You ask about the important things to keep in mind: same as ever, with a task-based twist: what are the users trying to accomplish, what does the business need them to successfully accomplish, and what will the technology allow? If you can balance these three forces, you'll have a solid product.
There is no question that each and every business needs a website, but to get the most out of it, the site has to be periodically re-evaluated – annually at the very least, but quarterly is best. The web is changing so fast, and it is critical that websites be thought of as dynamic entities that must be changed and tweaked, rather than static elements.
Some neat eye tracking studies have shown that most people scan a page in an “F” shape pattern. They typically move their eyes horizontally across the upper part of the page and then move down a little bit and do another horizontal sweep. The last eye movement is a vertical scan down the left-hand column of the page.
Take a look at www.apple.com or www.attwireless.com for examples of website that take advantage of this “F” shape pattern. Both sites have great menu pull-downs across the top of the page as well on the left vertical column.
Probably the best website feature that is being used more and more lately is built-in video. HSN and QVC post the video of the product’s airing right next to the product description.
One of the things that each website designer must remember is that most people just skim websites and do not look for sentences but for critical words. Too much narrative is the kiss of death for a website. Viewers will not stay at your site. People do not want to spend their time and energy reading prose on websites. After all, how many times have we all selected “accept” to legal disclaimers without having a clue what we have accepted? Apple and AT&T Wireless have built their sites with this in mind. Go back and look at their sites, and you will have a hard time finding a complete sentence on their opening pages.
If you have to have narrative on your website, the best rule of thumb is to cut the wording by half. Use half as many words in each paragraph as you would use in conventional writing. For example, AT&T Wireless explains unlimited texting by simply saying, “Your Apple iPhone changed everything. Why limit yourself now? Text as much as you want- no overage, no worries.” They keep it simple and to the point.
Some of the things that you can do to improve the user-friendliness of your website are highlighting words that you want to call attention to and using hypertext links directing viewers to other parts of your site. Both AT&T and Apple make great use of these hypertext links. Because of these links, they are able to keep their homepages very clean while still giving the user access to so much information.
Now go out and make sure you have an effective website and plan to re-evaluate it every quarter.
You can do this!