Poor Richard’s top 100 tips for doing business online
Some of the Best Advice
from the Poor Richard’s
We’ve gathered together 100 of the best tips from the Poor Richard’s
series of geek-free, ebusiness
books in a quick, easy-to-follow format. Poor Richard’s Top 100 Tips for Doing Business Online
contains tips for:
• Improving your Web site design and content
• Attracting more visitors to your Web site
• Using other people’s Web sites and ezines to promote your site
• Measuring your results
The tips are excerpted from the following books in the Poor Richard’s
series and offer a small preview
of the information contained in the books. Poor Richard’s Web Site
by Peter Kent Poor Richard’s Internet Marketing and Promotions
by Peter Kent and Tara Calishain Poor Richard’s E-mail Publishing
by Chris Pirillo Poor Richard’s Building Online Communities
By Margaret Levine Young and John Levine Poor Richard’s Internet Recruiting
by Barbara Ling Poor Richard’s Creating E-Books
by Chris Van Buren and Matt Wagner Poor Richard’s Home and Small Office Networking
by John Mueller Poor Richard’s Branding Yourself Online
by Bob Baker (Available July 2001)
Poor Richard’s Web Site News, a free email newsletter written by Peter Kent and distributed to
more than 60,000 subscribers. To subscribe visit http://PoorRichard.com/newsltr/
To order books in the Poor Richard’s
series, visit http://TopFloor.com/ or call 877-693-4676. They
are also available through your favorite bookstore or online retailer.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Note: This document contains bookmarks for each tip. To view Bookmarks in a PDF document, go
to the Window pull down menu and select “Show Bookmarks.” To quickly jump to a tip, just select
it’s bookmark. 20 Rules For Better Web Site Design......................................................................... 3 5 Quick And Easy Ways To Improve Your Site .......................................................... 7 4 Excellent Enhancements For Your Web Site........................................................... 8 8 Essential Things You Should ALREADY Be Doing To Promote Your Web Site...... 10 4 Problems With E-Mail Advertising........................................................................ 16 6 Tips For Communicating Without Spamming...................................................... 17 5 Pointers To Score More Points With Your E-Mail Courses ................................... 19 10 Tips For Writing Attention-Getting Articles ....................................................... 20 6 Rules For Writing Good E-Books........................................................................... 22 8 Reasons To Create Your Own Online Community ............................................... 24 9 Ways To Measure Your Success In Marketing And Promotions........................... 25 15 Tips For A Successful Network............................................................................ 30
20 RULES FOR BETTER WEB SITE DESIGN
1. Make Sure the Visual Elements Reinforce Your Company or Brand Identity
The essence of your company can most likely be summarized using words; but your identity is also
accompanied by many intangible qualities. Brands are as much about attitudes, feelings, and
emotions as they are about factual information. The overall look of your Web site must support
these defining factors. Is your brand identity best served by hard edges or softer, rounded shapes? Do
primary colors capture the company philosophy or would earth tones be a better match? Experiment
and find the right fit before settling on a design scheme.
2. Forget Cool, Think Useful
You can’t compete with TV, you can’t compete with movies, you can’t even compete with
entertainment Web sites. Luckily there’s no need
to compete, though, because what really counts is
making your site useful, not cool.
3. Lead Visitors Where You Want Them to Go
While your content may fulfill the needs of your visitors, your site design should guide them
naturally to the places you want them to go. For instance, before visitors can download a sample
chapter of a book, they might be shown a page that makes them aware of the full-length version and
how to order it. Determine your goals and find a way to deliver value to your visitors while also
getting what you want.
4. Offer Clear, Limited Choices
Some Web sites are so cluttered with navigation bars, banner ads, links, promotional blurbs, image
maps, and the like, it’s difficult to choose what to do first. Make it too hard for your visitors and
they may decide to go elsewhere. Decide what information is most important for your visitors,
particularly on your home page, and resist the urge to add more information.
