In 1996, I had the job of building a web site for a business run by someone who had only very limited, simplistic knowledge of the web. This was common in those days; the graphical web was just beginning its path to universal use, and a large portion of businesses had no presence there at all. This, however, was a web-based business, and building a perfect web site was crucial. The owner of the business wanted to approve all copy, and his preferred method of doing so was to have me print out a copy of each page for him to review and place the stack of printed pages in the inbox on his desk. He would make his changes in red ink and place them in his out-box, and then his secretary would walk them down the hall to my desk. After I made the changes to the site on the staging server, I would print them out again, then repeat the process until each page returning from my boss sported an ink stamp with the word “approved.” Only then could I move the pages from staging to the live server.

Eighteen years later, this process sounds crazy, environmentally wasteful, and a questionable use of resources — and it was all those things. Even in 1996, we had email and phones. However, he was the boss, and I had to do things the way he needed them done if I wanted to pay my rent. It wasn’t how I would have designed the approval process, but I wasn’t in charge.

The same thing is true for you and your online processes. Your customers and web site users are the boss. However they want to connect with you, you have to run with it. Today, I’d like to talk about some of the ways I see our clients struggling with this issue, and suggest some compromises so that your web presence works for everyone.

You. Must. Check. Your. EMAIL!

And answer your phone. And pay attention to your Twitter notifications. And respond to people who comment on your Facebook posts. If you’ve listed a method of communication on your web site, you have to use it to communicate with your customers and users. Even if it’s in small print on just one page of your site, if you’ve got a phone number they can find, you have to answer it when it rings — even if you hate talking on the phone. If you do most of your communicating on Twitter but you have a Facebook page for your business, you have to attend to it. Otherwise, you’re ignoring people who think they’re reaching you.

In the same vein, if you do not have a Yelp account, but you start hearing that people are reviewing you there, you’d better get a Yelp account. This is true even if you don’t like Yelp, even if you aren’t getting good Yelp reviews, and even if you aren’t sure what Yelp is. Wherever your customers want to engage with you online, you need to join them, and then you need to make that information clear on your web site. Otherwise, it’s as if there’s a banquet (or a roast) in your honor going on somewhere, and you’ve declined the invitation.

Your Favorite Color Might Be Really Scary

You may have designed your logo based on things that were really important to you — your family crest, or your favorite colors — but it’s important to think about the psychology of color before you settle on this crucial piece of branding. One of our clients is a dental practice. When they were designing their web site, they made a very deliberate choice to avoid the color red at all costs. Why? Because red is the color of blood. Subconsciously, people would see red when they looked at the web site and, because someone at that office may someday approach their mouth with a needle and a drill, associate it with bleeding. It may sound far-fetched, but it’s not — you want your clients to be in the right frame of mind when they look at your web site, and you definitely don’t want to cause even a subtle rise in heart rate when they need to make a decision about something that’s already stressful.

You can read more about color psychology here. (And now you know why Jebraweb is seen as trustworthy and warm!)

Use Fewer Words. Then Again, Perhaps You Should Use More Words.

How much time do you expect your users to spend on your web site? That’s not always easy to answer right away, but unfortunately, you don’t get to make the decision. Much of it depends on what they need to get from you through your site, and what information they prefer to get elsewhere. If most of your users come to your web site to get your phone number or address, there’s no point in writing a lot of long-form content there. On the other hand, if you provide a type of service that is especially complex or different from the same service provided by others, you might need a larger number of words to describe it.

The best way to determine this is to start with a combination of both types of content, and then carefully watch your analytics to see how much time people are spending on each page of your site. See if they come to your home page and then bounce off immediately, or if they enter your site through a blog post and spend four or five minutes on that page. This will be trial and error for a while, but you’ll get the hang of it — and then, your job is to respond to what your users are asking you for, explicitly or implicitly.

A side note: if you’re using more words, you also need to use more images and break up your text into smaller chunks with more headings and subheadings. Even if it takes you longer to find the right images, and even if you learned to write a five-paragraph essay in middle school, you still have to write well for the medium. The web is different — it just is. Add lots of images — well-shot photography, clean icons, or just some nice charts or graphs — and give your users’ eyes some breaks. Some of them — more and more every month — will be reading it on their smart phones, in line at the grocery store, being interrupted every five lines or so. The more you accept this, the better able you’ll be to capture and hold whatever sliver of attention they have to give you.

No One Is Using Flashing Yellow NEW Buttons Anymore.

Remember these? We may have had one or two on that web site I built in 1996:

No one uses these anymore. They are a vestige of the web of the 1990s, and if you still have one on your web site to denote recently updated content, you are telling everyone that you stopped following trends in web design a long time ago. The same goes for web sites built in Flash, web sites with black backgrounds and white text, navigation buttons that look like those file folders with tabs on the top, and hit counters at the bottom of the page. Even if your budget is really, really limited, invest a weekend or a few evenings and build a new site in some kind of free content management system like WordPress, or move your site to a SAAS host like Wix or Weebly or SquareSpace. Your site will at least look like you paid some attention to it recently.

(I know. You spent a long time building that site when you launched your business. It was really great at the time — and impressive that you had such a full-featured site for its time. Unfortunately, your new clients won’t know all that — they just know that it doesn’t look like a modern site, and it will make them wonder what else in your business you haven’t updated.)

The main point here is this: you are not your audience. Set aside what you like in a web site and try to put yourself in the mind of your ideal customer. Think through what they might be wanting, or hire someone who can help you. It’s hard to let go of your biases, but it will make¬† for a much better web site in the end.

Do you have any stories about what you had to give up when you were planning your online presence? Let us know via email, or on Facebook, or on Twitter!