Like many things in life, from your clothes to your hair style, web design can nowadays be something that you can either have done by a Pro or do it yourself.
Such tools like Content Management Systems (CMS), Website builders, etc., make it quite easy to set up a decent website in very little time and at affordable costs. WordPress is certainly top of the list when it comes to DIY web designers’ choices: it’s got an amazing community behind it, it can be quickly installed (have you heard of the famous 5 minutes installation?), and most web hosting companies offer WP hosting at affordable prices for everybody.
However, as easy as it seems, if you’re a small business owner turned aspiring do-it-yourself WordPress designer, there are pitfalls you’ll need to watch out for.
Here are three of the most macroscopic mistakes you might be prone to make and how to avoid them.
When To Be And When Not To Be A Do-It-Yourselfer
From the clothes to the hair cut you wear, there are at least two approaches you can take on how you go about getting them.
One is the Do-It-Yourself (DIY), hands-on route, the other is the hands-off, have-it-done by a Pro route.
This all-important choice will most likely depend on several factors. For instance, on the kind of clothes and hair style you’re planning to wear, the level of complexity it requires to realize what you have in mind and your degree of expertise, or whether or not you’re deciding what to wear on an ordinary day or for a special occasion.
If the skirt of your dreams is simple or you aren’t a complete novice, then wouldn’t it be just a lot of fun to dig out your mom’s sewing machine and have a go at making your own fabulous piece of clothing?
On the other hand, if you’re no good with a sewing machine, you have no time or interest in dress making, or the piece of clothing you have in mind is quite elaborate, then your best bet would be to hop over to the local store and buy something new. Or, if you have set aside the money for that special occasion, you might even decide to treat yourself to that chic boutique in the most affluent part of town.
More often than not, if you are no expert, if your time availability is scarce, if you have little to no personal aptitude for the work involved or this is quite complex, or finally, if the product or service you’re after is particularly important to your life, e.g., it’s for a special occasion, for your business, for your family, etc., you’ll decide to ditch the DIY approach and enlist professional help.
What about web design, and WordPress web design in particular?
I’m afraid, the same hardly holds when a small business owner decides that it’s time to have some sort of online presence. Perhaps, she’s got a nephew in his teens with his eyes constantly stuck on a tablet and his fingers dancing on a computer keyboard, who’ll be most happy quickly to whip up a website for her. If there’s no nephew? Well, no problem, she can do it herself – after all, what does it take?
The fact that there are easy-to-use, free platforms like WordPress for website building, doesn’t mean that building websites using such tools doesn’t require knowledge, experience, and know-how that can’t just be improvised.
After all, the fact that there are tools that easily let you dye and style your hair at home, doesn’t mean that you can do without a hair dresser. Perhaps you’ll do without one for a while, but when your hair becomes unmanageable, you plan on going to a special event or need a change in your current style, I bet you won’t be relying on amateurs.
Key Scenarios For Or Against DIY WordPress Website Design
My suggestion on the matter of opting for a DIY approach can be summarized like this: use the DIY approach if you recognize yourself in one or more of the scenarios below:
- You’re familiar with web design. This means you have some practice, are an avid reader of web design blogs and a religious follower of at least HTML and CSS tutorials.
- You’re not familiar with web design, but recognize the importance of learning when approaching a web design project and are ready to sink your teeth in all the valuable material available.
- When the project you have in mind has very simple requirements or can be implemented using WordPress and a simple theme almost out of the box.
- When all you need is a blog to share your great experiences with the world.
- When money is really really really tight.
If you find yourself in one or more of the situations below, I recommend you turn to a Pro who either builds a website for you or simply advises you on some crucial steps so that your project gets started on a solid footing.
- You have no will, time, or aptitude to build a website by learning principles of web design and at least some basic techniques. I’d like to stress the willingness to learn as a (often overlooked) precondition of DIY endeavours. If this is lacking and the improvisation frenzy has got hold of you, my advice is: don’t even think of doing away with some input by a professional.
- Your project is quite complex requiring some fancy functionality.
- You rightly consider your business website as a worthwhile investment. This means you care about your business and your customers enough to think that a professional, accessible, and useable website is your best business card for your online clients.
If, all things considered, you choose to go for the hands-on approach and start planning your website, here are three mistakes you could be making and what you need to do to avoid them.
Mistake #1: You Go For The Wow Factor Alone
In today’s world appearance is important, and this also applies to web design. But as in most things, also in web design, appearance is not everything.
Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur who’s decided to build a WordPress website all by herself. You start browsing for the perfect WordPress theme, the one with the vibrant colors, with that amazing parallax scrolling effect, the awesome big photo, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but if you’re just starting out with web design it’s possible to get blinded by the look and feel of a web template or theme. So much so, that you might forget about your business requirements (not just your website requirements) and your customers, those who will actually visit your website.
The way to avoid being caught up in the pure aesthetics of web design is to ask yourself some key questions before you go shopping for themes, such as those listed below:
- What am I building this website for? Do you intend to establish an online presence with a simple brochure website, is your plan to generate leads, or would you perhaps like an online store for your products? Answering this question helps you understand what features your website needs to have in order to fulfil your business goal.