5. Let Visitors Know What Your Site is About
The worst thing you can do is promote your Web site, get curious people to take a first look, and
confuse the heck out of them when they arrive. View your home page through the eyes of a new
visitor. Does it spell out exactly what you offer and what your brand stands for? If not, redesign it so
it does. Also, remember that many people will arrive at your site through a secondary page, especially
if they hear about it through a search engine or recommendation. Therefore, every page needs to
explain what your site is about.
6. Avoid Long, Scrolling Pages
Sites overdo page length on both sides of the issue. Some sites make visitors scroll through endless
reams of announcements, news items, articles, and more—all on a single page. The solution is to
break things up. As a general rule, design with one item or concept per page. Provide a menu to
related pages. On the other hand, don’t break things up too much. Some experts contend that Web
pages shouldn’t be any longer than one screen length. As a result, many Web sites force readers to hit
a Next button and wait for a new page to load before they can continue reading a relatively short
article. If the content on a single page takes up only two or three screens, it’s easier to do a little
scrolling than to keep hyperlinking to more pages.
7. Use Simple, Clean Layouts
Basic is better when it comes to Web site design. That doesn’t mean your site has to be boring. Your
goal is to keep your pages clutter free, using lots of white space to allow visual breathing room. Have
fun with your page layout; but make sure every design choice you make helps you communicate
your brand identity.
8. Keep a Consistent Theme Throughout
Most designers start by creating the home page, since that’s the page most people see first. That’s a
smart move as long as you carry the home page’s look and feel throughout the rest of your site.
Wherever the navigation menu is positioned on your home page, make sure the menu is in that same
spot on every other page. If you use a fuchsia-colored border under the logo on one page, use fuchsia
on all pages. Got it?
9. Think Big—Type, That Is
Along with creating a simple, clean design, you also want a site that is easy to read. Don’t make
surfers squint to absorb your information. Make it as easy as possible for people to get the details
they want. Avoid putting small text on colored or busy backgrounds.
10. Use Color Tastefully and Sparingly
Color is a funny thing. Used properly, color can have a good impact. Used irresponsibly, it can look
ugly, scream “amateur site, run for your life,” and cause thousands to get queasy instantly. Make sure
your Web site color choices lean more toward the former.
11. Provide Navigation Along the Top, Left Side, and Bottom
When people surf the Web, they love to slip and slide from site to site and page to page. Make sure
each of your pages has easy-to-find navigation options along the top and bottom of the page. When
visitors come to the end of an article, don’t make them scroll all the way back up to the top to get to
their next destination. Most well designed pages also have menu options in a left column. In this
column, you can either duplicate the navigation options you offer at the top and bottom or create a
separate set of links to pages directly related to the content on that page.
12. Adhere to the Three-Click Rule
Many experts advise that any piece of information on your site should be no further than three clicks
away from your home page. I suggest you go further and limit the rule to two clicks. Think of your
home page as the first level. All pages you provide a link to from the home page would be considered
the second level. Any additional pages you direct people to from the second level would be
considered the third level. Third-level pages are two clicks away from the home page. Don’t create
pages that go any deeper than the third level, if you can help it.
13. Stay Away From Autoplay Sounds
For some reason, many Web site owners love heaping musical ditties on visitors the minute they
arrive. It may seem like a good idea; but autoplay sounds take extra time to load. They can also come
blaring out of someone’s speakers when he or she least expects it, for example, at work near the boss’s
office or at home when the baby is sleeping.
14. Check for Browser Compatibility
The most common Web browsers display pages in pretty much the same way; but there are
variations. The last time I checked statistics; close to 80 percent of Internet users listed Microsoft’s
Internet Explorer as their browser of choice. You definitely want to make sure your site is designed
to accommodate Bill Gates’ favorite browser. However, Netscape Navigator is still used by a
significant number of people, as are many other, lesser-known browsers. Try to view your Web pages
using different browsers to make sure everything displays correctly. Three sites that can help you
determine the browser-friendliness of your pages are Net Mechanic
(http://www.netmechanic.com/maintain.htm), Web Site Garage
15. Update Your Site Often
While your goal should be to make your site appealing to first-time visitors, you also need to give
visitors good reasons to return. Keep your site fresh by adding new content on a regular basis. That
doesn’t mean you should make radical changes to your design all the time, but you can add new
articles, products, giveaways, and so on.
