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Who Do I Believe

By Bob McElwain
Posted Monday, September 27, 2004

Upon invitation, I recently visited a site that was absolutely loaded with really great art. There was a splash page, beautifully rendered, that took almost two minutes to load. The main table on each page was fixed at 850 pixels, an odd choice that assures nearly everyone must scroll horizontally to see the entire page. The content was very well written, but most of it was on a single long page.

I reported I felt these were serious blunders, and added a bit about the why of it. When the fellow replied, he said he had checked with the artists and been assured these were design considerations. Then he asked, as if with a shrug, "Who do I believe?"

A total novice to the Web, this fellow asked the key question all newbies come to eventually. There is lots of conflicting information on the Web and it often requires careful thinking to sort the wheat from the chaff.

What I explained to this fellow is that site design comes second to function. That is, if a site does not function well, beautiful art will not help. Given any conflict between design and function, scrap the design. He never replied to any of my followup messages.

But in the above, and what follows, there is really nothing to debate. Go to any successful site on the Web, and you will find function comes first, that art work, no matter how lovely, is secondary. Or ask those who work the Web. I do not know anyone into site promotion who says design is more important than function. Function rules. Period. If you accept this, then the following must be eliminated from your site ASAP. Horizontal Scroll -- I have never heard anyone say they liked horizontal scrolling. I have never even heard anyone say they didn't mind it. While I have no convincing proof, people are annoyed when forced to scroll horizontally. If you disagree, try a poll on your site and ask visitors to vote yes or no to horizontal scrolling.

Monitors limited to 640x480 pixels are no longer being manufactured. The minimum resolution being sold today is 600x800. And while many site designers have settled on a width of 760 pixels as ideal, I can not recommend more than 600. While this is changing rapidly, there are still some 640x480 monitors in use. (I have one on a system here in the office.) And some people using 600x800 monitors have them set up for large font, which amounts to 640x480. While there does not appear to be a way to count such users, I choose not to annoy them by forcing horizontal scrolling.

Another group consists of those such as myself who are less than enchanted with browsers. I do not want the entire screen filled with one. I have both Netscape and Explorer set up to a 640 pixel width so I can easily get to my desktop. Or change quickly from one application to another. However many surfers the above amounts to, your are annoying them when you force horizontal scrolling; you are urging them to leave quickly. Frames -- I personally do not like them, and many do not. There is a problem with WebTV users about which I am not clear. But I was told it is difficult to scroll in any but the master frame. Annoy 12 million people? Plus folks like myself who don't like frames? Is it worth the risk?

Another concern I have about frames is the screen real estate they chew up. Add another vertical and horizontal scroll bar and you lose about 10% of the screen. Wouldn't it be better to use this for content? Or maybe just white space? But my biggest gripe with frames is that designers typically blow out table widths, which forces horizontal scroll, often in each window.

Finally, spiders won't like your page, and your search engine position will suffer. Fewer visitors is not the goal. Splash Screens -- To me, these are the greatest site killers of all. Put yourself in the position of a surfer who is checking out a couple of sites. The URL to your site is clicked. And up pops a splash screen. Thud. When the URL was clicked, it was a request to see your site, not a splash screen. Now the surfer must find an Enter button and make a second request to visit. Forgetting the fact that most splash screens are overloaded with graphics thus take forever to load, consider what happens in the surfer's mind. In the URL, there is an invitation to visit, which was accepted. But at the site there is a barrier, not unlike "Password Required." If you use a splash screen, you are sending away at least half of your traffic. Most surfers will click off within seconds. So who do you believe? Me? Others in the know? Fortunately in this case you can answer the question yourself, and with certainty. Just compare the hits on your splash screen to the number on the page it links to. I have yet to hear of a case in which even half those who hit the splash screen clicked on into the site. And There Are Others -- While the above are the most obvious site killers, there are others. But pages slow to load can be fixed. Pages too long can be spilt into two or more parts. With most such site killers, there are solutions. The above are the most significant because once built into a site, there is no easy fix. In most cases, it's best to simply start over. "Thou shalt annoy thy visitor" is not to be found in any list of good business practices of which I am aware. Why do so?

About the Author
Bob has been marketing on the Web since 1993. He helps newbie webmasters build great sites with less effort by showing them how to work smarter. For loads of newbie friendly site stuff, visit (http://SiteTipsAndTricks.Com) For even more, subscribe to "STAT News!" Just send a blank email to


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