Websites

Websites

The start of a most interesting (and occasionally frustrating journey) - It seems amazing to me that, not so very long ago, I had no idea how the internet actually worked (what was actually underneath the veneer of all those shiny websites?) 

Starting with a couple of basic GoogleSites sites I was able to create a few static pages as a website for my Business and some info pages for a Hobby site (that eventually grew to  this site). The sites were not really very good, but in producing it I was forced to think through exactly what my site (business or hobby) was about and how to explain that to people

Top Tip #1 Even building really basis websites is a very useful process. It forces you to be clear what you are trying to say. It forces you to think about how it will look, how it will feel,  how it will be laid out and how it will work. The experiential learning is immense, even if you do go and find a web developer to do the job for you later - at the very least you will understand their questions and have better answers

Anyhow, these basic sites worked ok (and I was producing plenty of content I wanted to get "out there") but things were clearly limited in terms of professional presentation so my next step was to get to grips with some "proper" website development tools - Gizmo offered lots of useful thoughts here

Top Tip #2 To me a website is a bit like a tripod or three legged stool, there are three(ish) important parts. Content (the stuff on the pages people want). Presentation (colours, fonts, layouts, logos etc). Technology (how it all pulls together). I for one find it much easier to work on one at a time and move between them. If you try and do it all at once it will be mind blowing (and possibly end up in a big mess). If you insist on your stool having four legs then Hosting is also a critical component

Joomla! was my chosen technology, primarily as I had a friend who was willing to help me get started. I had already looked at HTML based approaches and knew CMS was the way I needed to go (my sites were going to have lots of content and dynamic bits - I hoped). Wordpress.Com and Wordpress.Org instantly confused me by being two things and then there seemed to be a few issues and limitations with the technology. Drupal had all I needed and more but was probably overkill unless I stared to have lots of specific User Access Control needs. But my mate Rich sealed the deal as without some help to get going I may have never taken the plunge 

Top Tip #3 If you can find a friend to help you get started then that is really helpful. If not then pick a technology with a really good forum. The Joomla forum has saved my skin and my sanity many times, it is full of wonderfully helpful people 

The apparently simple process of finding some Hosting proved more challenging than I expected. Being a novice in such matters I got myself a cheap (and seemingly amazingly powerful) package from GoDaddy. After 6 weeks of failing to learn Joomla or get it to work properly on GoDaddy servers they gave me my money back and I moved to some folks who actually knew how to set up a server to make Joomla work well. It was a miserable few weeks, I was trying to learn a whole new way of working and when stuff didnt work I assumed the error was mine - a lot of the time it maybe wasnt. As soon as I moved to 5QuidHost my development work just seemed to work - either I got real good real quick or lots of issues had been something else all along 

Top Tip #4 Pick a host who knows your chosen technology and dont be too tempted by the cheapest either, having a trouble free developent experience is worth more than a pound or two a month). Also if it doesnt work out, tell the host the problems you have had and you will almost certainly get a refund - at the very least push for money back on unused hosting (no guarantees mind!). One thing I have been impressed (and relieved) by is the customer service of the people I have dealt with. There may still be a few scallywags selling hosting but the ones who have been around a few years all seems to actually have some skill

Sooner or later the prickly problem of Domain Names crops up. You need a domain for your website (so getting the name right can be a challenge) and then you need to pick a Registrar to look after the domain for you. I was already happy to follow my mentors lead and use 123-Reg here in the UK

Top Tip #5 Keep your Registrar and Hosting seperate if you can. It really isnt a good idea having your host look after your domains, if they run into trouble all your eggs are in one basket. If you want to move Host in the future you may find lots of complications separating things out. As a rule Registrars are good at what they do and Hosts are good at what they do

So I had my Domain names and now had to learn all about Name Servers and DNS. Mail servers and MX. I remember it feeling really complicated at the time but once you work it all out things are pretty logical. One bonus I found with using 123-Reg was that I could set up email forwarding from my domain for free - so This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. would send anything to my own Gmail (or whatever free email service you wanted) account. For business and personal use this was great, instant bespoke email address with huge storage and access from anywhere

Top Tip #6 When picking your Registrar see if they do free mail forwarding. They will almost certainly offer mail hosting (which is different to Web Hosting) but at a cost. You Host will also probably offer email on your domain but again there may be a cost, at the very least it will use up Host server space and may be awkward to access from any PC - try and think about what you really want/need (now and in the future)

So, a quick checklist.

You have your chosen Domain name registered with a Registrar (  )

You have your website hosting sorted with a Host (  )

You have your development technology chosen (  )

and access to helpful people on your learning journey (  )

You know what sort of website you want to build (  )

what sort of content it needs (  )

and who will come to the site, and why (  )

Now you need to put everything together and start building what you want/need. This is where things will almost certainly become iterative. You will probably work on one(ish) leg of your stool at a time (remember we have Content, Design, Technology) but since they overlap you wont ever do one in isolation. Lets say you start by learning how your chosen tech works (that's what I did) it needs some content and ideas on design to do this - by having built a basic GoogleSites site I was able to just take that stuff and build it with Joomla

 

Still to come . . .

Building great content - words

Generating great user experience and design (inc where to get imagery, sorting colours etc)

Getting your website found and getting traffic

SEO

Where next ? dynamic content, user interaction etc

 

Some resources worth a look:

www.w3schools.com