The Elanthian Times
Volume Two, Issue 4 -- Winter 5100

Tricks o' the Trade


Tips For Making A Popular GemStone III Website
by Juspera Spintari

There are three components to a website: material, presentation and upkeep. These are independent. A website can be beautiful but devoid of useful information; sites with perfectly good material are often ruined by horrific aesthetics; and no matter how good the material and presentation, a site’s hits will drop steadily if the site is left to stagnate.

First of all, a website should be created because it’s something the creator wants to do, and there is nothing inherently wrong with a tacky site full of bad poetry, pokemon graphics and pictures of the family dog. But if you want a website that’s popular and appreciated, some tips are in order. If you’ve visited my site you may note that I don’t follow all my advice, but that’s neither here nor there. Do as I say, not as I do.

MATERIAL

Think widespread appeal: You’ll want material that’s of interest to your target audience—which, if you want a widely used site, is probably greater than your friends and family. I may find Juspera’s life story fascinating, but chances are other people aren’t quite as interested. (No one ever finds us as interesting as we find ourselves.) A site full of stories, anecdotes, and information that concerns only you and your closest relations will rarely be visited by anyone but.

Find a niche: Truly popular websites tend to corner a particular market, stake out a particular spot of ground no one else has laid claim to. In fact, a website can have an extremely narrow focus—say, selling replacement parts for eight-track players—and still be very successful, because it’s the only site occupying that niche. Even in the niche of GemStone III, there are smaller niches to be filled. A site devoted to Lumnis? A collection of maps small enough to print on one page? A GemStone III dwarf registry?

Be original: There are some great guides, maps and logs out there that deserve to be duplicated. However, a site consisting of nothing but material that’s available elsewhere isn’t likely to make a big impact. Write your own guides (and make sure they have something different to offer from all those other guides). Draw your own maps. Spin your own tales.

Provide a service: Poetry and logs are all very good, but displaying information isn’t the same as providing a service. Even without potential for physical contact, websites are a good medium for numerous types of services. Listing others’ information is a main type; as with the newspaper classifieds, people know they have a better shot at attention if their piece is circulated more widely than they could manage alone.

Consider "toys": Guestbooks, while often only of interest to the webmaster, can’t harm a site. Counters are the same. Consider the count displayed of interest as trivia only; while a high count may provide benefits, a low count won’t scare off visitors. Forums and chatrooms, however, rarely get used and tend to end as white elephants.

Watch the links: A links page is a good thing for a site, but forty links is more overwhelming than helpful. Forty unexplained and uncategorized links is a terror. Keep the link population down, add a tag explaining what’s on each site, and organize them into categories if you have more than ten or so.

Set high standards: Don’t put up material you think is so-so just because someone else says it’s good. Don’t put up any material just for the sake of filling a space. It’s obvious that for a site to be popular, it’s the visitors who have to like the material, not you; but if you yourself feel something isn’t up to snuff, it’s better left off the page.

PRESENTATION

Resist backgrounds: Beginning webmasters tend to go overboard on the backgrounds. They’re great fun to play with, but usually not so much fun to try to read text over. If you really want to use backgrounds, pick a subtle one and stick to that one. A different background on every page is the definition of overkill.

Prevent eye strain: Be very careful about what text colors, sizes and fonts you use, and with what backgrounds. Bright blue on bright red is a surefire vision killer. This is often hard for a website creator to judge alone. Ask friends for input on whether your website is hard on the eyes.

Speed load times: Not everyone has a cable modem. A graphics-heavy page can take so long for me to load that I frequently give up before the whole page is displayed, and I’m not the only one with a slower modem. Waiting for something to load is no fun. Use graphics—and java applets—sparingly or not at all.

Squelch the midi: Professional webheads have expressed the opinion that ambient midi is at best unable to add to a site and at worst seriously irritating to visitors. It also slows down load times. Steer clear.

Love accessibility: I have quit exploring many GemStone III sites prematurely because it was so difficult to navigate through the pages. There was no persistent menu, no indication of what each page contained, and links were cryptically titled. The "in character" sites set up to look like game rooms are prime offenders. It’s a neat idea, but unfortunately it makes for a very frustrating visitor experience. A summary of what exactly is on the site’s pages should be one of the first things a visitor sees. A persistent menu -- one the user can always reach easily, whether it’s at the top of each page or in a separate frame—is also a huge help.

UPKEEP

Shop around: Some website hosts are better than others. A frame at the top with ads is annoying, but bearable. A separate window with ads that keeps popping up is enough to drive a visitor insane. Don’t settle for the first free hosting you find when there are so many options available.

Avoid premature hype: Don’t ask others to link to your site if it has "under construction" written anywhere on it. A site should be polished and able to stand on its own webby feet before it’s released. Visitors to a half-completed site often aren’t impressed enough to check back later to see if you ever finished that construction. Even if your site doesn’t yet have every feature you plan to include, a professional, finished look is important.

Do publicize well: Once your site is ready for the public, it’s completely appropriate to write to the webmasters of other GemStone III sites and ask if they’d like to link to you. Some may ask you to link to them in return. Joining web rings is an option. And the occasional shameless plug on the boards is fine... but don’t let it become a habit. (Changing your posting nickname to your web address—click on "preferences"—is far subtler and a better idea.)

Update where relevant: Some sites need few if any updates; some information, after all, is simply timeless. But updates are rarely a bad thing. Outdated information should always be fixed and links checked often. After that, new features and areas may be added as desired. Frequent updates increase the number of return visitors to your site and may even generate loyalty or a true fan base.

Be honest: Keep information about when the page was last updated right up front. Seeing that a page hasn’t changed since ‘98 may be off-putting to a visitor, but not knowing how old the site’s information is is even worse. Noting how often you usually update the site is also a very good idea; it both reassures visitors and puts pressure on you to keep the updates coming.

Write back: Respond to all comments and queries about your site. (Flames may be ignored.) Be friendly and appreciative of your visitors. If asked to check out other sites, do so and leave a pertinent comment in the guestbook if one exists. Accessibility is an attractive feature in webmasters as well as websites.

Juspera’s Good Ole GS3 Page has been online since August of 1998. It comprises over 120 separate pages and grows weekly; I usually put in between one and five hours a week to update it. As of this writing the site had received 27,407 visits. Your submissions are a huge help and allow me to make the site what it is, and your comments and support make me very happy. Thank you for everything.