Secrets of Successful Web Site Design - part 2
The "Secrets of successful web site design" covers the strategy and techniques required for creating a small business site with impact. The first part analyses and prioritises the factors which have to be considered when designing a site, and provides guidelines and tips to help the design process. This, the second part, leads one through implementing a successful web site by example - it employs a "template" with a detailed discussion of the rationale for every component.
In the last part we took a detailed look at some of the most important factors which need to be taken into account in designing a successful web site. I will reiterate for completeness.
I will now look at what this means in detail for the the design of the site. I will concentrate on the entry or home page but most of the points are also relevant to lower level pages. I have put together a "Template" for a simple business site which shows ways of taking the first 7 points into consideration. There are separate pages specifically covering Forms, which are at a lower level, and Counters. The Navigation Links at the left enable you to reach the major sections of the Source Code and match both the main HTML sections and the main contents
The Template makes extensive use of Tables to maintain an attractive layout as screen sizes change and the borders are deliberately shown so you can see the effects of increasing the size of the viewing Window. It is worth opening it now - the Template will open in a separate Window which you can bring back to the foreground as you work through the description which follows. Open Template Window.
Note twenty years on: The design concept in this template was used for my first sites for small businesses ~1999 and was advanced in having an early "responsive" approach to users equipment although the term had not been thought of then. It however can not adapt far enough to handle mobile devices with very small screens with a single template but is left available as it has some interesting ideas as well as historic interest.
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN">
This line is not essential and is seen as a comment by almost everything other than some automatic syntax checkers for HTML. It specifies that tags up to HTML 4.0 Transitional should be accepted - in practice a subset have been used so all 3rd or higher generation Browsers should display everything.
Starts the HEAD block where the TITLE and all the META Tags live
<TITLE>Secrets of successful web site design</TITLE>
This is one of the most important lines of all - this is not only what is displayed in the title line of the Browser but is also used by all Search Engines and has the most highly ranked words in most. It is also displayed in the results of all major Search Engines. It should be about 6 words and contain the official name of a business
<META NAME="description" CONTENT="strategy and techniques for creating a small business site with impact and tips on making sites easily found and user friendly.">
This is also very important as it is displayed by many of the search engines and the words contained in the description are also highly ranked by almost every Search Engine. Keep it short as it will be truncated at only 150 characters in some Search Engine displays of results and make sure your important key words are at the beginning. Avoid repeating the Title as both will be displayed.
<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="web site design, HTML authoring, small businesses, small firms, webmaster">
The last of the important META statements. This allows one to specify extra key words to most Search Engines. It should be less than 1000 characters long and it is worth having some phrases
<META NAME="resource-type" CONTENT="document">
<META NAME="author" CONTENT="Peter Curtis">
<META NAME="distribution" CONTENT="Global">
There are a lot more META Tags which you can put in your template none are very important although Search Engines and Directories may start to use them. I tend to leave them out other than an author or copyright. There are also Meta Tags which specify how a page is indexed to allow you to prevent links being followed or to leave pages out completely which may be useful when you are developing a new section.
Completes the HEAD block
I will first look at what seems very simple - how to display the Heading for the page with a Logo in a way that will adapt to different sizes of Browser Window. If you do not need a Logo or background you could just display a Heading but most small firms will have a logo and want to use it somewhere! We will use a table which is only one row deep but with five columns providing 5 cells. We want it to be the width of the page hence the width="100%" attribute. I do not want to waste width in the cells so the cellspacing and cellpadding attributes are set to 0 (note you need a number inside double quotes to be sure all browsers handle them correctly)
Defines the start of the first (and only) Row and this time no attributes are needed
<TD WIDTH="2%"> &nbsp;</TD>
The first and last cells has a width="2%" which provides a margin which is soft in that browsers will use less than the 2% if it is a small screen and cells with images or text need the space. You must have something in the cell and the NoBreakSPace ( &nbsp; ) is is ideal for an empty cell.
The second cell contains the Logo - if the screen is wide it will occupy 18% - if the screen is small it will be the width of the image. A typical logo image width would be 120 wide which just overfills 18% of a 640 wide screen so the cell will be 120 wide and a little will be taken from the other cells.
<A HREF="econsult.htm"><IMG SRC="gallery/pcurtislogo.jpg" WIDTH="120" HEIGHT="72" BORDER="0" ALT="Consultancy Services available from PCurtis.Com" ALIGN="LEFT" ></A>&nbsp;
Another trick or two here. The Image has been given an ALIGN="LEFT" attribute which means text will wrap round it but the only text is a NoBrakeSPace which gives a single character "padding" but only on the side required to separate it from the next cell. You should always specify the HEIGHT and WIDTH as they speed up the loading and and allow text to be correctly wrapped round before the Image has been downloaded. You will note that the Logo has been made a link to a page - in a real site this would probably be background on the business, here it links to the Consultancy page and the ALT identifies where the link goes.
<TD WIDTH="60%" ALIGN="CENTER">
This is where the Heading for the page sits.
This sets the colour for the Heading. It is best to have a dark colour against a light background in case the visitor has specified the colours for text and you could end up with dark against dark. If you specify a FACE attribute to change the font face then use common ones such as Arial or Times New Roman or specify alternatives in case the visitors machine does not have the fancy font you specify loaded.
<H1>Secrets&nbsp;of&nbsp;successful web site design</H1>
The Heading is another opportunity to improve the ranking by using high importance keywords. It can often be a repeat of the HTML TITLE tag. Note that some of the words have to joined by NoBreakSPaces to ensure that the table element has a sensible minimum width yet enabling a visitor to get an unscrolled display in a 640*480 Window with normal size text. This use of unbreakable words is one of the secrets of designing a page which changes gracefully from 640x480 to at least 1024*768 (14 inch to 19 inch screens) - those using larger screens will probably be using a Window rather than full screen.
