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Creating a Website - Book Cover

The Net-Works Guide to Creating a Website

The Net-Works Guide to Creating a Website was written to help beginners research and plan their own web site, without making the usual mistakes or incurrring unnecessary costs.

This book will teach you:

  • How to research and plan your site
  • What free tools are available to help you build your pages
  • How to create elegant and efficient graphics
  • How to put it all together with a minimum of fuss
  • How to promote your new web site

    You don't have to know HTML to build a web site - but there are a thousand other things that you do need to know that most 'how to' books ignore. This book fills in the gaps for those who intend to build a web site for personal or business use and wish to do it right.


    Why This Chapter?

    The Net-Works Guide to Creating a Website does far more than teach you how to make web pages; it teaches you how to create an effective site. The difference? Planning, research and knowledge. As one of the most commonly neglected aspects is the text itself, this chapter has been selected as the free sample (as it stands to do the most good no matter how many people fork out for the book). It also illustrates the depth the book goes into on important issues that most 'how to create' books ignore.


    Writing for the Web

    Before you draft your written content, you should be aware of a few things regarding the medium and the habits of web users themselves. For a start, nearly all of the visitors to your site will be reading from a computer screen. This alone slows reading time by about 25%, and after a while can really start to strain the eyes (especially if the web site is poorly designed and the text is difficult to read).

    You should also be aware that web users have a notoriously short attention span, and are unlikely to want to wade through mountains of text to find what they want - especially when another site is only a click or two away. Add to this the value many web users place on their surfing time (especially those on a connection where they pay by the minute) and you actually run the risk of insulting them if you don't get to the point quickly and succinctly.

    Research has also shown that web users scan rather than read even the briefest of web documents, picking out words, sentences or paragraphs that interest them. When doing this they will invariably keep an eye out for any large, bold or linked text to get them where they want to be just that little bit faster.

    Linked text (text that includes a 'hyperlink' allowing the user to jump to another page or site with a click) stands out in particular, not only because it is a different colour and underlined, but also because it is instantly recognisable by web users as the source of more information.

    However, it is important to use restraint when inserting links, as having too many makes them harder to scan and therefore pointless. Also, you should not cheat by breaking up your information into lots of separate sections in an effort to make it seem shorter - this just makes it harder to read all in one go, and almost impossible to print.

    So make it short. Really short. In fact, take what you would normally write for a printed version of your document and cut it by half - if not more. Also, be aware that most visitors are only going to give your text a brief overview. You should not try to force them to read the whole thing, as many will simply give up and go away. Instead, you should play to your audience by making your pages easier to scan and linked to appropriate information where relevant or necessary.

    As you can see, we've waffled on for several paragraphs before getting to the point - and this would never do on a web site. Instead, the above information would be delivered in the following format, with the main point(s) being delivered immediately (if not within the header or title itself).

    Writing Effective Web Copy

    Keep it Short
    Write at least 50% less text than you would normally use.

    Make it Easy to Scan
    Make key points easy to see by using strong headers and bold text (not Italics, which are hard to read).

    Use Links
    Use a hyperlink when you mention another online resource that may be of use to the reader.

    Make it Easy to Print
    Don't break up a topic to make it seem shorter - this only makes it harder to read and print.

    The above text is not only less than a quarter the length, but covers the main points quickly, simply and in order of their importance. Were more information required, the header could link to another page that covered the topic in more depth. In this way, you provide those who are interested in the information with easy access to it, but avoid confronting them with a mass of text immediately upon arrival.

    Nothing annoys web users more than having to 'scroll' on a main or index page. They should be able to see everything on offer at a glance so they can get where they want to be quickly and easily.


    Some Other Tips

    Make It Easy to Read
    Dark text, light background. In fact, don't even be tempted to stray from good old black on white unless you honestly feel it is pivotal to your design to do so. Similarly, the default for linked text is blue - you should stick to this colour scheme if possible, as it makes these useful tools immediately recognisable.

    Make It Simple
    Remember that you are writing for an international audience. For some of them, English may very well be a second language. Some may also be younger or less erudite than your good self, so avoid complex platitudes and 'big' words that serve no discernible purpose. The previous sentence is an excellent example of what to avoid.  ;o)

    Make It Universal
    Even if you only expect English-speaking visitors to your site, you should be aware that there are also some spelling discrepancies from region to region. For instance, even Microsoft got it wrong by naming the bookmark function of their browser 'Favorites'. Anybody living in Australia or the United Kingdom would think the correct spelling of this word to be 'favourites'. The fact that a popular piece of software exists to amend this one small anomaly is testament to how much these regional differences grate on some people. If you are playing to a global audience, be aware of this.

    Make it Personable
    You are playing to an audience of one, after all. The favoured style is simple and informal - almost to the point of conversational. But, be aware that if your site is intended to be a professional one, there is a point where you can get too familiar, thus reducing your credibility.

    Be Objective
    A particular pet-hate of web users is hype. This goes especially for those wishing to transfer their copy straight from an existing brochure for a professional site. Such material is not only going to have to be shortened, but also softened considerably. Those building personal pages should also be aware of the dangers of hype, so try not to blow your own horn too much.

    Back Your Claims
    If you can provide links to external sites that back up what you have to say or include short testimonials from customers/visitors (complete with links to their email address), this will boost your credibility a great deal.

    Get Organised
    In a recent paper on the subject of web usability, one cooking site in particular was criticised for organising its recipes in order of their date of publication, and not by style or key ingredients. This kind of laziness shows a complete disregard for those wishing to use a site, and as such is sure to drive away many visitors. The contents of your site should be presented in a way that makes the information within as ordered and accessible as possible.

    Being Smart Isn't Clever
    Using 'cute' headers, rather than straightforward descriptive ones, only serves to confuse and alienate viewers of your page. Weak puns especially should be avoided, as they tend only to annoy.

    Humour Isn't Always Funny
    Being personable and informal does not mean being boisterous and rude. While your copy shouldn't be too dry and boring, at the same time you should keep your target audience in mind and remember that, even though they may have similar interests, they will almost surely have different educational and cultural differences to yourself and/or those around you. Use caution and try to be warm rather than hilarious.

    Words and Pictures in Harmony
    Images and text should work together to help tell the story you want to tell, so there should never be a picture without relevant text or a formal caption next to it, and you certainly shouldn't include pictures just to make your site pretty.


    © Tim Ireland 2001



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