Site Savvy

SAN MATEO (06/05/2000) - Where were you on the evening of Thursday, May 11, 2000? I spent that evening checking out some of the industry's best Web sites at the Webby Awards. In case you're too immersed in designing your own site, look around at what others recognize as success on the Web and bring that experience home. Therein lies opportunity for your site, so don't let the year go by without learning from the Webby Awards or even preparing your site for a Webby nomination in 2001.

There are other site-and page-related awards to learn from, too, such as www.worldsbestWebsites.com and www.Websiteawards.com. I think the Webby Awards stand alone, but I must confess that the Webby Awards is an International Data Group Inc. event. Incidentally, that's why you won't see InfoWorld.com as a nominee: Clearly it's a conflict of interest.

Here are a few tips from the Webby Awards.

To design a successful site, don't start with awesome HTML, DHTML (Dynamic HTML), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), Java, CGI, JavaScript, plug-in technology, Web animation, and streaming content. Start your design with a purpose that serves your audience and build your design with a focus on serving that audience best. The center of your design focus should always be the audience, followed by the right technologies to support its needs.

The best sites start with great content. In whatever form, the content on your site must be pertinent and fitted to the audience. The more engaging and interactive you can make the content, the more likely the audience will enjoy it and return for more. The content itself must work for the Web, so clear and concise pieces pay off big-time. Your content should also show an attention to detail. In the end, your customers should hunger for your content.

Beyond content, accessibility and navigation are monumental concerns. Both browser and operating system compatibility are a must. Create a test environment containing as many user configurations as possible.

Design with both screen size and resolution in mind. Broad support for different types of presentation, such as HTML, text, or PDF, can also benefit a diverse audience. Both simplicity and functionality around the navigation experience is essential. In keeping with the spirit of the Web, link integrity, quality, and depth for both inbound and outbound links.

Provide navigation tools that move customers around your site quickly. All site content can't exist on the home page, so you must provide tools to travel around your site. Without returning to a successful site for a study, a user should be able to describe the navigation and structure of its information. An information architect can help you get your information design right.

Visual design counts for a lot. Both a Web designer and graphic artist can help you get the visual design right. It's about integrating visual elements and typography to deliver an appealing and professional look.

Take a close look at your site's functionality, which is primarily about the right use and implementation of technology. If your audience will benefit from new technologies, use them. Shockwave, Flash, DHTML, and audio and video delivery can set your site apart by giving your customers an awesome experience.

Spend time getting database integration into your site. Focus on the design of interactive elements or themes throughout -- search, chat, discussion, and anything shared.

Throughout all these key areas, simplicity should be the ruling force.

Simplicity is the ultimate key to usability.

Laura Wonnacott is vice president of InfoWorld.com.

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