Basics of Good Performing Websites

Today Internet is packed with millions and billions of websites, blogs and web pages, in fact the use of WWW or World Wide Web service had dominated the Internet. But all of the websites are not successful, being more precise, all of them do not serve the purpose for which they were created, which drags them into the category of 'failed' websites or they are useless. On the contrary some are very successful and progressive. In this article we would discuss what the basics of a good performing website are.

It is essential to define the purpose of the website as one of the first steps in the developing process. A purpose statement should show focus based on what the website will accomplish and what the users will get from it. Setting short and long term goals for the website will help make the purpose clear and plan for the future when expansion, modification, and improvement will take place. Setting a goal practices and measurable objectives should be identified to track the progress of the site and determine success.

Another important thing in a website is its structure, or its design - the way it is build. While designing a website one is often tempted and lured into using eye-catching graphics, using such an interface is not bad, and obviously it makes your website look good but it will make it time consuming. When designing a product (website) for a competitive market like Internet you must target the customer with lowest capability. A website with trendy and eye catching graphics would look cool to a visitor using a 8 Mbps broadband but what about the poor guy using a 56K modem, worst when the poor guy is the one who is actually interested in what you are presenting or selling but one with a robust connection is not. What I want to say is the website design must be a superb balance. It should look nice and at the same time it must not affect the latency time of the website.

Now let us briefly discuss how a good performing website must be designed. Stay away from wallpaper and dark background colors. Do you want visitors to see your services or your wallpaper? My guess is the reason you have a website is to promote a product or service, so make that the focus. Busy wallpaper distracts from the services and products you are trying to promote.

Dark background colors make reading web copy much harder and can be a bit overwhelming to most people's sense of calm and well being. When in doubt, do as other successful online businesses do. Notice no wallpaper or dark background colors on Microsoft, eBay and etc. It's okay to add a splash of color to your website, just not the whole page. Try to avoid using flash introductory pages. Sure they look nice and can be quite entertaining, but what do they really do for your website? In my opinion, frustrate your visitors. In today's fast paced society we want the facts and information quickly. Remember, there are still plenty of dial-up users who will become frustrated waiting for your flash page to load and will move on to your competitor's website. Time is the most precious thing, nobody will wait for 4 or 5 minutes for a page to load only because it contains something they want, because you are not the only one on the Internet who is offering something useful, the visitor will simply switch on to some other website. Animation and sounds are distracting. How can anyone concentrate on reading what's on your site when there are things flying around the page? It's like trying to read a newspaper when someone's poking you in the shoulder repeatedly. Also, visitors who have slow connections may resent that you wasted their time by forcing them to load animations and sound files against their will. Conventional wisdom is that people will be drawn to an animated ad, but it's actually the opposite: Readers who are assaulted by blinking ads are more likely to leave the site immediately without clicking on anything, and are far less likely to bookmark the site, return to it, link to it, and recommend it. That's why research shows that animated banner ads may be no more effective than static ads.

Avoid using scrolling text; the problem with scrolling text is that the reader can't read it at their own pace. They're forced to read it at whatever speed you deliver it. They might have preferred to read those two sentences quickly and then move on, but because it's scrolling they have to sit there and wait for the text to slowly appear.

This brings up an important point: Always keep your visitors' interests in mind. Make sure you try to please them, not yourself. Scrolling text does nothing to serve the visitor. If it's on a site it's because the site owner thought, "Let me show how cool I am. "Do you see the difference? Do not design the site for yourself; design it for the people who will actually use it. This leads us to a very important discussion. Everyone is tempted to earn money, after all that's why someone created a website. Placing ads would surely generate revenue and you cannot ignore this prospect. But a website flooding with ads will only bully the visitor away. So keep your desires of being a billionaire inside your bounds. Use the ads in a sensible way and try your best to avoid pop ups because Nobody likes popups. Here again, the only reason a site would have popups is because the site owner is thinking of his/her own interests rather than the readers. We all know that when we're browsing we hate popups, but suddenly when we switch hats and become the site owner, we lose our ability to see through the users' eyes. So let's remember to put ourselves in their shoes. Which of these reactions to popups is a visitor is more likely to have?

