AS well as considering the look and feel of a website, businesses must also comply with the all-encompassing Equality Act.
The law came into force in October last year and its implications are likely to be wide and profound across society, including in the way companies use their online presence.
According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) anyone in the EU can bring a claim in the UK courts if they believe they have been discriminated against by an Information Society Service Provider (ISSP).
That classification includes anyone – including one person working at home – who provides services through a website, including online shopping, direct marketing or advertising.
The EHRC says ISSPs must not allow discriminatory advertisements and information to appear. It also makes unlawful the acceptance of requests for the placing of information that unlawfully discriminates against people because of a protected characteristic.
Protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex or sexual orientation.
ISSPs are also obliged to make reasonable adjustments to make sure that websites are accessible to disabled people.
The help organisation Business Link suggests that although it is possible for businesses to design a website themselves, they may benefit from the help of a web designer or digital agency. But it will also be helpful to them for businesses to be clear about what it is they actually want.
As well as the importance of the overall look of the site, which can help with usability, it is important that visitors to the site can quickly and easily access the required information.
The design, says Business Link, should present the content in an intuitive manner, making effective use of colour, layout and site organisation.
The key is to make it as an enjoyable an experience as possible for customers and Business Link gives an example of how a professionally-designed website helped double sales for a company providing career guidance through CD-Roms, DVDs, books and training courses.
The firm’s MD had designed the businesses’ first website but decided to replace it with a new model. Now it is on track for revenue of about £600,000 a year, up from £300,000.
According to Business Link the key is simplicity, with everything accessible from the home page, without much text. Things like server size are also important to stop websites crashing and disrupting the customer experience.
It’s also important to catch the customer’s attention quickly or they will go somewhere else.
Arguably the most used website in the world, Google, is just one picture and a search box.