Keeping a Web Site Simple ...
Keeping your web site simple doesn't necessarily mean that you are shortchanging your visitors. Things like simple navigation and simple graphics actually allow more visitors to view your web pages and help to keep them there because the pages load faster.
Simple navigation can consist of plain old text hyperlinks, or some very small graphic buttons arranged in some easy-to-follow way. Be consistent with the way you have people navigate your site. Use the same format for all of your pages when possible. Most people like to be able to figure out the web site's navigation system in short order. If it takes too long for them to figure out how it works, they will look for an easier web site to navigate. With the millions of sites available for them to go to, you need to make yours appealing to the web surfer that drops in for a look.
Creating simple graphics does not mean that the graphics can't be fancy or appealing. It means the file sizes need to be kept as small as possible and use a standard format (gif, jpeg). Using the same graphics for most pages in your web site will save loading time for the following pages. Most web browsers cache or "store" a graphic after it has been used once. This allows older browsers and slower Internet connections to have good access to your site, and makes your site appear to load really fast on most systems. Remember, not everyone has high-speed cable Internet access! This point can't be stressed enough. The vast majority of web browsing is done at 56kps with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but a lot of people still browse at slower speeds. Just because you have a 56kps modem does not mean that you can connect to the Web at that speed. Please save the Flash presentations for something other than your start page.
The main index page (or the first page someone visits when coming to your site) should load very quickly and inform them of what the web site is about. Most people hate waiting 2-3 minutes for a Flash intro that really wasn't needed, or having to skip around to learn what the site is actually for. The Internet is an information medium and most people are looking for something while they surf.If your site slows them down, they are more likely to leave than stay. However, if they can find what they want quickly, it actually does leave a good impression. That is half the battle!
Just because you are keeping a web site simple, does not mean you can't have tons and tons of great content or thousands of pages. Content is the meat and potatoes of your site. All the fancy graphics and navigation systems you can create don't mean much without great content. So some simple suggestions are:
1. Create the content first. (The hardest part of designing a web site!) Know what you're building the web site for.
2. Create small (file size) reusable graphics. Reusing the same graphics cuts load time.
3. Make an easy-to-understand navigation system for your site.
4. Create a "standard page" layout for your site. Reusing code cuts your production time.
5. Test your site on several browsers (and at different screen resolutions) for compatibility and the finished look. It is always good to see what your site looks like to others using different web browsers.
Not only are these my "rules of thumb," but several familiar web sites use this concept also. Check Ebay, Microsoft, and CNET. Most concentrate on the content first, simple graphics, and a standardized easy to understand navigation system. All of these things will help increase the "stickiness" of your site, not to mention ease the frustration level of your visitors.
These criteria aren't set in stone. But if you think about load time, site content, and navigation you should end up with a "stickier" site. Check out how the "big" sites lay out their pages and navigation elements. Study them and see if you can use any of the concepts they use to make your web site "stickier".
The moral of this story:
You don't always have to use the latest bells or whistles to make your site stand out from the crowd.