Whether you need a forum through which to voice your thoughts, feelings and opinions, are setting up a platform from which to promote your new band or if your business requires a revamped online ‘presence’, at some point all of us will probably need our own websites. Jumping feet first into the world of web design can be undeniably daunting though, what with all the options available and all the jargon thrown at us (HTML, PHP, HTTP, etc. etc.). So we’re here to offer a jargon free, idiot proof guide that first time web designers can hopefully use to help them navigate through these confusing waters.
What do I want my site to be?
If you envision it to simply be a blog where you can vent your passions and frustrations into the great, passionate void of the internet, there are a raft of free to use blog hosting sites that include their own feature sets. For most of us though, the generic blog template doesn’t offer enough flexibility and is simply too boring. If you want your website to be more than a few lines of text and the occasional amusing jpeg, your options are either to go the DIY route or hire a professional web designer. Which you choose will depend on just how ‘professional’ you want your site to come across as.
If you choose to go the DIY route and build your own site from scratch, the first thing you’re going to need to do is decide on a content management system for your site. The ‘CMS’ forms the backbone of your site as it’s the platform you’ll be using to create and upload content. The key function of a content management system is to supply users with a platform from which they can create their sites skin, organise its pages and add information. Whilst there are numerous software programs that can act of potential content management systems, more and more CMS platforms are moving online into the world of ‘cloud-based’ information. This means you might not even need to purchase any additional software to get your website up and running. Perhaps the most popular online CMS platform right now is WordPress, though for an amateur, WordPress might prove a little bit too complicated as there are numerous Wordpress themes, plug-ins and widgets that need to be navigated through. The great thing about WordPress though is that themes can be swapped out and altered without changing the content of the site itself and the site is intuitive enough for intermediate internet users to navigate their way around without much help. Themes can either be selected from the preset WordPress roster or purchased from sites specialising in theme design such as i3dthemes.com. Complete beginners who are looking to create a simple website without any flashy features however, should really think about using a CMS that does all of the work for them such as ‘Moonfruit’ or ‘Wix.com’.
Build your own website
A site such as Wix or Moonfruit will take you through the process of creating, editing and uploading your website step-by-step with literally no need for users to learn any coding language or jargon. These sites operate using a protocol known as ‘HTML5’, which effectively means you can ‘drag and drop’ your content onto your site with little effort. The downside of using these systems is that they are often less stable than more complicated and expensive options but for first time users who don’t expect much internet traffic, they are an ideal solution.
If you want your website to have any sort of impact, you’re going to want a memorable web address, but unfortunately, they don’t come free. The more unique your name, the less likely it will already have been snapped up by a company who earn their profits through selling off domain names. Using a site such as ‘checkdomain.com’ you’ll be able to discover exactly who owns the rights to your desired domain name and how you can go about contacting them. Generally, ‘.com’ names are far more valuable than ‘.co.uk’ or ‘.org’ names so if you’re on a budget, you might want to consider using a less expensive domain. Most website hosts will charge an annual rate for hosting you site with more storage space and bandwidth offered for more ‘premium’ packages. Which package you choose will depend on how large and intricate you wish your site to be.
Hiring a professional
Whilst Wix, Moonfruit and their ilk offer a raft of features on a freemium basis, there is really no comparison with a bespoke website built from the ground up. Professional website builders will use complicated software programs, codes and algorithms that are (to be frank) completely beyond the comprehension of most casual users and these tools can be used to create a completely customised site built to your exact specifications. How much you are willing to spend depends very much on how you want your site to look and function. Including more specific items such as ‘flash’ and full motion video and bespoke layouts will obviously require a little more initial outlay.
A freelance copywriter from the UK, Ben Grant created his first website last year using ‘Wix’ and now uses WordPress as his CMS with a custom theme.