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Cheat-master30's Website Design Guide
When it comes to creating a website, I'll be perfectly honest and say my opinion has changed a heck of a lot over the years, with my tips for website design one year not holding out well for the next. However, I thought I might as well write a proper website design and content guide, not unlike those by sites like the Cave of Dragonflies, because frankly, the internet needs a fan site author who's less... anti business/anti premade stuff and who actually realises internet forums are far harder to run than they seem.
First things first however, internet forums. Now, I won't go into the specifics here, because I already wrote a fantastic guide you can find at vBulletin.org and AdminAddict about how to manage a forum, and the same sites have pages on pages on pages of resources about how to manage a forum in every way, but managing a forum (or any community element to a site) is probably one of the most difficult things to do as far as being a webmaster actually goes. It's immensely satisfying when the forum or wiki does well, but starting off it's basically a long, hard slog uphill for a minimum of weeks to get it off the ground. Indeed, it's not the easy option. Sorry Archaic Sage of Rauru's Return and whoever runs the Cave of Dragonflies, forum management is not the cowards way out in terms of fan site design, nor is it something that's merely an add on to a sucessful site. It's a whole subject area for which entire BOOKS and WEBSITES have been written. At least ten big forums thrive just on telling you how to run a community. It's also not linked to the success of the main website or attraction. A good fan site can be dead community wise, this killed Deku Palace the Zelda site. So can an active wiki. As can a very popular blog (see, John Chow. His forum died in weeks despite the fact he literally had thousands of unique visitors and made thousands of dollars in Adsense revenue).
On another note, I will say that about pre made software... just use it in most cases. Style is best to make or at least edit yourself, but really, coding your own database system, site layout and forum from scratch is a ridiculous waste of time for most people. I don't care if you belong to the rebel free software code it yourself 90s hacker movement, it's freaking stupid to even recommend that course of action to people. Go for it if you're a programmer or have far too much free time, but otherwise, stick to Drupal/Joomla/Wordpress/vBulletin/Invision Power Board, and you'll have a far nicer, probably more popular website than whoever tries coding in Notepad.
As for content, there's an article on the Cave of Dragonflies about types of content which is really, really good, and says much of what I would say on this matter. But I do have to be a bit more informative than that, and I'll say it quite bluntly now:
- Purely news content gets you a site that's basically following the crowd and ends up nowhere.
- Purely informative content gets you a site completely replaceable by GameFAQs. Have this kind of content, but have it backed up with something more unique.
- Purely interesting content gets you a site that will be as slow growing as Nintendo Database but have a semi loyal crowd.
- Purely forum/interactive content with bad management will get you a ghost town.
Also, say something on some significant value, or at least at length. If your articles and content can fit on Twitter, rework it to be more interesting. It's why I dislike Kotaku and GoNintendo, their articles could be better described as one word per line lists rather than 'journalism'. Or even in many cases, literally just a paragraph an article.
Don't put requirements for affiliates. Or at least, based on popularity. Affiliates are meant to bring traffic to sites that actually need it, not just boost the ego of the alpha sites in the niche. Sites with thousands of visitors a day don't need any help in terms of popularity, and having that as a requirement means you've got about ten websites with three quarters of the community traffic. Similarly, having affiliates as a list in the sidebar helps none and merely wastes space on the page. On that note, don't have the silly little button row for your affiliates either, because it does nothing for SEO (actually, nor do most affiliate lists, they simply boost the placement in Google for the affiliate's SITE NAME, which is bloody useless in most cases), and even less for human visitors (people generally don't click on tiny icons which aren't identified). Seriously, the only use these exist for are Topsites like the one we have here. You may as well just rename affiliates 'topsites', because frankly, they don't help for much else.
