Creating a website can be easy. Or it can take you into the tunnels of hell lined with velcro. A few things to keep in mind before you even start…

the basics of setting up a website

Register Your Website Name

Do a domain name search with a few names in mind. In Canada make sure you use a search tool that includes “.ca” at the end. The name you want might be taken, so think of a few alternatives, they will also suggest a few that are available.Once you have found your domain name, you register it–the website you found the domain on will do that for you. You need to give your contact information, as the owning of a website domain is a legal entity and somewhat regulated.

Find a Web Host

A website host is company with massive banks of computers that act as the storage and interaction area for your website. You pay them to manage the security and all the headaches of keeping things up to date in the background, and they provide you with your own spot which everyone in the world can then access.

Plan Your Website

This takes the most time.

  • What is the purpose of your website?
  • How will the information be organized?
  • What colours and layout are needed?
  • Do you need to change the information on your website regularly?
  • Do you want others to be able to change the information?
  • Will there be payments processed through your website?
  • Do you need a shopping cart?
  • Do you need a calendar? A newsletter? A photo gallery?
  • What social media will you connect with? [/toggle]

Create a mock site

An image on the screen of what your website will look like is valuable to use as a template before you diving in to the actual building of your website. Make the changes in a simple image editor so that you don’t need to make more complex changes in the coding of the website later.

Test your navigation using cards laid out to mirror your website pages. Have other people test it. Watch how they make their choices.
build the website
Once everything is clear, organized and written, it’s time to put it together. It’s best to do this on your computer using downloadable software, and then transfer the site to the live host when you’re done,  but you can also do it on a live site.

planning a website
Are users able to find what they want on your site?

You have some pages in mind for your website, but how do people find the information they want? If well planned, your site will be a pleasure rather than a frustration to roam. You only have ten seconds of a user’s time to get to the goods, and then they’ve gone to the next search entry. Planning the flow of information is called the architecture of a website, and is one of the golden rules of good web design. It keeps people happy, which keeps search engines coming to your site. More about this later.

Once the architecture is worked out–this can take a long time–you need a way for users to hop from one page to another. This is called navigation, for which you create menus to display the choice of available pages. Menus can be a simple strip, or a complex series of lists that drop down when you hover over them. Your architecture will determine how your menus will act.

Does the layout help users or distract them?

Your logical menus,  snazzy images and brilliant writing need to be arranged so they don’t look like a dog’s breakfast, leaving users wondering what on earth they’re looking at and why they are there. Good design goes with good architecture, it should be simple and to-the-point, using images that help make that point without flashy distractions that web designers can get carried away with because they’re cool.

content management
  Which set-up is best for you and your users?

Most websites now use a content management system, or CMS, because they make it easy to update stuff from time to time without contacting a developer, or to allow other to contribute to the site. A CMS acts much like a computer program, so you just get a few basic pointers on how to work it, and then you edit and add pictures much like any program on your computer.
Joomla and WordPress are a couple of popular content management systems. Joomla is robust in the amount of information it can seamlessly store, organize and retrieve. It’s a workhorse with a bit of a learning curve for users, but solid and reliable. WordPress is actually a system for blogging, but it’s easy to configure it to act like a website. It’s good for small to medium projects and is easy to learn for most users.

coding with HTML, CSS, XML
Do you need to change how it looks?

These are layout, style and behind-the-scenes directions. They can be used to build simple websites from scratch, or to change existing website themes.
HTML organizes elements on a page. Is there a big box with other boxes inside? Are there bullets or a menu down the right side of the page or left? Or both?
CSS give colour and shape those elements, like the kind of font and what colours go where.
XML stores information behind the scenes, to get the attention of search engines, or to spring into action on a device used by the visually impaired.

responsive design for mobile devices
Can people read your website on a cellphone?

Expanding a website on your cellphone so you can see the teensy weensy writing is fiddly business. Websites using responsive design are mobile friendly, with nice big writing and blocks of info that settle comfortably onto a small screen.
As the use of tablets and cellphones for browsing websites grows, so does the need for responsive design.

search engine optimization (SEO)
Is your website showing up on a search?

SEO is about tossing treats to search engines like Google and Yahoo so they’ll come and sniff some more. Simple steps include submitting an XML site map, heading, title and description tags for each page, strong internal links that are well labelled. More effective is good organization and keeping your content fresh, relevant and interesting, so that people “like” it on Facebook or tweet it. That really gets the attention of the search engines, and then your page ranks higher.

  What would happen if you lost your website?

This is what people don’t think about until their site goes down in flames, or gets hacked. Then what? A backup is, or should be, a duplicate of your current site that you can just pop back into place in the distressing event that you lose your site, just like any backup file for a computer failure.

what not to do

Don’t fall into the trap of being so enthusiastic about whatever you’re offering that it becomes about YOU and not the user. Case in point: the veterinarian who just remortgaged her house to buy top notch surgical equipment wants to display it on the home page, when what sick pet owners want to see is happy, bright-eyed pets on examining tables. Don’t show the means to cut up their pet!