The “About” page on your website is the second most visited page on your website, after the home page. People arrive on your home page, and they click over to “About” to find out who you are. It’s therefore super important that your “About” page packs a punch. It’s a brilliant opportunity to get your message across and present your “unique selling point” to your website visitors. (more…)
Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed a new kind of website emerging, and it’s getting more and more commonplace.
All over the internet we come across websites that are based on the personal brand of the website owner.
Have you noticed this? (more…)
Supposing you have a website for your small business set up, or you’re in the middle of building one. You’ve probably considered adding a blog to your website, but may well have have rejected the idea. People I talk to are often loathe to start a blog, understandably wary of the time that needs to be put into it.
But it doesn’t need to be that painful, and whatever field you’re in, it’s likely that you could benefit greatly from starting a blog. Here are some reasons why I’m a massive advocate of adding a blog to your website – whatever it is that you’re doing.
- Google prefers sites that have more content over ones that don’t. The content has to be relevant – a blog is perfect.
- Google also likes sites that are updated often – again, blog posts directly related to your subject matter are ideal.
- Writing about your subject matter educates your readers. For example, if you run a hypnotherapy or an acupuncture business (as in two of the examples below), your potential clients could feel a little hesitant about booking an appointment with you. Your blog articles could tell them what to expect in a session and give them some information about hynoptherapy which will reassure them. The same goes for many other types of business, specially ones which offer treatments.
- If you have your own content on your blog, it gives you something to post to social media. And if you’re not using social media to promote your website, I think you’re missing out in a big way.
- A blog is a way of appealing to your target market. If you show you understand their problems and offer answers, it’s likely that they’ll choose to come to you over one of your competitors.
- Your blog can reinforce your unique selling point, and introduce the readership to your values, your philosophy and your company style.
- It can engage readers on a human level. People prefer to do business with people they like. This is your chance to have your prospective clientele get to like and trust you.
- Recent posts on a blog show clearly that you are alive, kicking and open for business.
If you’re not convinced how a blog could benefit your business website, take a look at some of these examples.
- An acupuncturist’s blog (see the screenshot at the top of this post). It effectively gives a picture of the person behind the treatment as well of giving a lot of complementary information like recipes, what health coaching is about etc. The website design is effective as well, in general – it looks fun, and appealing.
- This is the example of a hypnotherapy website I mentioned above (see the screenshot below). The blog does a brilliant job in educating the readers, conveying the human element, and reassuring them with success stories.
- A dentistry blog attached to a dental surgery website. Yes, really. I’m willing to bet the frequent updates and relevant information do a great job in attracting clients.
- A financial services blog attached to a large pension company website, giving all kinds of useful and friendly advice to the readership. Even though the subject matter is serious, and treated in a serious manner, it makes the company seem more human, trustworthy and relatable-to, compared with competitors’ websites, where there is no free, useful supporting information.
Finally, two things to bear in mind when you’re writing blogposts for your business website.
1. First of all, be sure who you are writing for.
If you’re a therapist, for example, you shouldn’t be writing for other therapists – you should be writing for your prospective clients, as you saw with the examples above: whoever your clientele is, write for them, and not to impress your colleagues. (Unless of course, that is the point of your website – to show you off among your peers as an expert, perhaps if you’re a speaker, etc.)
2. Secondly, it doesn’t matter if you don’t write often. Just keep it regular.
Once a month is ok if you can’t do more. But whatever you do, don’t abandon your blog – it sends out the opposite message to the one you want to send. I found quite a few good, but abandoned, blogs attached to service business websites when researching the examples for this post, which is a real shame, as the owners obviously started off with such good intentions.
My final word that will hopefully encourage you is to remind you that a blog post needn’t be long. It can just be a photograph with a few words explaining it, if this is what’s easiest for you. Done regularly, it could be that this is all that you need to do to add the human touch and that extra interest to your business website, whatever field it is that you’re in.
Last week I was talking about an easy way to create yourself a “logo” just by using lettering in a particular interesting/unique/stylish/elegant/classy/handwritten/minimal font. This is a really good way to create a basic visual identity if you’re not planning to go the whole route of getting a logo designed by a proper graphic designer – which of course, is the ideal solution, but when starting out, not everyone has those resources available.
This week I’m going to show you some places you can go online to make yourself a logo. But one that doesn’t look like a cheap option and that you can be really proud to use.
1. Hipster Logo Generator
If you want an on-trend “badge”-style logo, the place to go is Hipster Logo Generator. Here you can get yourself a logo of the style shown below within just a few clicks:
Hint – for the top of your website, the regular logo position, you’ll probably want to download your logo with a transparent background, which you do as shown in the screenshot below. A version of your logo with a background will usually be more suitable for a clickable badge that you can put in a sidebar, rather than at the top of your website.
For something with a look that is perhaps more classic, WithOomph is a good place to get a modern-looking, cleanly designed logo. The service isn’t free, even just for a logo you can use on your website, but the designs are very nice looking and you get to see how your new logo would look printed on a variety of different products – inspiring!
3. Squarespace Logo Maker
The third place I’m going to suggest, the Squarespace logo maker, is not a generator so much as a tool which you use yourself to make your logo with just three elements: business name, tagline (optional) and icon. It’s tied in with Google Fonts and a huge database of icons and you can create a logo in seconds, which is downloadable for just $10. Of course using a tool like this completely lacks the nuances of a logo that’s designed by a real person, but it can give you a really amazing result that looks modern and slick and is usable immediately on your website and any printed products you want to make. A very far cry from the old-fashioned generators I used to see people using a couple of years ago that produced results you really wouldn’t be proud of.
Of course these are just three of many online resources you can use to create yourself a logo, but I – obviously – only wanted to include places you could go to to get really good, modern results. If you know any really great, top-quality, modern-looking online logo makers, do please leave a comment below at the bottom of the page.
When you’re creating a website you’ll need to create visuals, whether it’s just cropping and resizing images to display in a slider on your home page, or creating infographics that people will want to share. No need to worry about learning (or investing in) complicated design software – luckily there are dozens of excellent tools out there that let non-designers create brilliant professional-quality graphics.
Pixlr is an excellent and really useful online tool you can use for cropping and resizing images. It works like Photoshop at a basic level. See here for step by step instructions on how to use it to create a banner for your website.
2. Pixlr Express
Pixlr Express is a completely brilliant way of creating collages or arrangements of similarly-sized images to display on your site (as shown below). I use it mostly for this – it saves you doing it manually and is a real time-saver – but you can also use it to create borders and add text to webcam images, or other images you have on your computer.
When you want to create a shareable graphic, or create some visual interest for a blog post, Canva gives you some mouthwatering options. It’s so easy to use – you’ll be able to put together professional-looking infographics in literally minutes.
PicMonkey does a bit of what the previous three tools do – creates collages, crops images, lets you add text – but what it’s really useful for is touching up photos really easily without having to get into the nitty gritty of anything complicated like Photoshop. You can remove red-eye, smooth out blemishes and whiten teeth at just the click of a button.
Stencil is a quick tool to turn a quote, or other snippet of wording, into an image. You can make images for all social media (the different sizes are built in). They have loads of images and icons you can use for free or you can upload your own. Simple, fast, and brilliant.
So there you have it – five tools that allow you to create really great graphics for your website – without having to master Photoshop or having to hire a professional each time you want to create something that looks slick.
If you know of a wonderful tool that other readers might find useful, please do let us know by posting a comment below at the bottom of the page.
Creating a logo is a complex business. If you’re having a designer do it for you, the process will be an involved one, involving an analysis of what you are doing, the image you are wanting to project, and most likely also the creation of mood boards.
This is certainly the ideal answer. A professionally designed logo really does make a difference. But it may be that when you are starting out with your website you don’t have the funds to get something especially made for you, or perhaps you just need to get up and running now and plan on doing a proper re-brand a little further down the line.
There’s a very easy way of creating yourself a “logo” that you can use on your website right from the get-go (and your business cards as well), and that’s by simply writing your name, or your business name in a particular font.
Look at these examples. Many of the following have most likely been created by a proper designer – but they look great, and you can do something similar.
Pixlr or PicMonkey will do the job for you. Make sure you choose a transparent background behind your lettering so that your logo will work on any colour. Your theme will probably let you know what size you need – do pay attention to this as a re-sized or blurry logo looks terrible. Your theme may also ask you for a version that’s twice the size, as this will ensure it looks clean and crisp on a retina screen. If this is the case, make the larger version first, then reduce it to 50% for the regular version.
If you’re feeling limited by the fonts you have on your computer, you can do a Google search for “free fonts” and download something suitable that is maybe a bit unique, or elegant, or classy, or fun… whatever goes with the image that you want. Alternatively, a great place to buy handmade, totally unique fonts is Creative Market (at a very reasonable price). Once you have the font of your choice installed on your own computer, it becomes available for you to use in Pixlr or PicMonkey.
Next week, I’ll show you some useful resources for creating your own logo – a “real” logo, that is, rather than simply lettering. (Although myself I’m actually rather partial to lettering.)
