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As a professional website developer, my first suggestion is that you invest to have a sleek professional website designed for your business! However, with the superb web design software available on the market today like FrontPage and PageMil, I realize that more and more businesses are trying to create their own websites. If you choose to do this, it is imperative that you DO NOT begin advertising your website until it looks professional. Get opinions from some dependable web-familiar acquaintances for this. A poorly designed website sends an unprofessional message to your customers.

Here are five pointers for creating a professional-looking site:

1. Spend the money, get a domain name!

It is cheaper now than ever and almost a necessity to having a "professional" site. Web addresses that begin with the name of a free web community simply sound like a personal home page. Your own domain name (www.yourcompany.com) will not only be easier for customers to remember, but will make your business seem more "important."

Your company name already taken? You can see if your company name is available as a domain name by going to www.internic.net and using the "Whois" search feature. New url extensions (.nu, .store, etc.) are in the works but until then, the available names with .com extension are getting pretty scarce. If your business name is not available, try inserting a dash or coming up with a phrase that describes your business instead.

2. Clear objectives

When you're designing a website, always keep in mind that you only have a few seconds to capture your visitor's interest before they move on to the next site. Many websites are just too confusing. Make sure that visitors know immediately what it is that you can offer them. Don't limit yourself by putting important information within a graphic,remember that text loads much faster than graphics. If you want to incorporate any information with graphics, also provide the same information as text so visitors don't have to wait if they don't want to.

3. Simple and Easy navigation

Again, remember that your website visitors are an impatient bunch! If your website is not quick and simple to navigate then your visitors are history. Give your visitors lots of options for navigation and ALWAYS ALWAYS include a text navigation bar at the bottom your page. Visitors will look for this if anything goes wrong with your other navigation elements. If you use graphic buttons, make sure to supply alternative text so that viewers don't have to wait for the buttons to download before moving around within your site. If your site is more than a few pages, provide a site map to help out. Remember that your site will work differently with different browsers, so test your site with as many browsers as possible (iexplorer and Netscape for certain!). And last but not least, don't forget to check all of your links once your site is uploaded to the web. Make sure everything is working correctly!

4. Graphics or Not???

By all means, use graphics on your site. The internet is a wonderful multimedium for text, graphics, and much more. Take advantage of it and be creative. But don't get too fancy. Not everyone has the fastest modem connections available and graphics always take longer to load than text. If your pages use lots of graphics, be sure to designate an alternative text view for each graphic so that your viewer will quickly get a sense of what is coming and can decide to move onto your next page without waiting for the graphics to download if they wish to do so.

Should you use animations? Too much animated movement on the page can be annoying. If you want some animation, go ahead and have a few custom animations made. Don't over-use all that cheesy free stuff off the net; it's all been seen before and is becoming quite boring. Custom animation of your company logo can help visitors remember you. But be careful of the image your website conveys. Poor or humorous animation can sometimes suggest an unbusinesslike attitude.

I can't neglect discussing background,white is your best bet. If your background is anything but a solid color, your text will not be as easy to read. I know those beautiful backgrounds are so inviting,resist the temptation! Add color with a side bar and a few graphics.

5. Use Current Browsers

Finally, make sure you are designing and viewing your website through the most advanced version of your browser. The most common browsers by far are Internet Explorer and Netscape . Believe it or not, many people are still using browser versions that are years out of date which is unfortunate because lots of great features like mouseovers and frames don't work on the older browsers. If you use these features, then your site won't work correctly for viewers with older browsers. There's no excuse for this since the current versions are available for free,so help promote the use of current browsers by providing your viewers with links to the download sites above at the bottom of every page in your website.

I hope these suggestions help you design a remarkably effective website for your business! If you have any troubles, Blue's ArtHouse can help you at www.bluesarthouse.com. Good luck!

Article by Blue Tapp, owner of Blue's ArtHouse.
Blue's ArtHouse specializes in professional computer graphics, website development, and internet research and marketing. She also created and maintains Business Headquarters at www.businessheadquarters.com.