These are a few general website development facts to inform your thinking before you begin your project. 

General knowledge

You need to understand the unpredictability of web design appearance:

(This unpredictability is likely to be devastating to DIY amateur designers and well understood by professionals.)

Your site has no real, true, objective appearance because it isn’t a hard copy: It is code. What you see of it is always an interpretation of that code. Your website only really exists when opened up by some browser on some device. It’s almost like a character in a storybook who only exists in the mind of the reader…while they are reading. The writing makes diverse readers imagine the character in a similar way but from reader to reader each of us gets our own Snape or Hermione. What your design looks like on your computer guarantees nothing about what it looks like anywhere else.

It can be helpful to think of your site as a little traveling show that has to set up and put on a good performance in any theater it comes to.

Different browsers and different devices can interpret how to display your code differently and this creates appearance variations. If the site is built well there won’t be many problems or variations, but there is no way to know to a certainty that everything about your site will perform as expected in all the places it has to go unless it is thoroughly tested.  Fortunately, there are tools and websites available to emulate and preview the effect of these different browsers on your site.

The Construction Crew

Do It Yourself?:

As far as building the site, many people want to do it themselves, but honestly, most of them probably can’t. I’m not trying to be a downer. It’s a complicated skill set that most people don’t have the personality, time or energy to acquire, especially in the available spaces around a full-time job and other commitments.  Many people who are in denial about this are certain that this kind of work is unreasonably overpriced and as easy as they want it to be.

There are regular people who can pull off a DIY website but they will have a proven record of succeeding at complex computing tasks without much struggle. As a partly separate issue, besides the technical side of web design, if you have no general design background your design work is very likely to look distinctly amateurish. It isn’t an insult, just a realistic prediction. The bottom line is, if you struggle with any level of day to day computing, DIY will introduce you to reality like a metaphorical carrot peeler scraping away your self-esteem and confidence until you get some common sense.

Working with a designer: There is more to this than I can fully explain here. But do take these steps:

  1. The two of you should draw things on paper and confirm visually that you understand each other. A nodding head does not equal understanding. Assume misunderstandings at every step and compare notes.
  2. The price model should be described plainly on paper, including factors that could change it.
  3. Set a timeline for completion that includes things the customer is responsible for. Customers are almost ALWAYS late with content. This usually means page text, photos or branding elements. Many customers are not at all prepared to deliver the content required for their own projects. This is the most common conflict issue and customers often balk at paying more money just because they are preventing the designer from earning money elsewhere.
  4. Include specifically what content must be delivered to the designer by what point in the timeline. Include dates that trigger extra payments if you are late delivering, this will help get your butt in gear and help you finish the project on the original timeline.
  5. Map out the content that is necessary for each page. This should look like a simple flow chart of the site pages specifying what content is needed, what page it sits on, and who is responsible for writing or finding it. This one is incredibly helpful.
  6. Together, describe and write down the state of several things that signal completion and success.  If you don’t know what completion means on this project how are you to know when you’re there? These criteria for success refer to the building of the website, not the fulfillment of the customer’s business plan.

Foundation Infrastructure

You need a Domain: 

(Comparable to a phone number, it only leads to you.) Your domain is your unique address on the web. This is your something.com, or .net, etc. If the domain you want is taken there is little to be done about it and it’s time to get creative. Make sure you look at your domain idea with all the text squished together. Don’t be like the careless people who purchased Itscrap.com,Whorepresents.com, and Penisland.net, these are all legit businesses with laughingstock domains. There are a million places on the web to reserve a domain but when you purchase hosting you can sometimes get it thrown in for free.

You need a Virtual Host:

(A place to keep your website where it can be found by the public.)  A virtual host rents you storage space on a web server they own. It “Hosts” the files that make up your website.  Many of the files and folders inside your hosting area are not visible to the public, but there is one special folder of great importance. Whatever files you put in it are visible to any who cares to look. Any subfolders of this one are also visible/searchable. This is the location where your website is kept. When a person browsing the web requests your domain, their computer pings this server, which then delivers the requested files across the web to their browser. Web browsing can feel like we are going to them, but every site we look at is summoned to our local computer like a genie. This underlies many of the privacy issues left in our browsers.

