Beginners guide how to build a web site
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Getting Started
Planning: Intent, Audience, Structure, and Courtesy

Lesson Contents

Pre-Lesson:  Objectives & Audience

A quick look out there will tell you that many people put up sites without the slightest clue what they're trying to do, so thought is obviously not mandatory.

But it will do your site a lot of good to think for a minute about your reason for being out there with a site.

One of the most common and obvious reasons is to market a product or service.  But you might want to inform, to teach, to entertain, or to socialize.  Whatever your reason is for putting up a site, it's helpful to be clear about your objective.

Knowing your intent will help you determine your audience. Knowing your audience will help you choose your design and structure.

In the Conversations with Jeri for this section, Jeri decided that her main intent was to make the Tree of Hope more available to cancer fighters and their supporters. Underlying that was a desire to comfort and support those who are being hurt by this disease. The warmth, beauty and cheerfulness of her site reflect her intentions.

For some links to experts in the field who offer their insights about design, see my personal page on philosophy and design:

Pre-Lesson:  Structure & Design

The Home Page

Your site, even if it is only one page, will have a home page. Your home page is the gateway to your site, and to your thoughts and/or products; it is the salon in which you greet new guests. It will set the atmosphere for everything that follows. Your visitor will decide at that point whether you have something to say or whether you are merely irritating. Once that decision is made, you'll have a hard time adjusting it with subsequent pages.

For that reason, it's important for your gateway to be clear and to be easy to load. This is true for all of your pages, but it's critically important for your home page.

Your home page should be quick to load. This is courteous. A visitor can then quickly make a choice whether to go further, rather than sitting there for ages waiting for you to load, only to find there's nothing of interest and the time was wasted.

I frequently see sites that say something like, "Please be patient while this site uploads."  ... I immediately hit the stop-load button and go to some other site. Do you feel the same way? There are very few people or things I'm interested enough in to waste my time that way. The minute I see the be-patient message, I know I've encountered someone who doesn't respect my time.

Ideally, unless you have a single-page site, your home page should be nothing more than a table of contents and some contact information.

Naturally, you'll want it to be attractive and interesting and persuasive, so graphics are appropriate. But keep them small and use them wisely. Content is everything. If a graphic doesn't contribute to your overall message or atmosphere, skip it. In sub-pages, you may have good reason to have large images, animations, or music -- but keep them out of your home page.

Make your table of contents as clear as it can possibly be. This can be accomplished with a mapped image (more about those later in this course), or with simple text. But be sure your visitors know exactly what each of the pages has to offer, so they don't make unrewarding and irritating trips to places they don't want to go.

Basic Structure

If you have a simple site with few graphics, a single page will do just fine. But a single page gets unwieldy if you have multiple ideas to express. And if there are lots of graphics, it can be frustrating to download.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that we can start with a single page. But, depending on what your vision is, it can easily be divided into multiple pages as it grows or as it makes sense. When I say easily, I mean it. A matter of minutes, unless you decide to go crazy with different backgrounds and formats.

Most sites have more than one page. You are free to develop a rag-baggy all-over-the-place site, and then create a so-called site map to aid the hopelessly confused, but that looks pretty bad and shows a lack of understanding -- on your part -- of your site's purpose.

A more workable design is to figure out your basic categories, index them in the home page's table of contents, and have various sub-pages or sub-sites fall off of those basic categories.

