time, they go to ML.com, but the next time, we remember to bring them right there to save them a click.

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