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Good website design

A well designed website will attract more customers. And what is the point of a commercial website that does not attract customers? What follows is a selection of best practices. It does not claim to be comprehensive, but it should give you some ideas on how to judge the quality of websites and ours in particular.

Aesthetics

You should be able to look at your website in the morning and feel proud, excited and ready for the customers. It must look distinctive and mark you out from your competitors. Your website must say what is special about your company. There are a few other specifc points to look out for.

  • No modern website looks professional unless it has a favicon. If the user has 20 tabs up all with different webpages, a favicon helps the user find his way back to your website. Ours, PT, is an abbreviation of our logo.
  • Your website must look good not just in your favourite browser, but in as many as possible. What percentage of your potential users do you want to reach? Note also that Internet Explorer behaves quite differently according to version and your website must look good in all commonly used versions.
  • A website must have a consistent feel that reinforces your brand. Maintaining that consistent feel across multiple webpages requires some sort of content management system or web framework.
  • A website should not be cluttered. Your webpage will need to have clear and accessible links to legal information, terms and conditions and the like but they must not distract your potential customer from the main purpose of the site.

It may not surprise you that there is a website devoted to the worst websites ever. To see what can be acheived using modern web techniques have a look at the CSS Zen Garden.>

Accessibility

Accessibility is about making sure that you are not excluding any potential customers. Blind users and mobile phone users and users of as yet uninvented internet devices view the internet differently. To serve them your website needs to follow best practices.

  • Look at the blue bar along the top of Internet Explorer. You can see the title page of the web page you are looking at. This should be unique and informative for every page in a website.
  • Also try pressing ctrl shift + simultaneously several times. Partially sighted users often do this to zoom in on a sight. The website should still be useable at these higher magnifications.
  • Your website should be valid XHTML. To check your favourite website enter its URL into the W3C validator.
  • All the images on your website should have meaningful metadata. To check this change the options in Internet Explorer as follows; goto Tools → Internet Options → Advanced and scroll down to Multimedia. Then unclick Show pictures and click OK. Now look at your favourite website. Does it still make any sense? A different and easier test is to hover your mouse over an image and see if you get any meaningful information.
  • A professionally written website will use HTML constructs to convey semantic information and not to control layout. From Internet Explorer if you right click on the web page, you will get a menu from which you can select view source. You should then be able to seach for the main title by searching for <h1 and for section titles by searching for <h3. A badly written web page might use <font instead.
  • A web page should have accurate meta tags that describe the content of that page. To check this search in the source for <meta.

For more information see the web accessibility initiative website.

Search engine friendliness

How are people actually going to find your website? Through search engines is the correct and obvious answer. However search engines do not work by magic. They require a certain amount of work from the person setting up the website.

  • Everything listed under accessibility applies to search engines. Search engines are effectively blind users.
  • Search engines should be told about the existence and structure of websites. Each search engine has its own procedure for this.
  • Whereever possible one should get other websites to link to one’s own. Internet and business directories are a legitimate method of doing this. Links from companies that you have an association with are another legitimate method. Link farms also exist, but these are best avoided because they are an attempt to game the search engines and do nothing to benefit the end user.
  • After you have been browsing a large commercial or news website for a while, look at the URL. Does it look like http://www.superduper.com/cgi-bin/hello.cgi?sessionid=owohwfohjfw29349209-42&itemid=pwhfpwihfp020942 or http://www.superduper.com/socks? This is a made up but realistic example. A well managed site will hide horrible stuff like the former under something like the latter. This makes life easier both for users and search engines.

Check out Google’ opinion on search engine optimization if you want more information.

 
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