Web Page Design

I have seen many poorly designed web pages. One of the worst that I have seen was a home page containing mostly images. I never waited for the entire page to download so I do not know how big the page actually was but I had already downloaded over 800k of images by the time that I was waiting for the page to finish loading and I waited about ten minutes before I gave up. What there was of the web page was pretty much unusable because it mainly consulted of images and blank spots where presumably more images were supposed to go and it took quite a while for me to spot that there were actually any links on the page that would take you further into the site. I certainly wont be visiting that site ever again. While this was an extreme case, there are many other web pages out there that are losing visitors because they do not offer visitors what they are looking for quickly enough to be useful.

I have seen statistics in several places that suggest that the average person will wait about eight seconds when they are loading a web site home page and that if that has loaded then then has not caught their interest then they will give up on that page and go elsewhere. On the typical dial up internet connection, a web page of 26k will take about eight seconds to load. Possibly your home page will be significantly bigger than this but provided that enough of it has already displayed this time to give your visitor something to look at they may wait for the rest of the page to download.
So what can we do to ensure that the page will display usefully (sometimes with a few images still missing) within that first eight seconds?

My first suggestion is that you include width, height, and alt parameters. The first two of these will allocate space on the page for the image so that the text is correctly laid out on the page from the start rather than having the text reorganized itself around each of the images as they appear. The alt tag will ensure that a description of the image shows up while your visitor is waiting for the image to download as well as giving those who have images turned off and disabled visitors an indication of what it is that they can not see.

The next thing to do is to ensure that your home page clearly describes what your site is about and has recognizable links to the other main pages on your site. This will let your visitors know straight away what your site is about and they can move straight on to the next page of your site that gets them one step closer to whatever it is that they are looking for.

You do not want your home page to be too big. Even though you have done their interest in the first eight seconds they will still expect the entire page to have loaded within a reasonable time. About 30 – 45k is about as big as you want your home page to and the rest of the pages on your site should not be much bigger. All of your pages should be under 100k to allow those visitors that are using dial up connections reasonable access to your pages. Where you absolutely must have a page (or downloadable file) bigger than that you need to warn your visitors first so that they can decide whether they are prepared to devote the time to download your page.

Note that your page size includes all of the files that need to be downloaded to display your page. This includes not only the html and all of the images but also any scripts, stylesheets, etc used by your page.

The next thing to consider is the links on your home page that will take your visitors to the content of your site. Not everyone has java, flash, or even javascript enabled on their browser so if you use anything fancy to display your page links then you also need to provide plain text links somewhere on the page for those visitors who will not be able to use the fancy links.

This should get people viewing your home page. Now let's think about how we should design the rest of our site.

When dividing up your information into pages you need to consider both the page size (which needs to be kept reasonably small) and also the number of links that your visitors will need to follow in order to get to the actual content (which should be as few as possible). Try to keep each page to a single topic which will make describing the page to search engines easier and therefore enable you to get higher rankings.

All of your pages need to look like they belong to the same site. This means that you should use a common color scheme throughout the site and place the navigation links in the same place on every page.

A site map containing direct links to every page of your site that can also be accessed from every page on your site is useful to allow visitors who have got lost to find their way to the page that they are looking for as quickly as possible. A link back to the home page from every page on the site is also useful. You do not need to provide links to every page from every page as often visitors who choose one path through your site will have no interest in the other paths. They can always get to the other parts of your site via the home page or site map if they want to. If you are going to provide other common links on all of your pages then they should be pages where the content overlaps the subject matter of all the pages on your site such as a feedback form.

You need to be constantly updating your site.

A site that consist of static information that is never changed will soon become stale and you will get fewer visitors. A "what's new 'page lets visitors to your site know what changes that you have made since they last visited so that they do not waste time looking to see if you've changed or added anything that they are interested in. Interactive pages where they get to actively donate something to your site (such as a poll) will also give them more reason to return.

Do not use frames on your site unless you have a good reason. If you use frames to provide a common navigation bar (instead of using server side includes or javascript to get the same result) then make sure that the frame containing your links will fit on the screen without needing scrollbars.

The main purpose of you site is to get people to visit the pages. If you are selling something then it is even more important to get people to visit as if they do not visit they wont buy. A well designed site makes it easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for quickly. This will make it more likely that they will return again and again.

These suggestions should help to encourage your visitors to stay on your site once they get there and to come back again.