Sunday, March 16, 2008

Building a website: Setting priorities

So you've registered a domain name, signed up for web hosting, and are ready to start making a website. But where to start? Especially if your time is limited, it's hard to know what to work on first.

These are the initial to-do items that were on my list once I'd set up my domain and hosting:

  • Design a website template (the site's look-and-feel)
  • Start writing content and articles
  • Tell everyone about my awesome new site
  • Install WordPress
  • Set up website-monitoring tools (Analytics, Webmaster Tools, etc.)
  • Make sure the site's architecture is the way I want it (subdomains, subfolders, link structure, etc.)
  • Canonicalize my domain name and homepage
  • Put up a robots.txt file

So which should come first, and how should you prioritize a list like this?

In my case, being able to see the product of my work is very motivating; so my first step was to install WordPress on my site, and to pick a theme for the site. Even though I didn't have any of my own content yet, WordPress puts up an initial "Hello world!" post for you, so as soon as you've installed it there's something there on your site for you to look at (visual progress!).

Next, I worked on some underlying technical/architectural issues. I wanted to do anything that could seriously mess up my site right at the beginning, so that if I did mess something up, I wouldn't lose a bunch of content or visitor traffic in the process. This included canonicalizing my domain name, messing around with my .htaccess file, and installing plugins and other software on my site. I also wanted to make sure that the link structure of my site was just the way I wanted it, so that when search engines started indexing it and people started linking to it they would only see the URLs that I wanted them to see. To do this I changed some of my WordPress settings such as the category base, and picked which page would be my homepage.

Once I knew that all my site's content could be found at the right URLs, I was almost ready to start telling people about my site. But I did one last thing before letting the cat out of the bag: I set up Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Analytics tracks visitor traffic and behaviour, but it can only do so starting from the moment you install the Analytics code on your site; so I wanted to make sure that it was set up before I started getting the word out, so that I could track all of my traffic from day one. Webmaster Tools isn't as time-sensitive (since it doesn't rely on JavaScript to track statistics), but the sooner you set it up the sooner you can start seeing what statistics have been gathered for your site.

At this point I was finally ready for word to get out, so I started blogging about my new site. I also put up a robots.txt file to block search engines from crawling certain duplicate content that exists on my site. I'm using WordPress as more of a content management system than a blogging platform (which is what it's geared towards by default), so there are some ways of accessing content (such as by tag or by author) that don't make sense for my site, but I'm too lazy to research how to get rid of those URLs right now. So I'm blocking crawlers from them until I get around to getting rid of them altogether.

And finally, I started putting some actual content on my site. It's kind of like building a house... The point of it is to have a house, and you're probably less excited about the foundation than about the house itself, but you need to have a strong foundation in order to build the interesting parts of the house on top of it. Similarly, I'm excited about getting this site up because I have a ton of information that I want to post; but before I can get to the fun part (creating content), I want to make sure the technical foundations of my site are strong.

So that's how I'd prioritize some of the first steps. I'll go into more detail on several of these steps in my subsequent posts.

Next: Setting up Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
Previous: Choosing a web host


Sunny said...

Please i would like to know which URL is better to set for Google.....http// or just http//name.Thanks

Susan said...

As far as search engines are concerned they're both fine; just pick one and stick with it. People usually pick depending on what they think works better for their branding. For example, wouldn't want to use the www prefix because it ruins the joke of their URL; but for most sites either one is fine.

Pynk said...

This is a useful article. Do you have a tutorial on canonizing? I'll keep looking.

Susan said...

I'd start here: