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.