Custom WebHelp by Judith Snyder Judiths customer service, attention to detail, and response time are outstanding, St. James Mercy Hospital A guide to choosing your website designer
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Judith Snyder
Custom WebHelp
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website guidelines

Website design is an unregulated industry—these website guidelines are intended to provide business and website owners with information to help you make informed decisions about your website.

  1. Make it easy for visitors to confirm the accuracy of your information
  2. Show that your organization is legitimate by providing details (physical address, photos)
  3. Highlight your expertise
  4. Convey your trustworthiness
  5. Make it easy for visitors to contact you
  6. Use a consistent, professional design
  7. Your site should be user-friendly and be useful
  8. Keep your content updated
  9. Use restraint with promotions
  10. Avoid all errors (even spelling, broken links)

Check Page Rank of your Web site pages instantly:

You should register your domain name in your name or your organization’s name ( is reputable). Only trusted people should have access to the username and password for your domain. Anyone with this information has the ability to transfer your domain name or take down your website. Avoid having a website designer register your domain name because it can be difficult for you to get your domain name back should you want to change designers. It is critical that the admin email always be your permanent email address or someone at your organization. This should always be kept up-to-date.

When you register your domain name, your contact information is available to everyone internationally. You can protect your contact information by purchasing WhoIs privacy for $2/year from your domain registrar. You should get an email every year from WhoIs asking if you have changed your contact information. If you don’t get this email then the admin email is in someone else’s name or the email could be going to your spam folder.

Good website designers test the website during development to make sure that the pages look consistent on the 4 major browsers, monitors/iPads, and operating systems.
  • 4 Most Popular Browsers: Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome
  • Operating Systems: PCs, Macs, iPad
    * Note: a well-built HTML website will work well on a tablet. There many kinds of template/CMS sites—some work well and some have issues with tables/iPads. Tablet and iPad users should always have the option of viewing the full website version and then alternately an app (software application that provides some of the functionality of the full websie. Smaller mobile versions or apps should be viewed just on a phone.

Links to your website from high quality websites are important to your site’s Google PageRank. What do you do if you find that low-quality "link farms" are linking to your website and lowering your PageRank in Google? If you’ve tried to remove these spammy links and they are still negatively impacting your website, you can ask Google to disavow these links. You can follow these instructions from Google for disavowing backlinks.

Content is the heart of your website. Keep your users coming back by providing quality, information-rich content. Great graphics will not make up for non-descriptive or fluff content. There are standards for content and formatting content – a professional website editor will keep your website looking professional over time. Although updateable template sites maybe be easy to use by your organization, typically the content over time becomes unprofessional and then you end up redesigning your site more frequently.

Research shows that the major activity on the web is reading. Make sure your pages are easy to read. Your visitors won’t know if you have great content if they can’t read it. Some factors to consider to increase readability are font size and color, website background, white space, and alignment of text.

Writing for the web is very different than writing for print. Monitors have a lower resolution than the printed page which makes it harder for us to read on the web—about 20% slower. Good web writing involves writing for how people search for information—they scan for information until they find what they are looking for. There are standards and best practices for web writing and formatting the content for the way visitors read on the web.
Organizing and prioritizing information throughout the site and within pages of the website is Information Architecture—an area of expertise few website designers have knowledge of or university training in. Website navigation and site structure are both components of Information Architecture.

Italics are difficult to read on a monitor and should be used sparingly e.g. the title of a book. Similarly, there are best practices for the use of bold on a page, the number of links, and how the links are written.

Many websites put up their print content in PDF or Word files. PDFs are not considered not user-friendly. Research shows that while PDF files may be good for printing and emailing, website visitors prefer to read HTML pages over PDFs. One solution is to take the content from the PDF and put it directly into an HTML page and then have a link to the PDF. Then the visitor is able to easily read the content and save the PDF for other uses.

Writing for the web also involves content strategy and search engine optimization SEO. Content strategy does not mean "keyword stuffing." Google writes about keyword stuffing "filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking...violates our guidelines."

Google needs text to index a page. Flash uses "pictures of text" not real text and is very complex. Typically, Flash will negatively impact your Google ranking.

Flash does not work on iPads. If your site is completely made with Flash it will not show up on an iPad. If you have a small area that has Flash, that area will be empty.

If you are going to use Flash, keep it to a minimum so the movement does not distract your visitors. Avoid using Flash for your navigation buttons because it can create issues – especially for people with disabilities. Accessibility is required for all websites by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Your website needs to be on server so that anyone can view it on the web. You will pay a monthly or yearly fee to have your website hosted on a server. It is important that you select a reputable hosting company that guarantees your website will be up (available on the web) for at least 99.5% of the time. No website is up 100% of the time – even Google and CNN go down occasionally. Monthly fees for HTML/database sites are approximately $10-$18. If you are being charged $35, make sure that you know what you are getting for that extra fee. If you have a good website designer they should set you up with reliable website hosting in your own name. Many website designers buy one hosting account that they split up and resell to many clients for a profit. This becomes an issue because you don’t have your own hosting account and difficult to ever move your website or hire a different website designer.

