Why WordPress is Better than Facebook

“Because of the GPL, and the way it works, WordPress will be available as a publishing platform for decades to come, and long after the next social network comes and goes, for as long as the Internet remains free and accessible, anyone with WordPress will be able to have their say.”

Note: the GPL is the license under which WordPress is distributed that guarantees it will always be freely available.

Finding Images to Use on Your Website

I have to admit that images can make or break a website. Good images can carry a website all by themselves. Poor images can destroy your credibility. So where’s the best place to find images for your website?

 

The Best Source for Photos

Undoubtedly, the best place to find images is to hire a professional photographer to take custom shots that match the design aesthetic of your site. A photographer should be able to capture the message, the mood, the colors, and even tailor the shot for a specific spot on your site (such as fitting certain dimensions or having people look a certain direction). While custom photography is perhaps the most expensive option it can also be the most impactful. It’s often times the best money you’ll spend on your site.

If you decide to hire a photographer make sure to have them communicate with your web designer or developer. They’ll speak a common language that you most likely won’t understand or think to consider. They’ll be able to make sure you get the best results in the end. Plus they may each have suggestions for each other that would not have been thought of otherwise. I’m trying to avoid using the word synergy here, but it really can happen in this situation.

 

Using Internet Photos

Stop right there. No, you can’t just lift photos off of any old web page just because they strike your fancy. Regardless of how “perfect” they are you still must abide by copyright restrictions. (If they’re that perfect, hire that photographer I mentioned to create a similar scene.)

There are ways to find good photos on the internet though. Here are a couple of my favorite resources:

  • Flickr — If you use the Advanced Search on Flickr and look for those images with Creative Commons licenses. As long as you abide by the terms of the license, and many simply require that you give attribution to the creator, you’re free to use it on your site.
  • Public Domain Images — There are several websites that specialize in public domain images, and you’ll see the same images showing up on various sites. That’s what happens when they’re public domain. My two favorite sites for these types of images though are Unsplash and Gratisography. Some amazing, fun, and quirky image can be found.

 

What About Stock Photos

Kind of my last resort for photos, but often good for other sorts of graphics, are stock photo sites. Places like iStockPhoto and 123rf.com have a wide variety of images that often cater to the types of messages and topics that are frequently found on websites. They’re excellent in quality and come in some great formats for use on websites. The biggest downside of them is that they are often, I dunno, tacky looking and you have to pay for them.

 

Deciding what types of images you want on your website can be time consuming. Finding a reliable source and settling on a thematic look to your images can help give your site a professional feel. If you’ll be blogging on your site, you’ll also want to consider if you want to use images with each blog post. You may want to consider gathering a few images that reflect major categories that you’re likely to cover before you even begin. It’s always good to have some go-to images that can be reused from time to time.

If you have any questions about images, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here, please don’t hesitate to ask. Images can be tricky but they can also make a big difference to your site.

Communication

I’ll be the first to admit that communication is the hardest part of being a web developer. There’s a whole language and worldview that we work within that most people, and especially clients, probably don’t share.

I recently ran across this infographic and it does a great job of providing some explanations of what developers see when they look at webpages.

"Make It Pop" infographic

Ways a Website is Like a House: You Can Rent or You Can Own

When it comes to houses, you can rent or you can own. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. For instance, renting means low startup costs – a deposit for renting is much lower than a downpayment for a mortgage. But ownership means that you have control over the place. You can decide when and how things get fixed up. You can do things that wouldn’t be allowed if you were renting. You can make it your own.

Websites are the same. There are plenty of options to “rent” websites. Hosted services – including WordPress.com, SquareSpace, Facebook, and many others – allow you to get started quickly and get you in the game. But like renting, you may have to worry about getting evicted if the landlord sells and you have to live by their rules. Plus, that aquamarine paint you love so much or updating the cabinets, that’s a no-no.

When you want to own, and control, your website, you’ll need to go to a self-hosted solution. You purchase space on a server to house your code just as you’d purchase land to build your house upon. What kind of house, and what color you paint it, well that’s up to you. You can decide what to do with your piece of cyberspace and make it suit your needs.

straightTALK: “Renting” a website can be a fine way to get started, but OWNing allows you to do so much more.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Hire a Professional, Fix It Yourself, or Live With It

When a repair or update to your home is needed you have three options: 1) hire a professional, 2) fix it yourself, or 3) live with it. Okay, I suppose you could also call in a favor and have friends, relatives, or neighbors give you a hand too, but you get what you pay for.

