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Do It Yourself or Hire Someone to Build Your Site

Building A Website Part 2

In this second installment of the web site building blog series I will cover what going into planning out a website and deciding whether to do it yourself or hire someone to build your site.

Can you smell it? That new site smell? It's all clean, smooth and snappy like a new car and just like a new car it has a few bugs and kinks that need to be worked out during the breaking in period. However there is nothing like the feeling of creating something from scratch and building it with sweat and tears. Then when it's all done, sitting back and just enjoying all the new whistles and bells. That and it's all mine, I control the vertical, the horizontal and the content.

This is the six complete build of the site or at least the sixth since I started keeping track. The site had very humble beginnings back in 1998 with me learning html on the fly and posting the site to Geocities. It was a combination of a business site and personal site created as a place to send people to when they wanted information on me and the studio. It has grown and evolved well beyond a simple profile with a few pages into its current state. From basic editing and posting html in code form to using an html editor to CMS. For those interested the current build is Drupal 7 CMS with a heavy sprinkling of Panels, HTML5, CSS3 and a touch of Twitter Bootstap.

What has always driven the evolution of the site has been my discovery of new methods, codes and elements that I felt would not only make the site look better but also make it easier for the user to navigate the site. I think a lot of what may have gotten me more off my ass than anything was the design of the Verge website. Though the finial build of the site is a great deal different, the biggest thing that drew me to it was the tile interface. The idea of instead of having a sidebar with menus and attention grabbing block and an endless new feed, there is a group of tiles that point the user to content.

When I set out to build the site, the first thing I think about is how I want to present my content to my site's visitors and how easy it will be to navigate the site. With this time around I felt a combination of the older frames style display and tiles was best way to progress. To do this I had to break some of the core ways a Drupal site looks and work around using a combination of the Book module, panels module and the views module. It took a few weeks of playing with all three to come up with the combination I wanted. 

Before getting into the heart of a website, the content, it's important to think about how your user will find the content. At its foundation, a website is simply a group of files stored on a computer. To display that content in a way that will be easy for the user to enjoy you use codes and scripts to display the content as you wish. So the first step is deciding what small scripts and code you will be using. 

The other thing you want to do is nail down before hand is the navigation and how the end user will view the site. I usually map out the content that is going to be on the site before hand. I always break it down into main topics and then sub topics. Understand that a majority of your users will be navigating the site the same way. For example my site has three major sections, business and piercing section that covers the Axiom and body piercing, the personal section that covers parts of my personal life and the music section which covers only my musical interests. Under each is sub-topics like Studio information or the different Body Piercings. Nailing this down before adding content is important not only because it makes adding additional content and setting up menus easier but without a structure of some kind you will  create a site that is very difficult for your users to find what they are looking for.

It is always a challenge to develop a structure that is easy for every user to follow but if you follow the idea of chapters of a book and that each chapter is a different subject it can be easy to come up with a simple and easy to navigate site. Also it's important to think about what your visitors are going to be looking for and highlight that for them. For example, if they are going to be looking for your contact information make it easy to find. I think we have all experienced the act of trying to find a number to call someone only to end up wondering around endless support pages. 

Do It Yourself or Hire Someone:

It really depends on your needs, your experience and what your needs are. There are advantages to hiring a profession from the stand point that they are going to be more in tune with the latest in code and design. They may also be able to get a site up a great deal more quickly then you can because there isn't the learning curve. However, depending on the site's code, you will have to rely on this person to update and maintain your site. The reality of websites is unless they are updated and content is added, people will not visit your site as often and it will reduce your search ranking. 

There are a great number of companies that will create a static page site for a by the page fee. This idea of having a set number of pages is fine for some businesses. If you are a small business and your services and the items you sell never changes it might be an easy fit. However, most businesses and individuals adapt and evolve at a quick pace and it's important to keep their clients aware of new products and services. Also it's important in building a relationship with your clients.

I don't know how to stress that if you decide to go with a professional to build your site, you request they build you a Content Management Site. I will write more on it later but CMS is a program or script that runs on your sites server and allows a user to easily add and edit content and change the look and feel of the site without learning hard coding. Just like a social network the user can log in on any computer, sign into the page and edit or add content. A majority of modern websites are CMS from small business sites to large social networks. Oh and make sure that you have the administrator sign on information both for the site and your host server. 

Doing it yourself may seem like a big challenge but not nearly as scary as you might think. If you are comfortable uploading files, adjusting settings of programs and posting to sites, you might find it easier than you think. The biggest thing is the commitment. You will more than likely have to learn some basic code and you may have to do some research. Luckily there are a number of sites that are devoted to building sites and a majority of the members are very open and willing to share information. 

The main advantage of doing it yourself is that you will have complete control over the site. You will not have to worry about your webmaster suddenly vanishing off the face of the earth or not being able to update your site when you need to. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where an employee at a large company has moved on taking all the site's admin passwords and their custom code with them. 

The biggest thing to consider is how much time you have to devote to maintaining and updating your site and content because regardless of your experience, the main expense to web building is time. This latest build of the site took a few weeks to get from development/alpha period to the beta point where I began transferring content. that might seem like a long time but there was a lot of false starts as I tried out different themes, structure, modules until I got the right combination of user interface, look and feel that I wanted. A web site can be as simple or complex as you need.

If you don't have a lot of time to devote to development the best option for you might be paying someone to install all the scripts you will need and set up the theme or template. Then add the content you need to the site yourself. Another option is working with a website building engine like Squarespace offers. What they have done is taken a majority of the code out of the process with their simple user interface. Moving the development into a simple case of drag and drop and adapting the template background, color and layout. If you are not going to need additional functions, it might be a better fit for you.

In the next installment I will cover registering a Domain and finding a Host for your site. 


Go to Part 3

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