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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971

Introduction to the Internet & Web Site Design

First Things First...

 

First things first, your web site is a tool!  The vital first question that you need to answer before investing a web site is what, exactly, do you want it to do for you?  Get that bit right and you are 80% of the way there.  From that point everything on your web site should be geared towards achieving that aim.  And oh yeah!  Make sure that people can use the site once they find it!  That last bit is worth reading again because unless you ultimately end up with a web site that people can actually use then you are definitely wasting your time.

 

What am I talking about?  How many times have you been browsing and simply given up on a site because it took forever to download, was too complicated to navigate, did not provide the information that you were expecting from certain links and so on?  If you are a regular web browser then the answer to that question will be that you stopped counting ages ago.

 

Refer back to the opening paragraph above and you will see that this simple piece of wisdom is usually observed in the breech.

 

What Next?

 

A well planned and focused web site will definitely be an asset to your business.

Read the above again and then ask yourself just what, exactly, do you want your web site to do for you?  Until you can answer this question then I would strongly suggest that you wait a bit before proceeding with your Internet project.

The answer may be as simple as increasing product sales, promoting a service or providing information.  Whatever it may be in your case the Internet affords unique opportunities to increase your exposure to a potentially large audience 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

Why Have a Web Site?

 

·        A web site is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week and 365 days a year

·        Extremely cost effective when compared to other media

·        More ways for people to contact you, e-mail, forms, guest books and so on

·        Free publicity through listings on search engines and directories and through links with other sites

·        A web site can provide far more information than any advertisement, brochure or flier - in fact increase the effectiveness of the latter by including your web site address

·        A web site becomes a permanent source of contact - it does not matter how many times you relocate, you always keep your unique web site address with you.  Never lose touch with those important contacts again

·        A web site can reduce the number of repeat inquires to your office by providing the answers to standard questions on-line

·        People can learn more about you by simply turning on their computer and logging on to your site

 

The Internet Explained

 

The Internet is just a load of computers links together by cables, wires and other communication systems that allow the files and information stored on them to be viewed across the network by other computers, and that's it! 

 

It is not a miracle, it was originally created for military purposes and so that Universities could share information.  Neither is it the gateway to untold riches and a life the of Riley, despite what you may be told by all of those nice people who send you endless streams of e-mails promising you such.

 

This is why we say that your site is a tool.  If its not doing something for you, what's the point?

 

You may as well get used to one of the Internet’s downsides, they are called spammers.  Spammers are people or businesses who send out lots of unwanted and unsolicited e-mail.  They clutter up your inbox and slow down connection time for others in general.  Spammers should never be encouraged.

 

Be warned that a lot of con artists are spammers, check out:

www.scambusters.com or www.scamorama.com

 

 

How does your web site fit in?  Well, your web site is, or will comprise files stored on a big computer called an ISP (Internet Service Provider).  An ISP is huge and the machinery can be very expensive.

 

ISPs make their money by renting space on these big computers to other people, like you and me.  For example one ISP can 'host' literally millions of web sites on their systems.  Sound chaotic?  How will anyone ever find a single site among all of these millions of sites?

 

Each site has its own URL (Uniform Resource Locator), which usually looks like this:

 

http://www.health-concern.com

 

This tells your computer exactly what web site you want to look at, and as it is the only web site with this unique address, it can easily be found.

 

The initial concept behind the Internet was the free exchange of information, and it is still used by many today for exactly that purpose.

 

However these days also it has also become an essential place to be for many businesses and sole traders and for anyone with a service to provide or a message to transmit.

 

To the uninitiated looking to make their own mark on the Internet, it can be a scary place.  The jargon is off-putting and confusing, and deliberately so in my view!

 

When the jargon is explained in simple English most people’s reaction is along the lines of "Oh, is that it?"

 

If you are currently talking to a 'professional' web designer and find that you have to leave all of the decisions up to them because it all seems too much, then you are talking to the wrong person.

 

About Search Engines

 

What is a Search Engine?

 

A search engine is just another web site – however, search engines are unique.  Part of what they do is to look through millions of other web sites and to index or catalogue them on their systems. 

 

People can then go to that particular search engine and type in 'key words' that will help them to find web sites that might be of interest to them. 

 

When the key words are entered the index is then 'searched' for sites that contain those key words.

