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Setting up a website

Web designer Suna Cristall explains the procedure for setting up a website and presents the options for its design. She includes points to consider if the target audience includes children.

Having your own personal website is a fantastic promotional tool and will allow you to display your work and achievements to a global audience spanning all age ranges, genders and economic stratums. The internet is increasingly becoming the first place people look to find information and, with a staggering 18.3 million households with internet access in the UK alone (according to the National Statistics website, www.statistics.gov.uk), it is worthwhile making yourself accessible through this media.

Setting up a website can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re not very technically literate. However, there is absolutely no need to feel intimidated as there are options available to suit all budgets and levels of web-programming skills (even if you have none to speak of).

Getting started

First things first – you will need a web address, otherwise known as a domain name. It is basically the equivalent of a home or business address; people can only come and visit if they have an address to navigate to. Try to keep your domain name as simple as possible as this will make it easier for people to remember. It should also be something relevant to you, or to your work. This is particularly pertinent not only so that people can make a clear connection between you and your web address, but to avoid any potential legal issues. For example, HarryPotter.com is indubitably a memorable domain name, but it is rather likely that the author’s, publisher’s, and film company’s legal teams will have a few things to say about you using it for yourself.

If you decide to hire a professional designer he or she can take care of the actual purchasing for you, but do note that they will charge you further for the privilege. There are a multitude of different companies you can buy a domain name from, all unfortunately with varying prices, so it is highly recommended that you shop around. It is also advisable to confirm that the company is ICANN certified. ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and acts as the regulatory body for domain registrars. A list of ICANN certified domain registrars can be found on their website: www.icann.org

Planning your website

As with any form of design there are certain principles to follow which will ensure your end product is successful. Even if you choose to hire someone to create your website for you, it is worth noting the following basic guidelines for good web design as they will help you make an informed decision when it comes to finalising your layout.

  • Clear navigation. Your visitor could be aged nine or 90, but if they cannot easily navigate their way around your website they will be equally frustrated by the experience. If someone gets lost whilst browsing your website, it is likely that you will lose them completely – people are more liable to log off than persevere as few like their patience challenged in that manner.
  • Be consistent. This goes hand in hand with keeping your site navigation clear as it helps your visitors recognise where they are. Changing the look and structure of your website from page to page will only serve to confuse and disorientate people. It is the online equivalent of having different wallpaper and flooring in every room in your house. You want your website to flow and appear organised, with a clear design concept executed throughout.
  • Structure your text. The average individual spends approximately 20 seconds per web page, and tends to simply ‘scan’ it as opposed to reading every line. With this in mind, it is highly recommended that you label your sections clearly to help your visitors find the information they require more easily. Also, make points of interest bold and eye-catching. This does not mean using lots of flashing images or text as those sorts of devices tend only to be effective at irritating people. It is also worth noting that most children are reluctant to scroll, so try to keep your content concise and constrained to the immediate visual area of the screen.
  • Readability. Dark text on light backgrounds is best for the purposes of reading onscreen as it is the easiest on the eyes but, whatever your colour choice, make sure there is a high contrast between these two elements otherwise your copy simply blends into the background. Make sure to apply an appropriate font size, so that text is large enough to be legible, but not so large it looks like you are SHOUTING.
  • Fonts.Sans-serif fonts, such as Geneva, Arial or Helvetica are the easiest to read on a computer screen. As an added bonus, these also happen to be ‘web-safe’ fonts. Web-safe fonts basically refer to the standard fonts that are on every computer system. They may be prettier but non-web-safe fonts are not universally installed, and using one would be a gamble as you run the risk of your visitors’ computers not being able to recognise your specified font.
  • Current content. Be wary of your site ‘dating’ itself. The content may be current at the time of construction, but how will it read six months later? To avoid your content being classified as passé, use the present or present-perfect tense as much as possible. Likewise, try to update your site regularly as this will help to generate repeat visitors.
  • Screen size. Monitors come in all different sizes, with varying default resolutions. With this in mind it is good practice to design your site for the smaller screens – 800 (width) by 600 (height) pixels. People with larger screens will still be able to view all of the content on your site, whereas the reverse will cause unsightly bottom and side scrollbars (a rather unfortunate web design faux-pas that is easily avoided).
  • Page size. Download time varies according to file size and the speed of internet connection. Faster connections are rapidly becoming the norm for business and home use, but it is still advisable to keep your web pages as small as possible so that people with slow dialup connections can still access your site at a reasonable speed. Graphics, animations and audio clips are generally the biggest culprits for bumping up file sizes, so keep your image resolutions low and your sound bytes short. If you want to include things such as high resolution images, provide a thumbnail of the image with an option of clicking to download the larger version.
  • Accessibility. Making websites accessible to disabled users is not only good practice, but with new legislations being regularly introduced, this will eventually be standard practice. To ensure your website is up to scratch on this level, you will need to provide basic text equivalents for things such as images, audio/video clips, animations, etc describing what they are so that a web reader can process the information. ALT tags are the most commonly used for this purpose (these are the buttercup-yellow text boxes that pop up when you hover the cursor over an image).

Know your audience

Knowing who your website is targeted at is a key step in the process, as your design and content will alter depending on whom you wish to reach. Even though your creative work may be aimed at children you will need to make certain you do not alienate parents, teachers, or people offering potential commissions. Fortunately, what makes a successful website does not differ between age groups as much as one might think, although there are certain deviations worth noting. In a study conducted by the Neilsen Norman Group, interesting revelations were made regarding how both children (aged 6–12) and teenagers (aged 13–17) use the web and it highlighted the unique distinctions between the two groups as well as the general similarities. They discovered that the younger age group participants were able to successfully use the sites that were aimed at adults, such as Google, successfully as they are minimally designed with clear navigation. They also responded well to animation and sound effects – the fun stuff. If you would like to include these elements in your website, it is advisable you do so as add-ons and not at the expense of your navigation, as the children were uniformly flummoxed when the navigation was convoluted. Notably, the children rarely scrolled down a screen, but instead randomly moved their cursor over the page looking for clickable areas.

