How to make a good web site

The organization I work for (a non-profit science educational organization) has a pretty bad web site. The important information is hard to find, is isn’t regularly updated, and it is just plain boring.

So as part of my job I’m going to scrap it and start making a new one. What program do you recommend to do this? I have some basic skills, and even trained as a computer programmer, but that was 15 years ago and a lot has changed.

How easy/hard is it to make a dynamic, exciting web site?

However you design it, make sure you use a CMS. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla - all good, all open source.

Forget dynamic and exciting until later.

First figure out logical and well organized.

Look at the Web sites of similar organizations and see what you like and dislike about them. See what they offer visitors and what they omit.

Outline what you think your site should offer to visitors. Think about why someone should visit your site and what you want people to be able to do while they’re there.

Look at the designs of other Web sites in any industry. Identify what you like about the sites’ usability and flow.

Learn about Accessibility and know what your accessibility goals are.

If your site needs to be easily found via Web searches (not all sites do), look into DIY Search Engine Optimization like this article.

All of that stuff above dictates design. Have it all worked out before you even consider what colors to use and what graphics you’ll need.

You’ll also need to factor in your skill level.

Check out some books on HTML and CSS (make sure they are recent) and you should be good to go. You’ll end up with the best site you can make. If that’s not good enough, at least you’ll have a good, complete plan to shop around to professionals to give you quotes on.

The hard part isn’t technical. As tellyworth said, there are a number of open source CMS (content management systems) available that will work quite well.

The hard part isn’t content. You can take the content from the bad site, any hard copy brochures and PR stuff the organization may have, and massage it with some basic journalism concepts (who, what, where, when, how and why) to come up something to say. The old KISS Principle applies.

Nope, the hard part will be all the unsolicited opinions coming from everywhere and everyone else in the organization. Listen to all of them, but don’t promise anything to anyone.

[li]Get the PR staff to approve the content. Make they they understand it’s their content. Make they they understand they are responsible for getting updated content to you on a regular basis.[/li][li]Get the organization’s big shots to stay out of it. The best sites are designed for an organization’s customers, and not according to the wishes and desires of the boss. This is a hard one to overcome with some people. If the brass can’t keep away, seriously consider giving up the project. And tell them why.[/li][/ul]
Take your time. Experiment. Stick with the KISS Principle. Then build the site.

Definitely use a CMS. I took some convincing on this a good while back, but it’s almost certainly the right thing to do for you.

If you’ve (the OP, that is) never encountered the term before, a Content Management System (CMS) is a program or system that lives on your web server - you edit and update the site by logging into the CMS and creating content directly on it (as opposed to editing in some desktop application like Frontpage, then uploading).
The advantages are many, but a couple of them are:
You can edit the site from just about anywhere in the world (in other words, from more than one computer, without having to carry any of the site files around with you)
The CMS typically imposes a look and feel on the whole site - you get to define that template, but once it’s in place, you no longer need to think about it - you just create the page content and the CMS will shoehorn it into proper-looking pages.

Sounds like it’s already better than most.

Since most answers will be mostly opinions, let’s move from General Questions to IMHO.

samclem Moderator

What do bosses tend to get wrong?

They tend to want the site organized the way they have the company organized, instead of the way that customers see it. They tend to put undue importance on explaining the organizational structure, which isn’t relevant to customers. And many of them tend to have ego-pages, like a 30-second flash video opening page where the big boss says ‘welcome to our company…’ which are just annoying time wasters to customers.

There is no PR staff, this is a very small, constantly broke, non-profit that tries to get under-served youth to get excited about science. We have a vegetable-oil-powered bus that goes around to schools and public events and we have a science ‘show’ that involves flames and explosions to get kids to think science is cool.

Right now I am in charge of the summer camp, but once that is over, I will be put to work overhauling the web page. I’m just not sure where to start.

Start with: why does your organization even *need *a website to begin with?

Not that I doubt you need a website (because what organization doesn’t?), but what is the benefit to the organization? Who do you expect to be accessing the site? Kids? Parents? Science teachers? Private donors? Government agencies? All of the above? How will they find out about your site? How will these people benefit by using your site? How will your organization benefit from them using your site?

…Unless of course you’ve already got all that figred out, in which case you want to know what to do just after you start. :slight_smile:


My 2 cents worth:

  • Forget the “splash” page. The first page a user goes to should have content on it.

  • Never, EVER, ever use any blinking or flashing icons. Or anything that constantly moves. This is extremely irritating to many folks. Rollovers are fine, as long as they’re tasteful.


Anything that plays sound that I haven’t asked for gets closed immediately - I refuse to patronize the site again. Video isn’t too bad, if the sound doesn’t play - but I prefer no unrequested video too.

Liberal use of <BLINK> tags to draw attention to important information.

Seriously though. The KISS principle needs to be your bible. Before you even touch the computer, grab a notepad and make lists of what you need to present. Redo the lists. Organize them. Then storyboard the site.

Consider how easy it will be for users with disabilities to use. Storyboard some more.

Then start coding.

  1. Install CMS. I highly recommend Wordpress. Joomla and Drupal are confusing to learn and the admin tools are also confusing.
  2. Hit up the premade templates section on the website of whatever CMS you choose. Find template, follow instructions to install. Try and choose one that allows you to do some simple changes through the CMS and not through the code. There’s a lot of popular Wordpress templates that allow you to do that.
  3. Hi Opal!
  4. Use the aforementioned template tools to change colours and logo.
  5. Enter your content. Profit!

Anything more than this is overkill, especially for an organization like yours. Do not be afraid of using a premade template. None of your users will care. The process I outlined is the quick, easy, and most importantly CHEAP way of doing it.

Thanks so much for your input guys, it is starting to seem like something I can actually do.