Use caution with website hosting companies with very low monthly fees ($5). Reliability of your website hosting company takes priority over the cost of hosting.

One of the hardest parts of developing a large, complex website can be the navigation–it needs to be consistent and intuitive. Visitors need to know when they click on a button what they will find on that page. This is referred to by user interface experts as the "scent of information." A website developer with expertise in Information Architecture can develop the navigation from your content and your audience(s). Usability testing and feedback by real users can provide insight on navigation issues.

Research shows it is important to have an About Us page. Trust and credibility are major issues on the web—with good reason. Nielsen’s research shows that visitors want to know who are the real people behind the website and the history of the organization.
Usability Expert Jakob Nielsen’s research on About Us pages

The Contact Us page is one of the most requested pages on a website. If visitors cannot locate this page or there is no physical address or phone number they can call – they may question whether this is a legitimate organization.

If you have a professionally created logo or identity, the design professional should provide you with separate high resolution images for web and print. They should also provide a written style guide for colors for print and web. Print uses a CMYK color palette (pantone); the web uses a RGB palette with 6 million colors. Website colors may look slightly different on PCs and Macs and can also vary according to monitor settings.
Logos on the web are typically located in the upper left corner where tracking studies show visitors first look. A tagline can be under the graphic logo or maybe be integrated in the graphics/design elsewhere.

User-friendly websites are intuitive. Your visitors should be able to find information and complete tasks (e.g. filling out a form) quickly and easily. Visitors don’t want to learn how to use a site—it is supposed to be self-service. Research shows users prefer simple and distraction-free non-flash sites. Your website design can be tested with real users to see how user-friendly it is. The feedback from the users can be compiled and analyzed to help you determine where changes are needed.

Gerry McGovern writes that many websites fail because the organization thinks they can install some fancy software (CMS) where junior people can just paste up any content and presto—they’ll have a great website. They are not thinking about the quality and effectiveness of the content because the magic software does all that. Years later when they look at the problems with their website’s content they’ll wonder where it all went wrong.

Pros of template sites
  • Pre-built WordPress templates are either free or nearly free
  • Anyone can update a WordPress site
  • Design is complete, all you need to do is add your photos and text
  • A pre-built WordPress site can be launched in a very short time (some take just a day or two)
Cons of template sites Pros of hand-coded custom websites
  • Website is built to your exact specifications
  • Very flexible, easy to make layout, design, technology, and content changes over the years
  • Complex content can be easily formatted for easy reading
  • A professionally maintained site stays professional
  • Easy to change website designers and hosting
  • Website maintenance: a professional with expertise in content, Photoshop, and technology will make sure all content that is posted is edited, professional, and formatted correctly for the web.
Cons of custom websites
  • A quality custom website takes longer to build
  • You will need a professional to update the site (look for someone with expertise in HTML, modifying graphics, and content).

If you have an expensive monthly website maintenance contract (hundreds of dollars) and you need only a few updates per month, you are probably overpaying for maintenance. You can request maintenance by the hour and records of work performed/date for all maintenance requests. Invoices should include dates and work performed so you can track your maintenance.

To maintain a professional site, hire a professional with expertise in content, Photoshop, and technical skills to properly maintain your site. All three skill sets contribute to the value of your website.

Sizing and opimizing images are very different. Sizing refers to how many inches/pixels an image is. Optimizing an image has to do with the resolution of an image. Two images of the same size can have very different resolutions (a print resolution or a web resolution). You will want your image optimized for your website so it loads quickly on a web page. Template sites that are not maintained by professionals are full of images that are high resolution and take a long time to load in the browser...visitors may grow impatient waiting for the image and just click off the page.

Pictures A and B below look identical but Picture A is a high resolution print image that contains 2.5 times the number of kilobytes compared to Picture B, a low resolution web image. A web page with Picture A will take longer to load (view) than Picture B. Visitors like fast-loading sites. Keep load time to 10 seconds or less if possible; most visitors won’t wait longer for a website to load.

high resolution image
High resolution for print
a whopping 29 kilobytes
Low resolution image
Low resolution for web
only 11 kilobytes

From Sue Cooper SEO Training Blog:
"And when I’m talking with people, I’ll often hear remarks that make me cringe, like
  • My next door neighbor’s 15 year old loves computers, so he’s building our site
  • Our site went live and I found an awesome tool to submit it to 1000 search engines
  • We don't need SEO because we rank at #1 for our business name
The fact is, you don’t know what you don’t know. The structure of your website, how it’s built, is vital. Incorrect linking, misuse of code, lack of keyword and competitor research – these and more, could have a paralysing effect on your success. Submitting your site to 1000’s of ’search engines‘ literally means you’re associating with link farms and spammy sites.... As for being #1 for your business name – what’s the value? Anyone who already knows your name is going to find you anyway. It’s the potential customer who doesn’t know of your product or service that is the driving force of new business."

Search engine ranking is actually a complex process—many companies think it is all about meta tags. Meta tags have become less important over time because people try to "keyword stuff" these tags. Google search guidelines highlight the need for good content, good search engine technology, and a host of many other factors that can affect your ranking. Many companies also pay for advertising on Google if their ranking is not high enough.

