Web sites are an imperative part of every organization’s marketing communications agenda, regardless of the size of their operations. But a casual trek through the countless business Web sites in hyperspace will reveal a not-so-secret fact: many are poorly executed and likely do more damage than good to an organization’s reputation and bottom line.

Amidst this ever-increasing landscape of Web real estate can be found consistent offenses: Web sites rife with blinking banners, discordant colors, hard-to-read text, loud music, inconsistent design and, all too frequently, links directing visitors to pages with nothing but the words “under construction” prominently displayed.

Web sites with some or all of these qualities are at best inadequate at achieving objectives and at worst damaging to their organizations’ images. Adhering to a few simple rules on how to build a Web site that achieves objectives will improve return on investment and grow that all-important brand image.

Determine Web Site Objectives

With today’s technology, nearly anyone can learn how to build a Web site and do so with relative ease. Whether or not it is successful, however, hinges on first determining the Web site’s objectives. With clear-cut objectives in mind from the start, a business can maximize the chance that its Web site’s design and content will achieve those aims.

Are the objectives to increase Web site leads, make the phone ring, or sell goods and services directly through the site? Each objective requires a unique approach to Web site design and content creation and they should be determined before work begins.

Define Web Site Audience

Will the website be geared toward business professionals, adults, children, medical doctors, engineers, travelers or a mix of groups? Each Web site audience requires targeted content that speaks to them in a simple, fresh and authoritative way.

By first defining the Web site’s audience and then creating content that is specific to that group’s needs and wants, a Web site will be much more effective at accomplishing its objectives.

Plan Web Site Design and Layout

Before jumping into the development process, it is crucial to plan the Web site’s design and layout beforehand. This should be undertaken with the Web site’s audience and objectives top-of-mind. Further, the layout and design, including navigation scheme, should be consistent and intuitive throughout to avoid confusion and frustration, or visitors will simply make their way to a competitor’s site.

And lastly, color schemes, graphics, photos and other elements should be carefully selected in keeping with the Web site’s overall objectives and with its audience in mind. Careful planning is key to good Web site design, functionality and performance.

Create Compelling and Relevant Web Site Content

Interesting, helpful and relevant Web site content is crucial to attracting and retaining visitors, and it is a primary consideration for getting ranked in the search engines. Consumers use the Internet primarily to seek out information that is useful for them: This information might help them answer a nagging question or assist with a difficult buying decision. Creating relevant content that predicts consumers’ wants and needs and offers solutions is crucial to a Web site’s success.

If, for example, a Web site is being developed for a medical office specializing in dermatology, it would be prudent to populate the site with plenty of content discussing solutions to various kinds of commonly occurring skin ailments and to note that these solutions are offered by the practice. People searching for remedies for their skin problems will find this information useful and may well decide to use the services of the practice that provided the information.

Omit Unnecessary Clutter From Web Site

Web sites should be kept as simplistic as possible with just enough information to fulfill their objectives. Blinking graphics, audio that plays automatically, colored backgrounds and the like often do little more than drive visitors batty. Unless these elements can help strategically accomplish a site’s objectives, it is better to omit them.

One need only look at some of the world’s most popular Web sites to understand that simplicity wins over clutter. Google’s homepage, for example, is nearly bare with only a search box and a few links greeting visitors on arrival: This conservative use of Google’s precious Web real estate, showcasing little more than its search box, appropriately affirms that it is first and foremost a search engine dedicated to the primary objective of generating the most accurate search results possible for visitors.

Good Web Site Design Often Results in Superior Performance

It can be tempting to create a Web site quickly with little more than hunches about what works and what does not leading the way. And with the proliferation of intuitive Web site authoring programs making it rather simple to get a site up and running, careful planning often takes a back seat. But concentrating on good Web site design and content creation goes a long way toward getting desired results. Adhering to the principles outlined here on how to build a Web site that achieves its objectives is a step toward that aim.