Building Your Website

by Staff Writers

Maintaining a website used to be an expensive business endeavor, or a complicated skill available only to specially trained technicians. Fortunately, it has become easier than ever to build your own blog or website and then start using and sharing it right away. This article will outline some simple and effective tools for beginners. Whether you are looking for a site to network with other professionals, promote your business, share personal beliefs, or blog about a favorite hobby or pastime, there are more resources available for you than you might realize.

Websites are no longer a novelty in the business world – they are a necessity. If people cannot find information about your company by doing a web search, they will likely go elsewhere. Websites are also great for establishing your own voice, credentials and outreach. If you do not promote your talents online, you are missing out on a readily available, some would say, necessary resource.

Websites are also valuable to teachers. They can now count on sites to stimulate students' minds in exciting ways. Not only is the Internet a key component of 21st Century education, but many students also have come to expect the availability of online course work. Despite the disapproval of many contemporary educators, online learning is only becoming more popular among students. Teachers, therefore, have embraced flexible, web-based academics with largely positive results.

Below are a few steps you can take toward building your own website, regardless of your ultimate goal.

Step One: Choosing a Platform

There are plenty of website-building platforms to select from. The platform you choose should reflect your budget constraints, level of experience, and intended content. The following is a list of some free options:

  • WIX is a fast and easy platform that enables the use of various multimedia, such as videos, photo albums, maps, and animation effects. It also offers upgrades in case you need more tools, or wish to expand on the free version.
  • Webs is a popular tool that allows users to link e-commerce functions such as Paypal or Google Checkout. It also allows you to create social networks by providing visitors the opportunity to "join" your website.
  • Webnode is probably the most user-friendly website-building platform. It allows you to navigate through your website as you build it, thereby creating a picture of your product while you are still in the development process.
  • WordPress is a popular and flexible blogging website. Part of the flexibility comes from the easily organizable widgets and the clear editing interface. It also offers the option to buy a .com or .net for $17.
  • Blogger is the oldest and easiest-to-use blogging website available. Since Google bought the site, its capabilities continue to grow. However, Blogger domain names typically connote amateur blogging, and these pages are known for system outages. Nonetheless, it is a great resource for beginners looking to develop a web presence.
  • Drupal is a versatile tool that can be used for discussion forums, professional business pages, or personal websites and blogs. A moderate of amount of experience or research is necessary, since Drupal offers such a wide variety of services. Also note that the website and software installation can be inconvenient.

The following website-building platforms are more expensive, but still popular:

  • Dreamweaver is an advanced website-building tool offered by Adobe. The newest version, CS6, offers mobile app building capabilities. It also offers multi-screen layouts so you can view your final product as you edit. It is, however, built for experienced users and occasionally requires you to write code.
  • Microsoft Expression Web is another highly professional website-building and editing software program. It is much more user-friendly than Dreamweaver, though it does not offer mobile app building.

If you are a teacher shopping around for the right learning management systems (LMS), there are three that are particularly popular right now:

  • Blackboard is a LMS commonly used by universities, which is particularly strong in its ability to connect educators and students. It does, however, take special training workshops in order to maintain a blackboard site. Canvas and Moodle allow educators to take a more hands-on role.
  • Moodle is a little less user-friendly, but it is more community-based. The site offers discussion forums and endless resources from other users to assist your LMS maintenance.
  • Canvas is arguably the most user-friendly of the three LMSs covered here. It features automatic updates and provisioning, so that resources are always available, no matter how busy a week the editors or users are having.

Step Two: Implementing a Design and Building Content

When beginning to build a website, it might be a good idea to gain some HTML knowledge. Here's an easy-to-navigate HTML guide to help you get some basic code under your belt. If you don't mind depending entirely on the tools of the platform you choose, it may be best to choose a platform that's more visual. Webnode, for instance, allows you to drag content around and place it wherever you like, much like an MS Word document. Webs is a little more rigid, like Microsoft PowerPoint. The format of a WordPress page depends on the ways you manipulate widgets from your dashboard. While there are a few exceptions, the eight platforms above can accommodate almost any content you would like to produce.

For most of these platforms, adding different forms of media or social features is as easy as drag-and-drop. Drupal, Dreamweaver, and Microsoft Expression Web offer the widest selection of appearance options, since their users must often write code. Webs, Wix, WordPress, and Webnode all offer a decent amount of options, as long as you accept that there will be other websites with the same theme or general appearance. Blogger is the least customizable, but if you use it, there is a good chance you are a website-building novice looking for a template that's less complex.

Whatever kind of site you run, make sure you have a comprehensive ‘Contact' page with phone numbers, snail mail, email addresses and social media buttons. If you run a personal site, be sure to stay organized by clearly expressing your project on an ‘About the Site' page. And whatever your goal is, be sure you have a catchy, visually appealing ‘Home' page. This is the first screen visitors will see, so make it stand out!

Step Three: Promoting the Site

Speaking of standing out, it is important for your website to be searchable. The best way to improve the likelihood of a search engine locating your site is to update often, produce a lot of content, and cross-link the different pages within your site in order to create more URLs. It also helps to normalize your site's URLs, so that each click within your website counts toward the same popularity ranking.

Another way to funnel people into your site is through social plugins like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Facebook encourages website owners to use its features in order to promote your website. Whether your goal is business, education, or just entertainment, it is a good idea to set up social plugins so that guests have multiple pathways to your website.

Inviting guest contributors to your site's blog might be a good idea. This arrangement can be mutually beneficial; guest writers want people to read their work, and you, the site owner, can enlist these contributors to help you promote the brand. While you're at it, try to get advertisers for your website. If you use a guestbook feature (a good idea if you run a business), keep in touch with the people who visit your site; keep them in the loop about new developments, promotions, and other happenings. It's important to show people you are not going anywhere and that your website is a worthwhile investment.

Finally, know how to evaluate your success. It may be disheartening to look at abysmally low websites statistics (or "metrics"). But it is essential you make sure you are paying attention to the right metrics. Here is a helpful page that rates the usefulness of different metrics. These include metrics that provide evaluation of success as well as tools for increasing page views and reducing bounce rates.

All of the platforms listed in this article come with supportive communities full of people willing to give accessible advice to people with any level of experience. Most importantly, you need to remember there is relatively little at stake when building a website. So go with an idea and use a free website-building platform to get it off the ground. If it takes off, put a little more into it and see what you get back.