WEB PAGE DESIGN,
CONSTRUCTION and MAINTENANCE
When I originally wrote this article in
1998, professionals in the industry
were claiming that the personal and business presence on the internet would increase
by ten times, from 7 to 70 million, within the next two years
and that annual internet sales will reach $1.5 trillion.
Today, without following up on these statistics, there is no doubt in my mind
that this has happened and the trend will continue for some time to come.
must gain a web surfers attention within the first ten seconds or they
Many people and businesses
don't want to get left behind as a result of the technological advances. They
understand that others are already capitalizing on an internet presence
but are intimidated by the World Wide Web and don't know how it works or
where to begin. A search of the Edmonton area for web page
designers will reveal an array of hi-tech companies with an amazing talent
to produce those pretty sites that load annoyingly slow. Unless the average
consumer has upgraded every few months to acquire the computer capacities
necessary to read these web pages, these slow loading speeds simply encourage
them to surf on to a simpler site. It is widely suspected, if not
proven, that if you must gain a web surfers attention within the first
ten seconds or they will disappear from your site into cyberspace.
Much of this philosophy is demonstrated through the popularity of the of
simple, easy to maneuver E-Commerce sites developed by companies,
like E-bay, that trade on the stock exchange every day.
Even in today's market, where
web page designers are at a premium, buying or acquiring the necessary
knowledge to get your web page on the World Wide Web need not be complicated
or expensive, This is my effort to give you my birds eye view, in
layman terms, of how everything works and what you need to know to gain
an effective internet presence. Much of this information relates
to internet action in the
Province of Alberta but can be interpolate
to fit anywhere.
TO GETTING YOUR PAGE ONTO THE WEB
works like this:
internet and its' special computer language were developed by the U.S.
Pentagon to allow military staff to communicate using computers.
Anybody can learn to write this special HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language)
computer language using a text editor (such as Note Pad or Word
Pad) that is usually included in your computer purchase. To experienced
computer users and programmers,
text (also called ASCII) is more
than just a term to define "words" or letters of the alphabet. It
is through writing text, using letters, numbers and the other keys on a
computer keyboard, that instructions are transferred and converted to the
machine language that computers understand. HTML is simply text that has
been put together in the sequences that allow internet browsers, such as
Internet Explorer or Netscape, to display data on your screen properly.
the past ten years, a number of shortcut programs have been developed
to eliminate the need to actually learn HTML. Some of the more sophisticated
programs will cost a few dollars to acquire but others, like Netscape's
"Mozilla" composer program, are free. These programs set up the basic web page
that can be read by the internet (headers and meta tags) and allow you to place
text and pictures where you want them to appear on the computer screen. They are
not that difficult to use. Other more sophisticated programs allow you to
add sound, picture movement and special tasks that normally would require a
programmer. Many of these, although nice, are programs that slow down the speed
of your web page so that anyone with an older (slow) computer and modem is
eliminated from visiting your site. These programs should only be used if
the audience that you wish to attract are hi-tech! If you have the desire
and time, there are hundreds of free web pages on the internet that are devoted
to helping you learn how to write HTML.
or not you choose to write your HTML the hard way or grab one of these
shortcut programs, your web pages are developed on your own local computer.
When you get your web pages interacting properly, you will have to upload
them to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) where they are stored on a (usually)
large mainframe computer connected to the internet. (If you care
to become an ISP yourself, this can be arranged with your telephone company,
but be aware that it will take a lot of desire and bucks to go this route.)
Your ISP will only allow access to your files through a special password
set up between you and them.
own graphics are important on the internet. You may need to learn
how to make your own graphics or hire a specialist to help you.
following are things to consider:
Seek out an Internet
Service Provider (ISP) such as Telus
telephone, Shaw television cable or other
services in your area who will offer the most attractive amount of "server"
(usually ten or more megabytes) space on their large mainframe computer
as part of your overall service contract with them. (Try to get service
within your local telephone area to avoid long distance charges.) It should
be noted that there are locations, such as Homestead.com
or Angelfire (Lycos), that will
host your web page at no cost or with a proviso that you allow their link
to prominently appear on your web page. Our website,
makes use of a domain forwarding service to link to web space already paid for
in our ISP contract. In this way we have a registered website identity on the
internet but avoid paying for commercial website space. The cost is
relatively small for this service and includes your website name registered
internet name (URL), ideal for the hobby website enthusiast. To learn more about
this, continue reading then click on the HOVER icon at
the bottom of this page.
