10 Things You Need to Know About Creating Your Own Website from a Complete Novice

I have been happily blogging away at Just Be V on WordPress for a couple of years – flexing my writing muscles, building my confidence and joining what I think of as an online writers group.  I decided this year that I would like to actually get paid for writing. The first thing I thought I needed to launch my freelance writing career was a fabulous website.   Wait a minute I hear you say, is WordPress not a website?

You might have a chuckle to yourself, but to be honest, I never thought of my WordPress site as a website.

To all intents and purposes, that is what it is and it certainly can be used as a business website, they offer a range of services which can be found at their Support Page:  Making a Business Website.  I however only made this realization after I had paid for my domain name and started adding content to my site on godaddy.com.  Being the Capricorn I am, I soldiered on up the unseen mountain that lurked around the corner determined to finish my website and publish it.

I am quite creative and generally not too shabby on computers, but I have limits.  At Uni I could handle Desktop Publishing, but hit a wall (ironically trying to get an animated ball to bounce against it) at a Digital Narrative Class.  To pass the class, all you had to do was create a page which had an animation on it (I chose the simple bouncing ball).  This was not like it is now where you can simply drag and drop a slideshow or button. The ordeal traumatized me so much that I have completely blanked out how I actually did it, but I did pass the class.

I also picked up a smoking habit that I have only managed to kick in the last couple of years and a suspicion about people who understand the language of computers.  This was 2001.

Now thankfully the internet is abundant with website builders which do allow you to drag and drop web parts.  Considering how complicated it is to create a website the hard way, this really is a blessing for people who don’t have or don’t want to spend a few hundred quid paying a web designer.  However if you are anything like me, it will take you more hours than you will anticipate and you when you get to the top of that mountain, you will take your hat off to web designers and will research your options more thoroughly the next time.

There are plenty of blogs and pages out there discussing the differences between using WordPress and other website builders such as Godaddy, Weebly, Squarespace, Wix and Bluehost such as Websitebuilderexpert.com however I am going to give you my personal account as a writer with initially very little knowledge of building websites, hosting them or SEO.

Using Godaddy, it all seemed very simple in the beginning, I understood (or so I thought) how it worked.  I had my canvas in front of me and a small menu bar on the side with some tools where I could drag and drop buttons, text, pictures, slideshows, social media and images.  It was simply a case of dragging and dropping them and uploading the images I wanted.  Or so I thought.  Read on for some of the things I discovered during my experience (or mini ordeal):

1. Your Template looks quite different to your Published Site. 

When you are in the throes of creating your wonderful website, remember to continuously preview it.  The template looks very different to the uploaded site.  When I took my website to show my graphic designer friend (ok, I did obtain a little professional help – but only for guidance) she was instantly like, “Woah, your pictures and text are far too big”. Up until this point I was worried about not filling the screen.  When I actually published the site, I realised how massive everything looked.  So be aware of whether you are zoomed in or out, and that the published design will look different to the template.  Also with the Godaddy Preview certain web parts looked like they did not fit if I was zoomed in or out.  Remember to check how it looks at 100% because that is how it will appear on screen.

2. Lock your parts when you are ready to publish.  

I kept wondering why when I went to look at the Published site, things kept jumping out of place.  After you have everything sitting where you want it to, lock it every time you edit it.

3. Be meticulous – use gridlines. 

On some things, like decorating a Christmas tree, it is perfectly acceptable to be creatively messy.  On a website, it is not.  Again when I showed my friend my website, she was instantly annoyed (visibly) at text that was a millimetre out of place, at anything that was not centred or spaced correctly and at fonts that were not easy to read.  Use the gridlines and zoom function to make sure that the items you place are symmetrical and spaced correctly.  If you are inserting multiple pictures or text boxes that you want to be the same size but with different content, copy the image and change the text, this will ensure the dimensions and settings are all exactly the same.

4. Remember your desktop site does not look like your mobile site. 

On Godaddy, you can’t create how you want your mobile site to look without upgrading to a business site.  What you can do is hide certain things from your mobile site.  I upgraded for this and for SEO (more of that later).  If you don’t do this, parts of your site when viewed on your mobile will look out of place.  Again, you can either live with that, or if you have decided that the website has to look precise on all forums, you have to fork out extra to make those simple changes to your mobile site that make a huge difference.  When you do get your mobile site up and running, be aware of your background, I hadn’t chosen one because I thought the template I had used looked good without one.  When I looked at it on the mobile site, you couldn’t see the writing.

