These are core website facts you ought to know before you begin.
You need a domain: 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 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 (below) you can often get it thrown in for free.*
You need a host: Also called a virtual host. This is rented storage space on a web server. It “Hosts” the files that make up your website. Most of the files and folders inside your hosting area are not visible the public, but there is one special folder of great importance. Whatever files you put in it are visible to any who care to look. This is the “Stage” where your show plays out before the world audience. Any subfolder of this one is also visible/searchable. There are tons of virtual hosts and they are mostly very similar. You rent it 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.
The uncertainty of the web: What your design looks like on your computer guarantees nothing. Your site has no real, true, objective appearance because it isn’t a hard copy: It is code. Your website only really exists in any shape and form when opened up by some browser on some device. Different browsers and different devices interpret the display of your code differently and this determines the appearance. If the site is built well there won’t be many problems, 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.
Plan your site: 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.
- The 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 shouldn’t be. Get out of your own way, for your own good.
- Design isn’t appearance. Design is the blending of appearance and function like with a house or a car.
- 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?
- Don’t make your website radical and totally different because it will suck and fail.
Navigation: (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 link merely because you’ve seen it often on websites. Tailor your navigation into a one of a kind, perfect fit for your site.
Search Engine Optimization: There are a LOT of ways to polish and improve this but as the site owner you have the most important role: Author. Write 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 in search engines to find you? Be realistic about this and include those words and phrases (gracefully) in your writing. Sorry, but sometimes these are words like Cheap.
Social Media: 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. The same goes very much for a Blog. If a blog is 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. It will hover over you as you try to sleep, sighing sadly. If you don’t enjoy writing on a regular basis, this is a bad idea. Beware overreach and mission creep. Scale up content only after you know what it like running the simple version.
D.I.Y.?: As far as building the site, many people say they want to do it themselves, but they probably can’t. I’m not trying to be a downer. It’s a skill set that most people don’t have the personality, time or energy to acquire. People in denial about this are usually certain that everything is unfairly overpriced. They are certain that it is as easy as they want it to be. There are regular people who can pull off a website DIY but they will have a proven record of succeeding at complex computing tasks without breaking a sweat. As a separate issue, if you have no design background your design is very likely to look noticeably amateurish because it will reflect your experience. If you struggle with any level of day to day computing, DIY will introduce you to reality by using a metaphorical carrot peeler to scrape away your self-esteem and confidence until you get some sense.
Working with a designer: There is more to this than I can say here. But do these:
- 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.
- The price model should be described plainly on paper, including factors that could change it.
- Set a timeline for completion that includes things the customer is responsible for. Customers are almost ALWAYS late with content. This usually means page content, photos or branding elements. Many customers are not at all prepared to deliver the content required for their own project. This is the most common conflict issue and customers will balk at paying more money just because they are preventing you from earning elsewhere.
- Include what content must to be delivered to the designer in the timeline. Include dates that trigger extra payments if you are late, this will help get your butt in gear.
- 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.
- Together, write down the state of things that signal completion and success. If you don’t know what completion means on this project how will you recognize the place when you arrive? This criteria for success refers to the building of the website, not the success of the customer’s business plan.
Attack of the Weasel People: These are 4 common weasel reasons explaining why you should work free.
Weasel 1. Your work will receive so much exposure on my glorious free website that you will get tons of new clients.
Weasel 2. Work free because we’ll be swimming in cash as soon as the site breaks out and goes viral.
Weasel 3. Sit with me (for babysitter money) while I do it and give me “advice”.
Weasel 4. It’s so unfair that things cost so much money, please be a nice person an help me. Don’t be mean!
If you want me to teach you, I’ll teach you. If you want me to build it, I’ll build it. But don’t try to fool me into a freebie because that would be so nice for you.
– Nothing is free. *