Today is reserved for answering some of the questions that folks have on web sites and blogging.
Today I ran across Homestead. (www.homestead.com) Have you heard of them? They seem to suggest that using already formatted templates, they can help design a site with relative ease. Also, they only charge 5 dollars or something for hosting the site/ month. I remember you said these sites that charge little for hosting might not be ideal because they can’t redirect traffic if ever we want to change host. Is that right? I’d love your thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages to opting for something like Homestead. I’m pretty computer illiterate. I’m prepared to learn if it’s really necessary, but would prefer to spend the time writing and can’t afford to pay for someone to set up website at the moment.
Randy sez: This is a site-builder web site like I talked about yesterday. I’ve never heard of this particular one, so I checked it out just now. They have many nice looking templates for you to choose from. The first glitch came when I clicked the Try It Free button. It took me to a page that said, “Please Update Your Browser”. It turns out that Homestead doesn’t work with Safari (the most common web browser on the Mac). It does work with Firefox on the Mac, but it’s rather annoying to be told to update, when I have the latest version of Safari.
My hunch is that this site will work fine for creating a small site. I don’t know what its limitations are, but it appears to let you cheaply and easily build a site on your own domain. (That’s important — you want it on your own domain, not theirs.)
Claire notes that it costs $5 per month for hosting on Homestead and is concerned that this might be too cheap. Actually, this is more than it costs to host a site on GoDaddy, and GoDaddy will also give you far more space and allows you much more traffic per month. But it seems a fair price for getting a site right now, with little effort. The price for all that convenience is that the site will be pretty inflexible. You will likely not be able to get in and hack the code. Many people won’t care about that. It’s up to you to decide that question. If I’m not mistaken, GoDaddy (and other large hosting companies) provide various site-builder tools, so you might want to check those out.
Claire also wants to make sure that she could move her site to a different host later if she wanted to. Yes, so long as they give you ownership of the domain (I can’t tell if they do, but I assume so), then you could in principle move the site elsewhere. But you might have to rebuild it from scratch there, because it’s not clear if Homestead gives you access to the HTML code that defines your site. I can’t tell from their description.
Is this for you? Could be. You can certainly do many things quickly, easily, and cheaply. If those are part of your requirements, then it might be right for you. It would be wise to find somebody who uses this site who is very knowledgeable about web development. (This might be hard, because very knowledgeable people would probably rather build their own site than use something with so many limitations.) I have no experience with this site-builder tool. Do any of my blog readers have experience with it?
I notice that most of the blogs I read regularly have a basically white page with mostly black writing, very clean and plain.
Has anyone done any testing or have any experience with the more “designed” blog templates–still with readable black text on white background, but with side colors, graphics, etc? I know this is back to the “pretty” question, but has anyone seen any different results?
I also wonder about the effectiveness of larger graphics at the top, and wonder if they could be put in other places, so that more of the text is on the first screen (above the fold as it were).
Randy sez: Black on white will always look good and be readable. I personally hate blogs that have a muted colored font on a muted colored background in a small type size. If it also has flashing banners in the margin or top, that is grounds for calling my friend Vinnie the Kneecap-Remover.
In my view, side colors and graphics are fine and neither add nor detract from the usability of the site, if the colors give enough contrast for the text to be readable. Graphics are good, if they’re not garish. Top banner graphics are very common, and provide a powerful branding element if you use the same graphic on every page of the site. I feel that a top graphic that is 150 pixels high is a nice compromise between “pretty” and “efficient use of space.”
Randy: You said you used WordPress to create your site. How did you get the links and other stuff at the top? I’m trying to create a blog using WrodPress, but using adaptive equipment is making it difficult. But, I wanted an introduction section at the top then links to go to other parts of the blog where I intend to keep articles for reference. I found the “instructions” at WordPress.com, but have no idea where to look for what I want. Is there a complete manual somewhere that I can download?
Randy sez: I added the links by editing the HTML code directly in the WordPress templates. This is one of those things that is “easy” if you are very familiar with HTML and CSS (and PHP, because WordPress is actually done in PHP) but it is “hard” if you aren’t familiar with those. I don’t know if there’s a manual anywhere that explains how to do it. I just starting opening files and figured out how it worked and experimented till I got what I wanted. It took me about an hour.
This is the sort of task that you could easily hire a web-savvy person to do in an hour or so. It should cost less than $100 and would be a one-time job. You should ask them to show you exactly which files they change and show you how to make minor changes (such as revising the wording).
