Be a web guru…
Do you have something to say but can't find a way to say it? Find your creative juices stewing, but no place to let them simmer? Have a kick-ass portfolio or amusing ramblings that need somewhere to go?
Don't let messages like this discourage you from building your own website and kicking ass on the web.
Fear no more, because the answer may very well be at the click of your mouse. Internet publishing has its obvious advantages, like its accessibility, relatively low costs, and quick publishing time. And you know that at our site, we're all for it. Whether you need it professionally, want to start blogging (that's web lingo for an online journal), or just want to post some rants and raves, as we do, using the Internet for your purposes will allow you to have a web presence for personal or public audiences, and will help you to spread the word in the comfort of your own home.
But how do I start? you may wonder. It's not as hard as you may think! You don't need a Computer Science degree to have your own website, if we're any ringing endorsement of that. But you will need a computer and Internet access, which you probably already have, if you're reading this.
There are two components to website publishing. The first is the domain name, which is a fancy way of saying the name of your website. For obvious reasons, you will have to pick a unique website name in order to register it. The domain name can be purchased through several companies that specialize in such services, and usually won't cost you more than $15.00-$50.00 CDN per year. We're at www.dotster.com, but there are a multitude of other companies that you can check out. Just doing a simple "domain registration" search will give you tons of companies that you can register through.
Once you have the domain name registered, it's yours for the specified amount of registered time. But a domain name won't amount to much unless you have a server. The server is a fancy way of saying the place where you park the car - that is, the domain. This might cost you another pretty penny, usually $50.00-$100.00 per year, depending on the chosen company (we're at www.figment.ca). Usually, hosting companies will throw other freebies at you for signing up, like multiple e-mail addresses or website templates. Shop around for a hosting company - they are not all the same. Some are geared toward personal use, while others offer tons of things for company websites, and charge accordingly. Think about what you need and what you could do without. Do you really need those ten e-mail addresses, or that 1000 MB of space? Or is it that what you really need is a hosting company that will support an online shopping cart?
Once you have the hosting company, you will have to notify your domain company of the ISP of the hosting company. This just means that you have to tell your domain company that you're with this hosting company now (which, in the world wide web, is identified as a series of numbers), and this is where your information will be held from now on.
If you're not keen on spending cash, there are other companies that will give you website space for free. We used to be with www.freeservers.com, and sites like www.yahoo.com and www.doteasy.com also offer this. The advantage is that it's free, but the disadvantage is that you will be inundated with their advertising, as well as other possible restrictions, such as limited bandwidth (meaning that you can only have so many visitors at a time), or limited space. For a small, personal site, it's a fair trade-off, but for a professional site, I suggest that you shell out the cash.
I Have The Goods…Now What?
Now that all the pesky administration stuff is done, it's time to put some content on your site. There are several options that you can consider: doing the website yourself, buying a template from a company, or hiring a web developer for your needs.
The first option is not as daunting at it may seem. If you've got Frontpage in your Microsoft Office package, or similar web publishing software, you're all set to go. Frontpage is essentially an advanced version of Word. Design your page as you would in a Word file, and then let Frontpage do the coding for you. Upload the code to your website by saving it with a filename (e.g. file.html, file.shtml, etc.), and voilà, it's live. For a quickie tutorial in essential website coding, might I suggest www.htmlgoodies.com? The site is an easy-to-follow read and a great start to your Internet eminence.
Templates are offered by a myriad of companies for the purpose of making Internet publishing a little easier. Most companies will ask for a small licensing fee, but will give you all the coding, images, etc. All you have to do is fill in the content, and your website is done. If you go to www.interspire.com, you'll find both free and not so free templates. Others might offer personalized websites that are designed for you specifically. For instance, Moxie Studios specializes in website design and creates original websites on a client-by-client basis at competitive commercial rates. If you visit Mojo Graphix, you'll be presented with thousands of business or professional templates. Other websites, such as www.freelayouts.com or www.templatesbox.com, offer template designs for free.
Hiring a web developer is a good idea for professional endeavors or company websites. These people are experts and a good bet for a job well done. If the company is reputable, and truly knows what it's doing, then they will have a database system set up for you to self-administer changes after the site is completed. Be wary if this is not the case - otherwise, you could be racking up charges for every little change made.
Think About What You Want To Do
Like all things in life, having a purpose will do great wonders for your website. Think about what you want to do - is it a portfolio for perspective employers, a personal site with pictures to be shared with friends, a store for your homemade goodies, a shrine to your favourite actor or actress, or a place for you to showcase your eighties trivia? Of course, you can include all of the above, but I suggest that if you use the website in a professional capacity, you should skip the personal stuff. No employer, whether present or future, needs to know that you went out partying with your friends and puked on the cab ride home, or that you secretly wish that they would bring back legwarmers as a fashion staple. What they do need to know is how wonderful you are and what an asset you'll be to their company.