If your logo features interesting lettering, do give us a link, in the comments area below, to your website.
Many websites these days are designed with a large, rectangular image at the top of the home page, whether it’s a permanent header image or a rotating slider. Lots of websites also require a horizontal format header or featured image to display at the top of each page or blog post. The problem is that the majority of photographs are taken in portrait format and it can be hard to find a way of creating large-size horizontal images to fit into these spaces. Here are some ideas that may help you.
1. Plain colours, with added writing.
If you don’t have any obvious visuals to go on your home page, yet the layout demands that you make a strong and bold horizontal statement at the top of the page, the very simplest solution – yet an effective one – is to create a simple block of colour and put some striking lettering on it. Either choose a colour from the colour wheel of your image editing software (e.g. Pixlr), or use the Firefox ColorZilla plugin, which gives you an eyedropper tool that can pick, and give you the hex code for, any colour you choose within your browser window.
In this example, the Paris Design Week site, they have used a pink colour with a gradient so that it fades to a slightly paler shade at the bottom.
Here, Adam Hartwig has overlaid a slight texture onto his solid colours. Both the gradient and the texture effect look great, but you don’t need to go for either – solid colour, just as it is, works very well without those extra touches, and is completely on-trend with the fashion for flat colours.
2. A pattern.
A wall-to-wall pattern with writing on it is also a good way of creating a bold visual statement without committing to a single, definite image. You can find patterns at http://www.colourlovers.com/patterns (download the largest size) or at http://subtlepatterns.com (these you’ll have to “tile” or repeat using your image software – Canva, Pixlr, etc. but this isn’t hard to do).
You might have to create a rectangle of solid or partly transparent colour behind your text so that it is legible.
Here on the Little Sparrow tea site, you can see a nice, simple idea, which is very effective: simply the logo reproduced in a different colour onto a rectangular slider with a statement about tea on it, designed to fuel the visitor’s imagination. Rather than a picture being worth a thousand words, it is more a case here of a picture being made up of words.
3. Extend the space with solid colour or fill the space with a texture.
Another extremely simple way of transforming a vertical photo into a horizontal image is simply by adding on a block of colour into the remaining space, or a texture, as you can see below in this series of brilliant examples from Abigail Ahern’s blog.
In the following example from The White Pepper we can see that the figure has been placed against a solid colour which is then extended to fill the space required, a trick you see repeated on the Wolf & Badger site where the cream colour of the wall is continued to form the background of the text.
A collage is an obvious answer to the horizontal image problem – just put several images together. The following are some nice examples of collages. Note the different ways of adding writing – sometimes the writing fills a gap, and sometimes it’s added on top of the images with a background behind it so it’s legible (and this can look more interesting, too).
Tip for making horizontal collages with PicMonkey
Choose the “Cards” collage option to get horizontal layouts, and unlock the size option beneath the collage in order to create the image to the exact size or proportion you need. Once you’ve added your images, click the paint palette to adjust or remove the spaces between the images; if you want to add text, make sure you’re happy with the way the pictures are, then click “Edit” above the collage to add your text.
You can also create more complicated collages, such as the one below from Les Nouvelles, or cut out items and place them on a white (or solid colour) background, as seen below on the Bona Drag Boutique site.
5. Take a picture specifically designed to work as a horizontal rectangle.
Perhaps the most obvious answer is to take a photograph especially for your slider or blog post featured image that will work well in the “letterbox” shape – without you having to do anything extra save, perhaps, adding some lettering, as in these examples:
I hope these examples have given you some ideas on how to get around the horizontal image issue. You’re bound to have run into this problem yourself when creating your website or posting to your blog. What solutions have you found? Do let us know, and feel free to share a link to your collages or other visuals in the comments, down at the bottom of this page.
Note: the brilliant image at the top is from https://caavadesign.com/.
Here are my best FIFTY tips to help you with your DIY website. Yes, fifty! If you haven’t yet begun building your website, reading through them will help you as you go along, and if your self-built website is already up and online, check you haven’t fallen into any of these traps.
1. Make sure you’re clear on the goals for your website before you begin. If you don’t know what you need your website to do for you, it’s very hard to make it a success.
2. Make sure the platform you choose fits with your abilities. Otherwise you’ll get in a tangle and wish you’d never started.
3. Make sure your platform will work with your long term goals. It would be crazy to have to change your site just six months down the line.
4. Don’t let your neighbour’s nephew create your website. He’ll be busy with his own stuff soon and have no more time to help you – which will leave you totally high and dry.
5. Don’t let anyone else register your domain name for you. You need to have control over it. You don’t know how many times I’ve seen people lose track of who registered their domain name, meaning they can’t renew it when the time comes. This means they need to build their website all over again, and they lose their original domain name, which they’ve been quoting everywhere, for good.
6. Don’t register your domain via the platform you’re using (or via your host). You want to be able to change easily if you need to. It’s not that it’s impossible to change registrars, it’s just that it can be a major pain.
7. If you get stuck, pay for help. You can’t always do everything you want to, by yourself.
8. If you know you’re not good with design, don’t make changes to your template just for the sake of making changes. It was designed by a professional, so why not leave it that way? It won’t look like a template once you’ve got your own content and images in there.
9. You absolutely need your own domain name. (Never “yourname.wordpress.com,” for example.)
10. When choosing your domain name, try to avoid hyphens. It’s so boring to remind people of the hyphens each time you tell someone your domain name.
11. When choosing your domain name, avoid anything that’s hard to spell. (Don’t do as I did!)
12. Always pay if you need to, in order to remove ads from your website. Having other people’s adverts on your website is really not what you want.
13. Make sure your website works well on mobile.
14. Don’t clutter up your webpages. Leave plenty of white space.
15. Don’t use too many colours. If you need more than three (not including the background colour and the colour of your main text) choose a lighter or darker variation of one of them. Too many colors looks messy and cluttered.
16. Don’t use too many fonts on your website. Usually just two is enough – one for your headings, and one for the regular body text. You really don’t need any more.
17. Don’t centre everything. Some headings can be centred, but your main text needs to be left-aligned, as you can see in the example below.
18. Don’t change the colour of your text, even for extra emphasis. It looks so unprofessional to suddenly get something written in red, for example.
19. Avoid using two or three primary colours together. This looks as though you’re setting up a kindergarten.
20. Avoid chunks of text that go the whole width of your website – these are hard to read. (Put white margins if you can, or write your text in short columns, if appropriate.)
21. Avoid tiny text, but don’t display all your text in header-sized lettering either. It’s makes for very uncomfortable reading to feel you’re sitting too close to your computer screen, yet you can’t get further away.
22. Always make sure your images are resized correctly so they don’t appear squashed or stretched. I see this so often! Just crop them to the right size before you upload them, using a tool like Pixlr (or any other tool you can use for simple image edits).
23. If your site uses full-width images, make sure you obtain them at a big enough pixel width. If the image isn’t big enough, it will look blurry. You can’t make an image bigger than it is – if your image looks blurry, you’ll either have to get hold of the larger original of the image, or find an alternative that is big enough.
24. Make sure your logo isn’t squashed into a tiny strip at the top of your website. Always leave some space around it so it’s nowhere near touching the edges.
25. If you’re including press logos on your site, make them the same size and consider changing them to “grayscale.” Too many colours can make your page look incoherent.
26. Don’t put too much movement on your site. One slider is enough.
27. If your website background is anything other than white, don’t display your logo on a white “patch.” Make sure you obtain it (or make it) on a transparent background, so the website background colour can show through.
28. Avoid black backgrounds, unless you have a totally minimalist photography website. Any other kind of site just looks old fashioned.
29. Your home page needs to make it 100% clear what you do.
30. Make sure your website visitors can find your contact details easily. Don’t make them search around.
31. Display an email address so people can email you directly, as some people don’t like using forms on the web. (Ideally you should provide both.)
32. Check your contact form regularly to make sure it’s working. Contact forms have a tendency to go wrong. Send yourself a message from your website from time to time to check all is well.
33. Make sure you keep your WordPress website updated, including theme and plugins. If you don’t, you’re making yourself extra vulnerable to hacks.
34. Make sure you schedule regular backups of your website. If you do get hacked, and this does happen, you need to make sure you have an up-to-date, undamaged copy of the site to hand.
35. Use “calls to action” on your website. Spell out what you want your site visitors to do.
36. Make sure your navigation is clear and avoid it “wrapping” onto two lines. This just looks unprofessional. The easy solution is grouping your headings into a dropdown format. All website systems will let you do this.
37. If your site is based in the EU, you need to display a cookie statement. If you use WordPress, you’ll need a plugin – other systems usually have a built-in system to comply with this ruling.
38. Less is more! Don’t clutter your pages with disparate elements.
39. Put signup forms (for your email list) in multiple positions on your website.
40. Make use of headings and bullets to make your text more easily readable.
41. Break up your text with images and plenty of white space.
42. Create professional-looking graphics with Canva.com (or hire a freelancer). Good graphics breathe life into a website.
