Site   Web

June 17, 2008

A Design for life

Creating a website is a fairly simple or very complex exercise depending on your needs. The best way to start is always go simple. Create a standard design that you will use to run throughout the website. The reason for creating a stock standard look and feel is so that the visitor very quickly gets used to navigation on your website and is able to find exactly what it is they are looking for. With a standard design it is also a lot easier to help drive home the branding of your service or product.

CSS, that’s Cascading Style Sheets, is a great way to keep a constant look and feel of a website consistent. Even better than including style to each page you can create individual files and simply include them in your pages. While the benefits are too many to remember at the moment, I see the greatest benefit of using CSS being the fact that you can make a single change to a single file and the changes will be global. You update one page and all your pages are updated in a single move.

Include files are wonderful. Depending on the language you are using to create your website much of the boilerplate design can be set in a single file and simply included. Much like CSS the biggest benefit from doing this is being able to make a single change and it updating every page on your website. These files could be the search function or a sign up script. They needn’t be full pages of information but rather standard snippets of code. Imagine you changed the subscription email address and had to update a script on 1000 pages? When you could simply update one include file and every page is instantly updated.

Navigation is vital. While it may seem sensible to categorise things the way that you have, remember that not everybody knows the finer details of your business. Imagine you had a website that was about mammals, separated into distinct sections (such as feline, canine, bears and so on). Not everyone would know that a koala is in fact not a bear despite often being referred to as a koala bear. For the record it’s a marsupial.

If you have many products or articles that people may need to look through then a search function is crucial. Even if I couldn’t find koala under bear if I used the search it would eventually bring up a link to the koala page.

Returning to the concept of keeping things simple it is notable that all of this could be incorporated into a single page.

Links, links, links… This seems to be one of those things that everyone has on their mind constantly. From a design point it is important to remember a few simple things:

  • Don’t put too many links on a single page.
  • Make sure that the links are clear and indicate where they lead to.
  • Try to link to all important pages from your homepage.
  • Link to a sitemap from the homepage – one that visitors can easily navigate to where they need to be.

There is a lot more to linking but this is keeping it simple.

Breadcrumbs (I’m not talking about the type that Hansel and Gretel used – but close enough) are very useful in letting the visitor know where they are and how they got there. In the case of our koala the pages that most likely lead them to where they are would be something like: animals – marsupials – koala

It is useful to link each of those back to the page that they represent (koala need not as they are already there) so link marsupials to the marsupials page and animals to the animals page.

Keep your pages uncluttered. This not only refers to the content but code of a page. By keeping the number of lines of code to a minimum you will be able to increase the download speed of the page. This includes optimising the images on your web pages for optimal display but also for the smallest possible files size. Again this will help speed up download times.

The content on your pages should make sense. Going back to our friend the koala, many will know that koala’s eat eucalyptus. But wouldn’t it make more sense to create a separate page for each of these topics. While it won’t do any harm to mention eucalyptus on the page try to keep the info on that page predominantly about the koala. If the visitor is looking for koala’s then give them koala’s but by all means link to the eucalyptus page.

As you can tell by keeping it simple you can give the average visitor a pleasing browsing experience. By building a good solid the visitor will know where they are as well as why they are there.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant in South Africa for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development.