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top ten tips

fast download
usability
navigation
scrolling
simplicity
avoid new technology
avoid frames
keep it up-to-date
branding
links

home > top 10 tips

top 10 tips

fast download

Ensure your site downloads quickly. Ideally within 10-30 seconds maximum, preferably 8 or less. This includes users with slower computers and modems. Base the download speed on 1K per second, therefore the total file size of a page (including graphics) should not exceed 30K.

To decrease file size and increase download speed - use as few graphics as possible, optimize the graphics you do have and create clear, concise HTML. Always include width and height attributes in the <img> tag so the browser can download the rest of the page while waiting for graphics to download. Include alt text in the <img> tag so that the page makes sense before the graphics download or if the user has graphics switched off.

Server side includes speed up download times as the included file only needs to be downloaded once to be used on several pages. This happens "server side" so that download time to the user is negligable. Style sheets also only need to be downloaded once. Using one means you don't have to specify style within the HTML page, which makes for a smaller html file size.

Check your download speed on http://www.echoecho.com/

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usability

If your web site is not user friendly, visitors will not be able to use it and they will become frustrated and will not return to it. It is return users who will buy your product or service, not a unique user who merely visits your site the once.

Good usability is found in easy to follow navigation and simple site structure.

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navigation

Poor navigation is where most unusable sites fall down. At any one time, the user should be able to reach any level of the site and clearly see where they are in the site's hierarchy. A well designed site should have a logical hierarchy of more detailed information as the user delves down into the site.

The main home page to a site should have links to a variety of levels, usually in the form of a navigation panel. On subsequent pages, the user should be able to reach other pages of the same level as well as be able to go up to the previous level.

Use a LID, or "breadcrumbs", similar to the top of this page (home > top ten tips) where users can use the links to go to previous levels of the site. In addition, make sure the page title, located in the head information of your HTML, shows the page title and where the page is in the site. This is the title of the page that is visible at the very top of the browser window (on this page "jessett.com | top ten tips"). This is useful to users who bookmark your site and ensures its name makes sense in a whole list of bookmarked sites.

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scrolling

Never have horizontal scrolling, users find it annoying - check your site on smaller browsers. Avoid vertical scrolling, especially on the home page. Only 10% of users* will scroll down further than they can initially see, so keep the important information and navigation at the top of a page. This is beneficial to search engines too, as they often only index the first portion of a page. What you put at the top of the page can intice users to scroll down to read further. If your most important content is hidden "below the fold", many users will never see it.
* This has now been shown to not always be the case. According to Jakob Nielsen, users are now more willing to scroll down - http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9712a.html

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simplicity

Keep your site simple. Use white space carefully - don't waste it by having fixed width tables so much of the screen is blank in a wide browser window. However, make sure you don't have more than 12 words to a line of text - it is difficult to read if there are more. Don't have gratuitous animated graphics, scrolling text or other moving items all over the place - they draw attention away from the content. If an animated graphic is used, only loop it once so it doesn't distract the user from the rest of the page.

Don't overcrowd a page with too much information and too many links, the user won't know what to look at first.

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avoid new technology

Don't create sites that rely entirely on new technology, such as Flash. Many users won't spend the time downloading the plug-in to view the site. You can't guarantee all users will have, or want, the plug-ins, and may "scare off" potential customers. If you do use new technologies, create a mirror site whereby users who don't have the plug-in, or don't want to view the high bandwidth version, can view the site without it. It's more important to have people actually use your site, rather than simply ooh and ahh at its special effects. Use your site stats to ascertain how many users have the plug in, and how many choose to view the html version of your site. Use new technology sparingly.

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avoid frames

Most use of frames on the web is unnecessary, especially when it's been used simply to seperate the screen into content and navigation. This is often confusing for users, can create unnecessary scroll bars, destroys the url for people to email the current page to someone, or bookmark it for future. The url they save ends up being the top of the frameset, not the one they wanted. This could lose you customers/visitors who don't want to trail through the site finding the particular page.

Frames are also detrimental to search engine listings. Search engines can't spider a frameset, directories often look on them as bad practice for the above reasons. Make sure you have a valid reason for using them, and always use the <noframes> tag. For further info, read about frames in the search engines section.

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keep it up-to-date

Keep the content on your site current. Most good sites are constantly updated, so if yours is out-of-date, users won't return. Encourage people to come back with "news" or "highlights" sections on your home page which have the most up-to-date content. If your site has static material, users won't need to return as it appears they saw all there was to see the first time. This is true even for large sites.

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branding

Maintain your company's (or site's) branding across all pages of your site. If there is no branding on a page, users won't necessarily know they are still in the same site. this is especially important for users who have entered the site from an external site and will need to know which site they are in. This is also relevant for printer friendly pages where site navigation is less important. These still require at the very least a company logo or site name which is a link to the home page, preferably in the top left hand corner.

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links

To a user, links are the structure of the world wide web. A user doesn't care whose site they are on, just the information they require. Standardise your links to make user's lives easier. Always use blue for unvisited links and red/purple for visited ones and always underline them. Don't underline any text which isn't a link. Make your company logo or site name a link on every page. If you're linking to an external site, display the full url in the link so a user knows they are being taken to a different site. (e.g. http://www.jessett.com/)

Users have become accustomed to these attributes, and while your site may look prettier with different coloured links etc, it can be confusing in that it's not obvious where they have been before. Going to a previously visited page is frustrating and time consuming. Most users don't have the time to go to every relevant link in your site, make it easy for them to browse through to the information they require.

Finally, don't move links! By this I mean don't change the url of a page. People bookmark pages which are relevant to them for a long time. If you move pages, you could lose a valued customer. If a site clean up is necessary, then activate a re-direct for that url to the new page location. In addition, for sites with constantly changing home pages with news stories or press releases, always produce a permanent location for the whole story at the same time. Place a link from the abstract to the full story so people can link to this.

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