A good way to start your Internet publishing experience is by blogging. Blogs became really big several years ago, and the popularity has spread to everyone from celebrities to politicians to media critics. Blogs can be implemented to your site, or you can start your own at www.xanga.com or www.livejournal.com, just to name a few. These sites are free, and already come with built-in templates. All you have to do is customize the colours and the font. The cool thing about blogs is the comment function, which automatically lets you or your friends comment on posts. Kinda like e-mail, but accessible to everyone. You don't necessarily have to use your blog strictly as a journal - there are several out there that cover, for instance, American Idol or bad celebrity fashion. Let your creative side run free.
Some Things To Consider
Here are some basic things to keep in mind when you embark on your Internet journey:
This is just a general guideline on how to build a website. (A message from me: please do not put out a competing e-zine. Thank you.) The best thing to do is to jot down your ideas first, and work out the layout and navigation on paper first. Also, visit other sites to see what to do…and in some cases, what not to do. If you're not pleased with a site, chances are, there's something wrong.
- If you build it, they will come. This is not necessarily what happens. Once you have your website up and running, and everything appears to be fully functional (no one likes a broken link or a dead page), you need to spread the word. A fast and easy way to do this is to get ranking on search engines. Most of the time, this requires patience and time. For quick results, you might want to try something like Google Adwords, but you will have to shell out some cash for that. Another way to spread the word is to pimp yourself out. Put it on your e-mail signature or business card. E-mail your friends when your site is updated. Take out an ad in Variety. You know, the more the better.
- Get some good stats Your hosting company is the one who will provide you with website statistics, usually by using a third party company. These stats are useful if you want to know the logistics, like what people are looking at when they're on your site, how many people are checking it out, which country they originate from, and what browser they are using. Some are better than others; for instance, using a free hosting company will give you scant and shady stats, but using a popular and large hosting company will most likely give you more sophisticated results. Another one to try is www.alexa.com, which can also give you some insight into your website's traffic. Alexa is powered by Google, but only gathers statistics from users with an Alexa toolbar, which will give you an indication, but is not the whole picture.
- Content is key. If your website utilizes a lot of images and Flash, changes are that a search engine will not be able to pick up the contents of the page. That's all fine and dandy for personal sites or corporate sites, but if you want ranking and people to be able to find you by doing a search, you need to put your content as first priority (and please…spell check!). Something like www.aint-it-cool-news.com is a high-ranked site with tons of traffic, although it's not the prettiest site out there. People flock to it for its content, not its layout. It won't matter how great your site looks or all the cool tricks it can do if there's nothing to stick around for, and if no one ever sees it.
- Content is key…but think about the layout too. Your second priority, after content, is the layout. The layout is a free-for-all, but always remember that a reader will be sitting in front of their computer, staring at the screen. It's slightly different from reading a magazine or book, and if your site has, let's say, a black background and white font, this won't work. You want them to read your site, not be blinded by it. A way to get around this is to use yellow or gray font on black, as these colours are easier on the eyes. Also, don't bombard your site with lots of large images or a dancing Jesus or an annoying Babyface song playing in the background. Not only is it a grave attack on the senses, it can also mean a longer loading time for someone with a slower or older computer. Heck, my computer is slow and old, and it has crashed waiting for a website to load. If you want to get around it, make thumbnails for large images, or use a player on your site that lets the person decide whether to load or stop a song. Also, keep the layout consistent so that users will associate the layout with your website and become familiar with its construct.
- Have good navigation. Your website should be easy to use, and in the Internet world, the usability of a website comes down to its navigation. Label your links clearly and never use ambiguity to guide your readers. They should be able to get around your website without constantly using the back browser button, even if that's what they end up doing anyway. The navigation should be like breadcrumbs, so that your reader knows where they've been, where they are, and where they might go to next. When thinking about design, keep this in mind.
- Got ads? Advertising is a good way to cut your costs, or even earn revenue. But advertising doesn't work everywhere. If you're doing a personal site, you may want to skip the Lavalife ads. If your site is more of general interest, it may work there. Would you rather have pop-up ads, banners, or scrolling ads where the user has to manually close the ad? This will all depend on your layout, your target market, and the content of your website. A good place to start might be Google's AdSense, where Google displays unobtrusive text ads on your page that are relevant to the page's content.
- Make things clear. Imagine that you're an Internet surfer who happens to come upon your site. Can you tell what the site is about? Of course, a good website name might solve that problem, e.g. www.dogsrock.com tells me that this is probably a site about dogs, but if your name is ambiguous and your home page is even more so, chances are that people are going to leave your site in frustration. Remember that Clarica ad where the man wants to use the bathroom, but can't tell which one is the men's room and which one is the ladies' room? Don't let that happen with your site. Design can help too: blogs, for instance, have a clear and distinct layout approach, where newer posts are displayed at the top of the page. E-zines like Happygrrls might take a different approach, like lumping articles into sections. Whatever the case may be for your site, make sure that you're getting your message across loud and clear.
Happy website building! ¤ C.Ho.
P.S.: Previously, I've stated that Moxie Design Studios offers templates. Actually, Moxie is a web design company that creates original websites for clients based on their needs. Happygrrls, and specifically C.Ho., regrets the error and hopes you will visit Moxie because they're a really cool company.