Chess Journalists of America

The following article is planned for publishing in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, Consecutive No. 107, March 2003. One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 2003 by the Chess Journalists of America.

Your Chess Web Site -- Some Useful Hints
by J. Franklin Campbell

The Chess Journalist has been running a series on creating your own chess web site. To supplement that series I am adding a set of dos and don'ts to make your site more useful and attractive.

Here are things you want to avoid at your site:

  1. Whatever you do, avoid the use of blinking text like the plague! You'll probably want to scroll this page up immediately to get this offensive text off the screen immediately. Gosh is it annoying. If you remember nothing else, remember this one. It's possible your web browser doesn't support this old tag anyway. I notice that my current version of Internet Explorer (IE6) doesn't support blinking text.
  2. Use the underline feature with great moderation. Underlining is usually used with hyperlinks, so the use of underlining with regular text can be very confusing. It is best to avoid underlining completely. Use bold face, font size or color to add emphasis to headings and other important words.
  3. Color and patterned backgrounds should be used with care. First in your consideration should be the readability of your text. Some combinations of colors makes for very difficult reading. For instance, you may want to mix different colored characters in a word. For example, notice how difficult it is to read the yellow characters. How about being creative and putting
    purple characters on a black background (that's "purple characters on a black background" ).
    How easy is that on the eyes?
    Patterned backgrounds can look neat, but if you can't easily read the text then your readers won't be happy. (that's "Patterned backgrounds can look neat, but if you can't easily read the text then your readers won't be happy." ).
  4. Avoid annoying graphics, such as moving GIF's. Take this one, for example.
    Pretty cute, eh? Well, just imagine a reader who has been to your site fifty times. Every time she visits your site that "cute" graphic will be there, just waiting to annoy the daylights out of her. Another consideration is that moving GIF's will cause the "stop" button in the browser to never be shown (to be grayed out). This makes it look like the page has never been completely loaded. Some readers will not appreciate this. Another point ... if a reader has opened another window the part of your window showing the moving gif may still be visible. It will continually draw the reader's eye to your little bit of window showing on the screen. This could lead to the reader closing the window showing your page and possibly not finishing your article.
  5. Do not put music on your page. Whatever you select will surely annoy the vast majority of your visitors. People want to select their own music, or they may have the TV on during their Internet visits. Perhaps they are in a library or are sharing the room with a spouse. Maybe they just prefer silence. Most people who put music on their pages are doing it for their own amusement. They can hardly expect other visitors to appreciate it. People will remember you have music on your page and they will avoid visiting your site.
  6. Some HTML displays great in one browser but badly in other browsers. A particularly bad example is table code that is incomplete. For example, if some of the end tags for tables are missing the tables may still display fine in IE. However, in Netscape the page may appear to be completely blank! Therefore, it is best to avoid posting new pages without checking their appearance in several browsers. At the least you should have one version each of Netscape and of IE. If you have clever code such as JavaScript menus, you may want to provide a simple site map as well for those readers who can't use your fancy JavaScript menu. You can check out my home page for a JavaScript menu system (The Campbell Report) that works fine in most versions of Netscape and IE, but is useless in at least some versions of the Opera browser. To be honest, I haven't bothered to provide a simple site map yet, but it is on my list of things to do in the near future.
  7. Watch out for misspellings. Posting material with misspellings or bad grammar makes your site look unprofessional. If your HTML editor doesn't allow for spell checking, try creating the text in a word processor first (where you can spell check the text) and then copy & paste the text into the page in your HTML editor.
  8. It is a common trick to create a new web page by taking an existing page and making modifications. I do this all the time. However, when you do this don't ignore some easily missed items such as changing the title of the page. The <TITLE>title tags</TITLE> provide the name displayed in search engines, at the top of the browser page, in the "Back" button history list and other places. If you accidentally leave the old title on the page this will lead to confusion.
  9. Don't try to cram everything onto one page. It will tax the patience of your readers to have to scroll down lengthy sections of text to finally find what they are looking for. Also, pages with tons of content will take longer to load.
  10. Don't put too many graphics, particularly large graphics, on one page. This will make page downloading take too long and cause readers to give up on your page. Internet users generally don't have a lot of patience and tire of waiting rather quickly.
  11. Remember this ... putting a feature on your web site because you can ... because it is something you have figured out how to do ... is in general a bad idea. Features should be placed on your pages for specific reasons. Sure, those cute moving gifs are neat, it's very clever to be able to play music and you may really want to display some dazzling colors, but if it doesn't serve a real purpose then it doesn't belong on your web site.

