Web sites run by small businesses far outnumber the Web sites run by large corporations. This means that most sites are produced and operated on a relatively small budget. Each dollar counts, and must be used carefully.

But few small business owners are spending enough time figuring out what constitutes an effective Web site before they pour money into the project. Time and time again, I see small business Web sites waste their resources on the wrong Web site elements.

When you can't afford to have your Web site designed by a team of experienced professionals, it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice usability and effectiveness. Just focus on your content.

Did you buy your first car when you were young and broke? It often comes down to a battle between your heart and your head (or your heart and your bank account). Flash versus sensibility. Constant mechanical problems versus reliability. A 1967 Volkswagen Bug versus a Honda Civic.

When I purchased my first car after college, I had to go for sensible reliability. My main objective was to get where I needed to get on a daily basis. Flash could come later, when I had a bigger bank account.

The same concept should be applied to Web sites. When money is tight and options must be limited, go for what produces reliable results.

The answer is surprisingly simple: content. The words on the page.

It's hard to go wrong when your Web site offers well-organized, well-written content. I'm not proposing that images and other more complex Web site elements are worthless. No, the best (and most expensive) Web sites seamlessly combine all the elements of professional Web design: graphic design, information design, technical design and content development.

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Grace Stoeckle operates Grace Stoeckle Studios (www.gracestoecklestudios.com).