Setting Up a Content-Rich WebsiteBy Guest Author: Stefanos Cunning
Building a web site for the first time might seem like an extremely difficult task, especially when you have to consider that you will be building a site for a world-wide audience comprising individuals with a wide range of abilities, platforms, and viewing conditions. We have a sure fire method for success and any person new to web developing must carefully consider the following eight areas:
Audience of the web site
First and foremost, when you have come up with your brilliant idea of a web site, you have to carefully consider who your audience is going to be. For instance, is the audience going to be primarily young people, businesses, pet owners, teachers, or maybe government officials?
Once you have determined who your desired primary audience is, it will become much easier to maintain consistency throughout your site.
Purpose of the web site
Now, let’s say that you have decided that you want to build a site that is about PlayStation 2 games and your primary audience is going to be 14-25 year olds. Now you need to determine what the purpose of the web site is going be.
Your purpose needs to be specific but at the same time flexible, as your site will grow, you might actually decide to change the primary purpose.
For our example let’s say the purpose of your new web site is to inform young people about all the new PlayStation 2 games that have been release and also provide members lists of cheats to those games.
Now you have set your purpose. You want to assist young people by providing the game cheats so that they might be able to win a few of those PlayStation 2 games.
URL of the web site
Choosing the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of your new web site is a bit more difficult as you might have to do a little research. You need to determine what the name of your site should be. Now there are several ways to do this.
You wouldn’t want to name the site www.gamecheats.co.uk as that is a very broad term and if someone was to search for your site on a search engine it might not come up, but with a highly targeted and named URL you stand a better chance.
So let’s say we have decided to name our site: www.cheats-playstation2-games.co.uk
Now you will have to check the availability of that URL. There are many web sites that can check the availability of URL’s for free. Here are few:
We would advise that you shop around and try to find a good price for your URL before making that first purchase.
Probably the single most important and useful quality for Web site design is flexibility. Most of us are pathologically incapable of getting anything right the first time, and while we're trying to do that, the universe changes, invalidating our Perfect Design.
Programmers well know that the key to flexibility is separation of concerns, typically implemented using "indirection". For example, Web design should separate content and style, then link one to the other.
However, this separation is a Good Thing only up to a point. First, it adds another thing to be managed. Second, it often adds another dimension to get confused in. Style sheets may be buggy, and browser support is still inadequate. Above a certain threshold of complexity, changes you make in the style sheet may have unexpected consequences — rather like software programs where you change one line and later discover it caused a bug. The best you can do is to try to keep it well-organised and as simple as possible (but no simpler).
You will probably need a HTML editor; there are many free editors online that function using the WYSIWYG method (What you see is what you get). A few first HTML editors might be:
That there should be a hierarchy is almost mandated by considerations such as user familiarity, file system structure, etc. We instinctively think in terms of topics and their subtopics, and map these to file-system directory trees in our Web sites.
Note that content structure actually has two major levels: how you implement it (e.g. in the filing or database system), and how the users see it in navigation facilities. They don't at all have to be the same thing, because the user isn't looking directly at your filing system; they will see it through links or redirects or intermediate software. This indirection can provide you with some flexibility as your site evolves. Your initial filing scheme might prove to be less than ideal; you notice that users are going to a page or set of pages that you'd placed deep down in the hierarchy, and so you would prefer them to be prominent on the navigation menus. Not a problem, those menus don't have to mirror the server's filing system! However, we prefer to keep them synchronised (on the K.I.S.S. principle) and occasionally move files or directories — taking care to add server redirects.
Hierarchical organization imposes a useful discipline on your own analytical approach to your content, as hierarchies only work well when you have thoroughly organized your material. I recommend putting a lot of effort into designing a logical system based on the user's view — rather than say, departmental structure, though that might play a role. Your navigation system should then be able to take advantage of the file structure, and good keywords will appear in the URLs themselves, helping users figure it out.
So using this as a guideline lets look at our own site example. We know certain that we want a page that lists all PlayStation games. We also want a page that would be for new releases, and we want an individual page for each game that describes the game and maybe has an snapshot image or something.
Our website will already have a root folder that is where your default homepage would be placed. Now you could create a folder called games in the root folder and then you could create a new folder in the games folder for every new game you add to your list. So let’s say you want to add Grand Theft Auto to your site.
Or you could avoid creating a new folder every time and just create a new web page, so for example:
We would recommend the second option for your game description page. You would also have to create another file for the cheats. Again following the method above you could do the following:
Notice that I modified the name of the html file by adding “-cheats” to the end of “grand-theft-auto”, that is for two reasons. One, when editing files you will never be confused about which page you are working on. Secondly, the actually file name will help search engines index the page better, hence giving you a higher page rankings.
A Web site has to be accessible, before it is even usable. Accessibility refers to the ease with which either disabled users, or users with non-standard browsing situations — or even users with typical visual abilities and the usual browsers — can access the information and other features of a site. In a sense then, accessibility is an extension of 'usability', in that a site needs to be accessible by more than just the CEO at his or her PC on your intranet.
Usability refers to the ease with which anyone (disabled or not, or with unusual viewing situations or not) can navigate a site and achieve the objectives which you have set for it, such as learning how to win their PlayStation 2 games. Your Web site may be wonderful, but if users find it to be unusable or perceive it to be so then it's unlikely they'll get far enough to discover just what's so wonderful about it.
A page of beautifully coloured Netscape layer pull-down menus won't be much use to the visually impaired non-English speaking users who favour Lynx, for example. If your target audience profile excludes such people, fine, but very often Web sites exclude valid users by default rather than design.
One of the major problems in a site with a lot of content is how to present it without overwhelming the user. If you bury it down in the navigation structure, many people may never realise it's there. One way to solve the navigation problem would be to put links to all available pages, on the home page. Your visitor could reach every page with a single click. However, this is impractical for sites with hundreds or thousands of pages; there are further requirements such as keeping the home page fast- loading and not too complicated.
In our example, as you build up your site with all of the available PlayStation 2 games, you will need to carefully decide how to organise the home page. Perhaps only having a new releases list and maybe a What’s Hot list and then a search box, which would allow users to immediately search through all of the content of the web site and find information on the game they are looking for.
Putting it all on the home page may make it too cluttered. The most important navigational device for any Web site is the home page. This page alone is most likely to be the one that determines whether your visitors view one page, or many, at your site. If it doesn't offer any clue that this site has valuable information, and how to locate it, then people are unlikely to expend much effort to track it down. If on the other hand, the home page gives clear indications about what's available at the site, and how to get to it, then your user's interest is likely to last longer.
The conventional approach is to provide a few links to the next level down, from the home page, supplemented with a small selection of representative links from the next level down. An important question to answer is "How many clicks will it take my visitors to find anything?". People's patience begins to fade very soon after a few clicks; but you probably don't want a very large number of links on every page.
Now the final step for getting your first web site live is hosting. This may be one of the more confusing steps as you will know doubt find thousands of companies offering hosting packages and choosing one of those packages might be difficult. But there are a few things to bear in mind:
We recommend that you consider some of the following companies to host your domain:
About the author:
Stefanos Cunning is Director of Unilabplus Ltd, a London-based online business management software house. For more information please see http://www.unilabplus.com.
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