43. Make both your content and images shareable. This may mean installing a plugin so people can share images on Pinterest, for example.
44. Include social share and follow buttons in multiple places on your website. This needn’t be overkill – people expect to be able to share what they want to share, easily.
45. Flaunt your testimonials. Other people’s endorsements carry a lot of weight.
46. Write your text from your visitors’ perspective. Make it clear what’s in it for them. Don’t talk about what you do – talk about how you can help them. This goes for absolutely every kind of product or service website.
47. Include an FAQ page to increase sales and reduce time spent answering customers’/site visitors’ questions.
48. Work out your keywords before you start writing the text for your website.
49. Put keywords in your page titles so that Google can grab them.
50. Use meta descriptions to entice visitors to visit your website when they view your listing on Google. (This is just the text you see explaining each listing.) You can even include calls to action, phone numbers, dates, opening hours, special offers, etc. within these descriptions – think about how you yourself choose which link to click on when you do a search. (If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need the Yoast plugin to specify your page titles and your meta descriptions; every other system has a built-in way of doing both these).
What makes a good website? This is something I thought about a lot while writing Create Your Own Website The Easy Way, and I sounded out my friends on their opinions as well.
My friend Elizabeth Milovidov of Digital Parenting Coach (whose self-built website is featured in the book) gave me this brilliant answer, which of course I put into the book, and I want to quote here:
“A good website is one where your particular tribe or target audience gets what you are trying to say and appreciates the manner in which you say it, and they come back to you again and again because you are a trusted friend.
A good website is your digital face, a friendly handshake, a warm hug, a kick in the pants, a glass of wine, a cup of great coffee.
A good website may need a bit of tweaking, a bit of polish, so don’t think that once it’s done, it’s done. You can come back to it in a year and see what still works or what doesn’t work so that as you evolve or your business evolves, your website evolves to reflect that change.”
A good website is a kick in the pants. I love that!
A good website has to look right, engage its audience, and carry out the purpose for which you created it.
What do you think makes a good website?
Every website needs some pictures, and high quality ones are a must these days. If you’re blogging, you’re going to need a steady supply; here are some places to find great photos you can use for free on your website.
The Stocks is a really useful place to start – it’s a single site cleverly built so you can browse some of the best sources of free photos all in one place. You can sift through lots of different sources, from the well known Pixabay and Unsplash, to less well known and even individual photographers’ royalty-free sites: Little Visuals, New Old Stock, Super Famous, Startup Stock, Gratisography, GetRefe, Crow the Stone, Pexels, Jay Mantri, Madeline, Travel Coffee, Moveast and Barn Images.
**Since I first wrote this article I came across LibreStock which is brilliant – it searches 43 different free stock libraries so you don’t have to search separately. You then go to each individual library to download. (Note: 4 Oct 2017 – Librestock often seems to be down these days, but it’s worth coming back to have a second try.)
Also look at:
Paid-for stock libraries
Not all of the sources above has a search facility which means it can be quite time consuming to find something suitable. If you’re looking for something unusual or very specific, you may wish to pay a stock library. Stock libraries can be less expensive than you may imagine – try the following. (Always remember to check what size the image needs to be and download the appropriate size – sometimes the price varies.)
http://www.bigstockphoto.com (This one has a free 7 day trial with 5 downloads a day.)
http://www.shutterstock.com (More expensive than the three previous.)
http://www.istockphoto.com (At the time of writing, the most expensive of the options listed.)
There are masses of photos from all kinds of sources freely available for use that you can search via Google Images (https://images.google.com/). Search by keyword, then click the cog at the top right of the search results (as shown below).
Choose “Advanced search,” scroll down, and next to “usage rights” choose “free to use or share, even commercially” (or whichever is suitable for your purposes). Choose from the search results, and click on the picture to see it on its original website, where you will be able to see if there’s an accreditation you need to include.
Note that whatever the source you use, you must always read the small print and check if you need to give a credit for the image you’ve downloaded or purchased.
The photo used above is from Unsplash, by Caleb Ralston.
If you’re in France, the beginning of September – the “rentrée” – is kind of like a mini New Year. A time to start afresh and attack the next few months of work with renewed vigour.
Take the opportunity to smarten up your website for last quarter of the year, no matter where you’re based. Here are some quick ways to make sure your site is in the best shape possible for the new season.
1. Check your email form.
Email forms on websites are notoriously temperamental. Send yourself a message from the form and check you receive it. Also make sure you actually show an email address, and if possible, a telephone number. Some people prefer to just grab the phone.
2. Is your blog up to date?
People visiting your website really want to see that you’re alive and kicking.
3. Are you showing your social media updates?
Most people show social media badges on their site that link to their profile pages, and buttons that allow people to share the content they’re reading to their own network. If you don’t blog, you can include a social media feed somewhere on your site. It’s a great way of showing you’re active, even if you update the website itself less often. (But if you show your last tweets on your site, or your last Instagram pictures, you better make sure you post there often.)
4. Smarten up your images.
Are your images distorted, blurry or pixelated? The most usual cause for this is that they’re not resized properly, or that you’re trying to use an image that was too small at the outset, for a space that’s too big for it. Crop your images to the exact size that’s needed for your website, and if your image is too small for the space you want to use it for, I’m afraid there’s no way of making it fit – you’ll have to find another great one you can use instead.
5. Spruce up your wording.
Make sure you sound enthusiastic on your website. “Join Our Newsletter”? I’m sure you can sound more perky than that.
6. Balance out your website.
This is easy, once you’ve thought about it, and makes your site look that much more polished. Make sure your images match in shape and size. For example, if you include pictures of people who’ve given you testimonials, crop them in an identical way. If you have, say, three “product” or “service” boxes in a row across your home page, with a button underneath them, make sure you make the text equal in length so that your buttons are nicely aligned.
7. Get rid of blank areas on your website.
These don’t add anything, and look neglectful, but I see loads of them around. Does your footer have a gap? Fill it up, or balance it out somehow. Are there widgets with nothing in them in your sidebar – “Recent comments” where there are none, as yet? Delete the widget for the time being.
8. Show your followers?
If you don’t have many followers yet on social, why show everyone? Hide the number of your Twitter followers or your Facebook Page likes, until the numbers are ones you want to show.
9. Check your favicon.
That’s the tiny icon you can see on the tab of your browser window. If you’re showing a generic favicon, change it. This is a minute detail – but if you’re displaying a “W” for “Weebly,” for example, which is instantly recognisable, it does look less than professional.
10. Get rid of the branding
Isn’t it time to go premium with your website platform? Do you really want “Free website” or your platform’s branding, or ads, to show on your website? No matter how wonderful the design is, or how interesting your content, letting everyone know that you’ve opted for the free version only lets the side down. So get rid of that branding pronto.
That’s it! A few ideas to show the world you’re seriously in action for business this season.
Today I’m going to write about how to choose a good domain name. This is really important, because your choice will hopefully stay with you for years. So you really don’t want something that is hard to communicate, difficult to spell, is totally unmemorable, has hyphens people will forget, and so on.
.com or not?
A .com address used to be the obvious choice of domain name. However there are dozens of new options available such as .restaurant, .agency, .boutique, .dance, .health, .fitness, .music, .photography, .art, .design, .life and .website. These mean you’re no longer restricted to the limited range that were previously available. Check out a registrar such as Namecheap.com and look under “New TLDs” (or “New Domain Name Extensions”) to see the full list of options. There are, of course, the old alternatives such as .info and .biz but personally I’m not too fond of them. I think the new options are far more classy. So if you can’t find the .com you want, I’d recommend one of the new ones.
Maybe you absolutely want a .com. It’s hard to find one! You’ll find all good slogans, sayings, etc – all but the most obscure – have been snapped up. Try some of the following ideas:
- Use part of a sentence that’s relevant to what you do, or fits with it in some original way (don’t make it too long though)
- Put two words together, in the way that YouTube, Facebook or Firefox did
- Put parts of words together, like Microsoft
- Choose a deliberate misspelling, as in Flickr
- Change or add a letter, as in iTunes or Zune
- Make up a word, like Google or Etsy (it’s hard to believe that the word Google was once meaningless!)
- Use words in different languages – if you can find any available!
Should you go for branding, or choose a search-engine-friendly domain name?
In most cases you will probably want to choose your name or your company name for your domain name, if it’s available. However if you run a local-based business such as plumber, taxi service, dentist or other, for which branding is not essential, then you’re probably better off choosing a domain name that reflects a keyword or phrase that prospective clients will probably be using to look for a service such as yours in the search engines. Look for your town or area name + your major keyword – for example, Wandsworth plumber. (Or try a new extension! There is actually .plumbing available!) Don’t think that this will be a kind of magical ticket that will automatically bring hordes of website traffic to your site, but it will be one factor, among many others, adding up to the ranking Google gives your website.
