1001 Newbie - Friendly Tips by Bob McElwain - HTML preview
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Website Baseball - You're Out!
Beethoven was a genius of the first rank. Even if you do not care for the kind of music he created, you probably agree it is great.
Fundamental to music is form. There are strict rules associated with each. To break the rules, is to break the form. The result will sound odd to the untrained ear. It will be broken, unacceptable to listeners who understand the form.
The true genius of great musicians is the creativity they demonstrate within the forms acceptable in their time. Beethoven faced rules as stringent in his day as Scott Joplin faced in his.
And It's So In Baseball
"Strike three. You're out!" cries the umpire. The form and rules which guide a baseball game are simpler to see, perhaps, but no less fundamental to the game than those of the sonata to Beethoven or ragtime to Joplin.
Form Also Rules The Web
The Web is as close as we can get now, to the wild, wild west of yesteryear. It's exciting, exhilarating, and seemingly without bounds. And many believe it to be without form or rules. But they are quite mistaken.
I built my first website in 1992. While I was not aware of the rules back then, they were there. And the site failed almost before I got it finished because I did not follow them.
No, there will be no rehash of the rules just now. I will settle for one example. The human eye can not correctly register the image of red text on a dark blue background. It is a matter of physiology, not opinion. So why put red text on a blue background? While other rules may not be so soundly based, break them at your peril.
Reasons for building a website differ greatly. Some are built just for the fun of it. Others are put together in hopes of making major bucks. Most fall somewhere between these extremes. But whatever the purpose, there are common needs among all sites.
If you want to cheer the NFL, you want visitors to hear your cheers, to support your efforts, and add their own. If you want to be the web authority on goldfish, you need visitors who demand your content and contribute to it, else your authority means nothing. And if you want to make bucks, you need visitors who believe in you, who buy, and who return to buy more.
What is common here is the need for visitors. The target varies with the purpose. If you're cheering the NFL, you don't want goldfish lovers (unless they also love NFL football). But all need targeted traffic.
Since people are pretty much the same the world over, what may offend or annoy one person, will likely do the same to others. That is, red on a blue background will offend NFL fans, goldfish enthusiasts, and potential buyers.
Beating The System
The way to win big time on the Web is to tenaciously follow the rules. And yes, there are lots of them. They range from those that dictate site design to others which guide a business to success.
Speak of joy, if you wish. Or sell, sell, sell! But do so within the constraints of the form. Whatever you present must flow from the form. Your creativity is tested within the form, not in violation of it.
Remember the battle for the home run record between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire? It was really something, that's sure. But as great as these men are, they were out on a call strike three. Them's the rules.
Your website may strike out too, even if you know the rules, and follow them. But if you don't follow them, it will never come to bat.
If You Want A Website, First Comes HTML
HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) is the language in which website pages are written, and the language used by browsers to read pages visited. So unless you have scads of bucks, enough to hire someone to create and manage your website, you will need to learn the basics of writing HTML code.
Some may disagree, for there are some good web page editors available that handle the HTML code for you. I use one. And likely you will too. But it is unwise to do so until you have a good understanding of the fundamental code structures. At some point, the best editor will fail in some way. When that happens, your option is to toss the page you are working on, else dig into the code itself, find where it broke, and fix it.
Besides it's not all that hard to do. It takes a little time, is all. And patience. It isn't obvious at first.
But you will come to discover it is really quite simple. Almost primitive, in fact. When you come to this realization, you can turn to a web page editor with confidence.
So how should you start? You need nothing more than a text editor such as Notepad, a browser, and some notes about HTML. You write the code in your text editor and use your browser to load the page to see what it will look like on the Web.
You might like to begin with my Web Page Starter Kit. It takes you step by step though the basics of HTML and helps you build a practical web page template. About a hundred public domain graphics are included. Lots of links to additional resources are provided. The price is right; it's FREE! You can download the file by pointing your browser at: /files/pagekit.exe (MAC users can use this URL, but grab pagekit.zip.)
