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Ten Ways to Make Your Site Stand Out

These Simple Steps Can Ensure That Your Site Rises Above the Rest

by Lisa Mitoraj

Every day, thousands of Web pages are added to the Internet. You've probably already discovered this if you've ever gone to Yahoo! to conduct a simple search and were bombarded by a list of closely related sites. But what guides users like you to a specific site? And, more importantly, what keeps users coming back? This is a crucial issue for anyone who is developing a site or who already has one on the Web.

There are a few very important steps that you can take to ensure that your site will not be forgotten, and they're relatively easy to implement. You should note that very few sites practice all of these steps, but it won't hurt if yours does!

By the way, you can find out more information about building Web pages and about all of the following features by visiting one of the many Web development resource sites on the Net. All Things Web and Developers Source both offer lots of useful information that can help you build better pages.

Now, compare your site to this list and see how many of these features you've got covered.

Step One: Use Meta Tags

Have you ever wondered why some sites are listed with an informative, concise description on search engines' lists, while others show a string of unrecognizable characters? Or why some sites show up at the beginning of the search engine's list while others are buried on page 195? The answer is meta tags!

Meta tags allow you to choose the way that your site is described on search engines and directories. These powerful tools will make your site stand out before the user has even reached it. If you're designing your own site with a program such as Adobe PageMill or Microsoft Front Page, you can still add meta tags by viewing and altering the source code.

Using meta tags is an important step, but your work's not done yet.

Step Two: Control Graphic File Sizes

The fastest way to get users off your site is to bog it down with complicated, slow-loading graphics. No one wants to waste precious time waiting for a page to load, and if your page takes more than a few seconds to completely load, most users will simply hit the "Stop" button and go elsewhere.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to avoid large or numerous graphic files, including complex backgrounds. Many sites, including WWWiz, use several small graphics to spice up their pages. This is the best approach and will keep your readers interested.

When saving a graphic file, be sure you use the smallest resolution possible; 72-96 ppi is the norm. Don't save it as a 24-bit file; 8-bit is more than adequate. Also, save photos as JPEG files. If your program asks you whether you should use maximum, high, medium or low quality, choose medium or low. The results will be more than adequate for the Web.

Step Three: Provide Useful Information

Think about the sites that you visit frequently. Chances are, it's not the cool graphics, catchy background music or pretty pictures that keep you going back. It's the information, right?

This step seems obvious at first, but it always amazes me that so many companies believe that basic company information will entice new customers to call. Placing a description of your services or products, pricing or other information from your brochure or catalog on your Web site is not enough. It's a good start, but if you truly want to take advantage of the Web, you need to do more.

Take the Web site, for example. This site allows users to search for apartments across the country, and find out about truck rentals, calculate the cost of living in different areas, complete online change-of-address forms and obtain credit reports. Follow their lead by becoming a resource for comprehensive information, and you can be sure that users will return to your site.

Another site that excels at this is a nonprofit site for children's book author Verla Kay. Kay writes children's books for a living, and she does include basic information about her picture books on her site, but she also includes so much more! Her Web site is a resource for other children's writers, and includes a "Nuts & Bolts" section, live chats with agents and editors, writer's tips, workshops and tons of other useful information. Her site sees more traffic than many commercial sites out there, which just goes to show you that content is the most important feature of any site.

Step Four: Make Your Site Easy to Use

Have you ever been frustrated with a site that required you to click back to the home page every time you wanted to jump to a new section? Or one that didn't even have a link back to the home page? These seemingly minor details can be major drawbacks to your users.

Try to include a standard menu on each page that allows your users to move around the site easily. Also, include links to other sections within the text of your site.

Step Five: Allow Users to Participate

One of the great things about the Web is the fact that it encourages users to contribute in so many different ways. Some of the most well known include message boards, chat rooms and mailing lists, but there are dozens of other ways that you can encourage your readers to participate.

For instance, have you ever thought about offering interactive activities, including games, puzzles, "chalkboards," or surveys? These features take full advantage of the Internet's dynamic capabilities and keep your users coming back. Some are even available as Java scripts that you simply insert into your code. Again, many resources on the Web can help you with this. is a good example of a site which encourages user interaction. Users can send daily jokes to their friends via email, and can even email a greeting card or two!

Step Six: Give Something Away

Whoever said "give and you shall receive" was right. It's amazing how many people you can attract to your site simply by offering a free prize, discount or giveaway to a lucky winner. Not only does this provide good PR for your company and keep your users happy, but it also provides you with a great way to track and target your potential customers.

Most contests require users to enter in some basic information about themselves, all of which you can use right away for marketing purposes. It's important that you inform users that you're going to use their information for purposes other than the contest, though. Also, avoid selling this information to other companies, as this could backfire on you and tarnish your corporate image.

Step Seven: Update Often

Once you put your site on the Net, don't just let it sit there. If nothing ever changes on your site, why would anyone want to come back for another visit?

Offer a daily news piece or a weekly special. Make sure it's highlighted right on your home page, and above all, make it unique. No one will return for information that they can easily find somewhere else.

One site that does this extremely well is, Time magazine's online version of its print magazine. News items are updated daily, so there's always new information available to its readers.

Step Eight: Embrace E-Commerce

As online transactions become safer, more and more people are buying online. Most Internet users have purchased at least one item online, and e-commerce is becoming a more popular way for businesses to conduct sales. If a consumer is ready to buy something and you don't offer online ordering, he or she will probably go to another site that does.

Some of the most popular areas for e-commerce have traditionally been bookstore sites such as Barnes & Noble, travel sites such as United Airlines and computer stores such as Apple Computers. But online commerce has taken other industries by storm lately, too.

Step Nine: Include a Search Engine

If there's one thing that is lacking in the majority of sites out there, it's an internal search engine. This simple searching option allows your users to quickly and easily search your site for the information that they need.

Giants like and Discover Brokerage aren't the only ones who need this feature. In fact, even a relatively small site can take hours to search manually. Adding a search function will make users' experiences at your site much more enjoyable. [Ed. note: For a free internal search engine for your Web site, visit FreeFind.]

Step Ten: Be a First

Study your competitors' Web sites carefully. Stretch the limits of your imagination. Offer something that no one else does, whether it's information, services or products. Spend some time on the Web and learn to recognize what's good, what's better and what's the best. Then surpass it.

The people and companies who have succeeded on the Internet-and in the "real" world-are the ones who were willing to take a great idea and make it happen.

Lisa Mitoraj is a freelance writer and designer based in Chicago. She develops Web sites for corporate clients and has written articles for the Chicago Tribune, Cutting Tool Engineering , FolksOnline and She has also produced marketing materials for various corporate clients, including Sears, Sportmart and NTC/Contemporary Publishing.


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