Many of us today find it hard to think of life before computers and the internet. Yet, there is still a lot of confusion about the infrastructure of a website and what it takes to design, create and maintain one. This article outlines the basic steps to help you learn how to make a website.
The best place to start the process is with a name for your site; a domain name. The most popular domains are dot-com names (.com). Also high on popularity are dot-net (.net), dot-org (.org), plus many others including dot-info (.info), dot-biz (.biz) and dot-us (.us).
Unless you are looking for a very unique name, most combinations of one or two common English words with the famed dot-com tag at the end are already claimed. This is where creativity may be required to find ways to make your domain name unique. To start searching for your domain name you’ll need to go to a domain registrar such as Network Solutions. Registering a domain name works essentially like a lease, granting you permission to use the name as long as you maintain the nominal annual fees to keep it registered.
A good domain name should be short, but still reflect your website; you want your visitors to remember their way back. Avoid using initials (unless they are as well known as CBS or NBC). Avoid hyphenation if possible or overly long names. A good domain name is memorable and easy on the tongue. The best test is to find several good candidates and test them by speaking the names out loud. How easy are they to communicate, and to spell? How well do they represent the mission of your site?
In some cases, it may be advantageous to purchase a domain name that someone else has the rights to. The fees for this type of transfer of ownership can command some hefty fees though. Bidding usually starts around $500, but the right name can fetch a million dollars or more.
Organization and Research Once the domain name is secured, the next step is to create an outline.
- Start by creating a list of the ideas to be covered
- Group the ideas into major categories that will become web pages
- Look at similar or competitive sites for more ideas
- Think about how you want your site to look
- Think of photos or illustrations that will best complement your message
- Find and document examples of web sites that you like the best
- Sort these ideas into a finished outline
Here are some web design samples that may help you as you consider your options. All of this organization and research may sound a lot like what you learned in English class; You were paying attention weren’t you?
Keywords are a group of words that best describe the topic of your site. They are the group of words your customers would use to find you in a web search. For example, if you sell eyeglasses, and you only use the words “eyeglasses” to describe your products but your potential customer searches for “prescription lenses” or “designer frames” then your website will probably not be found.
Finding the best and most popular keywords and using them effectively is a vital part of driving more traffic to your site. For best results you should use a keyword research tools like Wordtracker. Wordtracker can compile a list of terms people search for, indicate how often they are searched for, and even help you discover keywords you may not have considered. Developing a database of customer searched keywords will help to focus the efforts of the next step most successfully; the script.
Writing The Script
Writing a script for the web is not like writing a book. Most people will read at least a chapter of a book before giving up. Web pages however, are not treated the same. After all there are just too many choices! We live in a “sound bite” world and surfing the net is no different. When a visitor comes to your web page you have between five and ten seconds to impress them that they are in the right place before they reach for the back key on their browser to search out the next candidate. Your web pages need a clear and easily understood message with interesting graphics, good pictures and a great script.
A great script on the web is short, to the point and broken up into easy to digest pieces. It is filled with keywords pertinent to your topic, but not to the detriment of your message. Effective use of headlines, sub-headers, bold or italicized phrases, links, bullet points and other lists all can work together to make your message stand out and tell the story. The headline can also be a creative tool to capture the desired attention.
Whew, don’t despair! The best way to start the process of script writing is to go back to the outline. Write the first draft and then start refining the results. Don’t forget about other things already written like brochures, flyers, and other advertising. This may provide a better base to build upon, while generating fresh ideas in the process.
Like the sculptor who chips away stone to create a beautiful statue one hammer stroke at a time. Great scripts are written very much the same way. Read through, change and improve again and again. When you think you are done read your script out loud. Keep working until the desired result is there.
All About Links
There are two basic types of links on a website; forward links and backward links. Simply put, forward links connect to other pages and sites. In order to be useful the links should be relevant to your topic. Create links to professional organizations you belong to, equipment or software related to your topic, or articles of interest to your readers. Use your imagination.
Backward links are links from other sites to you. Again, the key is to have relevant information about your topic on the page with a link to your site. Possible sources are web directories, blog links, forum posts or social networks such as digg.com and technorati.com.
Why are links so valuable? They make your web site more important to search engines like Google and Yahoo. The more backward links you have from pertinent sources, and forward links to relevant information, the better your site will be ranked; and that will help you to get found.
Photography One picture is worth a thousand words; and a great picture will help communicate your message quickly. Pictures can:
- Grab the attention of visitors
- Convey the importance of your company or project
- Illustrate an important point
- Create warmth and strong feelings
- Illustrate your product or service
Whether you have digital photos or scans of slides and film, having a number of good and appropriate pictures on your site can make a huge difference.
Graphics and Design
This is the stage where the basic shape of the site page is formed. There are many decisions to be made such as:
- What does the banner header and footer look like?
- What shapes and lines will provide the page form?
- What color palette should be used?
- What monitor resolution should the page be designed for?
- How are other resolutions going to be accommodated?
- Where should the primary page links be?
- Will there be secondary links and/or drop down menus?
- How will the logo be incorporated?
Needless to say, this is a very important step in the process, as the look of the entire site will depend upon the decisions made here. Unless you are an experienced web designer, your company or organization will undoubtedly benefit from using a professional web design company for this phase. Graphics and design is where art meets form.
