8 min read

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Journal

Getting started. Challenge No. 1: the website

By in Journal
8 min read

For some time now, I really wanted to learn how to make websites. On the internet, there are several “easy” options for non-IT people like me to create their own website and/or blog at no or little cost. To just name two of the best-known website creation platforms: WordPress and Wix.

In my (at times stubborn) head, I had the idea to learn WordPress. To learn everything from scratch, how to set it up and how to use it. This includes, of course, all design issues as well as how to install and run the different functions like programming and sending newsletters via for example MailChimp.

Becoming autonomous and preparing for the future

In my company, I always had people that were responsible for these kinds of technical tasks. I gave them the concept, structure, and content, and the web- and graphic designers would come up with the frontend and logo design. They would also choose the colors and photos. The IT department would then program it so it could go live. (We also did some UX testing but this goes too far now).

In the future, especially in the communication sector, it will be important to have at least some basic programming and website creation skills since all the youngsters will have it. At work, I mainly coordinated projects, but I also assisted in project management. When you manage projects, it is super important to understand the scope of tasks and the profiles of people you’ll need to accomplish your project. What is possible? How difficult is it? How much time will it cost? How much money? Trying to learn and do all (or almost everything) by myself, will allow me to have a much better understanding. I don’t want to become a specialist, but I want to learn the basics. There are people that study hard to know all the details.

So that’s where I started.

Website

Securing the domain name of the project and website

The first thing you have to do when you have a name in mind is to check if it’s still available. I used namecheap to look for www.peopleofthemediterranean.com. It was available, of course! The name should not cost you more than 10€ a year (and sometimes you can get it for free with hosting providers).

Learning the WordPress basics

For those who are unfamiliar with WordPress, the basic thing to know is that it’s a free and open-source content management system (also called CMS). It is based on the PHP programming language and works with a database (MySQL) that stores all your information on a web server. With more than 60 million websites worldwide, WordPress is the most popular website management system.

On WordPress.com you can start right away designing your website. WordPress comes with some free website templates as well as with some basic plugins. You can choose among several gratis website templates and use wordpress.com as well as your hosting.

Depending on which kind of project you plan to do, it might be better to work with the WordPress program. You can download it for free on wordpress.org and use a different web hosting service. The free wordpress.com website will always come with hidden costs (to use other fonts for example) or restrictions. For example, you only can use wordpress.com templates and plugins, but nothing from other providers. Also, you will never be able to advertise or participate in affiliate marketing programs not approved by wordpress.com.

Website

Choosing a WordPress theme

WordPress offers free designs that you can use for your website, but friends recommended to buy a theme. It will come with more templates and plugins installed. It will be updated on a more regular basis and you get more support and documentation to set up your website.

I spent several days looking through ThemeForest. On this website, you can find a plethora of designs adapted to different purposes (another website to do so is elegant themes). It was important to me that my theme is responsive. This means that it will adapt automatically when people browse from different devices (laptop, tablet or smartphone). Besides that, I wanted that it comes with a blog or magazine style. I also wanted a multi-purpose theme, so that in case the project evolves, I could add different features to the website (for example, a free online shop with the WooCommerce plugin). It should also have good ratings and be reasonably priced. You will need to pay every year a fee for the hosting, template and your domain.

Taking a decision on the website’s appearance is difficult. Especially, when all the content still needs to be created like in my case. Finally, I decided to use the Uplift theme. It’s easy and simple to use providing a drop-and-drag tool in the back office. Furthermore, it looks great. I already saw it in action before. It was so difficult for me to decide on one of the over 22.000 website templates out there.

Deciding on the right hosting provider

Since I had no idea about everything, I first asked a friend who runs an English language learning website to recommend me a hosting provider. He came up with Pressidium, which is apparently a good, but for my issues and budget a too pricey option.

