Its been almost 3 years since I built my first website. In that time its been anything but a cake walk to success. Believe me, I still have quite a battle. I could never figure it out. My pages were well laid out, content was professional, and presentation was original. Yet for some reason the ball just never got rolling.
While I am still very far away from what I defined "success" as before, things have been re-framed and the picture is different now. I've had the opportunity to get knocked down and get back up. While I'm still getting the snot knocked outta me in this endevour I ain't down for the count just yet. So I have taken 3 years of my previous misconceptions and errors to create a short but pain saving compilation of the things I did, and more importantly, the things I did not do to make my first attempt successful.
What I got right
Bound to be the shortest caption in here, these are the things I did right after it was all said and done with. These definitely won't get you thousands of viewers but they are a good start.
1. First, if you want to attract visitors to a site build something that you want to look at for more than 30 seconds. If it is bland to you it will definitely be bland to others. Take the time to download a ton of imagery, animations, photos, and other media to include in your reserve when populating your initial presentation. I'm not saying throw a ton of unrelated flashing shit all over your page but some color or a picture never hurt anyone. Ok, I take it back....this sweet red color and picture are hurting me right now. (no I will not provide you the link)
People are accustomed to immediate gratification these days, we are spoiled. You are competing with the generation of the 2 second attention span. These yahoos probably get more hits than I do, I'm sure they have some excellent content. And I digress.
2. If you have a good presentation and your website appears professional, competent, and interactive, you are on your way to attaining competent and reliable contributors. Doing your best to ensure that all of your links and tabs work will go a long way. If you are working on your website provide notice to let people know it is being actively worked on and its not an abandoned cause. I have come across some seemingly great looking websites with little to no good content or functionality. Enter (exhibit A) The Top 20 Worst Webpages of 2011. Ensure your navigation tabs are practically laid out and easy to access. Making navigation as smooth as possible is the key here. Add links to reference other places in your website or provide "Back to Home" buttons in latter pages. Generally I consider my layout skills to be admirable, let me have that lol.
What I got wrong
Enthusiasm is a great thing and you will need a boatload of it to keep up your website however try not to fall into the "everything" trap. Once again, I know this from experience, let my pain be your progress.
1. Just as your appearance is important so is your overarching theme. My first website was a small side business, that also wanted to be a travel blog, and a game site, and art page. Trying to do too much can hurt you in the end. Generally, I feel that it tends to convolute the major point you are trying to get across to people and it leaves them trying to figure out what the website actually is rather than thinking about your content. There is a lot of cyber real estate out there to be had. You can knock yourself out and create more than one website with different themes for each. I currently have 2 others, video2life.com (offline for maintenance) and deltademon.com (I manage for my old unit).
2. Some may disagree with this one but do not constantly monitor your page view stats. Most website creation services provide some tracking information once you have published your website. Every time you log in to edit the site there will be a stats page that will show you the number of page views you have had monthly, broken down by day. It will even show how many times viewers looked at specific pages. The best metaphor I have for this is Wall Street enter (exhibit B).
You think losing money sucks, well your right it does. If you ever decide to mess with some risky investment choices you can go from investing $10,000 to making $25,000 to losing it all in the matter of a week. Quite an emotional roller coaster to say the least. Your website view chart can do exactly the same thing. You may have 160 views one day and drop to 15 the next. By the end of a long weekend you may be lucky if you have double digits coming back. Asking yourself why you are spending countless hours on this effort becomes your next question and is a damning one.
The old saying stands true "time is money" and it takes some time to write these blogs and upkeep a website. Watching your stats hit zero and stay there gives you that same feeling of loss. Its even more personal however, since you have put yourself into your content. And society is telling you that there's not one person out there that's interested in all the work you've been doing. Be ready and willing to drive on, persistence is key. Ignore "fluctuations in your viewing market".
Furthermore, if you get advanced enough this could be an attractive addition to any resume as almost everyone is willing to have the employee who can fix the company website without a hitch. Everyone loves a nerd when they run into computer problems. Smart progressive companies will understand and value these skills. Not to mention you could make a ton of money by independently building sites for small companies in your area. Don't beleive me, when you go to work tomorrow, ask your co-workers how many of them can write "code" good enough to build a functioning website. See how many even know what "code" is.
What I never got
And lastly there is the stuff I just overlooked big time. Much of these points have to do with how to funnel traffic to your website. It tends to be uncommon knowledge, but website traffic will not come to you.
1. You are your best ally, if you don't help yourself nobody else will. There are a few easy and not so easy ways to build a small traffic base. The first may be a no brainier for the new generation. And by new generation I'm not talking those in their twenties, they're the old breed. I'm talking teens. They are ingrained into the social media fabric on an entirely different level then we ever were. They really do have digital identities. This becomes your greatest advantage to building a successful "anything" online.
I curse myself as I deleted my Facebook for a number of reasons (my job, security, subordinates, etc.) but wish I had it for this specific purpose. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking account you probably have hundreds of friends already (it really is the avg these days). All it takes is a click of a mouse to synch your new website to your currently existing social platforms and promote it. These are already groups of people that know and trust you. So long as you consistently update your content you will be sitting pretty.
2. For those like myself, without a social networking account, there is another slightly more intensive way of funneling traffic. That is, to get involved with established, more prominent blogs, and contribute thoughtful well written responses on there. After a while if you have contributed enough, the blog owner may let you add your blog link to the end of your comments funneling some secondhand traffic to you. If you try to do this on the first post however without establishing any presence they owner will almost certainly delete it and probably not appreciate you trying to mooch.
Hopefully I haven't butchered my explanation too badly. This is by no means the all inclusive blog creating tip hotline. If it was I would be like Nomadic Matt an accomplished blogger willing to sell you his books for money. But hey. mine is free, and free is good = ) I would love to hear some tips from you as I can always put a few more in my own tool box.
Personally, I am content with what I am doing right know. I realize that nobody will probably read this but the numbers game is no longer my focus. Letting go of that "will set you free..." -The Matrix. I just can't contain the nerd comments, I try so hard. Keeping your head up and driving on regardless of the situation is key. This is one of those times that it pays to be a stubborn son of a $$$. Good luck and I can't wait to hear what you have to say!