Here are things you'll want to do to make your site a good place to visit:

  1. Remember that the main purpose of a web page is generally to provide information. The content of your page is more important than its appearance. HTML was created with this concept in mind. In recent years it has been expanded to allow you more control over the appearance of the page, but the actual content is still the most important ingredient to most pages. So ... provide useful and interesting material for your readers, not just pretty graphics and artful screen design.
  2. If you want readers to continue to visit your web site be sure to provide new content on a regular basis. With the exception of certain types of reference sites, people want new material ... otherwise, why visit your site? Some sites provide new material on a regular, published schedule. Others have a mailing list to notify users of new material. Others just add material as it becomes available. If users come to your site over and over and don't see anything new, then they'll stop visiting altogether.
  3. When you post new material, make it clear to the user. If you bury new stuff where it won't easily be noticed you may miss your readers entirely. Point out new material right at the top of your main page and make announcements when you add something significant.
  4. Provide intuitive and easy-to-use navigation between your pages. You should have one main page where a reader will start, usually something like "index.htm". From here the reader should be able to fan out through your site easily finding the material of interest. Using my personal web site as an example you can find one of my regular APCT columns by selecting the link to "APCT columns" under "Columns/Articles". This page shows a list of columns (links to individual columns) organized by date. Click on a selected date and that particular column is displayed. At the bottom of each column is a set of links to the "Home" page, the "Column Index" page, to the "Previous column" and to the "Next column." This makes it easy for a reader to find the most important pages while she is interested in reading my columns. You should have a link to your main (Home) page on every page. Some viewers may have found one of your pages through use of a search engine. This link will make it possible for the viewer to find the rest of your web site. Remember to organize your pages in a logical fashion and make it as easy as possible for your readers to find their way around your web site. Your site will probably grow, so it's a good idea to establish good navigation at the beginning, even when it seems to be easy enough to find your way around your few pages. Things will be different when your site grows to hundreds of pages.
  5. Create logical naming conventions for your pages. For instance, your column for Jan. 1, 2003 might be named "col-2003-01". Keep sorting order in mind while creating names, since your software will list your files in a sorted order. For this reason, if you are using a date as part of your file name, use digits for months instead of month names. Use leading zeroes for fields that may grow to multiple digits. "file10" will be listed before "file2" in a list, so "file02" or "file002" would be a better choice, to avoid confusion. Therefore, "col-2003-01" should be preferred to "col-2003-1" to keep those files listed in true date order. Also, list year before month before day when using dates in file names.
  6. Divide your files into logical folders (directories). Put your regular graphics files into a folder named something like "images" and your portraits in a "portraits" folder. Don't put every graphics image into just one "images" folder or it will get very big eventually and an individual images may become difficult to find. On one site I have a series of player profiles. I keep the pages in a folder called "profiles" and this folder has it's own folder named "portraits" for the player pictures used with the profiles. Such subdivision of files into logical folders makes them easy to find later. As soon as you find a folder that has hundreds of files you'll discover that it is difficult to find a file you want. For instance, if you should want to use a logo for a web site you are mentioning in an article, you'll want to be able to locate this graphic file easily. If you have your files organized into logical folders and named using a sensible naming convention, then it should be easy. If you have a folder named "images" with hundreds of graphic files and the logo you want is named "image135.gif" or "bl35sm.gif" then you may be in trouble.
  7. Give your web site a "look" that you maintain from page to page. Again I'll use my main personal site as an example. On the home page I have my most elaborate header. On all the other pages I have a simplified version of my header. Visit any page in my site and you'll see this header, or a very similar header. Visitors to my pages will always know when they are viewing a page in this site. Using the same basic fonts and color scheme also help maintain a consistent "look" throughout your web site. If you are clever you can set up include files that define your constant information to display on each page, which makes it easier to make changes later.
  8. Avoid overly complex or larger graphics. If you have an elaborate header on every page that occupies a large amount of the computer screen, then your reader will become irritated. Requiring your reader to scroll past this "useless information" every time she goes to a new page will not be appreciated. Also, larger graphics take longer to download. If you use the same graphic on lots of pages the browsers will normally use cached copies of the graphic, which will make page loading faster. If you have a picture that some readers will want to examine in detail (and therefore it is worth the download time for a large version of the image), then show a smaller version but supply a link to the full-sized image. Then the user can select for herself whether or not to view the larger image. Some pages have a lot of pictures shown as "thumbnails" (small versions). If a viewer wants to see the large version of any particular picture she can click the thumbnail or a provided link as see just that one picture in large size.
