So you know what your website is going to be about - how do you set out to design it?
You need to think of two things. What content are you going to have on your site, and secondly, what is your site going to look like? And what will the layout of the pages look like, the colours etc.
The first thing to think about is the possibilities that a website gives you. Even if your website is going to be an online store, do not think about the site as a catelogue. The benefits of the web is that your website does not have to follow a linear format - it is not restrictive like a book. The format of the web means your visitors will be able to dip into your site at any point, and also be able to jump around to those parts which are the more interest to them.
Don't, therefore, set your site out like chapters in a book, where later chapters rely on information which has been picked up in earlier ones. Instead your pages should all be able to stand as items of interest in their own right, and have links through to other relevant information your visitors might need!
No one needs to start with a blank sheet of paper - there are millions of web sites already out there. The first thing you can do is research. Look at what other people have done - no, you are not going to copy their ideas, but you are trying to see what appeals to you, what you think works well, and what turns you off completely!
So you've looked around, had a few ideas. How will you know that your ideas are going to work? How can you waste hours of abortive effort?
What you want in three clicks.
Want to know the golden rule? You should make sure your site visitor can find what they want in a maximum of three clicks! You should remember the three click rule when deciding how to set out your pages.
A common suggestion is to use a story board approach but the problem with a story board is it makes you think in a linear way - and as we discussed above, with a website you've got the ability to go backwards and sidewards as well as forwards!
One method of thinking about designing a new website is to use a mind mapping process, or to draw up a spider diagram.
You start with just your main subject in the centre - this will be your home page.
Next think of the main topics which people may expect to find in a site such as yours - on a retail site for example, the first layers may well include the catelogue as a general heading. On a site about dogs the first layer may be 'breeds'.
You are now able to go further into each of your subjects. A catelogue for clothes may be divided here into Men's clothing, Children's clothing etc., and the dog breeds may now be listed as Gun Dogs, Toy Breeds etc.
Not all of your first layer menu items may lead to a third layer, but some will. To continue our examples above, Chidren's clothing may now be divided into boys and girls. The Gun Dogs will be divided into the Retrievers, Spaniels etc.
By playing around with your ideas on paper in this fashion you can see where your topics fit best. It may be that some third level pages fit under two second layer pages - no problem, you can link a page to each, and have it appearing on more than one menu. It is what makes sense to the visitor that counts!
Having your site set out in a diagram also makes it easier to see how to link up your pages using hyperlinks, i.e., but clicking on a word on your site, the visitor gets taken to a different page without having to go back through the menus.
Colour scheme, templates etc.
Once you have the plan of what you are going to put onto your site you can start to think about individual page layout and colour schemes.
Again, look at other people's sites, especially those you like. What looks good about them? Sites which have a uniform layout on each page often look far more professional than those which experiment with different colours on every page and different templates. This isn't to say that every page must be the same, but have some consistency, for example, where you place the menu buttons, so that people know they are still on your site. If the navigation menu buttons are always in the same place people will quickly become familiar with the feel of your site, and be able to move round it a lot quicker, and therefore take in a lot more of the information which you want to provide them with.
Making your site look professional is important unless you are just putting up a few pages to share with family! Let's assume the reason you wish to make a website is to earn some extra money at home, or to advertise your business or promote an activity. Apart from colour and consistency here are a couple of other tips. Firstly, look at the size of font you use - don't mix it up too much, or use too many different colours. Make your the type face you use can be seen clearly on the background colour. Secondly, is it easy to get to the information
The most important person!
Finally, don't forget that YOU have got to like your site. You will be having a very close relationship with it and it will be very demanding on your time, especially in the early days. Take advice from friends or colleagues, but at the end of the day, go with what you are happy with. If you are uncomfortable with your site you will not have the same enthusiasm to work with it.
Your first pages
Now you have the schema for your website, you have chosen your colours and background, you can start to put together your first pages.
Here are a few tips:
1. Get a few pages together and get your site up there and published! It will take anything from a few weeks to 7 or 8 months to be indexed by the search engines. The main search engines such as Google like to give comprehensive listings only to mature sites. The sooner you get your site published the sooner you will get good rankings in the search engines.
2. Do not use the words 'under construction'.
3. Get other people's opinion on your site - good comments will give you confidence. If your hosting company has a forum you may be able to showcase your new website there to get advice from others using the same software.
A website doesn't just emerge - it takes a lot of work and an awful lot of planning. But if you make the investment of time you won't lose out. If you don't have a website no one is able to tap into your knowledge or see your creations. If you build your website badly your visitors may not be able to find their way around, and a lot of what you do will be wasted. If you take that bit of extra effort and care you will have a site that is very easy to use, and which will become popular because of that!
Pat Ransom has worked in the IT industry for 15 years and is experienced with local government and company websites. Having designed and published a successful and acclaimed website in her own right the secrets of website design and publishing are now available to be shared at http://www.webmasterproductions.co.uk
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