Websites can range the gamut from really simple, informative pages to incredibly complex, feature-rich sites. While we specialize in the latter, we know that many people succeed with a site that relies on more off-the-shelf pieces. If you fall into that camp, or are a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, here are some tips to building a site for yourself, culled from our office in regards to a question from Twitter follower William Pasternak:
- Have a plan. Most developers build a sitemap that shows what pages will exist and how they’ll connect with each other. Will there be sections and subsections? A flat list of pages? A blog area with categories and posts?
- Front-load your strengths. Whether you’re building a site that is about you, your life, a product, a service or an idea, your front page is your first impression for many, so it should be clear, simple and direct. Inside pages should provide more detail, and the homepage should make it easy to get there.
- Keep it clean and simple. Try to avoid clutter; organization is key, and design can go a long way to helping that out. Have your navigation be structured so it’s obvious how to get around; avoid being too subtle with things.
- Consider a Content Management System. Most of us don’t have the time or patience to be hand-editing pages, and even if you have that knowledge, you may want to pass the work along to someone who doesn’t. A CMS lets you get content editing power without having to know raw HTML and CSS. Popular CMSes include WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. Popular hosted CMSes include Squarespace, WordPress and Blogger.
- Don’t be afraid to use a template. Not everyone’s a designer, and sometimes it’s OK to admit when you need help. There are a ton of places that offer free and low-cost templates that can help you get the design you need. Then, you can generally customize the templates to allow you to have different colors or items that you’ll need for your site. This is doubly easy if you’re using a CMS, as you can find a theme that works for your CMS and you’ll be even further ahead.
- Test, test, test. If your site doesn’t look right for everyone, you could be putting out a bad impression. Take a look at it on different computers. Download different browsers (the major ones are all free: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera) to see how your site looks. Older versions of Internet Explorer can be a bit tricky, so if you have access to that you can test there too.
- Tell the world about it. Reach out to sites with a similar mission, submit your URL to search engines, and spread the word to friends and family. Part of what can help make your site visible is links from others to your site. More links to you boosts your reputation; the belief is if you have a lot of links, especially revolving around a specific topic, you are probably an authority on the topic.
- Be careful about ads. Many sites put ads on their pages to monetize their sites, but they can get in the way. Placement and number can make a big difference, so plan accordingly. Remember that the more annoying an ad, the more polarizing it can be for users.
- And of course, if you’re looking to move past the basics and head for more custom development, whether it be plugins, templates or full scale site development, contact us! We’ll be happy to help you with the next phase of your site.