1) Plan Your Site: Before turning on your computer, consider the layout, page structure and how users will move from one page to another (navigation). Then, sketch out your site on paper.
2) Understand Your Audience: Knowing your audience will help set the tone for your content and layout, as you identify what visitors will be looking for on your site. It's also important to consider popular web browsers and your visitor's screen resolution size so that they see your site the way you intended; you can find this data in most site analytics tools. If you're not sure how wide to make your site, 960px is a great place to start.
3) Allow for Easy Navigation: Since people often read from left to right and top to bottom, the upper left-hand corner of your site is the first place your visitors will look. Place your navigation buttons here and keep them consistent, along with font and color choices, for easy reading and fluid movement from page to page.
4) Choose a Color Scheme: If you're designing your site around an image, try uploading it to a color palette tool, like DeGraeve.com's, for example, for complementary color suggestions. Be sure to remain consistent with your design patterns, and stick to no more than three font types and colors.
5) Use High Quality Photos: In order to give your site a more professional appearance, all images should be clear, focused, and of high resolution. An alternative to taking your own photos is buying them from istockphoto.com; at about five-dollars an image it's an inexpensive way to visually take your website to the next level.
6) Test Your Site, Then Test Again: When you've created or redesigned your site, ask friends and family to test it for you. They may find things you've missed, or point out areas of confusion.
When paired with quality content, executing these tips appropriately will help retain first-time visitors and transform them into youe website regulars.
Based on a Dot5Hosting newsletter 3-9-12