PageKit.Exe is a self-installing execute, about390K bytes in size. Just run it, then load the ReadMe file into your browser from the directory in which you installed. If you take the default, the directory will be WebSiteStart.
Once you get a good start, you will find it very helpful to look at the code behind pages you find on the Web that you like. Once a page has fully loaded, click on the option in your browser to view the source code. Copy any part of it that interests you, load it into your editor, and experiment to find out how it works.
Note you can not actually use what someone else has written, for that is a violation of the copyright laws. Worse, it's dishonest. However, there is nothing wrong with copying a piece of code so you can try it yourself to see how it works. It's no different than writing down some problems from a math book to see if you can figure how to do them. If in doubt about something in particular, drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for permission to use the code. 99% will say yes, and a surprising number will offer to help.
At some point you will become quite bored with all of this, and want to see your pages on the Web. For real! Now what?
First you need a host for the pages you create. Check with your ISP (Internet Service Provider) through which you have access to the Web. Most offer free home pages to their customers. If that doesn't work, look around for free hosting service. Geocities.Com, recently bought by Yahoo, will do . (A Caution: A freebie hosting service is great while getting started; it won't do at all for a serious business site.)
Next you need a way to load the pages you create to your new site. If your ISP has provided a free site, check with them first. They may have a program that will do the job. And some free site hosting services also provide adequate software; just now no name comes to mind. But even if you have to buy a program, it's a good investment for you will need it later when you build a site for real.
The two most popular programs for handling FTP (File Transfer Protocol) are WS_FTP ($37.50) at Wsftp.Com and Cute FTP ($39) at Cuteftp.Com. Either of these programs will provide efficient transfer of your files to and from your site. I happen to use WS_FTP, but Cute FTP is also an excellent program.
Only when you feel comfortable with your HTML coding skills is it appropriate to consider building a business site for real. And this would be the time to consider a web page editor. However, you may find you do not need one at all.
A client of mine operates a very successful business centered at his website which he created and maintains by writing his own code with Notepad, and checking his work with his browser. HomePlanSoftware.Com This site works very, very well, and so can yours! Check it out.
I will wrap with an offer tough to beat. When you get a page loaded and you get stuck real good (and I guarantee this *will* happen), send me the URL. I'll take a look and see if I can fix it. Have you had a better offer today?
Here's to happy site building!
UPDATE: The HTML Editor may serve your needs now, and into the foreseeable future. I wrote the guided tour included based upon my very successful Web Page Starter Kit mentioned above. Click here to learn more. And if you buy from the Deals page on my site, you will save $15.00!
Conventional Formats Work
Books have a lot in common, regardless of the writer, content, or publisher. The covers are of sturdier weight than the inner pages. There's a title page. Some credits on the reverse side, or on the next page. Maybe a dedication by the author. If appropriate, there's a table of contents next. If there's an introduction, it follows. And if there's an index, it's at the back of the book.
So why not be creative? Put the index up front and the table of contents at the end? Why not?
Habits Are Helpful
We are all creatures of habit. In fact we benefit from them. What a chore it would be to get out of bed in the morning and get to work if we had to think our way through each step, and be sure we did not overlook one. We need our habits. And we don't want to change them. A book with a title page at the end of it would be unsettling.
The form and format of most magazines is even more consistent, and rigid. Would a magazine be successful with classified ads up front and letters to the editor at the end of it?
Newspapers are even more similar, one to another. The emphasis is on the first fold that shows on the newsstand. Headline creation is a major task. The way stories are written is the same, with the key points up front in case the reader does not continue.
Take a look at your bookcase. Hardbound books are pretty much the same in height. Paperbacks are even more likely to be nearly identical in this regard. You can generally mingle pages from different newspapers and find the edges are pretty well aligned.