16. Go Easy on the Gizmos.
Though the free-enterprise system is trying hard to make it one, the Web is not
currently set up to be
a multimedia entertainment center. I once heard morning radio jock Howard Stern joke about how
he waited an hour to download a movie clip that eventually played in a grainy frame about two-
inches wide. He suddenly realized that in the next room was a life-size TV hooked up to 120 clear-
channel cable stations. Why do people continue to squeeze basketball-size media files through a
connection the size of a garden hose? Your visitors will reward you if you chill out on the special
effects and don’t force them to download dozens of plug-ins to view your pages.
17. Make Good Use of Page Titles
This is a simple but often-overlooked design tip. The words you put between the <Title> and
</Title> tags show up at the top of your visitor’s browser. Those words are also indexed by many
search engines. Make sure they describe the specific page, your name, and some reference to your
brand image. Commercial HTML editing programs generally provide an easy way to insert page
18. Stick With Standard Link Colors
Certain standards have developed on the Web. One of those standards concerns the colors given to
various types of hyperlinks. Blue is used for unvisited links, red for an active link as it is being
clicked, and purple for links that have been recently visited. With all the skepticism that exists on the
Internet, your brand will benefit by providing your visitors with some surfing standards they can
19. Use Hyperlinks, Especially Within Your Site
One of the most appealing aspects of the Web is its interconnectivity. Some of the best sites
encourage visitors to bounce around from page to page within the site—or even section to section on
the same page. One article can reference a topic covered in another article. Instead of plainly stating, You’ll find more information on Labradors in my FAQ on hunting dogs
, make the words FAQ on
an active hyperlink that takes the reader straight to that page.
20. Conduct Informal Usability Research
Once you’ve come up with a site design plan you’re happy with, invite a few friends over who know
little about your planned site. Have them visit your home page. Ask them to tell you what the site is
about; then ask them to browse around and click what interests them. Observe the pages they go to
and which navigation links they use to get there. Next, give them specific tasks: Place an order;
subscribe to the newsletter, and so on. Note which steps come easily and which ones reveal obstacles.
This isn’t rocket science; but this kind of casual research will help you find your site’s strengths and
5 QUICK AND EASY WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR SITE
1. Find and Fix Broken Links and Other Errors
There are a number of online services that can check your site for problems. You can set these to run
automatically on a schedule, and to send you a report. The checkers can do various things, from
checking links to spell checking and HTML checking. Most of these services provide free demo
reports, by the way—they’ll check a few pages, maybe even 100, on your site and send you the
report so you can see what you’ll get when you sign up. LinkAlarm:
http://LinkAlarm.com/ Doctor HTML and RxHTMLPro:
http://www.NetMechanic.com/ Web Site Garage:
http://websitegarage.netscape.com/ Tucows Library:
http://www.tucows.com/ Dr. Watson:
And more ...
2. Make Sure Your Site Looks Good in All Browsers
One of the biggest frustrations for anyone creating Web pages is the fact that what looks fine in one
browser may look terrible in another. It’s an unfortunate fact that not all browsers are equal. How,
then, do you avoid problems? Really the only way to be sure is to check your work in different
browsers. Which? Well, there’s the problem. There are so many different browsers, versions of
browsers, and operating systems, that there’s no way you’ll be able to check all the possibilities. NetMechanic
at http://www.NetMechanic.com/ has set up a service called Browser Photo. This
service tests your pages on 14 different browser/operating system combinations, a combination of
AOL, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, WebTV, and Opera (including 11 different Explorer
and Navigator versions), a variety of different screen sizes, and three different operating systems: PC,
iMac, and WebTV.
3. Add a Heading or Tag Line to Your Name Plate
The name of a product or a company is rarely in itself a compelling marketing message. Therefore
you should hardly ever head a Web page with the name of the product or company. Instead, craft a
compelling statement of the benefit someone gets out of buying the product or doing business with
the firm. After that hook you can introduce the identity of the Web page’s sponsor.