Your choice can depend on several factors. How much will it cost? Do you have the tools? Do you know anyone who could help that has the skills? Do you have the skills yourself? How critical is it? What happens if you do nothing?

There are times when fixing it yourself is an option, such as when it’s not critical and you have some expertise, or at least interest in learning. Other times you might just live with it. It’s not that important and you’re worried that you might even make things worse. But other times you know that it has to be dealt with, and sometimes right now, whether you can afford it or not.

No one but you can make that call. But talking with a professional and letting them know the full situation – what you want to achieve or avoid and the budget you have to work with – can be a good place to start to get the information you need to make the best decision.

straightTALK: You always have choices – and choices always have consequences. With good information you can choose wisely.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Don’t Hold the Open House on Move-In Day

You’ve been working on your website for weeks, maybe even months, and it’s finally ready to go. Exciting! But just as move-in day can be gritty and stressful, so can go-live day for a website.

Even with the best planning and preparation and testing, there’s always the possibility for something to have been missed along the way; and it will need to be addressed immediately. Little tweaks, adjusting settings, or simply waiting for the changes to reach the far corners of the globe all mean that go-live is a process and not a instantaneous thing that likes to stick to schedules.

Just as you wouldn’t host an open house dinner party the day you move in to a new house, you shouldn’t plan on making big announcements or having big events or marketing pushes the same time your new site goes live. Beer and pizza for those who helped you move in might be appropriate, but the big shindig should wait until the moving truck is out of the driveway and all the boxes have been put away.

straightTALK: Moving into a new house, or a new website, takes work and isn’t a great time to be having a bunch of company over.

Ways a Website is Like a House: It Takes a Team of Professionals

When hiring a contractor to build a house, it’s not likely that the person you talk with will build the entire house themselves. There are a lot of skills required. Even carpenters can be split between framing carpenters and finish carpenters. Although a skilled person might be able to do much of the work themselves, many jurisdictions require electrical or plumbing work to be done by licensed professionals. Bottom line, it can take an entire crew of people to build a quality home.

The same is true with websites. There are graphic designers, web designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, user experience specialists, information architects, SEO experts, and many more professionals with areas of expertise that may be called upon to complete a project.

Not every project requires (nor can every budget afford) all the specialists. As with most things, it’s a trade-off. You can work with a jack-of-all-trades or a team of specialists. But it’s not uncommon that a project will require some specialized skills that will mean working with a “subcontractor.”

Don’t forget that you’re on the team too. You bring the expertise of knowing your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish. Without you, the team has no coach. That’s an important role too. It’s when everyone works together that great things are built.

straightTALK: Specialists may be required to accomplish your goals.

How a Website is Like a House: Modular Homes Still Provide Shelter

Houses come in a lot of different shapes and sizes – and budgets. Not everyone is able to build the custom home of their dreams and most people begin small (and cheap) and move up over time.

Websites can follow the same path. You might begin with a free blog (like Blogger or Tumblr) or a templated, hosted site with limited options as a starter (like SquareSpace, Wix, or Weebly). Perhaps later you move up to a premium, self-hosted website. It could be awhile – or perhaps never – that you have the need, and the budget, for a custom-built solution.

Whatever home is right for your situation, you can still decorate it stylishly and organize it effectively to get the most out of the situation. Custom homes, block homes, modular homes, heck even tents provide shelter.

straightTALK: Not everyone needs a palace. Modest accommodations can be made to work well too.

A Website is Like a House: You Never Know What You’ll Find When You Remodel

“I just want to replace the carpet…”

So it begins. The old carpet comes up which uncovers… rotting flooring? Neglected hardwood floors? Asbestos tiles?

You never know what you’ll find when you start to remodel. Your carpet layer doesn’t have x-ray vision to see what might be underneath. It’s nobody’s fault that removing the carpet unveiled structural problems. But it has to be dealt with before moving on.

