Caveat Scriptor: Use the Advice of Those Who Know Before You Build a Site

~A man [woman] is a success if he [she] gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he [she] does what he [she] wants to do. Bob Dylan~

I'm smart. Wicked smart. Too smart for my own good. At the same time (as they said when I was as kid and as it still applies), I'm too big for my own britches.

So I put those prissy pantalones to some good effort and I teach others how to write. I win a few awards, send a few hopefuls off to higher learning institutions where they in turn win their own awards and accolades. I do this till my seat gets burned one too many times by the politics of academia, and I go into freelance writing.

I research for 1000s of hours, submit to literary contests and magazines, start working writing gigs, and keep researching. I build a web site. With what it costs to maintain an ISP and web hosting account and little else, I create this ambitious masterpiece, believing I am now a self-taught web host, writer, teacher, and confidant for academic writers, mental disability writers, and elder memoir writers.

But as your confidant, I have to confess: as much as I'd like to think those 300 hours of study and application for usability, keyword-rich, to-the-letter-of-the-law of interstate/inter-country/internet navigation design and creation make me a self-taught smartass, I did little but the legwork by myself. Actually, five virtuosos of the web world made making a website possible:

Jakob Nielsen After creating a really bad mess of a site overloaded with spinning, flashing, color blobs of coolness, I discovered www.useit.com/alertbox and Dr. Jakob Nielsen. His stellar advice, delivered in a no-nonsense tone, is backed by his many years of theoretical and practical work. After reading and studying articles such as the following, I completely reconstructed my site:

Current Issues in Web Usability

Misconceptions about Usability

Ten Most Violated Homepage design Guidelines

Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2003

Usability for Senior Citizens

Writing for the Web

Ed Zivkovic As I was catching on to using the experts to build a user-friendly, usable site, I was catching on to the language that indicates the writer knows what he's talking about. This is the redeeming value of Ed Zivkovic's site, Tips for Work at Home Webmasters, at www.ezau.com. He uses candor and directness. He provides technical content in understandable terms. And defying the popular and trendy, he tells you directly and honestly what is crap, what is not crap, what is effective website technique and what is a waste of dough. Try some of these instrumental articles for starters:

Domain Name and Web Hosting Hell
Exit Traffic Exchange-Traffic multiplier Alternative

R.I.G.H.T.S., www.rightsforartists.com As any artist/writer will attest, the work that goes into creation is an interminable challenge. But we do it because we like it, because we are good at it, and because we have to do it. We are compelled to create. But we do our own work, not the work (or art) of others. This site contains all of the legal and ethical guidelines for copyright; R.I.G.H.T.S., a coalition of contributing artists (rather than a corporation or organization, that is) thoroughly, relentlessly provides information, definitions, answers, and directions for copyrighting and protecting creative work.

Firelily Designs Just as much about the science of such vital concerns as color design for web users with color vision deficiency as about aesthetics of web design, this site practices what it preaches-as it preaches, well, teaches, graphic design. I don't create my own web graphics. That would take me a year or two to master, when I have enough to do with getting words crafted into readable forms. But I found the advice on color at www.firelily.com fascinating and functionally useful.

Angela Hoy, Writers Weekly There are writers newsletters aplenty. And then there's Writers Weekly. What does the site and the owner have to do with web design, specifically? They are proactive protectors of writers and creative people, in general. Hoy stands up for the rights of freelancers by refusing the requests of tightwads who solicit her to recommend writers to work for 3 bucks an hour on copy for them so they can make millions while the writers starve. Hoy encourages the ethics of hard work by way of informative how-tos. And Angela Hoy, with husband and co-owner, Richard Hoy, pours an acid tongue on the plague that is the scamming POD publisher or the conniving money-charging agent-in a section of her [their] site called "Whispers and Warnings." For the newbie, novice, wannabe freelancer, or even for the work at home woman or man creating a website she or he wants safe from scummy scammers, www.writersweekly.com is an advisory imperative.

Robert Woodhead of Self Promotion.com Finding www.selfpromotion.com shaved centuries off of not only my design and development but my publishing and promoting the site. With uncluttered pages and cutting-edge (constantly updated) information, Woodhead (who even makes self-effacing jokes about his name) walks a web wannabe through every stage of the process, and then provides [shareware] support by helping you submit your site to hundreds of search engines and indexes that you need to have crawl your site for rankings-the latest (2004) must-have for any online business.

Of course, if you were to look at my Favorite Files, at the 900+ categories, subcategories, and links, you would find that many others pulled my smart ass up by the seat of the pants. I name a few of these helpful gurus here, too:

Andrew Starling's Top Ten Sites Compared, in the Web Developer's Virtual Library at www.wdvl.internet.com

Jill Whalen's www.highrankings.com

Jim Heath at www.viacorp.com

Keith Instone's www.usableweb.com, 970 Links about Web Usability

Kevin Lee's Free Keyword research Tools and Keywords revisited at Click Z Network, www.clickz.com

The PSP Interactive Zone, www.pspiz.net

www.smallbusiness.sbc.yahoo.com

Assistant Professor Stan Ketterer's Design Fundamentals News Writing/ Newsletter coursework at www.cas.okstate.edu

Stephanie Hetu at www.stephaniehetu.com

Sumantra Roy's SEO course, Choosing the Correct Keywords for a Site, at www.thejunglemarketer.com

Karen Zoldan of www.bridgemarketing.com

As you might have figured out, I write this not to share any of my own personal technological truths-which are wanting. I write this not to embellish the careers of any affiliates. I don't have an affiliation with nor do I know the people in the Top Five-who do not need my small time embellishment or exposure. I write this not to create an entity I had no previous knowledge of creating-though how I do like to brag.

I compose this guide to humble myself to the fact that I was flying by the seat of my pants in most cases-except where I was lucky enough to intuit some strategies (which are still in the making, so don't get an attitude when you visit my site and find it still needs work: I know it does).

I compose this guide to honor those who put in way more than 300 piddly hours of research, study, and practice to find out what works to make it work even better.

And I compose this guide to help you avoid even 300 (not so piddling when you are doing it yourself) hours of stitching and tearing out the stitches of the britches of a tailoring project. Smarty pants just had to do it the hard way. May your way be easier.

N.H.-born prize-winning poet, creative nonfiction writer, memoirist, and award-winning Assoc. Prof. of English, Roxanne is also web content and freelance writer/founder of http://www.roxannewrites.com, a support site for academic, memoir, mental disability, and creative writers who need a nudge, a nod, or just ideas?of which Roxanne has 1,000s, so do stop in for a visit, as this sentence can't possibly get any longer??.

In The News:

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