Designing a website?  Want to draw a crowd? Want to keep that crowd coming back to your site?

Good website design is more than just a nice color scheme, fancy Flash applications, images and icons.  A good website is easy to use and user-friendly, even the ugly ones.  Easy to use means that the sections of the site are clearly labeled, content is easy to find and the site serves a specific purpose beyond existing.  The days when just having a website was good enough are long gone.  The majority of the design choices must strike a balance between functionality and appearance.

To maintain this balance, there are five things you should do during the design process to ensure your website draws the right visitors, ensures they can find the content they’re looking for, encourages them to stay at your site and keeps them coming back for more.  Let’s start with the least important, visual appearance.

Listed in the order of importance from least to most important are the things you should think about and concern yourself with when designing your website:

5. Visual Appeal & Themes
4. Search Engine Optimization
3. Usability
2. Content
1. Purpose and Goals

Visual Appeal & Themes

Visual appeal, design and themes are the least important of the things you must consider.  The visual appearance of the site might put some people off, but so long as the page downloads quickly and isn’t too glaring or cluttered, most people have a fairly high tolerance for ‘ugly’ in a web page.  Don’t waste a lot of time on how the individual pages look. Choose complimentary colors.  Green text on a bright purple background is not a complimentary color scheme. People search for what they are interested in and they aren’t really interested in what you did to make your site so pretty–well, some webmasters might be, but webmasters are weird. I should know, I’m one of them.

Keep the images to a minimum, don’t go overboard with Flash or Java.  Use cascading style sheets, consistent font sizes and spacing, use plenty of whitespace.  Include padding around your images. Avoid blinking text, logos and music (unless you are a musician).  Make sure your site looks the same in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari.  If you don’t validate every page in all the popular browsers, you’re likely to find that some visitors can’t see the critical parts of your site.

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