 

The browser (that's you) is then presented with a list of those sites that the search engine indicates might match your criteria.

 

The position of a web site on this list is determined by a number of factors, and each search engine is different. However, generally, search engine position is determined by correct use of 'meta tags'  (more below) and number of links from other sites to your web site.  There are other factors but these are amongst the most important.

 

What is a Directory?

 

They work in similar ways to Search Engines, however, a directory provides a list of sites and does not search the Internet automatically like a Search Engine will.

 

Generally a directory is more limited in that it will only those sites which are submitted to it.

 

There are all kinds of directories, some general and some that will only list sites of a certain nature, e.g. some directories will only be interested in sites dealing with Alternative & Complementary medicine and so on...

 

How To Get Listed

 

In a word, submit!  Go to the Search Engine or Directory and follow the instructions for submitting your site. You will need to have your key words ready in descending order of importance. This is because some submission pages will limit you to how many key words you can use.  It makes sense to use the most important ones.

 

Strong site promotion is what builds a strong presence on the Internet.  This involves persistence.  Some Search Engines will not show your listing for anything up to 6 months.

 

Unless you are prepared to pay for an enhanced listing then this is something that you will have to accept.  Be patient, because if you submit your site too frequently you could end up being blacklisted, and that is a hard one to get over...

 

Promoting your site through Search Engines and Directories can bring more targeted traffic to your site.  Web site design is only one small part of effective promotion.  Unless your business is entirely Internet based your web site will form only a part of the overall strategy for promoting your business.

 

Important: Using frames or lots of JavaScript in your site design often hinders placement in search engines.

 

The most important key factors affecting your search engine placements are the page title, choice of keywords, position of keywords on the page, how often the keywords are mentioned, and the number of links from other sites to your site.

You can submit your website free to hundreds of search engines and directories. It is always worth taking advantage of every FREE opportunity to promote your site.

There are many free search engine submitters on the web including Submit Express www.submitexpress.com

Key Search Engines

When searching the web there are eight search engines that are definitely worth considering:

 

Google

AltaVista

Lycos

Overture (used to be GoTo)

Inkomi

Open Directory Project

LookSmart

Yahoo

 

Search Engines will often also have specific sites catering to your country of origin.  Example, you can go to:

 

www.google.com   which will take you to the main Google site...

 

 Or, if you are a resident in the UK you could instead go to

 

www.google.co.uk  You then have the option of searching ONLY sites from the UK - well worth investigating

 

What Are Meta Tags?

 

These are invisible code that is included in your pages.  Invisible to people visiting the site but easily 'seen' by the search engines as they scan the Internet looking for new sites to index.  This forms part of what is called the 'source code'.

 

If you would like to see a site’s source code then from your browser window menu go to view, and then click 'Source' from the drop down menu that will appear.  This will open a word pad file which contains the html code etc used to write that page.  Some web sites have protected their code so you will be unable to see it, but this is rare.

 

An example of the code is included below:

 

<title>College of Integrated Therapies</title>

 

This tells the search engine the name of your site, in this case The College of Integrated Therapies.

 

<meta name="description" content="The College of Integrated Therapies is an independent college specialising in distance learning taught courses in stress management and related subjects. We offer free self-study entry-level courses, suitable for beginners, and advanced courses for those... and so on">

 

This provides a description of your site.  Does not have to be too long as it is often truncated by on the Search Engine display page, get the important message into the first sentence.


<meta name="keywords" content="aromatherapy, stress, stress management, psychotherapy, and so on... ">

 

This lets the Search Engine know what key words you think apply to your site.  It is very important that they are kept relevant to the site and not to your business in general.  The key words should also be repeated on your home page where possible.

 

Use the same words when submitting your site to Search Engines and Directories.

 

A good source of general search engine information is www.searchenginewatch.com

 

Web Site Tips

 

·        Get the home page right!  If people arrive at your site and it is not immediately clear what your site is about and how to use it, then forget it - you have wasted your time

·        Check download time.  If you must have pages on your site that will take a while to download don't lead people directly to them. Instead take them to a page which briefly explains that the next page will take time to download and why it will be worth their while waiting

·        Make sure that your site is easy to navigate

·        Use conventions - things that people expect to find on a web site.  The three most important are:

o       the title of the site (you'd be surprised)

o       a brief introduction to the site

o       clear navigation buttons to help people find their way around

·        Always check that your site is working properly

·        Get someone, preferably 3 or 4 someones, to check your site out for you.  Only useful if you can rely on them to provide honest and useful feedback.  Useful feedback would include any constructive criticism of the site such as links not making immediate sense or the 'message' not being understood.  Useless feedback would include being told that you need a different background colour.  This is an opinion and will probably add nothing to your site.

