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Monday, August 13, 2007

Creating the Best Website Layout

Monday, August 13, 2007

If you want your website to be optimized for Search Engines and User Friendly, then you should follow proven design standards. Many of these standards were developed by industry professionals, years of research (not to mention trial and error), and website analytics.

The key design and layout elements which should remain constant are: Masthead across the top – the masthead is where the logo goes and usually the imagery that supports the subject matter on the website.

The left hand column should contain all the primary navigation, which should remain constant across the whole website. It should list all the main categories of the website, so users can find their way around from every page.

The right hand column on the homepage should provide navigation to individual pages in the site which you want to highlight. Or, it can be used for small applications, such as email newsletter sign-up, scrolling news headlines, links to the forum, etc. This column tends to disappear on the content pages to leave more space for the article and images.

Top menu bar – some sites have most of their navigation in the top menu bar which goes across the page under the masthead (take a look at Guardian or Forbes as examples). I don't like this for two reasons. First, it restricts the number of menu links that you can have. Secondly, it usually means that the site has flash based drop down menus to enable them to accommodate more links. Flash menus are not user friendly. They force your reader to search for links to the content they are looking for. Don't make your user work for their answers. Also, search engines find it harder to index sites with flash menus.

Bottom menu bar – This strip at the foot of every page tends to contain links to the site's terms and conditions, privacy statement, sitemap, etc.

The central column contains the content. On the homepage, this can be a combination of an introduction to the website and teasers to articles. On the content pages, the articles and images sit in the central column.

Search top right on every page – this is the search box used to search the content of the website. This is a less rigid placement than it used to be, but you can't go wrong if you place it top right.

Time and date – usually placed on the right hand side under the masthead. This is optional, but does give readers the impression that the site is up-to-date.

Within this layout there is a great deal of flexibility to add your own personality and styles, particularly when you overlay your design on the basic page structure. However, at all times your number one goal should be constant; that is to make your website simple and intuitive, for every reader that visits. To achieve this learn from those sites that have a lot of experience.

Special thanks to Miles Gilford for his contribution.


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