The MGA With An Attitude

This is a mention of some of the DO'S and DON'TS of WEB PAGE DESIGN, in the interest of keeping things simple, fast, and a pleasure for the visitors.

The very first order of business is that your web page should actually work. If the page locks up the browser or doesn't display everything it should, or none of the intended links will work, then the visitor will be gone in a flash, perhaps never to return again. The preferred mode of page construction would be off line on your local computer, and then after you have it working and tested you can upload it to your web server. If you are working with a type of web server or page editor that requires you to do page composition on line, then you should try to complete the construction of the page and get it tested and working before you link it to anything else on your web site. If you need to make any extensive changes to a web page on line, then you might consider making a copy of the page with a different file name, do the editing and testing with the copy, and when finished simply delete the original page and rename the copy to have the same name as the original page.

I have noticed that the Netscape Navigator browser seems to be more finicky about HTML code format and protocol than the MS Internet Explorer browser. Some things that will work fine with Explorer may not work with Navigator, and may even leave the visitor with a blank page. Improperly nested tags may still work with Explorer while causing formatting problems with Navigator. Forgetting to put the closure tags at the end of a <Table> might not cause any problem with Explorer, but may leave nothing but a blank page with Navigator. As such it is important to test your web page with a browser, and preferably with a couple of different browsers to be sure it works before presenting it to the public.

Second in priority, and almost equally important, there should be some useful or interesting content on your web page, and preferably something not commonly found on a lot of other web sites. When a visitor encounters a web page that has nothing on it, or nothing new under the sun, then that visitor is bound not to stay very long, and maybe also not to return again. What you would like is a page that holds enough interest that the visitor will spend some time there and/or bookmark the site to return later and/or recommend the page to a friend. If it contains something of special interest to more than one person, then a visitor might create a link on his own web site pointing to your web page, which may then result in more visitors to your web site. Website links are like word of mouth. The word gets around faster when the grapevine is more extensive.

irrelevant image Third on the priority list may be to have the page in a pleasing format that is a pleasure to observe so that it might more easily catch a visitor's initial interest and also entice them to stay a while. Just like shopping for a new car, when visitors hit on a web page they will be dually impressed by nice appearance. Considering it from the opposite angle, the visitor will be equally impressed by an ugly page. However, if your page meets all the other requirements, especially having some interest content, then it may not be as important to be beautiful as it is not to be ugly. A so-so or average or neutral appearance will probably be adequate as long as the page contains something else of interest. This page you are reading now for instance is functional and "not ugly". A nice picture can do wonders to attract attention, as long as it is something pertinent to the web site subject matter. As a bad example, this particular image may not help much at all, especially since it is not my car, except that it might help to break the boredom in the middle of a long page of text.

Next on the list of don'ts is that the page should not have too many disconnected links or construction signs all over it. For an incomplete web page, a note saying "More information coming soon" may actually bring a visitor back again for another look in the near future. And if such additional information actually is there the next time the visitor drops in, that may earn you a bookmark or another link to your site. On the flip side, you probably wouldn't want to post a note saying "Please forgive the condition of this page. It may be continuously in a state of disrepair and under construction for some time to come". That may be telling the visitor not to bother coming back for a long time, so even though the intention may be the same as the previous note the message might be interpreted entirely different. If you think you have something to apologize for, then your page may not be ready for on-line release.

Assuming your page passes all the requirements up to here, the next concern is download time, especially with your "home" page. The opening page on your web site should download and appear on the screen of your visitor's browser window in its entirety (or at least mostly complete) in a reasonably short period of time, like maybe 30 seconds to a minute when using a dial up modem. Other successive pages may be allowed to take a little longer, particularly if the visitor has a good idea what's coming and goes there intentionally. If the link says "Visit my photo gallery", then the visitor who elects to go there may well be willing to wait up to a few minutes for the complete download. Still, any web page that takes more than 3 minutes to download is likely to bury your reputation as a web page designer and permanently besmirch your web site. If you have a lot of pictures to display, consider limiting the number of pictures on each page and making more successive pages. A visitor may well be willing to take the time to view several pages with a few photos on each page, but would be much less likely to stick around waiting for the download of one page with 20 large images. Even though it may well be the same total amount of time, it's a matter of the impression that the first really large page with lots of images may never finish loading, or it may take an unbearable amount of time for the first image to be completed when many are downloading at the same time.

Another good approach to presenting a large number of pictures is to put maybe one moderate size image on a page and a number of small thumbnail size images. Each of the small images can then be hyperlinked to the larger image file or to another web page containing the larger image(s). That way the visitor can pick one image or a page with a few images to view at one time, and the download time will be tolerable. Or the visitor may choose to view some of the larger images but not all of them. As such the visitor comes into control and can tailor the tour to his own wants and time allowances. A web site that is under the control of the visitor and gives the impression of being fast acting and is easy to navigate is likely to earn more gold stars and bookmarks. If a visitor only has time to get through a few of your pictures or pages on initial visit, but the site is easy to navigate, he may well return later to continue the tour.

One more very important rule here that I find is often violated. Do not attempt to create a page full of thumbnail images by squeezing full size images into a thumbnail size apertures. If you place 20 images of 40-KB data file size each into 20 small apertures, the 800-KB download over a dial-up modem to complete the page will absolutely discourage your visitors. For this you need to reduce each image to the smaller size and save it again as a separate file. Then your folder will have two image files for each picture, one full size image and one thumbnail size. Then place the small images together on the web page, each with a hyperlink to the larger image. Twenty images of 2KB each will download in a reasonable time, after which your visitor can select any image he wants to view in larger form.

When your intention is to have the visitor view all of a series of images in sequence, then it works well to create several web pages with one or two large images on each page, and link these pages in series with navigation buttons similar to the ones at the bottom of this page. Then the visitor can page through the images in sequence without having to hit the Back button and refresh the thumbnail page after each image. This also allows you to place a caption or other remarks on the page along with each image. When you do this you can get the visitor touring many pages deep into your web site, so you should also include a Home button on each page to allow a quick retreat back to the beginning in just a couple of clicks.

On the list of do's you can place the <MARQUEE>.
This allows you to scroll a text line across the screen.
It only requires a couple lines of HTML code, so it downloads quickly along with the web page. I would use this sparingly though, as it is a significant distraction (which is of course the very reason for using it). It is also a javascript command, so it will only work with a JAVA enabled browser. With a browser where JAVA is not active the marquee text should simply be a stationary display on the web page the same as any other web page text.

One item that is a maybe do or maybe don't would be the animated GIF image. Remember this one? One small animated image occasionally is probably okay as long as the distraction from other page content is not overwhelming. However, bear in mind that the animated image is actually a set of many different images played back in sequence to emulate motion, and those many small images combine to hog both data space and download time. Also if you have a few of these (or maybe one large one) near the top of your web page, and it finishes loading before the rest of the page download is complete, then the animated image(s) can go into action and begin eating up processor time, which may interfere with expedient downloading of the balance of the page.

Enough of that fun. The next page is a fairly important discussion on the merits of Relative addressing vs Absolute addressing for the location of internet files, and the Portability of web pages between servers.

Thank you for your comments -- Send e-mail to <Barney Gaylord>
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