Lessons learned from my many websites

Simple business and personal websites are relatively cheap to build and maintain. Now that I have four active sites, it’s probably time to review them.

I started building websites back in 1994, with privateline.com (external link). It supported my hardcopy telephone magazine private line. The site grew to be wildly popular; in 2001 it had over two million page views. Even the United States Library of Congress recommended that people go to my site. I think about the sites’ success on days when my personal blog site has one, two, or sometimes no viewers. Oh, well. The site’s popularity led into writing hardcopy magazine articles as well as an appearance on The History Channel.  But the site grew so large, over 440 individual pages, that it became totally unworkable. The key downfall were broken links.

Links to external sites are absolutely essential to a website’s growth. People link to you if you link to them, and I think the major search engines use them as an indication of a site’s usefulness. But because websites are constantly changing pages at least 25% of my links died every year. With over a thousand external links it proved impossible to keep them all alive and well. If I did such a large site again I would get a service to e-mail me daily reports on dead links. And I would archive pages that I linked to, just in case the page in question was killed, and not just moved. Sound like a great deal of work? Certainly. Something best if you had staff or other team members. A site like this would have to make money or really contribute to your work portfolio. Unable to keep the site going, I sold it in 2006 for a few thousand dollars. It is now an archive.

privateline

The second site I created was californiarockhound.com (external link). I thought it would be a good domain to support a rockhounding newsletter but when I ran the numbers the publication would not make any money. I kept the domain renewed, however, because it was less than ten dollars a month for hosting, done by yahoo. A lifetime plant enthusiast, professional and amateur, this unused site was an easy place to locate a tree tour I decided to make of my neighborhood streets. This site was done as a public service. If I wanted more traffic I would get a domain name that matched the mission. Done years ago, I sized all the photographs to display well in either a iPhone or an iPad. I don’t have to pay as much attention to sizing anymore with sites using WordPress technology. In those, you can resize your photos within your browser, instead of having to redo them using Photoshop. I also found californiarockhound.com a good place to post large files to be downloaded by others. Dropbox.com (external link) today does that much more efficiently. One last lesson: get a website that is compatible with your favorite browser. This yahoo based site only let me create in Firefox.

planttour

My third site, the one you are at now, is essential to me as a freelancer. To better sell my writing skills I needed a site that could show off my portfolio. To make things simple I went with WordPress.com as a host. The alternative is to use WordPress technology at a site you host yourself. Having WordPress as a host allows you to easily enable features like statistics. And certain things are only available through Wordpress.com. All in all, though, unless you are an absolute beginner, I see no reason to limit yourself to WordPress.com. Common to all WordPress products is an overall simplicity of use with major exceptions. While it is amazingly easy to change a font across all pages, going from Times to Arial, for example, it is agonizingly difficult to change just a few sentences here and there. Like putting your photo captions into something different than the site-wide text., say changing the normal 12 point Times to a 10 point Helvetica.

blogscreenshots

Railroadsounds.net was another WordPress site I built. I thought it might make some money by selling audio clips but so far there has been no interest. I’ll let it grow on its own and treat it as a hobbyist website. I bought an expensive template (around $100) for the site but I won’t do that again. If you are building a simple site you should start with a free WP program and upgrade later. I like simple sites and an uncluttered look to pages; there really was no need for me to buy an expensive framework. And although I am not making any money with the site, putting it together taught me a great deal about handling audio files, a skill I am sure I will use once again.

Update: Site has been discontinued. 

railroadsoundsscreenshot

And now we come to my latest site, newmotorcyclerider.com. This is a site I am slowly building, using what I’ve learned in the last year about WordPress sites, audio, and video. I’d say I am two months away from launch. Done on pure speculation, I hope to get a motorcycle related sponsor in the future. Each day I think about new content to add to the site, and each day I get lost in details about making pages in WordPress. The template I am using here cost $50 and, again, it has more features than I probably need. But if I learn more perhaps my site can be more stylish, functional, and easier to read. At some point I would like all I’ve learned about creating sites since 1994 to come together to make something marvelous. In the end, though, good content, solid writing, must be the first priority. What good is lousy writing wrapped up in a shiny package? That is probably the most important lesson I have learned.

Update: Site has been discontinued.

newmotorcycleriderscreenshot

About thomasfarley01

Freelance writer who specializes in history, technology, and human interest stories.
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