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WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT: CONTENT OR PRESENTATION?

Important: This article was written back in 1997, and a lot of the information
has changed. You’ll get more
out of the updated version here
.

I don’t know, what makes a rectangle bigger: its height or its width?
Although content is king, presentation is essential to a successful site.

Why do people say “Content is King”? Because alliteration is
fun. And because visitors won’t continue to come back to a static website.
This summer I took my five year old cousin to Universal Studios. He had
no problem seeing “E.T. The Adventure” twice and was upset when
I refused to stand in line for a third go round. I’m sure he would have
gone on that ride a dozen times if I had been willing. When I was a kid
at Canobie Lake Park I rode the Turkish Twist ten times in a row. What
does this prove? Kids are easily entertained. (Just look at Barney.) However,
adults need more varied stimuli.

“If you build it, they will come.” However, if you don’t change
it, they won’t be back. Perhaps a couple of years ago all you needed to
do was put up a page with your business’s hours and phone number and you
could count on some local newspaper coverage to get you traffic. Now most
people are savvy enough to search out new information, and they will only
become “regulars” if your site presents fills this need.

You can create fresh content on a regular basis. (You can also buy content
from companies that specialize in that market, but for the time being
we’ll just concentrate on your own work.) Content updates can be handled
in two ways. If you know the basics of HTML and how to upload files you
can do it by yourself. However, if you are unsure on either of these steps,
you should work with your webmaster. You might be able to email, (or even
snail mail,) the fresh content to your webmaster, and they can upload
it for you.

The other side of the equation is presentation. When was the last time
you went to a good restaurant and they served you a steak without at least
a sprig of parsley on the side? I’m sure you didn’t eat the parsley, it
was just there for presentation’s sake to make the steak look more appetizing.
(Vegetarians can substitute a garden burger for steak if they prefer;
but I’m afraid they might eat the parsley, thus ruining my analogy.)

An old Jewish tradition has teachers putting honey on their students’
writing tablets at the beginning of the school year to symbolize that
learning can be sweet. Although I find this practice to be slightly disturbing,
or at least unsanitary, the point is that presentation allows your visitor
to be enticed into your site and will appreciate your content even more.

However, no one will hang around your site if they have to wait for slow-loading
graphics, or if the navigation is confusing or if the colors are garish,
(a common problem at all Grateful Dead fan sites.)

When it comes to presentation, there is no one right approach. Certain
sites try to be attractive by using large graphics, Java applets, Shockwave
by Macromedia, sound effects and so on. However, for most sites this is
unnecessary and perhaps detrimental. All of these techniques take a long
time to download to your visitors computer, and if they are on a slow
connection, they’ll go find one of your competitors. If you are advertising
a new blockbuster movie, or a new Netscape Plug-In, or if you know most
of your prospects are using a cable modem hook-up this might be appropriate.
If not, you should try and find another way.

At some point in the future we will all have lightning quick access to
the internet, and then file size will no longer matter. Until that time
comes, however, there will be a constant battle to reduce the size of
your files, (text documents, pictures, sounds and so on.) Since using
images is the most common way of spicing up a site on the web, here are
some quick tips to shrink downloading time.

Small graphics load up faster than big ones. Well, duh. However, as you
surf the web, you will notice that many designers have forgotten this.

Use GIF’s and JPEGs appropriately. Both of these platforms are used to
compress images over the internet, and both have pluses and minuses. GIF’s
are best used for simple images, such as buttons, small icons, company
logos, etc. They can show up to 256 colors in a single image, but can
be made smaller by reducing the number of colors. They also have the ability
to be interlaced (browsers will show a low resolution version while the
high resolution image is loading,) and they support transparency, allowing
part of the background to show through. JPEG’s on the other hand display
thousands of colors; however, they do not currently support interlacing
or transparency, though both of those attributes may soon be implemented.
Also, JPEG’s use a “lossy” form of compression, meaning that
they throw away information to reduce their size. Saving a JPEG of a JPEG
is like making a copy of a copy at the office. You lose something each
time.

Recycle your images. Most of the wait for an image to appear on a web
page is due to the transfer time of the file to a visitor’s hard drive.
Once it’s on the hard drive it displays fairly quickly. You can cut down
the wait by reusing images. This also sets up a feeling of repetition,
which is important in design. (So I’ve been told.) One good way of implementing
this is by having your company logo appear at the top of every page.

These three tips just scratch the surface and in upcoming articles I’ll
go into more detail on how to best use graphics throughout your site,
and navigation tips to make getting around your website easier.

Remember to balance interesting, changing content with a quality presentation
and you will be well on your way to having a well-travelled website.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

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