Monday, 4 August 2008

Basics of Web Site Optimisation - Rule 7

This post is mainly aimed at small to medium businesses that are just starting out and are keen to get something going, or have just gone live. I can't tell you how many times I have taught people over the past few years just a handful of strategically important things. So...here goes again, this time in a way that I can now simply refer to. As for my credibility - I would rather not divulge that here, read my Web Site Optimisation Rules and you decide. They are, after all, common sense, and common knowledge....like most things I blog about!

My number 7 rule: Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to configure your site's look and feel and store in separate files

Most of the target audience of these rules I am writing up, commission web sites from friends, or friend-of-friends, or recommendations of small web site development shops ... who don't seem to know, or know enough about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

The basics are that with your CSS stored in a separate file, you can edit the look and feel of your entire web site, without having to know much about what you are doing. CSS is a very simple and easy to understand configurable set of options for which there are a large number of cheap (and free even) tools to help you make your site exactly the way you would like - independently of some technical person. (I once taught a very busy CEO just enough about CSS for him to take ownership of that aspect of his 1000 page web site!). You name the different sets something useful which makes them easier to use throughout your site such as "ProductDescription".

People who implement web sites typically are more interested in the underlying functionality and more technical aspects than about how pretty it looks, or how well it matches the site owner's evolving branding efforts. By making use of CSS, anyone can be placed in charge of actually experimenting and figuring out ideal combinations of colours and font styles, text sizes, margins, borders and spacings that work in harmony together to create a truly unique and excellent user web experience.

To see what you can do with CSS's, have a look at The CSS Zen Garden. This site contains beautiful samples of completely different CSS competitive entries for the same web page...and it is completely amazing with what the entrants have come up with - radical differences!

In some ways this CSS rule is related to my rule 5: Comply with web standards - html as CSS's are also governed by W3C standards! You can teach yourself about them by following the CSS Tutorials from the W3C.

And, because there is a standard for them, the W3C have once again provided an online checking facility for you to use to validate your own, or your supplier's efforts: simply submit your HTML or CSS web document to the Online Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) Checker.

Reasoning:
1. With CSS you can evolve really really very good looking web sites! It is almost impossible to get a web site perfect in just 1 attempt!
2. Anyone can configure and maintain them - making your site's look and feel very easy to update and preferably maintained by someone who really cares!
3. Separate your CSS definitions from your HTML web pages by placing them in separate files that you include in your header tags. Web browsers cache the CSS definition files and thus your HTML pages are smaller, easier to maintain, faster to download and even more focussed for search engine optimisation strategies.
4. By using CSS's it is possible to test updates of the look and feel against the production web site without having to go live first! It is possible to configure modern web browers to use alternatve CSS definition files against any web site!

And that is my Rule 7. I will be uploading the others as time allows!

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