5. Be Mindful of Spacing inText Boxes 

With Godaddy, it wasn’t possible to control the space around text boxes.  What I ended up doing was creating shapes and putting the text in front of the shapes so that I had control over where the text sat in the boxes.  Keep your text consistent throughout and remember that often simpler fonts are more eye-catching.  People need to be able to read your content at a glance.

6. Less is more 

As I said, I was worried about not filling the pages, but my friend urged me not to be afraid of having empty space on the screen.  You want your content to pop out of the screen, so use your blank spaces and use simple blocks of colour.  Go for rounded edges instead of sharp lines, they are easier on the eye and remember that you want as much of your content to be visible at a glance as possible.  You don’t want people having to scroll all over the place just to get an idea of what you do.

7. Be original 

If you can, use your own photography and your own content.  It always looks better if you are not using one of the images from the websites gallery that you know other people have used.  It is very easy to take simple images on your Iphone, edit them in Paint or Windows Live and upload them.

8. Use Hyperlinks

You can create a hyperlink on any of the images, shapes and text that you put on your page, so if you are referencing another social media site or website, include a picture and give it a hyperlink.  Most people tend to want to click on buttons and it will allow them to navigate your site more easily.  You can add your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed and certain blog feeds but unfortunately not your WordPress feed.  You can however create a hyperlink to it.

9. Research SEO  (Search Engine Optimization)

You need to know what that is SEO is and how to use it (and if you want to direct traffic towards your WordPress blog, you really should start looking into what it is anyway).   In simple terms it involves using techniques within the content of your website or blog which will allow it to appear higher up the list in search engines meaning more traffic to your site.  Some of the tips are using certain keywords, tags and titles that are regularly searched for, using links to other sites, regularly updating your content and being very specific about the search terms you can set up for your site.  You can study it yourself and amend your site or blog accordingly, or you can buy tools and plugins that you will help you to do it.  There are also some very good blogs out there explaining it such as GraphPaperPress and tipsandtricks-hq.com and websites such as Searchenginejournal.  Godaddy did actually have a very useful Wizard tool which takes you through the title, description and headings on your website giving you tips about what will obtain the best search results as well as explanations about how SEO works.  I found this part useful and relatively simple to use.

10. Get feedback

You will most likely spend hours and hours on your website.   You begin to miss things that other people will see instantly.  If you have technologically minded friends or like me are lucky enough to have a friend who builds websites ask them.  Also show it to friends who are not professionals, it is just as useful to get advice from people who only know what they see.  They might not be able to put their fingers on it, but if something doesn’t look right, they will notice.  Ask for feedback at the WordPress  Community Pool or post a blog and get feedback from your blogging community.

My general thoughts on using Godaddy are that it took too long and it was as we would say in Scotland foutery (fiddly).  It was difficult to get things in the positions I wanted them and often even more difficult to get them to stay there.  There was too big a difference between how the template appeared and how it appeared on screen.  I didn’t find anything I was looking for on the help pages and the chat assistance was only available once I had upgraded to Business (which was only after I had nearly finished the website).  I had to figure most things out on my own.  What seemed to happen often was that things I could do to say a text box one day I wasn’t able to do a few days later, for example, resizing it using the drag corner buttons.  I think it took me a great deal of time.  I am however very happy with how it looks now, and I did want the control of being able to move it about as much as I wanted, and wanted the website to be a different thing to the blog.

I discussed the differences I have come across with various friends who use websites including a friend who publishes magazines and the creators of moviescramble.co.uk who I write for. They both use WordPress to host their web pages.  One of the benefits of using a website builder is that you do have much more freedom about where to put your content.  You do select a template, but the main content is pretty much a blank canvas and you can move everything around at your own will.  WordPress templates are more rigid, particularly if you are using the free hosting service.  This can however also be a blessing: you may have less control, but you also have less work to do.  Both businesses are very happy using WordPress to host their websites.  They find the support and the statistics excellent.  WordPress also makes it very easy for different writers to contribute to the site, at Moviescramble we all have logins and can submit articles for approval to the editors.

You can view my finished product at justbevee.com.  Feel free to leave any feedback and if there are any other questions or queries I can help you with, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or contact me.   If you have an opinion on website building, Godaddy or WordPress please feel free to discuss.  I would love to hear what other people’s experiences have been.

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