When thinking about Web sites, it’s helpful to view them as a living, breathing organism. Unlike a book or a store or a brochure, a Web site can’t just sit there and force the reader, or customer or prospect to do all the work. It must function as a tour guide, a friend and a confidante.

Visitors must be able to find everything they need and want on the home page, must feel the navigation is intuitive, must not be overwhelmed by graphics or information, and must overall feel their experience is a pleasurable one. Exploring a site should feel as stress-free as opening a Jennifer Convertible sofabed (“Even a five-year-old can do it!”)

This isn’t always the case. Small businesses have often made the mistake of using cookie-cutter software to throw up a generic site on the Web and then seem surprised that the site isn’t visited daily by prospects, clients and their peers, and that it’s not doing much to generate either new business or goodwill.

In order for Web sites to be successful, they must first and foremost make it clear that a human being is at the controls. Sites need a distinctive voice to get through all the clutter of information people are bombarded with every day.

As a news site, we’ve got an edge since we provide a daily dose of information, organized by a specific topic, that’s of great interest to our target audience – tax and accounting professionals. But small businesses wouldn’t have to do too much work to keep their sites fresh. Prospecting for clients in the auto leasing industry? Write (or hire someone to write) a monthly update on any developments in your targeted niches. And then send out e-mails to clients and prospects letting them know the new info is available and describing how your firm can help them better understand how it might affect their business.

Put pictures of your partners and support staff up on the site, along with biographical information and even interesting tidbits about them such as their hobbies or pasttimes. Many a business deal has been prompted by mutual personal interests and people like to see the faces of those they are, or might, be working with.

Trumpet your firm’s achievements, awards, public service initiatives, employee of the month, anything that makes you stand out from the crowd. It will boost firm morale, and show clients/prospects you’re part of a community.

But above all, observe the cardinal rule of business Web sites – put your address and phone number on the home page, and probably every other page, too. Despite all the good work you do keeping your site fresh, some people may still use it as a glorified Yellow Page directory. And if they can’t find your contact information fast, they just might turn the page.

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