One way of coming up with something that stands out is to play around with unusual extensions such as .it, .to, .be, .io or .me. Come up with something completely unique like: dr.aw designm.ag blo.gs chi.mp foot.ie vintag.es aliveinside.us just.me unroll.me (You can use http://domainr.com to help you find one of these.)
How to check if a domain name is available
When seeing if a domain name is available, don’t just type it into Google. Sometimes a domain name has been bought but not actually used, so this isn’t a sure way of telling if a domain name has been registered by someone or not. Always check with a registrar such as NameCheap.com or GoDaddy.com. This way, you’ll also get a list of alternative suggestions, if the one you originally wanted is unavailable. (You’ll also get all kinds of suggestions by using the tools below.)
There are loads of tools available to help you find a good domain name. You’ll surely come up with something if you spend a little time experimenting with these:
https://www.suggestmedomain.com/ – this is my new favourite. It offers you prefixes and suffixes to the keywords you supply that are grouped by category so you can find a brilliant domain name that’s far from generic.
https://namevine.com/ – this is a great tool too. Comes up with all kinds of suggestions you’d never have thought of yourself and lets you know if there’s a matching social media handle.
http://knowem.com/ (trademark checker)
That’s it for today. Have I missed any great tools? Please let me know by typing a comment below.
The other day I had a session with a very, very nice, enterprising and inspired lady for whom I designed a WordPress website back in 2009. Of course, that site badly needs updating as six years is a very long time in the world of the web. In fact, it needs a complete rebuild, not just an update, as the theme I built won’t work with the latest version of WordPress as it’s changed so much, for example, they didn’t even have proper menus in WordPress back in 2009! Not to mention the fact that the site design looks antiquated by this stage. So this site badly needs re-doing – it’s a big job, and it turns out the client just doesn’t have the budget to get it done, although I offer her the simplest and least-involved options available.
But I realise something. She hasn’t been really using the old site much anyway. The blog posts are years old and she hasn’t added anything new in ages. All her activity happens on Facebook, which she posts to prolifically and has quite a following. Why hasn’t she been using her blog? It turns out she doesn’t feel comfortable in WordPress anyway. It’s just that little bit too complicated for her to want to post to regularly.
This lady is the ideal example of a client to whom I recommend Wix. If WordPress is too daunting a prospect – and the whole point of using WordPress is to be able to take charge yourself and post as often as you like – then Wix may be your answer. My client was at first resistant, saying she liked the look of her existing website too much to want to change. However, in Wix, you can design a site to look exactly as you want it to (which you actually can’t in WordPress – that is, if you’re not a developer).
So is Wix the easy answer if WordPress is just that one bit too involved for you? Yes, I think it is a really good answer for many people. My clients come to me assuming I will recommend a WordPress site to them just because everyone’s talking about it – but honestly, WordPress isn’t for everyone. (See my blog post about that here.)
Here’s the lowdown on building a site in Wix.
- You either start with a blank canvas (which is what I did in the end for this client, and recreated the look of her old site), or one of their really good looking templates.
- You add your own images and text.
- You add a blog if you want to.
- You hook up with social media using one of their free plugins.
- You add a signup form for your opt-in list.
- You can add a shop with their own easy-to-use e-commerce system, or integrate Shopify or Ecwid if that’s what you prefer.
- When you’re ready, you switch your domain name over so that it shows your new Wix site, following their instructions.
- Wix is a “hosted” system, which means you don’t need to worry about hosting, or upgrading, or anything like that, so it immediately removes that stress. You’ll want to get a paid-for package so that your site doesn’t display ads – you really don’t want that. But the packages are very reasonable, about $8 for the lowest monthly package that allows you to add your own domain and remove the ads.
There are a few downsides, of course, to using Wix.
- The disadvantage of your site being hosted by someone else is that you are dependent on their system.
- If you ever decide to change your platform, you can’t export your site (or blog) content – you’ll have to copy it manually and rebuild it all from scratch. For this reason, if you want to build a site with a large number of pages or if you plan to blog prolifically, I don’t recommend Wix as the best solution for for you. (What you could do is run a WordPress.com site on a subdomain of your domain – your blog won’t be integrated, but it may be a good answer for you as it’s still simpler than running your own site on self-hosted WordPress. They have clear instructions on how you can do this.)
- Another drawback is that if you want to change the design of your site, you have to rebuild the site in its entirety – you can’t just switch themes. I don’t think this is a major disadvantage though, if your site isn’t huge. (In fact, changing themes in WordPress is not usually just a simple matter of switching over – if your theme, or your site, has any complexity, there is always a lot of work to do to get it looking right and working correctly.)
So, in a nutshell, if WordPress is too daunting, and you want a site which you can really take control of in terms of how it looks, Wix may well be the answer for you. But not if your site needs to be vastly complex or large, seeing as you can’t export your site content.
Here are some examples of live Wix sites – click on each for a live example – you can see that they really do look good. (They have many more examples on their “Get inspired” page.)
If you’ve built your site in Wix, or you have experienced building a site with Wix, do please comment (down below) and let us know how it went for you. Do you recommend it? Or not?
Note, May 2016: Since I wrote this post, I now favour Weebly over Wix for easy-to-build sites. When I wrote this post, Weebly’s templates were rather outdated in look. Now, they’ve redesigned their templates and they look wonderfully modern and appetising. I’ve recently helped quite a few people make sites using Weebly templates and they’ve worked really well, and the key is that it’s a super-simple system to use. That said, they don’t have a start-from-scratch design template, which Wix does, and this is what we used to recreate the client’s old WordPress site in the above example.
MailChimp isn’t the only email mailing list provider out there by any means, but it is the one that practically all the entrepreneurs I meet are using – probably because it’s free up until 2,000 subscribers. So in this post I’ll tell you how you can easily start collecting subscribers for your MailChimp email list.
First, obviously, you’ll need a MailChimp account. Click over to www.mailchimp.com and sign up for a free account; you’ll need to click a button in an email to activate your account, and then fill in quite a lot of information before your account goes live – MailChimp needs your address in order for the emails you send to be compliant with spam prevention rules.
Then you need to create a list. Of course, there are many other customizations you’ll want to make before actually sending out a newsletter, and you may also want to customize your signup forms and the confirmation emails your subscribers will receive (to do this, click the name of the list you’ve just created, then go to Settings > List Name & Defaults and click the “list forms designer” link next to “Send Final Welcome Email” – you can now choose from the dropdown menu which item you want to customise).
But you don’t actually need to do anything else on the MailChimp site, if you don’t want to, before you can begin collecting email addresses from your website visitors – it will work right away with the settings just as they are.
Next, you need to put a signup form on your site. You can embed a form directly into your web page using the code that they give you, but it’s most likely you’ll want to put the form in your sidebar, and for this you’ll need a plugin. From within the admin area of your WordPress site, go to Plugins > Add New and search for “MailChimp.” A list of plugins will appear, but the one you want is the one at the top of the list MailChimp List Subscribe Form by MailChimp and CrowdFavorite – this is the official plugin, and the easiest to configure (although, as you see, there are many others as well – go ahead and try out these ones out if you want to).
Once you have the plugin installed and activated, go to Settings > MailChimp Setup. Choose the list you’ve just created, and type the wording you want to appear on the form. You can also fiddle around with the appearance of the signup form, but you’ll need to get it set up before you do this, so you can see how it looks. If you scroll a little further down the page, you can choose whether you want people to have to include their names when they sign up, or not – it’s your call.
Now, go to Appearance > Widgets and drag the MailChimp Widget into the sidebar. You’re all set to start collecting email addresses.
I’m often asked by readers to look over the websites they’ve just built to see that they are as good as they can be, and these are some of the most common suggestions I make.
1. Make it easy for your website visitors to contact you.
It’s madness to make your website visitors hunt around for your contact details. Put a “Contact” link either in your main menu – it’s usually the last item, and it’s here that people will look first – or in a footer menu. Better still, put your telephone number and email address (and any other contact details you want to supply) on every page.
2. Show your email address.
Include a visible email address on your website, as well as a contact form; many website visitors don’t like contact forms, and prefer to contact you directly by email. Your email address isn’t a secret – you have no worries in making it visible, as long as you spam-protect it so it can’t be “harvested.”
3. Organise your menu.
You shouldn’t have a “wrapping” main menu – that is, one that continues over two lines because it has too many elements; this makes your site look messy and amateurish. Instead, group your menu items and stack them up using sub-menus, perhaps grouped under headings, if you have a lot of items you want to include in your main menu.
4. Keep up your blog.
If you don’t have time to blog regularly, don’t include a blog on your site. You don’t have to post all the time – for a business site, this isn’t even necessary; just make sure you post regularly, even if it’s only once a month.
5. Integrate social media into your website.
Consider including activity streams on your site – your latest tweets, or recent activity on your Facebook page – rather than the static badges. If you’re not into blogging, this is another way of showing you’re alive and active. Plus, if you integrate your social media, you’re not directing your website visitors away from your own website.
