It’s been a while…a long while. My blog has been dormant, collecting digital dust. Regrettably, I’ve not had the inclination or time to share my whimsical thoughts…until now.
In recent weeks I have experienced what is known as ‘post-op recovery’, which I have been told means to ‘take it easy’ and basically rest and do nothing.
Anyone who knows me knows this is a laughable concept when applied to me…a true stress pot, with too many jobs! But regardless, I have knuckled down…and ‘taken it easy’…kind of.
I’ve been stuck in bed for a weeks with a window to the world via my laptop (the film Rear Window came to mind)
The inevitable ‘itchy fingers’ to apply myself to something productive crept up. Playing Age Of Empires II multiplayer (and losing as the noob I am) lost its flavour and so I thought it was time to address my to-do list, which included creating a new website, for Celyn Cooke Millinery & Design. This is something I had been putting off for a while, as it’s a big job, especially when you don’t have time…but now…I did.
I thought I would share some of my findings as I navigated the world of self-publishing websites.
Which hosting Provider?
An obvious first question, as there is a daunting amount to choose from. Through the years I have had dealings with many website platforms. My earliest experience was early 90’s HTML coding, very fiddly! luckily things have become far easier and you can create something slick quite simply and quickly. I cannot deny that I do miss animated GIFs and Flash! Maybe, like vinyl, they will make a come back.
Some of these current providers that I have played around with are WordPress, Weebly, Squarespace and Wix. They all have their pro’s and con’s so really it depends on what you want your website to do. I thought about the following things and then compared each provider:
- What is your website for and who will be visiting it?
You should think about the content of your website and how you want to present it. For example; a portfolio or an online shop? What are the key elements of what it should do? Then think about all the things you want it to do…then just jot them down on a napkin or the back of a bus ticket or whatever…this is your wish list.
In my case my website is going to be an online shop. It’s also a representation of my brand, Celyn Cooke Millinery and Design, to potential press (one can dream!) So it needed to be stylish with visual impact and a professional e-commerce set-up.
As it’s the first impression, so has to be good
In particular, with e-commerce, I was looking for the following key points:
- Easy to use system when adding too and designing my product pages, something that would look clear and slick with not too much effort or formatting.
- A clear order processing system, as I did not want bad design or over complicated technical design to come between myself and a sale. I looked for things like Postage options or customisation options that could be added on my products, as with selling my Hats, postage varies and customers often want bespoke options.
- Integrated data collection options, as it’s good to be able to collect customers details (with their permission first, obviously) so that I can build up a good customer base, with hope of creating a mailing list (another thing on my TO-DO list!)
You may be looking for other e-commerce options such as ticket/online booking, live calendars or streaming, these elements should all be on your ‘wish list’ when you are investigating providers.
When it comes to visuals, I looked for following:
- Good selection of themes (as this is a good starting point when designing)
- Lots of flexibility with editing the themes whilst building.
- Good formatting options for images and layout, as with my hats the photography is very important, so want to show it off as best as I can.
- I also wanted some movement on my website, so looked for good animation options.
If you are looking to create an online portfolio then you will be looking to present your work in the best possible way. Maybe you have a show-reel or sound files you want to include, so have a look at what options the providers have.
Note: most of the provider’s offer a freebie trial or very least a free basic level subscription, so you can play around on each and check what is offered in relation to what you need. You will have to go through the hassle of registering to them all, but needs must!
2. Technical need-to-know, Usability
Not everyone knows coding…not everyone wants to…that is a fact and that is why these ‘drag and drop’ style online design platforms exist. Saying that, some are easier and smoother than others. I was looking for a design program that lends it’s self to visual design, as I also have a Graphic Design background. I wanted to have flexible options so I could put things where I wanted, with as little restriction as possible.
All I can really suggest is to experiment. Try and create the same looking design on each platform and see what obstacles appear (there will be some) Also look at what design elements are available on each, maybe things that you have not thought of (like hover over buttons or page dividers etc) and try them out. The platforms will vary in what they offer. You will find your ‘Wish list’ may grow onto two napkins!
Important Side Note: RESEARCH PEERS/COMPETITORS. Go find some websites you like, and in particular websites of people or organisations that are similar to what you are doing. This is where I got lots of ideas; for things I didn’t know I even wanted. It can be overwhelming, as ideas flood in, but also comforting when you find some really bad websites and your like ‘I can do so much better than that!’
3. Price…show me the money!!!
This will inevitably be a huge crux of your decision-making and rightly so. If like me, you are a creative trying to get a small venture off the ground you won’t have a huge budget to work with.
I would suggest only after playing with each platform can you make a semi-educated choice. It will come down to numbers per month on what you can afford, but after experimenting with each on their ‘free’ or ‘basic’ subscription will you know what your money will get you. All of the ones I tried have ‘Tier’ price plans and you discover what is available (or not) on your ‘tier’ as you are trying to design. I experienced this learning curve whilst setting up and designing a website for someone. I signed up and paid for the year on one ‘Tier’, but discovered that an essential part of what was needed on the website, was not included in that ‘tier’ (and it was not obvious until quite far along the design process) So look out for that! To be fair this was quite early on in the days of such platforms, generally they all seem to be better at listing and communicating what each ‘Tier’ gives you, maybe advertising standards stepped in! This is another reason why your ‘wish list’ is handy.
Note: you can always upgrade down the line if you need to add something more to what you initially offer.
Here are some things that will affect which price plan you need and you should consider:
- Storage: If you plan to display lots and lots of images and video then a good amount of hosting space will be factor
- e-commerce: They will offer different things and usually start with a basic small business package, with a standard Store and checkout design. This package may not include things such as ‘Gift voucher’ creation, ‘Abandoned cart’ reminders, which are all nice details, so think if you may want them.
- Domain: You might get one included with the package, for those who have not already got one. If you have a domain already, you will need to look into linking it up with the platform you choose, and they all should have either automatic link options or easy to follow instructions.
I am not going to bore you with another blog about choosing a Domain. My advice (which has been passed on to me) is keep it punchy, but not so short and abbreviated that it makes no sense in relation to what your page is. In my case, the one time my unusual name was useful, is I could grab Celyn Cooke.com quite easily. Also, try to get .com before anything else. The provider I use is 1&1 internet and they are well priced and quite simple to use, but I don’t have any particular feelings on where a domain should be purchased.
Final thought and my choice reveal
I wanted to leave the answer to which company I chose until the end, as I have no agenda here. You will be guided by your own research and comparison and by what you want from your website. As I said before, I have used most of the platforms on offer and still run a few websites (quite happily) on these other platforms, such as Squarespace and Weebly.
I am happy to answer any comments or questions about my suggestions and hope it may of be of use…to someone. At the very least building the website and writing this blog has saved me from day time T.V whilst stuck at home!