Monday, April 18, 2005

Creating a Basic Website Template

What is a web "template"?

As I understand this term, it is a design format which you can apply to all (or most) of the pages in a web site. Using a "template" system like this has two major advantages. First,it allows you to make your most important design decisions at the beginning, and then just focus on content. And second, it allows you to quickly create new pages based on your standard design.

The disadvantage is that many template-based websites look homogenized and lacking in unique character. Designers who sell templates tend to use the same formats over and over again, insert the same generic images, use the same techniques.

Just as important, I have never found one that I consider ready-to-go right out of the box. They always need modification, and often modifying a professionally prepared template is difficult because the designer will have used techniques you may not fully understand or are specific to the tools he or she used to create it.

So I prefer not to think of templates as the kind of thing you buy from an online template store. Rather I prefer to think of them as simply a basic page format that can be used over and over again. The best template is therefore one that uses "standard" techniques that can be modified without the use of specialized tools or programs (like Front Page or Dreamweaver).

Creating a Basic Template

If you are not familiar with web design, try working with a "bare bones" template to begin with. There are two ways you can go. You can work with basic html and tables, or you can create your basic template with CSS. I recommend you begin with CSS -- especially if you have not yet become used to constructing web pages with tables.

CSS stands for "Cascading Style Sheets", but at the beginning it is not important to understand what that means. What is important is to understand that CSS allows you to create a set of formatting parameters in a "style sheet" (a seperate file) which you then can very easily apply to your individual pages. In other words, you seperate the "style" from the "content".

A simple style sheet can contain just three or four design elements. Here is an example which you are free to copy (right click and "Save target as" to a location on your hard drive)

Sample-1.css.

This template contains a definition for the body text, a header component (with a background image), a "navbar", and a definition for two headline styles, h1 and h2.

Now that you have a style sheet you can begin building your web site by creating a basic home page. Here is an example which embeds the style sheet referred to in the previous paragraph. You can get the html code by just opening the page in a browser window, looking at the "Source" code, and saving the resulting file on your hard drive as, for instance, "sample-1.html".

Now you should have two files in the same location on your hard drive -- "sample-1.css" and "sample-1.html". You can get the image file by just right clicking on the image in the sample page and saving it to the same location on your hard drive.

Your second step will be to create the pages referenced in the "navbar", so make sure you think of names for these pages before proceeding (e.g., howitworks.html, products.html, about.html, sitemap.html, contact.html). Then build your hyperlinks into the navbar. (Look at the code of the sample file to see how it is done.)

Once you have your basic home page with links, this then becomes your template. Just save it as "howitworks.html", "products.html", etc., and make the changes to the specific pages.

The result (once you upload it all to your host server) will be a basic, functional website containing a number of properly interlinked pages. It will also be search engine friendly because the design is not cluttered with scripts, and the most important elements are clearly laid out at the top of the page.

For more web design, SEO, blogging, and marketing tips see the Linknet Marketing Resource Library.

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