Redesigning websites can be the same way. Until the developer gets in there and gets their hands dirty with the code, they’re operating blind. If they’ve provided an estimate based on “the price of the carpet” don’t be shocked when there’s now talk of “fixing the floorboards.” There are times when an estimate is just that… an estimate. If the assumptions that estimate was based on prove to be inadequate, things will change.

straightTALK: Estimates are always based on assumptions. When the situation changes, so will the estimate.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Commercial and Residential are Two Different Things

It’s one thing to build a home to live in, it’s a completely different thing to build for a business establishment. And while businesses are run from homes and homes can be converted for commercial use, if you’re building new you have one or the other in mind. The requirements, expectations, materials, and designs for each can be quite different. I mean, just think of the difference in the bathrooms!

If your website is going to be carrying commercial traffic, i.e., you want to make money from your website, you should have completely different expectations than if it’s simply to house your travel blog. Things like security, backups, and privacy / data policies become much more critical. So does hosting reliability – downtime becomes much less acceptable because it costs you money.

Knowing before you begin whether your site will be – or if it ever could be in the future – used for business can help get the foundation laid right to make it work just as hard as you do.

straightTALK: Commercial websites, like commercial buildings, are held to different standards.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Redecorate Every Few Years

Even the best built homes in will need a bit of refreshing every so often. Paint gets chipped, carpets get dirty, and furniture, well, it just gets old. The house itself may not need remodeling, but a nice bit of redecorating could have it looking brand new.

In the world of websites, redecorating means a new design, a new theme. Just changing up the colors and graphics, perhaps rearranging the layout slightly, can make your site ready for service for the next few years.

Redecorating projects can be quick and cheap, like a new coat of paint for the back bedroom, or they can be more extensive, like replacing all the flooring in the house. It all depends on how much you’d like to change, and how much you’ve got budgeted for it.

If you have a limited budget for redecorating, you’ll want to spend it so that it has the greatest impact. Sometimes that means new paint for the living room and sometimes that means new shelves in the closet. It all depends on where your greatest “pain point” lies. What’s going to make the biggest difference to the people using the place? Is the greatest “pain” felt by you or your visitors? Only you can decide.

Just remember that styles change, including for websites, and time marches on.

straightTALK: If you’re not redecorating every few years, you’re likely falling behind.

Ways a Website is Like a House: You Can Outgrow the Place

Have you ever moved into a new place and thought “what am I going to do with all this room?” only to find a few short years later that it’s just too small for you? While you might find the perfect place for your current needs, it can be surprising how quickly things change. You reach a point where redecorating, remodeling, or even adding on just aren’t going to cut it any more.

You’ve outgrown the place.

It’s time to pack up everything and everyone and move to a different location. It’s disruptive. It’s expensive. And you can’t put it off any longer. As painful as it might be, it has to be done.

Your website can be the same. No matter how much planning ahead you did and how much flexibility is built in, it’s just not working for you any more. You basically need to start from scratch and build anew. It’s disruptive. It can be expensive. And it has to be done.

straightTALK: Know when it’s time to move on.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Build for the Future

When you build a house, you know it’s going to stand for a good long time. It’s going to have to work for you, or whoever lives there, for decades – perhaps even centuries. While you might build it to suit your current needs, keeping options open for future changes is always a good idea. Whether an unused room, the quality and placement of utilities, or some extra space in the backyard, thinking about possible future expansion during the construction process can save significant money and disruption down the line.

With websites, planning for the future means making sure your web design can handle growth and changes. Can your hosting handle a spike in traffic? Can you easily add new pages or menu items to the design? What if you want to rebrand the site?

You may not be able to predict the future or plan for every contingency, but building on a solid infrastructure that is flexible enough to roll with the flow makes for fewer headaches moving forward.

straightTALK: Don’t just consider your current needs. What might the future hold? Be sure you can adapt when the time comes.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Are You Ready to Build?

While there are many homes on the market, there’s nothing quite like building your own custom home. You get to make the decisions – ALL the decisions. From what material to use for the foundation, to the height of the ceilings, or whether the bathroom faucet will have one handle or two, your opinion counts.

Are you ready for that? Do you know enough to make those decisions? Do you care enough to bother with them? Do you have the time to devote to researching and making those choices? Are you ready to accept responsibility and consequences of those decisions?

Whether you go for a custom build, a move-in ready existing home, a fixer-upper, or a DIY adventure depends on your expertise, skill, interest, time, and budget. There’s no one “right” solution.

