The Strategery of Web Page Design
Even though data transfer speeds are astronomically high compared to back in the old BBS days (remember 300-baud modems? Neither do we; we're much, much too young), but even though you have a 24/7 broadband connection with no bandwidth restrictions, don't assume that your visitors do, as well. While graphics, audio, and Flash presentations can enhance the entertainment value of your site, always remember your goal, which we're going to assume is to sell your products or services to visitors. If your intention is to entertain, you can skip the rest of this article.
Still with us? Okay, then. Write this down: Every "improvement" you choose should be selected specifically to achieve your goal. Probably an excellent first step would be to ask yourself "Why does a visitor come to my website?" or more simply put: "What is my visitor's goal?" Unless you have perfected a way to transmit Cinnabons via digital wire, we're going to guess that the visitor comes to you for information, and, having found that information, to actually make a purchase. Now, does that Flash animation you paid several thousand dollars for aid your visitor in any way toward achieving his goal for information? Ask yourself why the search engines are so popular. Because they provide instant information, that's why. And your visitors have become accustomed to the instantaneity of that that information. So, really—do you honestly want to make them sit through a lengthy download so they can see your new designer cork-screw in action?
"Improvements" to avoid:
- Animated graphics such as email, guestbook, and under- construction pictures. At first glance these seem clever. Trust us, they're not.
- Those cute but annoying cursors modifications (Why is my mouse pointer now an actual mouse, and why does it leave a trail of tiny cheese-slices as I move it across the screen?)
- Images saved in 16.7 million colors (which makes the file size ginormous)--256 colors was good enough for grandpa's discount kidney plaster website, and 256 colors is good enough for you.
- I-Frames. These are actually distinct webpages embedded within another webpage to look like part of the same page. There are a variety of problems and drawbacks to I-frames (more on those in the SEO section), but the most glaring drawback is that different browsers (Firefox, MS Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, Safari, etc.) handle I-frames differently (some handle them differently depending on the version your visitor is using, and some don't handle them at all). Unless you want to write multiple versions of the same page to account for all the differences between browsers, leave I-frames to the good-ideas-gone-bad department of Internet History.
- OMG! A looping soundtrack? This can range from an amateurish MIDI rendering of "Addicted To Love" to that cheesy elevator music (accompanying Steve Wynn's creepy voice-over) on wynn.com. Do you really want your visitor to have "Muskrat Love" stuck in his mental Wurlitzer for the rest of the day—and with nobody but you to thank? Sad truth time: Nobody since high school has been impressed with your taste in music. Probably not even then. Leave the music on your iPod and off your website.
- Flash animations. Flash animations are the sliced bread of the 21st century, with more and more websites cruelly sacrificing utility and speed (and visitors) to show off something they spent a bucket of money developing. Don't. Just... don't.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, here are some general tips on
What to include on your website:
- Text links to your popular pages (a graphical menu is fine, but search engine spiders can't "read" graphics, so they'll miss the importance (and meaning) of but not home page. There's nothing wrong with using graphics to build an attractive menu for your website, just remember that spiders need love too. Give them what they want: text-based menus.
- Information about your business that helps your visitor make a buying decision, preferably one in your favor. Examples include: third-party endorsements of your company's sterling reputation and glorious history, your peerless product or service's quality, perhaps even information on how your product is made, shipping options, etc. If you provide a service, it's important to include lists of certifications (and explanations of abbreviations or industry-specific terms; FACS may mean something to you, but your visitor thinks you misspelled "facts"), licenses, areas of expertise or specialization.
- Solid, original content. Write it yourself, have somebody else write it, purchase it somewhere—just get it on there somehow. Search engine spiders love them some original content, and, unsurprisingly, so do your human visitors. Avoid the impulse to swipe something from another site. First off, it's more than likely illegal, and second, we said original content, remember? Besides, how do you know the content you swiped hasn't been swiped a hundred times? In our own research, we've discovered numerous websites that repeat verbatim information and advice that appears on numerous other websites. What you have to sell is unique. Why promote it with canned blah-blah?
Previously: Marketing your business on the Internet