Copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.
This page gives you tips on how to build an award-winning Web site. This is the Web version of a FAQ article (now revised to version 3.0) called “Building Better Web Sites,” which I earlier posted on Web-based discussion boards and E-mail mailing lists.
Over the last few years I've been reading dozens of books about Web site design to improve my site. New families and businesses set up homeschooling Web sites every day, and most Web sites could do better in communicating about their subjects or promoting their businesses, by improving their design to be more user-friendly. I'm posting this free advice on Web site design in a homeschooler's spirit of lifelong learning. You don't have to agree with the ideas I express on the various pages of this site to benefit from the advice on this page on Web site design. Of course your comments are welcome. Many homeschooling sites on the Web implicitly follow all this good advice--not because I advised the site authors, but because they first thought through how to make a Web site useful. Perhaps those authors also listened to reader comments as their sites developed and consulted books about Web site design. Maybe your site, or the site of your best friend, can improve by following the advice below. I'm still learning, so let me know how I'm doing on my own site after you see this advice.
<a href="filenameofpage.htm">anchor text</a>
and from Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox columns on Web design
about why saving download time is important for the usability of Web sites. Below are some specific tips.
Every Web site is under construction. Therefore no site needs an "under construction" sign. A page needs to be constructed until it is ready for critical readers before being posted and linked--don't put up links to pages that are only "under construction" signs. Once links to your site get out, they will spread around the world, but we hope not on lists of worst sites or something like that.
Navigation aids are friendly to readers. The best idea you can learn from the best Web site designers is to think of Web site design, not Web page design. Every page you post on a particular subject should be related to (and often explicitly linked to) the other pages you post on the same subject. Think of building a site from the beginning, and each page you build will be better. Absolutely, positively link every page you build to the index (home) page of its site.
This advice comes from Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and it is great common-sense advice. Use the TITLE element on each of your pages to give your pages a common name that relates to the overall name of your site. You will see on my site that just about every page (I think I've done this right) has the name "Learn in Freedom!" as part of the specific name of the page. That way readers can remember what site they are on as they visit my pages, and know when they have left my site. That also helps them remember the name of my site if they download or print out one of my pages. Any multipage site should do something like this, so that readers don't get lost (a very common problem in usability studies of Web sites) and so that they remember the name of your site. Similarly, every page should have some (or many) design elements in common with all other pages on the site, and every page should have a heading (marked with the HTML <h1> </h1> tag pair indicating a first-level heading) to give the name of the page some visibility. I have found out that some Web page authors don't even use the title tag for their pages! (That's considered very bad coding by people who know the Web.)
and other good Web design books tell how to make templates. Use a template that includes a link to your home page to build every one of your pages. If your site has a logo, make sure every page has the site logo (preferably on the top left of each page) and make sure that logo is a link back to the home page, except on the home page itself. If your Web page design software doesn't make using templates easy (and even simple text-processing programs make using templates easy if you know how to copy-and-paste), get a different program. Templates save time, reduce typing errors, and make a better organized site.
Material on the Web and elsewhere on-line is copyrighted--whether the copyright is claimed or not. All developed countries and most Third World countries have copyright laws that protect works of authorship from the moment of "fixation." Simply put, by the time you see a Web page posted on the Web or a Usenet message posted in a newsgroup, it has achieved fixation and is protected by copyright. You are not permitted to copy it, even if there is no copyright notice on the page or message. Reposting that page somewhere else breaks the law of just about every country, and always breaches the contract you have with any site where you post copyright-infringing material. Don't even thinking about copying other Web pages. Link to good Web pages, and meanwhile write your own good Web pages, because anything you write is also protected by copyright, without registration. (Registration and posting copyright notices provide legal advantages in case of a lawsuit, but neither registration nor posting a copyright notice is necessary to have copyright, not in the United States and not almost anywhere else.) Just to be clear, I have granted readers of my site a nonexclusive limited license to download my pages to their own personal computers or to print out one copy of each page for personal use. Other issues of the material here are only legal if you obtain my written permission. For sure, copying and reposting the content of a Web site on another Web site is wrong, illegal, unethical, and a violation of additional principles, for example rules against plagiarism that are part of the user contract for most Web sites. Don't even think about copying what you didn't write. Write your own material and link to what you like on other people's sites. I always permit links to this site.
One unique content item I emphasize on this site is the Colleges That Admit Homeschoolers FAQ, which has become the most popular content page on this site, with dozens of direct links pointing to it and favorable press notices from Newsweek magazine and U.S. News and World Report magazine's on-line edition.
Anyone has some unique knowledge about something. The homeschoolers in Canada are giving the homeschoolers in most of the rest of the world a great example, by forming a joint site with several cooperating authors who among them provide a comprehensive picture of homeschooling in Canada. Take a look at the Canadian Home-Based Education Page (http://www.flora.org/homeschool-ca/) to see what I'm talking about. Great site, great information, a great example. (I think most of the use of graphics on that site is appropriate; it seems to load fast in my browser even when I've just flushed my cache.)
Other Web masters of good homeschooling sites think that Web authors, rather than stealing other people's content, should be developing original content. I try not to duplicate content of the sites founded earlier than mine, and think there is plenty of room for more good original content on homeschooling Web pages. Particularly, there is a need for more state homeschooling resource pages. Some good state resource pages already exist, but not fifty yet to cover the whole United States.
My current practice for new pages I post is to go with the "industry standard" background color (that is, white defined by cascading style sheets, but no color at all specified in the site's
I tried when I first experimented with setting up the site to use a .GIF file to get a textured look for the background, but that loaded unacceptably slowly.
