Why does my site look different on different computers?

Last month we discussed why fonts can look different depending how what computer the site is viewed it. Today, let’s look at other ways your site can look different and how you can control the way your site appears. If you haven’t already done so, take a look at your site in different browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, AOL) and in different resolutions.  

Different browsers will interpret HTML differently - therefore the look and functionality of your website will vary. This is not as big of a deal as it once was but it is still something to be aware of.  The trick is to be sure that either everything works in all browsers or, should something not work that it just doesn’t appear.  Therefore the visitor won’t even miss it.

Monitor resolution is something that everyone needs to be concerned with.  Website can look very different depending on the size of the monitor and resolution it is set at.  Typically, 15 and 17 inch monitors are set for a resolution of 800 x 600 (pixels) while larger monitors are set for 1024 x 768 (pixels) or even 1280 x 768 (pixels).  1024 is the most popular as of March 2006.

Why is this important?  If you create a website with a title graphic that is 900 pixels wide it will force the visitor to scroll right to left on a monitor set at a resolution of 800 x 600.

The only way to ensure that your site will look the same in all browsers is to create it as a graphic. The problem with this is that search engines cannot index graphics. When they go to a page that is all graphic, including images and text, the search engine only sees a blank page. It assumes there is nothing on the page and deletes it from the database. If you are not sure if the text on your site is a graphic or readable text, try this experiment. If you can highlight the text and copy and paste it into another program then it is readable text.

A good compromise between ensuing that your site looks good in different browser and that it is readable to search engines is to use both readable text and graphics.  
 
Why does Web site design pricing vary so much?

If you have been looking into having a website professionally designed, you probably have noticed that the cost to do so can vary tremendously. You ask "why is it that I was quoted $3000 to build an online store when my friend’s business has a very nice website that he claims was designed for only $800?"

To understand the connection between pricing and functionality, I will attempt to give some of the "behind the scenes" factors that affect the cost of designing and hosting a website. As always, the old adage "you get what you pay for" holds true. However, it is also important to understand exactly what it is you are paying for.

HTML is the most popular way to create a website.  Though ASP and PHP are becoming more widely used.
Websites are generally either "static", "dynamic", or a combination.  What are the differences? Let’s look at both.

A static site is so named because of the manner in how it is written. To use an analogy, I am sure that all of you have some sort of word processing program that you use (a common one is Microsoft Word). Think about how you create a document. You open the program, type away, format your document for the appearance you want, and once you are happy with it you save your file and close the program. The next time you open it, it is exactly as it was the last time you saved it. It has not changed. In order for it to change, you must go in and manually edit it to reflect your changes and save it again. This is how a static site works. The pages are written in HTML and then saved. The only way to make changes to the content of the site is to manually make them and save the file again. Static sites can be identified by looking at the page addresses - they will have an address ending in the extension ".htm" or ".html" i.e. "http://www.nositeinparticular/contact.htm"

A dynamic site, by comparison, has the ability to "change on the fly". The most common example is a site which offers online shopping. You enter the site, browse through and select products, and check out. As you do this, the site keeps up by constantly updating the total price of the items you are purchasing.  These pages are written using a variety of methods which for the most part consist of retrieving information from a database and writing new information to that database The most common type of dynamic sites can be identified by looking at the page addresses - they will have an address ending in the extension ".asp" i.e. "http://www.nositeinparticular/contact.asp".

The words "static" and "dynamic", incidentally, have nothing to do with the appearance of the site. There are some absolutely gorgeous sites out there which are purely static in nature, while many dynamic sites look like they were designed by a 12 year old.

However, a dynamic site has a completely different set of hosting requirements. This type of site will require a hosting account that is configured to allow database connections, which tends to be more expensive than a standard hosting account. Also, more work goes into the "programming" of the site. Once built, dynamic sites can be less expensive to maintain, since the bulk of the updates can be accomplished by updating the database rather than manually rewriting the individual pages.

So static sites tend to be easier to set up and cost less initially, while dynamic sites tend to be more expensive initially but can save money in the long run. You need to determine what is important to you and plan accordingly.

February 1, 2002

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