Quick and Easy Webpage
Creation for Genealogists

Seminar presentation: 2006 FGS Conference, Boston MA

(c) Linda Haas Davenport

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I Want to Build A Website, Not Learn to Write HTML Code

Most of us who want to build a website do not want to spend hours learning, writing and debugging HTML code. The easiest way to build a website is to use a program that will write the HTML code for you. There are two common types:

Code Generators. These programs, through a series of questions, will build a website and write HTML code for you. The programs range from fairly easy to use (Note Tab) to difficult (Front Page). I have tried several code generators and it seemed, to me, that I spent more time trying to get the program to do what I wanted it to do then I did producing webpages.

WYSIWGY. The easiest way to build a web page is to use a WYSIWYG (pronounced as whiz-e-wig and stands for "What You See Is What You Get".) Although there are several WYSIWYG programs available I prefer Microsoft's Word 97 because if you can put together a regular word document you can build a webpage and build it almost as fast. Later Microsoft Word products add considerable HTML code that you do not need and is hard to maintain. You may already have Word 97 left over from a previous computer, a friend may have a copy they no longer use or you can pick up a copy on e-bay for a reasonable amount. Microsoft no longer supports Word97.

If you use a MAC - I've been told that Word 98 is very similar to Word 97 and runs on a MAC but I, myself, have never used it and do not have a MAC.

 First Things First

Although using Word 97 makes building a web site easy you need to give some thought to what the end product will look like and what it will contain before you start typing away.

Why do you want a website? For your genealogy society? For an on-line genealogy project like the USGenWeb Project? To share your own family history with other family members? Why you want a website will have a lot to do with the way you design your website.

For example: A genealogy society website focuses on the interest of the members, lists officers, upcoming events, items for sale and should present a professional appearance. A family site is usually casual - containing things like family stories, photos, genealogies, humor, family sayings, etc. A website for an on-line genealogy project, like the USGenWeb, usually has certain requirements and contains a wide variety of information.

What information will you have on your website? Do you already have information you want to put on-line or do you only have an idea of what you'd like to put on-line? If you have existing information you want to get on-line it will make designing your site easier. If you know what you want, but don't yet have it you will need to give more thought to the structure of your site.

Who will your visitors be? What should your website look like?

If your website will be visited primarily by family members you can use graphics, backgrounds or themes that will appeal to the largest number of family members. Pretty or fussy or busy sites with pictures of the latest family reunion stuck around on the main page are all fine. Text that is humorous or contains "inside" jokes makes a family member's visit fun.

On the other hand, such a casual look isn't acceptable to the visitors to a genealogy society's web site. Those visitors will judge the professionalism of the society based on the look of its website.

If you expect your visitors to be anyone who is surfing the web, then you must design your site to accommodate a wide range of different browsers, computers and keep in mind many visitors, especially to genealogy sites, may be older and have sight problems.

Unless your site is a religious site you should not include religious graphics or statements. This is always a touchy subject, but if you plan on drawing your visitors from the web you have no way of knowing the visitor's personal religious beliefs or when you may offend someone.

The "15 Second Rule."

Those people who track such things, say that a website has to capture the attention of the average visitor within the first 15 seconds. Those same people say the majority of web surfers are, by and large, "hit and run" visitors who are not willing to spend any significant amount of time searching around or scrolling through long lists. It will be up to you to design your main (home) page in such a way that you quickly capture the interest of a visitor. Most family historians are willing to wade through tons of detail if they believe that detail will lead them to just one piece of information relevant to them or their ancestors. But, even they will not do so if they have no reason to believe there's something on the site that is valuable to them.


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