If you're not an experienced or regular user of the Internet, you might not be aware of some of the capabilities of the ever-improving web technologies. Also, there is increasing emphasis, at least for sites which hope to succeed commercially, on using "best practices" for their interaction with their users. Best practices refers to the incorporation of design elements, techniques, business rules and policies that, after the requisite period of evaluation, are judged by the majority of professionals in the community to be "the way to do it." We've put together a sampling of these web technologies so that you can decide if they apply to your business goals in implementing your web site.
eBay is no longer just an auction web site. It has become perhaps the most prolific small-business generator in history. Tens of thousands of people around the world make some or all of their income by trading on eBay, or by running a complete storefront from their home using eBay Stores. Even if your primary business is not buying or selling on eBay, many companies can benefit from either using eBay to get rid of obsolete or surplus inventory, or as simply a portal to eBay for their customers.
As a member of the eBay Developer's program, PCV Software can help you integrate eBay into your new or existing web site, from a simple link to your eBay auctions all the way to a complete selling management solution using the eBay application programming interface. We've set up some examples of eBay integration on this site.
Amazon.com may have started out as just an online bookstore, but it has grown into a full-fledged Internet mall, offering DVDs, tapes, electronics, and much more. It also has several programs for other businesses that might want to participate in the Amazon.com marketplace, by offering their customers access to products that complement or supplement their own offerings.
From a simple link to the Amazon.com website all the way to a fully-integrated web application, your web site can increase your customers satisfaction (and the probability that they'll come back) by integrating your site with Amazon.com's. PCV Software, as a member of the Amazon.com Web Services Developer Program, can help you achieve the level of integration that makes sense for your business and web site visitors. To see an example of what can be done, go to our Amazon.com page.
UPS provides several web services that allow e-commerce sites to access things like their address verification and rate calculation functions. By integrating these services with our web site, you can provide your customers with full service, from product ordering to verification of package location and arrival, with little or no intervention by you or your employees. Try out a sample by filling in your address in our address verification form, which will then take you to a shipping selection page.
U. S. Postal Service Integration
The U. S. Postal Service also provides a web service that will return the postage for a particular class of service, origin and destination zip code, package weight and size. You can therefore offer your customers the option of having their product shipped by the USPS, and show them what the charge will be for the various USPS services. We have a sample page using the USPS domestic rates caluculator service.
You'll probably want to provide a way for your customers to send you an email, just as we have on our "Contact Us" page. This form uses a program on the server to actually send the email, using the contents of the entries the user makes. This avoids potential problems with users who have an Internet-based email account, such as AOL, and therefore do not have the capability of sending an email while browsing the Internet. Also, note that the entries made by the user are validated before the email is sent (try clicking on the "Send this email" button without filling in either an email address or a phone number).
Printing Content Only (Printer-friendly Pages)
Do you think a customer might want or need to print one of your pages? If so, they probably don't want to print the logo at the top of the page, or the navigation bar on the left. By incorporating an intelligent page printing capability, the browser can be directed to ignore these elements of the page and print only the relevant content. See our "Resume" or "Projects" page for an example (click on the "Print this page" link under the page title).
Designing for Accessibility
Designing to Web Standards
PCV Software provides only valid web programming in HTML/XHTML. Pages are validated using the W3C (the world-wide Internet standards organization) Validation Service, and tested in a variety of browsers and platforms (Netscape, MS Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Opera, etc.) This insures that your pages will work not only the first time, but also years later when browsers may change the way they use proprietary encoding (other designers may use web coding which works only in MS IE). For an example, click here to validate our home page (the validation page will open in a new browser window).
Website Search Capability
A search capability is important for sites with a large amount of content, or for commercial sites offering a large number of products. Although this site really doesn't need it, we've included a sample search facility to show how it should work.
Content management refers to the ability to update the content of your site from your own web browser, If you've hired a web developer (e.g., PCV Software), why would you need this capability? You may have a page on your site that only needs text updates, such as a news or events page, and you don't want to have to schedule (and pay for) your developer's time for a regular update of the page when all that needs to be changed is the basic text of the page (that is, no links to other pages, no complex programming, no form submission, etc.). Why would we offer a function like this to our customers that allows them to avoid paying us a fee? Simple customer satisfaction dictates that we offer full and valuable web site consulting, and not expend your funds for simple text editing. We have a sample of a user-editable page on this site. Note that you will need to be using MS Internet Explorer 5.5 or newer, or Mozilla 1.3 or newer as your browser to be able to use this editing capability. You will also need to use the userid and password of "demo" to access the editing function (you wouldn't want someone else to be able to change your pages, would you?).