And what about the type font? In 9 of 10 cases, it will be Times Roman, or a close cousin. And the printed text is bound to be black on white.
Publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers follow conventions relentlessly. Why?
They want their readers to focus on the content, not the logistics of getting around in the publication. And content is the only significant difference between competing books, magazines, or newspapers.
Since competition is really a contest between contents,publishers do not want deviation elsewhere that might interfere with the impact of that content.
Web Publishers Must Follow Suit
The conventions for a website are also clearly defined. Fast loading pages that are easy to read. A navigation scheme that is crystal clear in a glance. The same format on every page. The same format? Hey, that's boring!
Maybe. But it is conventional. As with printed publications, let nothing on your site detract from content. It works for the "Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic Monthly," and Random House. And it works for other successful newspaper, magazine, and book publishers. It also works on a website. Let nothing in your pages detract from content. Then beat the competition with that content, It's the only way to go.
Boring Is Best
In sorting accumulated bookmarks recently, I found I could not recall why I had saved some of them. After clicking on a few, I was struck by the fact that so many sites looked so much alike. Boringly alike.
I sense that more and more webmasters are coming to understand that site content and expertise available is what makes the site. Not bells and whistles.
If you have not embraced these notions, you are losing ground. But as in so many things about the Web, there is no need to take my word for this. Check it out and see for yourself. You will find that in site design, simple is a good idea. And that boring is best.
The Test Sample
I began with a set of 43 bookmarks recently collected. Some I recognized as resources to be added to my newsletters. Others were sites someone had suggested or requested I visit. But for many, I was no longer able to recall why I had saved the address.
While I wanted the sample to be random in the sense of checking the entire set, I did not want to examine this many sites in any detail. After looking at several, I found a criteria that allowed my to eliminate a whole bunch. And that proved to be a great time saver. Here it is.
What's in it for me?
I omitted 14 sites that did not respond adequately to this fundamental question asked by every visitor. (One exception is included below to make a point.) In each case, before making a hasty retreat, I noted additional flaws. Since it is not my intent to play critic here, I simple ignored them. The sites listed below had at least an adequate answer to this question for their visitors in the first fold (screen). Does yours?
Since I eliminated sites that did not adequately answer the question above, all the sites listed had at least a good first fold. Note I said good, not great. In many cases there was room for improvement. (For more info, click here and read, "
The First Fold Makes Your Site.")
While some sites were better than others, navigation seemed pretty straightforward throughout.
All but two sites had good download times on my system. Less than 30 seconds in all cases, most were under 15 seconds. One took 2:47 minutes, which is much, much too slow. Regards the second slow site, see the following.
Only one site had a splash screen. I left after 3 minutes, before it had completely loaded. This is the exception included, simply to make this point. I never did see the first fold.
I really hate to see this, for it is so easy to demonstrate that this kind of page simply will not work. Just compare the hit count on the entry page to that of the page it links to. It is highly unlikely there will be even half as many hits on the second page. In this particular case, I'm not sure anyone ever has stuck around long enough for the entire page to load.
Only 4 sites forced me to scroll horizontally with my browser screen width set to 640 pixels. One had the table width set to 660 pixels, which makes little sense to me.
Another had the table width properly set to 600 pixels but still forced scrolling about 50 pixels, probably due to a graphic in the page, but I did not check. Another site was using a table width of 100%, rather than 600 pixels; this leaves things to the browsers to position the page wherever. Of all sites visited, only one had a greater width: 812 pixels, an odd choice that forces almost every visitor to scroll. If you assume visitors are using 800 pixel screens, the better choice is 760 pixels.
Only one site used frames. And a bit of scrolling was required in each window. Not good. Since 28 of 29 sites did not use frames, you can do without them as well.
Text And Background Colors
All but three sites use black text on a white background. Two used black text on a background Windows calls moneygreen. (A very pale green.) It worked for me. Only one used a bold combination of colors.
