Optimum Web Page Width

I have, over the last few weeks, been doing several redesigns of long standing websites. One of the key changes was a shift in page width. Before it was necessary to consider old screen sizes. However, with this redesign, we have made 800px and smaller screens redundant. The new designs are optimised for 1024px widths or larger. However, it’s not enough to simply consider the screen resolution of the majority of users. There are other aspects to consider.

To give an example from the real, non-computery, world. A friend of mine runs a small private school. She wanted to redesign the classroom layout so that instead of one large classroom for 20 to 30 students, they would have two classrooms. One that could take 12 to 15 students and another small room for private classes of less than 8 students. I drew up designs for the school but the opted to use another amateur interior designer instead. The designer split the classrooms making one larger and the other smaller but it didn’t work out that way. What the designer had failed to consider was the size of the tables and chairs that would be put in the room. The school’s tables are double width with two chairs at each table. The designer had made the large room 3 1/2 chairs wide (1 3/4 tables) and the small room 3 chairs wide (1 1/2 tables). Since you can’t use half chairs and half tables, the result is that both rooms hold exactly the same number of students. When designing a space, you need to consider what goes into that space.

The same is true of web design. When laying out a web page, you need to consider what content is going into the spaces within the page. this will determine the number of columns you can have, the spacing between columns and whether you have fixed or flexible sizes. So let us look at what content you might be using and some of the sizes of that content.

My web pages would contain photographs and videos. In most cases, the videos would be coming via YouTube and the photos via Flickr. So I checked out what sizes they have available. Each of these sites supplies its content in a range of sizes. For YouTube, the smallest size is 425 px wide. The largest is 960 px and in-between we have 480 px and 640 px. It is instantly clear that the 425 px size is small for current browsers. However, I thought, could it go in a side column? Well based on my current optimisation of 1024 px screens, the answer is no. However, next time around, when screen sizes have jumped up a bit more, it might be that the 425 px size will go in a side column. The 480 px size would work fine for a half page but I didn’t want two columns of equal width. I wanted one wide and one small. The 960 px size would be full page width and so crush out the side column. So that meant I had to go with the 640 px size.

The other type of content I wanted to use was, of course, adverts. Looking at the standard advertising sizes, there are no 640 px sizes. The closest that would fit in the large column would be a 468 px banner. The next size up is a 720 px wide letter-board. Neither of these matches up with any video size from YouTube. So it would appear that I’ll have to put up with some miss-sizing there. However, look at the sizes for adverts running in the side column. Now if my main column is 640 and I’m optimising for 1024 px screens then I have about 364 px left to play with. Now given that some space will be used for padding and margins and scroll bars, I could assume that I’d have 300 px left for my sidebar. So I looked at the standard advertising sizes again and saw that a 300 x 600 px half page ad and 300 x 250 px Medium Rectangle would fit nicely. There are some other combinations of vertical banners and buttons that also add up to 300 px. So that gave me the size for my small column.

Now I have by optimum page widths. A large column of 640 px wide and a small column of 300 px wide. Now for a little compromise. I wanted the home page to be small columns wide while my content pages would be two columns, one big and one small. So I had to adjust the sizes just a little to make the maths work so that 3*small = 1*big+1*small. Also, I wanted a little padding to go around my content. So the large column was adjusted to 642 px and the small column to 312 px. A margin of 18 px was used to separate the two giving a page width of 972 px – which fits nicely on a 1024 resolution screen. Using the same sizes, the home page is 3*312 px columns with 2*18 px margins, giving again the same page width of 972 px.

Finally, I had a look around the web to see what sizes other people had settled on. I found the 972 px size on several prominent sites including I also saw many sites such as Flickr’s newest layout, YouTube and others, which have gone for the 640 and 300 sizes, though with some variation in the sizes of the margins. So it seems that for the next few years, these are the sizes to go for. Hopefully, the IAB standard advertising sizes will get revised soon to fit in with what are becoming standard web page design sizes and so make my sites more attractive again. But until then I’ll muddle through. Knowing my luck, the 640 px advert will become standard just as I re-optimise my page for another larger screen size.

