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By Art Glick

Home on the Web - Part IV

(The most common blunders committed when creating a Web Page - Part 2)

(Originally Published in December, 1998)

In the previous installment, I warned you about some of the common mistakes made that pertain to graphics on web pages. In this final part of the series, we take a look at some other easy ways to make certain that people enjoy their visit to your site.

FRAMES - Okay, so maybe this isn't necessarily a mistake. I wish I could say that frames were as useless as animated graphics, but I really can't. I just wish that today's browsers could handle them more elegantly.

Frames can serve well as "Tables of Contents" for your site, but they are a mixed blessing. Have you ever noticed that once you arrive at a framed page, navigation actually becomes more difficult? The "Back" and "Forward" buttons in your browser cease to work properly (although, with most versions of Netscape, you can right click in any frame to achieve this goal), and it becomes more difficult or nearly impossible to bookmark a particular part of the site.

Additionally, space on your screen is at a premium, so dividing this small space up into even smaller areas can result in none being adequately sized. It also becomes more difficult to design your page accounting for various screen resolutions and browser types if it has frames (see below).

In the final analysis, if you decide that your page would gain great benefits from frames, you should at least maintain a frameless clone of the site. Although this means almost double the design and maintenance duties, you may be surprised by how many users will select the [no frames] link. It's the first link that I always select.

ACCOUNT FOR AT LEAST THE TWO MOST POPULAR SCREEN RESOLUTIONS - These are 640 x 480 and 800 x 600, and I would guess that ninety eight percent of computer users operate at one of these two screen resolutions. However, their use is probably evenly divided between the two, and a page designed solely for one of these screen resolutions might look profoundly different at the other resolution.

If you are designing web pages, get familiar with how to switch between 640 x 480 and 800 x 600 on your own system, and make sure to check your layout in both resolutions.

ACCOUNT FOR AT LEAST THE TWO MOST POPULAR BROWSERS - Unless you've been living in a cave or lost at sea, you should know that these two browsers are Netscape and Internet Explorer, with the former tenously hanging on to the lead as most popular in the face of megacorporation Microsoft.

Only a very small percentage of Internet users use any other browser, so you may decide that it's only worth checking your work with these two. If other browsers are a concern to you, then should you avoid frames and animated graphics. In fact, if you were considering anything but a solid colored background for your site (such as a tiled graphic), you should know that these have also been known to cause problems with certain obscure browsers (such as the proprietary ones used by services like Compuserve).

Even with just the two most popular browsers and screen resolutions the work can be compounded, since earliest versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape are profoundly different than the latest versions, and you can not depend upon the typical user to upgrade their browser software on a regular basis. In fact, many ISP's and program bundlers still provide these earlier versions of browser software to this day.

So, at least check your work with Internet Explorer and Netscape before you put it where other people can see it.

PAY ATTENTION TO PROPER ALIGNMENT, SPACING AND COLOR - What would you think if someone handed you a brochure with lopsided spacing and alignment? Why then is it acceptable for a Web Site? It often amazes me that so few Webmasters have a sense for the basic rules of layout.

Poor spacing and alignment of graphics and text is often a result of the page being designed for a different screen resolution (or as a result of an ill advised attempt at frames), but I've seen pages that had a poor layout no matter how they were viewed. I believe that the layout of any Web Site should at least be as good as what would be expected from a printed brochure.

And for goodness sakes, please use sensible colors for your text and background. White text on a gray background just doesn't make it. I've gone blind trying to read some web pages, and it makes me wonder if some people even bother to LOOK at what they've done before they place their work on the server. Yellow is NEVER a suitable typeface color!

AVOID JAVA SCRIPT - Problems with Java script now seem to be the most prevalent. Many people consider the use of Java as essential to their web design. It's not a matter of simply enhancing the site visually. Despite some abuse, Java script presents the opportunity to conduct many processes that are genuinely useful to electronic commerce.

The trouble with Java script is that it doesn't work too well, and the reason that it doesn't is because it's too browser specific. It's not supposed to be, but it is. You should stick to a standard server CGI language like Perl.

You can do anything with Perl that you can with Java, but the difference is that your Perl script will run on the server. Get it working on your own system, and you're pretty much guaranteed it will work everywhere. Java runs on the client, that is, each individual machine that connects to the site. Even if it runs with one particular browser, you're pretty much guaranteed that there will be those in common use on which it won't run.

PROMOTE YOUR SITE PROPERLY - "Indexing" refers to listing your site at the various Search Engines that people use to browse the World Wide Web. Although you may be aware of the need for this, you may not be so aware of its utmost importance or what is involved.

No matter how well you design your site, if people can't find it, then you won't sell a thing. In contrast, even a poorly designed site will attract some business if it is at least properly indexed. With both proper design and indexing, your success is guaranteed.

Although I offer indexing services along with web design services, it is something that just about any computer user can do, so I usually instead provide instruction and guidance on the task, and I encourage my clients to do it themselves (unless they just do not have the time).

There are now well over 1,000 indices and search engines that will add your site for free, and many of these are probably applicable to your business. It is true that there are services that use "robots" and will offer to index your site for a fee. They tout something like "500 sites for $59.95", and they sound like a good deal at first.

However, many indices no longer accept such bulk submissions or relegate them to a lower priority, and because of the differences in submission methods, it is my belief that these robots do not do as good a job as you could by going to each site individually and manually adding your URL, providing that you have the time to devote to this important task.

Furthermore, few of these services even bother to address users groups, which are another excellent way to get the word out about your products or services.

Finally, BEFORE you set out to index your site, pay particular attention to the META TAGS (such as "title", "description" and "keywords") on your page. The composition of these is critical to your site being found, regardless of how well it is indexed.

Once you have your Web Site just the way that you want it, and you've got all the tags set properly, if you intend to do your own indexing, you should look for a site that offers links to the submission pages of the most popular search engines. There are several, and they change from time to time, but they are always a time saver.

Make sure to keep hard copy records of each Search Engine site to which you index your site, and be prepared to find yourself automatically added to various engines' e-mail lists. You may want to cancel your "subscriptions" to these lists as confirmations of your indexing start to fill your box, unless you just love to get unsolicited e-mail. Mostly, these "newsletters", as they're often called, are nothing more than self-serving attempts to get you to pay for services you don't need.

Since all the biggest Search Engines will list your URL for free, I normally recommend against any Search Engine which requests payment to list your site.

Once you've indexed your site, be prepared to wait at least a few weeks for each index to add your site to their database. Don't be satisfied with a single submission either. I've seen people saying that you should submit to each big search engine as often as monthly to stay high in the listings.

This seems like a bit much to me, but you probably still want to submit at least once or twice per year to keep your ranking fresh.

CLEAN UP YOUR HTML CODE - Do yourself a favor and visit one of the HTML Doctor sites such as "Doctor HTML". These sites will identify more errors on your pages than I have mentioned above, and they will even check any links on your page, identifying those links that might be slow or dead. Often, you can have syntax errors on your pages (such as missing closing tags) that might not be apparent now, but are likely to crop up as problems when the page is changed.

I hope that the above gives all you budding Webmasters out there something to think about, and I look forward to providing competent Web Design services to those companies interested in such services. I am certain that I can help to improve the success of your business whether or not you already enjoy a presence on the Internet.

Please feel free to call or e-mail with your requests, comments and suggestions.

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