I was not taken with it, but it will not likely offend anyone. Clearly the work of an artist who knows web colors. The bottom line, though, is that 26 of 29 used black text on a white background. How much thinking does it take to figure this is the best way to go?
Only 5 use Times Roman. There are those who maintain this is the way to go because it is what people are accustomed to reading in printed material. But in taking this position, they may be overlooking a key point.
Text on a computer monitor is much fuzzier than it would be in print. Fuzzier by something like 25%, even when compared to news print. This slows reading by about 20%. The serifs in Times Roman add fuzz, which slows reading even further. Most sites use Arial or Verdana. Either choice is the best available.
The amount of readability research available is enormous. Believe it. The basic concern of parents and schools in the early grades is improving reading skills. Better readers do better in school; there's no question about this. Long before the Web was born, it was clearly determined that the ideal length of a line in characters is 60, and that 65 is the maximum acceptable. Only 2 of 29 sites ignored this rule. Can you afford to do so?
Pop Up Windows
Only two sites had a window that popped up. While popular with some webmasters, most visitors are annoyed because the new window blocks part of the page they came to see. Are you into annoying people?
I found animation on only one site. As a reminder, though, I only visited a couple of pages on each site. Further, I ignored banner ads. It may not be reasonable for a site to reject animated banners if revenues depend upon them.
No site offered sound.
I was surprised to find such commonality in a set of my bookmarks, collected for a variety of reasons. But the real wow came later, as I was adding up numbers and making counts.
Of the 29 sites included, 14 followed every one of the implied rules above. 7 others faltered on only one point. Thus at least 21 of these 29 sites agree that boring is best in site design. That content is indeed what it is all about.
See For Yourself
Many newbies embrace the freedom of the Web, but then carry this same sense of freedom into their website. That is, they do it their way, without regard to the norms that exist. It's a bad move. Your site design must be acceptable to your visitor. They are the only people who matter. Follow the "rules" most often used. Be creative in your content and products or services.
Don't take my word for this. Or the word of anyone else. Take the time to check for yourself. It's easy.
Go to your favorite search engine and enter "site promotion" as a search term. Remember these are people into making a site sell effectively. Briefly visit the first 15-20 sites listed. See how many you can find that ignore the "rules" above. When I checked at AltaVista, I did not find any break in the first 10 listings.
The Sample Set
I did not include the URLs of the sites visited. However, I have them handy if you want to check things out for yourself. Just send a note to TIPS@sitetipsandtrick.com. -- Bob
Make Your Own Rules!
Must you annoy your visitors? Is there no way to avoid this?
No, there is not. But you only need to do so once. When you make your sales presentation. Of course the better it is, the less it will annoy. But in general, people do not rush into a sales pitch for the fun of it. There is at least hesitation. And often a sense of, "Darn. Here we go again."
In order to assure your visitors "agree" to read your presentation, all else on the site be clean, simple, and positive, without anything that may offend or irritate.
Discovering The Rules
Do you like blinking text on a website? Flashing banners? I don't. But what you and I think about them is meaningless. The question is what do our visitors think about them.
There are lots of rules about website design. Lots of dos and don'ts. Unfortunately, on almost any point you are likely to find a considerable difference of opinion. Probably the best approach is to develop your own set of rules. It isn't all that hard to do. It requires honest thought, is all. By honest, I mean you must take yourself out of the picture, and think only of your visitors and target.
Collect Check Sites
Begin by checking your bookmark or favorites file. Move the URLs of those sites you believe your target would enjoy visiting into a separate folder. How many is enough? Hard to say. If you feel you need a couple more, go find them. And when you stumble upon another, be sure to add that URL. Whatever, these become your check sites. State a rule, then see if most of these sites follow it. If so, then live by it. If not, restate the rule.
Building A Rule
Back to blinking and flashy elements, it is clear many do not like them. Visit your check sites. Do they use them? Again, this takes more pondering than work. And again, it's a matter of looking at all from your target's point of view.
