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Website Tips for Beginners

Some suggestions for designing attractive web pages.  These are things I had to learn over time.  Hopefully these tips will help you learn a lot more quickly than I did!

So you've decided to create your own space on the World Wide Web.  Good for you!  The Internet is a fantastic tool for keeping in touch with family and friends, and perhaps getting to know folks around the world who share your interests.

The first thing you need to do, after deciding on the theme for your web site, is to find a host.  You'll also need to look into what kind of site builder you're going to use to put your web page together.  Site hosts like Tripod have their own site builders, which are easy to use and don't require you to have any knowledge of html.

Before we go too far, a couple of translations for the uninitiated: HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and in plain Language it means the language of the Internet; that is, the codes and symbols your Internet browser deciphers into a web page.  That's why you need a browser in order to load and view web pages; the language has to be "translated."  Just like spoken languages, html is constantly evolving, and that's why browsers are updated periodically; the newer versions can translate newer commands, or as the coding wizards like to put it, newer "releases" of html.  The most common browsers are Internet Explorer and Firefox.

What's the difference between a web page and a web site?  A web page is just that ... one page.  A web site is a collection of web pages.  Think of a web page as a page in a book, and a web site as the whole book.

To access a web page, you can do one of two things.  You can either type the address into your browser's address window manually, or you can click on a link.  A link, which is short for hyperlink, saves you the trouble of typing out a long address.  A web page addresses is known as a URL, or Uniform Resource Locator.  Actually, it's more like dialing a telephone than addressing an envelope.  You type in the address of the web site you want to visit, or click on a link, and your computer's modem connects to the server, or computer network, that hosts your destination, retrieves the web page, and loads it into your browser in packets of html code, which your browser then translates into a web page.  Kind of like the signals that reach your TV set; your television translates the signals into a picture and sound, and your browser translates the html code into words, colors, pictures and sounds.

Probably you don't need to know much more than this unless you're planning on doing some serious web design, in which case you'll definitely want to take a course on the Internet and html.  There are several good tutorials right online (a great place to start is Web Design/HTML on, or you can purchase a book or CD.

But back to getting your web page up.  First, decide on a host. If you use a service such as Tripod, you'll need to register with them and choose a username.  Your username will then become part of your web site address.

Or you may prefer to have your own domain name.  You'll need to choose a name that isn't already in use, then you'll have to register the domain name you've chosen and pay a fee.  Some people use their own names as their domain name; others choose a company name or a site name.  Most web site addresses end in .com or .net.  If the name you want is already in use with .com, for example, you may still be able to use it with .net.  There are other suffixes available as well, such as .org or .biz.  A good place to start is  Or you can purchase a domain name through your website host (many services such as Tripod offer free domain names at the premium membership levels).

Once you've gotten the logistics taken care of and are beginning work on the design of your web page, there are some basic guidelines to keep in mind.

1. Make sure your text is easy to read.  Don't make it so small that people are squinting at it, or so large that visitors to your site have keep scrolling down or pan continually from side to side to read it.  Also, watch the colors you use.  Don't use yellow text on a white background, for instance, or dark blue text on a black background.  This may seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many sites I've seen do this.

2. Watch your language!  No, I'm not talking about obscenities, although you certainly want to avoid using them.  I'm talking about spelling and the proper use of words.  Spelling is important, and you'll want to keep a dictionary handy (there's also an online dictionary you can refer to), but don't rely 100% on your spell checker, because if you use a word in the wrong context, and it's spelled correctly, the spell checker won't help you.  I'm talking about words that sound alike but mean different things.  Be careful not to get these words mixed up with one another:

There (a place); their (belonging to them); they're (they are)
Your (belonging to you); you're (you are)
Whose (belonging to whom); who's (who is)
Its (belonging to it); it's (it is)
Our (belonging to us); are (plural of is)

Two more things to watch out for.  First, there is no such word as "alot!"  The proper term is "a lot," which is two words.  Second, don't use an apostrophe before an "s" unless you are indicating possession (as in "Susan's mother) or a contraction of "is" (as in, "Susan's going to the store").  I've seen many sites which have the word "Photo's," and I feel like writing to the webmaster and asking, "Photo's what?"

I'm not saying you have to use Shakespearean English.  Just be careful to use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling on your web pages.  Why go to the time and trouble to get your site the way you've envisioned it only to have obvious errors standing out like beacons?  Like it or not, such details leave a strong subliminal impression on people.  You may be an intelligent and articulate person, but if your web site is full of grammatical mistakes, visitors to your site will get the wrong idea.  Don't let this happen ... watch your language!

3. Don't put a lot of photos on one page, especially if the photos are large.  This will result in a longer loading time for some browsers (especially on computers that are still using dial-up; as of this writing, high-speed Internet is still not available in some areas or is prohibitively expensive), and some will actually time out the Internet connection before loading completely.  Use multiple pages or, if possible, put thumbnails of the photos on the page and link them to the full-size photos.

4. Resist the temptation to put a ton of cute little animations on your page.  Yes, they're fun, but too many things wiggling and jiggling around can be distracting.  Also, it looks amateurish.  A professionally designed page keeps the animations to a minimum--less is more.  See #3 about longer loading times.

5. Also resist the temptation to have background music on every single page on your site.  Pages with background music take longer to load and can sometimes scare people if they're not expecting it!  I've actually stopped visiting some sites because they have background music and I know they're going to take forever to load and freeze up my whole browser while they're doing it.

6. The best way to learn is by observation.  Take a look at the sites you yourself like to visit.  See how they're laid out.  Are they easy to navigate?  Can you go back and forth between pages with no trouble?  Are you able to find links to the specific pages you're looking for?

7. Make sure any links you put on your site work.  After your site is up, test them to make sure.  Nothing turns people off more than a site full of broken links.  It's also a good idea to have a way for visitors to contact you, either by email or a special form on your site, to let you know about nonworking (broken) links or any other problems they may be having with your pages.


And there you have it!  Now you're ready to make your mark on the World Wide Web ... have fun!

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