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July 20, 2007

Bringing Your WebSite Out Of The Last Century

The web is a new medium, and opens up avenues of communication with customers around the world. It’s a medium for artistic expression, and allows you to express a sense of personal style. When the Web was new, a decade ago, that sense of style was cobbled together from all kinds of things, and has resulted in some old practices that should be abandoned, and have a stake driven through their hearts.

First and foremost, remember that the T in HTML is for TEXT. Unless it’s your company logo, never use graphics of words. This is important for a number of reasons. First, text can be selected and copied and pasted by your visitors. Graphic headers cannot. Second, your graphical headers won’t change size to match whatever resolution your target’s browser is set up for, while a font based system will. Third, a lot of browsers still give the option to shut off graphics, particularly those used on mobile devices, to save on download bandwidth.

While we’re speaking on graphical design for your web site, resist the urge to use fancy fonts. Your site is meant to be read; there are several fonts that are designed to be read on-screen with minimum eye strain, among them Georgia, Verdana and MS Times New Roman. Similarly, to make your life easier, be sure to set your fonts in a cascading style sheet, or CSS file. This allows you to make one change to a font list and have it affect all the fonts on your web site – most modern web design tools will handle the CSS stuff for you; how much you want to get into it is up to you.

CSS is also a great way to avoid two other common sins of web design from the late ’90s: The use of needless tables and tiled backgrounds, usually in garish colors. CSS allows you to specify backgrounds that flow around text, without choking the browser on tables and the like. While it was the rage in web site design to make your page look like it was printed on parchment, with a tiled background, it’s certainly not the way to go now. Most web pages should have either a light gray, white or “gray blue” background, because that’s the easiest for text to be read from. While it’s very chic, try to avoid white text on a black background. If you must use a dark background, use text that’s somewhat larger against it, because of the way optical illusions work with text on a dark background.

Avoid animated GIFs and the Blink tag. The things Animated GIFs did are better handled with CSS and Javascript rollovers, and again, most good web design software will handle this for you, so you don’t have to be a coding guru to do this yourself. GIFs in general, due to their low bit depth, should be avoided. Use PNGs instead if you need one with a transparent background or an animation; PNGs combine everything you’d want from a GIF with the color depth of a JPEG.

Think about how you’re organizing your web site – make sure that every page has a way to get back to the site map or home page, because people will mostly hit your web site from a search engine result. While it’s tempting to do massively search engine optimized landing pages to get your page ranks up there, remember you’re writing for human beings first, not for web spiders. It doesn’t matter how search engine optimized the text is if people read three sentences that are utter gibberish and hit the back button.

Author:  Visit Jason Smith today for an in depth XSitePro Review, and see XSitePro’s exclusive bonus pack.