Web site content development
I can put content on a page three ways: make it, buy it, or steal it. It is tempting to think "I'll just borrow a little from here and there, and edit a bit." This is the latter, and suffers from two problems.
1. Unless you are quoting with attribution, or you source expressly releases copyright, it is illegal. Copyright robots
may come and get you. (possible, not likely)
2. People will not read it. We recognize what is original, what is part of an ocean of second hand words and images.
I will talk about making and buying the photos, graphics, and words for your web site. I will not talk about free stuff, clip art, etc.
Writing for the web:
There is no substitute. It is your site, your content. Sit down with note pad. Outline your subject. Write out your text in chunks, ideas. Assemble supporting detail - notes on where the reader can go for more information. These will become links or supporting pages. The Sun's Web Style Guide, and www.gooddocuments.com offer suggestions for writing style. A few of these suggestions are a little dated - with better monitors, and more experience on the web folks are now willing to read more, scroll more, and root out detailed content.
Promotion and marketing words tell folks to reach for their back button. No matter how great your product or service, don't tell them it is great. Explain what it is, exactly, illustrate it.
Write concisely. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab offers guides, online and in .pdf, on everything from organizing your thoughts to punctuation. Their "Conciseness: Methods of Eliminating Wordiness" is terrific.
Are you trying to impress? Be direct and honest. Avoid the passive voice - The dog bit the boy - not - The boy was bitten by the dog.
Edit your copy. It may take several passes, cutting and rearranging, until it flows, clean and clear. Try reading
it aloud when in doubt. Spell Check. Have a friend (fresh pair of eyes) proofread your material, and test navigation.
Photography for the web:
A good photo makes a huge difference in page appeal. I hardly ever do a page without some kind of photo.
The images on this site I took with a digital camera. They were adjusted for color and exposure in Photoshop. In Fireworks, I then sized and positioned them on a canvas about 20 pixels wider and taller than the image, added the drop shadow. Very common and simple.
Photo's that illustrate a product or business service can be rather involved. It generally is worth hiring a professional, unless you are willing to go to some trouble and expense in getting properly set up. For example, a product shot of your blue widget will usually need a professional backdrop and lighting, or hours spent in Photoshop to correct the problems. Much as I admire the do it yourself philosophy, I don't like inferior results, and your customer won't either. And for photos that involve people, you need to get a model release from those in your photos. For many other uses, however, taking you own photos is a great idea.
The other option is buying stock, royalty-free photos. There are a number of online image services that have large categorize collections of quality photos available for download. These are priced by resolution, usually between $30-$90 per image. Check your usage rights, etc. These companies generally serve Graphic Designers and Ad Agencies, and their collections somewhat reflect that. They are photos by pros, and in context can be well worth it.
A low budget version is buying a collection of images at your local software aisle. Look for the number of what they call "high resolution" images, as their "web resolution" images are useless. I then crop out a portion of one of these images, adjust it in Photoshop or Fireworks, and reduce it. For pages where the main focus is text, I sometimes put a transparent white layer over the photo, so it doesn't pop out of the page so much. Seems to calm the page down.
The first rule of web images is make them fast loading, 30-40K is a good usual maximum file size - no photo on this site is more than 16K. This requires compression of the original digital image, usually jpeg.
Logos, Graphics, and line art.
A vector is a mathematical description of a curve. A digital photo bitmaps the color and position of each pixel. A scanner, or digital camera produces a bitmapped image, either uncompressed (tif) or compressed (jpeg). To get a company logo, say, into format for web use, it should either come from a vector digital source - say an eps, adobe illustrator or Macromedia Freehand file from the graphic designer, or be converted to it. Sometimes it is possible to scan a logo and use the digital trace feature in Freehand.
Simple CAD drawings are a another source of possible content, usually best to prepare a simplified version in the drafting application and export it as DFX, then import into Freehand or Illustrator.
Original digital drawings can be very effective. These can become simple two or three color gifs, or become part of a Flash movie.
Developing web site content, as with many other things, is easier with good tools, and great ingredients. But, as with food, sometimes a little ingenuity and resourcefulness is called for.
Oregon web site design and promotion guide
May 24, 2002