Image by Istvan under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Twitter twitter twitter

10 things you should twitter about more often

I’ve ready many websites spouting about how to use Twitter to improve your business. They often give varying advice or dubious quality. Truly few people really know the key to Twitter success. The authors of Twitter themselves are dumbfounded about how the site has become popular. They did not think their Twitter creation had any merit but yet it does seem to work. So recently one of my following posts a link to a joke about what not to post on Twitter. It had a list of 10 things that it said you should not tweet. I thought about it and decided that actually some of them (most of them) were wrong. So here we have 10 things to tweet more often.

1. What your eating

Many people say that you shouldn’t tweet what you eat. They say it’s boring and that nobody really cares. Actually, I hear that from people who don’t like Twitter most. It’s comparable to what people said about the TV show big brother – Whose so bored that they have to fill their day by watching a house full of 10 even more bored people do nothing for 4 weeks. Tweeting mundane things about your life is not of interest to anyone, so they say.

Well, I say they are wrong. Tweeting what you are eating is interesting to many people. The mundane aspects of what you are doing now are the foundation that Twitter was built upon. It is the very basis of the website. Hard-case Twitterers actually like to know the minutiae of their following’s day. It is what human life is about. Just think about the last time you went out for dinner with your friends. What did you talk about? Well, some of the time you talked about major social issues and breaking news, but allot of the time you talked menial things like what you cooked recently, the new T-shirt you bought and so on. It is what we usually talk about.

Now I’m not saying you should Twitter every mouthful, not even every meal, but don’t disregard the mundane aspects of your life. Not only food but other day-to-day things that you do or experience. Share a bit of your life with your Twitter followers. By mixing a small amount of normal everyday activity in with your big news stories you can create a more balanced Twitter feed. It makes you Twitters more human and less businessy. It makes you more believable. People will look at you and recognise aspects of themselves, aspects of a potential friend. This makes you followable and interesting. So do tweet what you eat.

2. Social Media tips

Right for this one, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. People who use Twitter are interested in new and better ways of using Twitter. So do tweet new tools and apps that could help them. However, don’t overdo it. There’s loads of Twitter apps out there and most of them a rather pall mall. If there is some tool that you use every day, tweet it, but don’t tweet some great new tool that you haven’t tried but like the sound of, because later when you find out it was actually duff, your followers will find out it is duff too and the reputation will stick on you. Make sure you are choosy about what to tweet here. Provide people only with links to tools and tips that you think are good.

The other danger is to assume that everyone on Twitter is here to make money. Actually their not. They are here to talk to their friends. If you want to Twitter about some new tool to help make money from Twitter – unless you are being financially rewarded for promoting the tool – don’t Twitter it to everyone. If you find it useful, tell the people you know will use it. Twittering about marketing to non-marketers is a sure-fire way to reduce your following.

3. The conference your at

Well, it is true that people who are not at the conference won’t get the context of your posts unless you are careful. However, if you are careful, and put your Twitterings in context, then those same people will like you for sharing the experience that they couldn’t get to themselves. Don’t Twitter to the other people in the conference. Instead pose yourself as a reporter, broadcasting the conference news to the general public. Write your tweets in such a way as the inform outsiders of the context. E.g. don’t Twitter “Dr Everyman gave a great talk at XXcon.” Instead, tweet “Interesting: Dr Everyman says, ‘Twitter is the future of internet communication.’ at XXcom.”

4. Twitter itself

Ditto social media tips. Don’t overdo it, but you are using Twitter, your followers are using Twitter, I’m using Twitter. We all like to get some advice about how to use Twitter better. Just make sure you Twitter good stuff and cut the crud off.

5. Your workout

We do want to know about your life and your day. Our health, or lack of, is a generally common topic to most friends conversations. Just listen to your wife/GF/mother on the phone tonight. She will almost certainly go through the health of each member of the family and report their status. People are interested in this. Especially your friends. Communicating your fitness habits makes you more human. To many Twitter streams read like a robot with no friends. Stand out from them. Remember that Twitter is a “social” media tool and that normal social behaviour for humans includes Twittering about your jogging, how you missed out on going to the gym today or how got a personal best time for 10 lengths of the pools when swimming.

6. Your kids, cat or dog

Are you a machine? Didn’t think so. You have a life outside of computers (I hope). Well if so, Twitter about it. Your true friends, your true followers, that’s those who actually read what you Twitter and send replies, are interested in your life. Tell them about you kids or dog or cat or whatever you have. Include people into your life via Twitter and they will be much more comfortable following you.

