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Audio on Your Website: Sound Off or Sound On?

There is an ongoing debate on whether or not to use audio on your website. It reminds me of the debate 10 or 15 years ago on whether to use graphics on the web. Today, we can't even imagine a website without graphics. Advances in technology made that happen and advances in technology today are making use of audio, and even video, on the web more feasible.

Let's look at a number of reasons why you should seriously consider using audio on your website.

Audiences are becoming increasingly multi-media hungry. The proliferation of personal audio devices, like MP3 players, makes sound a natural addition to text and visuals. All age groups are adopting the use of these devices, whether it is to listen to music, to podcasts or to audio books.

Your website is there to educate your visitors, whether it is about your services, your products or a particular point of view. People learn in different ways, some by reading, some by listening, others by doing and some by a combination of these methods. Adding audio to your site offers your visitors yet another 'learning' option.

Surveys have shown that websites with audio lengthen the user's duration, and the longer your visitors stay on your website, the more likely they are to buy your service or product.

Audio can:

** make a good first impression

** tell the visitor something about the site

** summarize the site's content

** give added information

** point out highlights

** help the user navigate the site by pointing out pages that shouldn't be missed

** direct the visitor to take action such as downloading information, filling in a form requesting further information or taking advantage of a special offer

** reinforce the written word

** give your website personality

One of the best uses for audio on the web is to add punch to online presentations, demos and virtual tours.

There are a number of things to keep in mind if you do decide to add audio to your website. Make sure you know your target audience and cater the audio to them. Always give your web visitors the option to turn off the sound. Not everyone has high speed access and not everyone likes listening to sound when surfing the net. Some people prefer to get a feel for your site, your product, your services, before listening to what you have to say.

Make sure that your audio file loads very quickly. To do that, make the file small. Do not use stereo, as that doubles the size of the file. Do not make the audio a barrier between your visitor and your website. Also, make sure your audio file does not open in a new window taking your visitors away from the main site. Do not make the sound too loud. Remember people listen via earphones, in public places and in office cubicles. Do not use audio just for the sake of having audio. If you decide to use just music, for example, make sure that the music you choose is somehow connected to the content on your website.

Here is a quick overview of the requirements needed to achieve high quality audio on your website. While you do not need to invest hundreds of dollars on a microphone, the small mics that come with your computer will generally not give you clean sound. Also, the sound card that comes with your computer may not have the capabilities needed to record clean sound. Pay attention to your recording environment. You do not want to hear your computer fan, air conditioner, neighbour's lawn mower or dog barking in the audio file you plan to put on your website. You also need software to record the sound and to upload it to your web server.

Remember the old adage, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Make the sound professional and clean. Make sure you have a professional write your copy and it is well worth getting a professional to record it as well. Finally, make sure any music you use is either royalty free or that you have received permission to use it (which generally means paying a fee).

Elaine Singer is a full time professional voice artist with a vibrant and lively sound, who, while specializing in corporate narrations and audio books, also has experience voicing both commercials and other shorter reads. With a digital home studio, she can assure you of fast turn around times. Elaine also has a background in IT, having managed help desks for over 10 years. Since taking on her new role doing voiceovers, Elaine has done research and participated in online debates on the pros and cons of using sound on the web, coming to the conclusion that, used judiciously, sound can enhance your website. You can listen to Elaline's streaming audio on her website at http://www.soundsgreat.ca and to her online voice demos at http://www.soundsgreat.ca/demos.htm

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