A good example of a high ranking by topic is the following search engine results page (SERP):

PB&H/Syracuse Sales has a 5th and 6th place ranking out of 11,700,000 Google search results for the phrase, designer metal moulding which PB&H distributes (organic search SEO, not paid PPC).

How people search
Typically, people searching for a dog grooming company will not be searching specifically for your company’s name, "Casey’s Dog Grooming." Searchers will search for the category of business, "Dog Grooming" without the quotes. It is easy to have your website come up in the top rankings in Google under your company name. What is more important, and much more difficult is to get a high ranking in your business category.

Basic search engine strategy:

  • A surprisingly large number of websites have incorrect or missing search engine information in the HTML. Many website designers lack training in SEO best practices.
  • Submit your website directly to the search engines that really matter, about 5.
  • Write quality, descriptive content.
  • You may have heard that all you need to do to improve your website ranking is have other sites link to your website (link popularity). Google only looks at credible websites that link to your site. "Link farms or fake directories" are NOT credible web links. Link popularity is only one factor in Google’s ranking.

Are you seeing unauthorized preapproved charges on your PayPal account? Login to the PayPal (classic interface), go to My Account > Profile > My money > My preapproved payments. Click update link to the right and click on any of the Merchant links. Cancel if you did not authorize.

Building a website is not the same as marketing it. Just submitting your website to search engines and providing search engine information typically will not provide enough exposure to sell a product unless you have a very specialized product/service or you have a highly recognizable name like Coke or Oprah. Marketing strategies will depend on the audience that you are trying to reach and include digital – Facebook, other social media, eBay, pay per click advertising on search engines, tv, radio, HTML newsletters and advertising in trade journals/print materials.

Many businesses contact us about problems with their current website. Issues usually fall in one of the following skill sets
  1. Ease of Use/User-friendly. How user-friendly is your website? Can visitors find information quickly and complete tasks easily.

  2. Organization of Information (Information Architecture). This includes a large number of areas: site structure, information design, priority of content, user-centered layout, and intuitive navigation are just four.

  3. Consistency. Consistency is not a separate skill set but it is important for the credibility of your website. There are best practices and guidelines for developing a consistent website.

  4. Design. Your graphics should be developed by a professional graphic artist with a degree or expertise in "web graphics" (very different than print graphics). Designs by programmers or website designers without academic degrees or web expertise are typically not professional and will affect the credibility of your site.

  5. Technology. Technology evolves very quickly on the web but there are always standards and best practices that should be followed. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) establishes the standards for the web. Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the inventor of the Web, is the W3C Director. The W3C provides tools to website developers to test their pages and make sure their HTML and CSS code is valid. They also determine what is no longer acceptable on the web e.g. HTML <font> tags.

  6. Content. Content is the most important part of your website; it should be descriptive, information-rich (rather than fluff), and prioritized. It should also be formatted for the way visitors actually read on the web (scanning).
    • Gerry McGovern writes that decentralized publishing equals amateur web management more

  7. Search engine information. There are best practices for developing search engine information; not all website designers have the correct expertise in this area.

When you register your domain name (, your name, email address, and physical address become public knowledge unless you pay extra for a whois private registration. You may receive email notices or letters from websites saying that you need to renew your domain name—typically at a much higher price. These notices may appear to be from your own registrar. You can avoid spam and fraud by
  1. Finding out where your domain name is registered
  2. Privately registering your domain name with whois at your own registrar

Companies that charge high prices to submit your website to hundreds of search engines are not legitimate. Actual experts in search engine optimization SEO will submit your website to the most important search engines—only a handful.

See examples of domain scams

Your actual registrar will send you an email notice when it is time to renew your domain name (your credit card must be up-to-date). If your name expires—it is still possible to renew it within a certain time period.

Yes, accessibility is required for all websites. Priceline and Ramada Inn were fined about $40,000 for having sites that were difficult to use by blind people.

Minimal accessibility includes writing alt tags. You can see an alt tag in Internet Explorer by putting your mouse over an image and watching a text note pop up. Text readers (JAWS), used by people with disabilities will read all your text and your alt tags for images.

Following accessibility standards can be complex but many websites need only basic accessibility e.g.,
  • Images need descriptive text in the code
  • Never use the old technology, Frames
  • Visitors should be able to increase the size of the text
  • Text alternatives for multimedia
Not providing accessibility may cost you money: and have agreed to make their Web pages easier to navigate for the blind and visually impaired as part of a settlement with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Federal agencies must follow Section 508, a stricter level of accessibility.

Visitors are used to scrolling down a page (vertical scrolling). However, it is not user-friendly to scroll horizontally across the page. Build your pages so that your content is visible without scrolling horizontally.

Websites that collect personal information should provide a privacy policy that includes:
  • Information collected and how is it used
  • Whether consumers’ information is shared with 3rd parties and whether they have a choice about how their information will be used
  • Whether consumers have access to their personal information and whether they can correct errors
  • What precautions are used to secure consumers' personal information

Delete all your Facebook posts, images, and account permanently.

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