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Web Site Design and Development Tutorial

"Phase II: A Plan To Meet  Your Goals"

Overview of Web Site Development and Design Goals

Defining your goals before you start to build your site enables you to maximize the benefits you can derive from your web site development and Internet Presence. Development of  your web site with these goals being the criteria for content, navigation and functionality ensures the success of the site. Before going any further I feel I should first explain why development and design of the web site in this manner is important.

Choosing Web Site Content

Content is all that is contained on the site. This is probably the most important of the three where your goals are concerned. The choices you make here will make or break the site. Including content that is not pertinent to your goals or the topic of the site is the biggest mistake you can make. The reason being, at first, a number of your visitors will come from search engines . A site that has a lot of off topic information wastes the visitors time because they have to bore down to the content that they came looking for.

Content can be divided into three types. These are aesthetics, navigation and functionality. Images are for aesthetics and quite often navigation. The overuse of images is one of the biggest mistakes I see on most sites. A number of developers come from a graphic design background and so they use a lot of images because they are used to typographic layout where images don't really affect the use of the information. This is a problem where the internet is concerned because of bandwidth and hardware constraints.

I don't know about you, but I frequently leave a site because the download times just don't warrant the time spent getting the information. The biggest culprits here are Java and overuse of images. A well designed page will mainly use images for Corporate Branding (logo) and Navigation.

To illustrate lets evaluate this page. At the top is a banner for my design business (Advertising). If you came in through the front door you'll notice this page is much sparser as far as graphics go. I do this because I know that most surfers expect the cover or entrance page to be graphic intensive. I have peaked your interest as far as aesthetics go but now that you have bored further down I know that this isn't as important as a fast download and good information.

All the images are cached from the first page except the image maps. One of the reasons for the grey scaled image in the left margin is so I don't have to use a larger logo for branding purposes. On the first pages I wrote for the tutorial area I used a large logo but found that the image was larger then all the rest of the page from a bandwidth perspective. I know you're wondering about surfers that come directly to a page beyond the entrance, won't they want to see these beautiful graphics?

The short answer is NO! If they come to the site this way they have come from one of the many reciprocal links or a search engine and are looking for information not pretty pictures. CONTENT is king at this point and I know a fast download and good information will ensure repeat visits not pretty pictures.

To make it simple I will give some examples of needless images on a content or information page. E-mail images (a text link in your copyright info is much better ), organization or best viewed using images (useless advertising for companies that don't need it ) are a joke, a well designed page is best viewed in all browsers, awards, Exchange Banners (usually ugly, and a business model that doesn't work for me, why invite 2 people to leave in exchange for a single view on who knows what kind of site) and under construction images (all sites are always under construction so why bother). A rule of thumb should be if it isn't for navigation or branding it is fluff and should be avoided.

Some of these are appropriate on other pages. This would include awards (on an awards page), professional organizations you belong to (on the about page) and PAID Banner advertising or failing that swaps with companies with similar demographics and traffic. For more information read the article on the components of good web site development.

Web site Navigation

A site that doesn't have a readily discernible navigation system is a poorly designed site. A visitor should also be able to reach all important content and information from all pages without going back to the home page. Furthermore, once at an important content area the information should be readily accessible with single jumps and little scrolling and reading. The best way to accomplish this is to use a combination of images and text links.

Lets use the search engine page as an example here. I use an image map to jump to different areas of important content. These are placed at the top of the page so that when the page downloads the visitor sees that there are many other areas of content on the site that can be accessed form the page. This page is long and contains a lot of information that I've divided into anchored categories or topics. I place these text links directly after the intro because the user is now ready to find the exact info they were looking for after assuring themselves they are in the proper area.

A brief intro is at the top of the content area, then there are text links to the anchored topics. I have received several mails from users that really like this feature of my pages. To anchor a topic or area of the site you use the following syntax in your link. <a href="../search/index.html#kw/"> this is a targeted link to the keywords information on the search site.

Above the keywords category I have an anchor which tells the browser this is the area I had targeted. The syntax for the anchor looks like this <a name="kw"></a> between the a name part and the </a> you can put the anchor name but this is not necessary and limits your choices for the aesthetics of the text ie: this tag doesn't allow headers in the element. This could also be a quick jump to pages deeper in the site. The anchor doesn't necessarily have to be on the same page.

At the bottom of the page I have another anchor to the top of the page so the user doesn't have to refresh or scroll to the top of the page to get to the image maps. You use the same method as for the targeted links only the anchor is at the top of the page. If there is a second page to the article I also include that jump here as well.

Lastly I discovered recently that the image map alts don't work in all browsers the way I had expected so I will be adding jumps to these links at the top and bottom of the pages as I update them. This won't be long in coming as I do monthly checks or updates to every page for three reasons. Why worry about it? Simply, a lot of my users are surfing with images off for speed.

I check the links on all pages monthly as there are a number of links and I hate broken links ( a sure sign of an amateur or poorly maintained site). I also do weekly checks of my placement at the various engines using some software you will here about in the July Newsletter/Bulletin. This is when I do the work to raise my placement because I am not spamming when I re-submit after an update. Finally, I surf the whole site to be sure the flow is fluid and graceful. I frequently make changes to improve the look and surfability of the site.  For more info on web site navigation see the navigation tutorial.

Web Site Functionality

Providing you have followed the instructions in regards to CONTENT and NAVIGATION you have a great deal of functionality built into the site already. Part of the functionality or function of the site is to dispense pertinent information in an easy to find manner.

Now you see why the opening statement of the paragraph makes sense and why I discussed these functions first. The last and possibly most important part of the functionality of the site is meeting the marketing and interactivity elements and goals of the site. Lets discuss interactivity first as it leads to some of the other goals.

Interactivity is possibly your best marketing tool on any site. I say this because the only way a purchase or request can be made is by interacting with the site usually by means of a form. There are some other ways such as mouseover events and rollovers, animated gifs, I hate these because I find they are distracting and appeal to small minds ( in my opinion ) and are major bandwidth eaters. Just a little less annoying then a blink tag. If you must use them looping them more then twice is overuse IMHO.

To my way of thinking, though cool, these are just added fluff and another way of limiting the same content going to all users. I could go on and on about download time, that some are browser and platform specific, but who really cares. Unless you are a high tech company or want a lot of fluff on your site skip it. They only take away from your sites functionality.

I've covered some don'ts lets discuss some do's now. To work your marketing plan and the rest of the sites functions out you have to start to make some of the decisions that will determine how you go forward from here. In a small organization this is easy because this will only entail you deciding what your resources are by consulting with a few key employees and deciding upon an integration and marketing strategy.

In a larger organization department heads and upper management will have to formulate a plan to carry out the job at hand. There are a number of similarities between the decisions facing both organizations and I will discuss them in detail next.

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