From the January 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

There's a warning on kids' video games that reads: "While watching certain images, you may experience dizziness, motion sickness or nausea." The grown-ups' version of digital fun, the World Wide Web, should also come with a warning: "While waiting for images to load, some viewers may experience impatience, frustration or distress." And flashing on every home page should be the caution: "The links on this page may cause some viewers to suffer from indecision, uncertainty or vacillation."

Because your home page is your e-commerce storefront, it has to be welcoming and inviting. That means fast load times and easy site navigation. But how many times have you reorganized your pencil tray, gone to the fridge or taken a bathroom break while waiting for all those images to squeeze through the phone cord and onto your screen? Despite the supposed "Star Trek" speed of today's modems, graphic links and other images still take their sweet time popping up. Take a good look at your Web site's first impression, and be sure it's not such a laggard that it's turning people off.

That's my message to Chad Tackett, a personal trainer in Portland, Oregon, who wrote recently. Tackett operates a pay-to-view Web site called Global Health & Fitness (http://www.global-fitness.com) that offers counseling on weight loss and cardiovascular health to some 5,000 online members. He wants to draw more people to his site and wonders if there might be a quick fix. The answer is yes--and no. Tackett can quickly make his site more inviting with a home-page makeover, but publicizing it will take more time.

Before:

This home page has a lot going on--but that may be its problem, says a Web-design expert.

1. Having several links to choose from is desirable, but offering too many choices can overwhelm visitors and may promote indecision.
Also, with 25 graphic links of type, load time increases substantially. This may turn off visitors who want quick results.







After:

Still attractively presented, this streamlined version offers fewer choices and allows for a faster load time.

1. This two-tiered headline offers the company's core message and is animated to grab attention.

2. The testimonial offers quick credibility to this unique method of staying fit.

3. The links are now pared down to four and are in plain text for faster loading.




Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Ad Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail him at Jerry228@aol.com

Pointers From A Pro

Since I'm an avowed techno-twinkie who knows little about the world of HTML code, CGI scripts and the like, I sought help from one who wields these Web tools for a living. I've asked expert Web designer Bill Blinn (bill@blinn.com) to offer Tackett some professional advice on how to improve his site. Blinn runs his own Web site design firm in Worthington, Ohio; is the technology editor for a Columbus, Ohio, radio station; and, for the past three years, has been a Web site design instructor at the annual CorelWORLD conference in San Diego. Here, in Blinn's own words, are his suggestions for http://www.global-fitness.com :

"Except for the home page, I like the overall design of the Global Health & Fitness site. But clutter and confusion at the front door may drive some visitors away. Twenty-five graphic links make it hard to decide where to go. These links and a scrolling message box also make for a slow loading process. On a 28.8K connection (the modem speed most people use), this site displays some text in 10 seconds, but the scrolling message takes 30 seconds to load, and the various link graphics didn't fill my 17-inch screen until my stopwatch read 1:00:96. No home page should ever take a minute to load--period. Half that is too long, too, but it's easy for designers to make that mistake in their quest for home page pyrotechnics.

"The problem is, the attention span of the typical Web user can be measured in nanoseconds, so many will leave a site that makes them wait a full minute. Never use slow-loading graphic links, like those in Global Fitness' left and right panels, when you can offer a fast-loading text link. The middle text panel also needs pruning to help it run faster. The persistent visitor who drills down into this site will learn this is a place for people who want to lose weight but don't like diets and people who want to be fit but are turned off by strenuous exercise. Wow! Let's get that concept in an animated marquee at the top.

"I'd also dump the scrolling text. It talks about a free vacation, but this is not what the site is selling. No matter how good the freebie is, it won't help if you don't interest buyers in your primary product or service. Scrolling text also presents three additional problems: it's hard to read, it lengthens the load time and some browsers can't display it.

"Another general rule: Give visitors no more than six choices on the home page. Organizing links into just a few major topics, as I did on the Global Fitness home page, lets us put them on one side of the screen and eliminates indecision. By tossing out 27 nonessential graphics (each using about 2,500 bytes), we save 67KB. That's not much for someone with a fast connection, but as I noted earlier, most users still connect at 28.8K. Some even still have 14.4K modems. We can use the saved bytes to create an animated GIF of the two key lines: "You can lose weight . . . Even if diets don't work for you!" and "You can have a healthy body . . . Even if you don't like exercise!"

"Also, let's cut the URL under the logo. Anyone who's looking at your site already knows your URL. The site uses Apple's QuickTime plug-in for some displays. Will the people visiting the site understand how to obtain and install the plug-in? And will their browsers support it? As you can see, I believe in simplicity combined with a little flash.

"After making the changes, I uploaded the file and connected to it via a standard modem. Load time for the whole page: eight seconds."

Thanks, Bill. Chad Tackett now has some new ways to spruce up his cyber health club. But how does he get people to log on in the first place?

Every online storekeeper, including Tackett, wants to know how to lure more people to his or her Web site. Many experts would suggest establishing a link to the major search engines (Excite, Yahoo!, etc.) that help people find information on specific subjects. That's one good method. But another is to make a case through traditional media for getting fitness help online. After all, this is still a very new idea for the sweatsuited among us.

Pioneering online bookseller Amazon.com. is a case in point. I first heard references to Amazon in news stories that introduced this new concept of buying books. They made me want to access the site. This should be Tackett's immediate goal. He should e-mail press releases to physical fitness publications and get interviewed. Perhaps he can develop a member-for-a-day offer to lure in prospects. There's a vast audience of health enthusiasts always awaiting news of a better way.