Your Business

@ The Entrepreneurial Parent


EP Mailing Lists

Subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter or join our daily discussion!

Win $100 in prizes!

Creating an Effective Web Site

Before you even consider creating a web site, there are quite a few issues you should think through. Here's a few to start off with...

© 1998, by Peter Kent

There's more to creating a great web site than taking your paper documents and throwing them on-line. Working in hypertext takes a little more thought and planning. By its very nature, hypertext works differently from paper documents; it's more of an active media, with readers choosing from a virtually unlimited range of directions. Furthermore, you have a number of choices and techniques available that are not available on paper: Should you link to other people's web sites? How many routes through your own web site should you provide? How many pictures should you use, at the risk of irritating people by providing slow downloads?

In this chapter we're going to begin by looking at a few major issues in a design overview. In the following chapter we'll get a little closer and discuss some very specific design issues.

Two Schools of Thought

There are a couple of schools of thought about what makes an effective web site. Here's what the first school seems to consider the essence of perfection in the world of the web:

  • Web sites must be "cool."
  • You need lots of pictures.
  • Adding sound to your site can help make it more interesting.
  • Adding animation to your site makes it more exciting.
  • Your site must be in a state of constant change, or people won't come back.

What do these people think the web is? An entertainment system? Certainly many of them do believe that, and of course parts of the web are just that. If you're MTV or Nickelodeon, maybe you do need to have all these things: pictures, animation, sounds, constant change. But there's no rule that says ever web site must be "cool."

Let's get back to the real world for an example. When I ship a package via FedEx or UPS, I can call the company to come and pick up the package. Now, when someone from FedEx or UPS comes to the door, do I expect a song and dance? Do I demand poetry or a joke? Of course not. So why do I need these things when I arrive at a web site? In most cases, I don't.

I've said it a few times before, but I just have to say it again:

The Internet is a giant jobs program for computer geeks.

Why are so many people telling you that your web site must be cool? Because creating a cool web site is really a lot of fun. I've used many of the tools required to do this sort of thing, and if you're of a geek frame of mind (as I freely admit I am now and then), this stuff really is entertaining. Hell, it's better than working! You get to express your artistic tendencies a little, even if a little is just how artistic you happen to be. You get to play with pretty pictures and the programs that create them, fool around with all sorts of neat software, connect a microphone to your computer and pretend to be a radio announcer, tweak this and tweak that. Playing with computers can really be fun: after all, why would I be writing this book rather than getting a real job?

Let me give you an example. A while ago I watched a presentation given in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters convention. A young man (a Webmaster, as he called himself) who worked for a television station in California was showing his web site, and at one point he played some video of the funeral of David Packard of Hewlett-Packard. He'd put the video at his web site for visitors to view. His explanation? "Now people all over the world can feel like they were there."

If I'd had the opportunity to talk with him, I would have asked two questions. First: So what? And second: How does this make money for your television station? Someone in Japan, for instance, could view this video; how nice. But does it help the company posting the video on the web? Not at all.

Your web site doesn't necessarily need "cool." Here's the other school of thought:

  • Web sites should be useful.
  • Web sites should be designed with a real purpose in mind, and the designers should make sure they fulfill that purpose.
  • Web sites should work quickly: don't keep your visitors waiting.
  • Web sites should be structured in such a manner that visitors can find what they need quickly and without fuss.

So here's another of my little mottos to live by (or at least, to build web sites by):

Forget Cool, Think Useful.

Am I saying there's no place on the Internet for pictures, sounds and animations, and all the other neat stuff? No, of course not. A few pictures here and there really can help a web site. Consider the purpose of the site. If that purpose includes entertaining people, then by all means add a little cool to the site. If not, don't worry about cool and think about how to make the site useful.

By the way, perhaps by now you've visited the UPS site (; I've mentioned it a few times already. Is this site cool? No, not particularly. Is it useful? It's one of the most useful sites on the web, and it gets a lot of traffic. How many people visit the UPS site and think, "I'm not coming back here, this site's not cool enough?" Not many, I'll bet.

Lead Your Visitors

I know I've made a number of comments in this book about making the web site easier for the visitor, but after all, it is your web site, so you have to consider two conflicting needs:

  • You are trying to achieve something by bringing people to your web site.
  • The visitors are trying to achieve something by visiting your web site.

The perfect web site, from your point of view, is the one that satisfies both desires: you get what you want, your visitors get what they want. Everyone's happy. Of course this is a circular dynamic. if your visitors' needs are not met, they won't come back, so your needs won't be met.

So when creating a web site, you must consider what you want to get and what you can give to people in order to get them to visit your site and use it in the way you want.

For instance, you're planning to set up a site that attracts a lot of visitors so you can sell advertising. Your aims are simple: get lots of people to your site as often as possible and for as long a duration as possible. The site will focus on giving something to your visitors; whatever it takes to get them to come to your site and stay there.

