Rule of thumb: a general guide to getting a good website

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You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Or break the bank.

There, I’ve said it. There was a time, not too long ago, when you needed tons of expertise to have a decent website up and running. Now having expensive, trained web developers might be nothing for an established company, but what if you want a good-looking website without having to pay a couple of salaries every month?

 

Choose a domain and web-hosting.

The first step is to reserve your corner of the web. Many companies will sell you a domain name plus hosting space for a very low price. The hosting space is so you don’t have to foot  horrible internet and electricity bills to keep your own web server running; instead, you buy the services of other people’s servers.  

Godaddy, Bluehost and Name.com are three solid companies you should visit right now for this. Their servers have uptime guarantees and they have excellent guides, FAQs and customer support. Godaddy, at the time of writing, has a plan that gives you one website and one hundred gigabytes of storage for just $3.99 (it’s usually $6.99) a month. One hundred gigabytes of web space? That’s enough to keep a sizeable magazine running for a good couple of years. Even more.

 

Get a CMS. Get WordPress.

A CMS is a Content Management System, and that’s a summary of your site’s back end. This is what you’re building your site on. There are hundreds of Content Management Systems available, but nothing beats WordPress for combined power, ease of use and price.

Web developers have built over 50 million websites on WordPress. Head over to wordpress.org and download the latest version – free. http://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress contains a good set of comprehensive guides that’ll give you the A to B on installing WordPress on your newly purchased hosting space.

 

Pick a card. Any card.

Now the fun begins!

The great part about WordPress is that everything, from the website’s visuals to the core functionality, can be expanded. For visuals, you don’t need to rely on expensive designers anymore. Rather, save up on cash and time. WordPress being one of the most popular platforms on the planet, there are literally thousands of themes out there, including some great themes by very talented designers. 

Pick a theme. This is harder than it looks. There’s so much choice you’ll find yourself drowning in it. Visit themeforest.net and start searching for “Wordpress magazine theme”.  Browse until you find one that tugs the heartstrings. Look for functionality that you want. Legatus, Rush, Codilight and MetroMag, for example, are great magazine themes, and that’s barely scratching the tip of the iceberg.

 

Functionality? What functionality? 

At this point, you explore the theme demo and think about what needs changing where. Think about whether you want to get your hands dirty in doing them. Most things are trivial – things like setting up menus – but some things are not, and setting up a website, whether or not you have the skills for it, is going to take time. Think about whether you want to spend your time doing this, or whether you’re comfortable with paying someone to step in and do it in one go.

Either way, first sit down and draw up two lists. In the first list, describe all the functionality changes that should happen. Use the selected theme as your starting ground. Decide what features need to change and why. In the next list, decide what visual changes should be made. Make liberal use of diagrams and art – visuals are visuals. Try to keep it so that anyone can understand and navigate your site with a minimum of clicks and menus. 

Take these lists to a web developer. Show it to friends. Remember, just because you want it this way, doesn’t mean it’s good. It may be terrible. But maintain a rough idea of “this is how I want it to look”. You’re basing it off a theme, so you can’t stray too far off the beaten path.

 

Pay the Piper. Skin the Llama. 

THIS is where you get your wallet out. Either you do the site yourself, or bring in a web developer. Either way, those lists that you made are critical. Unless you have at least a decent understanding of websites, HTML and CSS, hire someone. Pay them a one-time fee to ninja in and set everything up just the way you want. Then they hand over the keys to the mansion and waltz off. 

Or, like we did with ReadMe, you can rebuild the theme, carefully pruning out anything you don’t need, then coding in things that you do. If you’re doing it yourself, look for plugins to fulfil your functionality requirements and make sure they all work together. It’s a time-consuming process, however, so unless you really know what you’re doing, stay clear. That way lies madness. Hire someone.

 

Make sure to evaluate the website at every step of the process. Whether you build it or someone else does, you should always have a few unattached users who can give you honest opinions about the site. Let them use it and see how they react to changes, how easy they find the site to use and so on. Again, don’t rely on one person’s opinion. Use a baseline opinion from several people. Always double-check major changes (oh, I want a slideshow), because they will cost you and your developer time and therefore money.  

Remember the cardinal rule – humility. Your design or your choices may not be always right – be willing to tweak it, because ultimately, your audience has to find your website appealing. There are many great website: there are also many terrible websites out there, built simply because one person thought they looked good. Don’t fall in that trap – save yourself time, money and a lot of hassle and get it right the first time.

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