Design

The One Question to Ask Before Building Your Own Website

By Sarah Haas

As a millennial, I’m part of a unique generation gifted with the context of growing up in a pre-tech world while coming-of-age in a global, tech-savvy landscape. As a result, millennials are the last generation to remember life without reliance on technology, and the first generation to intuitively weave it seamlessly into daily life.

However, I’ve come to realize that being able to use tech doesn’t mean I’m any good at creating it.

Why A Website Matters

Growing antsy in my current job last year, I decided to browse other opportunities. Given my varied background and the overcrowded market, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue but I knew I had to sell myself easily and effectively – within about 10 seconds.

I perfected my elevator pitch and made my resume pop, but it wasn’t enough.

I didn’t know how to tell my professional narrative cohesively, and sending multiple attachments via email was time-consuming and ripe with anxiety over whether the larger files ended up in junk mail.

I knew as a brand I had real potential, but I didn’t know how to leverage it.

I needed a website.

Having a website is now not only common, but it’s totally trending as a professional differentiator, even among people who work in fields not traditionally associated with needing one (e.g.: nannies, bakers, yoga teachers, etc.).

With one URL, I could organize my materials, carve out appropriate categories and effortlessly send any potential employers a relevant deep link accordingly.

Visually Defining My Brand

So I did what most of us do – I made myself a free WordPress page.

The plan was to create a one-stop-Sarah-content-shop with a cool domain name, streamlined design, ample white space and gorgeous visuals. I’d use a simple color scheme with easy navigation between my career highlights, volunteer experience, writing samples and visual portfolio. The best part, I rationed, is that it would be free.

I had worked in digital media for years and was a casual consumer of online content since I was a kid in the 1990s. I knew what made a good website, and so I assumed I could easily handle spending a few hours designing one. I didn’t have the cash to spend on hiring a professional, and – true confession — I didn’t want to be incapable of doing what seemed so easy for my peers.

After all, I wasn’t trying to promote my web design skills – I just needed a digital space to highlight what I was trying to promote: Me.

What Is My Time Worth?

It’s a difficult question. Free rarely means easy, but easy usually costs money.

I knew my time was valuable, but I didn’t realize just what it was worth.

After deciding on a platform and selecting a free template, I spent hours trying to master it, swapping it out, then building pages only to find that they refused to look how I wanted. (Sometimes due to code restrictions, and other times thanks to my own amateur skills.)

Annoyed, I cut my losses and activated a free trial for a paid platform which promised it would be much easier for me to make the website of my dreams. It wasn’t. And then it charged me.

Eventually I lamented my troubles to a designer friend of mine and naively asked if he could just, “You know, make me one?”

He gave a hearty laugh, and then told me his rates.

Turns out that even with a generous “friends & family” discount, time is still money. As it should be.

Both are valuable, fleeting and necessary investments to get results.

It’s up to me to invest wisely.

Lesson Learned

I knew I could make a website — in fact, I think I made about four during my trial-and-error efforts – and I knew I understood what a good one should look like.

But after endless hours of trying fruitlessly to create something up-to-par, I still couldn’t make my site resemble what I envisioned. Try as I might, it just didn’t look like I wanted it to, it didn’t work the way I needed it to and it didn’t tell the story in way that supported the whole purpose of its existence in the first place.

So now my website idles disjointed and unfinished. I am depleted – lacking creative gusto, and in need of renewed energy if I ever want to populate the site with actual content.

I was so burned out devoting my time to perfecting my amateur skills as a web designer, coder, information architect and expert HTML color palette-picker that I didn’t have any energy left for what I actually wanted to be my focus: My brand.

Invest Your Time Wisely

Anyone can build a website, even me. However, I want to focus my attention on my brand, not teaching myself how to build the website to promote it.

By hiring a professional designer, I can narrow my focus to creating the best content I can to fill its pages.

I accept that my cash-flow is limited, but so is my time. It’s an investment, and if I’m going to invest in myself, I need a site that’s as extraordinary as the person being promoted.

So before deciding whether to design your own website (which can be quite a fun adventure … or a massive time-suck), just ask this question first: How can I best invest?


SarahHaas
Sarah Haas is a marketing professional for a Fortune-15 tech company in the Pacific Northwest. She’s also a freelance writer, performs with the local LGBTQ theatre company Fantastic.Z and volunteers with the nonprofit animal rescue group Motley Zoo.

She holds a Masters in Media Studies from The School for Public Engagement at The New School in NYC and lives in Seattle with her two dogs, two cats and multiple streaming media subscriptions. She still believes that the truth is out there.

