I attend a lot of business networking events because I am interested in building relationships and working with other like-minded professionals to grow my business and theirs. But first, I need to get them to listen, trust and feel comfortable working with me. Of course, I don’t leave the office without making a conscious decision to put my best foot forward by dressing professionally and being courteous and friendly to everyone I meet. First impressions are crucial to your success and you have a very short time in which to create a good first impression.

Your web presence is no different. Many times, your website will be the first point of contact for a potential client. So, what is the first impression people make of your company once they find you online? Those who look for you may be potential customers, competitors, or just someone who might be curious about your business. What does your website tell them about you and your company?

Too many small businesses choose to “do it themselves” instead of hiring a professional web designer to create their website. The problem, though, is that these entrepreneurs don’t understand the difference between good and bad website design which only frustrates visitors and sabotages sales. A poorly designed website can cause visitors to click away from your site almost immediately. A poor website design will make a very bad first impression and tell your visitor you are not professional.

A good website designer takes many things into account including compelling content, page layout, colors, fonts and search engine optimization. Since graphics will attract the eye of your web visitors, those graphics should help the viewer to understand what you sell or what service you provide without sacrificing content. You must impress visitors with your knowledge and quality content about a particular subject to keep them interested and engaged. Flashy graphics will not sell if this content is missing. Visitors and search engines need content to find you so make sure you keep your site fresh and frequently updated.

Fuzzy looking photos, images, or even worse, a bad looking logo design, will instantly look amateurish. Check and double check your spelling, grammar, punctuation and every link within your site to make sure they work. Grammatical errors and page links that either go to the wrong place or come up blank, shout “UNPROFESSIONAL”! Missing or incomplete company contact information can also be frustrating and drives viewers away from your website.

Other big website design mistakes include not enough white space, busy background designs, dark backgrounds with reversed white type, too many colors or horrible font and color choices, animated gifs that take too long to download, bad or confusing navigation systems, irritating music that repeats and outdated information. If your website contains timely information, keep it updated regularly!

And, this is really important, there should be a link somewhere on your page for users to contact you. Always provide an email link at the bottom of every page or a phone number if the goal is to generate sales calls. The whole point of a website is to generate leads and sales, not just page views.

Check your website on all common screen sizes. Many people still use computer screens that show only a fraction of what a large screen will show and your website may look chopped off or really small when displayed on those screens. Be sure that your site works in all common browsers.

I have stumbled on too many websites that I think my kids could have done a better job designing. The look and feel of these type of sites hardly motivates me to make a purchase or even return for information. Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing quality for price. Remember, that on the web, you only have a few seconds to impress someone before they will move on!