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Design Resources: Web Design Tips

A brochure web site may be all a small business needs
The term “brochure-ware site” is often used dismissively. It typically refers to a business web site that is simply an HTML version of the company’s printed brochure. Brochure-ware sites are most applicable for small companies because they may be all that many small businesses need. As long as the printed brochure content is modified and adapted to a web design that utilizes the best features of the Internet it serves small businesses well and does not necessarily have to be a negative development.

In some respect it is often better for a small company to have a web-optimized brochure-ware site. Many small businesses have products and service that cannot be readily sold via the Internet. They are often better off with a basic web site where they can list products and services and promote their intimate knowledge of the products they sell and the markets they serve. For example, they can supply detailed product information, up-front pricing, retail locations, coupons, or free samples. Also, to really beat the big guys at their own game, they can provide a feedback form and actually answer the emails personally.

Brochure-ware web design
The key to a successful brochure-ware web site design is to create it with the customer in mind. Therefore, a brochure-ware web design should utilize the best available method of serving customers – personal contact. Companies that elect to use their web site as a means of attracting new business should design the site accordingly. The web site should provide information likely to be useful to new customers who can be easily guided toward an offline sales channel if their questions cannot be answered online.

One of the best uses for a brochure-ware site is providing the information that works best in brochure format: company background, instructions, price guides, retail locations, customer testimonials, customer support and differentiation such as free delivery to local customers, easy return at local outlets, fast same day delivery and “live” customer support. Many small businesses may find that their new online customers come from within 50 miles so providing content that is targeted to this local audience must be considered.

Content is still king
When you’re visiting a brochure-ware site, it may not always be exceptionally pretty, but there is one arena in which it can compete with the most expensive of sites: information. Even without dynamic content, a small company can provide a lot of information on static pages, whereas some snazzy sites run visitors through a 60 second Flash presentation and impart no information at all.

Brochure-ware sites have been criticized for rudimentary navigation, graphic elements that work best in print and web pages formatted in the style of printed pages.

Another common problem with brochure-ware sites is the misplacement of basic elements in the screen layout when converting the page layout from paper to Web.

Businesses should start with a basic web site and then add features as they are warranted. As the web site evolves it is possible to add features such as content management, download of information in PDF format, email list sign up and online community features such as online message board.

One common problem in small site web design (as well as large site web design) is the misuse of navigational elements. Another common navigational problem on brochure ware sites is the loss of consistency. Buttons move around, get different names, appear in different places. So it is important to provide navigation devices to get around in the site and to avoid that visitors have to rely on their “Back” button to get around. Most small business and consumers still rely on slow, dial-up Internet connections, so it may be premature to use Flash animations and large graphics and images.

In short, there is no shame in a brochure-ware site, as long as it utilizes the Web’s attributes rather than fights against them. Keep this in mind: with a little work, your brochure-ware site can serve your customers better than most sites that cost millions.