Appearance, Usability and Search Engine Visibility in Web Design

I was recently asked by a visitor to the site wizard dot com to take a look at her company’s website, designed by a university student. I will not give the URL for that site, partly to protect the innocent, and partly because by the time you read this, it’ll probably have been modified.

The site was heavy in its use of graphics with images adorning most parts of the page layout, to provide curved borders (to replace the sharp corners in enclosing boxes), different background images for different parts of the page, etc. It had a top navigation bar, driven entirely using JavaScript. The navigation bar mimicked the sort of menu bar you find in computer programs – there is a horizontal menu bar with different items listed. When you move your mouse over one of those items, the menu will automatically expand vertically. As you move the mouse cursor down the pop-up menu, the item beneath the pointer is highlighted. Click it, and you will be delivered to another page on the site.

Just a short parenthesis, this is now 2019, recently I found an web design copy from Ethiopia which  is near perfect, perfect design, extreme good SEO and with with excellent social media. The site is from Ethiopian providing web design and Ethiopia hosting and could be very well in New York.

In general, that site is typical of the kind of sites produced by newcomers to web design. It scores well in terms of prettiness and gadgetry (although only under one browser, it doesn’t work well under other browsers), but fares dismally in terms of usability and search engine readiness. In fact, the reason my visitor wrote to me was because the website suffered a significant drop in the number of visitors after it was redesigned in its current form.

This article uses that site as a starting point for discussing some of the issues that a web designer needs to consider when creating a website that must exist and compete in the real world (as opposed to a site that is created merely to fulfill the course requirements of a school or university).

1. Appearance is Not the Most Important Issue

Over the years that I have dealt with newcomers to web design, it is my observation that they tend to focus excessively (and sometimes almost exclusively) on the appearance of a website. The site I mentioned earlier is a case in point: the designer tried hard to make the site look beautiful (and, if I may add, succeeded to – the site does indeed look pretty). However, as hard as it may be to believe (if you are a newcomer), appearance isn’t the most important thing to look at when you are planning and creating your site.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that appearance is of no importance. Far from it. However, in this article, my intention is to address the excessive importance newcomers place on beauty. In fact, if you belong to the other extreme, discounting the value of the appearance of a website altogether.

Having said that, your site can still survive (or even thrive) if it is a plain-looking site like Google. This is not necessarily the case if you overlook the other important issues in web design.

2. Usability is Important for You to Achieve Your Purpose

All sites are created for a particular purpose. Some were created so that their owners can sell something. Others are information resources (like Still others are designed to showcase their owner’s talents (such as sites displaying the owner’s resumes and portfolios).

The usability of your site is important to help you achieve that purpose. The basic question that you need to address when dealing with usability is: can your visitors easily access the information they need so that they can do the stuff that you want them to do? There are quite a number of things involved in this question.

  1. Information Availability

    Is the information that your visitors need to make informed decisions available on your site? For example, before they can buy a product, they will want to know more about that product. A brief one-line summary about your product’s features may work for your main page, but you will probably find that you get more buyers if you can provide a link to a page that gives a detailed list of features of each of your products.

  2. Information Accessibility

    Not only must your information be available to your visitors, it must be easily accessible. A page that gives a detailed description of your products is not going to help your visitors if they have to work hard at finding it. In fact, my experience is that if visitors have to work at finding something on your site, they are not going to find it. Either put the information right under their noses, or put a link to it in that place.

  3. Navigation

    A good navigational system for your website is crucial. A navigational system is one by which visitors can move from one page to another. For example, on, one way in you can access the main pages on the site is to use the navigation buttons on the left column of the page.

    There are a few features to a good navigational system:

    1. If you are using a navigation bar or panel, standardize its location on all the pages of your website. Don’t make your visitors feel as though they are embarking on a treasure hunt every time they reach a new page.
    2. In addition to your navigation bar or panel, provide shortcuts to places where visitors are likely to want to go. Don’t force your visitors to have to go through your main page (or your site map) every time they need to visit another page on your site. In fact, put direct links in logical places – for example, on your “Products” page, you should have a links to your “Buy / Order” page as well as links to the pages with detailed information about individual products. Think like a visitor and ask yourself what are the things a visitor might want to know or do when he/she is at a particular page.
    3. A good navigation system must be usable by all your visitors. As a result, try to avoid things that are dependent on certain facilities or features being available. For example, don’t make your menu dependent on a specific browser. If your menu is JavaScript-driven, make sure that you have an alternative facility available for people who do not have JavaScript enabled.
    4. If your site has a large number of pages, a site search engine will improve your site’s usability. Not everyone mentally organises information the way you do. Hence a logical arrangement to you may not be logical to another person. Giving your visitors a way to search your web site will help them locate what they want.
    5. It’s always good to have a Site Map, unless your site has only a few pages. This allows people to have another route to the other pages on your site. It also helps search engines locate all the pages on your site, particularly if you use dynamically-generated links to your pages (like JavaScript-created links).

3. Search Engine Visibility is Your Site’s Lifeline

As I mentioned earlier, the problem that my visitor faced when her site was redesigned was that it no longer appeared in search engine results even when relevant terms were used for searches.

The problem in her case was that her site relied exclusively on a JavaScript navigation menu. Apart from the links generated by the JavaScript menu, there were absolutely no other links on her site pointing to other pages within the site. Since search engines bots can’t interpret JavaScript (at least not at this time, to my knowledge), they could not follow any links and could thus only index her main page. As a result, her pages were not listed in searches for her keywords (since only the main page was indexed), leading to a drastic drop in visitors.

This is a problem fairly easily fixed (for example, one way is to create a site map and add a normal link to it from the main page), but it illustrates one of the most important issues a real-world website faces: search engine visibility. If your site is not listed in the search engines, you’re not going to be able to get many visitors, if at all. Without visitors, you’re obviously not going to be able to achieve your purpose for the site.

Designing a site that is search engine ready is a lengthy topic, so I am not even going to try to address it here.


This article is about the importance of factoring usability and search engine readiness into your web design. Usability is important because it improves the chances that your site will help you accomplish your purpose. Search engine visibility is crucial because without it, you will get few visitors. Plan with these two aspects in mind, even as you look into the appearance of your site, and your design will go far in helping you achieve the goals for your site.

Benefits of a web site.

When you’re searching through the Internet you will find endless amounts of information, about everything, and all at your fingertips. The Internet is the largest source of knowledge in the world. Why is this? Because anyone can get their information on there. All you need is a web site and a resource generous web hosting company.

Many people think that getting their website on the Internet is an expensive venture, fortunately though, this need not necessarily be true; if you find the right web host, the benefits of having a web site will definitely outweigh the costs.

There are many different ways to benefit from having a web site, whether it is for personal gain, or to aid your business success. Those who have their own personal websites generally use them to further an interest or a hobby; having a web site is a great way to share and exchange knowledge with others. Businesses on the other hand use a website to promote and market their goods and services, while cutting back on such expenses as postage, couriers and advertising, etc.

These are but a few key benefits of owning a website:

Increased awareness of products and services – Businesses can now greatly expand their markets, no need to constrain the focus to only the local scene, but by using the Internet, businesses can venture into international and regional markets, with greater ease. This dynamically changes the nature and the marketing activities of some businesses, possibly encouraging the business to expand the diversity of its products and services, to meet these new markets. Websites, in their nature, allow hundreds and thousands of items to be on view 24/7; thus encouraging wider viewing, and extended trading hours.

Freedom – With the freedom of being able to post your information on your website, hence on the Internet, at any time of the day; available information of all variations is increasing at a huge rate. The freedom to browse anywhere and interact with anyone is enough to tempt the smallest of businesses and the most introverted of people to get on the Net; hence Net users are increasing in numbers, at an alarming rate, approximately 50,000 per day. Businesses are buzzing on the Net, they have found a way to compete on an even field, with even the largest of corporations; and within a daily increasing customer marketplace.

Cost advantage – Net businesses are extremely aware of how they can profit by being on the Internet; they can advertise their products and services without the huge costs, and delays of printing, publishing and distribution. The market is a global one, which adds greater value to the costs outlaid for promotion and marketing; compared to the limits of offline. Ecommerce facilities can be incorporated into the website, transforming 2D screen visuals into user reactive models, for example, consumers can order their products and services online, greatly reducing administration expenses. Reduction of telephone calls to potential customers; follow ups by email; newsletters digitally made, promoted by email or downloadable from the website, with reduction of distribution costs; less promotional material sent out, printed and wasted; extended trading hours without a human presence; are just a few ways to cut costs.