Develop a clear idea
of what you want on your internet page. You can do almost everything
from setting up a direct ordering (on-line "ecommerce") system, with pictures and
credit card approval partners (contractors) to simply leaving contact numbers
and addresses on the internet. This phase is very important because, the
more time spent by the contractor defining your internet page, the more
it will cost. Pages on the internet vary dramatically, from those
that require a programmer's knowledge of data base, java or special programs
developed for the Web, to those that employ a few simple graphics and,
maybe, a form. Have a clear purpose in mind and prepare to explain it to
your web page developer!
In the past few years it
has become more prudent for small entrepreneurs to contract with a company,such
as PayPal, that allows you to
register and create an online shop at their website. These companies, all
configured differently, may offer your customers a "shopping cart" and/or
payment and shipping alternatives. There are a number of these portals available
that can be found through an internet search. You will have to determine which
one best fits your business requirements.
Get a registered internet
name. Pick a name that is unique and that people will remember because
the greatest challenge on the internet today is to gain recognition. The
Engine (see 8. below) industry is scrambling to find ways to simplify
the way that people can find things on the World Wide Web (www). You can
imagine the size that the telephone Yellow Pages would have to be to accommodate
all of the business and personal web pages that are currently on the www!
If you don't want
to register a .com, .net or .org name yourself, your contracted
web designer may do that for you within the contract. This can take a large
amount of time when considering that 7 million names were already registered
when this web site was constructed in 1998. This number is considerably
higher now. Registration costs vary from as low as $8.75 Canadian.
To register yourself, go to Cheap-Domainregistration.com.
Please note that there are other companies that will register your internet
name, perhaps at a cheaper price but usually with a catch. Check these
out. Their conditions may be acceptable to you.
There are also country
code top level domain names available such as .ca, ab.ca or
edmonton.ab.ca. There is a concern that some search engines do not
detect these as well. If interested in a country code (first, second or
third level domain names) you can check for details at
Get an FTP (File Transfer
Protocol) program if you plan to build and/or maintain your own net
page. There are a number of these programs available for free on the internet
or from your ISP. You may want to pay a small price for one of the
fancier ones or, better yet if you have a newer operating system on your
computer like Windows XP, use the built in transfer protocols. They all work fairly well. You will need an FTP program
to upload the web page documents, that you have developed on your personal
computer, to the file space allocated to you on the ISP main frame (server)
computer. Your ISP will provide you a password and tell you how to
get to it.
Design your graphics,
such as your company icon, and save them on a floppy disk if you can.
Although your web page designer may also be able to design your graphics,
it is not usually considered part of the contract and, at hourly rates,
can add a considerable amount to the price of your web page. Scanning an
icon off of a business card is not unusual but, in most cases, the scanned
image requires touch up and conversion to be adapted to the internet. This
can involve many hours of work.
Consider web page design
formats. The design that you chose will impact the speed that your
internet page will load to the viewer. Most new computers come with
a 56k (per second) or high speed broadband modem installed but many people are still using slower
modems. Depending on your target audience, your web page should be designed
to accommodate the slowest modem speed used by the internet public.
DSL (digital telephone) and cable internet services are very fast and can
accommodate the latest in internet technologies but in many areas these high
speed services are not available and even if they were, lets face it, most
people have not been able to keep up with the advances in computers, internet
services or fancy video and audio add-ons. The largest successful
e-commerce web sites recognize that simple is better. If you have
a small internet usage and are willing to take the time to appreciate technological
artwork, then go ahead and use the fancy stuff.
Define a good verbal
description of the purpose of your web site
that people would normally use to find your web site while doing a search.
Your description and keywords appear as dominant features in the HTML (Hyper
Text Markup Language) documentation that forms the basis of each internet
web page. These are the important words that you must include in your HTML
document to describe your web page to the internet public. A good tactic
is to find out what key words are being used by the most popular but similar
web pages ... then add any new key words that they may have missed.
In most instances, you can do this by viewing the Page Source of
these web sites using your browser capabilities.
It should be noted that Google, now the
largest and likely the most important search facility on the internet, has
downgraded the importance of keywords in the meta tag section (the first
part that is not visible to the public) of your web page. Instead they
concentrate on the website description being found within the body of each page.
It is suggested that, to accommodate Google, these "keywords" should appear
within the main text of your home (index) page. Never-the-less placing good
keywords within the meta tag section of your web pages remains important to
other search engines and are still used, to a lesser degree, by Google.
Contact the web search
such as Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, Yahoo, Google, Lycos, Netscape, MicroSoft
Network (MSN), etc. to let everyone know that you have a presence on the
internet. (Check the very informative CNET web site for results of their
survey of the top
search sites on the internet.) You may also want to list with some
of the topic specific search sites that spotlight your particular interest,
such as Cooking.com or SportSearch.com. These companies usually have a
URL button that you can click on to submit your web page description
It takes up to six weeks
to get listed with a search engine and, once listed, priority may be established
by how often that you submit or by the number of hits you get.