4. Include a Guarantee and a Privacy Statement
If you’re selling something on your site, a guarantee will help take away the feeling of risk. If you’re a
smaller, relatively unknown company you need to establish credibility fast. Offering a guarantee will
increase orders more than it will cost in returned items. You also should include a privacy statement
when asking visitors to provide information, namely their e-mail address.
4 EXCELLENT ENHANCEMENTS FOR YOUR WEB SITE
1. Add a Search Engine to Your Site in 10 Minutes
Here’s a system you can use to add a search engine to your site with just a few minutes work. The
system provides search reports, so you can see what visitors are searching for; automatically generated
site maps (a “tree” showing the relationship of pages); automatically generated What’s New lists; and
scheduled re-indexing. You can omit certain pages, or even parts of a page, from the search, modify a
page’s ranking, and so on.
There is one catch. When a visitor to your site is using the search system, ads will be displayed on
the results page. If that’s okay with you, visit http://www.FreeFind.com/ to see how it works and to
sign up for service.
Here are two other similar services: Atomz:
2. Run Auctions at Your Web Site... With Free Software
Have you considered setting up an auction program at your Web site? I ran into an open source
program recently for managing auctions. “Open source” software is free software—you can use it
without paying for it. It’s software that is created by programmers who come together—in a
metaphorical sense, because often these programmers never meet each other, or even talk with each
other on the phone. The interesting thing about Open Source is how it develops almost organically.
Programmers add things that interest them—instead of having a long-term development plan, the
program develops in an unforeseen direction, dependent on the whims of the programmers involved.
The program in question is EveryAuction
, and you can find it here:
3. Add “Viewlet” Content to Your Site ... Free
Viewlets are little Java-based animations that can be used to demonstrate a process of some kind. At
site http://www.Qarbon.com/ you’ll find viewlets demonstrating how to use AOL
menus and tools, how to work with Web browsers, how to use PowerPoint, how to work with
Linux, and so on. (At the moment they’re mostly used for demonstrating software, but you could
put any kind of images into them to demonstrate any process, really.)
As the viewlets are Java applets, they won’t work in all browsers, but they will work in most: Internet
Explorer 4.0, Netscape 4.06, AO1 4.0 and later on MS Windows (unfortunately they won’t work in
Mac versions of Netscape until Netscape upgrades its Java support for the Mac).
Creating viewlets is very easy. Qarbon.com provide a special tool to help you drop images into the
viewlet and add your own text callouts; you can use voice-overs, too.
4. Set Up a Discussion Group on Your Site
Many Web sites use discussion groups (also known as a bulletin boards, message boards, and
sometimes a Web forum) as a way for people to discuss your products or simply as a service to
people—a way to attract them to your Web site. For instance, setting up a discussion group for
people interested in emus is one way to make your emu-lovers’ site stand out. A discussion group can
be part of an overall package that makes a site popular with a certain group of people, just one more
element that attracts people to your site and keeps them coming back. You can even set up several
groups for different purposes; once you’ve set up one, it’s quite easy to set up another.
Here’s another way to use a discussion group. Set up a weeklong discussion with a celebrity or well-
known person in your field. Your emu site might invite a successful emu farmer, a music site might
invite a musician, a company selling software might invite the author of a book about their software,
and so on. For one week, or however long this person is willing to take part, people can visit your
site to pose questions and read the celebrity’s responses.
There are a number of ways to create discussion groups. FrontPage has a wizard that helps you build
one. If you’re not using FrontPage, you might use a utility service to set one up—there are a number
of places that will allow you to build discussion groups at their sites, and link into them from your
own so that it appears to be part of your site. Here are a few such services: Cybersites
, http://www.cybersites.com/ Delphi,
, http://www.ecircles.com/ EdGateway
, http://edgateway.net/ EVine
, http://www.evine.com/ Excite Communities
, http://www.excite.com/communities/ FriendFactory
, http://www.friendfactory.com/ InterClubs
, http://interclubs.com/ JointPlanning
, http://www.jointplanning.com/ Lycos Clubs
, http://clubs.lycos.com/ Network54
, http://network54.com/ Yahoo!—Clubs
8 ESSENTIAL THINGS YOU SHOULD ALREADY
BE DOING TO
PROMOTE YOUR WEB SITE
1. Publish an E-Mail Newsletter
But why distribute an e-mailed publication instead of (or alongside) putting up a website? Think
about your own web surfing habits. Do you visit new sites everyday? Do you visit sites frequently?