- Who are my visitors? The website is not for you, but for your visitors. Ask yourself who your visitors are, what they’re looking for on your site, what you’d like them to do once they land on your page. This is important because your website will have to cater for your clients’ needs. For instance, if your visitors are not the average technologically skilled teenager, your website will need to be easy to navigate, the information needs to be well laid out and readable without strain, calls to action will have to be clear and easily accessible. This means that a lot of the fluff and fancy effects could be confusing and potentially off-putting. If your audience accesses your site mainly via mobile devices, which nowadays is more and more the case, then your site needs to be optimized for mobile, images and other media assets will have to be kept to a minimum and optimized so as not to negatively impact on bandwidth, etc.
- What kind of content will I offer? As the saying goes, Content is king. This is not just a cliché, it’s also true. It’s the content your website has to offer that keeps visitors on your website and makes them likely to come back again and again for more. Because of this, a good website layout takes into consideration your content, enhances it, and visitors enjoy it. This means that your design will need to pay attention to content hierarchy, white space, typography and readability, e.g., right level of contrast between text color and background color, good-sized characters, breaking long text into sections, paragraphs and lists, etc.
Mistake #2: You Underestimate The Technological Challenge
Although WordPress makes it relatively easy to set up a website by simply installing a nice theme and a bunch of great plugins to achieve tons of functionality out of the box, this low barrier to entry often misleads some into thinking that it’d be easy to take up a complex project without training or knowledge.
Internet forums are full of requests for help by great people who unfortunately write messages like: "I’m building this website but I know very little HTML or CSS and no PHP at all, I need to do X, Y, and Z. How do I do it?".
The most straightforward way out of this situation is to find a theme that’s most suitable to your website’s needs without requiring significant customizations. It also helps if you choose a theme that already supports the plugins you intend to use for your website’s functionality.
Let’s say that the website you have in mind is an online store. It’d be much easier for you to get your theme from a reputable company, for example WooThemes. Their themes are beautiful but also robust, well coded, and all of them support the company’s free e-commerce WordPress plugin, WooCommerce, out of the box. Furthermore, they also offer support on their site to those who buy their themes, which is always a sign of trustworthiness.
These simple steps will minimize the risk of finding yourself stranded halfway through a WordPress project with a broken theme and a lot of pent-up frustration to go with it.
Mistake #3: You Fail To Pay Attention To Security And SEO
Security is of the utmost importance and you really have to take the necessary steps to ensure your website is protected. Actually, WordPress makes it really easy to do so without any hassle.
There’s been too many times that I’ve come across budding WordPress site owners who woke up one morning to find that their WordPress business site had been hacked, or their website had disappeared after a WordPress update, etc. The shock and frustration this brings about is well known to some of us out there.
Although the best web hosting companies usually take care of such things as server’s security and website’s backups, it’s still crucial to take personal responsibility by performing such simple steps as:
- Not leaving WordPress default admin username. Please, change this into something else: hackers will find it a bit harder to do their nasty job.
- Performing regular website backups. BackWPUp and WordPress Back Up To Dropbox are only two of the most popular free plugins that perform this maintainance task reliably and easily.
- Performing regular updates and security scans – choosing strong passwords. It’s all too common that new WordPress website owners neglect to update themes, plugins, and even WordPress itself. This can happen for various reasons, not least for fear of breaking their site and losing their content. Unfortunately, this attitude is only likely to lead to troubles ahead. In fact, updates usually include security patches, without which your website would be open to all sorts of attacks. There are great free and easy-to-use security plugins for WordPress, such as WP Security Scan and Secure WordPress, that will scan your website and point out all sorts of improvements you could make to keep your site in top-notch condition.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Optimizing your website for search engines is an important part of the process of building a website. After all, whatever the reason why you set out to build a website, one point should be uncontroversial: you want people easily and quickly to find your website. SEO is a big topic in itself and not everyone who builds a website is expected to be an expert in this field.
However, everyone who builds a website is expected to know and apply the following coding best practices that impact positively on SEO therefore benefiting your business.
- Give a relevant title to each web page. The title should reflect the content of the page.
- Use HTML meta tags appropriately. This means filling out such meta tags as the site’s description, keywords (just a few), author, etc.
- Do not leave out images’ alt tags. This is the alternate text that both search engines and assistive technology devices can crawl and make sense of. WordPress makes it easy to add SEO-relevant info to images: when you upload an image to the media library, make sure you fill in the title, description, and alt fields in the form to your right.
- Add headings (h1, h2, h3) in your HTML markup and make sure that they are relevant to the main topic of of your page. However, don’t overdo the use of keywords: this will most likely have adverse effects on your search engines ranking.
- Make sure you validate HTML and CSS. You can easily do this using the free online W3C Markup Validation Service and W3C CSS Validation Service. Valid and well-coded pages help keeping Google happy.
If you want to know more about SEO, the Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is a great place to start.
By the way, have you tried the great WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast? This plugin significantly facilitates applying good SEO practices to your website.
To Sum Up
With the plethora of website building tools easily available nowadays, (almost) everyone can start building a website. This isn’t the same as saying that anyone simply wakes up in the morning, fires up WordPress and magically has a professional website up and running.
Contrary to somewhat popular opinion, there’s learning involved both in managing a WordPress website and in building one.
If you’d like to join the Do-It-Yourselfers of web design, I warmly wish you great success: there will be bumps in the road, but the journey is exciting and self-rewarding.
Those of you who have jobs to do or aim for a professional website tailored to the needs of their small business without hassle, will certainly have the job done by a Pro.
In either case, if you need suggestions or professional help, don’t hesitate to get in touch: I’ll be happy to hear from you.
And you, are you a Do-It-Yourselfer when it comes to WordPress web design? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Image name: Woman Sewing With A Singer Sewing Machine, by George Grantham Bain