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Tag Archives: Website Design

Designing websites with Homestead site builder software

Debunking the “can’t be optimized” myth

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The Homestead SiteBuilder program often receives negative remarks from coding purists and those ill-informed of the benefits of the website designing software. Bring up the topic of Homestead in a Forum such as the Google Group and you immediately have snide comments.

Far too many web designers who hand code, utilize templates or even software programs such as Dreamweaver tend to look down on Homestead’s drag and drop type of program. They look at the site’s code and spout things such as “couldn’t produce a well optimized site if it tried.” Granted, Homestead’s code is not the prettiest, but it can certainly hold its own with websites developed using the methods mentioned above. And, as time goes by Homestead will almost certainly improve upon the coding structure of the software. There are many, many Homestead users who have websites that outrank sites developed by web designers who used the so-called conventional methods. 

The average user can create an attractive, user friendly site that is well optimized using Homestead’s SiteBuilder program. Any website, regardless of the method used to build it, will suffer if the webmaster doesn’t also have a working knowledge of usability and search engine optimization. The site can also suffer if the designer doesn’t fully understand the program they use.

Those of us who utilize the Homestead Site Builder and have a working knowledge of website usability and search engine optimization understand the short comings of the SiteBuilder program. We have learned how to work with the program and work around the problems that are intrinsic in using a WYSIWYG or drag and drop site builder software.
 
It is important to learn and understand certain potential road blocks presented by portions of the SiteBuilder program and adjust accordingly to bypass these issues. Items such as Java Script navigation and some of the templates that rely heavily on java-script can be problematic. The Apply-to-All feature for Meta tags, while seemingly a time saver, should never be used. Using the full SiteBuilder program rather than SiteBuilder Lite offers more options for creating a user friendly, well optimized site. Making use of the Homestead Connection Forum, the Homestead Connection Site, and even this Blog will help users of the program learn the do’s and don’ts associated with it.

Designing a site that will succeed is not so much dependent upon the method the site is built with as it is having a basic understanding of Search Engines requirements and usability standards. Every search engine uses different algorithms and knowing the basic requirements of those engines aids in producing an acceptable website. This applies to usability as well. Knowing what is user friendly helps to design a site that visitors will find appealing.

Homestead websites can be optimized to do as well in search rankings as any website regardless of who built it or how it was built. But, sites built with Homestead have something most others don’t and that is the ability for the site owner to either build their own website or to easily take it over once the site is designed. This is not the case with the vast majority of web sites that have been created by design companies. In most instances the owner ends up with a website that they can’t update or make even simple changes to. They have to continue to pay someone for updates, and SEO and link building.

It is no wonder that many web designers and those who are ill-informed or biased take the stance that Homestead sites are lacking…. if everyone were to find out that they are a viable option that can save the site owner time and money and do well in searches, we would see even more people taking the Homestead route.

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Design fast loading pages

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One of the most important things for the Homestead webmaster to keep in mind when designing sites is that to be successful a page needs to load fast. The impatient web viewing public will not sit around and wait for a page to load – count on it! Search Engines have an easier time of indexing a page if it isn’t bloated with code – what does that mean? Every item on a web page is rendered into code – every image, every piece of text, every photo, every border, etc.  The SE’s have to parse through all the code and find the relevant information they need to properly index a site.

The general rule of thumb is that you have 10-15 seconds to get the attention of the viewer. The 30kb rule should remain a benchmark – a page that weighs 30kb will load within the 10-15 seconds over a typical modem connection. Even with the advent of cable, wireless and DSL there are still many, many viewers still using dial-up and you need to keep them in mind when you design your pages.

As with all things, there is no absolute. The secret is in using good judgement when adding anything to a page and keeping in mind that a little goes a long ways. So what can you do to minimize the weight of a page making it both viewer and search engine friendly?

Load time isn’t just due to the weight of the page

Page weight is just one factor involved in how fast (or slow) a page will load. Keeping page weight under control is important so that it doesn’t contribute to a potential slow load.

What factors determine the speed at which a page loads?

  • The type of connection and dependability of the viewer’s service provider (dial up, DSL, etc.)
  • How much traffic on the Internet there is at the time the page is requested
  • How the web server is performing that viewers get the page from
  • The dependability and speed of that particular server’s connection to the Internet
  • The viewer’s computer – old and slow or new and fast
  • The weight of the page

Use text instead of images

It doesn’t take long for a page to get seriously heavy when images are used in lieu of text. Textual content is extremely important to a web site’s success and should be the main portion of a page using images sparingly. Obviously images are important on sites that are promoting products, but even these can be whittled down in size by using a small, optimized thumbnail image with a link to a larger view and making more pages with less on them.

Optimizing images is critical to keeping the page weight under control. Reducing the dimensions (length x width) of an image does NOT make it weigh less. There are many programs, such as Easy Thumbnails available that can be used to reduce the resolution (weight) of an image.

Repeating an image will also help with reduction of page weight. Images only need to load one time. As an example, your logo (if it is an image) will load on the first page a viewer lands on – from that point it is stored in the browser’s cache and won’t reload every time a new page is chosen.

Avoid gizmos and gadgets

The saying, “if it doesn’t add value, don’t use it” really applies when it comes to the countless gadgets available in the Homestead SiteBuilder program and on the Web. The majority of these are simply ‘fillers’ and add nothing to a page but weight and the potential to irritate your viewers. Also, anything that moves can be a distraction to your visitor and removes their focus from the important aspects of the page. In most instances they also cheapen the appearance of a site. Remember that your visitors are on your site for information or a product or service.

