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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > June 2008

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Vol. 28 No. 6 — June 2008
FEATURE
Fast and Easy Website Tuneups
by Jeff Wisniewski

Here is a great big handful of helpful hints to make your website one people want to use and reuse.

1. Make sure your website’s copyright statement is up-to-date: If the copyright does not reflect the current year, users’ trust in your site can be shaken. There are PHP scripts (http://php.about.com/od/finishedphp1/qt/copyright.htm) and JavaScripts (http://javascript.internet.com/page-details/automatic-copyright-update.html) that can automatically update copyright for you.

2. Add “last updated” code to each webpage at your site: This increases user trust that the information on your site is being tended. You can do this with a single external script, so you can use one script many times.

3. Add photos to the site’s contact information: Evidence shows that users respond positively to knowing there are real live people behind your website.

4. Turn boring old contact information into exciting hCards: Contact information on your website can be encoded into microformats, which can then be read by both humans and computers. When you visit a site with microformat-encoded information using a microformat-aware tool such as Firefox with the Tails (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2240) or Operator (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4106) extensions, you have the option of exporting the information directly to your local address book or online contacts. You can create microformat code by using a simple online tool called the hCard Creator (http://microformats.org/code/hcard/creator) or a microformat extension for Dreamweaver (www.webstandards.org/action/dwtf/microformats).

5. Find and reword all instances of “click here”: If “click here” is linked, it is highlighted, but it’s hostile to effective page scanning in that it doesn’t provide any useful information. For example, “ Click here for information on how to quickly and easily obtain a library card” should become “ Obtaining a library card is quick and easy.”

6. Learn an amazing amount about how effective your website is with a short, simple survey:

• What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?

• Were you able to complete your task today?

• If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?

Bonus tip:

Ask for their email addresses (optional) and follow up!

7. Don’t make your server think any more than it has to: Add trailing slashes to all directory-level links on your website.

8. Web 2.0-ify your logo: The website Web 2.0 Stylr (http://web2.0stylr.com/stylr.aspx) will create a Web 2.0 logo out of text you enter. You can enter hex codes for colors you already use on your site, so you can be Web 2.0 but still be yourself.

9. Be visual: Use some of the high-quality icons from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Crystal_Clear, which are free to use under GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), to spruce up your website.

10. The Need for Speed: Install Firebug (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1843) plus the YSlow extension (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5369) in Firefox to see how quickly your page loads and to get specific tips on improving performance.

11. Cache “cache”: Exploit the user’s cache to speed up your site. You can do this by having your server administrator set certain file types, such as image files, cascading style sheets (CSS), and JavaScript, to “stay fresh” well into the future. Once users visit your site, those static elements will be saved in their cache, speeding page loads for the rest of your site until the next time they clean their cache.

12. Combine small images into an image map: If you have a number of contiguous images, for example in a navigation bar, Yahoo! Research shows that your page will load faster if those small images are combined into a single image map because of the reduced number of HTTP requests.

13. Improve your homepage load time by putting scripts (CSS, JavaScript) in-line: Although putting the scripts in-line increases the overall file size of your homepage, it reduces the number of HTTP requests, which Yahoo! Research shows has a greater impact on load time than does file size. For the sake of simplifying site maintenance, however, call the scripts externally on the rest of the pages on your site.

14. Spring-clean your HTML: The W3C Markup Validation Service (http://validator.w3.org/#validate_by_uri+with_options) can not only tell you what’s wrong with your code, but also, by checking the “Clean up Markup with HTML Tidy” option, it will fix the problems and output a clean, valid version of your page.

15. Spring-clean your CSS: The site www.cleancss.com will clean as well as compress your cascading style sheets.

16. Move important information out of the “blindness zone”: Thanks to ubiquitous internet banner ads, users effectively ignore anything in the topmost horizontal area of a page, so any information there that’s mission-critical or is not repeated elsewhere on your pages is likely to be missed.

17. Good page titles are key elements of a search-engine-friendly website: Use a great feature of Google Webmaster tools (www.google.com/webmasters) called Title Tag Analysis to see which of your pages is missing a title, has a redundant title, or has a title Google feels could use some improvement. From your Google Webmaster account go to Diagnostics > Content analysis > Title tag analysis.

18. While we’re talking about title tags, consider rewriting yours in the following format: document or page title | section name | site name. A real-life example might look like this:

­Borrowing Policies | Library User Services | Anytown Public Library

19. Add <label> tags to your form fields, then add descriptive text to each <label> tag. Screen readers will read the descriptive text. Plus, as a bonus, adding a <label> tag to a checkbox makes both the checkbox and the displayed text clickable.

20. Make your site social media friendly by placing “Add to del.icio.us (or Digg, or Furl, or …)” links on your best content pages. You can easily create these links using the Social Bookmark Creator available at www.toprankblog.com/tools/social-bookmarks.

 


Jeff Wisniewski is web services librarian, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. He can be reached at wisniewski.jeff@gmail.com.
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