For example, you might have the following pages in a jumble in your mind:

  • Pictures of your Welsh Corgi
  • Your personal background
  • Your handyman business/services
  • Welsh Corgi links on the internet
  • Pictures of your granddaughter
  • Links to jokes and humour on the net

There are many, many ways to organize your pages. One possible way might be to create the following main pages:

  • Your personal pages
  • Your business pages
  • Interesting links

This is just one of many options. But in this example, the personal page could link in turn to the background information, the family pictures, and the Corgi information. Then there would be a page (perhaps with sub-pages) for the business, and a page for interesting links. The resulting structure might look like:

Personal Pages

My Background and Life

Pictures of my Family

Welsh Corgi Links

Photos of my Corgi
Expert Handyman Services
Interesting Links

Humor Links

Navigation (Jumping Around)

Your site will be within its own directory (folder) on your provider's site. This site-folder is normally assigned by the provider, and usually is related to your log-on ID. For example, if you are on AOL and your log-on ID is wildtammy, your site URL (the basic directory for your pages) would be:

Home pages are designated by having a file name of:
(Advanced systems also allow a longer suffix, so you might see:)
(When you get more advanced, you also might end up creating a home page named default.asp, or index.shtml)

You can go to a home page either by specifying just the basic directory, such as:

Or you can go to a home page by specifying the entire file-name of the home page, such as:

If you choose the first method, specifying only the main directory, the browser will look for a page named "index.htm" or "index.html". If it doesn't find anything that looks like a home page, it will just display a list of the files in the main directory (or nothing at all, if a files list is not allowed by your provider's setup).

Navigation is accomplished via links. We'll learn all about how to create links in coming lessons. You can link from your home page to other main pages, you can link from main pages to sub-pages, you can link to different places within the same page, or you can link to someone else's site. [We'll learn to easily do all of these things.]

In the preceding example, our home page would have a link to the Personal main-page, a link to the Business main-page, and a link to the Links main-page. The Personal page would in turn have a link to the Family sub-page, and so on. We'll learn how to accomplish that.

Note that you can make your own subdirectories within your main directory. You can have within your area subfolders for graphics, other topics, etc. This makes the coding slightly more complex, and gives you more chances to make errors, so we won't be covering that in this course. But, when you get more advanced, bear in mind that this possibility exists (and that it allows for much better organisation.


My personal preference is for a site to have a unified "look" to it. This way, anywhere I am in a person's site, I have a sense of where I am, and whose site this is. This isn't any kind of a rule, and you can do anything you want, but you might think about a common background or color scheme or style for your pages.

What is much more important is content. Have you ever clicked a link on someone's page, waited forever to get to the new page, and found that the only thing on the new page is a logo, or a link to somewhere else? I have. Such experiences help me to develop my vocabulary, but do nothing else for me except to waste my time. Moral: Don't put a page up if there's nothing in it.

If you have an idea that isn't quite ready for prime-time, DON'T put up a link to an undeveloped page (the moronic "under construction" ploy). Rather than waste the person's time connecting to the server and retrieving an empty page, just put a statement "Coming Soon", and don't provide a link to the new page until you're truly ready.

If page-A is just a link to page-B, get rid of page-A. Put the page-B link on a higher-level page and go straight there, without an idiotic middle step.

Keep your main pages simple and easy to load, like your home pages. If you have a lot of graphics, video, or music to share, put them in sub-pages off the main path, so that your visitor doesn't have to suffer through all that just to find out what's in your site. It's attractive to have some sort of trim "banner" graphic or image on a main page, but keep it down. It's considered discourteous to have an image over 30K (30,000 bytes) on a main page, unless there's an overwhelming reason for it. Personally, I think even 30K is too large.

It's also courteous to give a good description of a download-heavy sub-page, so that the visitor knows what he's getting before going to the trouble of going there. For example, I have my photo albums linked off of my "Family" page. Under each photo album's link, I have a description of whose photos are in that link. That way, if a visitor is hoping to see a photo of my grandmother, there's no disappointment at finding out it's only pictures of my cat.

So many of us are now on unlimited-time providers, we forget that there are still some people who pay based on time used, and it's rude to raise their costs without value-given. We also forget that not everyone's on broadband yet -- even where money is not a factor, every visitor's time is valuable.

Above all, provide a clear picture of the structure of your site, and provide easy ways for the visitors to get where they want to go.

with Jeri
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