What makes an effective Web site?

There are millions of sites on the Internet, and there’s certainly a lot of online real estate that lacks great design and content. To be successful on the Web, it’s important to have a grasp of the fundamentals. Here are 10 takeaway tips to any effective Web site.

1. Answer the who & what. Just like those old term papers in college, your site should shout the basics to all your site visitors. What do you do? Who are you? What services do you provide? Don’t leave site visitors second guessing what you offer.

2. Make it easy for visitors to contact you. We all know people often have short attention spans. On the Internet, that attention span is incredibly short. Give your site visitors the information they’re searching for –– before they move on to one of your competitors. Make sure your company’s contact info (address, phone number or even a link to Google Maps) is conspicuous throughout your site. Don’t make people search.

3. Give users a clear path of navigation. How often do you visit another site and can’t find what you’re looking for? You get frustrated and move on. Don’t confuse your site visitors by not giving them clear-cut navigation that is easy to understand, and find. Ease the experience for your site visitors, and that’s one step closer to winning the sale.

4. Make it fast. The dial-up experience is fading fast, so the old 8-second rule for loading sites no longer applies. We recommend that your site load in 3-4 seconds or less. Any longer and you’re in trouble. If you’re over that loading time, talk to your designer about cleaning up your site’s code and any intensive rich media.

5. Make it meaty. Effects are nice, but they don’t close the deal. Content is still king. Rich imagery is great, but only if you have well-organized content with a strong voice and clear message.

6. Focus on the most important facts. Don’t overwhelm your end user. Quickly highlight your company’s two or three most salient features (exceptional customer service, experience, commitment to quality) and hammer those themes throughout your site. Pick the best reasons why you’re special… and stick with them.

7. Soft sell success. Many people are leery of purchasing from the Web. That means you have to explain how your product will benefit them. They need to understand what they are getting out of a purchase.

8. Keep your content fresh. If you expect your clients and customers to frequently return to your site, you have to give them something to come back for. You can’t just design your site and let it sit. Again, content prevails. Give customers useful information, and they will come back to you for more.

9. Reward your customers. Nothing gets more press, tweets or Facebook banter than a site or company that offers something for users. iPhone apps, downloadable coupons, and e-incentives are embraced easily by everyone. Give them something (preferably for free), and the result will be a loyal customer base.

10. Don’t be afraid of white space. White space reduces cognitive load for your site visitors, and make it possible to perceive the information presented on screen. When your customers visit your site, the first thing they try to do is scan the page and divide content into digestible pieces of information. In this case, less is truly more.