Twelve Things Most Sites Need - Part I
There are a plethora of Websites out there, each one unique in its design, its content, markup, features, functionality, and in myriad other ways. Yet, despite these differences, there are specific needs that should be met with near consistency, Internet-wide, regardless of the site. Let’s take a look at twelve of these common denominators. Below are the first six. They appear in the order in which I thunk ‘em up. They’re just numbered so you can refer to them more easily.
1. A Proper Navigation Menu
- Its link styling the
- The semantic use of lists to properly organize your links into a proper menu.
- And even going so far as marking the current page.
2. A Meaningful, Well-Formed Title
By meaningful title I am specifically referring to the
title element — what’s shown on the title bar of your browser. Ideally the content title should come before the site (this helps search users find stuff like your main content heading, instead of seeing your site name over and over again) and, if at all possible, each page should have its own title. This is an example of an effective use of the title element:
<title> Twelve Things Most Sites Need | Web page Design For Designers © </title>
Note: I prefer using a hyphen separator, but the vertical bar or pipe used on this site is fine.
3. A Method of Contact
I can’t recommend putting your email address on your site, even obfuscated unless done in a way that is actually secure (shop around but buyer beware, many touted methods don’t work indefinitely), but offering a means of contact is almost always necessary. It not only lends itself to sense of legitimacy, it’s simply the right thing to do in service to your visitors. To facilitate this, offering a phone number and address is good, if possible, and a contact form is a nice option in lieu of a
mailto: email link that not all visitors will be able to use anyway. However, since some visitors are robots or people up to no good, use a secure contact form. It has been argued that client-side spam filtering negates the need to protect your email address on the Web, but your address can still be harvested and put into use. There is no winning this war — not as long as common account names like firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org can be put to use as soon as you register a domain name — but it doesn’t mean we should make it easy.
4. A Site Map
A site map can be as simple as a Web page with an unordered list. Maintaining it can be quite simple: add a new list item when a new page is added. The hardest part is actually remembering to update it. That’s where the beauty of dynamic site maps really shine. Applications such as WordPress, as just one example, afford users the opportunity to create everything from simple to complex site maps with not much more than a simple function call. “Plugins” are also available further simplifying the process for novice users. And if you want to step it up a notch, you can also offer an XML site map but know that an HTML site map is what I am referring to. People should come first, not robots and spiders.
5. Passive Accessibility
I’m not going to bore you with some soliloquy. I will say this, though: Your Website should be accessible. Whether or not you do it for your visitors or for yourself is irrelevant. If you do it purely to satisfy your own needs your visitors will also benefit… can’t be helped. So, it’s all good. If you’re not familiar with the advantages to having an accessible site, maybe this presentation will help explain why accessibility makes sense. If you’re not familiar with Web accessibility, there are helpful links on the last page of the presentation. You can also get some basic info from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
6. Standardized Markup
This, like offering a proper navigation menu, may seem obvious, but it’s a big failing across the Web. From using tables for layout, to the improper use of breaks, to using a "big-bold" font style instead of a heading. Using the right markup for its designated purpose, without going overboard by stretching it usage, is useful not to not only accessibility and usability, but the practice of using semantic markup helps ensure forward compatibility. Truthfully, if you’re about to build a new Website and you’re planning on using tables and old practices, fuggedaboudit. You won’t be doing yourself or your client a favor if you don’t make peace with CSS and valid HTML 4.01 (for awhile) or XHTML 1.0/1.1. (A little accessibility awareness isn’t going to kill you either.) Web standards aren’t a joke and your cooperation in their adoption is of great importance.