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Skills You Need to Start a Website
First Site Guide is all about helping you create your first website or blog.
I’m Anja Skrba, a writing girl, but we have a number of experts on our staff that specialize in all the other areas associated with creating and perpetuating a quality website, of which there are many. All of us, though, have outside experience, and most wear all these hats outside the context of First Site Guide.
There are simply so many skills that go into effectively running a website that we are literally (okay, not literally) covered in hats, all the time.
Wearing a lot of hats is just part of running a website, unless you want to pay others to do so (which might be a good idea for many, but isn’t nearly as much fun).
Besides, this is a site for people who want to build skills, not buy skills. One of the best parts of running a website is having the chance to learn dozens of new skills, often in disciplines which didn’t even exist a few years ago.
Rather than just take you step-by-step through the process, which we do elsewhere, today we’re going to talk about the skills you need to develop as you go.
Even if you do decide to pay people to handle these aspects of your site, keep in mind that knowing a bit about them is going to make you much easier to work with, and better able to evaluate whether any specialists you hire are being honest with you.
Basic Web Skills
The first thing you need to have, before you even think about starting a website, is a basic understand of how websites work: how to navigate, how sites branch outward from their base URL, and so on.
You should find sites you really like, not just aesthetically, but functionally. Think about how you want your site to feel, and the flow of traffic; how you want your visitors to move around the site.
Basically, you shouldn’t try to start your own website until you have a feel for how other sites work. Pick some you really like and break down their structure. It’s pretty easy to do with a pen and some paper, because good sites have simple navigation schemes.
Search Engine Skills
Want to know a secret? You can learn how to do anything if you get good at Googling things.
The human race hasn’t answered all the questions, but we’ve taken care of most of the beginner ones at this point. Why is the sky blue? How do birds know which way to migrate? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? They solved that in 2006.
The jury appears to still be out as to 'how much wood a wood chuck would chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood?', though.
As you go deeper and deeper into a subject, it gets harder to find information, but there are ample resources out there for beginners on almost any subject imaginable. Take advantage of that; no matter what you mess up, someone, somewhere, has messed up the same way, asked for help, and been given a way to fix it. The only thing you’re ever really risking is time.
Basic FTP Skills
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and it sounds scary, but it’s not much different from moving files around in your computer.
The difference is, these files aren’t on your computer, they’re on the server hosting your website. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to learn how to use an FTP client like FileZilla to start a website, but it’s very, very, helpful if you’re planning to make any changes to your site on your own.
If you were to install a plugin, for example, that caused a 500 timeout error on your self-hosted WordPress site, you would be unable to fix it through the admin panel because that would be down too. So, you can either bring in professional help, pay them, and wait for them to fix it, or, if you know how FTP works, you can just log in yourself, delete the plugin folder from the server, and, poof, your site is up and running again.
Google Analytics tell you a lot about how your site is doing. They tell you a lot more about how your site is doing once you understand how to install them correctly, filter them, and really dig into them.
Used correctly, they tell you not just how many visitors you receive, but where they’re coming from, how they use your site once there, and whether they’re coming back.
In other words, everything you need to know to make your site better. That’s probably why, according to W3 Techs, 51% of all websites use Analytics to track their metrics.
Aesthetics & Graphic Design
Certain things look better than other things, and they look better for quantifiable reasons.
A site with a great design, great content, and good fundamentals can still be completely derailed by terrible aesthetic choices. You can have twelve PhDs, and no one is going to take you seriously if you have pink text on a purple sparkly background, or something of that sort.
Even less extreme examples detract from your respectability as a source. So it’s never a bad idea to learn a little about layout, design, color theory, and the logic behind various font choices. You might start by learning a little about color palettes.
Content Writing & SEO
The only thing more useless than great content with no thought towards search engine optimization is great optimization on terrible content. In either case, no one is going to read it, but the former is much easier to fix.
SEO changes constantly. If you learned everything there was to know about SEO two years ago, you now know nothing about SEO. The term is a bit of a misnomer now, with everyone still talking about keywords, when the search engines couldn’t care less about keywords anymore. They look for phrases, context, and usage by blogs with high authority. Getting SEO right is as easy as setting up a plugin like Yoast correctly.
Content is a bit trickier, for a host of reasons we don’t have time to go into here. Suffice to say, it must be relevant, topical, well-written, and reader-friendly. Luckily, Skills You Need has a whole section dedicated to writing skills.
HTML, CSS, .JS, and PHP make the world wide web go ‘round’. You don’t have to know everything about any of them, but knowing a little about all of them will make your life much easier very quickly.
There are a number of really great resources out there for beginning coders, and few things quite as satisfying as making a change to the basic coding of your website and seeing it work. As an added bonus, coding, perhaps unsurprisingly, has some of the most sophisticated learning resource bases on the net.
In this digital age, it’s easy to forget about interpersonal skills, but the truth is they’re still about the most important skills you can develop. Social media is social media, after all.
Remember to be friendly, open, approachable, and, also, how to avoid letting people take advantage of you. The rules of the game have changed a little, but the fundamentals remain more or less the same. Find ways to make people like you, want to be your friend, and you’ll do well.
But Wait, There's (Always) More!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the skills you might need to start your own site, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what you’re in for.
Don’t let it scare you away!
All of these skills make you more competitive in the modern age. In fact, running a website is a great hobby to help you build skills doing something fun.
About the Author
First Site Guide is a happy collection of web geeks who work for several big and small firms in the fields of hosting, web development, design, SEO and marketing.
Since the web is a great place to be and make new connections from all parts of the world, or even just your own neighborhood, these awesome guys, who’ve seen and done it all, have come together to start First Site Guide because they believe in a web for everyone.