Rules of the Web Game
You may have heard all this before, but it is so important that it must be repeated. You are encouraged to share this with everyone you know in whatever way you feel is effective.
The first thing to understand is that we are not all playing the same game. There are at least three main types of web site designs.
- Commercial. Every business wants to be in this category. Most never make it here because of simple mistakes and lack of understanding. There is a whole category of businesses that claim to do search engine optimization (SEO), but in reality they are most often fixing the mistakes made by the original web design.
- Wannabe. This is where a commercial web site ends up when they do things that hurt or actively work against their public visibility. This group includes a lot of well meaning people trying to save a little money by doing it on the cheap or on their own. Unfortunately this group also includes web designers that call themselves professional but openly demonstrate their lack of understanding. You can avoid everyone in this category with some very simple tools which are described below.
- Private. This is where you offer content only for people that already know how to find your web page. Search engines are not considered or invited and often only discover these pages by accident. Sometimes these are called vanity web pages because it is so easy for almost anyone to get a domain name and put up a web page with no other understanding of the rules of the game. If any commercial web sites fall into this category, it is sure they don't get any income from their web development expense.
For now our focus will be on commercial web sites that promote a product, service or event. Virtually every web site you regularly visit falls into this category. Even the successful blogs fall into this category because their content is the product they are promoting.
Here are the rules of the web design game for good web page promotion.
- Words come first. Descriptive words (text, not pictures of text) are the most important thing you can put on a web page. Adding a description of a product, service or event is how customers find you.
- Text on a picture is invisible to search engines and anyone with any kind of visual impairment. This is a very bad move for anyone wanting to promote something because it means the search engines can't do anything to help bring customers to you. It also works against users that speak a different language because it makes machine translation impossible. Never put text in a picture if that text is an important part of the page content.
- It sometimes helps to explain this in terms of talking to a potential customer on the phone. The customer can't see any pictures over the phone, so the product/service/event must be sold with words. Those exact words are what search engines use to bring more customers to a web site. More descriptive text is always better.
- Wrong use of graphics. Graphic images are likely to always have a place in a modern web page design, but they must never get in the way of using that page or accessing that page's content. A simple way to test this is to turn off the graphic images in your web browser and see if you can still use the web page. If not, then the graphics are used in the wrong way. Using graphics for navigation with no text alternative is a sure sign of a poorly designed web site.
These are simple, but they are obviously not so well known based on the number of people repeatedly making these mistakes in their web sites.
So how can you use these rules to not only make your own web site more effective, but to avoid wannabe professionals?
The best way is to get some tools (linked below) to help you see the difference between a well designed web site and a poorly designed web site. Then go look at your own web site and the web sites designed by people that claim to be able to help you. There is an old adage that you should never trust a skinny chef or a naked tailor, you should never trust a web designer that makes big mistakes on their own web site.
The fastest way to get the tools all in one easy to access place is with add-ons to the Firefox web browser. Don't worry, the Firefox web browser nicely co-exists with virtually every other web browser which makes it very easy to have handy even if your every day preference is for a different browser.
Start by downloading, installing and running the latest Firefox web browser. Then inside Firefox open the Tools menu and choose the Add-ons option. This brings up a new window with a Get Add-ons choice at the top. You can either search for the following add-ons or you can click on the links below to install them individually. If you are new to tabbed browsing it might be a good idea to right click on each of the links below and select the
Open Link in new Tab option. This gives you a stack of tabs at the top of your page, each with their own web page inside. Simply select each tab one at a time and install the add-on.
- NoScript - A simple way to selectively disable or enable active content on a web page. This is very powerful and has the nice side benefit of blocking virtually all of the malicious content on the web.
- HTML Validator - An active way to test every web page you visit for standards compliance. It can show the number of errors and warnings at the bottom of every web page if you choose. This is a very quick way to tell if a web page follows the published standards or if it has problems.
- Web Developer - This is a tool set that makes life as a web developer much easier. Some of the tools give selective control of different parts of the web page including images, styles (like fonts and colors) and scripting, but also the ability to quickly view the page in different resolutions (800x600, 1024x768, etc.) so you can see how users with different screen sizes may see the page content. It is a quick way to see what a less capable web browser may show. If a page is unusable or invisible with some or all of the fancy stuff disabled, you can be sure it is also invisible to search engines.
Now that you have these tools, go visit some web pages. Look at the web sites of any web design company you think may be a good choice. Visit both their main web site and also some web sites from their portfolio.
Make a note of any problems the HTML Validator finds. Use NoScript to disable the active content and see if the page still has anything you can see or do. Try turning off images with the Web Developer add-on and see if the navigation still functions. Look specifically for text about the missing images or active content that makes you interested enough to want to see that content. This is exactly what the search engines must see to send customers to that web site.
If any of these simple tests make a web page useless, it would be a very good idea to avoid any web design service offered by that company. A little time invested into research up front can save a lot where it counts most.
Every wannabe web designer can use these simple tools to work their way up from amateur to professional. Every private web site can use them to turn their content into a potential commercial information source. Every web user can quickly see if a web site is professionally designed or not and use that information to make more informed choices.
Why do we openly publish these trade secrets in public? The web is a crowded place where the very big corporations compete on an equal footing with the little startup company. If every customer is armed with information to quickly tell if any company (big or small) is doing something right, that is good for everyone that does it right.
We work hard to ensure we do things right and we want our customers to have the tools to easily tell the difference.First published 2009-09-02. The last major review or update of this information was on 2011-01-19. Your feedback using the form below helps us correct errors and omissions on this page.