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tips on creating your own website

Your Own Website

The Congo Cookbook is a collection of African recipes and information about African cooking and food that grew out of an RPCV's (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) continuing interest in African cooking and culture. Along the way, we have gained some experience with amateur websites. Here are some tips for beginning webmasters.



Books

Even when the subject is the World Wide Web, it's hard to beat a good book on the subject. We've found lots of food for thought in Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug.

HTML Code

You need to know something about HTML to write webpages. HTML is the computer language that tells browsers how to display the content of a web page: what goes where, how big, what color, what links to what, and so on. To see HTML in action, select "Source" (or "Page Source") under your browser's View menu. You should see a text file that contains all the text on this page, plus lots more text in < > brackets. That text between the brackets is the HTML code. The HTML code plus the content are the page's source code. There are plenty of books and websites about HTML. One good website is Sizzling Jalfrezi.

HTML Editor

You could write HTML code in any word processor or text editor, but it helps to have a text editor made especially for HTML editing. The Congo Cookbook web design team is not impressed with HTML editors that allow users to make changes via a what-you-see-is-what-you-get display, like a word processor. Rather, it is preferable to edit the source code itself and have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get display only for verification. Various free HTML editors can be located via Google.

Webspace

You need to place your webpages on some webspace where they will be accessible to the world. Geocities provides free and paid webhosting services and usually works quite well. Read the fine print.

Content and Design

A website is mostly content. If you want anyone to notice your website you have to provide content that can't be found elsewhere. What is your passion? What can you share with the world? Once you have some content, find a design or "look" for your website. Clean, uncluttered web design looks best. For the most part, flashing and animated things are to be avoided. Less is more. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

More on this topic: The useit.com alertbox.

Hits, Search Engines and Directories

One way to start visitors coming to your site is to find websites containing links to websites like yours (for example, in the case of African Cuisine, the African Studies Association's Africa South of the Sahara). E-mail the webmasters of those sites and suggest your site be included in their links collection. It takes a long time (i.e., months) for visitors to find your site and spread the word about it. Be patient. You should adopt a if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. Improving your website's content is the best way to make your site stand out, be noticed, and (eventually) receive hundreds or thousands of hits a day. Submitting and re-submitting your site to every search engine on the Web is a waste of time; paying for your site to be submitted and re-submitted to every search engine on the Web is a waste of money. The best way to spend your time (or money) is improving your site: create more unique content, improve navigation, make it better looking. If you have three hours to work on your website: two hours and fifty-five minutes should be spent making your site bigger and better, the remaining five minutes could be spent submitting your site to search engines and directories. To learn more about search engines and directories, see Search Engine Watch; it contains a wealth of information on this topic.

Making money

Don't quit your day job. You can earn some money from a hobby website, but don't expect much. Here's what The Congo Cookbook does:

If you click through, we thank you -- and don't worry, we're not getting rich.


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