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Back to Basics

By Dan Burbank
Posted Wednesday, September 29, 2004

If you read the sports page or watch any amount of ESPN, I'll bet the following exchange sounds familiar.

SPORTS REPORTER: "Coach, your team just lost by 500 points and looked so bad out there that some fans were seen getting violently ill in the stands. How do you explain it?

COACH: "I can't explain it."

SPORTS REPORTER: "Well how do you plan to fix this sinking ship?"

COACH: "We have to get back to basics. Tomorrow at practice we're focusing on fundamentals."

At every level of sports there are players who can make a crowd swoon with the flick of their wrist. They play at an extraordinary level that leaves most us speechless, envious and frustrated.

Chances are there's such a web site in your neighborhood. Maybe it boast an unbelievable amount of content, tops every search engine and has graphics that belong in the Louvre. Or maybe it's just better than yours.

It’s a tough spot for any webmaster, let alone someone who just got their site off the ground. Or maybe you’re only in the planning stages and thinking, “geez, we can't ever compete with those guys.”

Before you get too anxious or try to tack some new marvel onto your site, make sure your fundamentals are in order.

Practice good hygiene in these three area and you'll set yourself up for future success.


This is the backbone of your site. Bad code can break browsers, bloat your site and make for an awful experience. If you're using software to develop your site take a moment to read the code and start trying to learn it. If you’re not satisfied with the template, cookie-cutter or plain look of your site, it might be time to learn HTML. Try starting with an online tutorial or pick up a book.

If you're already coding now is the time to get picky. Close every tag, watch for embedded tables and browse your site with a critical eye. Take advantage of programs that validate code and be sure you view your site in multiple browsers.


Graphic elements can enhance a site. Buttons can make a site easier to navigate. Good pictures can describe a product better than a thousand words. A staff photo can add a human touch to your site. If you do it right. If your graphics are too big they'll add valuable seconds to the load time of your site. Take the time to learn how to optimize images and use them carefully. Think hard before putting a graphic button where a text link might suffice.

Not all of us can be skilled in the art of creating graphics or logos. If your site needs an infusion of art, it might be time to connect with a professional designer.


For as technological advanced as the Internet can be, it still relies on a pretty simple, age old craft -- writing. Effective writing on the web is critical mostly because people don't read online. Weird right? Your typical visitor scans and unless you really hook the reader, they might breeze right past your number one selling point.

Write efficiently and use lists where possible. Edit your writing before posting it, try reading it backwards, use spelling and grammar check, and have someone else read it. A site full of misspellings and errors looks unprofessional and amateurish.

Those are the three core elements to any web site. Master them and you'll be in a position to take on any competition.

Dan Burbank is the resident columnist for ( and has been leading professional web design projects for more than five years.


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