 

Why do some web pages take forever to load?

In order to make your website accessible you’re going to want to design it in a way that so that it will load quickly for everyone. No one wants to stare at a loading screen for hours when they could be browsing your amazing website right? Here are a few tips to make your web pages load faster when designing your website.

The speed at which a user downloads a web page from the internet has mostly to do with their internet speed. Yet sometimes you will notice that a web page downloads quickly one day and suddenly much slower another day. What gives? The most likely culprit is the server that page is coming from. If thousands of other people across the internet are requesting that same page at the same time, the server can be overwhelmed and respond much slower than usual. Just like when your computer acts slower when you’re running too many programs at once, a server can act slower when it’s sending out a web page to too many people at once. Not to mention that most servers are not direct, meaning that the main server will send that web page to several additional servers that will bounce the page from server to server until it reaches you. If any one of these servers is receiving too much traffic, then that web page is moving at rush hour speed.

Getting the right server for your site that can handle a lot of internet traffic is important, but it’s what’s underneath your site that can really make a difference. The code of a site, when done properly, can make a huge difference when it comes to loading any given web page. Cluttering a page with pictures versus text can take much longer to load. The bigger the picture, the longer it will take to load the page. Other types of media such as videos, ads, or comment sections can all factor in to longer load times as well. Obviously you don’t want your web pages to be exclusively text because well, that’s just boring, but the trick is to use the other types of media sparingly and efficiently.

Besides writing smart code and choosing the right server to host your website, there is little more you can do to make sure your web pages load quicker. Obviously test out your site on multiple web browsers or operating systems to make sure it plays nice on all of them, but this (should be) a given. The actual download speed of one’s internet connection won’t make much of a difference if certain pages load faster than others. If this happens, your best bet is to just close the window and try again in an hour.

Are you waiting forever to load a web page? Let us know what other suggestions you have to improve load times in the comments down below!

How to Create the Perfect Home Page

Besides actual content, the home page is the most important aspect of any website. In order to attract traffic to your site, you need to guarantee that your home page is enticing enough so that users will want to explore the rest of your site. Creating the perfect home page is no easy task, but with the right tricks it will have a lasting impact on your site’s overall success.

Similarly to how you would judge a person, most people will decide whether or not they like a home page within the first few seconds of seeing it. The question is how can you form a positive first impression with your users? The most crucial step is making sure your page can load in a relatively quick amount of time. That means covering your home page with multiple high resolution images, automatic videos, gifs, or even large bodies of text can disrupt one’s ability to get to the home page quickly. How many times have you closed out of a page because it was taking too long to load? The same policy applies to your home page. If any of these items are not essential to introduce users to you and your company, remove them from your home page in order to make sure that it will load for everyone, regardless of internet speed.

When it comes to the home page, most people come to the conclusion that they need to fit in as much information as possible in order to inform users why they should explore the rest of the site. Information is good, but too much can be a bit overwhelming. Having too many links in your navigation bar is a common problem. Remember that the navigation bar is essentially a digital map that shows users how to get to certain pages. Cover the map in too many landmarks, and suddenly the map becomes difficult to read efficiently. Limit the number of links in your navigation bar to ensure that exploring your website isn’t an overwhelming task.

Of course no one is going to take your page seriously if you don’t treat it professionally. Remember the idea that people can judge another person or site within a few seconds? That idea should be the first one that comes to mind when you’re designing the layout of the page. Is the color scheme bright and jarring, or cool and relaxed? Do you have any professional certifications listed on the home page? Do you have a clear and concise description of your company and what it does?  How big is the header, and does it make users trust the legitimacy of your site? Assuming you’re building a business site, these questions are important if you want to hook users into your site.

Content content content. In an earlier blog article we discussed how important it is to maintain a strong online presence by producing content on a regular basis. Your home page should not be your main source of content, but it should essentially make a proposition to whoever visits it about why they should continue reading or stay on your site. In a brief paragraph or two, your job is to sell your website. Explain the ins and outs of your website, but if you explain too much you might drive users away due to information overload. Finding a happy medium can be challenging, but by constantly editing the limited content on your home page you should be able to make the sale that much easier.

Creating the perfect home page is critical when designing a website. The home page is the first page that people see when visiting your site, so its effectiveness to communicate your message as well as demonstrate your ability to entice others must be perfect.  It’s the primary page that search engines locate first. These are a few tips that you should keep in mind when creating any home page, regardless of what content is actually on your site. If you have any other tips or tricks that you can think of, feel free to leave them in the comments below!