The web is littered with nervous start-ups asking, 'What do you think about the design of my website?' or worried, struggling business owners asking 'Why aren't people buying from my website?'
The two questions are implicitly linked and there's a pattern to these perennial discussions that worryingly seem to miss the point - they focus on design, not what makes customers buy.
Colours, logos, fonts, styles, while important, aren't what make people buy. Critiquing a website should first and foremost be about assessing its functional value to the customer and shouldn't get sidetracked by artistic interpretation.
So here's my list of what, as a customer, I want from an independent website I've never visited before in order to convince me to buy:
1) Tell me who you are - and take it beyond a bland 'About Us' page. I want to know your story, what you do, why you do it, and ideally why you do it very well. Talk to me. Tell me a story that makes me believe this is a great place to spend my money. Don't hide that you're small or even a one-man band. If you convince me you know your stuff I'll buy into that. Remember the sales mantras, 'people buy people first' and 'face is always better than faceless'.
2) Show me what I'm buying. That means good clear images of products which I can enlarge and preferable rotate (spend money on this over elaborate design); or for services, give me a clear explanation of what I'm going to get and how much it's going to cost me.
3) Don't give me any reason not trust you. If I can't find out who you are, can't see the product properly, too much is left unexplained, I can't pay how I ordinarily would, I can't work out how to contact you - then I get suspicious and I go elsewhere.
4) Reassure me. Show me testimonials of people that buy from you. Show me what people say about you on Twitter and Facebook. Show me what the press have said about you.
5) Keep it real simple. None of the first four points necessitate the need for an all-singing, all-dancing expensive website. Concentrate on simple, clear and subtle design and getting the basics right first. Make sure everything works and the process is painless.