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Monday, February 27, 2006

Four Golden Rules

In the four years of being a web site owner, I've made certain observations about what a good site should consist of and what it should not, and whereas some commentators suggest ten and some suggest seven rules, I only have four such rules to share.

Ali's Four Golden Rules
A web site needs to be directed at your target audience, with four things kept in mind. Not written in any order of importance, they are:

1. Be dynamic
2. Be content-driven
3. Be easy to use
4. Have quick loading times

1. Dynamic
The site should be dynamic. This means that at the very least the home page, the first page visitors will usually see when the arrive at your site, should be updated often. This is why blogs have become so popular, and why I decided to use this format. Fresh, new content will bring vistors back and it will give your site a good image.

2. Content-driven
The life-blood of any site is content, and with image search becoming more and more important, this includes pictures, too. However, a site's content should not only be updated as often as possible, but be as good as possible, too. Care should be taken with spelling and grammar, or at least attempted to be written in a language that your target audience will find easy to understand. Pictures should be of good quality, with an expressive title as well as rich descriptive content that explain the image, while utilising topic tags.

The content should also speak to your target audience. If your site is for children between the ages of 6-12, then my content will probably bore them. However, unless you are selling something, your main target audience should be you. Be true to yourself and to what you believe in. Most people will appreciate that. Borrow concepts from other people and don't be afraid to ask for help, but don't steal or hack. Try to be original.

Remember, too, that the background design of your site should be just that - background design - and not confused with the content. It should be there to compliment the content and to distinguish your site from the other sites. The Tarkan Deluxe blog design adheres to these rules, but it is also practical. The nature of my blog is such that people will be reading and staring at the screen for a long time, and a monitor screen is not like paper, as you are in effect staring at bright light. So, white backgrounds can generally hurt the eyes after long periods, and dark backgrounds give more comfort to your reader. I generally use white backgrounds on sites that are for reference only.

3. Easy to use
Plan the layout of your site well and make sure that navigation and access to the most important areas of your site are visible and easy to use. Confusing visitors will not help you, but don't necessarily 'dumb down' your site, either. Realise that not everyone will understand even the easiest of instructions sometimes, and may still get lost. Depending on your site and target audience, try to strike the right balance.

4. Quick loading times
What used to be one of the most important factors to be kept in mind when designing the layout of the site was the loading time, which is the time it takes for the page to fully appear on the end-user's screen. A lot of javascript coding or too many high resolution (Hi-res) pictures on your landing page will lengthen the time it takes the site to load. So it is a good idea not to use too many pictures and to keep the coding of your site simple. The same is true when the main content is pictures, and using thumbnails to speed up the loading process is a good example.

Some people suggest that loading times have become less of an issue as broadband and other faster replacements for dial-up are found to connect to the Net, but adhering to this rule when designing your site will help keep it simple, and force you to be more content driven, even if that content is pictorial rather than textual.

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