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Web Site Planning

No one sets out to win Worst-of-the-Web type honors. Hopefully, this short primer on website planning will keep you from just such a dubious honor. There are three basic reasons a web site is either memorable or forgettable. They are: appearance, navigation, and last but most important, content.

While site design is subjective, careful use of color, images, layout, and navigation can result in a site that pleasing to you and your visitors. And with a web page...

...all the world is your stage!

That's no metaphor either. This site had been visited by people from over 100 different countries before I quit checking such things. That's a worldwide audience, but I dye grass . . . no wait, that was a past life as the Easter Bunny, I meant to say I digress, so let's get back to the topic at hand...

While the appeal of any particular web site design is subjective, there are some basic premises that have broad appeal, if not nearly universal acceptance. Here are the key points to keep in mind:


  1. Use text colors that complement your background color or image, yet provide enough contrast to make reading easy on the eyes. Red text on a green background, for example, is a no-no, even if you're dear old Santa Claus. By the way, if you are Santa, I'd like my home office remodeled for Christmas.
  2. Avoid loud backgrounds. If you have one you really love and must use, use a table with a complementary table background color for the text area. You'll find table tutorials further along in the Web Design Tutorials section.
  3. Don't make your pages more than 4 screens long. If someone has to click the scroll bar more than 4 times to get to the bottom of your page, it's too long. Too long of a page makes it load slower, it may not be completely indexed by search engines, and will look like too much work to read for many of your visitors to bother with.
  4. Don't use too many graphics or too much animation on any one page. Visual clutter detracts from your message and can be confusing and disagreeable to your guest, which will make them leave as fast as they came. Graphics should serve to complement to your content, not as competition with it for your visitors' attention.
  5. Avoid using Java applets on your index page and warn people if a link takes them to a page with Java on it. Java runs off of the viewing computer's memory resources, if it doesn't have enough memory or there are too many programs open using system resources, Java can easily freeze the browser or crash the computer. Folks won't be likely to come back if that happens.
  6. If you use music on your page, there are three courtesies to observe:
    • Many folks surf with their own listening preferences playing. If you don't provide a way to turn it off they will move on because your music and their program will both be playing at once. Ideally, don't autostart your sound file if it's more than a few seconds in length, give your guests the option of playing it.
    • Don't loop music forever. It gets old fast if it's not your taste.
    • Don't put the music reference in the code at the top of your page, especially if it's a large file. If it's downloading ahead of your other page components it can adversely affect your page's load time.
  7. Every page on the Internet is considered a published intellectual work and afforded copyright protection unless it's declared as public domain. Before using graphics, textual content, or anything else from another web site be sure you have permission to use it. It's a lot easier to be caught than you may think, and fines and penalties can be over six-figures!
  8. Never link directly to images or other files on another site with the intent to use them on your site. That means in your emails as well. In addition to the obvious copyright issues, calling files from someone else's web site to be used on your site is bandwidth theft, and it's very much illegal.

    The fines for copyright and bandwidth theft are steep, and it's very easy to be caught. Each server (where web pages are stored) keeps a log of all file accesses. If you link directly to an image on someone elses server, that server records each time the image is called to your page. It's the only evidence needed in a court of law. You can read more about copyrights and bandwidth theft here.

    This doesn't mean you can't provide links to another site as a means of giving someone access to the site. Most everyone appreciates having their site linked to from elsewhere. You can Link to Boogie Jack's, and I do recommend it. It also doesn't mean you can't use content from other sites if you have permission. Sites like YouTube actually encourage it by providing the code to use, and that's perfectly fine in that case.

  9. For pages of mostly text it's considered the "best practice" to stick with a single background color, or at least a very simple background image without a lot of contrasts, or a left border image. Too complicated or detailed of a background image means that at some point the image design usually begins to interfere with the message. If the page isn't easy to read, many won't bother, no matter how appealing the content may be! Black text on a white background is considered the most professional look, and many studies have proven this color combination is the most readable.

If you're just starting out or building a web site just for fun then using images from free graphics archives like mine are perfect for you. The only thing usually required is a link back to the artist's site. Most of the quality free image archives are well known, however, so when you're ready to move into creating a more unique and individualized site you may want to consider alternatives.

You could hire someone to make some professional graphics for you, or buy a graphics program and learn to make your own graphics. I use Corel Photopaint to create graphics from scratch. It's powerful and full of great tools. For many, it's too expensive and very difficult to learn though. I do offer a very easy to use and low cost alternative in my Background Magic software. You can easily create professional quality seamless background images, matching buttons and banners, and more with it.

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