The current opinion is that any business not on the Internet now or in the near future is not only missing out on the rewards of this new and vibrant industry, but is adding itself to the list of “the forgotten”.

Don’t waste time scratching your head wondering what the Internet can do to benefit your business, you will be left behind; instead, think about how you can take advantage of this new and cheap form of industry awareness. Look for a web designer, or web developer, get a quote, and tell them what you need.

Written by Candice Humbley

Free hosting – is it charity?

Free hosting – is it charity?

“Free hosting” is most of the time offered in exchange for placing advertising on your website, meaning that the host will automatically place an advertisement at the top and sometimes at the bottom of every page of your website. Sometimes they don’t use banners they use pop-ups.

No matter what they ask you to do in exchange for free hosting, you have to do something in exchange, so you’re not being offered free hosting! It’s just a barter. They give you hosting in exchange for placing ads on your website. They call it free because you don’t give them any money, but you do pay for it.

They claim and even convince you that they’re doing you a favor: they give you free hosting. They know that if you think the service is free you’ll not complain for downtime, unresponsive support teams. But you’re not getting it for free!

Now, even if they would offer it for free, the service should be at least acceptable. But it usually isn’t. If one offers free lunch for the poor, that food must not be rotten. It’s just common sense!

What these free hosting services always seem to forget to mention is the fact that they’re not charities. They’re businesses and they’re always looking for ways to make a profit.

I find it deceiving that they use the word “free” when the right name for it should be “barter hosting” or “trade hosting” or “ad-funded hosting”. But, as strange as it might sound, the world doesn’t revolve around me , so the so called free hosting will remain “free hosting”. Too many people in the hosting industry use this term and too many regular people look for “free hosting” for it to go away.

Common problems with free hosting

It should not be a surprise that free hosting is not as good as paid hosting. The problems that are common in the paid hosting section of the hosting industry are almost a rule in the world of free hosting. Timely support is almost out of the question with most free hosts. Excessive downtime and slow servers are almost the norm rather than just common problems.

That isn’t to say that free web hosting can’t be acceptable in terms of quality. There are some companies that offer reliable free web hosting. Don’t get me wrong, reliable here doesn’t mean paid-hosting-reliable, it means reliable according to the free hosting standards (whatever that means) .

Free hosting without the ads

Yes, you can find free hosting that doesn’t require the placement of ads on your pages. That doesn’t mean the company isn’t there to make a profit! The free account will give you only a small amount of bandwidth and space. What the hosting company does is give you free hosting while you’re starting your website/business and/or your needs are low.

They figure (bet) that you’ll go for their paid version (most free hosts have paid plans too), as soon as your website will outgrow it’s account in terms of bandwidth and/or space. Sure, you’re getting a free start, but the host gives you well below $1/month worth of resources, so they’re not giving you much.

Some free hosts allow only the use of subdomains or directories, which means that your website’s URL will look something like this: or That means that if you move your website you’ll lose all those hard earned links that point at it, people will send you emails that you’ll never read etc. You are stuck with that host!

What’s in it for the host in this case? Well, the host gets brand awareness because it gets to be published in the myriad of free hosting directories. Also it gets it’s name in your URL and in the URL of lots of other websites. Branding again! Also, if the service is at least acceptable it will get a good reputation, which often is worth more than pure gold. All those ultimately mean more business for their business .

It happened and it still does, that some hosts start their business with a great “free hosting” offer. Their name soon gets published all over the Internet. After a while (usually a year or more) the company stops offering free hosting. Some of their “free” clients will agree to become paying customers, while others will decide to see their work vanish into oblivion, but not pay. By that time though, the host gains immense brand awareness. It might also get quite a few clients as soon as they turn into a paid host because of those clients that were hosted for free and decide to pay to keep their websites up and running.

Unlimited bandwidth/space?

Unlimited space/hosting are a no-no in the paid hosting arena. In the free hosting arena it’s even worse. It basically spells out that the servers will be overcrowded. Although you might like the idea of having as much space and data transfer as you need, please resist the temptation. Unlimited space/bandwidth is an illusion. It’s like when you’re seeing water in the middle of the desert. A mirage. You are promised, but you will not receive.