On the other hand, perhaps your aim is to set up a technical-support site, where customers can get information about your products so they're less likely to call your technical-support staff. In this case, you really want to get your customers in and out as quickly as possible; for your sake and theirs. Yours, because it's less stress on the web server, and theirs, because they're trying to get a job done and not waste time on the web.

Or maybe you're selling something. You want to get your prospective clients to your site, and sell them whatever it is you have. But sometimes in cases like this you run into conflict. You have to bring them to your site somehow; perhaps you offer them information or a discussion with other people who have similar interests, or a freebie of some kind; but while they're at your site, you don't want them just to take, you want them to give as well.

So consider also how you are going to lead your visitors. They've come to get something from your site, but you want to make sure your needs are met too. I've said you should make things easy for them, and that's where the conflict lies; if it's too easy for them, they'll go directly to what they want, take it, and leave. Instead, you need to lead them to where you want them. So for instance, you don't take them straight to a page where they can take part in a discussion group. First you lead them through another page containing information that you want them to see about a product or service you are trying to sell. You don't take someone straight to a download page for demo software, you take them through a page that explains what's so great about the full version of the software. Now, you don't want to make this process obnoxious. Make it too difficult, and you'll drive away your visitors. And don't make it hard to navigate your site, either. Try to find a balance somewhere.

Find the Web Awards

I've already suggested that you travel around on the web looking for examples of good web sites. You can also get more specific help. You could, for instance, view web sites that are rated highly by various review services on the web. Try these sites to reach the rating and award sites:

Unfortunately, viewing top-rated sites is not always a good way to find good sites. These sites are often rated on a "cool" scale, so many sites are listed because they're heavy on graphics or multimedia.

Find Lousy Sites

Another form of advice is to find lousy web sites, decide what you don't like about them, and promise yourself not to make the same mistakes. One of the best ways to find lousy sites is to visit the cybermalls (see Chapter 3). You'll find all sorts of amateurish rubbish with the following kinds of faults:

  • They don't tell you what they want you to do.
  • They don't have e-mail addresses.
  • They use horrible colors.
  • They use ugly backgrounds.
  • They use ridiculous text and background contrast, making their text unreadable.
  • They contain spelling and grammar mistakes.

A way to find awful web sites is by looking at one of the indexes of bad sites:

Get Some Design Advice

I want to tell you about the two most important sites on the World Wide Web. The first is Web Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design by Looking at Bad Design, by Vincent Flanders. I think this is important because it's such a wonderful way to learn about lousy web-site design. And once you've learned lousy web site-design, you can avoid it.

The other site that I consider one of the two most important sites on the web is the Doctor HTML site. I think this is important because, well, because Vincent told me it is. And it is, indeed, a very useful little site. All you need to do is to enter a web page's URL, your web page or one you are interested in learning about, make a few selections, and Doctor HTML will analyze the page. It will tell you how large the image files are, how long they'll take to transfer, whether you've made mistakes in your HTML tags and whether there are broken links, and will check for spelling mistakes. It will even suggest ways in which you can improve your tags to make the page work better.

Finally, there are other sites providing useful information about web design. For instance, the Resources on Web Style page is very handy, containing links to around 20 advice sites. There's a good article in WebReview, too, User Test Your Web Site.

Finish Before You Publicize

In Chapter 18 you'll see how to begin publicizing your web site, but it's a good idea not to get started too soon. Don't set up a sparse main page, then immediately begin publicizing the site. Instead, make sure you've got something worth visiting. Otherwise people will visit your site and leave immediately, perhaps never to return.

Web sites are never completely finished, though. There's always something to add or something to tweak, so don't feel that your site must be completely perfect before you begin getting the word out. You may want a few "Coming Soon" signs here and there, and perhaps links to pages that explain a new feature you'll be adding soon. If you plan to add some features that you believe people will really want to see, it's a good idea to let them know you'll be adding those features soon. If it's a major feature, you may even want to add a feedback form (see Chapter 13) to collect peoples' e-mail addresses you you can let them know when you've added the feature.

© 1998 - 2000, Peter Kent, all rights reserved. The above article is a compilation of excerpts from Chapter 10 of Peter Kent's excellent book, Poor Richard's Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building a Low-Cost Web Site, a recommended reading at This article (like the book!) is full of useful links and honest advice...enjoy! For reprint permission contact Peter Kent at [email protected].

EP Showcase | Forums | Membership | Directory | Experts | Career Counseling
Mailing List | Resource Center | Books | Articles | Archives | Web Links | Gift Shop
In the Media | Site Contents | Search Site | About EP | Advertise at EP | Link to Us
© 2000, The Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
P.O. Box 320722, Fairfield, CT 06432 |
Please Read Disclaimer Before Using Site | Email: [email protected]