09 February 2008

Organising contents, structuring links on website

We all want our/our company websites to be the best and towards this effort, this week let us look at guidelines on managing contents on our website which includes all text, graphics, other multimedia and links.

Content is king

Website with good visual effect may invite first time visitors but after that it is the content that makes them stay on or even keep coming again. People use search engines to search for what they are interested in. Search engines look for repeated words in content and titles and sub-titles to create a complex algorithm of rankings and based on this your website shows up in the search engine listings. So even if you have text inside graphics or animations they may not be picked up by these so-called search engine spiders that keep sweeping for key words.

The only way to keep your rankings higher in search engine listings is to provide relevant content on the theme/concept. Always keep the visitors and the search engine in mind when you plan and write contents for your website. Use focused words and write in a simple direct style of English. For technical jargon, provide definitions or explanations in ‘Mouse over text’.

Content layout plan

Once the concept of what to present in a website is formed, start collecting relevant content. The first thing that should be done at this stage is to classify the content into logical sections. These logical sections can then be organised in to easy navigation links. Each section could then be provided through a navigation link which could be text or a graphic. If graphical images are used as links, then use ‘Mouse over text’ feature to explain to the user what content to expect within this section.Alternatively clarify link destinations in the ‘Title’ attribute of the link html code. For most common contents use standard words such as ‘About Us’, ‘Projects’, ‘Clients’, ‘Site Map’, ‘Contact Us’, etc. The type of content for example graphics or audio or video makes it easy to classify the contents so that they can be presented elegantly. Let us consider different types of content and see how each can be best presented.

Text content

Remember that the screen resolution ‘600x800’ or ‘1024x768’ are most common settings and hence each webpage must preferably fit into a screen height and width without requiring the users to scroll. So cut running text into paragraphs, give them a title and create an index page with these titles. This way the page length can be controlled without needing scrolling. In these cases it is must to include ‘Next’, ‘Previous’ and ‘Index’ buttons to navigate through the set of contents.

Most visitors scan first few lines of text and so keep the best on the top few lines. Just like the newspaper layout keep the enticing contents on the top half of the web page. This makes sure that whatever be the screen resolution, this important content is always visible when the webpage loads. Convert important points into bulleted lists or even as tables. Bold and coloured texts can highlight important points also. Remember that when you use background colours other than white make certain the text is clearly readable and ‘un-clicked link’ and ‘visited link’ texts are clearly shown in different colours.

Graphic content

It is preferable to catalogue graphic content and organise this into gallery. Be it product literature or sample client designs, a gallery will present the sequence in interesting and logical manner. Galleries have other features like slideshow transitions which give a movie-like effect with soft animations. This feature can be done using readymade scripts or even sophisticated flash programming.

Again in galleries the concept of index pager and, buttons are a must for easy navigation. Each graphic must also have an ‘Alt’ text which is a place-holder. This helps in slow-page loads and those with screen readers and text-only browsers still get the content of your site.

Audio/video content

Most often audio and video recording are archives as part of a website and most often they require propriety software to play these files. In such case tell the visitor for example ‘RealPlayer’ required along with a real player download link. The same applies to usage restriction policies for content. If there are some restrictions in using say for example power point presentations that can be downloaded in your website mention these clearly on the download page. Both video and audio content can be streamed to reduce the waiting time to view. They can also be indexed with duration time and file size so that users can estimate the outcomes.

Further links

It is essential for websites to include a text- based site map for two reasons: the users can get an overview of the site in a single page and reach any particular location with few clicks and most search engine spider software catalogue through site maps if one is available. Creation of site maps can be automated through free tools as well as webpage design software. For free site map creation tools check online at www.xml-sitemaps.com or http://www.automapit.com/googlesitemaps.html.

If you want to know how to meet your visitor’s expectations read tips online at http://www.netmechanic.com/news/vol6/design_no1.htm.Most website designers need to understand that they are building an interface between the humans and the computers. This concept of human friendly interface then brings about certain design principles based on simplicity, intuition, predictability, location reference and reachability. Refer IBM’s reference section on usability in interface design at the online linkhttps://www-306.ibm.com/software/ucd/designconcepts/designbasics.html.