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A Few Useful Tidbits on Web Design

To be honest, I had a hard time coming up with a title for this article, and I threw a bunch of titles around before I settled on the one we have now.

I’ve mentioned a few of these points in my DOs And DON’Ts articles, but still I decided to include them here because it just makes sense to have them together.

Tip: Using custom 404 pages

The 404 page is the page displayed if someone tries to reach a page on your website that does not exist. Most of the time, it’s because the visitor mistyped the URL or maybe because you renamed a page …

You might be surprised to hear that 404 pages will probably be one of the most seen pages in your website! All web servers like Apache and IIS have a default 404 page that is displayed to people – this page is just a simple HTML page like any other.

Because 404 pages are just simple HTML pages, you can change the default 404 page to a page that displays anything you want. So instead of the generic ‘this page does not exist’ message that tells your visitors nothing, you can put up an informative page that will help them find what they are looking for. A good idea is to take your site-map page, and make it the 404 page for your website. Another idea would be to make your 404 page a search page where people could search your site.

How do you tell the web server, where your new customized 404 page is sitting? This is something you have to ask your host do for you. Just ask them about allowing you to do this, and they should be able to make the quick change to their servers. On my servers, I just tell the web server to look for the 404 page for particular website in the root of the website. If this last sentence makes no sense to you, then you need to read my tutorial on basic web design.

Tip: Use include files for repeating content

There is a lot of repeated content in a website - things like page headers, page footers and navigation menus come to mind. Include files are separate pages of HTML code that contain things like the ones I just mentioned; things that are intended to be used on many different pages.

Why use include files:

The short answer: to save time.

For example: if say you have the same menu on 30 different web pages, include files will allow you to keep all your menus up to date on all your web pages easily since to update all your pages, all you have to do is update the one include file rather than all the 30 pages individually.

There are many different technologies you can use to ‘include’ things this way, the most common I have listed here:

Option: 1. Server side includes using either: PHP, ASP, JSP etc. …

Option: 2. Using client-side include tools like found in Dreamweaver or GoLive.

To include a file with PHP all you need to do is insert this code in your PHP pages:

   <? include("mainMenu.php") ?> 

I’m not going to go into details about this code (you’ll have to wait for the PHP tutorials,) but what is probably clear, is that all you have to do is name the file that you want to ‘include’ in your page. So in the above example the page we want to include is called ‘mainMenu.php’.

In ASP, it is very similar:

 <!-- #include file="../includes/header.asp" -->

In this case the included file is in a folder called ‘includes’ and the file being included is called ‘header.asp’

Tip: Create a site map for every web site

Both search engines and actual live visitors use site maps. They are almost essential for just about any website because they provide a easy to use macro view of your website.

In a nutshell, a site map is essentially a categorized page of links to all your websites’ pages. Many users will just go to a sitemap to find what they are looking for, while search engines will ‘crawl’ to your sitemap page to index your site – that’s a good thing.

You can also use site maps to help categories your websites content into logical blocks that makes sense for both site visitors and the search engines.

If you are interested in SEO (search engine optimization,) a site map is one of the key additions to your websites.

Tip: Every page should have a consistent footer

Page footers are nothing new; we had them in books forever. So it only makes sense to present people something they are familiar with. But in the case of the web, you can provide a lot more useful information in the page footer, that will make your website more user-friendly.

Some ideas include: your contact information: email address, your phone number et cetera. Another good idea is to have a text-only navigation menu in your footer. Nothing fancy, just a series of text links that can get people to the major sections of your website.

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