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Creating Great Web Sites (1 of 2)Part 1 | Part 2

Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

There are a number of essential elements that make up every quality web site. This extended article sets out the main features that go to produce an unmissable Internet destination, and is of equal use to seasoned web professionals as to those creative people developing a web site for the first time.

Part 1 Part 2
Purpose The Homepage
Ten Principles Feedback
Navigation About
Dynamic Sites Content
  Terms and Conditions
  Privacy Statement


There are many different kinds of websites. Some sites act as on-line brochures to advertise services and/or products (this category includes the creative professional's site offering a portfolio with examples of their work). Larger e-commerce sites enable the on-line payment for products and services (often driven by a database server and generally with little informational content). Add to these, web sites that range from offering search facilities, Internet gaming and broadcasting, and informational sites such as AbleStable®, and it becomes clear that constructing an effective web site is defined by its' purpose.

The more complex a web site, the more challenging the task is of maintaining quality, consistency, and ease of use, three overriding aims in creating a premium web site experience.

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Ten principles that deliver great web sites

After thinking long and hard we've come up with ten general principles that encapsulate all great web sites. Great websites:

maintain an on-line presence with at least a 99.5% uptime record
are focussed about their purpose
spend time and effort developing solutions that ensure general accessibility
respond within 24 hours in person (non-automated) to email support requests
are easily navigable with consistent navigational aids
provide easily read, high quality text
are well maintained (web page code and links)
include contact and biographical information that is accurate and easily found
offer an accessible feedback mechanism
are visually attractive

In addition to these points, larger sites wishing users to return on a regular basis must provide a continually growing resource of original, high quality content. You'll note from the general principles we've provided above, web sites can accomplish a great web presence without spending sack loads of cash. It's about ensuring care and attention is given to the quality and detail of a site that sets a fabulous web location apart. We'll now turn our attention to the essential elements that make up web sites.

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Effective navigation is a web designer's greatest challenge and inevitably results in compromise solutions. Many web designers favour style over function and usability. When developing a web site it is always advisable to keep the target audience and their on-line habits in mind. It may be tempting to choose drop-down menus, Flash intros, and database driven elements, but beware the pitfalls.

Let's take the drop-down menu as an example that warrants careful consideration. Time and again usability studies have shown people make judgements about web sites as the page opens. Before the buttons have been cached and the text rushes to the bottom of the page, users have made up their mind about whether a web site is worthy of their valuable on-line time. They won't get to the drop-down menu to see what's on offer, and they'll be long since gone before your impressive Flash animation is complete. A book is very much judged by the state of its' cover. Ask yourself why Google, Amazon, The BBC, and other great sites avoid drop-downs and you'll soon realise the importance the big players place on the 'immediate message'.

It's important to remember delivering an effective web site navigational system is as much to do with effective window naming, page content, and site structure, as the links and buttons that appear as menu systems. The most important principles in ensuring effective web site navigation is to view web sites as a whole and provide as much assistance to the user to know where they are, where they've been, and how to get to where they want to go.

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Dynamic Sites

Web sites are increasingly delivered with the aid of database servers. Sites where the URL ends in .asp, .php, or .cfm etc are often called 'dynamic' as web pages are delivered according to the specific requests users make of them. These requests may differ from user to user dependant on the user's purpose. Although many so-called 'dynamic' sites have database functionality and appear to benefit the user by individualising their web experience, the creation of new content by real people in database sites is often very thin on the ground.

Premium web sites view the constant development and delivery of new resources and high quality content together with user interaction (how much users participate and contribute towards the site) as what truly defines a dynamic site rather than the technologies that deliver it.

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Part 1 | Part 2

Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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