  9. Use photographs where warranted. If a page is a story about an individual, such as an interview or report about some success of this person, then it adds interest when you can provide a photograph. The same is true of an event If people or an important location is involved, provide pictures to enliven your report. For instance, on my web site devoted to a team competing in the ICCF Champions League (Team CC.COM) there are several short reports with small photos. There is also a link called Meet the Team where you can see photos of the team members. Personal touches like this can make a page come alive. One great thing about the Internet is its capacity to show you pictures as well as words. Though you need to be aware that images can add considerably to the amount that needs to be downloaded to view the page, careful use of pictures of an appropriate size can add tremendously to the value of the page and to the entertainment of the reader.
  10. Be sure to let readers know how to contact the Webmaster. And don't be shy about identifying yourself as the Webmaster. This is an established term and doesn't imply any special feelings of self importance. Some people will want to avoid making their email addresses too available for "harvesting" to add to mailing lists. Software can scan your web pages and pick up valid-looking email addresses. However, you want to make it possible for readers to contact you. Perhaps you'll want to get a special email address used just for this purpose. At a future date, if you are getting too much spam at that address, you can change it.
  11. Try to maintain a focus for your web site. If you have vastly different subjects to cover, you may want to set up a number of web sites. For instance, I have one site devoted to correspondence chess, another to the coins of British India, one of family photos, and another of experimental web server pages for a committee I'm serving on. There is no point to mixing together such diverse subjects.
  12. Learn how to put important site information into <meta> tags. This will provide useful information to search engines and make it easier for potential viewers to find your site. Click on "View Source" on some sites to see how these tags are used to describe a site. Also, provide a useful <TITLE> for each page. These titles will show up in various places, such as in Google searches, in the history list for the "Back" browser button and at the top of the browser page (the very top edge of the window).
  13. You should be aware that some Microsoft products for creating web pages will put a lot of IE-only codes on your page, making the page look bad in browsers other than IE. Some people may think this is intentional.:]> You can find utilities that strip this "proprietary" code out of your HTML. Even Microsoft Word will allow you to create web pages, but I would refer to its style as "verbose".
  14. If you provide a page of links to other pages, such as my Chess Links page, you should check through the links occasionally and make updates as needed. Some web sites go away, others move to different URL's. Keep your information accurate and updated. When you find a bad link, update it ASAP. The same goes for any information that becomes dated. If people learn they can't trust the information on your page, then you've lost a big battle.
  15. Decide on your philosophy for "exchanging links" if you do provide links to other sites. Some people have the practice to list the link of anyone who lists them. I treat my links as recommendations, so I don't follow this practice. You'll want people to be able to find your site, though, so you will probably want to request those who keep links to sites like yours to add your URL to their list. You can try submitting your site to selected search engines, but I've had mixed results. Places like Google will probably find your site after a while if you've provided good <mega> tags.
  16. Be open to constructive criticism. Ask people to evaluate your site. If someone points out an error, thank them for it and make the correction ASAP. There are many talented and helpful people out there who can help make your web site pages better.
  17. Enjoy your site and don't bite off more than you can chew. It's easy to get burned out on any project that becomes more work than joy. Enter into this project with the attitude that your web site is going to be here for years. You can expand it slowly over the years at a pace that matches your interest. The search engines will find lots of pages for you that haven't been updated for years. These pages reflect the loss of interest of the webmaster. If you do lose interest, delete your web site to reduce the clutter. If you make announcements or show news items, it is useful to provide the date you posted the item. This will help the reader determine the relevance of your information.
  18. Step back and view your web pages as your readers view them from time to time. Approaching them with the outlook of your viewers will help you determine the value of your pages and how attractive they are to viewers. You are serving a particular audience. Be sure your pages provide what the viewers want and expect. Watch out for misspellings and bad grammar. All these errors reflect a lack of professionalism. You may be an amateur, but this is no reason your pages should not reflect care and attention to detail by you, the creator.
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