Building a Website
Return to Lessons Learned
Building this website has been a labor of love for both of us, and a hobby for Pat. We had no idea it would turn out the way it has. The same as a painting, "a website is never finished--it simply stops in interesting places." Here's some of what we learned during the (continuing) development of our website.
Do Don't
  • As you think about developing a website, ask yourself (and write down the answers to) the following questions:
    • Why am I doing this?
    • How much time am I willing to devote to it?
    • How much money can I afford to spend?
    • How good are my technical/computer skills and aptitude?
    • Who am I trying to reach?
    • What do I want visitors to my website to take away from their visit?
  • Before you begin developing your website, map out the contents on a "story board". That is, scope out the sections you want to create and identify major groupings and categories of material.
  • Spend a little time thinking through how you want your website to look. After content, ease of navigation and consistency of a pleasing appearance is important.
  • Think through your file organization carefully before you begin. [We now have over 4,000 files in over 160 folders on this site - and growing. When we began we never would have guessed it would get this big.] Housekeeping is an important consideration. Unless you use something like Dreamweaver, you won't be able to move files later without breaking links.
  • Use folder and file names that are related to their content. As the number of files and folders grow, you can easily loose track otherwise. Use all lower-case letters for naming everything.
  • Learn HTML if you possibly can and do your first pages writing HTML using a plain text editor (Notepad or Wordpad.) Stay simple at first and learn how to recognize and use "clean" code.
  • After you've got a grip on HTML, learn about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). CSS separates format from content and good use of it is considered "best practice."
  • Use CSS for laying out your website. Avoid using tables for layout, use them only to display tabular data.
  • Once you know HTML and CSS and have aspirations for improving you website, go to Microsoft's Expression Web or Dreamweaver. Expression Web gets good reviews for beginners. Dreamweaver is without doubt the best web design software - but it has a pretty steep learning curve and is not cheap.
  • For graphics and/or photos, trade quality for faster transmission speed. Keep graphic file size as small as possible. But keep the originals.
  • Maintain your website. Add new materials, and update the old regularly. Check links frequently. If you're not willing or able to do this, then a website is probably not for you.
  • Choose your website host carefully. Don't make price the primary criteria. Watch out for ads that you agree to show in return for reduced cost or free hosting. Get recommendations and read comparative ratings. Check out your preferred host's technical support responsiveness carefully before you sign the contract.
  • Put navigation elements on every page, more than once if it's large.
  • Use a spell checker before you publish.
  • Look at the code behind web pages that you like the look of. Try to learn something from the way they're constructed.
  • Put a "last updated" date on your website.
  • Submit your website to Google at a minimum, and other search engines if you can.
  • Use Google Analytics to see how well your site is achieving your goals.
  • If you get good at this, help others.
  • While being willing to share and help others, do what you can to protect your site from piracy - in '09 we stumbled on one ( that had completely stolen our site design, including the banner and contents for the cruising handbook which they placed on their site withoutso much as even contacting us for permission.
  • Use capital letters in any of your file or folder names. You will regret it and have to go back and change them all.
  • Put format before content. People come to your website for the content first, and not for the way it looks. There's nothing more annoying than a website that's screaming with bells and whistles but has no substance.
  • Forget that format and design is important, however. If your website is not visually appealing and easy to navigate, people won't make repeat visits.
  • Fill up your website with big files, especially graphics. They load too slowly for viewers who are still using a telephone line.
  • Assume that just because your website looks good on the browser you use, that it also looks good on other browsers, or other versions of the one you use. Check a variety of browsers and seek feedback.
  • Fail to check your links before publishing on the Internet.
  • Get in over your head. Keep it simple at first, then progress gradually as you get more proficient. Don't try to swallow the elephant all at once. Take it a bite at a time.
  • Forget to keep the version of your website at your web host synchronized with the version on your own computer.
  • Neglect to keep the version of your website on your own computer backed up.
  • Display your email address on a webpage--it will only provide you with huge amounts of spam. Figure out some mechanism to let visitors send you email without visibly publishing your email address.
  • Think you don't need a site map. Create one at the beginning, then every time you make a new file, add it to the list. As the website gets larger and more complicated this will help you and your visitors more than you can imagine.
  • Be surprised if your hobby turns into a full-time job.

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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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