Site Design: Content Break Down
Web sites vary enormously in their style, content, organization, and purpose, but all Web sites can share certain characteristics.
Menus and sub-sites
Contact information and user feedback
Custom server error pages
Site Design: Content Break Down (Home Page)
All Web sites are organized around a home page that acts as a logical point of entry into the system of Web pages in a site. In hierarchical organizations, the home page sits at the top of the chart, and all pages in the Web site should contain a direct link back to the home page. The World Wide Web URL for a home page is the Web "address" that points users to the Web site. In many cases, home page addresses are used more than home and business street addresses.
The thirty square inches at the top of a home page comprise the most visible area of the Web site. Most readers will be looking at your site on a seventeen- to nineteen-inch monitor, and the top four or five vertical inches are all that is sure to be visible on their screens. The best visual metaphor here is to a newspaper page — position matters. It's nice to be on the front page, but stories "above the fold" are much more visible than those below. In sites designed for efficient navigation the density of links at the top of the home page should be maximal — you'll never get a better chance to offer your readers exactly what they want in the first page they see:
Site Design: Content Break Down (Menus and Sub-sites)
Unless your site is small you will probably need a number of submenu pages that users enter from a general category listing on your home page. In complex sites with multiple topic areas it is not practical to burden the home page with dozens of links — the page grows too long to load in a timely manner, and its sheer complexity may be off-putting to many users.
Providing a submenu page for each topic will create a mini-home page for each section of the site. For specialized, detailed submenus you could even encourage frequent users to link there directly. In this way the submenus will become alternate home pages in “- set of links to other sections of the site on each sub-site home page, and always include a link back to your main organization home page.
Site Design: Content Break Down (Search Features)
Search facilities are a necessity for large sites and are convenient even for smaller sites that contain long documents. Sites that areupdated frequently also require a good search engine, because your menus and site index will probably not keep pace with every change you make in the content pages of the site. But search engines are no substitute for a carefully organized browsing structure of menus and submenus. The two systems, browsing by menu and searching by keyword, complement each other — neither system alone is adequate. Keyword searches give the reader specific links to follow but with no overview of the nature and extent of your content and no feel for how you have organized the information. Menus and tables of contents are great for broad overviews, but if your readers are looking for a specific piece of information not mentioned in the contents, they may miss what you have to offer.
The search software you use will often dictate the user interface for searching. If you update your content frequently, be sure that your search engine's indexing is done at least daily. Also be sure that your readers understand exactly what content is being searched: the entire Web site or just a subsection? If your site is complex you may wish to offer readers a pop-up menu that lists the areas of your site and allows them to limit their search to a specific area. And make sure that the results page also matches the graphic design of the site.
Site Design: Content Break Down (Contact information and user feedback)
The Web is a bidirectional medium — people expect to be able to send you comments, questions, and suggestions. Always provide at least one link to an email address in a prominent location in your site. You can request user information and feedback using Web page forms and then use a database to store and analyze their input.
The logistical and support staff implications of creating a popular Web site are often overlooked until a crisis develops. Rolling out a new, heavily trafficked Web site is like suddenly adding a second front door to your enterprise. Who will greet the people who come flooding in? Who will answer their questions about your organization and its products and services? Who will collect and analyze the information you receive from your readers? Before you add this functionality to your Web pages, be sure you have an infrastructure in place to handle the fruits of your success.
Site Design: Content Break Down (FAQ pages)
The Web and other Internet-based media have evolved a unique institution, the FAQ or "frequently asked questions" page, where the most commonly asked questions from users are listed along with answers. FAQ pages are ideal for Web sites designed to provide support and information to a working group within an institution or to a professional or trade group that maintains a central office staff. Most questions from new users have been asked and answered many times before. A well-designed FAQ page can improve users' understanding of the information and services offered and reduce demands on your support staff.
Site Design: Content Break Down (Custom Server Error Pages)
Most Web users are familiar with the "404 error, file not found" screens that pop up on the screen when a Web server is unable to locate a page. The file may be missing because the author has moved or deleted it, or the reader may simply have typed or copied the URL of the page incorrectly. One mark of a really polished Web site is custom-designed and useful error and server message pages. Most standard error screens are generic, ugly, and uninformative. A well-designed error screen should be consistent with the graphic look and feel of the rest of the Web site. The page should offer some likely explanations for the error, suggest alternatives, and provide links to the local home page, site index, or search page.