In this case you will probably note that blinking and flashy are not used much, if at all. If this is your finding, then your rule may be stated as: Don't use them unless you must.
Consider colors. If you approach this honestly, you will find white or off-white is the preferred background color. Does this mean your rule should be to use white?
Not really. But it does mean that if you choose a different background color, you will need to be extra careful elsewhere.
Making Your Own Rules
If you work at this a bit, you can come up with some neat notions of your own. For example, I was recently struggling to find a third shade of blue for a page template. I spent more time at it than I would care to admit.
While I do not know it is true, I suspect three shades of the same color on a web page means at least one will clash with one of the others.
Am I right? Can't say. I can say, however, that for me the rule is to not use more than two shades of the same color on the same page. I'll stand by this rule. But also remain open to changing it if I discover something better.
Don't Buck The System
Readability of content is an area often overlooked. It seems odd to me that this is so. Given all the drive behind getting youngsters to become good readers, be assured there are mountains of research. And that mountain has been growing for scores of years.
To not follow these rules is a great mistake. Don't listen to me on this point. Check it out with your list of sites and see what they are about. Do they use red text on a blue background? If not, you should not do so either? Do they have 100 characters in a line? If not, you should not either. (Incidently, the answer to this "quiz question" is 60!)
In short, use rules demonstrated to be correct.
Let's Get Comfortable
Forgetting rules and building good ones for a moment, let's look at comfort and such. In your list of check sites, you undoubtedly have some you like better than others. Pick a time when you are feeling aggressive or creative or both. Then visit each in turn. Try to answer questions such as the following.
* Why do I like this site?
* Why do I feel comfortable here?
* Why do I want to stay a while?
* What is it about this site that makes it special to me?
* What makes me think these people are successful?
* Why do I feel I can trust the business behind this site?
It's easy enough to add several dozen such questions, but hopefully the above gives the idea I had in mind.
To the degree you can answer such question and determine guidelines to be used on your site, you will be making great gains. I find this very difficult to do. But I also find it very enlightening. For me, it leads to ideas common to good sites. And these ideas lead to very helpful guidelines or rules I follow.
Visit some sites offering merchant account services, or some way of taking credit cards. If you have struggled as many do in trying to find such a service, there's no reason to look again. Nothing has changed.
Now visit WellsFargo.Com. I don't know what your reaction will be, but I immediately felt several positive things. These people are for real. They are successful. And within seconds, I felt I could trust this operation.
All quite appropriate for a banking site. Also appropriate for mine. I spent quite a long time at WellsFargo.Com, trying to figure all the little bits and pieces that gave me such an immediate positive feeling.
What It Boils Down To
A lot of the rules we hear remind me of political sound bites. They don't give us a sufficient understanding without the context. I'm certain a lot of "rules" we hear, come from trying to answer questions such as those above. But there is not sufficient time or space to give the reasoning. So what we get is a rule without the context.
Rather than blindly following any rule, we can check it out and decide for ourselves. And in doing so we build our own set of rules. A set that collectively forces us to produce pages we are confident our target will enjoy.
When we then introduce them to our sales presentation, any annoyance that may arise, will quickly fade. If we have been bugging them since they arrived, they will never see our pitch, for they will have long since clicked off the site.
The First Fold Makes Your Site! (Or Breaks It.)
Visitors to your site are not looking to make a new friend. They don't want to chat. And they don't give a darn what you think about anything, least of all your product. They only want to know:
1) What's in it for me?
2) Why should I believe you?
3) Why should I buy from you?
They will answer the first two questions to their satisfaction within seconds. Only if they like these answers will they even consider the third. And at least a partial answer to it must come easily
Provided your page downloads quickly, visitors will stick around until it does. But as it starts to load to the screen, the first fold (screen) must fill rapidly. It must immediately provide information that compels the answers you want your visitor to decide upon. (If there are any graphics on the page, be sure dimensions are included in the HTML so text will quickly load up top.)
