PR2 Newsletter : Issue 3

Welcome to the issue 3 of the PR2 Website Promotion Newsletter.

Boom! That was the sound of this newsletter's circulation smashing through the 1,500 mark. Thank you all for joining up. This newsletter is pretty long as there is a lot of ground to cover. We're busy working through the processes required to prepare your site for an influx of visitors.

Several people have emailed to ask how they can learn to make a website. That's beyond the scope of this course, but there are some good resources here that will help you get started.

The Big Question
It's time to ask the big question: WHY? Not "Why are we here?" but a much more fundamental question: "Why am I building a site?" Here's an article that will help you get to grips with this issue.

Right, back to the business of business. I'm sure that some of you will read my recommendations and think "Gosh, that's just too much effort" That's your choice, I just tell it as I see it!

Before we look at how to maximise your site's potential, here's my "Top 10 DON'Ts" of site construction.

Top 10 DON'Ts of Site Construction

I have visited some sites that load a 150k-200k graphic on the front page. Did I wait? Do cows fly? I was long gone before that particular graphic finished loading!

Some sites have 10-20 banner graphics from banner exchanges on a single page! What's the point?! Imagine this scenario: out of every 100 visitors, only one person has the patience to wait for all 20 banners to load. Result: 20 banner impressions. If you only had one or two banners, everybody would probably wait and you would get 100-200 banner impressions!

Unless you are a household name, forget about making a site that depends on me downloading "XYZ plugin" just to be able to see it properly. Why should I bother?

If you want to scream "Amateur! Amateur! Amateur!" at the top of your lungs, then make sure you keep that soundtrack pumping away as each visitor lands on your site! Professional sites don't subject their visitors to an off-key rendition of the webmaster's favourite tune every time they come to the site -- so neither should you!

Why tell your visitors they are fools for using the wrong browser? With a bit of care it's easy to build a site that looks fine in both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer... so why try to impose one or the other on your visitors?

Don't "flash" your visitors. You wouldn't flash them in real life, so why do it online?

Don't try to guess what browser your visitors are using! Some sites use Java or other tricks to decide what browser you're using, and offer you the relevant page. This DOES NOT WORK! Every time a new version of a browser comes out you will need to update your program, and even then some browsers "disguise" themselves as other browsers!

Many sites require 4 or 5 clicks to get to the "real" start of the site. Why not save your visitors the pain and take them straight there!

Do you REALLY need Java to make your site work? Different browsers run incompatible versions of Java, and of course you are turning your back on all the people who surf with Java turned off. Plus Java takes a long time to load, and some programs will even crash misbehaved browsers!

If your site gets a visitor about once every full moon, don't give the fact away on your front page! Kill your counter today...

Now that we've got the pet peeves out of the way, let's delve a little deeper into how you can improve your site.

What are Your Visitors Browsing With?

There's a great service at TheCounter.com that enables you to see the global statistics of the close to 150,000 sites they provide counter services for. According to their latest stats (November 1998) just 78% of people are browsing with a Generation 4 browser (Explorer 4.x or Netscape 4.x). This means that if you use fancy stuff like DHTML or Cascading Style Sheets you will instantly lose 22% of your audience!

Equally, 19% of people are browsing at a screen resolution of 640x480 or worse... so if you make your pages too large that's a fifth of your audience you are offending.

It's a good idea (if you want to reach the maximum audience) to design for one generation before the latest browsers. If your site runs fine at 640x480 in Explorer 3.x and Navigator 3.x then you'll keep more visitors coming back -- guaranteed!

Get to Grips with Graphics

One of the biggest problems you face when driving traffic to your site is persuading people to wait while the pages load. The attention span of the average web surfer approaches zero! Therefore, you need to keep your graphics to a minimum.

Try to keep your main page under 25KB (including graphics) and your other pages under 30KB. If necessary, break up long pages to make two short ones. Why 25KB? Because it will take somebody with a 14.4k modem a massive 15 seconds to load your 25KB page... under ideal conditions.

The good thing about keeping your pages small is that you can add a sponsor's banner afterwards without pushing your load-times sky-high.

For more information on how to optimise your graphics, there's a whole article here.

Make Your Site Easy on the Eyes

Unless you work for Wired magazine, there's relatively little mileage to be gained in making your site a mass of fluorescent colours and wild backgrounds. Remember that non-existent attention span? Well, if people have to squint to read your text, they're going to head for the hills!

Concrete suggestions: Do away with any background graphic that provides "texture" for your page. Choose a background colour that is easy on the eyes. White is by far the most popular choice of background colour, as black text on a white background offers the most contrast. Get rid of flashing text! Choose font sizes that will not drive people with high-resolution monitors to book an early appointment with their optician. Get some guinea-pig friends to give you an honest opinion as to the "viewability" of your site.

Next time, we'll look at more things you can do to prepare your site... until then, work hard at it and prepare to reap the rewards later.

Until next time...

Edwin Hayward

Next: Issue 4

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