Today, I want to continue looking at the questions that you should answer before you build your web site. I posted a list of these a week or two ago and have been working through this list adding more details on them. Before I get to that, I’d like to respond to a couple of comments that my loyal readers posted today:
Randy, one of the things my husband and I have been discussing over the last few months has been to add downloadable audio and possibly video files to our website. This idea came from a discussion with a number of people who listen to mp3s or books on cd (my husband does this every day when he drives to work). My question is on the layout of a website to allow for this. Would it be better to have a list of these files on the front page or a link to a page that has a list of files (right now we only have pdf files for download)?
Randy sez: This is a good idea and could be quite an attraction. I would not put them on the main page unless that’s what the whole site is about. (If it is, then do it that way.) But it’s probably better to have one page devoted to your digital downloads. If you do this, be sure to compress those MP3 files pretty tight. I’ve found that 11 MB per hour of audio works pretty well. (Normal audio is 600 MB per hour of audio). You might want to upload the video to YouTube and then just display it on your own page. I’m not quite sure how to do that, but lots of people do it, so it can’t be too hard.
I’m late to the conversation here, but wanted to point out a good (FREE!) open source web site development program. With a little front-end programming by my software engineer husband, I was able to put together my entire website on my own using Joomla.
Randy sez: Sounds great! I don’t know much about Joomla. I’ve heard of it, and from what I gather, it’s a Content Management System. I would be interested, Lara, to hear more about it. If you want to email me a few paragraphs about it privately, I’ll summarize it here, since it would be of general interest to my blog readers.
Do you have any ideas on using one wordpress installation for several blogs? I would prefer to do all my customizing at tone time, and not for six or eight installations individually for time and energy constraints if nothing else.
Randy sez: No, I don’t know how easy or hard this would be. I’ve never tried this. You should be able to create one WordPress “theme” and use it on all your blogs. (A “theme” is the cusomizable part of your blog that determines how it looks and how it’s laid out. I took the default WordPress theme and modified it to get my own.)
Now let’s turn to Questions #6 and #7 on my list. I’ll reiterate that you MUST answer all 9 questions at some point. If you don’t, you are going to wind up with a site you don’t want or can’t use. #6 and #7 have to do with how much energy and money you’re willing and able to expend on your web site and/or blog.
Question 6) Can you do the techie stuff?
Answer a: No, I can’t do it and won’t learn; I want to pay somebody else to do it all
Randy sez: This is going to limit your options, because it means that any time you want to make changes to the HTML of your web site, you need to pay somebody to do it. If you want to add content yourself, it would make sense for you to pay somebody to set up a nice Content Management Site (a blog is a simple example) that would allow you to add new stuff whenever you want. You’ll not be able to make certain types of changes to your site, but that might be just fine with you.
Answer b: No, I want to use a simple Sitebuilder web site that I can use to create my site without paying anybody; I understand that this means I can’t make super complex sites, but I just want something simple for now
Randy sez: Again, this may be a limitation on you, so be aware of that going in, and try to find a Sitebuilder that will allow you to do the kinds of things that you know you’ll need to do. If you need to be able to add info about your books, graphics of your books, etc., then make sure the system you use lets you do that.
Answer c: No, I need somebody to set it up, but I’d like to be able to make a few small changes, if somebody shows me how
Randy sez: If you have a webmaster build your site, let them know this upfront. Tell them you want them to use a technology that can be edited by a beginner. For example, if they build the site using FrontPage, then you can use FrontPage to make minor changes and you probably won’t mess things up. Likewise, if they build the site using DreamWeaver, you can use DreamWeaver (or a simpler program named Contribute which is designed to work with DreamWeaver sites) to make minor changes to the site. “Minor changes” here means things like changing the text on the page or maybe even using a page template to create a whole new page that you then edit.
Answer d: No, I need somebody to set it up, but then I want to learn how to do fairly major things
Randy sez: See my comments to Answer c above. Tell your webmaster this is what you want to do. Make them tell you in advance what tools you’ll need to buy in order to work on the site. Make them tell you how much time it’ll take for you to learn how to use these tools, and how much it’ll cost you. Any webmaster should know the answers to these questions and be able to explain them to you in plain English.
Answer e: No, but I can use one of those programs like DreamWeaver or FrontPage that does all the hard stuff; I’m willing to spend some time to learn to use them
Randy sez: Good for you! Both of these programs can produce quite complicated web sites. It would be wise to get some training. The truth is that an amateur can create a bad structural design using these tools (just as an amateur artist can create bad art using powerful graphics tools like PhotoShop or FireWorks). There are classes at many community colleges that will get you going. And there an infinite number of books on how to use these tools.
Answer f: No, but I can learn how to hand-code my pages; just tell me what books to buy!
Randy sez: This was my own approach, and it’s served me well (with the caveat that I don’t do my own graphics — I hire that out). The books go quickly out of date, and they’re all geared to different kinds of people. Go to a good bookstore, look at the Web Design section, and look at every single book on a given subject. Pick the two that seem best geared to you and buy them. One will turn out to be a lot more useful than the other, but you won’t realize this until you’ve read 200 pages of each. Start with books on HTML. Then learn CSS. After that, a good book on PHP might be useful.
Randy sez: Then you are where I am now (except I don’t care for Perl and haven’t really got far into Ruby yet). Each of these tools has its place. If you know all these, go to it. You’ll soon have a great web site.
Question 7) How much do you want to spend on your site?
