So you wanna start a website...
Posted 06/13/01

So you want to do a web site? I, like all human beings on this planet, have some advice for you.  After years on-line, running several different personal web sites, having many friends run  theirs, running a company web site, and working for a dot com, I've seen many things. Some of those things appear useful to pass on, while others, well, are simply better off forgotten.  So let's discuss what I like to call 'fan' sites and their viability. When I say fan site, I mean a site dedicated to some sort of hobby, show, author, movie, actor, cereal, etc. that has a dedicated base. It could be a news site, a store, a message board, or the complete package. It's not intended as a judgement to the level of professionalism - there are fan sites out there that are far more professional looking than some major players.  Rather it's a definition of the roots, beliefs and love that often is the basis for the fan site.

Here's the tidbits I think are useful...

1 - You aren't going to make any money. Or at least you shouldn't assume that you will. I can't stress this one enough - most of the people that do web sites, even very successful ones, don't do it for profit or monetary gain. All that hype about the get-rich-over-night world of the net are a bunch of hooey.

Sure, many sites do well enough to pay their costs. But if you have dreams of creating the next great, all purpose, action figure site and retiring from your day job in 3 months, do yourself a favor and hit the lottery instead.

That doesn't mean there can't be tremendous benefits, monetarily and otherwise, in running a fan site. You're going to be making contacts, and they'll be contacts in an area you have some interest. I've known several people to use these contacts to get great jobs, or pursue new careers. That's rarely the reason they started the site, but it is a far more likely and tangible benefit.

2 - Pick something you love. You'd think that would be obvious, but sometimes people pick
something because OTHER people love it. They look for the 'hot' thing, rather than the area that really, truly, clicks for them. And if you don't have an over riding, extreme passion for it, you'll poop out way too soon.

Putting together a web site can be a lot of work. The single most crucial thing to make a site popular is to keep adding new content, and that always takes effort. If you aren't as interested or more interested in the content of your site than your visitors, you'll fade like David Caruso's career.

3 - Do something no one else does. Or at least does well. You love the Simpsons? There
are a ton of Simpsons sites out there that you'll be competing with for eye balls. How do you get them to read your stuff? Make it stuff that no one else has. Here's an example -  many sites show custom figures. But not many do photos of those same custom figures with humorous captions and world balloons, telling some sort of story a la Twisted Mego Theater.  Of course, it helps to have some talent in writing funny word balloons...but I think you see my point. If one site does something really well, you'll have to do something else, or  find a better way to present the same content.

4 - Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and no web site will gain readership over night.  It will take months or even years for your site to become all that it can or will be. Don't give up too soon, and don't do it just for hits. Do it for your own satisfaction, and the readers will come.

5 - Be dedicated. Some days it's going to take a little extra effort to convince yourself it is really worth spending a half hour writing up some new content. But once folks start showing up, new content on a regular basis will become the expectation.

6 - Get yourself a good, free, statistics service. There are plenty of them out there, and they'll give you all the web site stats you need. Pay attention to growth, not actuals.  Hits are meaningless, only unique visits really count. And you want to see those rise month to month as much as possible, but don't get concerned about the actual number. If you start worrying about how many visits you are getting in quantity, you'll lose sight of your overall goals.

Another nice thing about statistics is that it allows you to see where folks are coming from.  It never ceases to amaze me that someone from Thailand or New Zealand is reading what I write...

7 - Learn how to use keywords and good descriptions in your html, then manually submit your site to the top 10 search engines. Don't waste your money on one of those automated systems - they do a much poorer job getting you into the engines than you will do if you spend a little time researching what each of the major engines want.

Good keywords, with good descriptions on EVERY page, will get you found by the search engines far more often. Experiment, and look at how other popular sites have made their selections.

8 - Don't kill yourself on web design. Some folks have a knack for superior graphic design, some don't. If you don't, enlist the help of someone that does, or do what I do - keep it simple.  If you remember that the number one key is easy navigation, and number two is easy on the eyes, you'll be far better off than trying to design the Picasso of web sites.

Keeping it simple is a key to time saving - if you keep your templates consistent and simple, it will make cutting and pasting new content extremely easy. You don't want to spend huge amounts of time on cutesy stuff - people won't keep coming back just because you have animated icons, or special graphics. They will come back if you have good content, and it's easy to navigate.

9 - Have fun. That's the single most important point, because if you have fun, it will show. Others will be drawn to it, and it will grow from there. And if it stops being fun, stop doing it. No one is going to blame you, and sometimes our priorities in life change, as they should.

Ah, but then what the hell do I know.  Drop me a line, and let me know what you think.

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