Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Web Site Design with Street Maps - How to Help Customers Find You

by Daniel Salas

Do your customers know how to find your brick-and-mortar business? Sure, you hired a great Web site design company to overhaul your old site, improved your online presence with some pay per click advertising, and now Internet traffic is picking up. But if your business depends on people walking through your front door or front gate, do customers know where to go?

One sign of trouble is phone calls from people asking for directions, especially when they call from within a five minute drive of your business. Why can't they find you?

A good solution is a printable street map on your Web site. You might have expected people to type your street address into Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps, but think how much easier it is for users to find and print a map from your own site.

Here are some options:

* Scan an existing picture from your brochure into a computer and resize it on a Web page. Unfortunately the results rarely look as crisp and clean as they did on glossy paper, especially the words which may become unreadable.
* Hire a Web developer to create an interactive map with a tool such as Adobe Flash. Be aware that some users' browsers may not have the technology needed to view the results, so you may lose customers.
* Hire an artist to draw a custom map, including your building (or buildings) and main entrance. This is the best way to get a map exactly the way you want it to look.
* Hire a Web developer to use a mapping service such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps or MapQuest on your Web site. If done well, this option provides the best interactive mapping experience for users.
* Show a screenshot of an interactive map on your site. This will frustrate experienced map users because they'll click on the picture, trying to pan or zoom.

If you design a custom map:

* Show relevant streets and cross streets, with readable street names.
* Show customers where to park and where to find the main entrance.
* Include a simple direction indicator. To prevent confusion, place north at the top of the drawing, no matter which direction customers will face at your front door or gate.
* Consider showing more than one map at different zoom levels, to help customers find your business at the state, city and street levels.

If you use a mapping service:

* Make the map large enough for users to see everything they need to see (especially buildings and street names) without zooming or scrolling.
* Shape-based maps (typically with colored lines for streets on white backgrounds) are easier to understand than satellite photos. As an option, you may include controls to switch to satellite photos.
* To let users interact with the map, include controls for zooming and scrolling.
* If your map has a "find directions to us" theme, pre-load your street address into the text boxes of the destination.

For any type of map:

* Make sure users can find the map page. Keep it near the top of site navigation, not buried layers deep in menu options such as Information - Visit Us - Location - Map
* Try printing your map. Is it big and clear enough to be read while riding in a car?

I saved the most important tip for last: no matter what type of map you use, show your street address (with number and name) on your home page, or even on every page of your Web site. With a well-designed map and a clearly visible street address on your site, foot traffic is sure to increase.

About the Author


Dan Salas is a software engineer, Web developer and occasional world traveler. To browse destinations and things to do on your next vacation or holiday, visit his Web site at http://www.AreWeThereYetMap.com