Answer a: I want a free site
Randy sez: You can build a free site. There are places that host a free site. There is a major disadvantage, though. If you get a free site, the domain will not be yours. And if you ever decide to move your free site, any links that go to your site will break. If you spend a few dollars per month to have a site on your own domain (for example, my domain here is www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com), then you can move your site to a new hosting service at any time, and all the links to your site will still work. So be careful! Are you sure you really want it free? One of your free options is to put up a free blog on Blogspot.com or WordPress.com. Lots of people do this. Some of these blogs are quite successful. But as we discussed a few weeks ago, your web site doesn’t get that traffic, and that might be a problem for you.
Answer b: Nothing up front, and less than $10 per month for maintenance
Randy sez: Hmmmm, this has about the same disadvantages as a free site. See the above comments.
Answer c: A few hundred bucks up front, and as little as possible for maintenance.
Randy sez: For this price, you’ll need to do most of the work yourself, or pay for a small site. A small site can be a GOOD site, of course. A blog, in fact, might be a good option, since it should be quite to cheap to pay somebody to create a blog for you. Any good webmaster should be able to create a blog on your own domain and teach you how to use it for a few hundred bucks.
Answer d: A couple of thousand dollars up front, and less than $100 per month after that
Randy sez: You can get a very nice web site for that kind of money. Of course, that might be overkill. You should look at your answers to Questions 1 through 5 to see if you need that much web site. (Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Only you know the answers. It all depends what your goals are.)
Answer e: Cost is no object; give me the best!
Randy sez: I don’t hire myself out to do web sites, but . . . if cost is REALLY no object, send me a million dollars via certified check and I will give you a very nice site. Very nice. Of course, once again I’d caution you to first make sure that you really need a Ferrari, if a Honda might do the job for you. Again, this comes down to the things you really need your site to be able to do, and you are the sole judge of that.
Katie Hart says
Perfect timing on this series! I got some projects with deadlines out of the way, bought a few domain names, and am teaching myself FrontPage (it’s been sitting unused far too long). My answer is “e” on question 6, with one difference. Since I plan to have several websites (my primary site, one for my book reviewing, etc.), I’m starting with the site that doesn’t need a lot of gadgets and widgets – learning the basics while developing that site – then moving onto more complicated sites.
Lynn Squire says
Thank you for answering my question, and for pointing out the facts about free websites. We have both right now and plan to consolidate onto the one (removing the free website). We ran into complications with Google and had a horrible experience. However switching over has proved to be more complicated than we thought.
Kristi Holl says
Even though I have already designed and put up my website, these Q & A’s are most helpful. They help me see things I could have/should have done differently. Most importantly, you give answers in plain English!
Sherri Cornelius says
Hi Randy. I’ve been learning a lot from your blog since I added it to my reader last week.
As pertains to #7b (Nothing up front, and less than $10 per month for maintenance) I’d like to point out that I paid about $10 for my domain name and $10 to edit the CSS on my free WordPress blog. That’s $20 for the whole year, and I’m free to make all the changes to their templates that I want. I pointed my domain name at my blog, so although it’s hosted under the WP domain, you can reach it by typing in sherricornelius.com.
You can’t have java-based things (such as a shopping cart, I believe) on a WP blog, but you can add pages like a “real” website. I’ve found it to be a good alternative for me, a fiction writer who’s blogging anyway.
I have a question that is not exactly related to the topic but I have needed to ask for a long time. Does it cost anything to get your work copyrighted? How do you go about it? I have some ideas for stories but I haven’t written them on my blog yet because I was afraid someone would steal my idea.
Barb Haley says
When I first wanted to set up a website, I was totally, I mean TOTALLY, computer illiterate in terms of code. I bought the books and actually learned enough to design a cool homepage. This took SO much time. I decided I really would rather be writing fiction, so in January I looked again at the programs available to help me. Hallelujah! I found Coffee Cup Software on line. A program called Visual Designer. It’s a click and drag program. SUPER easy. Support is incredible. I’ve never called, but they say you can. I’ve emailed small glitches and they’ve answered within hours. Now my website is up. One drawback is that I am able to paste code into this program, but not able to get to the code otherwise. So far, that hasn’t mattered to me, because I’ve been able to do everything I wanted to do. I’d definitely recommend the software to those who want a great looking site without knowing the code.
Karen D'Amato says
Hi Randy, long time no talk…
My original Mac laptop died a couple of months back. My Mac devoted husband put me in debt with a white MacBook that I now love almost as much as my cat.
While learning what all those icons were for I found IWeb pages that have a selection of styles to use for a simple site. They don’t have the flexibility other sw has, but for a first time exposure site, I’m hoping it will do fine. I haven’t selected a hosting site yet, but have bought all my domains and anything similar, as you suggested.
Now, Ran, you know your talking to someone that when it comes to computers I don’t know my keyboard from my cat food, but, if I host these IWeb pages on a site by GoDaddy, will I be able to change things later when I need to apply PayPal or links to Amazon?
I do love the Hondas and Sal’s 1996 is still going fine.
Enjoy the ride (sorry MLE, it just fit).
Robert Treskillard says
“Do you have any ideas on using one wordpress installation for several blogs? I would prefer to do all my customizing at tone time, and not for six or eight installations individually for time and energy constraints if nothing else.”
B2evolution blogging software (free software, fairly simple installation) allows you to setup multiple blogs with one installation. The software isn’t quite as fancy as WordPress, but it gets the job done very well, and the admin tools are fine.
I have one setup for myself and my daughter. We use different themes/skins, but if you wanted to, you could setup one the way you like, and then use it on all your blogs.
Bonnie Calhoun says
In addition to Joomla, I found Nvu which is another open source CMS…LOL…and I’m in love with it! It is super easy and had a myriad of scripts that can be used with it to create specialties, like drop down menus or horizontal mouseover navbars!