Everyone wants a new, more powerful website.

Many times, that's as far as the conversation goes because building a new site can be a frightening endeavor for those who aren't technologically-savvy.

Recently, I received a phone call from the founder of small, Atlanta-based marketing company that underwrites large sports contests such as those you see at halftime of basketball games, where some lucky fan has the chance to hit a half-court shot and win a quarter-million dollars. This particular business relies on direct sales. In other words, its sales force picks up the phone and cold calls clients all day long.

This gentleman called me because he knew that he could be getting more from his business if he could more easily reach potential clients. Better yet, he said, he'd like to create a way where potential clients could reach out to his company. That would make those first phone conversations more fruitful.

The problem, as he related it to me, is that he doesn't know where to begin. He doesn't completely understand what that Web presence would look like and he's not entirely sure who to believe as he discusses his plans with various vendors. Consequently, he hasn't made a decision because he doesn't want to choose poorly. His company is small. He can't afford an expensive mistake.

I've heard this same refrain from small business owners and operators. Fortunately, there are some simple rules to think about as you put together your site.

It's true that not every website will need these rules; in fact, the less interactive your site is, the fewer rules you'll need. There is no set form for how these should go together, but as you are planning your site, you should make sure that each of these areas is addressed.

The four "must haves":

  1. Good Content: All sites must have information that is relevant to its audience and that information must be written, edited, and presented in such a way that it is easy to find and access. It does no good to have content that is unreadable in browsers or hidden from search engines.
  2. Simple Navigation: In the book Getting Things Done, Dave Allen implores people to avoid "over-filing" as they organize their life. The same rule is true on the Web. Don't bury information in multi-layered formats that use business jargon. Nobody but you (and your marketing department) care about that. Web users simply want to find information. Also, make sure you have a search functionality that works.
  3. Easily Learned Interface: People won't spend five minutes trying to figure out the navigation for your site. Simplify your graphic message.
  4. Decentralized Control: There will be mistakes that occasionally appear on your site. It's unavoidable. Make sure your Content Management System (CMS) -- the publishing system for your site -- enables people in your company to update, fix, and change the website without going through an endless line of programmers.

For those who are leaning more towards an interactive experience for users, you can't simply throw up a site and turn control over to the masses. There needs to be control mechanisms.

The "four rules":

  1. No Free Riding: A big problem for interactive sites is that people take, but never give back. You'll need to consider protocols that keep people from taxing the resources of the community, particularly if they aren't contributing.