educing Load Time Through Image Optimization

Even though more and more Internet users switch to broadband every year, a large portion of the web's population is still running on good old dialup connections. It is therefore unwise to count them out of the equation when you're designing your website, and a very major consideration we have to make for dialup users is the loading time of your website.

Generally, all the text on your website will be loaded in a very short time even on a dialup connection. The culprit of slow-loading sites is mainly large images on your website, and it is very important to strike a delicate balance between using just enough images to attract your users and not to bog down the overall loading time of your site.

You should also go to a greater length and optimize every image on your site to make sure it loads in the least time possible. What I really mean is to use image editing software to remove unnecessary information on your images, and thereby effectively reducing the file size of your image without affecting its appearance.

If you own Photoshop, it will be obvious to you that when you save an image as a JPEG file, a dialog box appears and lets you choose the "quality" of the JPEG image -- normally a setting of 8 to 10 is good enough as it will preserve the quality of your image while saving it at a small file size. If you do not have Photoshop, there are many free image compressors online that you can download and use to reduce your image's file size.

On the other hand, you can opt to save your images in PNG format to get the best quality at the least file size. You can also save your images in GIF format -- the image editing software clips away all the color information not used in your image, hence giving you the smallest file size possible. However, saving in GIF format will often compromise the appearance of your image, so make your choice wisely!

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Pros and Cons of Flash-based Sites

Flash-based sites have been a craze since the past few years, and as Macromedia compiles more and more great features into Flash, we can only predict there will be more and more flash sites around the Internet. However, Flash based sites have been disputed to be bloated and unnecessary. Where exactly do we draw the line? Here's a simple breakdown.

The good:

Interactivity

Flash's Actionscript opens up a vast field of possibilities. Programmers and designers have used Flash to create interactve features ranging from very lively feedback forms to attractive Flash-based games. This whole new level of interactivity will always leave visitors coming back for more.

A standardized site

With Flash, you do not have to worry about cross-browser compatibility. No more woes over how a certain css code displays differently in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera. When you position your site elements in Flash, they will always appear as they are as long as the user has Flash Player installed.

Better expression through animation

In Flash, one can make use of its animating features to convey a message in a much more efficient and effective way. Flash is a lightweight option for animation because it is vector based (and hence smaller file sizes) as opposed to real "movie files" that are raster based and hence much larger in size.

The bad and the ugly:

The Flash player

People have to download the Flash player in advance before they can view Flash movies, so by using Flash your visitor range will decrease considerably because not everyone will be willing to download the Flash player just to view your site. You'll also have to put in additional work in redirecting the user to the Flash download page if he or she doesn't have the player installed.

Site optimization

If your content was presented in Flash, most search engines wouldn't be able to index your content. Hence, you will not be able to rank well in search engines and there will be less traffic heading to your site.

Loading time

Users have to wait longer than usual to load Flash content compared to regular text and images, and some visitors might just lose their patience and click the Back button. The longer your Flash takes to load, the more you risk losing visitors.

The best way to go is to use Flash only when you absolutely need the interactivity and motion that comes with it. Otherwise, use a mixture of Flash and HTML or use pure text if your site is purely to present simple textual and graphical information.
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Mistakes To Avoid When Using Web Templates

Website templates are very affordable and they save you a lot of effort and time when you want to create a new layout for your website. However, a lot of people make mistakes in the process of choosing and using a web template and end up with something that was unlike the image they had in mind. Here are some guidelines to help you avoid those mistakes.

The first obvious mistake you should be aware of is using a template that is very popular. If many people use the same template, your website will not appear unique at all and your credibility as a solid, different website will be tarnished. In other words, you will appear generic just like your next-door neighbours.

To whole point of using a web template is to save time and effort. You just change the title and appropriate details and you're done. The biggest mistake one makes is to customize the template beyond recognisation. While that may be good in the sense that you're creating a unique graphic, you're defying the very purpose of using a web template -- saving time and effort.

However, on the opposite side, if a template you purchase is suitable but some changes must be made to suit your site's theme, then you will have to take some time to make the changes. For example, you can find a very nice template that suits your hobby site except the original designer has put an image of stamps in the header. You can find images of garden plants and spades to replace the stamps for your gardening hobby site. However, do only make the necessary changes and don't redesign the whole template.

In some circumstances, some people simply make the wrong choice of templates. This is a very subjective issue but you have to be careful in selecting templates to suit your audience. Do not choose templates just because they are pretty, choose them because they serve your purpose.

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Building Your Mailing List with Downloads

A mailing list is the lifeblood of your online business. The old adage "the money is in the list" cannot be true enough -- if you had a targeted list of prospects to contact each time you have a new product, you will be able to save a lot of effort by marketing it to your existing list of targeted prospects.

You can actually build up a targeted list of prospects that are interested in your products by offering a relevant download on your website. For example, let's take a look at a very good example -- apple.com. When you download the free iTunes and Quicktime software from their site, they will ask you to fill in an optional name and email form so that they can send you offers on songs that you can purchase via -- guess where -- iTunes!

In reality, you do not need to offer such a "heavyweight" download such as a full-feature software like iTunes. You can attract prospects equally well with some quality freebies such as a simple report, a free wallpaper, and so on. The important thing is that your download offers enough value for the prospect to be willing to give away his/her own email address to get it.

However, slapping together a simple download and putting a link on your website won't be enough to attract qualified prospects. You will have to do some homework in order for your lead-generating mechanism to work well for you.

First of all, you must place your download form prominently on your website. Preferably, dedicate a page to it and link to that page from every other page of your website. That way, there is no way your visitors cannot find the download page, and when they do, you'll get some of them converted into your prospects!

Also, you have to put a little effort into promoting your download. Explain and elaborate on the values of the download, and why your visitors should download it. You might think why would anyone want to pass on a freebie, but most of your visitors would be too lazy to take the effort to download it because most of their downloads just sit on the harddisk collecting virtual dust. It is hence important to show your visitors why they should download your freebie.
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