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Tips on improving your trails website

Is your website easy to use? From Trail Tracks, the national newsletter of American Trails.

By Christopher Douwes

I'm not a webmaster or a website designer. But I know what I like and what I don't like when I visit a website, usually seeking some specific information. I'd like to offer some thoughts on websites from my personal experience:

"Remember, your website might be your face to the public, and may create the impression the public has of your organization."


I can find what I want quickly, within a few clicks, without having to figure out where on the organization's site my topic might be hiding. I admit, it isn't easy to find the Recreational Trails Program from FHWA's main page, but our internal search works pretty well. In case you're interested, our website is:

The website's home page has accurate contact information available with:

  • Contact person name, and title (if important)
  • Agency or organization
  • Full mailing address and street delivery address (if mailing address is different or is a PO box)
  • 10 digit phone; 10 digit fax (for US contacts)
  • Email address for contact person

Calendars are up-to-date.

The site projects a positive attitude.

Good grammar and spelling. Also, don't use needless hyphens in cooperation, nonmotorized, nonprofit, reauthorization, retroreflective, etc. Regardless of what Microsoft tells you, these are single words without hyphens.


The site is down a lot.

A lot of areas are "under construction." Don't fuel false expectations with missing information.

The site takes too long to load because it has so many over-sized graphics.

You have to go through a video or cartoon first. It is acceptable for a site to allow you the option of viewing the video or cartoon, or not.

The site "captures" you, and won't let you back out.

The site keeps opening new windows rather than letting you get to a new page. Before you know it, you're in several pages at once.

The site doesn't tell you the address of the page where you are, and only gives you the home page address. This keeps you from linking directly to a subpage within a site.

The site address has lots of code in the address. One State has,1607,7-151-9621_11050---,00.html !

There are a lot of broken links.

There is a lot of obsolete data, wrong information, or the "historic archives" fail to tell you an article was superseded by updated information.

Their's lots of bad gramer, thypeos, poor and/or inconsistent punctuation,:; too many! exclama-tion! marks!!!, SCREAMING, bad abrevs, uses "'s" for plurals [lot's of stuff, many State's, three tree's, four ATV's]; incorrect use of "it's" (it is or it has) and "its" (possessive); Capitalization In Too Many Words; redundant repetition, and redundant repetition; (lots of side comments (in parentheses)); run on sentences; etc.

Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnic background, gender, disability, veteran status, etc.

There is derogatory or insulting language toward other trail groups and/or trail managers. It is also probably not a good idea to criticize a Federal or State agency from which a trail group expects funding or conference support.

There are unsubstantiated "facts" such as "the Interstate Highway System requires that one mile in every five must be straight." See the truth at

The organization is sponsoring or at least heavily involved in a major conference or event, yet you can't find information on it within a few clicks.

Supernegative Disqualifiers

The site captures your email address and gets you onto some list, and you start getting Nigeria Scam email. I still want to know who did this to me.

The site has outright lies, such as "the Recreational Trails Program promotes motorized trails in Wilderness Areas."


So, check out your website from the viewpoint of the casual user. What is negative? What is positive? What can you control, or not? Remember, your website might be your face to the public, and may create the impression the public has of your organization. Happy Surfing!

May 2003

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