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Your Web Site Isn't Finished

CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- We all love the satisfaction of a completed To Do list. So it's no surprise that once a company's Web site goes live, it gets marked off as another task accomplished and is promptly forgotten until the next redesign comes along.

But a good Web site is never really "done." If it stays relatively unchanged for months (or years!), that sends a powerful, negative message to potential customers, many of whom form their initial opinions of a company through its Web site. If that dated Web site also happens to be organized like a maze, with dead-end links and irrelevant content, those browsers might never come back.

Increasingly, specialists known as information architects are being called upon by businesses to create an underlying structure that enhances ease of use for their Web sites.

Once, Web sites were a high-tech novelty. Now they are a mandatory marketing tool. If you want yours to stand out, it may be time to assess how it's really working -- from the user's perspective. Designers and developers can craft the look of a site, while writers produce its content. But increasingly, specialists known as information architects also are being called in to create an underlying structure that enhances ease of use.

"We are all about making information findable," says consultant Louis Rosenfeld, author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (O'Reilly Media, 2006) and a founder of the Information Architecture Institute. "Almost everyone has had the experience of using a Web site or mobile app and not being able to find what they want. There are lots of ways for people to browse, and we help businesses figure out how to help customers get to what they need."

A site map, which gives browsers a general overview of all content, is the most basic element of a Web site's architecture. But a site map is just a bare-bones list of destinations. A well-designed site brings all those disparate subjects together in logical ways. Are products arranged in easily understandable categories? How hard is it to jump from one section to another? Are "Contact Us" links readily available to browsers who have further questions?

Sometimes a Web site can be made more effective through relatively simple solutions, such as adding the ability to search or creating new, more clearly defined tabs and links. When it comes to a Web site's architecture, less can also be more; just because you have the ability to post all your past newletters online doesn't mean you should.

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