Critical Web Design Rules

Updated: March 11, 2010

When creating a new website or redesigning an existing site, there are four critical rules which should be followed to make the site effective, functional, loved by search engines - and successful.

1. Easy to Read.

When building a website, the first thing you need to be sure of is that your website is easy to read. When you write content, remember that most website visitors don't read every word of a page - in fact, they only scan pages to find what they want.

Break up Your Content

Break up your pages and use headers between major ideas so people scanning your site can find what they want quickly. Use meaningful headers between each paragraph and major ideas as this makes the website more SEO friendly. Always use good writing structure and avoid long sentences and large paragraphs. Using bullets and points wherever necessary will make your content look neat and good to read.

Color and Fonts

To help readability, use high contrast colors between font and background. Black text against a white background may seem stark, but it is very readable. To make a website easy on the eyes, try an off-white background and a dark gray (almost black) text color.

Things to avoid with content color:
• Avoid vibrant background colors like purple or yellow. Such back colors make text difficult to read.
• Avoid using an image behind your text.
• Avoid using bright text colors on bright backgrounds.

Fonts Matter

Simple fonts are the best; the more fancy the font, the harder it is to read. Since many browsers only have the standard font set, use standard fonts. In reality, there is no "standard", but there are certain fonts that are installed on most browsers. These include Arial, Verdana, Tahoma and Times New Roman. Your readers will see something different than you see if you use other fonts.

Standard Compliant Browser for Development

When developing and testing your site, use a Standards compliant browser like Firefox. If you develop your site to be standards compliant, it will work in most browsers, including MS Internet Explorer (IE). It is recommended that you test your site using the latest and last browser versions of IE (IE6 and IE7). To run multiple versions of IE on the same machine, has a free installer that will install multiple versions of IE. It works great!

Keywords in Content

Of course, when writing content, not only should it be formatted to be readable, but it must also be consumable by not only people, but by search engines. One way to make the subject of the content known to search engines is to use the keywords that people use to search for your site in your content. Be sure to use keywords in your header tags, your first paragraph and throughout your text. The keyword density should be between 4% and 7% - but any more than that could 1) be hard to read and still make sense and 2) be considered spam by search engines and banned. Keywords should also be used in your TITLE tags and your Meta description.

2. Simplify Navigation.

The menus and links make up the navigation that the visitor uses to get from page to page in a site. Always plan a site around how people will get from page to page. A visitor to your site should be able to get to what they want within three clicks of their mouse.

Multiple navigation points make it easy to find things. Repeat the top menu and at the bottom. Also create a left or right menu.

Using links within your text to other areas on your site. You can create links so that they are good for search engine optimization (SEO). There are generally two ways to create links within your text:
1. The wrong way: "For search engine optimization techniques, click here."
2. The right way: "Good techniques for search engine optimization are important to use."

Using link text (anchor text) that describes what the link is about is the best way. Search engine web crawlers (programs that automatically index the contents of websites) visit your site, they "read" links. Spiders can index descriptive links into a subject or keyword category. Spiders have nothing to work with when reading a "click here" until it reaches the linked page.

This is Cross Linking - use it as much as possible when it makes sense to do so when writing your content.

3. Consistent Design.

At most, one or two layouts should be used in your site design. As a reader browses your site, they should be able to get used to looking in the same place for your navigation, for your sub-navigation and for your content. That's all there is to say about that.

4. Lower Page Weight is Better.

Page weight is the total size of a page on your site in bytes - code, text and images. Your site's page weight makes a big difference to your viewers. Lighter page weight is better for your readers because the page will download faster. The faster a page downloads, the faster they will get to the content.

What is Means to be Light
• No large images.
• Fewer images are better.
• Optimize images for the web at no more than 72 dpi
• Use as small an image dimension as possible for the given design.
• Use a table td bgcolor attribute or a background-color style attribute for solid color backgrounds.
• Make gradients horizontal or vertical (not diagonal) so that you can use a small image "strip" and repeat it.

Ways to make pages lighter:
• Use linked style sheets
• Use DIVs instead of TABLEs where possible
• Use simple repeating backgrounds for effect

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