(a) "A popup window, oh goody! I love sites with popups! I will make certain to bookmark this site and visit often. I will also certainly click the ad or links in the popup because I love them so much."

(b) "@#&$! Whoever made this website obviously has no respect for me as a visitor. When I leave here I will never come back."

Obviously you would prefer option B. So try to look at your website from user's perspective. Try to speculate their reaction to changes or modification\additions you are making. It will help you a lot in anticipating the customer behavior and will help you win their attention and interest.

After discussing the design phase now let us move to another important step in making a good website, that is its content. Content explains what your website is about and what it contains. Find a niche market for your website. Do not try to make a website for everything. If your website is about software, make it about software and products that compliment your theme. Do not throw in insurance quotes, apartment searches etc. The visitors want to know who you are, and why you are here. You must tell them clearly and exactly who you are, what you are doing here. Your home page should clearly identify your business and describe the products and services you offer. Be concise. You only have a few moments to grab the attention of your visitor and get your point across.

Think about what content you have and how it should be organized. Show it in an organized and constructive manner. This is at least as important as what your pages look like, so actually spend some time on it. You do your readers a disservice if they can't easily find what they're looking for if everything is thrown up on your site in a haphazard fashion. Make the information or product available on your website in reach of user, or simply just give them what they want. This can be achieved by putting as few clicks between your visitor and your information as possible. The more you force your visitors to click around your site the more likely they'll abandon it. Even if they don't leave they might get annoyed, or not view as much of your content - either of which is bad for you. Second step in making information easily reachable is by minimizing scrolling alongside clicking. A related idea is to put meaningful amounts of information on each page. If a page doesn't have at least 400 words, you probably should combine that page with another short page. But don't go too far on that side, for that would increase scrolling. Try to limit your page to two screenfuls, if your website contains textual material, like articles the limit can be extended to 5 screenfuls but not more than that.

Always include a link to your homepage in every page of your website. Try adding a logo or a simple button that would redirect the user to your home page. If it is a logo or a button, name it as 'Home' because most of the time the user don't knows that where that button will lead him. Secondly a user may arrive at the middle of your site via search conducted by a search engine, letting him visit the homepage will give him useful information about your website. A website always contains multiple pages, so try to make a menu that would contain a link to go to a specific page. Also you must combine the related information in a single page, if it exceeds or their or 2-3 pages that contains related information, group them up in your menu. Don't put navigation links only at the bottom of pages, because then users will have to scroll down to the bottom to get to them (unless your pages are very short). Users clearly dislike links at the bottom of long pages. On long pages, you'll want navigation elements on both the bottom and the top or left, so that users who have read a lengthy page don't have to scroll back up to get to the menus.

Do not underline words unless they are a link. On the web, something that's underlined is supposed to be a link. If you underline gratuitously, readers will be annoyed when they try to click those underlined words only to discover that they're not really links. If you want to emphasize something, use italics instead or boldface, or another color.

Try to improve the readability of your website, use contrasting colors or simple background to make your text easily readable. Do not try to make your pages to wide, or too long. Most users have 1024x768 monitors, so pages should be completely visible at 1000 pixels wide without horizontal scrolling. As of 2010, about 10% of users have a screen that's 800x600 pixels or less, so many designers make their pages work at sizes as small as 770 pixels wide. The tradeoff is that if you design for 770 pixels, you're wasting the space available to the other 90% of your visitors. You could use a 'fluid' design that's wide as the user's window, whatever that may be, but it's hard to make fluid designs that look good at any resolution.