I have seen quite a few Web sites with rather garish backgrounds that take a long time to load, and I don't want to imitate their example.
Because I don't consider myself any kind of design expert, I'll be glad to read suggestions from interested readers about how to make these pages prettier while keeping them readable.
who tests how actual real-live people use the Web. The established conventions of the browser software programs, to mark unvisited links as blue and visited links as purple, are very helpful for people navigating in complicated sites. Don't change your link colors. Set a link color if you set a background color (so that the colors aren't identical for text and background) but leave the defaults for links alone. I get confused a lot by sites with funny link colors, and research shows that I am not alone in being disgusted with randomly selected link colors.
First Netscape and now Internet Explorer have dominated the browser market. But some poor, benighted homeschoolers may still use CompuServe's Netsloucher, er, Netlauncher, or the partly broken early AOL browser. (Prodigy's browser is remarkably good, and doesn't have the problems of CompuServe's or AOL's.) Each of those browsers does a few things differently. Netscape is notorious (famous?) for silently disregarding coding errors on pages and showing you a page the way the author meant, rather than the way the author coded. That makes Netscape great for reading other people's pages, but lousy for proofreading your own pages. Your pages might look great in Netscape and be incomprehensible to users of other browsers--especially if you forget about text-only browsers like Lynx. Even many users of Netscape use Netscape the smart way, with automatic downloading of graphics turned off. So I make sure that my graphics images have alt="" attributes set in the <IMG> tags that define image elements so that Lynx users and other text-only users can see what I put on the page. And I make sure to use other browsers besides Netscape for proofing my pages, and also occasionally run my pages through the W3C HTML Validation Service and other on-line means of checking page coding.
In actual point of fact, I get very little junk E-mail, and my E-mail program filters junk E-mail so reliably that I rarely see it. I do get an E-mail or two per day with interesting comments about my Web site. Most of what's any good about my site is a result of reader comments that I have taken to heart. Most of what will improve about my site in the next year will be the result of further reader comments that I have yet to implement. If you get a high volume of E-mail, you may want to set up an automatic reply message. My automatic reply message, set up by my site's site master, sends out answers to the informational questions most frequently asked by visitors to my site. That leaves me time to write messages like this and to update my site.
and especially the content of nearly all of his Alertbox biweekly columns on Web usability issues. Nielsen has done more research, more thoroughly and for longer, than almost anyone else about Web usability issues. In particular, Nielsen has a familiarity with hypertext and hypermedia design principles and usability testing that goes back a long time before there was such a thing as the World Wide Web. His Alertbox columns "Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design" (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html) and the follow-up to that column, "'Top Ten Mistakes' Revisited" (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990502.html) are classic descriptions of what goes wrong in Web design, and his new column "Top-10 New Mistakes of Web Design" (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990530.html) is sure to become another classic article favored by all thinking Web designers. Just about all of Nielsen's Alertbox columns are valuable for every Web master, as is most all the rest of the free advice on his site.
Nielsen's Useit.com site has a good list of links, but Nielsen recommends rather than tries to duplicate the superb usability link list kept at the Usable Web (http://www.usableweb.com) which will lead you to enormous amounts of too-little-known information on making Web sites more usable.
A really good on-line resource about building better Web sites, by another Web master interested in homeschooling, is Tips for Novice Web Page Designers with many specific tips on how to make your Web site more usable for readers interested in homeschooling. I recommend this site highly. Another Web resource with good tips is Advice for Making Good Web Pages, whose author has independently reached many of the same conclusions I have reached, expressing them with his own flair.
You can find interesting answers to the question, "What Makes a Great Web Site?" on a page by that name (http://webreference.com/greatsite.html) that reinforces much of the advice above, and also reveals the technological tricks behind the big commercial sites. The rest of the site that page comes from is well worth a look.
[End of Building Better Web Sites section of this page]
I troubleshoot new pages for this site by reading them offline in the Netscape Communicator version 4.5 or 4.71 browser, also the Microsoft Internet Explorer version 4 or version 5 browser, the Opera browser evaluation version, the Amaya browser (which is published by the World Wide Web Consortium for free downloading), and any other browser I have at hand on the computer I'm working on. I often use the W3C HTML Validation Service for on-line checking of my pages right after I post them. Now that service accepts file uploads too, so you can check pages before you post them. After posting, I have on many occasions read my pages in Lynx, a UNIX-based text-only browser, which is available to many people through Telnet access to public library systems. I use a lint service to check the coding of these pages too.
I like QBullets, a set of cues to the nature of hypertext links. They were one of the very first sets of icons for identifying links on webpages. Feel free to visit the QBullets site to learn how to use QBullets on a site you maintain.
This site has been rated as free of offensive content according to the criteria of various rating services that issue Platform for Internet Content Selection
What advice do you have for me? What are some of your favorite Web sites about learning in freedom, and why do you like them?
[Building Better Web Sites (Technical Notes) page version 4.0, last revised 4 January 2013]
What else would you like to know about the technical details of this site? It wouldn't be sporting to frustrate your curiosity after devoting a whole site to the cause of free, independent learning. So ask away, and I'll try to answer your questions in future revisions of this page. Or send me your comments about my site, and I'll learn something from you. I really appreciate your comments.
Feel free to come back to the Learn in Freedom™ page (http://learninfreedom.org) and to this "Building Better Web Sites (Technical Notes)" page (http://learninfreedom.org/technical_notes.html) again soon.
This School Is Dead: Building Better Websites page is copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.
A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.