BUILDING A WEBSITE – What’s Involved?
There are three main skillsets involved in building websites. However, each skillset has a number of subdisciplines that must be mastered if you want to build an effective and appealing website. These are the three main skillsets involved:
- Content Creation.
- Website Design and Infrastructure Building
- Support Technology Fluency
In addition to those three basic SITE CREATION skillsets, one more skillset is involved – site maintenance. This is a critical element for all websites that is all too often overlooked. We have a complete description of site maintenance services that need to be performed regularly, here.
Below, I will go into detail on the subdisciplines of each skillset. Bear in mind as you read through these that if you want to build your own website, you should feel at least a moderate degree of comfort working within each skillset. I have spent about 35 years as of this writing developing my capabilities in each of these skillsets, so if you would rather hire me to build your website, I would smile and say, “please do.”
CREATING CONTENT is the one skillset that most website and/or business owners might want to take on themselves.
It helps to remember that all websites are comprised of four main elements: The Platform (which for most of our clients is WordPress), which provides the foundation upon which the rest of the website is built; The Appearance Templates (which for WordPress websites is the THEME), The Additional Functionality (which for WordPress websites are the PLUGINS), and the CONTENT, which is what this section is about. All these elements are critical for creating websites that are effective and appealing.
While most people who have completed a decent education think of themselves as being good writers, unfortunately such is not the case. There is much more to creating good content than merely typing out whatever thoughts come into your head. Here are some of the subdisciplines you should work on mastering if you want to create good content:
- Writing copy. This is something everyone THINKS they can do but most people truly cannot. It has to do not just with spelling, grammar, usage, syntax, punctuation, and capitalization, but it also needs knowledge, training, and experience with effective copywriting, following such procedures as specifying an objective, following the Attention>Interest>Decision>Action protocol, and being able to turn a 2000 word article into a 400 word article without losing anything.
- Proofreading. This is an entirely separate but essential discipline needed for making all web content appear professional. It is also essential for writing letters, papers, emails, and even text messages. (How many times have you sent a text message or email that said something different than what you meant to say?)
- Photography. You know this best of all, what comprises a good image and good post-processing, how to crop, how to adjust lighting (did you see the Chicken BBQ video lighting? The guy was a silhouette!). This is for when you have to go take your own pictures.
- Photographic Editing. This is mostly for when you have to deal with pictures taken by others. It not only includes post-processing for color balance, brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, etc., but also resizing images to the proper sizes for display on various screens, not making them so large they take 5 seconds or more simply to download to a user’s computer.
- Videography. If you want to include videos on your site – and you should – be certain they are done well. A video I saw just yesterday is a prime example of how NOT to post a video. The it was shot in the portrait (upright) mode and the speaker appeared as a silhouette. The sound was barely understandable. I have always felt and have recently had it confirmed by several high-level professionals – no video should EVER be shot in the portrait mode. Videography includes… Lighting. Sound. Scripting. Editing. We can roll our eyes at some of the things people put up online, but we can also be sure we don’t make those same mistakes ourselves.
- Graphic Design. This combines photo editing and any graphics overlays (like text) we want to put into the graphics we want to use.
- Online Harvesting. There are thousands of images and videos online that we are free to use. Of course, it takes a lot of time to (a) find the sources that have images that we are permitted to use (because of copyright), and then (b) filter through the thousands of offerings to find just the right image or video that suits the place where we want to use it.
And “people think” that creating content for a website is easy.
But your only alternatives, as I see it are (a) do it yourself; (b) hire your nephew or sister-in-law to do it for a bargain and hope their skills are better than yours; or (c) hire a professional to do it.
It IS NOT acceptable to simply put filler text on your website and just leave it there, as I have seen so many people do.
Website DESIGN is figuring out how the overall website will look when it’s done – in advance. It means which pages you are going to have on the website, what will be the general content of each page, and how each page or segment on the website relates to the overall purpose of the site.
Beyond this, Website design also includes figuring out how site visitors will find their way around the site when they get there. This is called site navigation.
For me, as well as for most designers I know, this starts on paper. Yes, real paper, with writing done by a real pen. I know, I know. In these days of electronic doodle pads and concepts-in-the-cloud, it seems a throwback to the 90’s to work with real paper. But having done this for decades, and having explored literally hundreds of alternative ways to do this, I have found pen and paper give me the quickest results. It allows me to sit down with my clients and quickly sketch my concepts, get their feedback and inputs, and amend the sketch as needed. Others may and probably do prefer to do this differently, but I always start on paper.
However, before even starting this process, it is most important to specify in writing the purpose of the site you’re building. This is basically a “mission statement” for the website. Building effective mission statements is an entirely separate subdiscipline, about which I can and have spent more than an hour teaching classes of dozens of students how to build them properly.
