Prove you have something to offer

One of the greatest things about the internet is that everyone can have a voice, and it's easy to put a website online. On the other hand, one of the things I hate about the internet is that everyone can have a voice, and it's easy to put a website online.

Because making a website is easy, it's easy to publish rubbish.

Stand out

I'm starting to get bored with those same old Wordpress blogs with no imagination in the templates, or the same old forums with all the widgets installed by default, but nothing unique.

Users take notice when you differentiate yourself. Make your website unique so it will grab people's attention...

Here are some tips for making your website/blog a little bit different. I'll be the first to admit that I trip over on some of these, but here goes...

Lose the corporate speak

If your homepage starts off with "welcome to (company name). We are (country name)'s leading provider of (product name) with a dedicated team of highly skilled professionals bla bla bla".

We are so used to hearing marketing lies these days, we simply don't trust this kind of tripe anymore. So cut down on the BS and just say what you do and where you are based and why you are different using words we can understand. Use some pictures instead, and write your website copy as if you were talking to a customer in person.

Graphic Design

How much you spend on design will depend on your business. For most websites, the amount spent is close to zero, and you can tell. This is fine when your site is starting out, but there will come a point where it starts dragging the site down. If the content is better than the design, then the website has a problem.
The purpose of design is to say to the user "dude, this content is worth reading". It's the first thing people see when they enter your site, and if they don't like your design, they may not stay.

Friends don't let friends use templates

Blogs are cool and everything, but users get bored with the same layout on every blog we visit. Spice it up by using a unique template. Or at the very least, add some of your own photos.

Stock photography

A friend of mine is a genuine laid-back Kiwi nice guy. In his fifties, he runs a small business from home in a low tech industry.
If you checked out the contact page on his website, you would find a stock photo of an attractive young black woman wearing a high-tech headset phone. I remember thinking how you would be sorely disappointed if you expected this young lady to answer the phone when you called up.
He would have been better off with a picture of himself outside wearing his gumboots.

Stock photography serves a purpose, but it's easy to get lazy. It's not hard to get a few original images for your website. Even hopeless photography cases like me get lucky sometimes, and can pull off some nice pics for the website.

Times New Roman font, blue / purple links

These are so 1995. CSS lets you style links however you like. For usability reasons, you don't want to go silly with styling links, but it's easy to blend link colours into your branding.

Lay off the Adsense

A guy I know told me how he styled his page content to look like Adsense ads so that users would click on the ads thinking they were content links. This may earn a few extra bucks, but the logic is broken.
Adsense and advertising is in direct competition with the graphic design on your site. I can think of no circumstances where the user would rather see ads than whitespace.
So, to differentiate your site - lay off the Adsense. A better design will work better in the long run than a site covered with ad blocks.
Ask how much you earn from adsense each month - ask if it's earning it's keep on your site (I recently just killed Adsense from this site, as the earnings were not worth the design hit).

An unexpected gift at an unexpected time

I recently lucked upon some U2 tickets for a concert that had been sold out for almost a year. A couple of hours before the concert started, I told my wife we were going out - we went to a flash restaurant and then to the U2 concert. This was totally unexpected, and I was back in the good books again.

Ah yes, the point.

So, the reason this was so successful is that it was random and unexpected (as opposed to an anniversary gift which is totally expected). Websites can do the same. I love it when I click something and find a Javascript or AJAX request which makes the action happen without a page reload. I love entering a site via Google and finding they have highlighted the words I had just searched for. I love it when image galleries have a next / previous button on them.

Stand out from the crowd by giving your user something they didn't expect.
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