ML Eqatin wrote:
I’m no expert, but after noodling with tables and getting my graphics squished, tiled, or otherwise messed up, I bit the bullet and learned to do frames on Dreamweaver. In frames, you don’t have to change every page, because each section of the screen is a separate ‘page’, meaning the title page never leaves the screen. I only have one frame, center front, that changes.
Randy sez: Frames definitely have their place. As an example, the documentation for the Java programming language is displayed using frames, and it works very well. When frames first came out, there was some excitement. The problem with frames (as I understand it) is that search engines index content in each frame separately, because, as you said, each frame is a separate page. So if a search engine sends somebody to a page on your site, it’s not going to be the WHOLE page as you wanted them to see it; instead, they’ll only go to that part of the page which was indexed. So they’ll see a PIECE of the page, presumably the main content without any menubars or header or footer.
I did an experiment just now to test this on MLE’s site. There is a page that begins “some world events to help orient the reader”. I typed this in Google in quote marks (so as to find all pages with exactly those words in that order). There was only one result, on MLE’s site. I clicked on that result, and up popped the text part of that page only, without all of MLE’s pretty graphics. Try this experiment and then go to MLE’s homepage at www.MLEqatin.com and see how she intended it to look.
For that reason, I don’t use frames on my site, and I would consider it problematic for most writers. If I am wrong on this point, no doubt my loyal blog readers will correct me quickly.
This is off-topic and in reference to the ebook by Meredith Efken you have offered to your subscribers. I had already purchased the two fiction CDs from you (and am still learning from them everyday), and now I just purchased the Writers Conference Survival Guide by Meredith Efken. I am so pleased with what I have learned from this ebook that I wanted to post here and let you know. I am excited because this gives me, an inexperienced conference attendee, an actual road map to follow. It was worth every penny and more. Thanks so much for this, Randy!
Randy sez: You’re welcome! Meredith’s little e-book is a nice quick read, and it’s packed with good information. I plan to use several of her appendices to plan my next conference. They’re quite handy. I will of course continue to ignore her excellent advice on how guys should dress and will continue to wear faded blue jeans and ratty shirts, because that’s part of my brand. A physicist who dresses nicely is going to be suspected of not being a “real” physicist.
This may be slightly off-topic, but is it good for writers to have more than one site? I have sites or have purchased domains for: my blog (currently on blogspot but well-linked), my “name” site (unfortunately .net), my brand site, a site for the newsletter I plan to start in the next few months, and a site for one aspect of writing in which I plan to become an expert. Is it wise to have these all as separate sites linked to each other, or should I combine them into one or more sites and simply forward the domains to the appropriate location?
Randy sez: This is a good question. There is no easy answer. I used to have one web site that was about me and my books. Then I added an article on a method of designing a novel which I called by the rather quirky name “The Snowflake Method.” Then I added more stuff on writing fiction. Before you knew it, that Snowflake thing had skyrocketed and made me famous.
At a certain point, I realized that I needed a separate site for all the info on writing. So I split off a new site (this one) after learning from one of the internet marketing masters about how to do it. (Tom Antion, who is a great teacher and a brilliant marketer.) I knew that I needed the words “fiction writing” in my URL, but unfortunately, my first choice, “www.FictionWriting.com” was taken long ago. I grabbed the .net version of that name, but I felt that I really wanted a .com in order to be taken seriously. Tom Antion mentioned that he had a site that began with the word “Advanced”. This has the advantage that it will most always be first in alphabetic order. That’s how I came up with “www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com”. I also got “www.BasicFictionWriting.com”. If you type that into your browser, you’ll come to this site. If you type in “www.FictionWriting.net” you’ll come to this site. If you type in “www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com” you’ll come to this site.
Getting back to Katie’s question, I would advise starting with one site and building that up and learning the skills. Then when the time comes (you’ll know when it comes) you can launch a new site, using the first one as a platform to get the new one off the ground quicker. You can continue spinning off new sites until your fingers get tired. In the meantime, you can point all the domains you own to your main site.
That’s all for tonight! We’ll continue on Monday, and I’m not entirely sure what we’ll be discussing. I think we’ve said an awful lot about web sites and blogs, and it may be long overdue to get back to the craft of writing fiction. I’ll mull it over the weekend. If you have a suggestion, post a comment here or email me privately.
Have a great weekend!