I'm all for doing things yourself–it's cheap and efficient. Certainly with all of the templates and graphical interfaces available for those of us who aren't professional web designers, today more than ever before, it's easy to get a web presence online quickly with just a few points and clicks of your mouse. But just as easy as it is to get started, the danger lies in not having an eye for design or making the mistake of assuming that you know what looks good. The internet is full of sites, blogs, forums, and networks that were started with the greatest intentions but whose design and layout is less than ideal and not a professional representation of the owner's vision.
If you can't get an expert friend or family member to design your site or review it and offer suggestions, try to keep a few design principles in mind to avoid creating a monster. We all love our creations and have a certain biased attachment regardless of how they may sub-optimize our efforts. These basic tenants will help you to keep things tidy and tight so that you can focus your visitors' attention on making money.
Avoid unnecessary clutter.
You have a few precious seconds to grab your visitor's attention. They want to know that you can provide the information that they seek. Splash pages work for some high-fashion retailers but aren't typically useful in social networking or internet marketing. Websites that are overly crowded or full of advertisements appear to want to sell more than they propose to offer by way of information. Too many ads turn people off and distract from the design of your site. White space is a powerful design element and can help to focus attention where you want it most.
Simplify site navigation.
Make it obvious for your visitors to navigate through your site with links that are clearly evident and properly descriptive. As visitors click from page to page, they should be clear on where they are within your site and know how to get back home to to other relevant pages without becoming lost or confused. Use typefaces and fonts that are easy to read. Limit yourself to a few fonts that work well together and vary heading size that the use of boldface styles to provide proper emphasis. The key is not to overdo fonts and styles where you run the risk of creating a site that looks more like a ransom note than a professional marketing tool.
Use multimedia in moderation.
Multimedia can be a powerful draw but should be used for emphasis and subject to visitor control. Some people like visiting site where music begins to play automatically–I don't and I'm also a little frustrated when I can't turn the music off without having to kill my own volume controls. Video is helpful, but again, use music or video to help in accomplishing a specific purpose as opposed to providing general background noise or graphical entertainment. Audio testimonials or instructions may provide distinctive assistance that differentiates your site from the competition. A video or sideshow about your products or services can provide a unique marketing flair. Don't use the technology just for the sake of using it and have it become unnecessary clutter as discussed above.
Today's websites and weblogs are dynamic promotional representations that should constantly be reviewed for ways to improve visitor traffic and conversion statistics. Don't be afraid to consult others as you become more established or ask for feedback from your current readers. Be comfortable enough with what you're trying to accomplish that you don't become unwilling to incorporate proposed changes from those who actually use or visit your site. The best design is the one that appeals most to your customers and prospects.