Which sites do you frequent most often? Which sites are most interesting to you? What do those
sites provide to you that is of value? These are the things to keep in mind when you go to design
your own page, and/or your own e-mail publication.
When individuals visit any given web page, they might stay there for 10-20 seconds before their
attention span fades away. Either their attention is drawn to something else, they click on another
link which leads them away from your site, or they simply get bored. So, your first (main) page
needs to have enough information to entice that user. Unless you have something worth returning
for, they’re probably never going to return. Sure, they might bookmark it, they may even put a link
to your site on their own web page, but the chances are slim that they’re going to keep coming back
to you regularly.
However, if you can show visitors what you have to offer up front and get them to subscribe to your
e-mailed publication, then you’re going to have them as captive audience members until they decide
to unsubscribe. You don’t have to count on them to revisit your website at all; they’re going to
receive your e-zine whether or not they’re online when it arrives in their e-mailbox. Get them to
join, and then send them on their merry way.
2. Offer Free E-Mail Courses
Once you write and set up an email course, it becomes an incredibly easy and effective way to
promote your site and your products. An e-mail course is a short series of lessons delivered, of
course, by e-mail. Interested students sign up by sending an e-mail to an autoresponder address of
your choice. To set one up, you’ll need to use an autoresponder service that has follow-up message
capabilities. Many autoresponders that come with basic Web-hosting packages are often of the one-
shot variety. That means the autoresponder will send only one return message and that’s it. You can
either ask your Web host if it offers a multiple-message option, or you can use a free online
autoresponder service, such as GetResponse.com
, http://www.getresponse.com/ SendFree
, http://www.sendfree.com/ FastFacts.net
What type of material should you offer in an e-mail course? The best source of ideas is the list of
articles you have written or are thinking about writing on your area of expertise. Let’s say you’re a
wedding planner and you just wrote an excellent article called Five Steps to Planning a Memorable
Wedding Reception. Each step consists of at least three or four paragraphs. Instead of offering this
wonderful advice as another free article, split the steps into five lessons to be delivered via an e-mail
To go the e-mail course route, simply insert the wedding reception planning steps into your
autoresponder files and instruct the system how to deliver them. Lesson one will always be delivered
instantly whenever someone sends an e-mail to ReceptionPlans@autoresponder.com (or whatever your
- TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 20 RULES FOR BETTER WEB SITE DESIGN
- 1. Make Sure the Visual Elements Reinforce Your Company or Brand Identity
- 2. Forget Cool, Think Useful
- 3. Lead Visitors Where You Want Them to Go
- 4. Offer Clear, Limited Choices
- 5. Let Visitors Know What Your Site is About
- 6. Avoid Long, Scrolling Pages
- 7. Use Simple, Clean Layouts
- 8. Keep a Consistent Theme Throughout
- 9. Think BigType, That Is
- 10. Use Color Tastefully and Sparingly
- 11. Provide Navigation Along the Top, Left Side, and Bottom
- 12. Adhere to the Three-Click Rule
- 13. Stay Away From Autoplay Sounds
- 14. Check for Browser Compatibility
- 15. Update Your Site Often
- 16. Go Easy on the Gizmos.
