Ten characteristics of a killer web site

1. Show legitimacy as a business. You will build credibility with visitors by including such basic information on your site as the physical address of your business and photographs of your offices, or by listing membership in professional and industry associations.

2. Update content frequently. Some sites fail to regularly change the content of their site, leaving outdated information about timesensitive items such as conferences and other special events. Web visitors assign more credibility to sites that are current, or at least demonstrate that they have been recently reviewed.

3. Encourage action. On each page of your site, find a way for visitors to interact with you, whether by signing up for a newsletter, requesting a special report, linking to another page on your site, or sending you an e-mail. Your site should engage visitors, not just let them "click and go."

4. Exchange value for time. Web site visitors, particularly those looking for consultants, will gladly exchange their time for value and insight. Provide relevant, valuable, and usable content, and prospective clients may put you on their short list. In addition to content such as white papers, some consultants'

sites provide interactive diagnostic tools that help clients measure the impact of issues they're facing.

5. Provide rapid response. If you receive an e-mail inquiry from a visitor, follow up immediately, no matter how busy you are. That e-mail inquiry about your services will not improve with age; don't let it get moldy in your e-mailbox.

6. Keep it simple. Create your site for clients, not for the artist within you. Make its design simple, intuitive to use, and easy to read. Provide lots of white space on pages because visitors tend to skim pages and seldom read every detail. And stick to a simple, eye-pleasing color palette. Your site layout should be logical. Navigation buttons and features such as newsletter sign-up boxes should be in the same place on all pages. Make it easy to download material by providing explicit instructions and confirming for visitors that they have successfully received the material they downloaded.

7. Speed doesn't kill. Make sure each page and link loads quickly, no matter what type of browser or machine a visitor uses. Don't assume that all visitors are using high-speed connections when they access your site. Visitors will leave your site in a heartbeat if your pages load too slowly.

8. Test it. Before you launch a new or revised site, ask clients and colleagues to thoroughly test every element. Ask them, Is the site easy to use? Does it provide useful information? Would you go back to it?

9. Maintain ongoing site quality. Some consultants create a site just because "we need a site," but then let it languish. Your site should not be an afterthought, but an integral part of your external marketing program. Assign accountability for its long-term strategy and tactical uses to someone in the practice so your firm can take full advantage of the Web's potential.

10. Go easy on data collection. On some consultants' sites, visitors must provide pages of information before they can receive a simple white paper. Keep it simple. Ask only for their e-mail addresses, and send them the information they requested. If they find value in your material, they'll call you.

An effective site must contain more than a firm's name, contact information, sales pitch, and eye candy. The best graphics and other splashy features can't make up for meager content. The site must convey how you think, how you operate, and what your perspective is on issues of concern to clients. Provide visitors with the details they seek.

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