6. Make use of images.
These days nearly everyone has a fast internet connection and we can see this change reflected in the way websites are designed – the use of pictures has become more and more prevalent and we are no longer shy about including many images, and sometimes even very large ones on our sites. So, don’t hesitate to include images on your blog posts and elsewhere on your website (your About page, for example) – and don’t make them tiny in size, as it makes your site look old fashioned.
If you don’t have your own photos you can use images from stock libraries; if you are original in your choice, these don’t have to look like stock photos, and you’ll find them surprisingly inexpensive.
7. Make your content easily readable.
People’s concentration tends to be short when they are reading on screen – they want to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. So space out your text, use plenty of headings, and keep your sentences short. Break up your text into easily-accessible chunks and include plenty of white space on your pages.
8. Flaunt your testimonials.
I know many people feel shy about displaying testimonials (everyone I talk to does!) but you mustn’t let this stop you. Think of your own surfing experiences – reading customer testimonials can make the difference between whether you buy an item from one site, or another – so if you have great customer feedback, make sure everyone can see it.
9. Include a Google map.
If you have a real-world store or office, make it easy for people to find where you are. It’s also helpful to include any useful information about public transport or parking.
10. Use a meta description.
This one is really important! Make sure you control the description of your website that people will see in Google. You need to make sure it’s as enticing as possible, to encourage people to click on your link instead of someone else’s. The way to do this is to include a meta description in your website code – otherwise just the first words of text on your home page will show up, instead of text you have carefully crafted expressly for Google. Depending what platform you use for your website, there may be a built-in way to add a meta description (as there is with Wix), or you may need to add an extension (for WordPress, you can use the All in One SEO plugin or WordPress SEO by Yoast). A meta description shouldn’t be longer than 160 characters and you can include useful information such as opening hours and a telephone number, if relevant. See the following screenshot to see what I am talking about.
11. Include an FAQ page.
The job of a “frequently asked questions” page is to remove any potential objection or doubt a customer may have in their mind that is preventing them from contacting you, hiring you, or buying your products (or whatever it is that your website aims to do). You’ll want to include all possible details (terms, refunds, how it works, etc…) on the FAQ page – it’ll cut down on your time answering basic questions via phone or email, as well.
12. Have a mobile version of your website.
More and more people are surfing the web on the move, and this includes making purchases. So you need to make sure your site is legible on all sizes of screen, if necessary implementing a special “responsive” or mobile version of the site for those accessing it via a smartphone. How you do this again depends on the platform you’re using; many systems have inbuilt mobile versions or responsive templates available.
13. Allow people to share your content.
If people want to share your content, make it easy for them; include “send by email” links, and “Share” buttons so they can post your content to their own Facebook or LinkedIn networks, or tweet it.
14. Put yourself in your site visitors’ shoes.
What do they want to know? How will they benefit? What information can you give them that will make them choose you over one of your competitors? When you’re writing the text for your website, make sure you focus on the benefits for your customer of choosing your product or your service. It’s astonishing how many sites I’m asked to review where the website owner has just listed the features of their products or services when really, this should be turned right around to show the benefits for the prospective customer.
One of the very best examples of writing with your customer in mind that I know of is the website for JohnLewis.com. This is a very well respected UK department store and their website is a lesson in how to write for the web. Take this example, and marvel at how, instead of listing the dull-sounding features of the washing machine they are trying to sell, the copywriter has managed to make the description positively exciting by turning around every single feature into a benefit the prospective customers can actually visualise applying to themselves, and in effect, improving their lives. Do click over and take a look – making this change in the way you write, to really engage your visitors – whether your site offers objects for sale or encourages people to hire you for a service, or simply showcases your designs or your knowledge – will have a huge impact on the impression you give and the ultimate success of your website.
15. Be clear about the purpose of your website.
This is the last item but perhaps it should be the first, as it is certainly the most important. What purpose do you want your website to serve? Do you want customers to buy from you? Do you want them to sign up to your email list? Do you want to provide information to your site visitors, thus presenting yourself as an expert in your chosen area? Once you’re clear about your aim (or aims – you can obviously have more than one), ask yourself if your site is achieving your goals. If not, there will be plenty of changes that you can make.
Good luck – and please do leave your comments below to share your experiences with other readers. Have you made a change to your website that has had an immediate impact?
Obviously in my line of work I get the chance to see many different self-built websites and discuss them with their owners. The following are some of the most common minor tweaks I find myself suggesting to people. (They apply only to WordPress sites.)
1. “Posted by admin.”
I see this really often and it bothers me a lot as it’s just so easy to change! Who wants to be known publicly as “admin” when they’ve authored a blog post? All you need to do is change your “label,” either to your first name, your full name, or a nickname. Even if you don’t feel it appropriate to put your own name, why not choose your business or website name – or even just your initials? To make this change, go to Users > Your Profile, scroll down a little and type in your name or “nickname” – the name you want to appear as the author of the blog posts – in the “Name” area. Select your choice from the “Display name publicly” dropdown, and save the change.
2. Re-name your “Uncategorized” blog post category.
Yes, of course you do need a “catch-all” category for blog posts that don’t fit in anywhere else. But it looks so uncaring not to name this default category something more meaningful than just “Uncategorized!” Again, it’s easy to change the name of the default category to “Blog” or “Updates” or “News” – and you’ll find that all the posts that have already been filed under this category will automatically appear under the new classification, so there isn’t even any sorting out to do. Go to Posts > Categories, mouse over “Uncategorized” where you see it in the list of blog post categories, click on “Quick Edit” and change the name and the slug (just type the same thing twice); click “Update Category.” Now your blog posts look so much more cared-for!
3. Change your permalinks.
Warning – you’ll want to do this at the beginning of your setup – if you do it once you have any amount of content on your site, you’ll mess up your menu and any internal links – plus anyone who’s bookmarked your pages or posts won’t be taken back to the right place in future. So do this before you launch, and preferably right from the beginning.
WordPress automatically saves pages and posts with a web address that looks like this:
This doesn’t look very elegant if you’re quoting a web address to someone in an email, for example – and more importantly, it doesn’t mean anything to Google. What you want is a web address for each page and post that looks like this:
as Google will be able to make sense of whatever page title you have given the page or the post (of course, you’ll have considered the search engines when you decided on the page title).
To do this, just go to Settings > Permalinks, select the radio button entitled “Post name,” and save the change.
4. Display your email address.
I’m always pointing out the necessity of displaying your email address to site visitors in case they’re unwilling to contact you via an email form (a big percentage of my workshop participants tell me that they are always suspicious of using email forms). But at the same time, you do need your email address to be protected. We often see email addresses displayed as email AT yourdomain.com – this works, but it looks rather clumsy, and the email address isn’t an active link. Far better to install the Email Protector plugin (by Pixeline) and have your email address appear as a link (this happens automatically once the plugin is installed) that’s protected from spam harvesters.
(Note that your email address may not be protected by the plugin if you type it into a sidebar widget.)
5. Make use of short menu item labels.
Menus that wrap onto two lines are a particular bête noir of mine – unless, of course, your theme accommodates them easily, or was especially designed for a double row of menu items. One way to save real estate in your menu area is to cut down on the length of the navigation labels, while still keeping the longer title on the page itself, if necessary. (Of course, the title you give to a page is by default the label that’s given to that page when you add it to the menu.) FAQ is a good example – it doesn’t make any sense to take up all that space by writing “Frequently Asked Questions” in the menu area, whereas you’ll probably want it to appear in full on the page itself.
Your home page is another example of a situation when you’re likely to want a different label in the menu to what is written on the page. You’ll want to have “Home” in the menu as it’s what people expect (plus it’s short) – but you certainly don’t want “Home” written as a title prominently at the top of your home page – it looks terrible, and is completely meaningless. (Note, this only applies if your theme doesn’t let you remove the title on the home page – all premium themes will allow you to do this, or the home page layout will automatically be set up not to show the title.)
What to do in these situations? First change the title of the page to the longer version of the title that you want to appear on the page (or save it directly with a long title if you are creating the page from scratch). So, create a page that is called “Frequently Asked Questions,” or give your existing home page a new title that you won’t mind seeing written very visibly at the top of the home page (perhaps a one-sentence introduction containing your main keywords – or at any rate something that sounds engaging to your visitors).
Then go to Appearance > Menus and add the new page to the menu (if it isn’t there already). When the item is in the central area, you’ll see that it has the long name you’ve just given it; click on the small triangle to the right of the menu item next to “Page,” write the shorter label that you want to see in the menu in the “Navigation Label” field (“Home” or “FAQ,” to continue with the same examples), and save the menu. Now check your live site, and you’ll see the change – plus a shorter, neater-looking menu.
I hope you find these five easy-to-implement WordPress tips helpful.
Hacks do happen occasionally, so I asked my friend Claire Gallagher of Claire Creative to write this short low-down on what you can do to keep yourself out of trouble.
As a site owner, it is important to protect your website from unwanted attacks. Hacking is unfortunately something that does occur in the world of websites, no matter who hosts your site and no matter its subject matter, and you can’t ever be sure you are 100% safe. However, there are a number of precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of attack. Here are five points to address to improve your site’s safety.
