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Selling Your Music Online -
Designing Your Web Site
Part 2 of 2
Article by David Nevue - Updated August 2005
Back to Internet Music Promotion 101

We now continue our overview of web site design from part one.This series is
an edited (shortened) excerpt from the book, How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet.  

Beyond the Basic Stuff....

Flash!: Oops, They’re Gone
One of the most popular and innovative web design technologies in use today is called Flash. Macromedia Flash makes use of high-powered animation and pictures to essentially put a moving short film on your web site. Many sites use Flash on their intro pages, and they are very cool to watch. However, the use of Flash does NOT sell a product. Depending on your visitors’ connection speed, Flash can take time to load (and in some cases, it doesn't load at all). Impatient web surfers may simply click away from it. The use of Flash, though very cool, may just put one more obstacle between you and your customer.

Death to Frames!

As it relates to web site design, you may have heard of a layout technique called Frames. Frames allows your visitor to view more than one page at a time within a single browser window. The intent of frames, generally speaking, is to simplify web site navigation. In a common scenario, a navigation menu is displayed in the left or top frame of the browser window, while an ‘active’ page requested by a visitor is displayed in the right frame. Here's an example of frames.

When this technology was first introduced, it spread around the Internet like wildfire. Frames became one of the most prominent web design 'fads' of the late 90’s. However, most casual Internet users came to despise them, because rather than simplifying navigation, frames made web sites more frustrating to use. Have you ever tried to bookmark a 'framed' web site? It’s very annoying. For this and other reasons, most designers eventually abandoned their use. Frames can still be used effectively, as in the linked example above, but there's really no reason to consider them for the design of your own "official" web site.

Long Live SSI!

One of the main reasons web designers were attracted to frames initially was because it made managing web site content so much easier. If you had a web site with 100 pages that all used the same navigation menu, rather than creating 100 navigation menus on 100 individual pages, you could create just one menu, place it in a navigation frame, and then use that single frame in conjunction with all the other pages. It’s much easier to change one page than a hundred!

There is a much simpler, more attractive way to do this. Let me recommend you research Server Side Includes (SSI) instead. Server Side Includes are easy to use and will save you a ton of time in terms of updating content. If you have HTML that is exactly the same throughout your web site (like the navigation menu mentioned above), you can create a single HTML file containing this code, and then use SSI to call this single HTML file and insert it into your web pages as they load. Sound complicated? Perhaps the best way to explain the use of SSI is to show you an example. Take a look at the two-line menu at the top of this page. It starts with Home | Promote Music | Bookstore | Etc... The HTML for that ‘menu’ is actually contained in a separate file, a menu.html file that contains nothing other than the two-line menu structure. I use a Server Side Include to call and insert the menu.html information where I want it on this page. To do this, I inserted a single line of code which looks like this:

<!--#include virtual="/templates/menu.html" -->

This statement, inserted into the HTML of my main index page, calls the menu.html file and displays it in the exact spot I want when the index page loads. I’ve used SSI elsewhere on this page as well. The navigation you see on the right-hand side (the grey column) is also inserted by use of a Server Side Include.   

So, why use SSI? Because these sections of the web page appear on nearly every page of this web site. Now, if I want to update my menu or the right-bar navigation, I can do so by editing one single file rather than a hundred. In essence, I can update over a hundred pages (from the user’s perspective) in just a few minutes.

Web Counters: The Pros and Cons

Although less common today than in times past, people still do, on occasion, wish to display a web counter on their web site. I really recommend you avoid displaying a visible counter until you are seeing a good deal of traffic coming to your site. If you’re doing a lot of traffic, a web counter might help you solicit advertising from your visitors. If your traffic is low, however, all a counter does is tell your visitor how unpopular your site is, which is rather bad for business. So how do you know how much traffic you’re doing without a counter, you may ask?

Any quality web host will be able to provide you with a stats management program you can use to view detailed traffic statistics for your site. This service should be free (included in your hosting costs) and will give you access to some great information about your traffic. you’ll be able to see what pages on your site are most popular, where your visitors are coming from, how long they are staying and what keywords your visitors are using to find you via the search engines. This service should completely eliminate your need to display a visible counter on your web site.

If you’d like my personal recommendation, rather than using counters I use FastStats, a third-party software program that analyzes web site log files that your web host can make available to you. It’s fairly inexpensive, and it’s an invaluable tool. For a similar, but free (and less feature-filled) alternative, check out the “lite” version of WebLog Expert.

CGI, Forms, Search, Chat, Guestbooks & More

It seems like every day it gets easier to add cool functionality to your web site. Adding a search engine, guestbook, chat room or response form to your site can be as simple as copying and pasting HTML. In fact, the process is becoming so easy that adding these features to your site has become almost trivial.

Whenever I’m looking for elements like these to add to one of my web sites, my first stop is always the “Webmaster Freebies” section of The Free Site. This directory includes everything from chat and guestbooks to javascripts, banners, polls, graphics, search forms and counters. I also very much like the tools offered by Bravenet.com.

Be Careful with the Cool Stuff!

Your options, in terms of advanced web site design, are nearly endless. However, let me remind you once again, more cool stuff does not always equal a better web site! Make use of these tools only if it will simplify navigation of your web site (or add value) for your visitors.

Help with Your Scripts
If you’ve found a super cool script and don’t know how to get it up and running on your server you can have most scripts installed for you for as little as $39.95. Contact the Script Jockeys.

How to Anti-Spam Your Web Site
One of the negative aspects of doing business on the Internet is that you become subject to spam – those irritating e-mails from people you don’t know advertising everything from stocks, real estate and mortgage loans to (more often than not) certain unmentionable items, products and services of the sensual variety.

Spammers find your e-mail address all sorts of ways. Through postings you’ve made in newsgroups, chat rooms, mailing lists, web forms you’ve submitted, AOL profiles, and even from your web browser. Check out the article,
How Do Spammers Harvest E-Mail Addresses? for a detailed discussion of what spam-bots do.

One way to ensure you get spammed is to include your e-mail address on your web site. Eventually, a spam-bot will come along, find that e-mail address, and harvest it for the purpose of sending you spam later. Obviously, this creates a problem. You need to post your e-mail address on your web site so that visitors can contact you, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be spammed either. What can you do?
While I don’t think you can ever 100% spam-proof yourself, you can make it more difficult for spam-bots to harvest your address from your web site. One of the most common ways to thwart spam-bots is to encode the text of your e-mail address. The simplest way to do that is to replace the “@” sign in your e-mail address with the ASCII character equivalent.

For example, instead of using mailto:myname@myaddress.com in your HTML for an email link,
use this: mail to:myname&#064myaddress.com

To a browser interpreting HTML, “&#064” is the same as the “@” sign and it will display it as such to the reader. So even though you use different characters in your text, the browser will still recognize this code as an e-mail link. Spam-bots, on the other hand, tend to key in on the “@” character and in most cases will ignore the “&#064”.

While this method of hiding your e-mail address on a web page is hardly full-proof, it does work in most instances.

Web Site Maintenance
It is of utmost importance to ensure your site is functioning speedily and without any breakdown in site navigation. There are a number of online site utilities available to help you maintain your site without taking up a lot of your time. Here are a few of my favorites:

You’ll find a billion other site management tools - many of them free - in ZDNet's Download Library.

And this ends part two of this discusson on web site design. What you've been reading is an edited (shortened) excerpt from the book,
How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet. For more on web site design, read Part 1.  


David Nevue is the founder of The Music Biz Academy and Whisperings: Solo Piano Radio. He is also a professional pianist, recording artist, full-time Internet musician, and author of the book, "How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet."

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