Monday, March 12, 2018
These guidelines outline basics for a website
that will be viewed by rural
users of the Internet. These website viewers are in remote, rural, modem dialup
circumstances where telephone lines may be a ‘twisted pair’ as long as
fifteen miles to the central office. A modern computer with a 56 K modem
may ‘fold back’ to 28 K or less in an attempt to reduce data
communication errors as a result of long, noisy analog telephone lines. This
person is having to deal with very slow communications technology.
(Understand that a very significant portion of your viewers may fall into
this 'rural' category.)
With this viewer in mind the following guidelines outline an attempt
to allow the rural viewer to view the content that they are interested in,
and in a fast-load and timely fashion. That means there will be a
minimum of graphics, text is just that --- TEXT --- and not a graphic
depiction of text.
Of note here is the fact that with website pages designed for fast load
times on slow internet connections, those using high speed internet will
enjoy displays that present the pages in a blinding flash.
The basics of website design for this viewer follows ---
STATEMENT OF INTENT
Establish the reason this website exists.
A.) Seek agreement with everyone concerned regarding the purpose of this
B.) This includes everybody’s expectations of the results
of the site.
C.) Define your target viewer and what you expect from them.
D.) Determine exactly what you think your viewer is looking for. This must
be done first in order to create the website with the information
that your viewer is looking for.
We need to remind ourselves that a
website is much like a newspaper. It is a mechanism for dispensing news of
some kind. The owners of the site, those who want a website, and want
a website to ‘do’ something, need to look at the resource as if it’s a
newsprint-like media. Going one step further, they might look at the pages
of the site as pages of a newspaper. The most important page obviously is
the ‘Front Page’ or, on a website, the
The Home Page, like the paper’s front
page is absolutely critical to the success of the media. This page has to
give the reader/viewer the information they are looking for – fast!
Certainly, the owners of a newspaper would take great interest in the Editor
of their media. That’s the person who ‘lays out’ the appearance and
organization of the first thing a reader/viewer sees; the Front Page / Home
The Front Page / Home Page must have a
nice balance of compelling headlines, pictures, and content that will create
interest in reading further and instill satisfaction that they’ve found
what they’re looking for. That’s the job of the Webmaster.
In considering a Webmaster to create
and/or maintain the website, the owners need to determine just how much
interest the candidate has in basic journalism. Does he/she know why
newspapers and successful websites look the way they look? Can this person
show any evidence of their journalistic skills, knowledge, and experience?
Can he or she show examples of their track record? Skills in the field of
journalism are a critical element in the selection of the person who is
going to be able to deliver the final product to the owners, that is;
viewers who do what the website owners want.
THE BASICS OF website
Both the FONT and the BACKGROUND must promote easy reading.
NEVER, ever, use a black or dark background!
Dark backgrounds impart an immediate foreboding, depressing / sinister atmosphere to your
website before the viewer has read even the first word of your message. Backgrounds should be
light colored with a very fine texture. Backgrounds should never
distract from the content or message of the text. This is
choose Times New Roman.
Arial Bold, 12 point: like this entire web page. I have yet to
see a computer that couldn't display these fonts.
TEXT FONT should be
large, easy to read font with a very high contrast with the background
color. Choose a font that you're sure will
be available on everybody's PC.
Uniformity of pages.
Each individual page of a website should have a uniform and consistent
look. A simple, common banner across the top, uniform background, uniform
text and font, and uniform navigation bars all help to minimize any
distraction from your basic intent: which is to provide content-of-value
to the viewer and without any distraction.
The guys and gals who layout the front page of newspapers know what the
term ‘above the fold’ means. Their question is: of all the news stories
in the paper, where do we put what? And why? Let’s remind ourselves: the
only reason they put anything on the front page is to sell newspapers! The
only reason anyone will pay money to buy a newspaper is to get
Aside from advertisements, subscriptions and the paperboy, a significant
outlet for the paper is the news stand and dispensing machines. There is
always one folded copy of the paper displayed through the glass door of
the newspaper dispensing machine. What the layout people want us to see is
the news that will prompt us to put money in the machine and buy a copy of
The most compelling news information is placed on the top
half of the front page --- ‘above the fold’. The same is true of a web
page. Most web pages have content that is longer than the vertical display
of the viewer’s computer. Consequently we want our most compelling
information to be displayed when the page has loaded. If the viewer has to
scroll down to read it all, so be it. But the captivating
information should not be somewhere off the bottom of the
displayed area. This above-the-fold strategy is critically important on
the home page / opening page or the first page the viewer sees. If the
intent is to draw the viewer into the website and encourage them to view
all of the pages, this 'First Page Layout' is where that will
The ‘Home’ page must capture the viewer’s interest fast.
The home page must tell the viewer what site they are looking at and
what they can expect. The page must display this information without delay.
Always put some news of interest on this opening page. (And update this
page very frequently!) And, a note here; if you edit or add some new or
revised aspect on one or more of the website’s pages, display a note to
that effect (above the fold) on the opening page. I see examples where
important news of interest is added to a page somewhere on the website
but the opening page never mentions the new information. That’s tragic!
The casual viewer will never see the info unless he stumbles on it. If you
add content of value to the site mention it on the opening page.
Above all else: the opening page / Home
page should never be a 'Boiler-Plate' page, only displaying Links to news
that you placed somewhere else on the website. If the content you've added
is extensive at least put a brief summary of the information on the
'above-the-fold' of the Home page, then a Link.
On the subject of page layout:
The viewer should never have to use the horizontal scroll tab to continue
reading a line of text that goes somewhere off the right hand side of the
display screen. Learn enough about your web page editor to set the text line length so
this doesn't happen. This fault will irritate an otherwise enthusiastic viewer
faster than anything. Viewer's have their display resolution set for high and
low resolution. Don't make your message hard to read off to the right of
Frames and why not!
Frames are those web pages that have a menu for instance on the left side
of the screen. And, as each menu item is clicked the page itself is
displayed on the right side of the screen. Usually the left ‘frame’ is
¼ to 1/3 of the total horizontal display space. Frames do two things;
they take longer to load, and they are a very poor use of your viewers valuable display
area real estate. Frames can include the left side, the top, and the
bottom in addition to the remaining display area.
Obviously the remaining display area is a small fraction of the
computer user’s display screen. I have seen sites where the menu is all
graphics on the left (slow to load) and, an identical all-text menu in
another frame across the top. Redundancy Redundancy, and a poor web page
Over the past several years I’ve noticed that dozens of high profile
websites have asked viewers to notice their new and improved pages.
Although other things may also have changed, a frequent and familiar
viewer will notice that the Frames are no longer! website owners who
watch the results of their website, and listen to their viewers, are
asking their designers to get rid of whatever is taking up a lot of
viewing space and slowing the page load time. They are getting ‘Frames’
out of their websites.
Avoid the compelling urge to do cute things on your web page with Frames.
THE FINE-TUNED DETAILS AND EXTRAS
Of critical importance is the ability to easily navigate the site.
A brief, simple navigation bar should be at the top and bottom of
every page. This nav bar should include a few of the most important
pages on the site and certainly allow quick return to the home page.
(Never force the viewer to use their Back button!)
I've noticed recent pages with nav. bars, a mix of text and of icons as
navigation buttons. Bad news! If you're trying to 'get somewhere' and
see a nav. bar with text, you're going to be looking for your
destination as text. You'll be ignoring the icons. That makes it harder
to navigate your site. Don't mix icons and text in navigation bars!
Now I have to grant you; some graphics are necessary and even
desirable. An all-text page is pretty boring. But if we are to have a website where the individual pages load fast we have to avoid graphics like
the plague! If there is one thing that will annoy a viewer severely, it is
requiring the viewer to wait while a page full of graphics loads from their
Internet server. We see many, many web pages consisting of mostly graphics
on the pages. The ‘text’ that we eventually read is not text at all,
but rather is a graphic. For your dial-up viewer, trying to extract information from these
sites is pure agony due to slow page load times - because of
Graphics that annoy and distract.
If your viewer returns to your site
often to reread information or to search for new info. they will ignore
the cleaver graphics that they've seen before. Indeed, they may have to
not only endure the delay caused by the graphic, we find that the
graphic itself is an annoying distraction. We will have placed boulders
in the path of the viewer trying to get to his/her destination of
information. Cute, novel moving graphics are certainly eye catchers. But
they become stumbling blocks for the return viewer. As tempting as they
are we must be very critical of anything on the page that will 'get old'
fast. The absolute value of the graphic or item we're considering must
be weighed against the annoyance-factor that the viewer will soon assign
to the item. Here again, this is a subjective issue.
