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Successful Web Design

There is more to creating a successful web site than just throwing some information on the web. This is a guide designed for those who are not professional web designers.

#1 Identify Your Goals
It is extremely difficult to design your site if you don't know what you're designing. It was said that the great sculptor Michelangelo would look at a block of marble he was about to sculpt and "see" his finished statue already contained within it. He characterized the process of sculpting as simply chipping away the excess from the encased statue. The same foresight that Michelangelo had is also crucial to designing a successful web site. You don't have to have every word worked out before hand, but you should at least know what pages you would like to start with, how they should be organized, and what each page will contain. Having this structure before you start will save hours of rewriting and headaches later.

If you only have a few pages, identifying your purpose, structure and content should be fairly easy. In fact, you can probably do it in your head. But as the size of your site grows, so does the need for planning. With larger sites you will need to write down your site's structure and content so you can refer to it later.

Remember to keep the end user in mind as you design your site. It doesn't matter if you know where something is, what matters is whether the user who visits your site can find it. It is usually sufficient to simply look your site over and make sure nothing is obscure or hard to find and understand. However, if your site is large or complicated, it might be a good idea to ask someone who has not already seen your site to try it out while you watch. Ask them to find things or perform tasks in the same way that regular users would. Don't tell them how to do anything, just watch and note any trouble spots they run into. These are usually the same trouble spots where real users will have problems.

#2 Create Clear Organization
Unless your site has has only one page, you will have to worry about organization. Organizing your content is very important. A clear organization lets visitors find what they are looking for quickly and easily, where as poor organization frustrates visitors and discourages them from using your site.

The first rule of good organization is to use short, informative titles. Titles that are long, or don't reflect their content, are confusing. "Our Full Line of High Quality Lawn Mower Parts" might make a good link, but as a title it is much too long. Titles are usually in large fonts and will take up too much space if you are not careful. Long titles also create extra work for the visitor because it is hard to scan them easily. A much better version of the title above would be "Lawn Mower Parts" or just "Mower Parts."

Excessively short or obscure titles should also be avoided. "Lawn" or "Section Three" are both bad replacements for the title above. "Lawn" provides some hint of what the page contains (lawn mower parts), but it does not give the user a good idea of what they might find. "Section Three" is a bad choice because it provides no hint about the page's contents. Users will often simply skip such pages because they do not want to take the time to find out what is in them.

In addition to titling, sites with more than just a few pages need to deal with categories, and/or sub-pages. Categories are pages that exist simply to group other pages into meaningful sets. If, for example, you have many different services that your company offers, you might want to give each service its own page. It would be unwieldy to make all of these services main pages. It would be much better to simply create one main page called "Services" which contained general information, and then place the individual service pages as sub-pages under the main page. When you arrange pages like this, placing sub-pages under more general parent pages, you end up with a hierarchy, or tree, of pages. This is very common on the web, and people understand this kind of organization very well. The key to hierarchal organization is choosing intuitive groups that people will understand. If, in the example above, we had placed our service pages under the "About Us" page, people would have a hard time finding them because they would not expect to find service pages under the "About Us" page.

#3 Make Your Content Interesting and Informative
You want to make your site enjoyable and productive for your visitors. People usually come to your site looking for a certain bit of information, or trying to accomplish a specific task. Make sure that your site allows them to easily do what they came for. In other words, make it practical. If you don't, people will not stay at, or return to, your site.

But on the other hand, don't bore them out their minds. Looking at raw, uninteresting data doesn't appeal to anyone for very long. Don't make people rush out of your site just because the landscape is so dreary. Do your best to add life to your pages--it will go a long way toward making your vistors feel welcome.

One way to hold interest is to have nice looking pages. iWeb Composer has many quality templates that can give your site a professional feel, but you still need to consider carefully each page's layout. If a page seems flat or uninteresting, try adding some pictures to the text. Even pictures that are not directly related the content can help liven up your page. Finding the right picture can sometimes be difficult, but there are many services on the web, free and otherwise, that are designed to help you find appropriate images.

Another way to add interest to your site is through the text content of your pages. A friendly phrase here and there can make your visitors feel at home. Obviously you should avoid abusive or crude language, as this can be offensive to many of your visitors, and usually gains you nothing. In fact, iWeb Designs refuses to host immoral or hateful web sites.

#4 Be Aware of Technical Limitations
As with any other medium of communication, the web has its limitations. Most of these (such as browser differences, layout, etc.) have been taken care of for you by iWeb Composer, but there are a few things you must take into account. One is the disk space and bandwidth of the server. When a visitor accesses your site, data has to be sent from the server. Usually this is insignificant and you won't need to worry about it. But if your site receives thousands and thousands of hits then you should be prepared to upgrade your hosting when all of your available bandwidth is used up. Disk space is also an issue. The several megabytes provided with the basic iWeb Composer hosting package can hold hundreds of text documents very easily, but if you begin placing large photos on your site you may use up disk space quickly.

Another limitation involves time. People connect to the internet at different speeds, some faster than others. Many of your users will be using a slower dial-up connection, so you should be careful to not load your page with too many large images. People are likely to leave your site if they cannot load it in a reasonable amount of time.

One last detail you should be aware of is that not all browser windows are the same size. Make sure that when you create your pages you allow some room for differing sizes. iWeb Composer takes care of most of this for you, but remember that some visitors may have to scroll down in order to see content placed lower on your pages. Also, placing too many top-level pages on your site may cause your links to not lay out neatly for users with smaller windows.

With iWeb Composer, creating a web site is easy, but in order to create a successful site you should remember to always keep the goals of your site in mind as you design it.

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