There are still more elements to putting together an effective website for your group. In my prior post, I wrote about planning a simple, effective navigation. Here I’ll talk about a simple design process and how you add features to your WordPress website.
There are many excellent designers out there, but many groups can't afford to hire someone with that expertise. At the very least, though, put some thought into these areas before you start looking at actual designs. For example:
Think about your site from a visitor's perspective. How would you like them to describe the site? For example, do you want more of a “professional” feel or more of a “grassroots” feel? Come up with a list of five or six qualities you would like your site to convey before you look at designs. Then stick to the list as you look at possible designs. Also, pull together your logo and color palette (if you have one) to get the "feel" of your materials together before you start looking at designs.
Remember that not only the appearance of the page but also your navigation will help achieve the feel that you’re going for. For example, many folks say they want a “clean” design, but if the navigation is not well-organized, there will be too many links across the top of the pages. If you have done enough planning (see Part Two) you are helping yourself in the design department as well.
This is where an experienced developer/designer can make a huge difference. They will help you separate out elements of design from navigation to help you achieve a smooth path for your visitors from your home page to the content they are looking for.
Once you have a sense of what you want, you can build your own design from scratch, but why do that when there are over a thousand designs already created by the WordPress community? (In the WordPress community, they are called "themes.") There are too many themes to choose from, so I'm going to suggest that you try one of three approaches to finding the right theme for your site:
It's likely that you will try several themes before finding just the right one for your group's site. While trying them out, view your site in different browsers to make sure that it looks like what you expect. And look for themes with plenty of downloads, good user reviews and an active developer (more about this below when I write about plugins).
Fortunately, the WordPress interface makes it pretty easy to download and try out multiple themes as part of your development process. Take the time and get yourself the "feel" that you identified earlier in your design process.
WordPress comes with a bunch of features that are available as soon as it is installed:
Then they also have an extensive set of features (called "plug-ins") that enable all sorts of other cool things on your site:
All of these functions can be installed using plugins. But with thousands of plugins, they are not all created equal: a poorly-developed plugin can cause problems on your site. When looking at plugins, check them out before you put them on your site:
No matter what other features you get, you have to have a way to monitor the effectiveness of your site. Google Analytics is still (in my book) the leading free resource for paying attention to user behavior. It will allow you to see what visitors are looking for and whether your content is as alluring as you hope it is.
WordPress has great plugins for working with Google Analytics. This is my favorite Google Analytics plugin for WordPress.
Consider too that even though your organization doesn’t have to pay for a plugin or theme, you may want to make a small contribution to support the developer. Even $10 can add up for these folks who are probably volunteering their time.
Design and features are where you'll spend some of the most fun time building your website. WordPress can help you get them done quickly and at low cost. Enjoy!
Other posts in this series: