Just Three Things
All web sites need to have at least three features:
- a page containing descriptive content
- a means whereby visitors can contact the web-site owner
- a custom error page
One would think these things would be self evident, but many web sites, even large commercial ones, seem to be lacking in one or more of the above areas. In particular, the second and third items above appear to be a problem for many folks.
Don't make people guess
When people visit your site, they should be able to figure out what exactly you have to offer: something for sale, ideas, tips and tricks? Whatever, it shouldn't turn into a scavenger hunt. Believe it or not, I've had to phone or send e-mails to commercial companies because I think they sell something I want, but I can't tell for sure from their web site. Neither can I tell from their web site how to go about buying things from them.
"I'm in business, and if you prove yourself worthy by figuring out what I do, I'll let you give me money". I didn't study marketing in school, but I don't see how that's a particularly good business model.
Make yourself available
Why should you have a means for visitors to contact you? Well, if you are on the web, you are either trying to sell something or communicate ideas. If you're selling, people ought to be able to contact you for additional information. If you're disseminating ideas, you need feedback. If you don't accept feedback, your ideas are useless and should be kept to yourself. Either way, a means of communication should be provided that is easy to find and use.
Back in the olden days of the web, there was an html element that allowed one to click a link and be brought to an e-mail form you could use to send e-mail. For all practical purposes, MicroSoft broke this feature when they introduced Internet Explorer. So the best way to encourage people to contact you is to have an on-line contact form.
The second best way to make sure people can contact you is to print your e-mail address at the bottom of each page. People don't like doing the latter because they fear it will open them to spam. In my experience, this is not all that great a worry. My dog's e-mail address has been posted on the internet for something like five years, and in that time, he only received a half dozen pieces of e-mail spam. Besides, it's rather easy to code your page so that reading the address is sufficiently difficult that spam-harvesting robots won't bother.
Make yourself available — part 2
Once people find you, if you have anything that interests them, they'll add you to their list of book marks or perhaps link to your pages from their own web site. If your site is properly designed, the search engines will most certainly list your web pages. When your site evolves and changes, however, site structure and page names may well change. That means links that once worked will no longer work. People who try to access those old pages will no longer find them and they'll get what is called an Error 404 page.
Basically the Error 404 page says the requested web page could not be found. If you make your own Error 404 page, you can provide links to parts of your site, like the home page, which will always work. Your visitors will thank you for that. So even if you get lost, if you have your own Error 404 page, you'll be easily found. That's the whole point, isn't it?