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    Software Tips | Web Design Tips | HTML Tips

    Keep it simple - Not everyone has a high speed link to the internet. Large high resolution graphics take a long time to load. If you use a lot of them, your customers will quickly become tired of waiting and move on without reading your important messages. The general rule is to keep total page size (text plus all extras like graphics and audio) to less than about 50k bytes. With a good connection, this will take 10 to 15 seconds to download with a 28.8k or 33k modem. (Remember that the apparent speed will only be as fast as the slowest link in the chain from them to you).

    Keep the pages short - Large pages of text can take just as long to load as graphics. If you have a lot to say, consider breaking it down into several smaller chunks. The main page can be as simple as an index and introduction, with links to other pages with the details. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for a 200 page catalog to download when all they want is your phone number.

    Organize your pages - If a customer cannot find what they are looking for quickly, they will just as quickly move on. Don't make them go through many levels of menus to find what they are looking for. If you have multiple pages, structure it so that basic information can be obtained easily, and more details are only one click away. If people need to go several levels deep, provide an easy method for them return to your home page in one click.

    Standardize your navigation - Use a consistent structure and placement for your menus and navigation tools. For example, if you use a menu bar across the top of the page, stick to that. Don't all of a sudden switch to one that runs down the side of the page. This will just confuse people. If you rely on image maps for navigation, also include a text option for people who may have turned off images in their browser (many people do this to speed up access), or are using text only browsers.

    Create a "style guide" - Document your choices of fonts, colors, graphics, placement of logos, punctuation, spelling, etc. This will not only give your site a consistent "look and feel", but will help you in the future when adding more pages to a site. It is especially important to have a formal style guide if the site design is a team effort. This will ensure that everyone on the team does things the same way.

    Set a clear goal - New... Is your site primarily to sell a product or service? Provide information? Entertainment? What message do you want to convey to the public? As simple as this sounds, it is important that you keep your motives clear when designing your site. Keep it focused and make sure that the content stays on target.

    Provide an index - If your site contains many pages, organized on several levels, consider providing a simple "site index" page to help in navigation. Make it readily accessible from the home page. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to navigate a site. The index page can be as simple as an alphabetical listing of all the pages on your site. Take a look at our index page.

    Use contrast - Stick to primary colors with lots of contrast between foreground and background. Subtle color shadings may look nice on a high res monitor capable of 16 million colors, but they may produce a blank screen on a monitor with lower color resolution. Also, vision impaired and color blind people may have difficulty with such screens as well. Either way, you may be missing an important segment of your customer base. Consider using the "web safe" palette of 216 colors. These colors will display correctly on virtually all systems. (Also known as the "dither-proof" palette).

    Provide alternative content - Not all browsers and systems are capable of handling frames, tables, audio, video clips, etc. If you have an important message to get across, make sure it can be received by your customers. Audio clips alone will not get your message to a hearing impaired person or even one who does not have a sound card on their PC.

    Use simple language - Your site will be accessible world wide. Some of your potential customers might not be fluent in your language. Keeping the words simple and free of jargon will make it easier for them. If you regularly expect customer visits from many languages, consider translating your page into their language.

    Avoid ambiguity - Remember your international audience. A simple thing like dates can be a big source of confusion. Everyone knows what date 01/02/03 is, right? Trouble is, the answer everyone "knows" is different depending on where you live. In the US the custom is month/day/year so the date would be January 2, 2003. In Canada and many parts of Europe, the custom is day/month/year, so this would be February 1, 2003. To add to the confusion is the growing trend to the international standard of year/month/day which would give February 3, 2001. If it is important, spell it out.

    Provide full contact information - Your customers can't buy if they cannot reach you. Always provide regular postal and telephone information as well as the electronic contact information. If you use an 800, 888 or other toll free number, provide a non-toll free number as well for customers who are outside of your toll free coverage area.