The teens were online more often on a regular basis, as they purported to utilise the internet for school projects, hobbies, news and information, and e-commerce as well as entertainment (which was the main reason given for use by the younger age group). They responded particularly well to cool looking graphics and clean designs.

Most importantly, both groups demanded an element of interactivity to hold their interest – sites lacking this component were quickly classified as boring and the children did not hang around. Interactivity can be achieved in an assortment of ways and it is essential to have at least one of these attributes on your website for children and teenagers:

  • quizzes
  • forums or message boards
  • voting
  • games
  • contact details, such as an email address.

Designing your site

Now that you’ve got your domain name, understand the basic principles of good web design and have somewhat of a clue as to what your users want, you are ready to start building your website.

As previously mentioned, there are a variety of options available to you with regard to designing and building your site. There is a solution out there to suit every level of available finances and technical savviness. They can be divided into three groups: DIY, ready-made, and professional.

  • The DIY option. Although this option is cost effective, it requires a basic knowledge of HTML (HyperText MarkUp Language) and some time and patience on your part. HMTL is a language like any other and can be learned should you have the inclination. It is this vernacular that formats your web page and allows the browser to interpret text styles, links, images, etc. If you have never encountered it before, it can certainly look rather complicated (like sci-fi robot-speak) but rest assured it really is quite straightforward and follows a very simple logic. Should you decide to learn some HTML or already have a basic knowledge, this will most certainly be an asset when it comes to creating and maintaining your website. There are some extremely helpful software programmes on the market to assist you in building your website. Two of the most popular are Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage. These programmes are designed to be as user-friendly as possible and code parts of your site automatically for ease. They also come equipped with pre-designed web templates, so if you are feeling slightly less adventurous, you can simply add your content and images within their pre-established parameters. As an added bonus, there are plenty of books, online tutorials and forums that offer assistance should you find yourself in need.
  • The ready-made option. Realising that there are a vast amount of individuals and businesses that desire websites, but lack the technical ability, time and patience to create their own or have insufficient resources to hire a professional designer, a few companies have recently emerged offering a ready-made option (the greatest invention of convenience since the TV dinner). These companies have already gone to all of the trouble for you and have created a complete professionally designed website. You simply choose your design and add your content through their interface, which is purposefully constructed for even the most technically challenged amongst us. They tend to charge on a monthly basis, but are truly affordable. The main drawback with this option is that you are constrained by their design templates and it is likely that other people will have chosen the same template as you, so your visitors may be struck by a case of déjà vu. However, the instant gratification of having a complete and professional looking website in a matter of hours more than makes up for the lack of creative freedom.

In a similar vein, you might want to consider using a blogging or social network site, such as Wordpress or Facebook. These are free to use once you register and open your blog or personal profile up to a pre-existing online community. Although these will not entirely replace having a personal website, they are a great way to instantly get yourself online.

  • Employing a professional. It pains me to say that we’re a dime a dozen, but there is no denying that there are a ridiculous number of web designers out there. A recommendation from a trusted source, as with anything, is always helpful. However, if one is not forthcoming, make a note of the name of design companies that have created sites you like. When choosing a designer, it’s worth assessing them on:
  • examples of their previous work – they may be your sister’s husband’s first cousin on his mother’s side, but if you don’t like their style of design, don’t employ them; no rabbits will be pulled out of any hats just because you’re ‘family’;
  • company history – this will give you a better idea of their level of experience and professionalism;
  • references – they are working for you, so do not be afraid to ask for testimonials of satisfied clients;
  • charges – you need to clarify how much they will charge you for the initial build as well as if there are any further charges for updates, etc.

Going online

Once you have successfully built your website (or had it built for you) it is time to put it ‘live’. To get your website online you will need to purchase a hosting package. Your website, for all intents and purposes, is a file and needs to be stored somewhere which will allow public access. This is where the hosting company comes in – they provide the crucial disk space on their servers which will host your website.

Again, much like with domain registrars, there are many hosting companies in operation with varying annual charges, so by all means, do your research and compare price plans. Obviously, this step is only applicable if you have designed the site yourself. Otherwise, you have duly paid for the luxury not to have to worry about these things.

As soon as you have chosen and paid for your hosting package, you will receive a confirmation email supplying you with the information you need to transfer your files over to them. The first step will be to log into the account you created when you purchased your domain name and change the name server to the one specified by your hosting company. This is a straightforward process, but do not hesitate to contact your domain registrar if you need assistance. This change tends to take approximately 48 hours to propagate. Whilst you are waiting for this to happen you can proceed with uploading your website to your hosting account. This is achieved by using a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client or your web page editor and again, is a very simple process but do feel free to contact your hosting company if you are having trouble.

All that is left for you to do now is to promote your website – people won’t know to visit if they don’t know it exists. Add your web address to your business cards, as your email footer and post your web address on other websites that have relevance to yours. Also post it within blog comments, forums, message boards, and/or by requesting a link (offering a reciprocal link is polite and always appreciated). As well as increasing targeted awareness of your website, the links also serve to improve your search engine rating (i.e. how high on the search results page your website appears). It really pays to be proactive on this front as the more traffic you encourage, the more people will know about your work, which of course is the whole point of all this rigmarole.


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