Website Design vs. Function
Easily, one of the biggest mistakes webmasters make when first starting out on the web is in the design of their site. This is extremely understandable, considering that, in the brick and mortar world, a business's success is often dependent on it's appearance. The more money put into the look and design of a business, the better it often does.
Unfortunately, this doesn't completely transfer over into the world of the Web. In the world of the Web, there is a huge difference between creating an aesthetically pleasing site, and creating a site that is going to be functional and have the best possibility for success.
On the net, there are two key things a webmaster must always keep in mind when designing a site; the visitor and the search engines. If a visitor has to wait to long for a page to download or a search engine can't properly index a site, it doesn't matter how beautiful and informative the site is, it will not generate the business needed to survive, much less excel.
Let's look at a few of the most common things you should be aware of.
While broadband access is gaining ground, at least half of all internet users still use dial up connections. This means that the majority of a site's visitors will be downloading the pages at about 3-4 kilobytes per second.
Logo's, backgrounds, and other images, are great, but if they are causing your pages to load too slowly, they are doing you more harm than good. Quite honestly, your visitors do not care about your logo, graphics, backgrounds etc. They are there for one reason and one reason only....to see what you can offer them.
If you must use graphics keep their file size as small as possible by optimizing the graphics to the utmost extent possible and keeping the image size small.
*Splash Pages/Flash Intros*
These are the bane of the internet. If you have a splash page whether its made up of a large graphic or a pretty flash intro, you are crippling your chances. Design firms often love to talk their clients into these pages because they get to be creative (oh..and charge more).
The truth is, creating one of these pages as the entrance way to your site is one of the single worst things you can do. Visitors hate splash pages, because they often take too long to download and they don't provide the visitor with anything. Remember, visitors are there for one reason, to see what you have to offer them and get the information they are seeking. A huge graphic doesn't answer any of their questions, it only delays their search.
A flash intro is much the same, while it will generally download very quickly, it still delays the visitor in finding what he or she is looking for.
One of the biggest rules you should remember is to keep the amount of clicks a visitor must make to get to quality information down to a bare minimum. With every successive click a visitor must make, there is more of a chance he/she will give up and go somewhere else.
I've seen many reports from different sites that used (notice the past tense) flash intro pages. Hardly surprising is the fact that on average, a whopping 20%-30% of the visitors left the site after accessing ONLY the homepage (where the splash page or flash intro was).
The second reason to stay away from these is that it has a huge affect on search engines. Search engines can only index text, a huge graphic or flash intro doesn't give the engines anything to index. As a result the homepage, which is often the highest ranking page on a site, has almost no chance of ranking well at all. In addition, depending on how the links from the graphic or flash to internal pages are coded, the engines may not be able to follow the links to the rest of the pages on the site which means your site will not get spidered properly.
To summarize, stay away from splash pages and flash intro's. Give the visitor some actual text to read and the engines something to index. Your visitor retention will go up, and so will your search engine traffic.
Hyperlinks are your bread and butter when dealing with the search engines. They are the way in which search engines find all of the pages on your site and index them. If a search engine can't follow a hyperlink, it won't be able to index the destination page, meaning parts of your site may become invisible to the engines.
A true hyperlink should say:
href = "URL" of page here.html"
Any other type of link is most likely not going to be followed properly.
As I mentioned before, engines can only index text. Too often I see sites that use graphic representations of text or a large graphic that has some of their most important text within it. Do whatever you can to stay away from this. If your most important words are in graphic format, you have taken away the thing that the engines need most to properly index and rank your site.
Engines also want to see continuity in the structure of a page. When a webmaster uses lots of tables, frames, and other design elements, it breaks up the flow of the text on the page, and can have a negative effect on your rankings.
Whenever possible, use as few tables as possible. When you do use tables, do your best to not break up a paragraph or sentence into separate cells in a table, this destroys the flow of the text and causes the words to be seen as unrelated fragments instead of part of the same continuous sentence/paragraph.
It is important to realize that engines do not see the pages the same way a visitor does. While the visitor sees the page displayed properly with all of the text flowing nicely, an engine sees only the HTML code behind the page that breaks up the flow of the text.
In general, the simpler the page and the HTML behind it, the better the ranking will be.
Always be sure to be aware of the impact that a particular design element will have on both your visitors and the ability of the engines to properly index your site.
By understanding how the engines work, what they look for, what they can and can't do, you will vastly increase your chances of successfully achieving the rankings needed to make your business a success.
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