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<Web Tips>
By Daniel Will-Harris

OK, so I’ve spent the past few weeks complaining about some of the annoying things some sites are guilty of. Now here are some cures and tips to help you improve your site, even if it’s already good.

>Fit your site to the screen

Since most people don’t like scrolling horizontally, they don’t like sites that don’t fit their screen horizontally and force you to scroll that way just to see the whole page.

By this time I’d think that most people would know to design sites to fit the smallest common denominator screen of 640x480 (though in reality you shouldn’t design pages wider than 600 pixels). Some sites, such as i/us, design for 600x800, but in this case I find it acceptable, because they know their higher-end users are more likely to be using this higher resolution.

Since most designers do work on machines with resolutions higher than 640x480, there’s now a nifty little utility called “Browsersizer ”that automatically sizes your browser window to the most common sizes. This useful Windows program automatically sizes your browser to 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768 resolution, as well as to WebTV (which, believe it or not, is even smaller than 640x480!). The program is clever enough to let you choose whether you want the window to be sized for a screen that has the Windows and Office task bars on or off. It’s simple, efficient, and it really works.

>Test your site

Sometimes I wonder if people ever actually look at their own sites. So many of them are missing graphics, have links that don’t work, or just don’t look right, even in the latest browser. I´m sure my site has some dead links, too (hopefully no missing graphics), I´m only human, but I do try to avoid this through testing.

It can be difficult to test a site in a wide variety of browsers (especially because once you install IE4 you can’t use IE3 or IE2), but now there’s a web site that does this for you.

www.anybrowser.com lets you view your site as it looks in a variety of browsers. You point it to your page, it reads it, then it translates it into how that page would look in, say, Navigator 2. You can have it point out common errors (such as the lack of ALT text on graphics), and even display your page in text-only mode (something many web visitors use either because it’s faster, or because they’re using text-only browsers). This is great because it lets you see how much (or little) of your site is actually available to these people.

Then there’s QuickRes, a terrific little utility that’ll let you quickly change your screen size and resolution, without having to reboot your system.

More useful Windows shell enhancements: http://www.iworld.net/tucows/shell95.html

>How’s your site doing?

You may know how many hits you get from your log files, but Alexa.com shows you how your traffic is relative to other sites on the web.

The system uses a small downloaded file (around 50K) that attaches to your browser to provide additional information as you surf. It gives information about the owner of the domain, as well as providing “related links” to sites that might be of interest based on the current site you’re viewing. Unfortunately, this related links feature (also built-into the latest version of Navigator) is a bit funky, often highlighting truly obscure sites (Croatian fonts, anyone?), but it’s an interesting concept. Still, it´s well worth a try because it also makes it easier for you to see who´s behind the sites you visit.

>How’s your site doing
   in terms of links to it?

Want to see how many sites are linking to yours? There are a few ways to do this.

Go to the popular AltaVista search engine and enter Link:www.yoururl.com (replacing “yoururl” with your own url, of course). AltaVista will come back with a list of the sites that link to your site.

HotBot can do the same thing. Choose “links to this URL” from the drop down menu, and enter your URL, complete with the “http://” (or it may not find anything). HotBot will also only show links to the exact page you enter, not your entire domain.

I’ve found this also works with Excite—just enter your www address (no http://) and it will bring up sites that link to it.

You’ll notice that all these sites come back with different numbers of links, based on the number of sites they have in their database, and how current it is.

Not only is it entertaining to see what sites have linked to yours, it can also be informative because you can read what they say about it. If you have a business, this can be an important way to keep tabs in case people are saying less-than-nice things about you, your company or your products.

For more tips about search engines and getting the most out of them, go to www.searchenginewatch.com

>Translate this

You probably already know about Altavista’s translation service. But you probably don’t know that this service can be used to translate entire web pages. I didn’t, at least not until just recently.

Just enter the URL and the site not only translates the page, but displays it with all its original graphics and formatting intact! It’s great fun to see your formerly English site in French, Italian, German, Spanish or Portuguese, but it’s more than just fun for your international readers, it opens up a world of sites to them.

 this page using AltaVista´s Translation Service

You can add a form to your own page that goes to the translation site and enters your URL automatically. Add this HTML code and just change the URL after “VALUE” to your own URL (right now it points to my personal site, www.will-harris.com) and make sure to save the “translate.gif’ file you see here and put it on your own server, or you’ll get a broken graphic link:

<!-- Translation menu -->
<P><NOBR>
<FORM ACTION="http://babelfish.altavista.digital.co m/cgi-bin/translate?" METHOD="POST">
<INPUT TYPE="HIDDEN" NAME="doit" VALUE="done">
Use <i>AltaVista</i> to <B>translate this page:</b></A>
<INPUT TYPE="HIDDEN" NAME="urltext" VALUE="http://www.will-harris.com">
<INPUT TYPE=image src="translate.gif" border=0 value="Translate">

</FORM>
</NOBR>
<!-- End translation -->

Very long pages, such as this one, aren´t translated in their entirely, but still, it´s pretty cool, huh?

>Speed your surfing with a cable modem

I just got a cable modem. It’s so fast that even sites with huge graphics download in seconds (usually the whole page just appears at once, something entirely too easy to get used to). I am already spoiled. If your cable company has this service, and you can afford it (the modem costs around $250, the service around $50 a month), and you use the web a lot, it’s definitely worth it. In the future, all access will be at least this fast.

My cable company is tiny, but they are still able to offer this service through a company called www.ispchannel.com

That said, I still don’t like sites that are all graphic. Yes, they come in fast for me, but how many people have cable modems? Not that many. Most people are sitting, waiting while the graphics draw in.

>Break out of frames

When you’re surfing, the easiest way is to right click on link and choose “open link in new window.” This will open a fresh new browser window with no frames.

>Keep your site unframed

If you want to avoid having your own site trapped in frames, you can use the following code on your page.

Paul Drumgoole from Micro Modeling Associates, Inc. wrote this frame-breaking code to add to the top of the page that forces a “_top” load on your page:

<script language="JavaScript">
<!--
if (window != window.top)
   top.location.href = self.location.href
//-->
</script>

Jon Backstrom provided this simple code that keeps your site from being framed by another site:

In the <BODY> tag of your page, include the following:

<BODY onload="if (parent.frames.length
!= 0) open (document.URL, '_top');">

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved