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Function & Form: Building a Website That Works

Real Estate Technology with AOVZ.COM

When having a website built, it's great to think of how you want your website to look...most designers will appreciate you having a "vision" for your site. However, do not let your vision overshadow your purpose for building the website. If you do, the site will could end up falling short of, not only your needs but also, your expectations. So, how do you avoid that pitfall? Well, in order to build a website that works-literally and figuratively-for you, the site must be functionally correct first and the visual elements used should work with the functionality.

Functional For Site Visitors & Site Owners

It is critical to keep the purpose of the website you're building at the forefront of your mind. That's to say, what do you want site visitors to (be able to) do while visiting the website? Are you building a community site where you want people to interact? Maybe you're looking to sell products. Or perhaps you're a business owner or non-profit organizer and just need an online presence so people can learn more about what you do. They're all valid reasons to have a website built but the functional requirements for each is different. The community site needs an element that will allow site visitors to communicate with each other but the product site needs a way to process transactions and the online presence site simply needs to be informative.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

Many of today's websites serve multiple purposes. Some large sites may even have different purposes for different sections or pages within the website. That may result in the overall site needing a variety of functional capabilities-search result generation, form submission, multimedia interfacing, e-commerce, or even customized databases. Therefore, asking yourself, "What do I want site visitors to do / to be able to do on my website?" may seem like an easy-to-answer question but it really is a question that anyone wanting a website designed should seriously consider before contacting a web designer.

Beautiful AND Smart Design

Once you have clearly thought out the functionality requirements for your website, then you can turn your attention to how you want your website to look. Here's a look at some things to keep in mind as you're imagining how you would like your website to look:

• Use The 3-Click Rule Whenever Possible.

The 3-Click Rule is an unwritten rule that many professional designers adhere to when designing website. The rule states that it should not take a site visitor more than three clicks to get to a particular function. Translation: Make sure that the website's navigational structure you decide on for your site is super simple. If it takes more than three clicks for a site visitor to get to a particular link or page, it isn't likely the site visitor will get there. Instead, most will give up and move on to the next website in the search engine results.

Don't Fight What The Consumer Has Been Conditioned To Do.

Web users are accustomed to going to certain links and locations to find certain information. For instance, most web surfers automatically look to the left or top of the screen for main site navigation options; site users have also become increasingly used to being able to click on a company logo to get back to the homepage. Don't fight these web surfer design preferences...go with it! The exception: You can consider straying from these "norms" if you're attempting to create a specific surfing experience for your site visitors.

Plan To Add Purposeful Content!

Don't just put text on your website for the sake of "having something up there." Site visitors will see right through fluff copy...especially if you attempt to fill the site with keywords to improve your search engine ranking without providing valuable content along with those keywords.

Also, think about how you speak to your site visitors. Your tone and writing style that you choose should fit the overall purpose of your site as well as the "vibe" you want site visitors to have when visiting the site. For example, if your website is going to be the equivalent of an online brochure, make sure that the design and text read as simply as a brochure would. If your site is geared towards children, use age-appropriate wording. Or, if your site is supposed to be a profit powerhouse, generating thousands of dollars each month from product sales, make sure that you have copy that sells on every page intended to sell site visitors on your product / service. FYI: Hiring a professional copywriter or working with a website design company that provides copywriting services can come in handy here!

Finding The Right Web Designer For Your Website

Once you have determined the basic functionalities of the website you'd like developed as well as some of the aesthetics you'd prefer, the next step is to find a professional website designer to actually build the website for you. The best way to begin is to ask friends for a referral but do not stop there. Website designers have different capabilities and specialties. The referred website design company may or may not be the right provider for the job. So, the next step should be to find one or two other potential website designers. When selecting designers for your short list, keep the following in mind:

• Budget & Price: Have a budget range in mind for your website that's appropriate for the functionalities your site requires. Let your budget determine the designers who you consider for the job. However, the designer who wins the project should be determined first by their ability to design the website as you envision and second by price.

• Professionalism: Take note of the professionalism of the provider during phone conversations and / or email correspondence. It's indicative of what the experience of working with them will be like.

• Work Samples: Request to see work samples but do leave room for some speculation. Work samples, unless created specifically for you, are always the result of the provider's client's preferences and not solely the designer's abilities. Designers can make suggestions to clients for how a website should look or operate but in the end, it's what the client prefers that goes.

• Value-Added Services: If you will be requiring more than just web design to make sure that you have an optimal website, consider finding a provider that offers value-added options. Some value-added services that design firms sometimes offer that simplify website operation or improve website effectiveness include website hosting, website maintenance, domain services, copywriting, and search engine optimization (SEM).

When you find the professional designer that you want to work with, explain what you have in mind for your website in detail, including your functional requirements. Then, be prepared to listen; a true professional designer will have additional questions to clarify your "vision" as well as insight about what else you may need in order to have the website look and operate the way you want it to.

The final tip for building a website that works: Be open-minded to all of the designer's suggestions. You don't have to go with all of the design firm's recommendations but you should at least hear the designer out. Remember: You're hiring a professional web design firm because of its expertise and creative abilities! Don't cripple your designer by not allowing for at least some free flow of ideas. After all, the designer is the professional and there's always more to beautifully designed and user-friendly websites than meets the eye!

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George, Red Soil Real Estate Inc.

Good advice article...

Aug 07, 2008 01:27 AM
David M. Childress
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services - Akron, OH
I would love to be your RealtorĀ® in Akron Ohio!

Very good website tips. It doesn't do much good to work on blogs and SEO and get them to a site that does not work for them, and they leave after 3 clicks!!! Woops.

Aug 07, 2008 01:28 AM
Lillie Painia, ABR,NHC,TAHS,SRS
Lillie L. Painia, Tri-R Realty Group - Missouri City, TX


Thanks for the great tips. I'm working on my website presence now!


Aug 07, 2008 01:43 AM