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Building a Great Web Site

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If you're like most people today, you want to build your own Web site for any number of reasons. It may be for informational purposes, or because you want to set up shop on the Web and become a "dot-commer." Whatever the purpose, there are a few things to keep in mind in creating the best site possible. The K.I.S.S. (keep it simple sweetie) principle works well for a Web page because the information, and everything that g'es with it, takes time to get from a server to the user's computer. This means you should keep your ideas focused, and make sure everything on your page has a very good reason for being there. You should also carefully consider everything on your Web site, and spend as much time choosing the images you want to display as you would on the copy. The contents of your Web page should be brief, while getting across the intended information using clear and simple language with consistent terminology throughout. The content should also be checked for correct spelling and grammar, and should use hypertext links to connect to useful, current information that is not on your Web site.

 

Planning and Designing

The planning of a Web site is very important. Many poorly designed, hard-to-read pages exist, but they don't have to be that way. The design of a Web page should include answers to the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this site?
  • What are your goals? What are you trying to tell your visitors? These answers will help you begin to focus your page.
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How is your audience going to view your page? Is your audience members of the business community who will be accessing the site with a T1, or folks at home with a slow modem? Your site should be fast to prevent visitors from losing patience and leaving too soon. When considering speed, you should also think about browsers and plug-ins, which tend to slow loading time in displaying a site.
  • How will you attract and keep visitors? Placement is key. Not all users have huge monitors, so you will want to place the most important elements at the top of the page. Consider the first screen as the front page of a newspaper, where all the important information g'es. Since most people read from left to right, and usually look in the upper left-hand corner first, the most important items should go there.
  • What colors should you use? Consider which colors best support your goal and whether they are part of the 216 universal color palette. But remember, just because you have access to 216 colors d'esn't mean you should use them all. Doing so will slow down your site and make it harder to read. Take readability into consideration. The type should sit comfortably on the background. White type on a black background is readable, but a light gray on black is more comfortable for the eye. Go for maximum contrast, then back off a bit. Keep in mind that the bigger the type, the easier it is to read; the longer the line length, the harder it is to read.
  • How do you plan to place information on the page? Wide margins around content works very well. White space helps the readers' eyes rest on what is important, whether it is an image or words. Keep the design uncluttered and the concept focused.

 

Keeping It Simple

Once you've answered these questions and defined your goals, the next step is to structure your setup on paper. The home page should organize the entire Web site. Every page should be consistent as far as icons, banners and layout. The logo should appear in the same location on each page. The feel of your site should match the type of content displayed in order to convey information effectively to the user.

The Web site should be simple. Too many frames, animation, blinking text, fonts, graphics, sizes and colors will frustrate the user, causing them to go elsewhere. Keeping the site simple will also allow it to load faster, helping the user quickly determine what is relevant. In addition, text can be divided with lines or formatted with lists to make the information as easy to read as possible.

 

Navigational Rules

If you are setting up a Web site with different pages, links or frames, it is important to follow some simple navigational rules. As you know, most sites arrange pages in a hierarchy; there's a reason for this. As surfers navigate a site, they need to know where they are. They need to know how to proceed down the page, across it or return to the top. If surfers have difficulty navigating through your site, they won't take the time to get their bearings, they'll simply go somewhere else. They'll remember your site is difficult to navigate and won't return. Creating a navigable Web site requires linking pages in a logical way. Follow these guidelines:

  • On each page, include a link that takes the user back to the home page and another to take them back to the top of the page. Navigational links should also appear in the same location on each page - the top or to the left is the standard.
  • If your site is large, consider including a site map - a sketch or diagram of how all of your Web pages work together.
  • Always let the user know where they are.
  • Avoid useless clicking and page loads.
  • Do not place "under construction" signs that take a long time to load.
  • Only include current and useful links on your Web site.
  • Inform users of new information in case they are repeat visitors. Include dates to show updated information.
  • Do not allow links to dead-end without providing a way out.
  • Use graphics effectively. Use the same graphic, such as a logo, in multiple places.

 

The Finishing Touches

Once you've completed the Web site, you must store it on a Web server where users can access it. ISPs offer this type of service for a fee, although some sites offer it for free as part of a package. Transferring files to the Web server involves the use …f an FTP application. To help people find your Web site, you should also register it with common search engines, such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, Lycos, Excite, Infoseek and/or WebCrawler.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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