How to Design a Genealogy Web Page
By David J. McCallister (David@McCallister.net)
It never fails to amaze me what I find on the internet in relation to genealogy. The internet has created great opportunities for genealogists. Everyday more and more data is transcribed and made available on web pages. The problem is finding that data in the vast haystack. Most genealogy web sites do not have a coherent plan to help the researcher find the data stored on that site.
One would be led to believe that the majority of web authors begin their project by sitting down at their PC and start throwing things together. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to their site. I've learned quite a lot studying systems analysis and design (SAD) in college. SAD uses some fancy terms that the typical person might not understand. However, it essentially comes down to traditional problem solving and communication skills. Below are some general rules to follow to create good genealogy web site. The rules are not firm for all situations, but will generally work for most sites.
PROBLEM: What is the reason that makes you want to create a web site? Do existing web sites lack a certain type of data? Are there no web sites at all on that obscure surname or region you are researching?
PURPOSE: What is the purpose of the site? This is related to the problem, but gets more specific. Is to centralize data on a single surname? Is it to track descendants of an individual, or to present data on a particular region? Determine the purpose before you do anything else. Frequently you have to view the entire page of someone's web site to find out the purpose of the page. State the purpose at the top of the page so the reader can determine if the site is of interest to them.
AUDIENCE: Who is the audience? Are they beginning genealogists, seasoned genealogists, people who are only slightly interested in their family tree, or what? What does the audience want? Do they want compiled data, individualized records with source citations (although compiled data should always have the sources cited), or links to other web sites based on a surname? If you don't know what the audience wants you will have very few repeat visitors.
USER VIEW OF THE SITE: This goes back to analyzing the audience. A typical genealogist (yes, there are exceptions) wants data and does not want to waste time viewing large/animated graphics. They are also not interested in the latest midi song file that you think is so great. They want data, plain and simple. They want that page to come up in the fastest time possible. It all boils down to knowing who your audience is. Some do want fancy stuff, but the MAJORITY of genealogists do not. This is a fact based on the responses I received when I mentioned this subject on Roots-L. Eighty percent agreed with me on this subject. If you won't design your web page according to the wants of your visitors, then you shouldn't be doing a web page. Think of it this way, would you ignore the desires of your potential readers if you were writing a novel?
DATA PRESENTATION METHOD: How will you present the data? Will it be a search engine, indexed by category, text files, or HTML files? The amount of data you have will generally rule how you present the data. If you have large amounts of data you might want to consider a search engine. There are programs that will create customized search engines for your site based on the data you have on the site. Medium sized sites would probably benefit through indexing by category. For example, one category might be "census records", and then you have several files under that category. Sites with minimal data would be best suited by displaying text or HTML files. The advantage of text files is that it allows the user to readily download and save data for future reference.
GEDCOM FILES: How will you display the GEDCOM data you have researched? There are several programs that will take your GEDCOM file and create HTML files from the data (ged2html, gedpage, etc). Will you also display the source references and the notes? Those are usually options with the various programs. Consider storing the GEDCOM on your web site to allow downloading by users. Be very careful about privacy! Aunt Lucy may seriously object to her personal data being displayed on the internet. A good rule might be to set a cutoff date like what the U.S. has done with census data. The U.S. won't release census data on census for 72 years based on the average longevity of people. There are utilities (i.e. Gedclean) that will remove anyone from a GEDCOM based on a cut off date.
CURRENCY OF INFORMATION: There is nothing more frustrating than to go to a site you visited three months ago, and it still has the "new" or "updated" graphic next to the same link you've already looked at. Consider adding an updates section on your page that clearly specifies what is new/updated and WHEN that particular info was updated or added. This is very effective, but takes up very little space on the page. It also makes it much easier to maintain your page than having to manipulate graphic files on a frequent basis.
EMAIL LINK/GUEST BOOK: It is surprising how many web sites do not have an avenue to contact the web site's author. How can that distant cousin provide you with that crucial data you've been looking for if the cousin doesn't know how to contact you? So, be sure to include an email link in your web site. You might want to consider adding a guest book. You can get a free guest book at Guestworld. A guest book has the added advantage of letting new users find connections among your previous guests.
GENERATING MORE SEARCH HITS: This is my final topic of genealogy web page design. There are a few tricks you can use to get your site listed on the results for someone's internet search. Search sites such as Yahoo, Webcrawler, etal generally use one of 2 different methods of searching.
The first search method is "spidering". The search site starts at your home page, reads the contents, and then does the same for any subsequent links on your home page. It then stores the words and searches through that information when someone does a search.
The second search method uses meta names. If you look at your home page in an ascii text editor (such as notepad), you will see something like the following:
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2//EN">
<TITLE>Schultz Genealogy Central</TITLE>
<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="Schultz, Shultz,
Schulz, Schultze, Shults, family, history, genealogy, tree">
Your will notice that I have the variant spellings for Schultz, and the key words of "family", " history", "genealogy", and "tree". Most people will use one of those key words when searching for genealogy. When you add in the variant spellings you dramatically increase the chances of your site being listed during a search. If your web page does not have the meta name section, simply add it.
The next method to increase search hits is to present that same critical search criteria in an opening paragraph. This works especially well with the search engines that use the spidering method. Create a paragraph that lists the subject of your site and those key words. The paragraph might read something like "This site is geared towards family history and genealogy of Shultz and the variations of Schults, Schulze, Schultz, etc"
The final method is to submit the URL (Uniform Resource Locator, AKA web page address) of your web site to those major search engines. If you don't tell the search engines your site exists people can't find you!
I hope you found this enlightening and it will help you with that web page you've always wanted. Best of luck to you! Please feel free to copy or pass on any of this information if you want. Genealogy is for sharing, not for hoarding!