While there’s no right or wrong way to build an antiques or collecting-related website, here are some tips you may find useful.
Basic DOs and DON’Ts
- DO focus on quality, depth and originality of content as opposed to bells and whistles; if you’ve got a great collection, or great reference information, put as much of it online as possible. Try to offer unique content that hasn’t already been provided elsewhere.
- DO consider blogging software, rather than building a site from scratch in HTML. With a little customization work, a blog can look almost as good, in a fraction of the time (or cost).
- DO use a white or light background for your site, to showcase the quality of your collection better. Most media sites use white backgrounds, because they’re easier on the eyes, and also make printing more straightforward.
- DO break your site into multiple pages if you have a lot of content. While its tempting to put your whole site a on a single page, it can be very tedious for users, due to all the scrolling.
- DO put as much actual content above the fold (as close to the top of each page) as possible rather than a large banner or advertisement that takes up the top of each page. Try to keep your top navigation or banner to about 100 pixels (height) or less.
- DO keep your navigation simple and consistent throughout your site. Your global navigation (links that appears on every page) should include your main sections plus your home page.
- DO put some personality into your site with graphics, but don’t go crazy! Less is more and simpler is better when it comes to web usability.
- DO focus on image quality. Check out our photo tips to help make sure your images reflect the quality of your collection.
- DO focus on quality headlines and writing. Shorter is better on the Internet, but it’s also great to provide additional detail about an item or its manufacturer for example. Try to make your content easily skimmable, by dividing it into chunks rather than big uninterrupted blocks of text.
- DO update your site as often as possible with fresh content. This shows users your site is alive, and worth bookmarking for future use. Users hate to see ‘last updated in 2004’.
- DO provide an About page to let visitors know who you are, why you’ve created your site, and how to contact you. If other collectors have contributed content to your site, give them credit here.
- DON’T use frames for navigation. Its difficult to link to pages of sites with frames, so you’ll get less traffic. And it’s a clunky user experience - you can accomplish the same goal much more cleanly with more modern methods.
- DON’T go overboard on animated content like Flash, or Animated GIFs. These can be distracting to users and also cause performance problems - increasing load times, hogging memory, and even crashing (or getting blocked by) certain browsers.
- DON’T set your links to open new browser windows for every page or graphic. Except in very specific situations, this creates a bad experience for users, littering their desktop with open browser windows (or tabs).
- DON’T force users through a series of introductory pages before seeing your content. For each additional click required you lose up to 90% of your users. If you have lots of subcategories, try to flatten your navigation so people can browse the whole thing with a minimum of clicks.
- DON’T load lots of big images on a single page. If high resolution images are crucial to showing your collection, make thumbnails to give users an overview of what’s available without clogging their bandwidth.
- DON’T require passwords or registration to view your site unless absolutely necessary. There are so many sites to choose from, most people will give up when they hit a registration form.
- DON’T slather your site with Google ads. If users get confused and can’t figure out what’s content and what’s an ad, they’ll likely go elsewhere. Keep ads to a minimum and out of the way of your content.
- Use the free Google Analytics service to track visits to your site and see detailed breakdowns of where your traffic’s coming from and what visitors are looking at. It’s very easy to install (just one line of code at the bottom of each page) and you start getting information almost immediately.
- Test your website with all three of the most popular browsers (Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, and Mozilla Firefox) to make sure it displays well in each.
- Use a fixed width (vs. liquid) layout and optimize for a screen resolution of about 800 pixels wide. Though many collectors have higher resolution screens these days, many don’t, and horizontal scrolling is one of the worst user experiences and should be avoided.
- Try using CSS (cascading style sheets) to control the layout of your site, rather than tables, if possible - especially for a large site. CSS gives you much more control, and the ability make changes across your site without manually changing every single page. While CSS takes a more time to learn than tables, it can be well worth it down the road.
Additional resources for webmasters:
- "Don’t Make Me Think," by Steve Krug. This is a great book (short, easy and fun to read) on web usability and design, written by an expert consultant but with advice you don’t have to be an expert to follow. Highly recommended.
- The Collectors Weekly Hall of Fame. Take a look through these websites that we’ve chosen as outstanding for one of several reasons. While not all are outstanding on design, many are, and most are above average. Use your own judgement as to which ones you like surfing and find easy to use.
- A List Apart. A website for more advanced webmasters who want to get tips for improving their web layouts (e.g. CSS) and doing some of the fancier stuff.