In a nutshell, you need to be able to state what you want your site to do, in 25 words or less, using language an intelligent 10-year-old can understand.
If all you want your site to do is shout, “Look at me!” that’s fine – just recognize it. If you want to provide information about your business or organization, excellent. But specify WHO this information is for, and what you expect they will be looking for when they come to your site. If you want to actually sell something from your website, then specify that.
As you can tell, there is a lot of groundwork to cover before we ever set pen to paper to sketch out what your site should look like, but if you don’t cover that groundwork first, it’s like setting out on a journey without knowing where you’re going.
Once you have the groundwork covered, you can then lay out your content pages, news (blog) pages, and navigation structure so as to make sure your site does exactly what you want it to do.
More involved than you thought, eh?
Fluency in this area is foundational – and a prerequisite – to all the other skillsets above. Many vendors hawking “WE WILL BUILD YOUR WEBSITE” do two things you don’t want – they ignore the fact that you still need to create your own content … perhaps they hope you’ll pay them money then your content will somehow magically appear; and they lock you in to their own pre-selected designs and appearance presets. They will of course tell you that you have full control, but I have not found that to be the case. One thing they do accomplish, however, is to insulate you from having to develop fluency in the support technology that makes your website actually run.
But I do that as well, when you hire me to build a site for you.
The website support technology that you should learn – if you want to totally manage your own website instead of hiring someone like me to do it for you – includes domain name registration and site hosting.
DOMAIN NAME REGISTRATION is getting you to own your website’s address, also called URL or “uniform resource locator.”
Did you ever wonder how it is that you can type “DMillerWeb.com” into a browser, and it goes directly to this site? When you register your domain name, you can then tell your registrar “okay, whenever anyone types in my website address, direct them to THIS server” and you give them an IP (internet protocol) address, which is usually 4 numbers separated by periods. Like this: 220.127.116.11 (that’s not a real IP address – I just made it up).
Each device on the entire internet has its own unique IP address, and when you type in a URL, the servers who first catch what you typed plug that URL into a NAT, or Network Address Table, where they can use the URL to find the IP address of your server, and pow! They send your request to that server.
SIDE NOTE: The current 4-number IP addresses have almost become saturated, so the people in charge of these IP addresses have come up with a NEW protocol, called IPv6, which has six numbers separated by periods instead of four. This many numbers should last us all for our lifetimes. Maybe.
That’s all just background. What’s essential to know is that to “buy” (actually, rent) a specific URL, such as www.DMillerWeb.com, you need to go through a domain name registrar. There used to be just one, then there were several dozen, and today there are several hundred offering domain name registration services. Many (most) of them are overpriced and continually pound you with ads to buy things you neither want nor need. I have found what I think is the best registrar to date, and if you want to know who I use, please contact me.
If, like me, you despise spam, you will need to opt for PRIVATE registration, which does not expose your contact information to the world at large. Otherwise, anyone who can use a WHOIS website can find you.
WEBSITE HOSTING – you have heard the term “web server” – well, your website host is the set of computers, connected to the internet, where all your website programming lives. These server computers receive requests from the internet (sent by other servers using the NAT as described above), and “serve” up the web pages requested.
If you want to have a web site, you will need servers to host your site. Some companies and even a few people run their own servers, but most people who have websites hire a web hosting company to do this for them. The pricing plans run from quite reasonable – $4 a month or less – up to quite expensive. Which pricing plan you decide to go with depends entirely on (a) how big your website is to be – meaning how much disk space it will occupy; (b) how much traffic you expect your website to get – thousands of visits per hour will require a more expensive host; and (c) how essential it is to you or your business for your website to be up and available all the time.
There are at least dozens, probably hundreds of web hosting companies to pick from; some of them are good, some are only good at advertising and not so good on service. You may be tempted to check the internet for web hosting company reviews, and this is a good idea – but be forewarned, many of these companies that are really good at advertising also put up fake review sites and blog posts, listing their own company at the very top. You will need to do extensive research to be able to get a feel for which companies these are, and therefore be able to determine which “review sites” are independent and which are merely shills for the companies that pay them.
I have been dealing with web hosting companies for more than 30 years, and can help you decide, if you determine you want to manage your own web hosting.
YES – you CAN build your own website, and manage all aspects of it.
All you have to do is develop the four main skillsets – and all their subdisciplines – needed to do so: Support Technology Fluency, Website Design and Infrastructure, Creating Content, and Website Maintenance.
If by some chance you decide any or all of this is too much for you, that’s where I come in. I’m here to help. If you want to do some of it but not all, for example Creating Content and Maintaining your own site, I’ll be happy to teach you what you need to know. If you want me to do it all for you, then I’m happy to do that as well.
In any case, I wish you all the best with whatever you decide to do with your website.