Some things to avoid:

  • Guest books on professional sites
  • Add to Favorites
  • The Link to Me button
  • Moving text – includes scrolling, bouncing, fading, etc.
  • Recommend this site
  • Music on sites unrelated to music (or be sure there is a way to turn it off)
  • Cutesy clip art
  • Animated anything
  • Hit counters
  • Date, Time element

The benefits:

Fast loading pages that are clean and uncluttered make visiting your site a pleasant experience for viewers and the more apt they are to return. The easier it is the more likely they are to stay and shop or utilize your service. Pages that load quickly also make it simpler for the Search Engines to crawl and index your site appropriately.

Do-It-Yourself Website Design With Homestead

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You are about to begin on the journey of web design after having found Homestead’s easy-to-use site builder software. The sales pitch says that you can build a site in 30 minutes. This is true. You can throw together a one or two page website in 30 minutes by using the ‘cookie cutter’ templates, the existing page copy, the ‘canned’ meta tags, etc. offered by the SiteBuilder Lite program.  What you can’t do is build a site that meets usability standards, is a well-designed, properly optimized, or viewer friendly site in 30 minutes. If all you want is a personal site or one to share with family and friends then the 30 minute approach will probably work for you.  If, however, you are building a site to sell a product or service or an informational site that you hope will reach vast numbers of people on the Internet, it’s going to take considerably more time than that. Why? …

It’s about more than just a pretty site

Successful websites depend on two very important factors: search engine optimization and good page design. You can have one without the other, but without the combination the odds of your site doing well are minimized. Done right, the two intertwine so that while you are designing, you are also optimizing and while you are optimizing you are designing.

When we talk about SEO most people think it refers to meta tags: titles, descriptions and keywords, but SEO is much more than that. Search Engines index and rank sites based on many factors not just the meta tags. 

When page design is mentioned thoughts immediately go to the colors and the fonts and the pretty pictures. Just as with SEO, page design encompasses more than just the visual aspect of a page and it plays a part in how the Search Engines react to the site.

How A Web Page Works – The Simple Explanation

You design a page.

How well that page is optimized and designed are major factors in how the Search Engines will index and rank the page which determines how well it places in searches. (There are dozens more factors that will have an impact on placement, but these two are primary.)

Page/site success is also reliant on visitors. If a page isn’t viewer friendly (i.e. poor design) or doesn’t offer the information/product the viewer searched for (poor meta tag info) they leave. You lose a potential customer. If the site shows a large percentage of visitors bouncing out without spending time on the page the Search Engines may take that into consideration and decide that your particular page must not be offering the right info for the given search term and thus the page falls back in placement for that keyword or phrase.

To build a truly useful, successful and appealing site means researching and studying what site design and search engine optimization are all about and then putting that knowledge into practice. I guarantee it will take you a lot more than 30 minutes, but I also guarantee that you will see positive results. And one thing to keep in mind – Web sites are never done.

5 Don’ts of Web Design

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You are about to design your first website using the Homestead site building program. Before you jump headlong into your project keep in mind that your competition is only one click away so you want to put your best foot forward. Let’s explore 5 very important Don’ts that can increase your success with the Search Engines and make your site more friendly for visitors.

DON’T publish pages until you have added the ‘NoIndex,NoFollow” tag.

Websites that are in the process of being constructed should be hidden from view – they can have a negative influence on search engines and also visitors. No one, not even the search bots, likes to land on a page that isn’t complete. Prior to publishing your pages you should insert the ‘NoIndex,NoFollow” tag in the <Head> tag box under the Advanced tab on Properties Editor*. This prevents the Search Engines from indexing an incomplete site or page which could hurt you in the rankings. Copy and paste the following tag on every page. When the site is completed remove the tags and republish the page(s).
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” content=”NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW”> 
*Note: This is only possible when using the full version of SiteBuilder – You do not have access to the head tags in SiteBuilder Lite

DON’T clutter your pages with unnecessary elements.

A successful website depends on certain standards that need to be adhered to if you hope to make a go of your site. One of which is don’t annoy your visitors. Many first time webmasters fall prey to what I call the ‘junk syndrome’.  It is so exciting building your first site and as you will discover, there is a vast array of things you can add to it, but pretty soon what you have isn’t a website it’s the aftermath of an explosion in a junk shop. A calm site is a site that is much more apt to hold the visitor than one where the viewer’s eyes are going in circles trying to find a place to focus. Unnecessary elements include: hit counters, date/time, guest books on professional sites, Add to Favorites, and any/all spinning, jumping, twirling, scrolling animated gizmos you happen to run across.

DON’T create pages that rely on photos/images to convey your site’s message.

Visitors and search engines both need content to determine the focus of a site – search engines need it in order to properly index the site and visitors need it to decide if they are in the right place to obtain the information or product they were looking for. Content truly is king and without good, key word rich, well-written copy your site may never see the light of day in searches.

DON’T use an entry page on your website.

Entry pages can be a killer for web sites.  Not to be confused with the necessary Index or Home page, an entry page is the page a visitor lands on when they access the site only to find they must then click on an additional link. Often times this link is not obvious making it hard or impossible to figure out how to get into the site. When someone lands on your site they should be IN your site. When you open the door at a brick and mortar store you don’t expect to have to go through yet another one to gain access to the store – this holds true with websites as well.  Your visitor goes through the door (clicks on the link to your site) and they should find themselves on the Home page. Entry pages are a good way to lose customers real fast as well as the attention of the Search Engines.

DON’T make them wait, and wait, and wait.

The Internet has given millions of people almost instantaneous access to information, products, games, and everything else under the sun/moon. We have become an impatient lot, snarling if a page loads slowly and usually moving on if it takes longer than our perceived notion of how quickly information should load. Design fast loading pages for your visitors and keep them on your site – don’t make them wait, because they won’t.

Find out more about website design with Homestead by visiting the Homestead Connection Forum. It’s free and contains a wealth of information about the Site Builder program. Owned and maintained by Homestead users.