Now let us move to something technical. Websites are hosted by servers; the data available on a website might be coming from different servers located at different geographical locations. When a user requests information, an RPC or query is generated and then forwarded to the server for response, the server analysis the query and gives the user their desired material. That material is downloaded on the user's system and then displayed. All this process consumes time that we can refer to as a websites response time or latency time. For a successful website you must try to decrease the loading time. Because for user, that time is a waste. Nothing is more annoying to readers than waiting for a 200k graphic to load when it should be only 20k instead. Graphics software can compress files so they take up less room on your disk, and therefore take less time to load into your visitors' browsers. Get some graphics software and shrink those file sizes. Use some effective compression technique like GZip. Gzip is the most popular and effective compression method at this time. It was developed by the GNU project and standardized by RFC 1952. The only other compression format you're likely to see is deflate, but it's less effective and less popular. Gzipping generally reduces the response size by about 70%. Approximately 90% of today's Internet traffic travels through browsers that claim to support GZIP.

In order to minimize the loading time, try to minimize the HTTP requests, 80% of the end-user response time is spent on the front-end. Most of this time is tied up in downloading all the components in the page: images, style sheets, scripts, flash, etc. Reducing the number of components in turn reduces the number of HTTP requests required to render the page. This is the key to faster pages.

If you are operating a huge website, with a lot of potential use CDN (Content Delivery Network). A content delivery network (CDN) is a collection of web servers distributed across multiple locations to deliver content more efficiently to users. The server selected for delivering content to a specific user is typically based on a measure of network proximity. For example, the server with the fewest network hops or the server with the quickest response time is chosen. An important factor in making a website quicker to load is how the external factors are handled. Try to keep JavaScript and CSS external. Using external files in the real world generally produces faster pages because the JavaScript and CSS files are cached by the browser. JavaScript and CSS that are inlined in HTML documents get downloaded every time the HTML document is requested. This reduces the number of HTTP requests that are needed, but increases the size of the HTML document. On the other hand, if the JavaScript and CSS are in external files cached by the browser, the size of the HTML document is reduced without increasing the number of HTTP requests.

The key factor, then, is the frequency with which external JavaScript and CSS components are cached relative to the number of HTML documents requested. This factor, although difficult to quantify, can be gauged using various metrics. If users on your site have multiple page views per session and many of your pages re-use the same scripts and style sheets, there is a greater potential benefit from cached external files.

Try to incorporate a sense of reusability in your website. No matter what you're developing, there's a user-centered way of doing it. Users should be considered throughout the website design process. Usability should not be an afterthought. Testing and fixing a website after it has been built is inefficient and unlikely to produce optimal results. The best approach to take is to incorporate a model of 'pervasive usability' into your design and production process. Evaluation occurs at every stage of the process. Similar types of evaluation can occur at different stages of the design process to keep in mind the goals of the project and the users' needs. And if it comes down to a choice, reduce the scope of the project rather than the usability goals.

Advertising is a very effective technique to reach your customers. If you think you have a good website, spread the word! Let people know you have got something that is good for them, because the customers are good for you! Submit your site to search engines. Make sure you have keywords in your content. They should mirror what users would type to find your pages. Most search services index each word in an html file. Use short, accurate descriptions to identify ALT attributes within IMG (image) tags. Write a descriptive title for each page. Use just five to eight words. Ensure that this is marked as 'title' in the html code. This page title will appear hyper-linked on the search engines when your page is found. Search for major search actors in your field and submit your website to their directories. Directories and search engines are very valuable tools in promoting your website. Take full advantage of them by submitting your website URL to their directories. Sophisticated search engines like Google have ways like scrawling to find new websites, but in some cases you have to do it manually.

At conferences, in web forums and in your email signature include your web address on business cards and promotional materials. Ensure that all reprints of cards, stationery and marketing materials contain your web address. Write articles in your area of expertise and deliver it to other companies and websites for use, but compel them to mention the name or URL of your website in those articles. Consider publishing a monthly e-mail newsletter. This is a good way to bring users to your website. But remember - it is important not to spam, so do not send e-mails without permission to people who don't want it.

In the end, last but not least, Always keep your website updated. Periodically check your website for errors and dead links. Remove any dead links if found. Make sure everything is working, and it is working fine. Include a 'last modified' date at the end of your website. It will inform the user that you care for your website and customers and your website is regularly updated.

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