Similar, like what was said about using default software, it's probably better to start from a premade style, then customise than that it is to start from scratch. Hell, if you don't have anyone who can make images, maybe just editing the colour scheme and getting a custom logo is enough. Because let's face it, the start from scratch in Notepad when designing layouts and styles for CMS systems and forums is fair enough for people who want to take up website design as a job or want to boast about their '1337' skills, but for many people, it's a fair bit easier to start from a solid base than from nothing.
As for colour schemes, make sure it's readable! Indeed, my personal recommendations here are to make sure your background colour is roughly white, and your text colour black or dark grey. The other way around hurts your eyes after a while and should be an option rather than the default, and whatever myriad other colour schemes you can think up will likely be massively eyestraining. Oh, and background images have pretty much had it bar gradients and patterns. Trust me, nothing annoys people more than a fancy piece of official art of a video game character tiled to infinity in the background.
On another note, making money off your website is.... something very easy to mess up, and something with which great care should be paid. On the one hand, it's not evil to try and make money of your site. Yes, there are way too many fan site owners and internet geeks who seem to think any kind of attempts at making money is equal to being a souless pawn of the 'man' and against some unwritten spirit of the internet, but that's why many of their sites go under from a lack of income. On the flip side, over obsession with making money can drive off visitors like the plague, as will the pop ups, fake links to other sites and advertisements that slide across the page.
Oh, and did I forget? There's a difference between making money of a genuine site and trying to make quick money off a site set up solely to help your wallet. The latter are usually completely dry, plain, lacking in interesting or opinionated content and have names a tad too concise and good to be true. You know, like '[Topic].com', if they've not already been sued into oblivion by some trademark holder. At least they'd go done well with Chancellor Cole's theme from Spirit Tracks, they're about as corrupt usually:
YouTube- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Music - Chancellor Cole's Theme
Finally, a short (okay, not so short, but me and short articles do not together well) list of things you should avoid at all cost when designing/building/running a website that haven't been mentioned:
- All flash websites. Whoever invented this needs to go straight to hell without passing 'Go'
- Splash pages for non reasons. Adult sites need them to stop underage users, and sites in fifty million languages might need them for language selection, but normal sites don't. Especially if they merely have a gimmicky little image on them.
- Stolen content. Do I really need to say why? Of course, this means content you don't own, and no one can just take that over and stamp their name on it. This goes for you, people who think official game artwork suddenly belongs to them because they added their site's watermark on the corner, or that ripped sprites and smilies from video games and software apparently belongs to them because they ripped it and put it on the internet.
- Background music. Really, why does this even exist in HTML? It causes a massive shock for people viewing your site in a background tab or window, that's for sure. And means the page takes longer to load.
- Blackhat SEO techniques. You know, like fifty thousand copies of a word in the same colour text as the background of the page to try and trick Google. Of course, it doesn't work any more.
- Bad information. No one trusts a liar.
- Coming soon pages have no point, so do not have them. In fact, don't open your site with links to sections that don't exist yet. I hope this guide was helpful, although it's format is a bit different from the rest of my website design guides.
Example 1 (always bad):
Don't use a coming soon page for a link that says it's going to content on an already finished/launched site. It's basically like having a page say 'Error 404 page not found'. See what I mean below:
This is a random website about some content I don't care about
Secondly, note how all links go to a coming soon page? Yes, that's even worse. If you don't have content yet, don't launch the site until you have. Maybe rely on the next example in the short meantime...
Example 2 (not always bad, but annoying)
Pages which say a site is coming soon so you can work on the site and not let people browse around randomly aren't always bad, and these are the examples given by people here. It builds excitement for a product.
^Unless of course it's that bad. Although that's a pretty good commentary on Internet Brands, and what they think of themselves as.
Example 3 (bad)
Don't leave a coming soon page for a whole site up for too long. Otherwise to most people, your site is pretty much vapourware. Aka, they'll lose interest and move on. A week with a coming soon page only? Bad. A month? Horrible. A year? Everyone thinks your site is now dead. More than that? You're basically the web version of Duke Nukem Forever.
Original version here:
Cheat-master30's Website Guide at DS Ultimate