Building Your Website Right

Building Your Web Site and
Doing It Right

By Deanna Lilly

Today, the general public expects a business to have an online presence. As an author or writer, you are a business.  Business owners who realize this will definitely want their own web sites, and some of them will take the do-it-yourself route. Small business owners in particular can feel pressure to save money by doing their own work. Its definitely doable if you’re persistent and motivated. Sometimes, though, creating a web site begins to feel like do-it-yourself dentistry. A crash course in HTML and web authoring programs can start to feel like you’re drilling your own tooth.

In developing a website, there’s no anesthetic (except maybe chocolate) when the frustrations accumulate. Big questions can loom large: Whew! Okay. I’ve got it up and running; now, how do I get my site to pop up in those top spots on the big search engines? Oh, no! Do I really have to pay for that? Which host is the best for my site? Need to do more research. More time. Time is money. Speaking of money, do I really save any by registering my domain name for five dollars a year? How do I know if I did this thing right?

Good questions. After all, your hard-won professional image is at stake. If you decide that building your own website is for you, here are some tips. Following them will help you give your site a professional feel that creates a positive image of your business in the minds of your visitors. And if you decide to hire someone, these tips will help you to know what questions to ask.

  1. Keep it simple for your visitor. Flash is fun to do, but your visitors are not interested in your good time.  A little is ok, but remember, people want to get in, see what they want to see, and get out If you design your site around what your visitor wants, the) will come back. if you don’t, they won’t.

  2. Provide reliable, verified content. Always have something to say, and change the content often to keep visitors coming back. A series of outlines with vague information wastes visitors’ time. You’ve been to sites like that. How many of them did you bookmark?

  3. Be sure your navigation structure allows easy movement through your site. Have you ever tried to contact someone from their website and given up because you couldn’t figure out how to do it? It seems like some people don’t wont you to know how to reach them. Big mistake! Always give the public a way to contact you easily. Even people who don’t buy may give you feedback about the site. If a link doesn’t work, or a picture doesn’t show, you want to know that.

  4. Make sure you have correct navigation for all viewers. Text navigation is an important convenience. Too many rollovers and drop-down menus can frustrate visitors.  Keep it simple is still the best answer.

  5. Don’t get Fancy.  Remember that not every browser out there read those JavaScript rollovers, or the viewer has turned it off. Limiting yourself in this way is like inviting 100 people to a party, then telling everyone who’s wearing a blue shirt to go home.

  6. Check your site in several different browsers, not just the one you use all the time; not everyone is using the same one.  And different browsers render the page differently.  Test in Netscape, Firefox, Safari and MS Internet Explorer.   And test older versions.  One client of mine had a site built and it look beautiful in IE8, but when I opened IE6 the entire site became a series of blue squares because the developer used transparent .png images which were not read by the older browser (which is still used by many government agencies because of incompatibility issues for some of their older programs.)

  7. Always look at your site from another location to test links, graphics and page appearance and to make sure everything loads correctly. When you visit your web site from the computer on which it was built, you will always see it correctly. Do not be fooled.

  8. Look into e-commerce for sales online (a shopping cart set-up), and be meticulous about security. If online selling seems daunting, not to worry. Remember that simply taking email inquiries for your products can boost sales.

  9. Let your site reflect your unique business personality. You’ve been to sites that were built from cookie-cutter templates and generic software. You can tell. Make your site your own — without getting carried away. 

  10. Be Careful Who You Use.  There are many inexpensive services out there that offer you a template to build your website.  It’s generally pretty easy for you to manage adding text and uploading images.   What they don’t offer is the ability to optimize images (just shrinking them doesn’t make the image smaller it’s still the same huge size it was – just visually smaller).   Most don’t offer the ability to create good search engine optimization (SEO) so you can be found.  And, don’t submit your site to search engines.  And, if you can’t get someone 24/7/365 – on the phone – for FREE – run away as quickly as possible from that service.  If something goes wrong you need help right away not by email with a response in 5 days.

Doing your own web site, and doing it right can be fun and rewarding. However, it involves a time investment, a steep learning curve, and lots of potential frustrations. Once it’s up and running, you’ll want your site to stay current, and handling that also takes time. For most people, it’s impractical.

However, if you are thinking of doing your own website, that’s great, just do it right – and for the right reasons. If reading up on navigation structure, design principles, repurposing text for the web, and learning how to resize and save graphics for fast loading just makes you tingle with excitement, by all means, go for it. If you’re already too busy to take care of yourself well, or technical things make you yawn or hyperventilate, give yourself a break and leave it to the experts.