In the first fold, answers to the above questions must flow from ...
1) Benefits, benefits, and more benefits
2) Demonstrated professionalism and expertise
3) Clear statement of the USP (Universal Selling Proposition)
More About Benefits
They must be presented with words. While not easy to define, they are the only tool available to trigger the answer you want to the question, "What's in it for me?" This part of the message must be crafted as carefully as an ad central to a major advertising campaign.
On a single product site, the home page headline shouts the major benefit of the product. As with a good sales letter, each word draws the visitor more deeply into the site. All is benefits. And all points to the order form and a sale.
Most sites offer a variety of products and/or services, which means the simplicity in a single product site can only be approximated. The home page is the entrance to corridors leading to the sale of different products. (Or to great information, free stuff, etc.)
This requires even more judicious use of the top fold. The benefits presented must be specific to products, rather than to features of a single product. In the first fold, introduce those products most likely to be of interest to an unknown visitor. A possible alternative is to work with the products you most want to sell.
Professionalism And Expertise
Demonstrate these as the first step in answering the question, "Why should I believe you?" The way in which benefits are presented goes a long way toward achieving this goal. Given a sharp, professional presentation, your skeptical visitor is likely to say, "So far, so good." And to withhold final judgement, particularly as to trustworthiness.
In this regard, the appearance of the site is fundamental. Again looking at the first fold, all must support well stated benefits. Even enhance them. A garish or cluttered page destroys any credibility that might flow from the content. Likewise for any graphic that does not enhance the appearance of the site *and* the message.
About Your USP
When a visitor answers the question, "Why should I buy from you?" with, "Okay, you'll do," he or she is ready to buy. And the option to do so must be handy. Throughout, however, the content must continue to provide solid reasons for buying, for you don't know when the decision may be made. It is not likely to happen in the first fold. The initial response, though, needs to be at least, "Okay, I'll tag along a ways." A good USP is sufficient to bring this response.
The USP may be incorporated in a logo, offered in a colored cell within a table, or maybe as the last line on the screen at the bottom of the first fold. Where it is positioned is not important. But the visitor must see it and easily grasp its meaning in the first or second scan of the first fold.
The best single product site I have visited is SiteSell.Com. Ken Evoy, author of "Make Your Site Sell" is a master at this. Check out his sales pitch and see if you can keep yourself from buying the book! Even if you have multiple profit centers, a corridor to a sale within a given center can be developed in this way.
UPDATE: Ken now offers several products, and I wonder if his new home page layout works as well as the original.
I don't have an example of a great multi-product site. Most I visit seem too cluttered, too busy, too pretty, or they just have too much stuff. My own site suffers some from the latter malady. I continue working to improve it along the above lines.
But What About The Rest Of The Site?
Pieces of cake. Really. Some may argue the most difficult task in online marketing is generating targeted traffic. I don't agree. While it takes a good deal of time, effort and often dollars, it is largely a 1-2-3 sort of process. Do this, that, and then that. Others have clearly defined the steps that need to be taken, and the order in which to take them.
For me, the greatest challenge in marketing online is building the first fold on the home page. If your visitor scrolls down or clicks off into the site, you have a potential customer. In fact you have one who is likely to grant you a little slack. Thus perfection is not demanded throughout the site. Top quality is sufficient. But the first fold must be absolutely perfect.
Think of a newspaper. What part of it is assembled with the greatest care? The top fold of the first page. It's what shows in vending machines and on newsstands. How many millions have bought a newspaper because a single headline grabbed hard? Many, that's certain. Is the first fold on your website less important?
I have a strong hunch I can not demonstrate. Of those who click off a site never to return, ninety-some percent do so without leaving the first fold. Get it right and those who arrive with, "What's in it for me?" will say, "This might do." It's a giant step toward a sale.