6 Common mistakes to avoid when you’re making a new website

Howdy folks, I’ve been making websites for about 20 years and here are my best tips I wish clients would read before they came to me. Hope this helps someone avoid a danger trap!

web designer shares secrets of building websites

1.Just say no to Weebly and Wix. 

I know, they have slick marketing and an easy user interface. It is super tempting. But none of their plans are truly free, and their feature and ability limitations will likely leave you frustrated in the long run- they just hope that happens after you’re already too invested, because they give you no easy way to import/export your pages. If you need a drag and drop editor, I recommend Squarespace, which at least gives you full customization control. It still has some of the same downsides, but their mobile sites and designs are much better, and they give you more creative freedom.

2. Don’t buy your domain name yet!

Yes, it is a great name and I understand you don’t want anyone scooping it up. But, if it hasn’t already been registered in the last ten years, it probably won’t be today. I can’t tell you how many times folks buy a domain name and then talk to me (the web designer). At that point, I can’t help and they’re a big pain to move. Plus, lots of the best web hosting packages offer free domain names as part of it, so you only have one credit card to keep updated. Make your web designer happy- let them set up your domain name for you.

3. Don’t use Godaddy for hosting

godaddy logo warning

They’re the Walmart of websites, except they’re not cheap. Maybe you bought your domain name there already, which is fine (I’ve done it myself, to be honest). But their hosting customer service and support is terrible, don’t let me go into the bad experiences I’ve had with their agents on live chat, we’ll be here all day. Plus, they really nickel and dime you for “extras” that everyone else includes for free- my (least) favorite example of this is $75/year for an SSL certificate to make your site secure, but runners up include really expensive email, privacy, and backups. Ridiculous! My favorite host is wind-powered, great tech support, has that stuff and a free domain name included, and costs $99/year. Total.

4. Research your CMS before you commit

If done right, websites are a long-term relationship. You want the underlying structure to be something flexible enough for you to work with down the road, so you won’t need to rebuild the whole thing from scratch in a year or two. Some questions to consider are: Does it have all the features you need? How easy is it to import/export? Is it open source? How much maintenance is needed? Not sure what this means, no worries, check out this blog post on website CMSs or I can walk you through your options on a free consult call.

5. Be prepared!

Make sure your project has an audience and a profit plan before investing in a nice website. It’s totally okay to start with a handsome single page site (starting at $500) or DIY your first draft before investing the big bucks (most websites cost at least $2 grand to build professionally, and the building cost isn’t easily recouped if you decide after it’s not really a project you want to pursue or the profit model isn’t really there. It’s also great when a client comes to me with a sense of website designs they like, and a sense of what words they want on each page.

6. Shop local

You may be familiar with outsourcing sites like Upwork and Fiverr. These can be much cheaper than sourcing local talent, and the fine folks in Pakistan and India and Budapest (etc) are indeed very skilled and willing to work for less. However, if project management and excellent communication aren’t already skills you have, you may find working with someone overseas frustrating. I’ve had hit or miss results myself. Sometimes you get lucky and get a deal that you’re happy with, sometimes the work delivered is not what you expected, and sometimes it ends up costing way more and you have to start over again. The biggest problem is if that freelancer goes unresponsive or is late, there’s really nothing you can do about it. That’s part of why I never outsource work. I am just too picky about quality and my clients care about deadlines. Better to support your local website artisans and have a phone number you can reach out to anytime for questions and support. Plus, they tend to be awake at the same time as you!

I hope by sharing my hard earned lessons, it helps another person avoid the same pitfalls I’ve experienced. If you have other questions or things you’d add to this list, feel free to comment or schedule a free coffee chat where we can discuss your unique project.

Should I use Squarespace or WordPress to build my website?

Before you even start building your website, you have to make a ton of decisions on how you’re going to do it- what’s the domain name, where do you register it, WordPress or Squarespace, how do you build it?

I walk folks through this in my free 30 minute consultations and make personalized recommendations (unfortunately there is not a one-size-fits-all best answer), but in case you need more info or can’t wait, here’s my thoughts on one of the biggest choices you will face when building your website: do you use Squarespace (or another drag and drop editor) or WordPress (or another php-based CMS)?

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How much does a website cost (Oakland)?

So you realized you need a website. Naturally, the first question on anyone’s mind is, how much is it going to cost? Obviously, there’s a huge range of options and in the Bay Area, there are many agencies who won’t even take your call if your budget is under $14k.

At our agency, the average price for a website is about $6,000, and we’ve made simple one-page sites for as little as $500. It’s the best deal in the Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco area that I know of for web design.

Obviously, everyone’s project is different, and the most accurate quote comes after a 30 minute consultation (which you can book for free here!). But, if you’re in a hurry, I have instant quote calculators for Squarespace Website Design and for WordPress sites (what’s the difference?).

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free design tools anyone can use

As a web designer, I often go through a branding consultation with clients who are setting up a new business or nonprofit. In this one-hour session, we figure out the fonts, colors, feelings, and images that best suit you and your audience- it’s kind of like setting up a design language. However, not everyone can afford the 1-4 hour strategy session that takes, so here are some tools and resources for those who would like to DIY their design.

Canva- an entirely web-based Photoshop lite.

I love Canva and recommend it to any client that wants to make their own social media graphics. It’s an easy way to put text on top of images and make some very basic image adjustments.