1. Your computer.
The computer that you use to log in to your website should be secure.
- Use anti-virus software.
- Don’t download files or applications from sources that you don’t know.
- Use spam filters on your email account.
2. Your host.
Choose a reputable host that offers customer support. Before deciding on a host, check online reviews to ensure that the host is reliable.
3. Your passwords.
Choose a secure password for your hosting account and your admin area (if your site uses WordPress or another content management system). It is also a good idea to change your passwords regularly.
Note that if you use a WordPress site, you should avoid the default “admin” as your user name.
Your hosting company will most likely provide you with a complex password for your FTP – you should change this from time to time as well, whether or not you use FTP to upload files to your website.
4. Your version of WordPress and plugins.
Your site, just like your computer, runs on software that requires occasional updates. WordPress updates are released regularly to protect against hackers and generally improve the performance of your website. It is highly recommended that you keep WordPress and plugins up to date – it’s one of the best ways to protect your site from attack. With any software update, there can be compatibility issues, so take a backup before you do your update.
The same advice goes for any other content management system or open source software you may be using on your website.
5. Your backup copy.
Despite your best efforts, your site may still get attacked. Never fear! If you have a backup copy, your site can be restored in all its former glory, with limited downtime – all you need is a back up copy of your site and your database (if your site uses one – WordPress sites do use a database). Your hosting company will advise as to how often they take security backups, and if you use WordPress, it’s a simple matter to set up an automatic backup system from within your admin area. Updraft Plus is one of several free WordPress plugins available. (You should make sure you keep a backup on your own computer, as well as stored on your host, just in case anything ever happens to your host!)
Everyone who is building their own website is going to need an image editor of some kind in order to crop and resize images that they then upload to their website. If you’re using WordPress, you will have seen that there is a kind of basic image editor inside the system that allows you to crop and resize images once you’ve uploaded them, but actually, it’s much easier to do this outside WordPress before uploading them. You also don’t want to upload massive pictures to your website (which most photographs are these days, even those taken with a cellphone), as this will unnecessarily take up space in your hosting setup, so it makes sense all round to work on the images beforehand.
There are some other image editing softwares around and if you have one on your computer that you’re happy with, great – use it. All we’re talking about doing here is cropping, resizing and using layers in a very basic way and you don’t need any kind of complicated software to do that. But if you don’t have any software you can use for this on your computer, I always recommend Pixlr. It works in pretty much the same way as Photoshop, but without all the bells and whistles. Pixlr is an online tool that lets you store a library of images online if you want to – there is also a downloadable version that you can install on your computer, but the online version is absolutely adequate.
From the Pixlr home page, you need to choose “Pixlr Editor” to launch the app.
Creating a header image using Pixlr
I’ll walk you through the process of creating a header image.
First I open the Pixlr Editor by clicking the “Launch Web App” button for the Pixlr Editor app on the Pixlr home page. I then need to open an existing image – for this example I am using a pattern that I have downloaded from ColourLovers.com (a brilliant source for gorgeous patterns that you can even colour yourself). So I choose the “Open image from computer” option, as shown below.
I navigate to the image on my computer and choose it, and it opens up in Pixlr.
The next thing to do is resize the image. Imagine that my theme requires my header image to be 1600px x 300px. Your theme will usually specify what size you need to crop your header to. By the way, measurements are always specified for web graphics with the width first, so here, the width of my header is 1600 pixels. Something important to know when resizing images for a website, especially headers as they are usually very wide, is that you can’t make an image bigger than the size you originally have it – it will distort and be of horrible quality. So make sure you use an image that is already as big as you need it to be, or bigger. This isn’t an usually issue with digital photographs (or scans for that matter) as they are usually huge. But if you are using a photo from an image library, for example, do check you have downloaded a large enough version.
To crop the image, I click the Crop tool from the toolbox on the left, as shown in the screenshot below. I then drag it across my image, keeping my eye on the box to the right which tells me the size of the area I’m selecting. I carefully stop at 1600 x 300. (Notice that the image hasn’t opened at full size in the browser window – it would be too big to be able to work with, so we are working on it at 47% of its actual size, as is shown at the bottom left of the image; when we save it and use it, it will actually be at its real size. Also note that if you need to move the image around within the screen area in order to see what you are selecting more easily, you can just drag it to a better position by holding and moving your mouse on the black bar at the top of the image.)
If, once you’ve selected an area the right size for your header, you feel you haven’t selected quite the right area, without clicking anything else, you can click within the selected area and use your mouse to reposition the selection, keeping it at the required size. When you’ve moved the selection to exactly the right place, click anywhere else within the screen. A query box will come up; click “Yes” to apply the changes and crop the image – that is, if you’re happy with the selection you’ve made. Pixlr will now crop the image.
Don’t worry if you make a mistake at any point – it’s easy to go back a step, without having to start over again; just click the previous step in the History pane to the right (which you can see in the screenshot above).
At this stage you might be happy with what you’ve done and if so, you can save the image. However before saving the image, I want to show you something else that introduces you to the idea of layers in images. It quite often happens that you want to add writing on top of a header image (or any image for that matter). Usually it works well to add writing in white, but in order for it to be easily legible, you will want to darken the original image a little. How to do that that is to add a partly transparent texture as a layer. Let’s see how that’s done.
First of all I open the texture. This is one I have downloaded from Subtle Patterns which is a great place to get backgrounds that can be used on websites, though here I am using the file as a dark texture layer and not as a background. (In theory you could of course use a solid colour and make it partly transparent, but I think a texture is just a little nicer.)
So, I open my texture in Pixlr as you can see below. (I click “File > Open image” from the Pixlr menu – the texture is in fact already open in the screenshot; I added the arrow to show what I had done to open the image.)
I move the black texture to the right by grabbing the black bar at the top of the image – it’s impossible to see what we are doing otherwise. I then drag the black background layer from the Layers pane onto the image of the flowers as you can see in the two screenshots below.
OK, so we now have the black background on the flowers, but it isn’t big enough. We want to duplicate the layer so we can use it to cover the remaining space. Right-click on the black layer in the layers pane of the flowers image, as shown, and select “Duplicate layer.”
Now, select the Move tool from the toolbox on the left – it’s the little cross at the top right. Having selected it, use your mouse to move the second layer of the black texture to the right, so that the black texture completely covers the flowers.
Now we want to join the two dark layers together so that we can make them partly transparent at the same time. Right-click on the top dark layer in the layers panel and choose “Merge down.” This will make the two layers one.
Now to add some transparency. Click the tiny button at the bottom left of the Layers pane; an Opacity slider will appear. Slide it to about 35 and you’ll see the flowers becoming visible underneath the dark texture. This is dark enough for my white lettering to show up, so I am ready to save the image.
When you make your own header, you may need to add lettering to it. On some websites, the post title appears on top of the header image so you don’t need to add anything to the image itself, however if you are making a header for your home page, you may want to add lettering (or perhaps your logo. You know how you’d do that – you’d open it, then drag it from the Layers panel onto the header image). If you want to add writing, click the “A” in the toolbox, which is the Type tool; you can easily change the font and the colour in the Text box that comes up (see below), and move it around by selecting the Move tool. (A great thing about Pixlr is that although it’s an online tool, it can access all the fonts you have on your computer. So if you have a special font installed on your computer that you use for your logo, for example, you will be able to access it and use it on graphics that you make using Pixlr.)
So, for the purposes of my header, this walkthrough is nearly finished. All we need to do now is save the image. Click “File > Save” from the Pixlr menu. (It’s easy to automatically head up to the “File” element of your browser menu instead, right up at the top of your screen, but it’s obviously the Pixlr menu on the black bar that you want, as shown below.)
Name the image however you want to name it, slide the Quality slider up to 100 (keep an eye on the file size – it’s above the “OK” button – you want to make sure it is under 1MB) and save the image to your computer.
You now know how to create a header in Pixlr – as well as how to crop an image, and the basics of layers. There is just one more thing I would like to tell you before we finish this tutorial, and that’s how to resize an image.
Resizing images using Pixlr
First of all, open the image that you want to resize and crop it just as we did above, using the Crop tool, so you have the image the way you want it, even if it is too big overall.
If you just want to make it a certain width (or height), but you’re not bothered about the corresponding height (or width), that is simple to do. (An example of this scenario would be if you were writing a blog post, and you wanted all the images in the blog post to have the same width so that the post would look tidy, but the height of the images wouldn’t matter.)
So, with the image open and cropped the way you want it, click on “Image > Image size” from the Pixlr menu as shown.
Now, change the measurement in the “Width” field to the width you want the image to be – in this example, 600 pixels. Make sure you keep the “Constrain proportions” box checked, as you want the height to change automatically, so that the image keeps the correct proportions. Don’t write anything in the “Height” field – the software will do it for you.
