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May 20, 2008

Expert HTML

Making your Web Pages Download Fast is the Most Effective way of Keeping Visitors Browsing your Website. With the Web being the all encompassing, slightly anarchic, global phenomenon that it is, there are no set standards about how to design Web pages. But there is one overriding principle that every Web designer should chant like a mantra as soon as they awake in the morning. ‘Speed is everything’.

Getting your website’s information on to the browsers of your visitors as quickly as possible is still the number one skill to learn when it comes to building web pages, but it often gets overlooked because it doesn’t seem as much fun as fooling around with Java applets or animated GIFs. But don’t be swayed by such fripperies – master the art of building sites that download super-fast and you’ll get people coming back again and again.

With the arrival of broadband, it’s tempting to think that designing web pages to download fast won’t be a concern. People will multitask on the Net as they do with their computers, pushing their internet access connections to the extreme and cursing your Web page if it doesn’t appear instantly. The need for speed is here to stay, so knowing how to optimize your HTML code and graphics will never go out of fashion.

Here are some Tips to help make your Web pages Thunder down the Information Highway

Grease your Graphics

While understanding how to make your HTML super-sleek is vital to streamlining your Web pages, graphics are the single biggest culprit for slow loading websites. The hard and fast rule has to be, if you don’t need a graphic, don’t use it. For example, using graphics for text is a no-no – HTML text looks great if you use a bit of color and judgment.

Try to rescue the graphics you do need on your site throughout your pages. That way, the image gets cached in the user’s web browser and the image isn’t downloaded again. Don’t be afraid of repetition – for example, if you have a groovy logo to use on your site then put it in the same place on every page. It reassures the visitor that they are still on your site.

You should ensure that the full size of the graphics you use are as small as possible. Imaging editing programs will deal with this for you to an extent, but you can’t beat running an image through an online graphic compression tool to get the lowest possible image size.

Keep it Simple

When it comes down to HTML code, the first thing to do is design a look and feel for your site that isn’t massively complex. Simple layout equals slimline code. Ask yourself if you really need that scrolling ticker or Java applet – chances are you don’t.

Frames are also a bad idea for fast pages. Every frame within a frameset is effectively adding another page to load simultaneously when the user arrives at your site, rather than just one page. Coupled with the navigation, search engine and bookmarking nightmares that frames can cause, they’re best avoided.

Nested tables – that is, putting one table inside another – are the main way diligent designers achieve a good layout to their Web page, but be wary of overdoing it. As long as the tables are simple, with only three or four cells, nesting is fine. If you find yourself nesting the equivalent of a chessboard, it might be wiser to start again. Tables take a while to load in Web browsers, and the more complex the code, the longer your visitors will be staring at a blank screen.

Remember that just because your Web page might look simple doesn’t mean that it was simple to put together. Simplicity is not only good for speed but also ease of use which has to be the other design concern.

WYSIWYG Weirdness

WYSIWYG editors are great for quickly assembling Web pages without the chore of typing HTML code by hand. However, these editors often add lots of extraneous code which is not actually needed to make the page display correctly. This is why it’s important to have at least a basic grasp of HTML even if you do use a WYSIWYG editor. Knowing what’s going on under the bonnet means you can spot a multitude of sins and streamline your code so it runs faster.

Tag it and Bag it

Times New Roman is the Web’s default font, but Verdana and Arial have become extremely popular too. If you like these fonts enough to want to use them throughout your site, a nifty way on cutting down on coding every paragraph is to use the <BASEFONT> tag. This changes the default font of your pages.

For example, <basefont face=”Verdana” size=”2″> will make all the text on your page appear as size 2 Verdana, unless you specify otherwise using the usual <FONT> tags that doesn’t have a closing tag, so you don’t need to insert a </BASEFONT> tag anywhere. Best of all, you can avoid the hassle of having to format the majority of your text in one fell swoop, saving coding time and keeping your HTML streamlined.

A Space Odyssey

This is possibly the easiest way of improving an existing site’s download time. Every space in your HTML code isn’t empty spaces to a browser – it’s another bit of info it needs to interpret and process. Many WYSIWYG editors generate indented code with line breaks. Removing all those indents and line breaks will shave several K off the size of your page so it loads much quicker.

It’s here that a half decent Web page editor comes into its own. Using the search and replace function, you should be able to do a sitewide search for spaces. Type several spaces into the Find box, make sure the replace box is empty and it’ll whiz through the whole site eliminating any spaces it finds.

Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.

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