There are tons of virtual hosts and they are mostly very similar in quality and price. You rent their services for one or many years at a time. In your account area, you will find a control panel (Cpanel) with big friendly buttons to set up email accounts, etc, etc.

Building Well

Your site needs a comprehensive plan and a reason for being:

First, you need to know exactly what it is for. It is a machine. What does it do, or make, or accomplish? You should be able to describe its purpose in a paragraph. Avoid mission creep. Don’t tack on labor-intensive features like a blog unless it helps to fulfill this purpose. Appearance at this stage is irrelevant. Focus on function and inform yourself about the options, difficulty, and costs of alternative ways of achieving this functionality.

You need to understand the choices behind good web design:

They aren’t the choices most people automatically make.

  1. Good design is about serving the target audience. It comes from knowledge of who they are, and what they will find welcoming and reassuring in the appearance of your site. It’s not about you and what you like. At least, it really shouldn’t be. Get out of your own way, for your own good.
  2. Design isn’t appearance. Design is the blending of appearance and function like with a house or a car.
  3. There are not a lot of different ways to lay out navigation. It’s going to be either vertical, left side, or horizontal, top. Why? Think of yourself at an unfamiliar ATM: Do you enjoy those moments of not knowing what to do next?
  4. Don’t make your website design radical and totally different because it will suck and fail.

Don’t make me think! Keep it simple.

Navigation and names: (ie: buttons, tabs, menu) The simplest, clearest menu is best. Can choices be simplified and merged? Do it. Classic example: “Home” and “About Us“, How are these different? Extraneous content and links weaken your site. Ask yourself, “Is the wording on my navigation crystal clear? Is there any way to misinterpret the meaning?” We tend to take familiar concepts and names for granted, so be careful not to baffle your visitors. The best navigation is barely noticed because A. It’s right where we instinctively look for it & B. The wording is unambiguous.

The destinations of navigations: This is obviously related to the last one, but it’s a separate and serious issue. Imagine all the content available for your website sitting in a big messy pile. And imagine the classic navigation links seen on every website. Their content was once like yours, then they sat down and discussed (don’t do this alone unless you have no choice) what content was needed on the website to fulfill its function, what categories that content separates into, and good names for those categories. These good names appear on your navigation links. Never add a category of links merely because you’ve seen it often on other websites. Tailor your navigation into a one of a kind, perfect fit for your site.

Search Engine Optimization:

Good writing is not a luxury item, it is fundamental. There are a LOT of ways to polish and improve SEO but as the site owner, you have the most important role: Author. Write thoughtfully and well. The entire site should be as well organized as an A+ English paper. The navigation categories are like sections of that English paper. Write succinctly and with an intention behind every word. This should take a couple of drafts. ALSO: Consider your target audience, what words and phrases do they actually type into search engines to find you? Be realistic about this and include those words and phrases (gracefully) in your writing. Sorry, but often these are words like “Cheap”.

Supporting Strategies

or deadly time-vampires…it depends.

Social Media: Either your website is supposed to kick visitors to your social media or your social media is there to gather visitors for your website.  It should be clear in your head what is supposed to happen here.

Irrelevant social media is a stupid waste of your time. Think strategically about this and include social media in the machine concept from the beginning of this article.  What role do they play in the machine? You should know whether you are using social media to drive people to the website or vice versa. Understand it, or don’t do it. The different SM sites are good for different things so learn what each is good for to use them effectively. One unnecessary SM platform to manage can make the difference between having enough time and despair. Don’t over-commit to social media responsibilities, include your available time and energy in the planning.

Blogging: The same goes very much for a Blog. If a blog is really part of the machine, OK. But don’t add one because other people do. If you can’t keep it fresh and updated it will work against you. An ancient, abandoned blog feels like an ivy-covered archeological site. Neglected blog duties will hover over you as you try to sleep, sighing sadly. If you don’t enjoy writing on a regular basis, blogging is a bad idea. Beware assumptions, overreach, and mission creep. Scale-up content only after you know what it like running the simple version.

 

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