Customer Mailing Lists
Most businesses want to keep in touch with their customers, and, with the proliferation of the Internet, email is the way to do it. After all, anyone with the means to find your web site is almost sure to have a personal email account. However, email is getting a bad name in public, because of spam - junk, unsolicited email. You surely don't want to give your customers the perception that your business is contributing to the epidemic of spam, so you must implement a customer mailing list that allows them to control their subscriptions and, more importantly, the removal of their name from your list. The subscription pages can also be configured to match your web site design, and to personalize both the user interface and the system messages. You can see an example of this system by subscribing to the PCV Software mailing list.
Link Analysis with ht://Check
Over time, some of the pages to which the links in your site refer may disappear, as your web site evolves to better reflect your company's changing market and business strategies. Yet, there is nothing more frustrating for an Internet user than to click on a link that portends to give them the answer they are seeking, only to get an error message from the server telling them that, no, that page no longer exists. While an effective error page may somewhat reduce their dissatisfaction, it is much better to periodically examine your site for these dead links and fix or remove them. PCV Software offers the "ht://Check" program as a service to its customers. This program will automate the checking of all the links found on your site, and can be configured to provide even more valuable statistical information about your site for proper maintenance and review. To see the kind of reports we can produce, take a look at our ht://check page.
Traffic Analysis with Webalizer
Are your customers finding you through Google, or one of the other search engines? Have other sites linked to yours, and provided you with additional traffic? Where do users normally enter your site (they may have bookmarked a page other than your home page)? What page are they on when they leave it? Which pages are more popular than the rest, or are rarely if ever visited? In order to properly maintain and enhance your site, you must be able to answer these and other traffic analysis questions. PCV Software uses a program called "Webalizer" to provide our customers with answers to these questions. To see the type of reports available, you can go to our sample Webalizer analysis page.
Enhancing Your Site with RSS Feeds
An RSS feed is news service offered by a site that can be interpreted by a program on your site and displayed as if it were your content. The feed is updated regularly by the hosting web site, so that you do not need to maintain the RSS display page on your site. In this way, you can offer up to date content to your visitors and customer with little effort. Also, your site could develop an RSS feed of its own, offering it to complementary sites, and thereby bringing new visitors to your web site. On our site, we've placed the RSS feed from the New York Times technology section, and our own "Tip of the Week" RSS feed.
Java applets are small programs that run in the user's browser to perform some task that is beyond the scope of page scripting (for example, accessing files on the server). Here's a sample applet to show the capabilities of the technololgy.
Accommodating older browser versions
Sometimes you know that your customer base includes those with older versions of browser software that can't properly display modern web page technology. In that case, you may need to provide some function for them. We've done that for our web site. Our home page detects the user's browser version, and, if it determines it to be of limited capability, it offers the user the option of viewing limited function, but still useful site information (or continuing with the regular site). Check it out by going directly to the redirect page here.
Animation using Flash® and Swish®
One of the more popular technologies for web user interface is called Flash®, developed by Macromedia. With a rich set of animation tools, anything from short text animations to complete web sites can be programmed and delivered without access to time-consuming and expensive graphic design resources. However, it is easy to overuse or misuse this technology, especially if your goal is to simply inform your customers or provide them with a useful interaction with your business. Also, Flash is not natively supported by browsers or standards organizations, so that an additional software program must be available on the user's system in order to display the Flash object. Once again, you'll find that the ability to create a business solution is crucial to your selection of your Internet implementation. For an example of a web site programmed entirely in Flash, try this (you'll need to use the "Back" button of your browser in order to return to this page).
You may have heard of Internet "cookies", little bits of information that can be saved on your computer and read by a web site. This can be used to enhance the experience or convenience of repeat visitors to your site, by saving their preferences, their personal information, etc. To see how this works, go to our own "Cookies" page and experiment with this technique.
Custom error pages
Despite your best efforts, a user may encounter an error when viewing your site. They may use an outdated link from someone else's site, a bookmark they set long ago that no longer points to a valid page, or you might have an error on your site. Rather than present a bland, and less-than-helpful error page generated by your hosting service, your site should offer one or more solutions to try to help your user out of their predicament. Here's a sample bad link that will take you to the custom error page for this site.