Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Designing a Good Navigation System for Your Website

While designing your website to be aesthetically pleasing is important, beautiful graphics and clever little details are no substitute for a good navigation system. No matter how great your website looks, it will be useless if your visitors can't find their way around your site.

Traditionally the navigation menu is placed just below the header area or on the left hand side of the web page. Usability studies have shown that web site visitors will instinctively look in these areas first.

Wherever you decide to place your navigation system, remember that consistency is important. The most important thing is to place your navigation menu in the same spot on every one of your web pages. If you use an image to represent a navigational button, use the same image and the same color for that image on each page of your website. For example, if you use an image of a green house in the left hand corner of your web page as your "Home" navigational link, use the same green house image in the left hand corner of every one of your web pages to designate the "Home" link.

Your visitors should be able to find what they are looking for within 3 clicks of your home page. This is usually not a problem for smaller sites. However, if you have a large site with many pages, you will need to design a navigation menu that provides access to all areas of your website without getting your visitor lost or confused.

You may want to use a "bread crumb" trail type of navigation system for large sites (Homepage > Category > Subcategory > Content). Another option is to use a dynamic menu that changes according to the page your visitor is on, but be aware that search engines may not be able to spider sites using dynamic menus.

Usability studies have shown that a navigation menu should contain no more than 8 links. The more choices a user is given, the more difficult it will be for them to make a decision. Also, if you have many links, your visitor may get the impression that your site is complicated and difficult to navigate.

If you have only a few links, you can use mouse rollovers to visually enhance your website. You will need to add some Javascript that pre-loads the rollover images and then add "onMouseover" events to your image links. Alternatively, you can use CSS for text rollovers that change the link color when the mouse cursor hovers over a link. There are many websites with javascripts and css examples that you can download and use in your own pages. Just search for "javascript rollovers" and you will find a ton of sites. I would recommend using the CSS method since search engines can not recognize images.

Navigational links should be considered the most important part of your website for two reasons:

1) They are used by your visitors to find content on your site.

2) They are used by search engines to spider your site.

The reason users visit your site is to get information. If visitors can't find the information they are searching for, they will click away, perhaps never to return again.

While different search engines have different rules on how they spider and rank a site, basically a "bot" or "spider" will visit a site, search for a "HREF" link and follow the links to other pages, indexing the pages as it goes along. If the "bot" or "spider" doesn't find a "HREF" tag on a page, it is blocked from going any deeper into the site. As you can see, you need to design your navigational system so that a search engine can spider all pages of your website.

The best way to ensure that all of your pages get spidered is to add a menu of text links at the bottom of all of your pages. Also, make a sitemap and include a link to it on your home page.

When designing your website, take the extra time to design a good navigational system. It will be vital to the success of your website!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Strategies to Slow the Flow of Spam

Do you look forward to opening your e-mail inbox only to find it full of junk mail? Here are some tips and information that will help reduce the amount of spam (unwanted junk e-mail) arriving in your inbox.

What is spam?

Spam is UCE - unsolicited commercial e-mail. Or any e-mail sent to your e-mail address that you did not request, from somebody that you did not have a prior association with. They do not have your permission to send you advertising by e-mail, and you did not ask to be added to their mailing list. Spam is usually sent to thousands of people at once. According to Sero-Group.com, the first report of spamming occurred on 1 May 1978 by a computer sales representative in the US, but the term spam was not used until April 1994 when two US lawyers tried to promote an illegal lottery.

Why is it called spam?

The name spam was derived from a Monty Python comedy show which depicted a restaurant serving Spam (the canned ham variety) as a side dish to every item on the menu. This indicated that you would be receiving something whether you wanted it or not. Hence the term spam applying to unwanted junk e-mails.

How do spammers get your e-mail address?

Typically spammers use software programs that scan web pages and newsgroups for any word or piece of text that contains an '@' symbol. This is commonly referred to as harvesting. The software collects these email addresses and stores them in databases on the spammer's computer, which the spammer then loads into a bulk-mailing program used to send out the spam messages.

Open an extra e-mail account

Use a free e-mail account for signing up for newsletters, free offers, downloads, etc. Some sites that provide this type of service are Hotmail.com, Yahoo.com and GMail.com. There are hundreds of others so be sure to compare their features and select the one that will suit your needs. If the amount of spam starts to get out of control you can start a new free account and cancel the over-spammed one. Only give your personal e-mail address, the one supplied by your ISP, to friends and relatives.

Disguise your email address

One method is to insert blank spaces before and after the '@' symbol in your e-mail address. Place a small note under it instructing visitors to copy and paste the address into a new message and remove the blank spaces before sending their message to you. This won't allow the e-mail address to be clicked like a normal e-mail link, but the principle is easy enough for anyone to follow.

Another method is to use a special html code to replace the '@' symbol. Use this code @ in your email address. example: name@yourdomain.com

Do not respond

Never reply to or buy anything offered in a spam message. You don't want the spammer to know that you have received their message as this will only encourage them to continue sending spam, and it will also keep your e-mail address as 'current and deliverable' on their mailing list. Do not click any unsubscribe links in a spam message. Most of these links are false or will again confirm to the spammer that a live person owns that e-mail address.

Set up real mailboxes

If you have your own web site and domain name never use a catch-all e-mail configuration. A catch-all setup will effectively catch-all e-mails that are sent to that domain, even if they are not addressed correctly, for example joohn@yourdomain.com, and will forward all e-mail to a nominated e-mail address, usually your ISP account. Spammers will simply make up different e-mail addresses at your domain and see if they are deliverable. If so, they will add these addresses to their mailing lists (many of which are sold to other spammers).

Be careful with spam filters

If you or your ISP uses a spam filter make sure you add all wanted e-mail addresses to your white list (a list of acceptable senders). The spam filter will then allow e-mails from these addresses to reach your inbox. IMediaConnection.com states that approximately 38% of all wanted e-mail is currently getting blocked by spam filters.

Use extra caution

Your bank or financial institution will never ask for your Internet banking password or credit card details in an e-mail message. Neither will they ask you to update these details through a link to a web page. Messages like these will always be spam and should be reported to your bank. Never reply or click any links in these types of messages.

SIDEBAR

In 2004 spam accounted for more than 45% of all e-mail sent, with the daily average number of spam sent to be approximately 15 billion.