Website Structure Basics
A website is a convenient medium used to publish information. Today it is hard to imagine a business that does not have a website to attract customers, sell product, or at least give basic information about the organization. The key to a good website is that it conveys a memorable message to potential consumers. This calls for effective web design with clear and understandable copy.
There are many programs available that will help to layout a web page. But the best link structure for a site is often left to the imagination. To begin, every website must have an index page. Often called a "home page", this is normally the first place visitors will enter the website. It is also the default page when a visitor types the domain name in the address destination bar on the browser. Another aspect to consider is whether to hardcode individual pages or to set up a database. For smaller sites a database is more trouble than it is worth, but for a site that makes extensive use of user input and gathers large amounts of data, a database is a vital tool. Writing websites that include databases requires some knowledge of SQL.
Selecting a Domain
In creating a website it will be necessary to choose a domain name. Try to choose a name that will be memorable for the customer. Brand names and product names or a variation on those themes is usually best. The extension on the end of a domain is called a TLD (top level domain). These are the letters that occur after the last dot in the domain. The most common TLD is com. Try to choose an extension that fits the type of activity in which you plan to engage.
There are many ways to structure the navigation of a website. The most common is the tree structure, where the home page serves as a general introduction to the site and links to the other pages. There is usually a navigation area on each page that will take the visitor to the other pages of the site, or at least the main pages. When pages are also sequential in nature, it is also a good idea to place a "next page" link at the bottom of each article. The "tree structure" will normally emphasize the importance of the main page for the search engines. To emphasize any particular page situate links on the rest of the website so that a preponderance of the links go to pages upon which it is desirable for visitors to land. Normally, every page will have have a unified look. If this is the case, consider using includes of utility files to make maintenance and changes easier to perform later.
About, Contact, Privacy
An about page (or a page that serves this function) should be included in the pages of a website. It should explain the purpose of the site and the person or organization behind it. This helps to give visitors a perspective on the information presented. It lends authority to a site when there is a point of contact between the owner of the website and the visitor. A contact page provides this interaction. Feedback from the visitor can help improve a website as well as an organization. This is a basic tenet of open branding. A privacy statement tells what information is gathered by the website from its visitors. This statement will help the visitor feel more comfortable about his or her experience with the website.
A page called "sitemap" is not absolutely necessary if the navigation of the site is easily followed, or the search function is efficient and useful. Nevertheless, creating a page that clearly illustrates the structure of the site and links to all the pages of the site can often help the visitor find what he or she is looking for.
Web 2.0 is all about the interaction between the visitor and the website. Giving the visitor the ability to comment on a page can be useful, especially when the information on the page concerns opinions or is selling a product. However, this kind of interaction can be difficult to moderate to the extent that it might be more trouble than it is worth.
Bringing it all together need not be a difficult process. Sometimes simple structures are the best, even when there is a lot of information to be presented. Be sure to get the main points on the home page. Other pages should be used to support the main idea. The about, privacy, contact, and sitemap pages are peripheral, but should at least be considered in site structure design. Once all the pages have been created and are on-line be sure to test them yourself, for readability, flow, and aesthetic design. Then try them out on a friend. Be sure to test every link. Nothing is more frustrating for a visitor than to run across a link that does not work.
At the end of it all, after a few years, it may be a good idea to do a website redesign. It is great to have a new look on occasion, though frequent changes may be disorienting to repeat visitor. Remember to minimize changes to Url names. Outside links are difficult to get changed and search engines are already familiar with the current names. Changing Urls can create a disruption in traffic. However, if the new design is far superior to the old, the ultimate benefits might make Url changes worthwhile.
The ultimate effectiveness of a website is not measured in how pretty it looks or how much traffic it gets. It is measured by how well it communicates a message and enhances the image of the organization that owns it. Good site design is an important step in this process.