Creating Template Pages
Once the Graphics and Design step has been completed and approved by the client, a template page is usually created. Often there are different templates used for the home page, and for other pages; but the idea here is to create a working model that can be used for page layout. One key advantage of using template pages is changes universal to the site, such as the information in the header or footer, can be changed once on a single form, rather than changing many individual pages.
Having a completed script is certainly a tremendous head start for web page layout; but creating a well laid out web page involves more than cut-and-paste. There are many nuances that must be worked out in the process of converting from a word processor to a HTML page. Emphasizing headlines, creating bullet points, establishing boundaries around photos and designing the flow of a page is all part of the process.
Cascading Style Sheets
Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS for short are valuable tools for the competent web designer. They provide the instruction set that defines the color, size, position and other parameters of each class of text, graphics and other elements on a website. The CSS can also create challenges for the designer, as different browser editions will display a page differently than the others. This means that provisions and workarounds are frequently required in order to maintain a consistent look and feel across various platforms.
Form Pages and Programming Form pages are used to collect information or to do other jobs on a web page. Examples include:
- Email forms that protect the recipient from SPAM
- Information forms for collecting data such as name, address, phone, etc.
- Calculation forms to add, multiply or perform more complex equations
- Upload forms allowing users to send attachment
More complex forms are possible such as applications, and ecommerce Upon submitting a form multiple actions can be taken such as sending an email to the website administrator, in addition to sending an automated response to the sender.
One of the benefits of having a dedicated domain is the ability to keep the same email address, regardless of who your internet service provider (ISP) is. If you’re ever had to switch from one ISP to another you know what I mean. The ability to set up nearly limitless email addresses @yourdomain.com can provide the capacity for your organization to grow without fear of running out of names.
E-Commerce Web Site
If you want to sell your wares on the internet you may be ready for an ecommerce solution. This will allow you to reach an audience 24/7 that may otherwise be inaccessible to your goods and services. Once your shopping cart solution is in place; listing photos, descriptions and prices of your products are only the start. A successful ecommerce site is tuned to achieve the best conversion rate, making sure that each step along the buying process is comfortable and assuring to your shoppers.
A good web site should be optimized for:
• Quick downloads of pictures, graphics, and other elements
• Good navigation that is easy to understand
• Logical organization and grouping of pages
• Good page names making information easy to find
• Good titles and subtitles to allow quick information scanning
Web Server or Web Host
The Web Server is the real computer where your web site is stored. It could be in your office. It could be provided by your web developer, a web host service in your town, or hundreds of miles away. Since it is connected to computer users from around the world, it’s really not so important. What is important is:
- Is it fast? Will it allow multiple users access at the same time?
- Is it well connected? Can the photos and videos be efficiently downloaded?
- Is it secure and safe from hackers and intruders?
- Is it backed up? What if the power goes off?
Website Updates and Maintenance
A good web site is one that changes on a regular basis. Depending on the design, these updates can be made by the average user or performed by your web developer. Your site should reflect:
- New products being added
- New announcement being made
- A shift in policy or direction
- New employees added
Big projects being completed Your web site is your communication tool with the world. In order to maintain the interest of viewers it needs to stay fresh with new information all of the time. This is also key to creating better content, and better content is key to being highly ranked by search engines. The more highly ranked your site is the more likely you are to be found by your customers.
Website Advertising and Promotion
The best website in the world will not be found without doing something to get the word out. Using good keywords, getting links to your site, and making regular changes to your content are good choices to promote and raise the visibility of your site, but those methods take time. A much quicker method is through the use of pay-per-click campaigns.
Pay-per-click advertising is provided by the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and others. It is a fast track method to buy visibility on the first page for searches pertinent to your content or chosen keywords. The basic steps to create a pay-per-click campaign are:
- Select keywords that your customers might use to search for your services
- Set a geographic area for your ads to appear
- Write ad copy to attract customers to click on your ads
- Set a maximum amount that you will pay per click
- Set a daily maximum
- You pay only for clicks to your web site
Your ad will appear in the area marked sponsored listings. It will be higher or lower than the other sponsored listings based on the maximum bid that you offer in relation to the others, among other factors. The cost to have good visibility on a page will depend largely upon the amount of competition for the keywords being bid on.
Don’t overlook using some of the simplest forms of advertising to help get the word out such as adding your website address to your business cards, flyers, newspaper ads, to the bottom of every email you send out, etc. If you already have brochures printed, get some printed labels to apply with the new information. If you use methods like radio, television or billboards be certain that your website is present in those ads too. This form of advertising is generally called cross-promotion. The web is a 24/7 sales agent that can only work if it can be found.
Web Design Services
Designing a web site design for your company or organization is an important task. This guide seeks to provide a simple overview to help you to understand and prepare for the steps involved. Knowing what to expect as you create your website, whether through the services of a professional web designer or creating it on your own will help you achieve the best results possible.
About the Author
Alan Kirby is President and founder of All Pro Media, Inc. All Pro Media provides web site design, video production and advertising services to numerous companies and organizations including corporations, hospitals and medical practices, small businesses, churches and other institutions. Located in Burlington, NC; All Pro Media’s customer base is primarily in central North Carolina from Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and RTP to Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem.