If you build it, will they come? This is one of the fundamental
questions anybody creating a Web site has to confront,
whether you're a businessperson, a Web professional, or
a home user.
One of the fundamental ways to ensure that people do
come, and return, is to make the content of your site
as appealing and as accessible as possible. A new study
by Forrester Research (http://www.forrester.com),
an information technology market research firm in Cambridge,
Mass., examines just what people most value in a Web
The bottom line: People seek substance over style,
usefulness over flash. They want to get want they want
Those surveyed valued, above all else, "direct
paths to the content I am looking for." Next was
"proper labeling of menu items." After this,
people most valued "great search." What people
valued least were "personalization of content"
and "personalization of interface."
Previous research by Forrester showed that 57 percent
of business-to-consumer sites examined don't clearly
indicate and describe links to inside pages, and 60
percent don't offer a comprehensive and precise search
These findings gibe with what Web usability guru Jakob
Nielsen has been preaching for years. Nielsen, cofounder
of the Nielsen Norman Group (http://www.useit.com)
in Fremont, Calif., and author of 10 books on user interfaces,
believes that most Web sites are poorly designed.
Web surfers are impatient, says Nielsen, basing his
opinion on the usability testing that he has done. Surfers
typically have short attention spans. If they don't
find what they're looking for quickly, another site
is only a few clicks away.
Forrester's findings are also in line with the advice
offered by Andrew King, president of the consulting
firm Web Site Optimization (http://www.websiteoptimization.com)
of Ann Arbor, Mich., in his book Speed Up Your Site:
Web Site Optimization.
Here's a rundown of the most frequently offered advice
about making your Web site appealing to others, from
Nielsen, King, and others.
When designing a site, you should think about how you
access Web sites yourself and how you browse and read
newspapers and magazines.
Surfers should know almost immediately upon accessing
your site why they should stick around, what's in it
for them. Instead of relying strictly on fancy graphics
and animations, which often just slow surfers down,
you should use meaningful headlines, subheads and menus,
and other links. Headlines, links, and similar labeling
text are better when clear rather than clever.
If your site consists of more than a few pages, provide
a site map or index that displays all the interior links
for those who want to get their bearings from the outset.
Providing navigational buttons to the site's major sections
at the bottom or edge of internal pages helps surfers
stay oriented. An internal search engine lets surfers
home in on just what they're after from the get-go.
It's usually better to keep text brief, depending on
its nature, breaking up long passages into multiple
pages. Many surfers won't scroll down, focusing instead
on the first screen of text. If your text is longer
than one screen, use the inverted pyramid style of newspaper
writing, putting your most important information first
and later elaborating.
But don't hesitate to tell the whole story. The Web
makes in-depth elaboration possible by having fewer
space restrictions than any other medium. Surfers will
feel cheated if you leave out important information.
Because some surfers use dial-up modems, it often makes
sense to provide small versions of photos, which will
load quickly, with links to larger, slower-loading photos
for surfers who want more detail. The JPEG file format
typically works best with photos.
With buttons, logos, drawings, diagrams, and cartoons,
either the GIF or newer PNG format is typically faster-loading
than JPEG. PNG uses a more efficient compression algorithm
than GIF, making PNG files typically faster-loading
Creating high-quality content for a Web site can be
no less challenging than creating a professionally done
brochure, user manual, annual report, or television
If you don't have the time or talent in-house to create
content, you can farm the job out to a freelance writer,
independent site developer, Web design shop, technology
consulting firm, interactive agency, or conventional
advertising or public relations agency.
Jupitermedia's List of Web Designers (http://webdesign.thelist.com)
lets you search for Web designers according to the types
of the services provided or geographic location.
Finally, periodically re-evaluate the quality of your
content. Make sure the information is still current,
accurate, and complete. Test links, both internal and
external, to ensure they're still working.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author
of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org