- 17. Make Good Use of Page Titles
- 18. Stick With Standard Link Colors
- 19. Use Hyperlinks, Especially Within Your Site
- 20. Conduct Informal Usability Research
- 5 QUICK AND EASY WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR SITE
- 1. Find and Fix Broken Links and Other Errors
- 2. Make Sure Your Site Looks Good in All Browsers
- 3. Add a Heading or Tag Line to Your Name Plate
- 4. Include a Guarantee and a Privacy Statement
- 4 EXCELLENT ENHANCEMENTS FOR YOUR WEB SITE
- 1. Add a Search Engine to Your Site in 10 Minutes
- 2. Run Auctions at Your Web Site... With Free Software
- 3. Add Viewlet Content to Your Site ... Free
- 4. Set Up a Discussion Group on Your Site
- 8 ESSENTIAL THINGS YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE DOING TO PROMOTE YOUR WEB SITE
- 1. Publish an E-Mail Newsletter
- 2. Offer Free E-Mail Courses
- 3. Submit Articles to other E-Mail Newsletters and Sites
- 4. Set up an Affiliate Program
- 5. Giveaway E-Books
- 6. Participate in Mailing Lists and Discussion Groups
- 7. Enter your Site to Win Online Awards
- 8. Advertise in E-Mail Newsletters
- 4 PROBLEMS WITH E-MAIL ADVERTISING
- 1. Classified Ad E-Mails Dont Work
- 2. Ads Sent Solo to Opt-In Lists Dont Work
- 3. E-Mail Advertising Isnt Always Cheap
- 4. The Real Numbers Issue
- 6 TIPS FOR COMMUNICATING WITHOUT SPAMMING
- 1. Dont Stay Silent
- 2. Dont Impose
- 3. Dont Buy
- 4. Dont Use Certain Words
- 5. Dont Hide
- 6. Dont Invite Removals
- 5 POINTERS TO SCORE MORE POINTS WITH YOUR E-MAIL COURSES
- 1. Use Consistent Subject Headings
- 2. Start with a Short Reminder Notice
- 3. Include Your Courses Title and an Author Byline
- 4. End with a Teaser for the Next Lesson
- 5. Include a Final Brand-Building Blurb
- 10 TIPS FOR WRITING ATTENTION-GETTING ARTICLES
- 1. Craft a Strong Title
- 2. Address Problems and Provide Solutions
- 3. Provide Ordered How-To Steps
- 4. Supply How-To Details with Your What-to-do Advice
- 5. Use Concrete Examples and Quotes
- 6. Include Relevant Links
- 7. Avoid Jargon and Twenty-Dollar Words
- 8. Keep Sentences Short
- 9. Make it Personal
- 10. Self-Promote Sensibly
- 6 RULES FOR WRITING GOOD E-BOOKS
- 1. Good Writing is Essential For a Good E-Book
- 2. A Good Editor is Worth a Thousand Misspelled Words
- 3. Dont go Overboard With the Hyperlinks
- 4. Make Sure Your Book is Still Useful When Printed
- 5. Dont Just Save the Files for the Printed Version in Hypertext
- 6. Watch Your References
- 8 REASONS TO CREATE YOUR OWN ONLINE COMMUNITY
- 1. To Discuss a Topic That No One Else is Discussing
- 2. To Provide an Online Way for an Existing Community to Get Together
- 3. To Create a Community With Your Own Personal Style
- 4. To Market a Product or Service
- 5. To Provide Support for Customers of Your Product
- 6. To Convince People of Your Way of Thinking
- 7. To Share Experiences with People
- 8. To Make Money
- 8 WAYS TO MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS IN MARKETING AND PROMOTIONS
- 1. Check Your Search Engine Position
- 2. Using Your Hit Logs
- 3. Looking at the Referrer Report
- 4. Backlink Checking
- 5. Using Automated Search Utilities
- 6. Employing Web Clipping Services
- 7. Monitoring News Groups and Mailing Lists
- 8. Checking Offline Publications
- 15 TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL NETWORK
- 1. Spend time deciding whether you really need a network.
- 2. Design your network carefully.
- 3. Be prepared to work at your network.
- 4. Always look at your needs before you decide on software.
- 5. Dont bite off more networking that you can chew.
- 6. You dont need to have a vast knowledge of computers to repair system problems.
- 7. Networks require consistent care.
- 8. Always look for the low-cost solutions to your networking problems.
- 9. Use the right networking technology for the job.
- 10. Avoid getting a central server unless you need one.
- 11. Allocate bandwidth wisely.
- 12. Purchase an uninterruptible power supply
- 13. Look for the best deal when buying software.
- 14. The best password is easy to remember, yet hard to guess.
- 15. Computers dont understand or care that youre frustrated.