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How-To: 15 Tips for Effective Web Design


Get it under control

Developing a new website takes time and patience. Content should be presented in a readable, easily-accessible way, not just for the benefit of visitors but for search engines too.

To this end, Host-Review compiled 15 tips to help your site stand out:

1. Use a consistent color scheme.

The colors of your site have a significant impact on readability. Avoid clashing colours that make visitors squint or — worse — give them headaches. One classic example: using bright red or yellow text on a black background, which is appallingly unattractive and difficult to read.

Pick 2 to 4 complementary colours. Use one for most of your theme, another for links and the rest to highlight navigation or top content. Feel free to use shades of the same colors, so long as they don't clash. Use darker shades up top, then lighten as you go down. (It is distracting when the middle of the page is darker than the top.)

Consider how colors and shades will look on different monitors. (Many are sold with differing gamma, contrast and brightness levels; laptops often have brighter screens.) Test your site across several displays.

2. Use consistent typefaces and sizes.

Maintain a consistent font style and text size. Pick one typeface for most of your content and avoid deviating unless you are making distinctions (such as between body and header). Small text sizes can be difficult to read at higher resolutions.

Line-height (e.g. 14px) is often fatally overlooked. Without taking it into account, sentences can appear clumped and be difficult to skim.

3. Keep content fresh and original.

Don't let your site stagnate just because it isn't gaining a lot of initial visitors; getting properly indexed by search engines and directories can take up to eight months! Keep your site relevant and up-to-date, and don't forget visual highlights (underline and bold text), which can help users and search spiders identify important content and keywords.

4. Prioritize browser compatibility.

Designers often develop their site from one browser and assume it looks the same on all of them. Failing to ensure your design looks consistent across browsers alienates potential readers.

Whenever you make a big code change or addition on your site, test it across the most common three browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera/Safari, depending on your country). That way, you can correct problems before they become too numerous to easily fix. Problems can also arise when you exclude older versions of browsers, though some sacrifices can be made so long as basic functionality and site navigation are not compromised.

One good example of a backwards compatibility dilemma is IE6, which at the time of writing had been replaced by IE7. IE6 had poor CSS standards compliancy, but is still widely used and should not be excluded. Use this free online tool to test how a site will render on older IE versions: http://ipinfo.info/netrenderer.

5. Don't clutter your site with ads.

Advertising can be essential to a site's economic survival, but plastering your page with them, or using pop-ups and other intrusive methods, can be counterproductive. Overuse of adverts degrades the quality and accessibility of content, making visitors less likely to stick around.

Too many ads also degrades the value of your ad space. The more ads an advertiser must share a page with, the fewer click-throughs they get.) Make space for ads, but don't let them intrude on the site's usefulness and readability.

6. Keep page sizes and content manageable.

Using too many high-res images will increase your bandwidth bills and slow page loading. Compress those images (use GIF, JPEG or PNG formats – some are better for different content, so experiment) and try to keep them to a respectable size.

Likewise, pasting lengthy documentation onto one page can be unattractive. Split a great deal of content over several pages. This increases bandwidth consumption by increasing pageviews (note: good for advertisers), but it will also be easier on the eyes, since most visitors prefer to skim.

7. Cater to different screen resolutions.

Most site visitors use a variety of different screen/monitor resolutions, which these days can be anywhere from 800w*600h to 2400w*2400h pixels or more. Width (w) is most important for web designers, since most users read from left to right.

Make your site amenable to as many resolutions as possible, which can be achieved by creating a fluid design around percentage (%) widths or by catering for the lowest resolution that the content fits into.

8. Optimize TITLE and META tags.

Search engines pay considerable attention to page Title, Meta descriptions and — to a lesser degree — Meta keywords. These descriptive elements that help spiders determine what content exists on your site.

Don't make description or keyword entries too lengthy; avoid word repetition, as this is often considered spam and can hurt your site's credibility. (Good rule of thumb: Keep descriptions to roughly 150 characters and don't use the same keyword more than 2 or 3 times.)

Note that keywords can be almost 'phrase-like.' It doesn't hurt to put some into your description, but don't go overboard. Also using common words as keywords (e.g. 'Internet' on its own is too common).

9. Optimize links.

The shorter and more readable links are, the more likely search engines are to index them. Lengthy URLs are also difficult for visitors to remember.

Don't neglect to use ALT description tags for images you use. Search engines index those too.

10. Market your site.

It’s amazing how many developers only add their pages to search engines. There are a number of other things you should do: submitting your site to link directories, for example (preferably with a Google PageRank [PR] of 3 or more). My favorite is this semi-free tool, which has a lot of free submissions, automates most of the work and allows you to vary site title, description and keyword tags (repetitive details are often perceived as spam): http://www.fastdirectorysubmitter.com.

Have a blog? Ask similar blogs to add you to their blogroll. (Put them on yours, too. Amongst bloggers, community is everything.) It also doesn't hurt to publicize your site with press releases and newsletters. If you have access to newsgroups, find a related newsgroup category and mention it there too.

Avoid over-advertising; most people despise aggressive promotion. Also acknowledge it could take nearly a year before some directories add you, so don't expect instant results. Building readership takes time.

11. Include copyright and privacy policies.

Add a copyright line to the bottom of every page. This affords you some protection if anyone tries plagiarizing some of your work. Consider writing 'Terms & Conditions' for your site, especially if the content includes consumer feedback, which might worry commercial firms and potential advertisers.

If your site collects or tracks visitor details, like e-mails or IP addresses, write a privacy policy. This limits your liability in the event of legal action. (Include a link to the policy on your pages. Many webmasters put it near the copyright line.) Visitors have the right to know how you plan to use their data.

12. Make the site interactive.

Enable users to interface with your site, create their own content and interact with each other. Discussion forums, comment systems, newsletters and surveys can boost perceived site value.

13. Check content with a word processor.

Put anything you write through a word processor, with spelling and grammar checks enabled. Mistakes are natural and cannot always be avoided — but they should be kept to a minimum.

14. Use a simple domain name.

Use a short domain name that ideally doesn't clash with rivals' and avoid using hyphens. The simpler your domain, the easier it will be for visitors to remember.

15. Use a straightforward navigation system.

Make sure every section of your site is accessible from a clear and simple navigation system near the top of the page. It should stand out from the content. Too many links in one place makes usability difficult for users. Have a third party experiment with your site on the front-end to provide feedback on the flow of navigation.

This MarketingVOX How-To was written by Mark Jackson, chief editor of Host Review UK. It originally appeared on Host Review as "Top 15 Website Design Tips" on August 8, 2008.

Image credit: Brian "DoctaBu" Moore. The opinions that appear here do not necessarily reflect those of MarketingVOX or of Mr. Moore.

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