When you click the “OK” button, you’ll see that the image jumps to a smaller size – don’t worry if this looks tiny as you’re just seeing the image at the same scale it was viewed at before. (You can check it in the bottom left corner and if you like, just to check, you can type “100” there so that the image jumps to its correct size. This won’t make any real difference though – you are only changing the way you are viewing the image.) All you need to do now is save the image, just as we did with the header.
If your image is the wrong size and doesn’t have the same proportions as is needed, things are marginally more complicated but there is an easy way of rectifying things without distorting the image. First, crop it so that it is more or less as you want it to be as the finished item, even if it is much bigger. Then, resize it exactly as we did above, using for the width the width you want the finished image to have. (Keep the “Constrain proportions” box checked, exactly as we did before, even if the height now isn’t the right size.)
Supposing the height is now smaller than is should be, change the height to what it is supposed to be and let the width size itself accordingly.
Now, create a new blank canvas that is the same size as the desired image size. Choose “File > New Image” and in the box that appears, type in the desired size of the image, as in the example below. (Just ignore the Presets dropdown.) Click OK.
Now click the original image and drag it to the right if needed, so that you can see both the images at the same time – the original, resized picture, and the new blank canvas. Drag the original image (clicking and dragging the Background layer in the Layers pane) onto the new, blank canvas; use the Move tool to adjust the positioning if necessary.
Save the image.
You now know the basics of resizing, cropping and working with layers in Pixlr. Unless you need to do anything really complex, this is probably as much as you will ever need to know how to do with Pixlr. (If you want to make interesting, shareable graphics for your website, take a look at the amazing tools talked about in this post.)
Choosing the right theme for your WordPress website is actually surprisingly difficult. There are so many themes out there and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number you’ll have to sort through.
Another complication is that since themes are made by different makers, there isn’t a standard way of describing what features they include. Don’t assume that you can customize everything (colours, fonts, page layout) – it’s only recently that themes are becoming more and more customizable. So, do read the small print and check that you will be able to do what you want to do with the theme you have chosen.
Here are some tips to help you find the right theme.
1. Know that it will take you some time, perhaps even a few days, to find the right theme.
Set aside the time for this and be methodical. Take notes and screenshots to help you remember which ones you liked, and copy the URLs of the themes you like as a reference, so you don’t have to hunt for them all over again.
2. Be very clear about what your needs are.
Several of my clients have bought a theme that they have immediately liked, perhaps because some of the dummy content resonated with them or they liked the overall style, and then have realised it didn’t correspond with what they actually needed. If your site is a business site, don’t choose a photoblogging theme no matter how stylish it looks, and if your site is a blog, don’t choose a portfolio theme that showcases portfolio elements on the front page, when what you want is to show the blog posts up front, and don’t even need a portfolio.
3. Choose a theme that already looks as much as possible as you’d like it.
It’s really worth spending time finding the right theme to avoid having to pay a programmer to change the code once you’ve bought it, because it isn’t quite as you wanted.
4. Don’t assume you can customize the theme. Read the small print and check you can change the page layout and change the colours and fonts, if you want to. If in doubt, ask the theme maker.
5. Don’t be put off by the dummy content that is on the demo site for the theme.
I’ve seen people put off by the stock photos they see on the demo, but of course, it’ll look quite different by the time you get your own images in there. So, only take into account the elements that won’t be changed.
Free or Premium?
In general, I’m a big advocate for premium themes. If you think about the importance of the image your website presents, it seems to me that the small, one-off investment you make when you pay for a premium theme is absolutely worth it. They look so much better! Also, you’ll get a good level of support with a premium theme, which you may not get with a free one.
That said, it is true that not everyone has budget allocated for a premium theme, especially if you are launching a site as an experiment or you are just playing around with an idea.
A tip for browsing free themes
Your WordPress website will come with several free themes installed – which ones they are depends on your host. You can browse these, and activate them easily by going to Appearance > Themes. But there are many more available than just these – click on “Add New” and you’ll see a large selection of other themes you can install just by clicking the blue “Install” button that appears when you mouse over them.
It’s very useful to see the screenshots of the themes because this gives you a taste of what the themes will look like once they’ve been set up – you can’t see this as easily if you just install them and preview them on your own site. But you can’t really see how a theme has been designed to look when it’s all set up without looking at a live demo of the whole website. To do this, note the name of the theme you’re interested in and go to the WordPress Free Themes Directory (here). Then search the theme by name; when the theme comes up as a search result, click on its title. To the right hand side of the page, click “Theme home page.” This will take you to the theme maker’s own website and there will usually be a fully set up live demo for you to look at; in addition, depending on the theme, there may also be setup instructions, support and FAQ available for you to consult.
The best places to get premium themes
Finding the perfect theme may feel like an overwhelming task – I sympathise. I totally felt the same when I first got into WordPress. Here are some of my favourite places to get premium themes, which may save you some time.
There are literally hundreds of themes available here, from dozens of different theme makers. Choose the category you need e.g. Blog/Magazine, Corporate, or Creative for portfolio type themes, or look at Popular Items. ThemeForest is your best bet for a corporate looking theme – though they have all kinds, including many trendy one-page themes.
This is another marketplace selling themes from different makers – there’s a particularly nice variety of quirky, blog-type themes available.
Very nicely designed themes for all kinds of sites. The dummy sites are highly customised – you can change most of the elements. Take a look at the showcase to get some inspiration and to see how different the themes can look.
This company is responsible for developing WooCommerce, one of the most popular WordPress e-commerce plugins available – they have really nice modern-looking themes for all kinds of site available, however, not just e-commerce.
This is a curated collection (many drawn from ThemeForest, which can save you some time hunting), with some of their own – these are particularly good and there are also many very nice looking portfolio/blog-type free themes available, and many business themes.
A beautiful collection of stunning themes for creative people – many especially for graphic designers, artists, etc – all with a visual emphasis and most containing portfolios.
Design-led, minimalist themes, with a focus on portfolios for creatives – photographers, designers, etc.
Graph Paper Press
One of the most famous providers of themes for photographers and other creatives.
Beautifully designed blogging and e-commerce themes with a feminine feeling.
Another good source for pretty, feminine, on-trend blogging themes.
How to upload a premium theme
To upload a premium theme, go to Appearance > Themes, click “Add New,” then “Upload Theme.” Browse, upload and activate your new theme; it needs to be in .zip format (make sure you are only uploading the theme, and not the documentation at the same time – the theme won’t work if you accidentally do that).
WordPress is the most-used system for creating websites available today, and it’s a great way to get a really professional looking website up and running. But while I love WordPress and enjoy teaching other people how to use it, I am not a blind advocate for WordPress in all situations, and for all people.
There is a lot of talk about WordPress at the moment, probably because small business is booming and as we’ve said, it’s one of the easiest and lowest cost ways of getting going. But we often hear people airily talking about how easy it is to use and this is why I feel I need to add a word of caution, because it isn’t actually that easy, for everyone.
In my opinion, you should only jump into building your site with WordPress if you feel confident on your computer and you really enjoy fiddling around on it. Obviously it takes quite a bit of time to create a website and the truth is that you’ll be spending many hours doing it. It isn’t necessarily that intuitive, either – you’ll probably have to refer to some documentation – certainly so if you’re using a premium theme (which is the most likely scenario).
It’s not that it’s actually difficult – but it does require dedication. You’ll undoubtedly run into some areas that you’ll have to spend some time figuring out and you may well end up posting a “help” enquiry on the WordPress forum; because the software is free for everyone to use, there isn’t any official “support” – while there are plenty of people who’ll happily offer you advice when you get stuck, there’s no-one to actually sort it out for you.
You should also have a good eye for design, because while you don’t exactly design your own website when you’re using WordPress, you need to see how you can work within the parameters of your chosen theme to get it looking the best that it can. A site that’s been built by someone who just doesn’t feel for these things stands out a mile, and does you much more harm than good.
If you really don’t enjoy fiddling around, and you think you might be biting off more than you can chew, you will certainly find it quicker and easier with Wix or Weebly which are less complete and more basic systems that still let you get a good-looking website. Their templates are really good too, and if design isn’t really your thing, you may end up with a better looking website than if you’d used WordPress which is very definitely more involved. (These systems do have their limitations though, which is, of course, why they are so much simpler to set up.)
Alternatively, there is Squarespace who offer the most beautiful looking websites around, though this service won’t suit everyone: their modern, designery image isn’t compatible with absolutely everyone’s kind of business.
Or, depending on your budget, you could get a professional to build your site using WordPress – it needn’t cost a fortune if you use a pre-made theme, and they can show you how to add pages and blog posts to your site once it’s up.
For people who want to set up an online store, you may find a system like Shopify meets your needs better than WordPress, being less fiddly and you also have people to turn to if you need help getting it working. (This will undoubtedly cost you more money, but it will certainly be easier to set up and manage.) There is also Big Cartel that’s much more simple, but does a great job.
Another thing that it is important to realise is that seeing as you are hosting WordPress yourself, there will be a certain degree of maintenance that you need to do to keep your site in order – there is no centralised team of people who are going to make sure everything is updated and running smoothly. You also need to make sure you keep regular backups in case you ever get hacked. It isn’t like a site on a hosted service (like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace or Shopify) that you just build… then don’t need to worry about again, apart from adding new blog posts, new products, etc.