Secret backdoor to quality free hosting

Actually it’s not that secret, just not widely known. As I said in the beginning of this article, free hosting is most of the time nothing more than a barter.

Now here’s the idea: why settle for lousy “free hosting” when you can barter for quality hosting instead? All you need to do is find a few good paid hosting companies and then ask for hosting in exchange for placing ads on your website.

Your greatest advantage is that you’ll be able to make those ads fit your website perfectly. They will not be automatically added to your pages at the top or bottom. You’ll have complete control over your website’s design.

Sure, you’ll have to negotiate where to place those ads. It’s normal for the host to ask for the ads to be placed so that they’ll get high chances to be noticed by your website’s visitors. As long as they don’t ask for a big banner to be placed on your pages I don’t see a serious problem. I would suggest you though to go for a text ad. It’s usually much easier to make a text ad blend-in nicely so that it doesn’t scream “I’m an ad!”.

This solution for getting great hosting without giving money out of your pocket is not for all websites though. First, the hosting company will want a suited audience. Targeting the right audience will bring them the best results in terms of sales volume.

So your website’s audience should have a rather high interest in buying hosting. Web programmers, web designers, webmasters, search engine optimization specialists and web business owners are among those who might be interested in hosting offers. If your website attracts such people, you have significantly better chances to trade ads in exchange for hosting.

One thing to notice is that your chances to barter for hosting are considerably smaller if you’re just launching your website. That’s because you can’t get something for nothing. If you offer advertising and have no audience you’re basically offering potential audience and ask for hosting in exchange. The only chance you’ve got is to convince the host that your site has great potential. That you have a good plan to get visitors.

You might think that if it’s just starting your website will not consume lots of resources. After all, the activity is near zero. However there is more to hosting than just that. You will need some support, which costs the host quite a lot.

One thing to notice is that hosts will prefer to barter hosting with text based websites. Websites offering big files for download are not likely to be accepted.


Free hosting is not free – at least in the form in which it exists on the internet today. I have yet to find a free host that is a real charity. As strange as it might sound, look out for free hosts that seem to be completely free (charity-like). A host must have funding! Ask them how do they cover or plan to cover their costs. Is there a foundation behind that host? It’s highly unlikely, but who knows!

All hosts have to pay for the servers, bandwidth and staff. If they don’t have a good plan to cover the costs, the future for them is grim and services will soon degrade due to under funding.

The best option if you don’t want to spend money for hosting is to barter for it with a respected, serious, honest web host. But don’t ever trick yourself into thinking that you’re getting something for nothing. Ads are a form of payment so you’re payin’.

Comparing servers

Almost 70% of sites on the internet are served by Apache, a completely Open Source, free web server. Quite an achievement for open source software, especially considering Microsoft’s share is less than 20%

There are other web servers of course, which all provide various other features… I considered quite a few alternatives when building this new server, all of course are Open Source.

The Apache Servers
The biggest, and arguably still the best, web server is Apache which is now available in two variants – Apache 1.3 and Apache 2.0, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Apache 1.3
A long running, well established, and stable web server that is considered pretty much the standard now.

I have always used apache, for all of my previous sites and servers, and have now come to understand most of it’s configuration very well. Also, Apache 1.3 is still considered the most stable platform for PHP, and it’s VirtualHost support and the power of .htaccess files for site and even directory specific configuration make it an excellent server for shared hosting.

Apache is the default web server on most Linux distributions, Including my new distro of choice – Debian. This would make it wonderfully simple to install (i.e. do nothing, it’s already there) and also I could simply copy across all the old config files and, in theory, they’ll work.

On the downside, Apache 1.3 is now showing it’s age, and is surely soon to be discontinued now that Apache 2.0 is stable. Therefore, I have decided not to continue to use Apache 1.3.X on my servers.

At present this server is running Apache 1.3, despite what’s said above… explained later

Apache 2.0
Apache 2.0 complete rewrite of Apache, only recently considered stable enough for production use, destined to replace the Apache 1.3.X server through time.

At the time of writing, the latest version is 2.0.48, which is their 11th Public Release. I have found Apache 2.0 to be completely stable, even with PHP 4.3x, despite the various bugs that have been reported at times with that combination.

Obviously, having PHP is of the utmost importance to me, considering this whole site (and every other one i’ve built!) uses it.

Debian doesn’t have a package yet for PHP for Apache 2, although Apache 2 itself is there.. I have found a third-party package that provides php4 as a module for Apache 2.0 in Debian, which works great!

Apache 2.0 uses completely different configuration files, which I must admit I prefer, which are close enough to the Apache 1.3 ones that it’s not difficult to migrate or to learn to use the new configs.

I had decided to use Apache 2.0 as the primary web server on this server, but it’s now changed back to 1.3.X… explained later!

Caudium (Roxen)
Caudium is a completely Open Source web server based on Roxen, with a few unique and very powerful features. I like this server, but it’s very different from Apache, and indeed any other web server, It’s mainly configured from a web interface, allowing virtual sites to be set up easily.

Where Caudium is truly unique is in it’s modules. There are modules for almost everything including the nice tag which renders text graphically (as a PNG), there are also tags for generating ‘business’ graphics (charts, graphs etc…) and for image manipulation. The RXML markup even supports if / then / else statements and even SQL queries.

There is even a photo gallery modules which, with one tag, will look through a folder of images and generate clickable thumbnails and prev/next links. For rapid development of dynamic site (including nice headings, and tab-based navigation) there is no better platform, It’s easy to learn, fast and powerful

However, Caudium cannot handle the same load as Apache, it isn’t as efficient, particularly when it comes to running PHP within pages. And I don’t want to be developing sites which require a specific web server, it seems to defeat the purpose of everything following standards, I can take this site and deploy it on any server so long as it supports PHP4, if I used the extra tags offered by Roxen/Caudium, this wouldn’t be possible.

Caudium is installed on this server, mainly as a development environment which I also occasionally use for generating images, which I then save as static files and can include them in pages served by the standard Apache 2.0 server. It also enables me to host sites that require Caudium for others

thttpd is used by several big names including Demon Internet and Global Internet, it’s also used by and a couple of the leading banner ad companies.

thttpd also includes a couple of unique features not found in any other web server (at least without extra modules) including URL-based Traffic Throttling.

Where thttpd really excels, is in it’s speed and load it can take before slowing down or dropping connections. It’s also incredibly efficient in it’s use of system resources, which is always a good thing.

thttpd is only around 400k (as opposed to Apache which is nearer 6Mb) and has only 7,230 lines of source code. It is incredibly secure, fast, and can handle 720 requests per second (for small files) as opposed to around 300 with Apache. Additionally thttpd is considered very secure.

So why ain’t I using it?, Firstly it’s not ideal for PHP-based sites, Apache and even Caudium have much better support for PHP and are more flexible. Besides, the upstream on this server could never serve 1000 simultaneous connections, so although I can understand why Demon need something this scalable on their web servers, I dont.

Notes on Apache 2.0
I say above that I like, and use, Apache 2.0 yet this site uses Apache 1.3. Why? The aforementioned third-party module provides PHP support, but not MySQL support. I will not compile it myself, because it confuses Debian’s package manager. So until Debian releases a php4 module for Apache 2 in the official sources, I’m sticking to 1.3…

I will, of course, move as soon as that module appears!

Points to know a good Web-Hosts

Points to know a good Web-Hosts

Here are a few things I consider a good web-host to have. Also if you are considering starting a web-host these are some points you should breeze through.

•Professional Layout – It is very important for a web-host to have a great and easily navigable layout.
•Support emails – This along with a help desk system is a must
•Response time – This is one of the most decisive factors in choosing your Web-Host. I believe a good response time is anything between 4 hours, if its later then that I would not consider purchasing anything from them
•Live Chat – This handy tool can help you bring immediate sales if you know how to use it. But Web-Hosts having ‘Live-Help offline’ for most of the time would also not be in my To-Buy list
•PageRank – No matter how good the site is, if it doesn’t have a PageRank greater than 3, I’d just hit it close.
•Language – The overall language used on the site would spell its level of professionalism to me.
•Testimonials – Really essential to convince future buyers and also if I saw a testimonial of a site I visit, I would definitely consider this host. Another instant sale method!

I consider these are the general essentialities a good Web-Host should have. However there are many other nitty-gritty techniques to boost your sales in addition to the above.

I hope you may have enjoyed reading my post and it helped you choosing YOUR host 😉