Looking through a lot of websites, I started to understand that it is important to know:

  • how many websites do you want to host (I also plan to do a personal website later on),
  • how many GB of space will you need (if you run a project with lots of photos and videos you might need more space),
  • how quick you want your site to load – people are impatient and will leave your site if it takes too long.. (I recommend looking for hosting providers that have servers near you, or if you plan an international project to go for those who have several around the world),
  • how many readers or users do you plan to have (my friend told me that one day his site crashed after he was getting some media attention, the server couldn’t handle a lot of traffic)
  • how much do you want to spend

I then luckily discovered hostadvice.com and looked for the best WordPress host. Finally, I decided to use FastComet which had the best reviews and several server locations. It’s also friendly to my budget and has great customer service.

Coming up with a logo

I really had also no idea for the logo. I tried myself to come up with something using with some free internet programs such as Freelogoservices and Designapp. I spent hours on it, but everything looked so corporate or so cheap. I have to admit I am no designer.

(Un-)fortunately, I had heard about online platforms where you can hire freelancers like freelancer and fiverr. Besides better knowledge from my work experience – so to work with a detailed brief for designers, specifying the look and feel, colours etc. – I just wrote some lines about the concept of the project and started a 10-day logo contest on freelancer.

I was hoping to get some creative submissions, approaches for a logo that would surprise me and choose between the best. Unfortunately, most of the over 60 entries were crap or really corporate. I think people did not read what the project should be about. Most of the time, they used logo templates they already had bought and used somewhere else.

On the last day of the contest, an Egyptian designer submitted a first draft of the logo you see now. It’s ok for the start. I might change it once the project evolves. Maybe I will meet a talented logo designer that has a genius idea? One never knows.

Choosing colours and fonts

The design of a website or blog is one of the most important aspects to increase its attractiveness for readers. It’s the first impression people get. It should be simple and convincing, and already communicate part of your message. Design can also unconsciously suggest which kind of quality to expect and help guide the user in their reading experience.

Since my blog is about people of the Mediterranean, I chose to work with blue besides black grey. You will, for example, see blue colour when you glide with your mouse on the main menu. There are several websites where you can create colour palettes for free and use the hex codes or even CSS files in your WordPress colour scheme. I recommend Paletton, HTML Color Codes, and Material Palette. These sites also explain how best chose your colour and colour combinations.

For the fonts, I stayed simple as well. For the headlines, I use Montserrat and for the body Open Sans. When you go to Google Fonts you can try out hundreds of different font types. If they are not available in your WordPress theme, you can download a CSS file from the google fonts website. You then just need to import the font in your WordPress to use it.

Website

Selecting the right images

A website’s attractiveness is also influenced by the images used. Not only their quality but also which message and emotions they are able to communicate. As you know “A picture is worth a thousand words”. For the moment, I mainly used images showing the Mediterranean Sea or coastline, and Moroccan tiles. I will look for more and other images, also to be able to change the featured image every once in a while, so that you know that the project is alive.

Since I didn’t want to go through my personal images and bother about quality, I directly went to different websites that allow you to download beautiful quality images for free. You browse them with by categories, keywords or colours. Nevertheless, choice there is not infinite. Sometimes you have to see which creative comments licenses apply. I was positively surprised by Unsplash. Also, I found Pixabay and Makerbook really useful. There are of course websites where you can pay for photos and get exclusive rights like Shutterstock and Dreamstime. However, when you start and have a tight budget you can find your happiness with these free options.

When you upload the images, be sure that you optimise them for websites. If you use a Mac, you can open the image with preview and adjust image dimensions. 4 MB will become maybe 400 KB depending on the size you’ll choose or need. Lighter images improve the loading time of your website. It also assures you that you will not run too soon out of space on your server.

Seeing the first results my website

These are the basics, now it sounds simple, but you can’t imagine how much time I wasted.. 🙂 or with a more positive attitude, how much time I invested in learning some basic new skills! I am conscious that I just scratched the surface of website creation and design questions. You have to start somewhere, no?

Looking forward to your feedback.

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