Owning Your Website

Last time I wrote about content management systems (cms) where the designer sets up a website so that their client has little control over it.

Maybe this made sense in the past but the big change is, these days maximum functionality is available to anyone who wants it. No-one needs a designer and they can set up and run their own site. (I’m not saying there is no need for designers, just that they’re not essential.)  I strongly recommend to my clients they steer clear of any arrangement that ties them into one designer or consultant in perpetuity. It is better to own and control your own site.

There are still many advantages to engaging someone to set up your site. It saves time and helps you make the right decisions.  A simple basic site should be relatively inexpensive. You might also pay a small retainer to a designer or consultant to look after the site, make sure the cms is up to date and deal with technical problems. If you own your site you can choose to end this arrangement at any time.

In the past website design was a technical and creative issue for the designer. Their creative flair was just as important as their technical know-how.

The creative side is something you may still wish to pay for; a custom-designed header or  website theme is likely to increase your costs and may be desirable if you can afford it. However, for most voluntary organisations whilst it might make sense to pay someone to help you make decisions, set things up and provide some initial support, an off-the-shelf theme and a basic design is all you need.

Behind these concerns there is another result of the massive increase in functionality. These days the focus is not so much on design as content. Design is costly and often not crucial for the success of a website. If you are providing unique content you will find your followers or members without the need to pay for an eye-catching design.  Some very successful sites are not much to look at but combine excellent content with the right site structure so that visitors can easily find what they are looking for.

So, what makes for good content?

This depends upon the nature of the site. A site devoted to icing cupcakes might have a lot of images, whilst a site devoted to classical Greek might have relatively few images. The copy on the cupcake site may be fairly routine, recipes and instructions. The Greek site might depend on exposition of texts from new and exciting perspectives.  Both may be successful sites.

However, there are a few things worth considering as pointers to good copy. Is it:

  • Up-to-date? – if you run a blog, signs of recent activity are a good idea. The site needs to look lived in and loved.
  • Topical? – I suspect at the time of writing a lot of cupcake sites have football or Brazilian themes.
  • Accurate? – where it matters information should be accurate. If you are putting a point of view, perhaps this is less important but constant mistakes undermine any site.
  • Passionate? – you need to communicate enthusiasm for your topic. I have written about the need for a website to have soul, if it looks like you don’t care, why should the visitor care?

In short, these days you can do anything and in future posts I’ll show you how to do it!  What’s your experience of owning your own site?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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The Case for Site Maintenance - July 3, 2014 Reply

[…] access to content management systems with increasing functionality, content is your main preoccupation. These days it is relatively straightforward to install any […]

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