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How *Not* To Design A Webpage!

So you're new to the Web. You've heard about this "designing a webpage" idea, and it sounds like fun. Your Internet-geek friend told you that it was "dead simple" to design webpages. So you thought "Sure, I can do it". And you're right, you can... but here are a few "design faults" that most beginners make (I know I did). Your pages will look ten times more professional if you avoid all of these pitfalls...

1: No "under construction" signs. Yes, I had one of these on my first-ever page back when the Internet was in the equivalent of the Stone Age. And, yes, I thought it looked great! It even had a little figure digging inside a yellow triangle similar to a roadsign.

This one image will single you out as an Internet-newbie. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, *all* pages on the Web are "under construction". Some may be nearer completion than others, and some will only be adding some regular updates, but if the page is never updated it is *dead*. There's nothing worse than seeing "200 visitors since April 1997", you wonder why on Earth the page is still there! So, lose the "under construction" sign, it's simply a "given" on the Internet.

2: No broken images. If you check your pages before submitting to the Search Engines or Award Sites then you will be able to see that your images work properly. But *don't* believe what you see!

It is possible that you are seeing images in your "cache" (the area of your hard drive where recently-downloaded Internet images are stored for quick retrieval). Ask a friend to take a look and check that all the images are OK. If you can, check for yourself from another computer, preferrably one running a different Operating System (Mac vs Windows vs Linux) and Browsers (Netscape vs Microsoft Internet Explorer vs Opera). It's amazing how different webpages can look through another computer!

3: Don't put everything in "one big table". I made this mistake, big time. I thought it was the best way to control page layout and I am still stuck with the "one big table" problem because I have such a big site, changing every page is a huge undertaking and I simply don't have the time to do it! So, if you are just starting to build a page or a site, you have the advantage of starting from scratch.

Don't use one big table because, guess what, the friendly browser will not show any part of the page until it had loaded *everything* and closed that one big table! Your friendly surfer is sitting there thinking "Why am I looking at this blank screen for days!" and will promptly hit the back button and find somewhere else to go!

Try designing your pages using several smaller tables or, if you're already stuck, like me, put another table above your "one big table" with a few words which describe your site. At least then your visitor has something to read whilst the rest of the page loads.

4: Don't link "out" unless you *want* your visitors to leave! I remember doing this just because I thought that creating links was "cool". I had as many as I could find to anyone who asked (or even if they didn't!). I just had links everywhere! All this does is gives your visitors many, many chances to leave.

Maybe this isn't important if you don't want to sell them anything, or don't want them to see all your other useful pages. But if you want them to stay, then be very careful who you link to.

For instance, people put "best viewed with {Netscape or MSIE or both}" with a link and a nice animated logo. Why? Do you think Microsoft or Netscape need the exposure? Do you think Netscape or Microsoft will return the favour? These kinds of external links soon disappear from all but the amateur pages on the Net. See the next reason for removing them too...

5: Keep your load time down! This is important because a page that doesn't load in under 10 seconds is running the risk of the visitor giving up and going elsewhere. Until everyone has high speed connections to the Internet, keeping your page load time to a minimum is one of the best things you can do to keep your visitor happy. This extends to keeping all of your graphics optimised for small size. See the tool at http://www.netmechanic.com for help with this.
 
Also, if you have hundreds of banners, lose them! They only increase download time and frustrate the visitors you are aiming to please! Another good reason, which relates to number 4 is that unless you have all the graphics on your server you have to make a connection to another server to retrieve the graphic. For example, with the "best viewed with {Netscape or MSIE or both}" situation not only is it a point where your visitor can leave, it is also a connection to another server to retrieve a graphic.

Each connection to another server adds approximately two seconds to the download time (this is not counting the actual graphic size). You think two seconds isn't much? How about ten such graphics per page, or a total of 20 seconds? When you consider Yahoo loads in about 8 seconds, you are talking a lot of extra time for each link to another server. Be aggressive in asking yourself "Do I *need* this graphic?" and, if yes, "How can I minimise the file size?"

6: Awards. Unless these are top-of-the-line, high-caliber awards such as "Lycos Top 5%" or "Starting Point Site of the Day" then *no-one cares*. All you are doing is adding yet another link to someone else and another server connection to download the graphic. 

Awards are basically self-serving anyway, all they do is add another link to the award-giving page and increase their traffic. If you do have to put up an award, make sure it really is prestigious, make sure the site giving the award links back to you and copy the graphic to your server space to avoid the additional "server call".

7: Animation. Yes, it catches the eye. It also annoys if your eyes are constantly distracted by it! Most people *will* see the animation and if it's also a link out of your site, that's bad news for you...there goes another visitor!

If the visitor wants to stay, and there's no way to turn off the animation you will annoy them by having it on the page. Either way, you, and your visitor lose. Keep animation to very small, discrete movements if you have to have it at all. This also applies to the "blink" tag in webpages. If used sparingly it can be effective, but if you go overboard you will alienate your vistors.
 
8: Hit counters. Simply, *no one* cares if you've had 16 hits. Most of them were you anyway, right! Find a way to analyse your "hits" which is invisible to your visitor, it's much more professional (I use http://www.stattrax.com).  You don't see IBM displaying a hit counter do you? And at all costs, do not use a counter which requires you to display a banner for them in exchange, you will just increase your download time, create another server call and potentially lose the visitor who just added one to your counter!

9: Spelling errors. Yes, it's just sloppy. If you can't be bothered to proof read your site and check for errors, why should your visitor read it? Check your site several times, yourself. Spell checkers are not foolproof.

In this document I wrote "hot counters", guess how many spellcheckers would have thought "hot, that's OK"! Ask a friend too, because it is very easy to overlook an error if you wrote it because you know what you *meant* to write!

10: Guestbooks. In the dim and distant history of the Internet (1997 I think it was) people signed guestbooks just because they were there. Now people don't. They don't have the time, they don't want to be spammed and they *just* don't have the time! If people want to reach you, let them use a feedback form. It's much more professional and you're much more likely to read it!

This article was written by Neil Shearing, webmaster at http://www.scamfreezone.com/
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