Friday, 15 August 2014

Website Launch (+tips for making your own website)

PART I - My website (the tips are in part 2)

Finally a new blog entry, if only to announce that I have finally launched my personal website.


The main part is the gallery, where you can find all my t-shirt designs with links to the online stores where you can buy them.

There are also Photos and Misc sections for postcards and other products that I sell, but the pages are still under construction, and there's an 'under construction' Art section, where my future art prints will be exhibited.

On the news page you will find any updates on my recent activity.
On the links page you will find, well, links to all my website profiles related to design.
You can also head over to the quotes page, where you can read the genuine responses of famous people and animals when asked about StrayCat Graphics.

There are also lots of cats, hover titles and an Easter egg or two. Happy browsing! :)


PART II - The promised tips

To make this entry at least a bit useful, here is some advice for those about to make their own website.

NB! This implies that you have some knowledge in webdesign, otherwise it would be easier to find/pay someone to do it for you.
If you are learning on the spot, the process would take quite some time, so it's up to you to decide if it is worth it and if the skills you'll learn are going to pay off in the future.

(You may, of course, be using a content management system and ready made themes, but I am a DIY kind of guy, so I'm not going to cover that case, and I'll just assume you are writing everything from scratch on notepad, the way I do it and the way it should be done, haha.)


Preparation:

1. Before you start working on your website, you should have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with it. What are you offering, what would a user expect to find on your site, what is your target group, what would be the best design and approach, etc.;

2. Find a suitable hosting for your needs; take the following into account:
- Where is the server based? Where are your visitors going to access it from? I live outside USA, but I aim at the US market, so I found a local host, which offered a US server for a good price;
- Do you plan to change or have the option to change your host, domain or anything else in the next three or four years? There are tons of hosts with good advertising and not so good services, which can be really cheap, but only if you sing up for a long period of time (usually four years). If you are not OK with that, perhaps you should spend a bit more money for a one-year deal with a recognized provider;
- How much space and other extras do you need? Some premium deals offer lots of space, sub-domains, etc., but if you are not going to use all that, you might settle for a cheaper plan;


While designing:

3. While designing, be aware of the most popular resolutions overall; your website might look great on your desktop monitor, but awful on your laptop;
- according to w3school's statistics, only 7% of people have a resolution of 1024x768 or lower (not counting smartphones, I guess);
- most laptops work with 1366x768;
- more and more people browse through mobile devices (a useful chart for smartphone and tablet screen sizes can be found here and here respectively);

4. Keep your design consistent. You may have a great idea for the layout of a particular page of your website, but if it differs too much from the rest, user may find it confusing. Always think twice before spending time and efforts to make a cool design, only to find out it doesn't fit in;

5. Read a bit about writing website content (copywriting) and attracting and keeping the users' attention. What fonts you should or should not use, how should paragraphs look, what images are appropriate, is there too much going on, etc.


Regarding the code:

6. Once you start working on your actual website, keep your code clean and simple; there's no need to put everything within DIVs;

7. Write good meta data; skip the keywords, modern search engines only use those to detect spam; instead focus on clear, informative titles and descriptions of your pages; use the 'author' meta tag as well, and if you write articles, you might want to verify your authorship by linking your website (with rel="author") to your google+ profile and vice versa;

8. Text links are better than image links SEO-wise, though I myself use image links for the sake of design

9. Static websites (just plain html and css) have nice and simple URLs that are user- and search-engine-friendly. Dynamic websites (javascript, php), on the other hand, are more convenient if you have a catalogue, for example, and have to work with a database. Bonus tip - you can rewrite your dynamic URLs to static ones, but it can be tricky;

10. Set up google analytics on your website;

11. Make an xml map (there are services like xml-sitemaps.com that do this for free, if your site has less than 500 pages) and submit it to google webmaster tools;

12. After you've uploaded your website, run a check for broken links (again, there are websites that do this for free);

13. For more info on similar topics, be sure to read the Steps to a Google-friendly site, Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and Google's Webmaster Guidelines;