Let’s get started with the challenge

Day 16: Consider the Look of Your Website

Today's Prompt:

Decide on 3+ websites that you like the look of and think could be useful models for your own website. Try to work out how they were built. Decide on how you will build your own website.

If you are still in doubt, bring the model websites to the next community meeting, or ask our online community in the comments section at www.30dod.com. We and others can give you some guidance!

Now that we’ve started thinking more concretely about your idea, we will cover some methods to build your website. Building a website for your venture is one of the most important early tasks you'll be tackling.

Your task is to have a look around and write down at least three websites that you like and that you think would be useful models for your venture's online presence.

You might be asking whether you really need a website. The answer is no, not really. But it is a very useful place to gather all of your thoughts and material surrounding your business in one place – a public-facing destination where you can quickly and efficiently get your message out to lots of people.

At the very least, going through the process of designing and building the site forces you to make tangible your ideas about the look, feel, functionality, and branding of your business. Getting those ideas out of your head and onto paper (and then onto the Web) forces you to make concrete decisions.

There isn't really one "right" tool to use for making your website. The right tool for you depends on two factors:

  1. The look, feel, and functionality of your proposed site
  2. Your willingness to deal with the technical aspects of building a website

Finding models

To answer the first question (about the complexity of your site), it is first helpful to know what you want your site to look like and how you want it to function. This is the core of today's task: finding three or more websites that you think could be useful models for your website.

Usually, you can work out what these sites were built with and then emulate the work. A lot of web designers do this. They'll have the client suggest a few sites that they like and then work out how the existing sites are built, rebuild the structure using the same tools, and redesign the content to match the client's specific business.

This is a practice we can follow to save ourselves a lot of time when building our sites.

So, head to a site you admire and think could be a useful model for your own website.

First, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to the footer menu. If you are lucky, it will say directly in the footer something like "Made with Wix," "Made in WordPress," or something similar. If so, then you've got the first hint about which tool to use!

Alternatively, you may see "Designed by Design Agency XYZ." Click this link to the designer's website to see more of their work. If they are open about their process, they may say on the page what tools they use.

If still no luck, then head to www.builtwith.com. This is an extremely cool site that will tell you the web technologies used to build any site. The main problem with this tool is that it will give you a lot of information, and it's likely you won't know what everything is. However, we provide a list of page-building tools later in this chapter, and if you combine those with this tool, you should be able to work out what the main page-building tool is. The one to look out for here is WordPress. This is the "big boy" of website development.

Different tools for building websites

For the second issue (your technical ability and/or willingness to learn!), we'll outline the basic tools available so you can better gauge what works for you.

A number of ways exist to build a website and get it online quickly and easily. There will be a trade-off between ease of use and power of customization. Some tools give you a lot of power to decide how exactly you want your website to look, act, and feel. The downside is that these tools tend to be more complicated to use and have a steeper learning curve.

Alternatively, some tools are very easy to use, allowing you to drag and drop pieces of the website onto a canvas in a very "crafty, hands-on" way. However, they generally give you less power to make the site exactly how you envision it.

WordPress

Chances are one or more of the sites you'll choose as a model is created in WordPress. WordPress is currently the most popular software sitting behind websites. It's used in the vast majority of blog websites as well as a number of large websites like Mercedes Benz and NASA.

Once set up, WordPress provides a very easy-to-use "backend" for the addition of new photos, articles, and other content. However, the setup takes a fair amount of work, so this is the most complicated of the solutions offered here.

The main draw of WordPress is the huge ecosystem of themes and plugins available. Themes are a set of files that you can buy (or find for free) that give you an instant "out-of-the-box" professional design for your site.

Another quick check you can do with your model websites is to head to whatwpthemeisthat.com and type in the website address. That will tell you directly what theme is being used if the website is made in WordPress . If you can get this information, you can buy the theme (the maximum price tends to be $59) at a page like Themeforest.net and very quickly replicate the look and feel of the model site.

Plugins are pieces of software that you can add to your website. Need an eCommerce shop to take orders and process credit card transactions? There's a WordPress plugin for that. Need a calculator on your page to help customers convert US to UK clothing sizes? There's a plugin for that. Need a quick and easy way to embed your Instagram gallery directly into your page? There's a WordPress plugin for that too.

Plugins make WordPress extremely attractive because of the ability to add functionality by installing free or low-cost plugins rather than having to create these added functions with custom coding.

If you are comfortable with computers and learning new software, then we strongly recommend WordPress because of its power and the huge libraries of themes and plugins available.

A quick note on WordPress.org and WordPress.com: The powerful tool we are talking about above is WordPress.org, not WordPress.com.

WordPress.com is the "lite" version and acts a bit like Blogger or Tumblr as a very simple what-you-see-is-what-you-get blogging platform. Your site is hosted on WordPress.com for you and requires very little setup.

Page-builders: Squarespace, Wix, Weebly

WordPress provides an extremely powerful website building tool but does require initial set up and installation. There are plenty of tutorials and guides online as well as some hosting companies (Bluehost, for example) that provide one-click installs.

If you have zero interest in technical work, though, then there are a number of "page-builders" out there that allow you to build a website using drag-and-drop interfaces.

The big three at the moment are:

  • Wix
  • Weebly
  • Squarespace

They all allow you to make great-looking websites by simply dragging your content and dropping it into their templates.

There's a great roundup of the pros and cons of each of these options here: http://www.websitebuilderexpert.com/how-to-choose-best-website-builder/ – q11

We recommend checking each of their websites and their "Examples" pages to see which style you like best.

The main drawback of these page-builder services is that they normally have monthly fees. Once you set up your website, you'll be paying $10+/month on a rolling subscription. WordPress, on the other hand is free to install and use.

Where to go from here

Rather than get caught up in the different tools and their comparative pros and cons (which is a potentially unending debate!), let's focus on the two questions we mentioned earlier:

  1. How do you want your website to look and act?

Go and find a handful of sites you want to emulate, and use the methods above to look up how these sites were built. This will give you a strong indication of the best method to use for your own site.

  1. How much technical work are you willing to put in?

Once you've answered the first question, it will primarily be a question of whether you want to learn how to use WordPress or not. It's not overly complicated (and there is a lot of material out there), but it will require a little legwork to get going. If the very idea of this freaks you out, we recommend having a look at the page-builders Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace.

For now, the important thing is to make a decision. Any decision. You can (and probably will!) change your website at some point. And that's fine. But it's better to get started with something, make errors, and correct them rather than procrastinate and never get started at all!

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