Incorporate innovative elements of design to create a dynamic and effective Web site.
One of the most effective yet inexpensive ways to market your company to a worldwide audience is to create a Web site. According to the December 1996 version of the Internet Index (http://www.openmarket.com/intindex/), 9 million adults access the World Wide Web every day. With a potential audience of millions, having a Web site is almost a marketing requirement for a business these days. However, it should be remembered that a poorly planned and badly designed Web site can drive away many more customers than it attracts.
Sandra E. Eddy is the author of HTML in Plain English (Von Holtzbrinck Publishing, $16.95, 800-288-2131) and Mastering Lotus SmartSuite 97 for Windows 95 (Sybex, $39.99, 510-523-8233).
Planning And Preparation
Many business owners who have established successful Web sites say that planning the site is much more important than mastering Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the language with which you create and format documents for the Web. So, before you create your first HTML document, you should visit your competitors' Web sites, define the audience that you want to attract, work extensively on the design of your pages, and then make plans for dealing with a possible sudden influx of new customers.
To prepare to develop his new site, Mark Turner, a horticulture, wilderness and travel photographer, and the owner of Turner Photographics (http://www.nas.com/~mturner/) in Bellingham, Washington, visited other photography sites. "I spent a considerable amount of time looking at other photographers' Web sites to find what I liked and did not like about them before I started creating my own site," Turner says. "This upfront research is critical for anyone considering putting a site together. As a result of this preparation, I have had to make very few structural changes to my site in the 14 months it has been up."
Terry Brainerd Chadwick, president of InfoQuest! (http://www.teleport.com/~tbchad), a company that offers services on using the Internet to meet marketing and other business needs, says, "Web technology has changed. When I started, there were only text and graphics and limited formatting ability. Now, I would use tables for formatting the text into a more visually pleasing presentation. I would also offer forms capabilities for questionnaires, Web forums, and so on."
Michael Swertfager, a Web-site contractor based in Fresno, California, says, "I see the World Wide Web as a powerful marketing tool for mass communication. When I create a Web site, I spend more than half my time designing it for its target market. The rest of the time, I work on the whiz-bang technical stuff."
Organizing Your Pages
Most successful Web sites grow as time goes by. As pages are added, keeping them in a logical order becomes more important--and more difficult. For example, all the pages should be linked in some way to the home page (the HTML document that introduces the site).
David Felder, owner of Ryan Consulting Video Productions (http://www.ryanvideo.com/) in Rockaway, New Jersey, says, "I would use a site-management program, such as Microsoft Front Page (http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage/), which would be a tremendous benefit in managing the more than 150 files on our site." Front Page and other site-management programs actually diagram all the pages at a site and show how (and whether) they are linked.
What Makes A Good Web Page?
The most attractive Web pages are well-designed, and uncluttered with graphics and text. "A page must be clean, simple and elegant, with a functional design and no excess flash," Turner says. "It must load quickly, be readable, and be easy to navigate. It should be attractive to the eye and avoid pointless animations that distract the viewer's attention from the primary content. A page should not have a huge graphic header that takes a long time to load, preventing the user from seeing the rest of the page. Color choices should be complementary and should not clash."
Felder considers ease of use an important factor. "A menu bar at the top of the page makes it easy to get around the site. Navigation buttons at the bottom of a page save me the trouble of having to scroll back to the top after reading a page," he says. "A Web page is an electronic extension of a printed page. Too much type jammed into too small a space looks awful. Small type on a busy background or light-colored type on a black background is very difficult to read. I prefer to see small thumbnail graphics that I can click on to see the full graphic--if I have the time and desire."
Chadwick stresses the importance of the overall look of the page. "I think the number-one problem with most Web pages is that people have mastered, or are playing with, all the new features, and have forgotten about the importance of good design," he says. "Good design is that balance of content and presentation that makes finding and absorbing the contents a pleasurable experience. Animations or other moving items that you can't scroll off the page impede the reading of the information. These are particularly bad when combined with thick frames that allow for only very small bands of text per screen. Other no-nos include large, slow-loading graphics; colors and backgrounds that make it difficult to read and/or print the information; and automated music on a continual loop that you can't turn off."
Keeping Up To Date
In addition to poor design, broken links (links that, when clicked on, result in a message stating that the page the user is trying to reach no longer exists) quickly discourage visitors from remaining at a site. While most visitors are willing to forgive one or two broken links, which occur because of changed addresses or pages that no longer exist, several broken links show that the individual responsible for maintaining the site is not checking the links periodically. In addition, in the same way that you would regularly edit your paper documents to improve their contents and make address changes, you need to update your Web pages continuously to attract both old and new visitors.
Before posting an updated page, Turner tests every link, both internal (to other pages at his site) and external (to pages that are not part of his site), to make sure that it works. "Then I ask a few trusted colleagues to visit the site when new pages are up," he says, "and have them test the new pages before I announce the changed pages to the public. This outside feedback has been invaluable."
Links And Tags
A Web site is made up of one or more HTML documents, usually containing both text and graphics--just like an illustrated proposal or report on paper. What makes HTML documents different from standard word processing documents are hypertext links and tags. Links are text or graphics on which individuals can click to go to a new location in the current document or in another document. Using tags, the HTML document creator can add links, change the look of text, insert graphic images, and so on.
Netscape Navigator 6 in 1
by Jennifer Fulton and Nat Gertler (Macmillan, $29.99, 800-428-5331, http://www.mcp.com/que),
describes how to use Netscape Navigator and contains two easy-to-understand sections on creating Web pages.
If you don't have HTML knowledge, or want to learn more about the World Wide Web, these resources can help.
How to Put Information on the Web (http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Provider) is the official HTML home page at the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets standards for the Web. From this page, you can link to style guides, tutorials and references.
HTML Toplevel Tags (http://www.willcam.com/cmat/html/toplevel.html) provides a description of each tag (a command with which to add links, insert graphics, etc.) and its attributes. Included with each tag is a small table that shows whether the tag is part of HTML 3.2 (the current official standard), 2.0 (the previous standard), or is a Netscape extension or Microsoft extension.
The HTML Design Guide (http://ncdesign.kyushu-id.ac.jp/html/html_design.html) provides short tag statements and shows the results. Most of the other resources don't provide enough examples, so this fits the bill. Be aware that English is the second language of the Japanese writer of the guide.
Sun Guide to Web Style (http://www.sun.com/styleguide/tables/Printing_Version.html) is an excellent guide to Web-page design and style.
The Bare Bones Guide to HTML (http://werbach.com/barebones/barebone.html) lists HTML tags arranged by function. Also included are codes for special characters.
Design Notes: Imagineering Technologies (,a href=http://www.imagine.co.uk/>http://www.imagine.co.uk/) is well-organized and full of highly informative articles on producing a good Web site.
Wilbur - HTML 3.2 (http://www.htmlhelp.com/reference/wilbur/alltags.html) is a complete reference guide to all the tags in the current standard, HTML 3.2.
Mosaic for Windows HTML Nexus (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/mosaic-w/html/) provides a background for HTML and hypertext.
InfoQuest! Information Services, 2305 N.W. Kearney St., #233, Portland, OR 97210, (503) 228-4023.
Michael Swertfager, 3203 W. Pasa Tiempo, Fresno, CA 93711, (209) 435-3527.
Psychology Press/Holistic Educaton Press, P.O. Box 328, Brandon, VT 05733-0328, (800) 639-4122.
Ryan Consulting Video Production, 5 Hibernia Rd., Rockaway, NJ 07866, (201) 625-5804.
Turner Photographics, 2414 C St., Bellingham, WA 98225-3702, (360) 671-6851.