8. Daily booth photos

Erm well maybe or maybe not. This one really depends on what you look like. If you are a hot chick then taking pics of yourself and posting them probably is a good way to get followers. If you are like me, middle aged and fat, then probably don’t. However, do post pictures. Most of the big followed names on Twitter post pictures regularly. Not always of themselves but rather of where they are, what they are doing, and often what they are eating. The success of services, such as Twitpic, are entirely based on our desire to post photos of our life. You should do so too.

9. Emotional breakthroughs or issues

The trials and tribulations, as well as the successes in your life, are interesting. Proof of this is the avid popularity of TV soaps. Just like any soap opera, people are interested in following your story. They want to know how your life is going. Both the ups and the downs. It is through this process that you will find true friends online and fully experience the power of social media. If you think this shouldn’t be included in Twitter then you really haven’t understood Twitter.

And the ones I agree with the joke about:

7. Speaking out of context

If you post strange things without any context they have no meaning. Keep yourself grounded and remember the audience you are talking to and what they will know or not know about your life. Sometimes you will need to provide context and repeat contexts. Just because you tweeted the background three weeks ago doesn’t mean that we remember, understood, even read the tweet. So you sometimes have to repeat things so that we know what you are talking about.

10. The number of followers you have

We know how many followers you have. We can see it on your Twitter profile, you don’t need to tweet it as well.

Featured image by Jennie

A green origami frog

Webdesign: Above the fold

Just been reading an interesting article on Expartners site about the importance or unimportance of the fold. Traditional web design stressed the importance of putting information above the fold. For those who don’t know, the fold refers to the part of your website that is below the bottom of the computer screen when the page loads. That means that people have to scroll to see that part of your page. Some sites are successful in getting people to scroll down. Other sites seem to put people off scrolling. The reasons why the fold is important or not important to your site design are gone into in more depth in the full article.

truth and lie

Don’t lie, don’t deceive, don’t mislead in marketing

Some business thing that it is OK to lie. The think that it’s a quick way to get ahead in their marketing. Or maybe they think it’s the only way to get a customer. Think of you stereotypical second-hand car salesman. The reputation is that you can’t trust them. That they will trick you and con you. This is wrong. If you want to ruin your business quickly, the fastest way to do so it to lie, to deceive and to mislead your customers. You won’t do it for long because before soon you will have no customers.

Today I saw an advert on YouTube for something that I was interested in. Doesn’t happen often. Most adverts I see get ignored. But this one was one that caught my attention. It claimed, so I thought, to take a photograph of myself, and through some photoshopping wizardry, turn it into a cartoon styled image of myself.

“Now,” I thought to myself, “I could do with some of that. It’s just what I need to make a nice catchy avatar.”

So I clicked the ad. Now I found myself very disappointed. Instead of photoshopping a photo like the advert showed, it simply let me download some software to make a Zwinky. You know those little mini me cartoons where you choose the hair, choose the shoes and choose the face and make something resembling yourself.

Now there’s nothing wrong with making a Zwinky. In fact, if the advert had been for making a Zwinky then I probably would still have clicked on it because Zwinkies are a cartoon avatar and cartoon avatars were what I wanted to make. However, the advert had promised something much more than a Zwinky. It had alluded at a much higher level of realism and customization than a regular Zwinky. I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. I had been tricked and lied to. The result was a disappointment.

Now disappointment is not a good stage in your marketing/sales process. You don’t sit down at the board meeting and discuss how best to disappoint your customers. It is quite safe to say that disappointed customers are what people seek to avoid. Avidly. Disappointment is not how you build brand loyalty. You can’t get repeat business if you disappoint.

Look at your business. Is the image that you present to your customer matching up to what you supply? Remember only happy prospects buy. Only satisfied customers tell their friends or come back to your business and buy again. Disappointed customers will go elsewhere.

Footnote: I went ahead and downloaded the Zwinky toolbar to test it for this blog. First, try didn’t work cause I was using Google Chrome not Internet Explorer. A little miffed at having my favourite browser snubbed but not too much as Chrome isn’t a major league browser and still quite new to the market. So I fired up IE. Downloaded via the ActiveX installer and nothing. Tried the manual install, nothing. Seems that Zwinky doesn’t support IE version 8. So no quite disappointed and shan’t be returning to this product anytime soon.