The same applies to websites. A custom build will take time and money, but it will be built to match your wants and needs and be built to last. Or you can work with existing themes and plugins to get something that will suit just fine in much quicker time frame. You can go the DIY route too, if you’ve got the time, interest, and skills and want that experience.

straightTALK: Custom, move-in, fixer-upper, or DIY.  Whether a home or a website, each choice comes with expertise, skill, time and money trade-offs.

Ways a Website is Like a House: Quality Materials Last Longer

When building a house it’s fun to look at the catalogs of all the shiny accessories that can be added. There’s a seemingly infinite variety of cabinets, bathroom fixtures, and tiles to choose from. And a seemingly infinite variety of price points.

Since you have to work within your budget, you may be tempted to go with some of the lower priced / lower quality options to get more bling for the buck. While that’s one approach, it’s likely to cost more in the end.

While it would be nice to have an unlimited budget where you could get everything exactly as you want it, that’s rarely the case. Knowing your budget up front, and communicating it to your contractor, can help keep you from cutting corners in the wrong places.

Your contractor, whether for a house or a website, will know where to save and where not to compromise. Quality materials always last longer. And sometimes it’s the ones you can’t see that make the biggest difference. It’s relatively easy and cheap to swap out carpet, not so much for floor joists and foundations.

The same is true for websites. Often it’s the hosting and the theme and plugin code quality that make the biggest difference in the long run. You may have to pay more for quality and customization, but it’s money well spent.

straightTALK: Cutting corners always costs in the long run.

Ways a WordPress Site is Like a House: Build In The Right Neighborhood

The first rule of real estate is “Location! Location! Location!” Where you build can have an impact on your budget, your security, even your future.

For a website, the “location” is the hosting company and service package you choose to go with. As in most things in life, you get what you pay for. While cheap hosting can get you by for a while, and it might even be okay for a “storage shed” of a website, but when your “home” is important to you, you’ll want to have it in a location where it will be safe from the bad guys (as much as possible) and “insured” against the worst. Translated, that means security and backups.

You can choose to manage security and backups yourself, but be prepared to invest time for learning, keeping up, and doing the actual tasks, plus probably a little bit of money as well. Or you can pay someone to take this responsibility off your shoulders.

Which direction you go can depend on how important your site is to you, how much time you have available to deal with it, or how much money you have in the budget. But like homeowner’s insurance, this isn’t an area to skimp on and should be the first thing added to and the last thing cut from the budget.

straightTALK: When it comes to website hosting, you get what you pay for. Set your expectations accordingly.

Ways a WordPress Site is Like a House: Carpet and Paint Come Last

When thinking about building a home it’s great to go to open houses and look a magazines and catalogs to find things that you like. This is an important part of the process. But when it comes time to start building, those magazine shots of the bedroom with the matching linens and the antique bedroom set don’t count for much. Your builder wants to know whether the basement will be block or poured and whether the heating system will be electric, natural gas, radiant heat, or geothermal.

It’s easy, and fun, to focus on what your website should look like. Providing guidance to your web designer/developer early on regarding your tastes and your vision for the final product can be critical. But when the time comes to get going, don’t be surprised that they ask about how you want your content and navigation structured, what third-party systems it will need to be integrated with, and who’s going to be writing the copy for the home page and maintaining the site going forward. Good design means form follows function, which is never truer than for websites.

Have fun looking at other websites and available themes, but know that there’s a lot to decide and do before you’ll be able to make a final selection.

straightTALK: The most important decisions are often the least sexy ones.

Ways a WordPress Site is Like a House: There Will Always Be Changes

With all the emphasis on planning ahead with blueprints and avoiding change orders, there will always be changes during the construction process. Sometimes you just have to see, or feel, what it looks like before you recognize something that needs to be done.

If it needs changing, change it.

It’s not a bad rule of thumb to be prepared for at least 20% over the schedule and budget to deal with these changes. Some even recommend 50%. Know your constraints (time and budget) and be prepared to make choices. At some point – and it’s nearly guaranteed – you’ll be faced with choosing between sticking with the plan or stretching just a bit to get exactly what you want. Oftentimes it’s better to bite the bullet than live with the regrets.

straightTALK: If it needs changing, change it.