Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Akilah Thompkins-Robinson, @AKZMeDesigns. Akilah is the owner of AKZMe Designs, LLC (www.akzmedesigns.com), specializing in web and print design, website content management, and social media engagement. Starting this fall, Akilah is launching a new training experience, AKZMeWP Class, designed to help emerging business owners learn how use the tools they need to build and support a solid web presence. Akilah’s objective is to help businesses, organizations, and individuals establish their voice in a crowded online marketplace.
SmallBizLady: What things stand out on a poorly designed site?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: When I critique a website the first thing I look at are graphics. Grainy distorted graphics are usually the first sign that a site is homemade. The next thing I look at is the URL and copyright. If the URL has wordpress, wix or even vistaprint it’s a red flag. It’s the same with copyright information in the footer. If it says another company besides yours and your web designer, it’s a red flag.
SmallBizLady: How can I improve readability of the text on my website?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: As a common rule of thumb, a web page should be no longer than 2 screens long. Users lose interest in constant scrolling, so if your information is longer than 2 screens, break it up into multiple pages. For example, if your “about” page talks about the company, you, history, and accomplishments, break each section into its own page and provide a linked navigation list on the side as users are more likely to click than to scroll. Another way to improve readability is to add images, a bulleted list and even font colors to draw in the eyes.
SmallBizLady: How do I choose colors for my website?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: There are many color theories about the mood various colors effect on a visitor. The key thing is, no matter what colors you choose, use them correctly. It’s safe to stick with a neutral background – white, gray, cream, or black if you have a dark site. Stick to a color scheme of no more than 3-4 colors. There are great sites and apps like ColorSchemer or Kuler to help pick a good color palette. The last thing is, avoid flat colors on your site. If you look at most professional sites, the blocks of color in their design usually have some subtle gradient applied (a little dark or light shading). If you are not working with a designer, purchase backgrounds or textures to make your color scheme pop.
SmallBizLady: How often should I back up my website and what if my host is backing it up too?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: Never depend on your web host to back up your site, they may not have the latest back up, their back up can be corrupted or lost, also you have to wait for them to restore the back up for you. You have more control if you maintain your own backups. There are several free plugins that will do automated and manual backups, but I recommend using a premium product. I use Back Up Buddy. If you have a static site, you can back up as you make changes. If your site has a blog, ecommerce or just frequent updates, I recommend no less than weekly or even daily if you are updating that frequently.
SmallBizLady: What are some things I can add to my site to make it more interesting?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: Images are always good; add photos where you can – photos of you making the product or talking to clients, or customer photos of them enjoying the product and the product in use work well. Also, use other media to create an infographic or a simple chart, and use video to complement your message.
SmallBizLady: My website navigation menu is two rows. How can I fix this and still show all my selections?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: A clean website design usually keeps the navigation bar to one line between 5-7 selection options. If you find your navigation is longer than this, ask yourself what selections can be combined and made into a drop down. For example, if you have all your services listed, create a “Services” selection and list each service as a drop down from the main navigation bar. Another option is to create multiple navigation bars. You can put your service in the main navigation and move routine selections like About, Contact, Policies to a small navigation menu in the footer.
SmallBizLady: I found a free WordPress theme I’d like to use. Is it safe?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: Typically I only recommend using free themes from WordPress.org or another trusted site (for example, my hosting service offers free themes to customers). Most free themes contain malicious code or hidden links that are not easily recognized by an average user. If you are already using a free theme, download the plugin Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC) and check your theme for hidden code. If it fails the check, I recommend using a new theme
SmallBizLady: How do you suggest displaying contact information on your website?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: I recommend displaying contact information somewhere on each page of your site. You never know what page a visitor will see first, so make sure they can contact you from where ever they are on the site. If you have a brick and mortar store, or your business depends on the customer calling, the address or phone number should be somewhere either in or near the header. On other pages, you can place it at the bottom of the side bar or in the footer. On your contact page, give options of ways to contact you. List email, phone number, etc., but also include a form to submit questions right from the site. And don’t forget that social media buttons for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all more ways to contact you.
SmallBizLady: I want to do ecommerce on my WordPress site, how can I do this?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: There are many ecommerce plugins available for WordPress. The top 3 are WP-ecommerce, Jigoshop, and Woo Commerce. All three are free with paid add-ons, but they can work easily out of the box. I would research all 3 for compatibility with your theme before choosing.
SmallBizLady: What is the right way to add photos & videos on a website?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: Stock photos and clip art are the worst website killers. Most people are internet savvy enough that they’ve seen it all before, so be original. If possible, take your own blog photos. Use professional photos of products for your website. If you go it alone to take your own product shots, check out sites like www.etsy.com/blog where they have great info on lighting, background, composition and just setting up the best visual presentation. Do not post videos with no text. Use videos to compliment your text, not replace it. Everyone may not be able to view the video when they are on the site or know why they are viewing it, so give a little intro and overview. Last but not least, do not use auto-start videos and music. You will annoy visitors by forcing them to watch or listen.
SmallBizLady: Are there any tips on improving my web site SEO?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: Yes, add alt tags to all of your photos; this will make them searchable in the image section of search engines. Use long-tail meta tags, which are longer, more specific search terms. For example I can put web design, graphic design, logos, or I can put New Jersey web design, small business logo, and non-profit graphic design. Using a few long tail tags improves your chances of getting top rank on these more specific searches.
SmallBizLady: I want to blog, should it be part of my website?
Akilah Thompkins-Robinson: Absolutely, blogging is one of the best things you can do for your website. It improves your website’s SEO by providing search engines with a constant stream of relevant and current content to index. It improves your authority by showing visitors you don’t just sell your product, but you know a lot about your industry and its customers. Blogging from your site also helps tie in your social media and provides a gateway to your website, users on Facebook and Twitter are more likely to click a link to a post than to just your homepage. Once you have gotten them to the blog, they are more likely to visit other areas such as about, services, and signup for updates.
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