Google fonts- free fancy web fonts

Did you know you can go to fonts.google.com to see and filter a list of all the google fonts? These are free to use on new web projects, usually pretty easy to download for offline use, and already incorporated into your google docs and slides. Try using the drop down menus to see only certain categories of fonts (like handwriting) or put in your own sample text to see it in action.

Pexels- free stock photos that don’t suck

Of course, it is always better to hire a photographer and get custom shots. But if you’re looking for something a little cheaper, or maybe just a quickie background image for your blog post where you don’t have to worry about copyright violations, check our Pexels. Their quality is excellent.

Coolors.co- color palette generator

Just hit spacebar to make new color combinations. When you see a color you like, press the lock button. It will give you the hexadecimal color codes (those six digit numbers at the bottom) you can copy/paste over to your designer or into your design program.

Magisto – quick and easy video creation

If you want a little video for social media but don’t have the budget to hire a videographer, try Magisto– it’s an app you put on your phone. Just choose the images and videos you’d like, pick some royalty-free music, and it gives you a video! Pretty great.

GifMaker- create animated image files

Gifs can be nice for use in email (where videos are not possible), or when you’re trying to show an animation that doesn’t need audio (like the illustrations on this page! I also like https://ezgif.com.

Cartoonize.net- make photos into cartoons or paintings (for free)

Ok, I almost didn’t put this in here because I’m a designer and I like things to be well-designed (and frankly, this site’s user interface is a mess!). But, I haven’t found a better (free) service out there than this one, if you want some fancy effects on your photos. It’s not as good as hiring a real illustrator to make you a real cartoon or painting, but hey- it’s free!

Lucidchart- DIY flowcharts and infographics

Want to build flowcharts or custom infographics, but don’t have the budget to hire me? Try this site, it is pretty easy to use and has 3 free charts on the free plan. They’re not as pretty as custom-drawn infographics, but they get the job done if you just need to communicate an idea quickly.

Are you DIYing your next design project but don’t know where to start? Get in touch for a some expert help, I have 13 years of experience in web and graphic design illustration. I’d be glad to point you in the right direction and offer you 30 minutes of my best advice, totally free.

No-BS SEO Advice

Ok, so here’s the deal with search engine optimization, i.e. how to get your site ranked higher on google. You want more traffic, so it’s tempting to pay an SEO expert to tell you how to get better rankings. Of course, said expert is going to be a bit biased– after all, he’s not impartial, he’s selling a service- the service of search engine optimization. 

I’m here as a website-maker for over 20 years to tell you the no-BS truth that seo experts won’t tell you. It all boils down to one secret, that’s not really a secret: content is king.

Well, that’s not 100% true. The biggest factors in google’s ranking you are actually a bit out of your control. But more on that later.

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How to add a COVID-19 notice to your website (for free!)

Ok, so I’ve had a lot of folks asking me how to get those little colorful info bars at the top of your website- you know, the ones that say you’re still open with modified hours, or explain your safety precautions you have in place, or just to answer that question you are getting a million calls about.

Luckily, it’s easy to put that information somewhere obvious on your site without messing up the rest of your website’s design. Even non-tech-savvy folks can do it!

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Fixing Mixed Content SSL Errors

A former client wrote into me today with this puzzle, and I thought I’d share it in case it’s useful to anyone else:

Hello Hunter,
A while ago you updated my WordPress website. I noticed that when I go to my blog (diannej.com/b/), I see that the connections suddenly show as “Not Secure.” However, when I go to just diannej.com, it does show as secure. I have paid for an SSL certificate which should cover the whole site, but does not appear to be doing that. 
Any ideas why? Owen said he went to Siteground to get help, but they no longer seem to have a ticket desk for problems. 
Thanks for any assistance you can offer.

Mixed Content SSL Error
If you right-click on your website and choose “inspect element” in Chrome or Firefox, you pull up an info window like this one. Click the “Console” tab to see errors and warnings such as the Mixed Content SSL warning

Yes, absolutely! Happy to advise. Bummer that Siteground is so unhelpful!

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what is https and why should you care?

Ok, so here’s the deal about http versus https, in layman’s terms:

https sites have their identity confirmed. It’s like Anne Hathaway being carded to confirm she’s really her and not just an absurdly good look-alike trying to get free drinks at the exclusive club.

what an https warning looks like

Why does this matter? You’ve heard of phishing, right? When a site poses as another site to steal your password or credit card information? Right? Good. So, this poser phishing site, it can look the same, even down to the url in the address bar, thanks to super sneaky technology. This is like being an Anne Hathaway lookalike who actually changes her name to “Anne Hathaway” to fool more unsuspecting bouncers. https is our defense mechanism against this, a technical way to confirm the identity of the site you’re visiting to ensure it’s the real deal.

But my site doesn’t even take credit cards! Why should I pay for a security certificate when I don’t ask for sensitive information?!

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Is your website responsive?

1. Your site may not be affected.

The best way to check is this website. It’s Google’s test for your responsiveness (aka how friendly your website is to cell phone and tablet users). Just plug in your URL and if it says “Awesome!” in green, you can sit back and drink your coffee with smug satisfaction, knowing your site is safe from the looming SEO disaster.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to just pull up your website on your smartphone and see how it looks: is the text tiny? Do you need to scroll in to read parts of it? Are things overlapping? These are serious issues. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go straight to your friendly local Oakland web developer for a free consultation and we’ll get it fixed. Continue reading