·        Clear text, clear background (nothing wrong with white) and plenty of clear and uncluttered space should be your rule

·        Everything on your site will make perfect sense to you, if the same does not apply to even the newest and least knowledgeable visitor then its probably worth a rethink

·        It’s easier and less expensive to keep existing customers, clients and browsers than it is to generate new ones.  What will keep people coming back to your site?

·        Make sure your site is Search Engine optimised - factors to consider include:

o       the page title

o       choice of keywords

o       position of keywords on the page

o       how often the keywords are mentioned

o       the number of links from other sites to your site

o       meta tags

Jargon Buster

 

Browser

A web browser is the application on your computer that allows you to view web pages.  The most popular is Internet Explorer.  Another common one is called Netscape.  There are others but these are best left to those with some knowledge of the Internet

 

Download

This means transferring files from someone else's computer to yours via and Internet connection. Useful for selling informational products on the Internet.

 

Upload

This means transferring files from your computer onto someone else's Internet connection.  The most common upload is for publishing web sites

 

HTML

Hypertext Mark-Up Language - this is a kind of 'code' used to write web pages.  It is your browser’s job to turn this code into the web site that you see on your screen.

 

Portal

Just another name for a Search Engine.  A portal is a web site that makes a huge amount of information available

 

Search Engine

Is a web site that indexes other web sites, e.g. click here for more information

 

Dial-Up

The name for a Windows application that dials-up a connection to the Internet through a modem

 

Link

A clickable symbol, word or text that takes the user from one location to another. Also called a hyper-link

 

Plug-In

A small computer application or programme, which can be downloaded to your computer.  One of the most common is Adobe Reader

 

Zip

Zip files are 'compressed'. It is a common way of making files smaller so that they take up less space on the Internet or as file attachments to e-mails.  They can be unzipped back to their regular size by the recipient provided they have the correct application.  One of the most common is WinZip, which can be downloaded from www.download.com - search for WinZip from the home page.

 

Bandwidth

This is the measure used to determine the amount of data that can be transferred through a modem at any time.  ISDN and Broadband have high Bandwidth

 

 

 

Cookies

Are files that some web sites place on the hard disk of your computer.  This allows that site to recognise you when you return and to know your preferences etc.

 

KPPS

Kilobits per second - a measure of the speed of your modem

 

Publishing your web site

 

Today publishing your web site is easier than ever, and it was never difficult in the first place!  All you need is an up to date version of Internet Explorer.  This will allow you to simply copy your web site files from your hard drive and paste them directly onto your rented space on your ISP’s computer.

 

To do this – open the folder on your hard drive where you are storing your web files.  Make sure that you are on-line and logged on to your web site.  For example:

 

http://www.health-concern.com

 

then you simply replace the http: bit of the address with ftp:

 

so that you end up with ftp://www.health-concern.com

 

next you just click enter and you will find that a window opens asking you for your user name and password.  Once you have entered these details you will find yourself looking at the web files already on the Internet, or your blank folder if you are publishing your web site for the first time.  The ftp part of the address stands for File Transfer Protocol and it is the standard way in which web files are published.

 

If you get stuck you will just need to call your help desk, it will usually be something simple.  Bear in mind however that some of the ‘free’ web space providers may not allow you to publish this way, especially if they are template orientated.  Some ISPs are IP specific, which just means that you may have to publish your files by calling up on their own dedicated telephone lines.  One such provider is freenetname, a very well known ISP in the UK – also very reliable.

 

Other ISPs worth considering are;

 

www.dircon.net

www.uk2.net

 

You can also search for ISPs by using the search engines.  The three I have mentioned above have been included because I have had first hand experience of them, they are all reliable.

 

Good luck…

 

Michael O’Sullivan FNCP

Web master at www.leap-publications.co.uk

 

Leap Publications specialise in providing Internet and Electronic Publishing Solutions to small businesses and sole traders.  Preferential rates are available to members of the NCP…

 

 

 

 

 

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