Web Design Is Not For The Squeamish: 9 Things You Should Know Before Designing A Website
The internet has become an integral part of our lives. Everyday more and more websites are going online. With the advent of online sitebuilders included with many hosting packages, anyone can easily create a web presence and feel comfortable knowing that the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor is pretty simple to learn. You don't need to know how to write HTML because the sitebuilding software generally has a word processing type of interface and all you need to do is pop things in here and there. But soon you'll realize that there are many limitations to what you can and can't do. If you're satisfied with these limitations, then nothing anyone says will matter.
Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is freedom. Freedom to create a website exactly the way you want it to look and perform the way you want it to perform. Of course, there's more to web design than writing HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) code and putting pretty pictures on a webpage. It takes time, skill and patience to master the concepts needed in order to create an effective website.
I've listed at least nine items that I feel you must know a little bit about before seriously embarking on designing a website. They aren't listed in any particular order of importance as each web designer has his/her own opinion as to the importance of each one.
HTML. One must learn the HTML language, which is not difficult, but nevertheless a necessity, since this is the only way that the browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape, Opera, etc.) will be able decipher the code in order to view a webpage. There are numerous places to learn HTML for free on the internet. The one place I would recommend would be to go to the W3C website. Here is where all the standards are written. You can find them located here http://www.w3schools.com/.
CSS. It would be a big advantage for you to learn CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). CSS gives you total control over the style and layout of your webpages. By learning CSS, you would only need to edit one file in order to make some changes in all of your pages. You wouldn't have to go into each webpage separately to change fonts, or background colors and images. It's really kind of neat when you think about how much you can do with the inclusion of just one or two lines. I like to call it my 'magic file' because that's what it does...it performs magic instantly!
TITLES, META TAGS and KEYWORDS. There has been volumes written about these items. But for my purpose here, I will just mention what each are and where they're located. Suffice it to say that knowing a bit about each one will only enhance your learning experience in designing an effective webpage. Every webpage or HTML document must have a title. The title should be representative of what your website is about. It is located between the "head" and "/head" area at the top of your document. HTML tags which describe the content of a webpage and utilized by search engines are called META Tags. They provide useful information to the search engines such as Author, Copyright, Description, Expirations, Language, Keywords and Robots. There are others but those are the basic ones used. One of the more important META Tag used is the Keyword META Tag. This is where you put your specific keywords and key phrases. The keywords you choose which best describes your webpage is what the search engines look for. They also notice how often these keywords and key phrases are used within the webpage. One must be careful how the keywords are used because too many and it's considered spamming the search engines, too few and they aren't even noticed.
DOCTYPE. DOCTYPE is short for "Document Type Definition", or, DTD, and it informs the web browsers which version of (X)HTML you are using in order to process it. The DOCTYPE must appear at the very top of every webpage that you design. You can check W3C's webpage here at http://www.w3.org/QA/2002/04/valid-dtd-list.html for a list of recommended DOCTYPE's.
COPYRIGHT INFO. You can find out all about the copyright laws here at http://www.copyright.gov/, but what it basically boils down to is - if you didn't write it, you will need approval of the person who did in order to use it within your website, or there could be real problems for you with copyright infringements. It's against the law to take what someone else wrote and pass it off as your own. This goes for everything from photo's, clip art, designs, website templates to articles and website content.
CONTENT. I'm sure you've heard the statement that "Content Is King". What this means is that whatever you write within your website (the content), not only does it have to be original but it should possess a number of your keywords and key phrases. These keywords and key phrases should fit in within the content and make sense with whatever it is you're writing about. This content will not only explain to any visitor what you're website is all about, it will be used by the search engine's that rate how important your content is in relation to the keywords listed.
LINKS. Links within your website are important, whether you're linking to other websites or other websites are linking to you. However, with Google's new update "Jagger", Google is placing more importance on credibility and added-value, rather than the amount of links you have. Google continues to change their algorithms by which websites are rated and it's becoming almost comical that many a website owner must scramble to figure out the best way to make changes in order to either keep their high rankings or even get noticed. It will be interesting to watch what happens here.
VALIDATION. There is much to be said about being validated. There are some web designers that feel it's not important, but know that I feel that it's extremely important. What exactly does 'being validated' mean? Simply put, it means that the coding of your website has passed the test in utilizing the W3C conformance standards by which web documents have been written. It places no value on the content, just the HTML or XHTML structure. There is also a validation service for passing the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) conformance standards. Both of these services are provided for free by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).
SEO. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the key factor by which your website will be rated by Google, MSN, Yahoo or any of the other search engines. Quite simply it's optimizing your website for the search engines to notice you. Again, the importance is placed on content. There are many SEO companies that promise high rankings, or worse, they promise you number one ranking if you hire them to optimize your website. Be wary of anyone that makes those statements. Know that there is no possible way for them to make such promises because there is no way to know how a website will rank. You can submit your own URL to some of the major search engines yourself at no cost. Now whether or not you get noticed is another story entirely, but know that eventually your website will be indexed by the various robot programs that most search engines use anyhow.
In summary, there is much to consider when designing a website. It's not an easy task and the importance of the items I've listed should not be ignored. It also takes a bit of ingenuity and creativeness in addition to the semantics, but with practice, patience and knowledge, it can be done.
Diane Dickler is the owner of http://www.dironwebdesign.com/ where she specializes in creating and hosting websites for her clients.
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