Almost Heaven Electronics' - Web Blunders

Art Glick dba
Almost Heaven Electronics

...a full service Reseller and Systems Integrator offering
All brands of computer hardware and software,
custom programming, data conversion,
technical writing services and, of course, no-nonsense Web design.


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THE MOST COMMON BLUNDERS COMMITTED BY BUDDING WEBMASTERS

First, I must preface this treatise by differentiating between personal Web Sites and those intended for the purposes of conducting business. As you read my rantings below, please keep in mind that it all mostly applies to commercial Web Sites.

Aside from wasting precious Internet bandwidth, I have no problems with whatever nonsense someone might want to put on their personal pages. My beef is with those so-called professional Web Sites that just make me want to hit the "Stop" button.

Most Webmasters haven't a clue of what it takes to successfully present a business on the Internet. They may understand how to make your company's logo dance about the screen, but they have no idea of why the logo is even important to your sales.

A poorly tendered page will obscure your company's message, which is the purpose of your Internet exposure. The typical Webmaster is often more concerned with "showing off". Most can barely spell, let alone write effective advertising copy.

As a service to the entire Internet community then, I present an outline of what is considered the most common blunders committed by those that would consider themselves Webmasters. These are not necessarily just my own views. I've seen these sentiments echoed among many others willing to give some thought to what passes across their screen as they browse the Web.



Those errors that are greatest in quantity and most profound in effect seem to pertain to graphics, so let's consider these first...


UNSIZED GRAPHICS - Ever wonder why sometimes you go to a page (for the first time), and you find yourself staring at a blank screen for several minutes? You may have thought that the Internet or particular server was just "slow", but it was probably due to "unsized" graphics.

Budding Webmasters take note that every graphic tag should always have HEIGHT and WIDTH parameters specified. This permits browsing software to display the text of a document first, before the graphics have downloaded. It allows visitors to your site to page down through your message while they're waiting for your graphics to come onto the screen.

The sites where I see this rule ignored often amaze me. Fortune 500 companies have paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their sites designed by Webmasters that are not aware of this simple technique. Even the so-called HTML generators built into the office suite software on the market today will commit this gaff unless it is intentionally avoided. An HTML generator can't be any better than the programmers that created it.


OVERLY LARGE GRAPHICS - Everyone knows about this one. You just don't want to put a quarter megabyte graphic on a regular page, even if the graphic is sized. It's piggish to even do so, and if you are trying to sell a product, you run the risk of having a potential customer become impatient and leave your site before you've even had the chance to deliver your message. If you want to make large graphics available to visitors to your site, at least put them off to the side, so that someone will know what to expect, and you won't waste the bandwidth unless the person is actually interested in the graphic.

You can place a "thumbnail" of the graphic on a page with other information, and you can have this thumbnail linked to the full size graphic (a technique quite common), but be sure to scale your graphic to make your thumbnail. Specifying, for example, a height and width of 72 x 72 will make the graphic 1" square on the screen, but if the resolution of the graphic is actually 720 x 720, it will still take up to 100 times longer to download!

Therefore, when creating thumbnails, use your favorite imaging software and scale the graphic to the actual size that you will be using to place it on your page. The Height and Width specified in the image tag SHOULD ALWAYS MATCH the actual dimensions of the graphic (in pixels)!


UNCAPTIONED GRAPHICS - The caption that I refer to here is not the one that people would normally see displayed underneath the picture. This caption is the one specified as a parameter in the graphic tag, and it applies only to those people who come to your site with graphics turned "off".

I've gone to many sites (without graphics turned "on"), only to see a handful of those nondescript boxes scattered across the page. Since all the text on the page was part of a graphical image, and none of these images had tag captions, there was not a single word on the page!

Tag captions are displayed in later versions of browser software as the mouse cursor hovers over the picture, and in earlier versions when a person has their browser's graphics setting to "off". The caption can be an excellent sales tool for newer browser software and gives visitors with older browser software the opportunity to decide which if any pictures they'd like to see.


ANIMATED GRAPHICS - Animated graphics are never more than "cute", and I have NEVER seen a commercial Web Site where they served the purpose of selling a product or service. In fact, in many cases they clearly have the exact opposite effect.

Every so-called Webmaster that considers animated graphics of any use should be sentenced to run on a 486 with a 14.4 modem (or even a 28.8) for a week. Even a modest sized animated graphic can wreak havoc on an underpowered system. The animated graphic can actually hang a system lacking adequate resources so badly that it prevents the rest of the page from downloading! If that's not interfering with your message, then I don't know what is.

If you sell caviar, diamonds or Ferraris, maybe this doesn't matter to you. Any of your potential customers are bound to own state-of-the-art systems. Otherwise, by including an animated graphic on your Web Site, you immediately eliminate a certain portion of your market.


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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Please feel free to drop us an e-mail with your thoughts.



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Art Glick dba Almost Heaven Electronics
638 Glicks Road
Renick WV 24966
Telephone : 304-645-2310
E-mail : omb00900@mail.wvnet.edu



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