    Be sensitive to other cultures - Unless you are specifically promoting a political or other agenda, don't assume everyone shares your values or sense of humor. Remember, you are on an international stage: humor in one culture may be insulting to another. Ditto for politics, systems of values, religion, and morals.

    Test your pages on different browsers and monitors- Different browsers will display pages slightly differently. What looks good with one browser may look terrible on another, especially if you are relying on precise placement of graphics and text to create an effect. Remember also, that the viewer may have his/her browser configured to use their own default fonts and colors rather than yours. The display resolution of a monitor will also affect how a page looks. As a minimum, you should test with the last 2 to 3 versions of Netscape Navigator/Communicator and MS Internet Explorer. If you have access to different platforms (e.g. Windows vs. Mac), test it on both. You would be surprised by the number of differences between the different platforms. Don't forget some of the smaller players as well, such as Lynx (a text only broswer available for a number of platforms).

    Check your links - If you have links to other pages on your site, or especially to other sites, test them on a regular basis. Remember, you cannot control the content of external links, so check them to see if they still provide the information you want. (The web is constantly changing, so also check them to see if they still work!) On your own pages, check to make sure that all links point to valid pages. (Remember, on some servers the file name is case sensitive. "File1.htm" may be different from "FILE1.HTM".) Make sure that any included files, such as graphics, exist in the proper directory. It is often helpful to sketch out the interconnections between various pages on a piece of paper to help you visualize them.

    Analyze your site logs - Your site logs will tell you where your customers are connecting from, and which pages on your site they are looking at. By knowing who is looking at what, you can design better pages targetted at your audience. If the pages are attracting the "wrong" audience, then perhaps you should change the message. All web page hosting services keep logs. Two types of log files are generally available: "Access" logs, that tell you who visited your page when, and "Referrer" logs, which tell you how they found you (e.g. which search engine and what search string was used). Most services will make your logs available to you or will provide you with an analysis of them.

    Promote your site - Customers will not automatically flock to your site just because it is there. You need to let them know your site exists. Start by registering the site with the major search engines (such as Lycos, Yahoo, Excite, etc.). Don't forget the smaller ones, such as those listed on our links page. If you serve a specific industry, list your site with services catering to that industry, such as trade journals. Most now have listing areas for web sites. Also, don't forget the obvious ways to announce your site, such as listing it on business cards, in media ads, on stationery and in catalogs.

    Help the searchers - Listing your page with a search engine does not mean that people will find you automatically. Will they know what to search for? Will your page be listed if they search for one of your products or services? Different search engines use different methods to index your page. You can control these to some extent using "key words". When you register your page with most search engines, you will be asked to enter a brief description and/or a list of "key words". This description and key word list should be carefully chosen so that it includes the words or phrases that you want people to look for you under. For example, if you are selling widgets, then make sure "widgets" appears in your key word list or description. A person searching for the word "widgets" can then find your site. You can standardize your entries with all of the search engines by using one of the multiple submission forms, such as those on our links page.

    Other search engines rely on special tags inserted into your page header (between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags). These usually take the form of:

      <META Name="description" Content="Herne Data Systems Ltd. is a developer of operating system enhancement and utility shareware as well as custom software for DOS and Windows environments.">

      <META Name="keywords" Content ="Herne_Data_Systems, web page design, custom software">

    Avoid distracting backgrounds - You want people to focus on your message, not what it is printed on. "Busy" backgrounds are also difficult for the vision impaired and color blind. You can make things just as effective visually by using simple colored backgrounds with contrasting colored text.

    Avoid overuse of animation - Again, overuse of animation is very distracting. If you must use animation, try to keep it limited to one or two small animated images per page.

    Avoid overuse of applets and add-ons - Don't rely on the "gee-whiz" features, such as Java applets and JavaScript, as the only way to get your message across. Although most modern browsers support them, many users prefer to disable them. Older browsers may not support them at all. Simple JavaScripts, such as those which display a custom message on the status bar, can be used to provide supplemental information, such as a simple announcement, without distracting from the main page.

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