My Thoughts On Building A Home Page

By Joe Burns

...use these to jump around or read it all
[The Four Basic Rules]
[The Home Page]
[Images]
[Backgrounds]
[Colors]
[Text]

     This is one of the most asked questions I receive - what should my home page look like? Up until now I thought it would be a bit bold to state my views on home page building because I believe that HTML is an art and telling you how to create your art would be a bit egotistical on my part. But there was nothing good on television this weekend, so here goes.

     To the reader: The suggestions below are my own thoughts. They are by no means laws or rules. If you want to disregard everything I write below - do it. Goodness knows I've been wrong before.


The Four Basic Rules

     Above all else, I believe this:

  1. Offer Something Worthwhile
         If the reader leaves your page asking him or herself, "why did I come here," mission not accomplished. You have been given this small bit of space with which to post what is important to you. Homepages have become the business cards of the 21st century. Tell me about yourself, post your poetry, write a story, show me your cats, tell me a good joke, show me your son or daughter, tell me what makes you, you. Give me something in return for my time with you. Allow me to leave your site a little more enriched than when I came.

  2. Make It Easy On Me
         Don't make me have to search for the items on your page. Don't fill up with 20 JavaScripts, 15 applets, twelve scrolling words, flashing lights and polar opposite colors. Make it so the links are obvious. Use words like "click here for this." And put the links up high! Let me see them immediately when I come to the page. If the page does scroll, give me a quick way to get to the section I want.

  3. Answer Me
         I get letters telling me that it was amazing that I wrote back. If someone writes to you, that is a form of communication. They want you to respond. You have posted this page. You gave people a way to contact you. Talk back.

  4. Change is Good
         Work on your page. Update it. Add to it. Fix it when there's a problem. Show me that you are taking as great an interest in your page as you want from me. Static pages die slow. People just stop coming.

               ....was that too preachy?


The Homepage

     This is your welcome mat. There's a commercial that states that you never get another chance to make a first impression. Here it is. This page should be representative of you and your site and should immediately guide the viewer. Big graphics aren't needed. Style, page layout, and guidance are what will work best.
     Make your home page small and simple. It should never be longer than two screens. Get it all onto one of you can. There's nothing wrong with offering a ton of good information. Just don't attempt to offer it all on the home page. In fact - offer none of it. Use the home page as a map to all the great information. Multiple pages are much easier to surf that one big page that melds into a useless block of text the more you attempt to read. Think of your homepage as the body of a spider. Everything comes out from and is attached to it.

     Here are the things that bug me most regarding homepages:

    • A Homepage that is just a logo, corporate or otherwise.
      The logo is active and you're supposed to click on it to go further. Why? Just get me started.

    • A Homepage that asks if you want frames or no frames.
      That drives me nuts. Pick one or grab a java script that chooses for the viewer.

    • A Homepage with more than two advertising banners.
      I like Bannermania, the Internet Link Exchange, and money too, but it just takes too long to load.

    • A Homepage that comes up just text telling me how great the following is going to be. Then it changes for me through a Meta command to the real home page.
      This should be outlawed.

    • Ditto with Java Scripts telling the same.
      The silly thing comes up every time I return to the home page.

    • No more double windows please!
      Just one window will be fine, thanks. I don't need the main window and then a second smaller window with other links that bring up other windows.


Images

     Let's be honest. The WWW is what it is today because of images. The ability to place pictures is just the greatest part of this pup (in terms of HTML). Don't get me wrong, I love images. But I think there are limits.

When to use:

    • GIF
      Gif is a format of little colored dots. It has no compression once the images is saved in the format. What is transferred is what is displayed. Thus it is good for pictures with little detail or lines. Faces show up poorly. Icons and smaller images go best in GIF. Gifs can also be saved at 256, all the way down to 2 colors and still look crisp.

    • JPEG
      JPEG is a compressed format. That means it is sort of squashed together when it's put away. JPEG is best for photographs, or equal images. Lots of detail and color calls for JPEG.

In Terms of Images:

  1. Go with as few as possible to cut down on load time.
    I know they look great, but waiting for them to load is dull. Learn the value of understatement.

  2. Always denote every image's height and width.
    Not a question. Do this.

  3. If at all possible, combine images that sit next to each other into one big image.
    That helps a lot with load time. If the images need to be different links - make the image an image map. The three items on the left hand side of my home page are all one image.

  4. As often as possible, offer people the choice of whether to look at the image or not.
    Your photos from the last family reunion may be great, but no one outside of your immediate family will sit through 20, 50K JPEGs loading into their browser window. Offer links to the pics explaining them. Let people decide to view them or not.

  5. Easy on the animation and applet motion.
    I speak the truth here - one good animation is far better than 10 pretty good ones.

  6. Lose the Blue Border on Active Links Images
    Maybe this is just personal opinion here, but that blue border is annoying, especially on image maps. Lose it by placing BORDER=0 into the image command between the IMG and the SRC.

  7. Use ALT commands
    Be nice to those who surf without images

Finally...
     There is no replacement for content. If what you are offering is dull or not worth someone's time, no amount of graphic support will do the trick.


Backgrounds

     I love a good background image, no doubt. I don't use a lot of them on the Goodies site for two reasons, it slows the completion of the page and it doesn't add anything to the tutorials. If you are going to use a background image, ask yourself these questions:

    • What does it do for the page?
      If it visually helps it, great, keep it. Just try to make it as small as possible to cut down on load time.

    • Does it disrupt the text?
      If the text is at all hard to read, lose the background or do something to the text.


Colors

     Love em! I think the use of color in a web page is wonderful. The main reason I like color commands is that they are part of the HTML document and don't tax the server any more than they have to. Just watch a few things:

    • Pick Complimentary Colors
      Mother taught you how to dress. You know a gross combination when you see one.

    • NO WHITE TEXT!!!
      I'm begging. I'm pleading! Maybe on a black background, but no other time. Please?!?!?!?

    • Unless there is some really good reason - text is black.
      I speak for the masses here.

    • If when you stare at the page, the text appears to be moving around - bad color combination.
      Enough said.

    • Bright primary colors tend to tire the eye.
      Pastels and calm color combinations work better.

    • Try to use color to draw the eye.
      Get attention through the use on one bright color. If everything on the page is turned up to eleven, nothing stands out.

     Just because colors are available doesn't mean you have to use them.


Text

     I mean what you write here. This is where I really can't say much. It's your page and you have every right to write what you want, topics or otherwise. I just have one simple rule:

Brevity is the heart of wit

     Say what you are going to say quickly, and with as few words as possible.
     Looking back over the size of this page, it seems even I have trouble following that rule.


     Hopefully, you can take something from this. I truly don't mean to be high and mighty here, but I thought this might be helpful. Even so, feel free to ignore it all. It is your page after all and I respect that a great deal.

     No matter what you do, I still think the four main points from above do apply:

  1. Offer Something Worthwhile
  2. Make It Easy On Me
  3. Answer Me
  4. Change is Good

....here's to writing great web pages.

 

[The Four Basic Rules]
[The Home Page]
[Images]
[Backgrounds]
[Colors]
[Text]


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