Part of being a small business owner is most likely being involved in the process of creating your website. What is really important to include when you are considering your website layout? Is there a specific layout that works better than others? When I work with small business owners, I encourage them to consider the following:

1. Include ways for people to easily contact you

Did you know that everyone prefers to connect differently? Some of my clients are on Facebook all day, others are on Twitter, some prefer email and others want the human interaction of a telephone. In order to communicate to each of these audiences, make sure you have the following on every page: e-newsletter sign-up, a link to follow you on your Facebook fan page and Twitter, your phone number and if you have a blog, an RSS feed. You never know what page your future customer is going to come in on, so make your contact info readily available.

2. Make a list of all the pages and sub-pages you want on your site

Your programmer and designer will love if you hand them a list of pages and sub-pages you want on your site. If you have no clue how you want your information spread out on your website, make sure you tell your programmer and designer. When I work with clients, I normally ask how many total pages they want on their website. If they have no idea, it says to me that the client hasn’t thought through their marketing collateral or position. In order for me to get an accurate picture of your goals, I’ll need that list. And who knows your business better than you?

3. Incorporate a wireframe

A wireframe is a rough sketch or simple boxes showing which area will be for what category on each page. This allows one major thing – the client, the programmer and the designer all agreeing on the layout before the work gets started. This is especially important on a website with lots of information. As a rule, put the most important information towards the top, so people don’t have to scroll down to see it. Plus, using a wireframe helps point out which areas on the page are going to be reserved for the call to action, the logo and search box.

4. Consider the programming platform

Before programming one line of code, make sure you as the client, programmer and designer all agree on what type of code that website will be programmed in. This conversation should be had at the same stage as presenting the wireframe concepts. Different types can include: Straight HTML, Flash, XHTML, CSS or Content management systems such as WordPress or Joomla. To help you decide, consider – will you need to update the site often? Or is it a strictly an informational site? Is it to showcase photography or an e-commerce site? Every web site is different and you may find yourself using a mixture of elements, but the important thing is to discuss this ahead of time.

5. Keep it simple

I have this philosophy in all matters of design – keep it simple! Sure your website in all flash may look cool, but can you navigate it easily? Will customers wait for large load times or move on to another site? Do you want to risk losing a sale? Besides navigation, also keep your color palette simple as well. There is nothing worse than pulling up a site that is bright neon green with purple stars and has a yellow flashing burst telling you to click there. A color palette of 3-4 colors is plenty and think subtlety rather than bright. Use lots of white space. Think of the large websites you frequent – Amazon or NY Times – both of these communicate a brand and keep it simple.

6. Be consistent

Make your web page layout match the rest of your collateral. Part of creating a brand, is being consistent across all media – in print and online. When someone hands me their brochure, it should have the same fonts and colors of their website. Consistency helps create trust, which is a huge part of branding.

All of your web pages should match. If you are on the About page, it should match your Blog and your Home page. What exactly should match? Keep your logo in the same spot on all pages. Keep your navigation and footer with the same info and colors. If you are inconsistent it can lead to someone thinking they left your website. Which in turn means – a lost customer. Remember consistency = trust = brand building.

7. Consider the path you want the customer to take

Make sure you have a precise goal. Is to convert visitors to your email list? Or is it to purchase a certain product? Is it to sign-up on your Facebook fan page? It is informational? Make the path you want your clients to take obvious and simple. Don’t overwhelm them with 6 options, but do keep it simple. Have a focus.