So – WordPress is a brilliant system and offers fabulous possibilities to the small business owner, in that they can create and present an image of themselves to the world that is in line with the image they want to present, at a cost that is very much less than getting it designed and built from scratch – plus they can add to the site themselves and tweak it as much as they want to. But if you’re not into spending hours in front of your computer, do think about hiring someone else to get it set up for you, or using one of these easier-to-use services, at least at first.
However – those people who like to roll up their sleeves and get into something new will relish the learning curve and find creating their own website using WordPress amazingly satisfying.
If you’re on the point of building your own website, you’ve certainly heard about WordPress, and perhaps you’ve even decided already, without knowing too much about it, that WordPress is definitely for you. Everyone’s talking about it – but what is it, and why might you choose it to create your website?
WordPress is a free software that anyone can use. It’s the most-used CMS that there is at the moment – this means a “content management system” – a “platform”, or system that you can use to put your content online, without literally building it in code. 20% of all websites in existence are, apparently, built on WordPress. You simply install it on your website, usually with just one or two clicks depending on your host, wait for the email confirming your installation, and you’re ready to start.
To install the full version of WordPress, you do need your own domain name and your own hosting, and you might want to buy a premium template as well, so it would be wrong to say that it’s completely free. But building your site on WordPress will reduce your costs dramatically, compared to getting a web designer to design and programme your site from scratch.
Let’s get something straight first – there are actually two versions of WordPress. There is a version that is known as “WordPress.com” that is hosted for you, meaning you don’t have to purchase and manage your own hosting setup. This is a kind of “lite” version of WordPress and it’s brilliant for bloggers.
However, if you want to develop your site further than just creating a blog – for example, if you want to accept payments for products or services or list events on your website, you’ll find WordPress.com is not for you. Or simply, if you want to remain in control of your own website and not have it hosted by another company, then you’ll want to go for the second version, the “full” version, that is known as “self-hosted” WordPress or “WordPress.org.” The self-hosted version of WordPress is the one we are talking about here. To use self-hosted WordPress, you’ll need your own domain and your own hosting, and you’ll have to install WordPress yourself, but none of this is difficult to do. After that, how far you want to go in the development of your site is up to you.
WordPress runs on templates, which are known as “themes.” There are a vast range of themes available, designed and created by independent designers and programmers all over the world. Some of these are free, and some you have to pay for. Until quite recently, free themes were overwhelmingly for blogging sites and there wasn’t a great range available for other kinds of site. Now you’ll find a selection of free themes you can use if you’re setting up a business site rather than simply a blog, and some of these are good. But for the majority of people setting up a WordPress site, you’ll want to choose and invest in a premium theme because they look much more professional and offer you more customization. Buying a theme is a one-off payment (usually around $50) – once you’ve bought it you can use it indefinitely, and to my mind this is one of the best investments you’ll make as it will mean your website looks as good as it possibly can.
Customization is an issue I want to touch on at this point. Someone who has used a website creator such as Wix may be surprised that you can’t drag and drop elements around your site in the way you can if you were creating with Wix. The reason for this is that the coding behind a WordPress site is much more sophisticated than that behind a Wix site and your WordPress site can be made to do things on a far more complex level, if you want it to. So, you don’t actually design your own site if you use WordPress – you run on a theme that has made most of the design and layout decisions for you. If you want a site that you can customize to a large extent, for example change the colours and fonts and maybe decide on your own layouts, you’ll need to choose a very recent theme and check the small print as to exactly what you can do with it – you’ll find that not all themes allow you to change colours and fonts and layout the way you might expect at the outset. The answer to this is to choose a theme that looks as nearly as possible the way you actually want your site to look. There are so many hundreds of beautiful themes available that you’re sure to be able to find something that’s already exactly as you want it, and it will most likely be completely unrecognisable once you’ve got your own images and wording in there. (See here for some of my tips on choosing a WordPress theme.)
A WordPress site can be made to do almost anything you want it to. It can work as a “brochure” style website for a small business, or as a portfolio. You can set it up to take payments online, to create a membership site, to list event dates. This is thanks to a vast number of “plugins” available – most of them free – created again by independent programmers all around the world. (A plugin is an “extra” that makes WordPress do something it doesn’t already do all by itself.) Every WordPress site has an integrated blog right within it and can be connected to your social media as well in a variety of ways – to display your Facebook stream, your Pinterest boards or your Instagram pictures, and it can even show your products listed on Etsy that people can choose right from your site.
How far you want to go depends on you – if you’re not very technical, you may find that your needs are met by using a fairly basic theme, but if you enjoy experimenting, you’ll certainly want to develop your site further once you start to see what you can do with WordPress.
I’m not a blind advocate for WordPress in all cases (I write more about this here). It may be that if you want an online store, it may be easier and more appropriate for you to set up a webstore using Shopify. And as I said, if you simply want to blog in a very light-hearted way, it could be that a ready-hosted blog at WordPress.com or Typepad might fit your needs perfectly. But for most types of websites, a self-hosted WordPress site, as simple or as complex as you need it to be, will be a very good solution.
If you’re undecided, here are some of the reasons why you might want to use WordPress.
- It gives the power to the you as the website owner. You don’t need to rely on your webmaster to make updates so you can easily keep your website up to date.
- It has a fairly user-friendly interface, especially compared with some of the other complex systems out there. Most people find it easy to work with, once they’ve browsed around a little, and having got the hang of it, you’ll be able to make updates easily.
- Once the site is built, it’s an enormous time saver – you can add pages, images and blog posts extremely quickly.
- It’s free – or should we say, extremely low cost, compared to getting a website built from scratch, and there are no monthly fees apart from your hosting.
- You’re in charge of hosting it, which means you have entire control.
- It can be made to do pretty much anything you want it to – thousands of developers worldwide work on plugins to make it more and more flexible.
- Because so many people use it, there is a huge support network for users and developers.
- You can easily find a developer to work on your site as so many programmers build with WordPress.
- Even getting a site built by a professional with WordPress will be much less expensive than hiring them to build it from scratch.
- It’s robust and reliable, and secure – any security holes are fixed with frequent updates to the system. (You must make sure you keep everything updated.)
Now, having praised WordPress and told you what a great system it is, I do have to repeat that it isn’t for everyone. Most people who I help set up websites are really pleased with what they can achieve, and very much enjoy the creation process and the fact that they can now add to their website themselves and make changes as they please. However I must say that some people I work with do find it a headache, and they’d be much better off either hiring a professional, or using a simpler system to get an uncomplicated “brochure” website up and in place. See here to read more about whether WordPress is for you – you really want to make the right decision before you start.
You may think I am shooting myself in the foot, seeing as I write about people building their own websites. Surely I’m a convinced advocate?
Actually, I don’t think it makes sense for everyone to build their own website.
Quite honestly, there are some people for whom it simply makes sense to hire a professional.
I think you should hire a professional if:
a) you really hate technical stuff and working out how to do things on your computer,
b) you are so busy that the thought of turning your mind to learning how to do it makes you panic,
or c) you are aware that your design sense is perhaps not your strongest point.
If any of these apply to you, I feel quite strongly that building your own website is not going to be the best answer for you. You’ll either get really frustrated wasting time and energy struggling to get your site together, or you’ll produce something that really doesn’t do you or your business justice.
There is of course the question of funds. I’d strongly suggest you assign a budget to getting a website professionally built – but I do understand that when you’re starting out, you don’t always have funds available. If this is your case, I have these suggestions:
- avoid WordPress – it can be time consuming and you probably won’t be able to make your site look good.
- alternatively, if you do want to use WordPress, and you need to build the site yourself, choose a theme that looks EXACTLY the way you want your site to look, and install the dummy content, which you then just adjust with your own text and pictures. (Make sure you choose a theme that comes with dummy content – you can always ask the theme provider.)
- use Wix or Weebly as a temporary solution. Choose one of their ready-made templates and keep it simple. You really can’t go wrong and your site will look perfectly good. It may be that you never need to change it to anything more complex – depending entirely on what your needs are, of course.
- use Squarespace as a solution, if your business fits their image (which is modern and design-led). It’s far easier to use than WordPress.
- create a mini-site with Strikingly.
- get a professional to build your site as soon as you have the funds for at least a small, but entirely professional site. It’s not worth cutting corners here – your nephew or kind next door neighbour most likely won’t be able to create what you need. Even if you commission a very small site until you can afford to grow it bigger, make sure it’s done by a professional.
Remember that if you don’t have a lot of time, you hate fiddling around and design really isn’t your thing – if you really do need to create your website yourself, less is very definitely more. You can get away with a very simple site, even a one-pager, at least temporarily.
But for people who do love fiddling around, you have the time to do so, and you’re a creative person – building and maintaining your own website yourself will be extremely rewarding – you’ll be able to present the precise image of yourself and your business to the public that you want to present.