Do not create a static opening page.
This is a page with
information that never changes but rather requires one to ‘Click HERE to
Enter’, or has a frames menu on the left that requires one more click to
get to the current information page. These static opening pages usually
have elaborate graphics which require extended load times and aggravates
an impatient viewer, then further compounds this aggravation by not
providing the info the viewer wants, but rather requires the viewer to ‘jump
through one more hoop’ to get to what he wants.
Included on all pages should be contact information. If the viewer wants
to contact someone who owns or otherwise has information regarding the site’s
content, that person’s E-mail address and/or phone number should be
displayed. This issue of publishing one's E-mail address on a web page
includes problems regarding junk mail. Hackers 'harvest' E-mail addresses
from web pages, then sell these to people marketing products on the WWW.
The amount of junk mail may skyrocket! Consequently, publish E-mail
addresses with caution and don't display a 'clickable' E-mail address.
Another viewer aid:
Viewers like to know how recent the information is. Imagine a newspaper
that puts out a daily paper but never puts a day or date on the front
page? The only reason to not put an ‘Updated’ date on the page is if
you’re ashamed of the fact that the page never gets updated! Bad
news. Viewers like to know that the stuff they’re reading is current
information. In FrontPage always use 'Insert', (Date and Time)
somewhere on the page.
A quick and easy avenue of feedback is the ‘GuestBook’. Here
is a free service at http://www.e-guestbooks.com/.
This free service allows the Webmaster to maintain the look and feel of
his website. The home site’s background is used in the GuestBook display.
The key here is to scan the GuestBook’s entries often (weekly) to see
what your viewers have said.
Another tool needed on the pages is a ‘hit counter’. If, indeed,
anyone of the owners has any interest in the site’s value they need to
know how often the site is being viewed. SiteMeter is a free service that
provides a wealth of information regarding the viewers of the individual
. This service can be configured to send a
brief weekly E-mail summery report of the pages’ activity.
One other thing. Don’t use links to send your viewers offsite. They’ll
probably start surfing other areas of the WWW and never come back to your
site! If you must reference an outside URL configure the link to open a
new window. This will require them to eventually return to your site just
to close the original window. With popup ads everywhere popup stoppers may
kill your attempt to open a new browser on their machine. Some
stoppers will allow it, some won't. It's a tough one.
Quality control. Test, Test, Test.
Test individual pages on several PC’s, Mac’s, or whatever. We want the
pages to load fast, to be easy to read, and to present a layout that
displays like we want on all sorts of computers, browsers and displays.
"What you see is what you get" is just not true. The web page as
displayed on your PC will probably look different on your viewer’s
displays. Always check a new page on an old, slow microprocessor with very
limited RAM and with a slow hard drive. And check the page on a slow modem
dialup network. And see what the page looks like on various displays;
small laptop LCD displays, etc. And notice the user's display resolution
and assure yourself that they don't have to scroll off to the right to see
Test the new page with several browsers. I saw a page recently which
was created with Microsoft’s FrontPage Editor. Elements of the page did
not display properly on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer! (How could that
happen if the webmaster tested his work?) Test new pages
with IE (on a different PC) then with Netscape Communicator/Mozilla,
Opera, Firefox, Chrome, and any other browser you can find.
Test the new page via 3rd party. Ask viewers to tell you what
they see. (Your E-mail address IS at the bottom of each page isn’t it?)
Find an editorial critic. Ask them to review the content for spelling
errors, grammar, content of value, display appearance and so on. If
you are lucky this critic will be a rural viewer using a totally
different machine, a MAC for instance on a slow dialup modem. And, listen
to what they tell you.
G. Cook 2001 ~ 2018.
--- The Bottom Line ---
It is important to empathize with your viewer. Try to imagine the
circumstances under which he or she is trying to view your web pages and
extract information. Do at least the minimum 'market research' to
determine just exactly WHAT your viewer is looking for and wants to see,
and, determine the Internet access that they may be having to endure; dial
Create your web pages to assure an absolute minimum of distractions:
No distracting navigation graphics: no black backgrounds with low contrast
text and use any
graphic only if it adds to the value of the content.
Your rural viewer will be very sensitive to ‘page load times’. Don’t
insult your viewer with cute web page novelties that have nothing to do with the
content of interest that your viewer is looking for.
March 12, 2018