<TD WIDTH="18%"> &nbsp;</TD>
A "reserved" cell for a second logo with an ALIGN="RIGHT". If not needed then it can be made to be 20% and the following cell removed.
<TD WIDTH="2%"> &nbsp; </TD>
The right hand margin
So that is the start of the page laid out completely using a Table. When you start off you should set the BORDER attribute to be say 3 so you can see what you are doing - when you are happy set it to 0 you must have the 0 in double quotes ie BORDER="0". Before you set it to zero see how the Heading and Logo adjust as the Browser window is changed in size
The Message must be clear and concise, it only needs to be about 80 words long and to preferably contain the maximum possible number of you Keywords - the first 150-250 characters are most important as they will be used as the site description by some Search Engines.
You may also need some more Navigation on the right for lower level pages as the site grows so we will set up the template with a "reserved cell" ready for when that occurs - you can always delete bits you do not need! Again we will set up "margins" using empty columns but again they can be deleted if you choose to use the whole width.
<TABLE width="100%" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" >
Starts the TABLE with a width of 100% - the border is set to 3 pixels just for setting up
<TD WIDTH="2%" ROWSPAN="2"> &nbsp; </TD>
This is the column for the margin - the ROWSPAN="2" means we do not have to include a matching cell in the next row.
<TD WIDTH="18%"> &nbsp;</TD>
This is the column which will include the Navigation "buttons" in the next row - we set the width at the top to make it easy to understand and to help speed up the browser's rendering <TD WIDTH="73%" ROWSPAN="2">
This is the cell with the critical Introductory Text which again spans both the two rows. The amount of text one should put depends on the number of lines used for Navigation Buttons - it needs to approximately match when the screen size is 800 wide. 50 - 80 words is about right as they can be read in about 10 seconds giving time to hook the visitor whilst any graphics are loading.
<B>The "Secrets of successful web site design" covers the strategy and techniques required for creating a small business site with impact and has tips on making sites easily found and user friendly. It contains a set of guidelines to help the design process and an example "template" with a detailed rationale for every component. </B>
<TD WIDTH="2%" ROWSPAN="2"> &nbsp;</TD>
This is another column spanning the two rows giving a margin before the "reserved column" for a right hand side navigation list.
<TD WIDTH="3%"> &nbsp;</TD>
This is the reserved column for a right hand navigation list which would be in the next row down.
<TD WIDTH="2%" ROWSPAN="2">&nbsp;</TD>
The last of the margins making the table up to 100% (2 + 18 +73 + 2 + 3 + 2)
Ends the first Row
The start of the second row
<TD VALIGN=TOP NOWRAP>
This is the cell with the navigation links - remember that the margin was spanned so this is actually the second cell across. The links are forced to the top of the cell by VALIGN=TOP. The NOWRAP attribute stops the Links wrapping as the screen shrinks - an alternative which is more predictable with older browsers is to use NoBreakSPaces in the longest line as is also done below
<FONT FACE="Arial" >
Changes Font to give a distinctive look to the Links
<IMG SRC="gallery/bullet.jpg" WIDTH="25" HEIGHT="17" ALT="*">&nbsp;<FONT COLOR="#a0a0a0" >home</FONT><BR>
This is a "Grayed Out" Link as we are on the Home Page but want to keep the list identical on each page and also tell the visitor where they are. The bullet at the start of the line is a tiny image file. The surroundings to the ball are in the same basic colour as the background so it blends. You can also use .gif files for the bullets which have a transparent background. The size is specified to speed things up and reserve space as it downloads. The ALT gives an * in case graphics are turned off. If you want a very fast page leave out the graphics and just use a LIST.
<IMG SRC="gallery/bullet.jpg" WIDTH="25" HEIGHT="17" ALT="*">&nbsp;<A HREF="location.htm">location</A><BR>
This time we have a real Link to another page
<IMG SRC="gallery/bullet.jpg" WIDTH="25" HEIGHT="17" ALT="*">&nbsp;<A HREF="contact.htm">contacting&nbsp;us</A>&nbsp;<BR>
<IMG SRC="gallery/bullet.jpg" WIDTH="25" HEIGHT="17" ALT="*">&nbsp;<A HREF="enquiry.htm">enquiry&nbsp;form</A>&nbsp;<BR><BR>
<TD VALIGN=TOP NOWRAP>&nbsp</TD>
This is the cell we have reserved for another right hand set of links. You can leave it set to a narrow width and the Links will open it up.The NOWRAP attribute stops the Links wrapping as the screen shrinks - an alternative which is more predictable with older browsers is to use NoBreakSPaces
<TABLE width="100%" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" >
<TD WIDTH="2%"> &nbsp; </TD>
Sets a margin which will compress on a small screen
<TD WIDTH="96%" >
This is where the main contents of the page live. There should be a a few more occurrences of the important keywords and keyphrases but not more than 7 times including the header and introductory text otherwise some Search Engines will reject it as spamming. Graphics should be small - you should aim for the home page to load in not more than 10 seconds and certainly be under 30K. Graphics should be on your own site - external links take an extra 2 seconds or so to be accessed
<TD WIDTH="2%" > &nbsp; </TD>
Matching Right margin
There are no new tricks in the "Footer" which is laid out in the same way as above in a TABLE and uses NoPSPaces to keep the telephone numbers together.
Copyright © Peter Curtis
Content revised: 2nd September, 2000