From the December 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

You think your new Web site is pretty good, right? But with a little tweaking, it could be really good. Run your Web pages through the wringer and tighten up your site. For a ton of handy tips on how to do just that, check out what our Internet experts discovered as they picked apart, piece by piece, a Web site launched by one of our readers. It's the Internet equivalent of taking your car to the garage for a tuneup-and the constructive criticism that results could help a so-so site shine like a star.

Get A Load Of This

For starters, know that first-time visitors notice the time it takes to load the first page. Nothing drives your audience away faster than making them wait around for fat graphics files to show up. The "eight-second rule" isn't a bad idea for a benchmark. Anything slower than that needs some attention. If you're not sure which graphics are the problem children, try using Web Site Garage's GIF Lube tool. The GIF Lube will check your site, compress your images and show you the faster-loading results.

Moving on to the realm of the really obvious, some simple double-checking can save your potential customers from rolling their eyes and saying "Oh, there's a typo" or, "Oh no, not another 404!" SiteOwner.com lets you take on both birds with one Web-based tool, the Spelling & Link Checker. Plug in your URL, and the tool gives back a list of possible misspelled words, as well as broken or missing links on your Web site.

The Pros Speak

Budding online entrepreneur Bill Schmidt approached us about getting a professional critique of his shopping portal, Snapnetworking.com. So we arranged to have Heavrin-Brown Consultants (www.heavrinbrown.com), an Ann Arbor, Michigan, strategic Internet services and Web design firm, critique Schmidt's site. The Heavrin-Brown team approached the site from every design, content and technical angle to advise on a Snapnetworking.com tuneup. Schmidt certainly took their comments to heart-visit his new and improved site to see for yourself.

Here's what the Heavrin-Brown experts had to say:

Overall Content, Flow And Market Appeal

David Heavrin-Brown, owner and co-founder:

1. "There are far too many ads doing far too much animation on the pages. The constant movement detracts from the page content and makes the visitor wonder where the 'real' information is."

2. "The site's global navigation has to remain in a consistent location throughout the site. Visitors should be able to recognize the location of the navigation and should always be able to return to that location, even if using peripheral vision, to move on to their next area of interest."

3. "A site of this magnitude might benefit from a 'framed navigation scheme,' which would allow the site to expand and grow without the need to rework the navigation of all the existing pages."

4. "With regard to market appeal, the site is bright, active and 'snappy.' Users who enjoy this type of movement and animated feel will enjoy using the site as their preferred jumping-off point to the Internet. Yet, users who prefer immediate access to the information they are looking for will not."

Graphic Design And Usability

Doug Heavrin-Brown, co-founder and art director:

1. "It looks like a 'first-generation' site-a first attempt at getting online with the intention of making revisions once the site is in place."

2. "The site needs a more definite and cohesive color palette. The use of red and white should be avoided because of the similarity to the colors of NBC's Snap.com, as well as the similarity in the names of the two sites."

Graphic Arts

Robin Hite, graphic artist:

1. "I'd start with the logo. Right now, it seems to be floating around a sea of other things below it. You could emphasize and anchor it more with a solid, dark-colored bar across the top of the page and the logo in white, with a possible drop shadow behind it."

2. "I kept looking for some sort of tagline or description of what the site was, its purpose, something. Just one line below the logo, such as 'Your guide to . . . ' or 'A shopping site offering . . . ' would help."

3. "The different categories of links all seem laid out in a rather jumbled fashion. Putting thin outlines around each group and a neutral-colored bar in back of just the titles would make them more cohesive and separate. Keep your spacing between all the rest of your listings of links consistent to avoid a chaotic look."

4. "You're using lots of color and movement. While at first this may seem cool to do, it creates an overall carnival effect, which may entice at first but leaves you dizzy and tired after a while and looking for the exit."

HTML

Eric List, HTML programmer and client account representative:

1. "The biggest drawback to the site is the time it takes to load. It took several seconds to load on my cable connection-not good."

2. "The next issue, and perhaps most important to a site like this, is the lack of a search engine."

3. "The ads should be sectioned off in different areas of the page; for example, you should put a couple at the top, a couple halfway down the page, and a few at the bottom of the page."

4. "There are already a large number of portal sites, but the successful few have something that makes them stand out. This site doesn't have any remarkable aspect that lets it compete with the successful sites. The users this site targets remain nebulous. You need to decide who your customers are before you open your store."

Programming

Tobias Walbridge, PERL programmer:

1. "I viewed the source and honestly don't see anything terribly wrong with it. I didn't notice a long load time, and I'm connecting through a telephone line. The site could benefit from incorporating some CSS [cascading style sheet] code to avoid the trouble of typing the FONT tag over and over again, but other than that, everything seems OK."

Project Management

Kimberlee McEachran, project manager and Web site designer:

1. "Size down the fonts and redesign the top logo graphic."

2. "Get rid of the flashing banners. One or two sponsor banners on top or at the bottom is OK."

3. "Work on getting internal pages into a format that is consistent on every page. Currently, each page has its own look and layout. Add a three-column layout (two with links-one with banners or sponsorship). Some pages require scrolling to the right because they extend outside the screen."

Web Site Development

Katherine Tombeau, Web site developer and graphic artist:

1. "Logo: You need to make a transparent background or set the BGCOLOR to be FFFFFF. This is a very chipper font; I like the happy feel to it."

2. "Navigation: It's too Yahoo!. Perhaps it would help to organize things so that it could be customized by the user, or better separated or simplified without extraneous verbiage."

3. "Look and feel: Again, too Yahoo!. Many other portal sites or search engines are changing their look and feel to specialize or to simplify the user's options. Users can usually handle five options, not many more. You want to give the user all the options you have, but perhaps it's better to subcategorize to avoid 'sensory overload.' "

4. "Coding: ALTs should be specified for visually disabled users and users on LYNX, a text-based navigator on Unix machines, which a surprisingly large number of people still use."

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