All search engines have their own idiosyncrasies and many have changed
the way that they work over the last couple of years. Your options
are to keep up with their rules or dump them, depending on how important
the search engine is to you.
web surfers only look at the top ten on the search engine list and 7% search
to the third page of the listings!
Although getting listed on
the top seven or eight search engines is your prime target, there are companies
that will contract to update your internet presence on over 800 search
engines on a regular basis for a price. Others do it free providing that
you sign up for their other services or will provide a link if you reciprocate
with a link to their page. Maintaining a top spot with the most popular
search engines is very time consuming but necessary and should be done
every 2 to 3 months at the minimum. It should be noted that most
web surfers only look at the top ten of the search engine listings and
only about 7% continue the search through to the third page.
Browse the internet for
valuable links. Probably more important than search engines to
your internet presence are links to sites that compliment yours.
For example, if you are in the RV sales business, links to and from travel
club web pages work very well for both interests. Contact these sites
and ask for a reciprocal link. Most other sites appreciate the bond,
since your exposure goals are the same. Your customers and readers want
all of the "dope" and would rather see you provide access to your
opposition's information than have to search for it elsewhere. If
you have a good product or subject, they will hit the Back button.
Track the success of
your internet presence with a statistics package. Find out where people
are coming from and how they are leaving your site. Find out what
areas of your site are the most popular. Have the statistics sent
right to your home or office and use these statistics to your advantage!
For example, I found that most of the "hits" for the Boondocking Guide
were coming from the United States, as well as overseas, even though our
web page would be most beneficial to Canadians traveling south. Steps
were taken to correct this! Again, there are free or commercial services
available to do this for you. Free services may require that you provide
an advertising icon on your page to link to their web site. Your
web page designer can usually do this for you if you include it in a maintenance
Train, teach yourself
or contract a maintenance person to update your web page content on
a regular basis. One of the most important goals of web site ownership
is to enticing people to come back to see what's new. Think of it as an
on going advertising campaign, even if it is just your personal home page.
It should be noted that training to update a site is simple compared to
the design phase. This can be set up in a couple of hours with a person
who has a basic knowledge of computers. Expect to pay for some training
and setup time.
PROS AND CONS OF DO-IT-YOURSELF WEBSITES
The three obvious approaches
to getting your website up and running.
The Do-It-Yourself approach:
Create and maintain your web site yourself by using software such as Microsoft
FrontPage, or Netscape Composer (free) or by writing the HTML directly
using a text editor.
The Half-n-Half approach:
Have someone else create the web site and then do the regular updating
of the site yourself.
The Full Outsourcing
approach: Have someone else create and update the web site.
The strengths and weaknesses
solution because no fees are paid to consultants.
often look amateurish and can turn away customers.
|Can be an enjoyable
and rewarding activity if you are creative and have the time.
often have poor navigation controls. On a well designed site, users
are able to find what they want in seconds. Achieving this can be
||Good PC skills;
e.g. a familiarity with both text and graphics applications.
|You have complete
control over how the web site looks and feels.
||Time must be
spent to acquire suitable software and to learn how to use it.
or a willingness to acquire them.
|There's no chance
of a consultant handing you a site that isn't what you wanted.
||Time must be
spent to learn how to produce effective META tags, compress images, test
browser compatibility, about FTP (File Transfer Protocol) programs, loading
speeds and more if you want the site to perform well.
and page-layout skills.
technical knowledge required.
or learn, some technical skills, but not nearly as many as with the Do-it-Yourself
skills or a willingness to acquire them.
design, page layout and navigation elements are done for you, bypassing
cost may be hundreds of dollars.
to liaise with the consultant about how you want the site to look and what
you want it to achieve.
||A risk of
the consultant not providing the design that you want.
the skills, time and desire to update the site yourself, this is likely the
best trade-off between price, speed and professionality.
likely required to implement major changes or upgrades when necessary.
||A risk of
"breaking" something when updating on your own.
FULL OUTSOURCING APPROACH
to spend time and effort learning technical skills.
to liaise with the consultant about how you want the site to look and what
you want it to achieve.
over the content of the site.
of a professional looking site that navigates easily, loads quickly, is
compatible with all browsers and works well with search engines.
Adopting an appropriate approach
for you can save hundreds of dollars in consultants' fees but will depend
on your skills and free time. Ideally, a site should be designed
in such a way as to allow the owner (or an employee) a free hand in maintaining
the content without further need of a consultant. Of course, if you are
already a very busy over stressed person, bringing in a consultant to design
and maintain the site is probably the answer.
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