THE WEBSITE WOES

Business World

This column is meant for those who have a business on the ground as well as a website to market that business. You have probably got an outside firm to make your site. That makes sense, because it leaves you time to focus on your own business. But you should also remember that for the software firm that makes your site, you are just one among several clients. You must not expect it to think up a Net Marketing strategy for you. That must be done by you. And in any case, for the price that most firms charge for a site – often less than a few lakhs – they cannot afford to put a marketing expert at your disposal.

Having said that, I must add that more than half the Indian sites I visit violate elementary common sense. The website seem to be made with the intention of showcasing the web designing firm’s skills rather than to sell the client’s products and services. There are dozens of shortcomings and I have mentioned a few of them in my previous articles. If you already have a website, check up all these points – they will give you an idea of whether your Web design firm really has your interests in mind.

Also, ask your website designer whether he will be submitting your site to search engines. My experience is that most Indian Web designers don’t. One important exception I notice is Indiamart which, in a letter to me on 7 January, said it had crossed the 500-client mark. Much before I began writting this column, Indiamart has been submitting its client’ addresses to Locate India and I presume it submitst hem to all major search engines. You need a design firm like that which does not think its job has ended with making the website.

The first item to check on your website is whether your index page and other pages have meta tags.These are of the form . There is a similar tag for keywords. Unless you have a huge advertising budget or compelling content , a sizeable chunk of the visitors to your website will come from search engines, at least the first time they do so.

And meta tags are the most important element in helping search engines classify and rank your site. Used intelligently, meta tags can help your site figure somewhere in the first 30-40 websites when people search for a subject of don’t seem to have any meta tags at all. Search engines also place great important on the title of the page. But tens of sites I visit have no title, or worse still a note, perhaps from one Web designer to another which reads: “Please Put a title here.”

Also, ask your website designer whether he will be submitting your site to search engines. My experience is that most Indian Web designers don’t. One important exception I notice is Indiamart which, in a letter to me on 7 January, said it had crossed the 500-client mark. Much before I began writting this column, Indiamart has been submitting its client’ addresses to Locate India and I presume it submitst hem to all major search engines. You need a design firm like that which does not think its job has ended with making the website.

Another common shortcoming is the use of large pictures which take an infinit time to load. Worse, sometimes the opening page is full of large pictures without any text link So, I often end up leaving the site without going past the first page. Other culprits in the same category are Java applets, especially those used for navigation. You need to ask yourself about every image and applet on a page: “does it really add to the looks of my site? Can I do without it?” Usually, the answers to these questions are no and yes respectively.

One culprit that is cropping up on pages more often these days is Flash or Shockwave animations. These are superb technologies that allow the use of wild aniamtions without employing gargantuan files. But someone who visit your business site will probably want to download files and Shockwave is that you can’t download pages that use them. If you must have these tools, restrict them to your opening screen. And doesn’t have all the time in the world to see your fancy animations.

You can also do away with frames. Frames used to be considered exciting when they first emerged. And even to day, some important website use them. But they need to be used carefully. If the contents of the frame, especially the navigation frame, are too long or broad, a scroll bar crops up and destroys the aesthetics of the page. There is no dearth of such pages on the Internet. The reason is usually that the Web designer has made the page and tested it at one display resolution and one buowser and not on other. So, what looks good at one resolution or one browser looks lousy on another.

If you are using CGI or PERL files to receive forms and mail, you must make sure that they work. There is nothing more irritating for the user – or devastating for you – as to have a mail form (which is often the only way a visitor can contact you) return an answer “file not found”. Hosting companies have the nasty habit of changing their rules without informing their clients. Make sure it dose not happen to you.