How to make a website (that doesn't suck) 101: the bare essentials

On 13/11/2009

In Help to make a website

The focus of today's post is all about what to do before you even begin to make a website - we'll call that the thinking stuff. But it's also about what not to do (aka the doing stuff) when you make your own website: free or not, and no matter how many (or how few) people you think may see it.

But I'm preaching to the converted, right?

You already know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. When you go ahead and create a website, you'll never make the kind of errors showcased on one of my favorite sites ... or will you? Then again, can you imagine any webmaster - whose work will later feature prominently as an example of what not to do when building a website - thinking "hey, I know, I'll make a website that sucks!" when they start out?

So where did they go wrong, and how do you avoid making the same kind of mistakes?

As Douglas Adams said so well, Don't Panic (and no, you won't even need a towel). Firstly, it might surprise you to know that practically 0% of web designers get it right the first time, whether they be professionals or amateurs. Secondly, it's actually pretty easy to get the basics of website design right, and it comes down to just one word: think. You don't have to think different, be particularly special or talented (or anything else, for that matter, you might like to put forward as a potential stumbling block). Just spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve before starting to make a website, and how you're going to go about achieving it.

You might want to begin by noting down your goals (this is the thinking stuff part):

  • What do you want the website for?

  • What will it contain? What kinds of content?

  • Who will be looking at it? Who are your potential visitors?

And yes, sorry, but you'll really want to do this long before you start thinking about page layouts and color schemes. Essential questions like these will help shape the kind of website you'll make and the form it will take, so imposing a form from the outset just won't work. A website for sharing a trip report or family photo albums is going to be very different from a company or small business website. Their contents are vastly different, as are their audiences, and whereas the first will have a lot of visual content, the second is likely to have a fair amount of text to present.

With these questions sorted out (aka answered), you should also spend some time thinking about the volume and type of content you'll need (text, photos, videos etc.), and about how you might want to present and to link it all together. If you get stuck for ideas, do what all great innovators (and I) do: see what everyone else is doing and get inspired (just don't copy, it's really not the same thing)! Find websites that deal with similar themes or content types, choose some you like and see how they make their website work (or not - learning from others' mistakes is a good way to avoid making them yourself).

OK, so now that you've thought about what your website is for, and about how many (and what kind of) pages you'll need to present your content, yes, you can start thinking about layouts and colors (I knew you were dying to get started on the doing stuff).