Want to Build Your Own Web Pages? Start With a Free or Low Cost Template

by John Rettie

If you want to learn how to build simple Web sites you will not go wrong by downloading templates from Web sites such as themeforest.net or dreamtemplate.com.

March 01, 2011 — I suspect everyone reading this column has a Web site. If you don’t, you probably have a Facebook page or a blog hosted on Wordpress, Tumblr or other blogging site.

Creating a presence on the Internet is so easy nowadays that everyone can do it. As an example, a friend of mine just signed up on Facebook after resisting it for years. She was using her daughter’s account to check on links about her friends. Eventually her daughter said to her, “Enough Mom, you need your own account.”

You may have decided to outsource the whole process of designing, creating and hosting a Web site. That’s what most businesses do. After all, would you do your own tile work or build a deck at home? Perhaps you answered “yes” or “maybe” to that question.

After all, there is something challenging and satisfying, even relaxing, when you do something different outside your daily environment. Often it can be a change of pace, especially if it is creative.

Designing and building a Web site is certainly creative. But it’s not easy. There’s no getting around the fact that creating a Web site from scratch involves a lot of skill and knowledge.

Fortunately there are a host of companies that actually make the process relatively easy. You can build a great looking portfolio using liveBooks (www.livebooks.com) and good looking blogs using Wordpress.
However, you are somewhat restricted to following pre-designed styles or paying handsomely for custom ones.

Several years ago I attended a course at the local community college to learn about HTML, CSS and other building blocks of Web sites. I’ll be honest and state it was not easy. There are so many “gotchas” in designing a Web site that will work properly.

If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of learning how to create a complex Web site from scratch, it’s probably best to leave it to a professional whose main job is designing and building Web sites. But even if you do this, there might still be occasions when you want to create an extra page or even a one-off site for a special project.

Rather than pay someone to do a simple page, there is no reason why, if you have the inclination, you cannot do it yourself.

You could design a page or a whole site from scratch using a program such as RapidWeaver or Sandvox, which create the HTML code for you. If you use Wordpress you’ll already know there are hundreds of choices for designs. Many of them allow you to fine tune the look, but you have to have a pretty good grasp of the underlying structure in order to customize the look of a Wordpress Web site.

Since I have learned some of the basics, I find the easiest way is to take pre-designed templates and modify them to your own requirements. If you only want a static page or two that works more as an online brochure, the easiest way to go about it is to find a template and then modify it since the basic structure and coding is already in place.

If you Google “Web site templates,” you’ll get literally millions of hits. Sadly, some of them are scams and many are of poor quality. Google “premium templates,” and you’ll find sites that charge for them. Fortunately many of them also offer some free sample to get you started.

I have been careful to only get ones from sites that look reputable as there is a danger of getting ones with bad links in them and even phishing hooks. Sites I have checked out that appear to be fine include: freetemplatesonline.com, dreamtemplate.com, templatemonster.com, themeforest.net, cssheaven.org, and webdesign.org.

Some of them allow non-commercial use of free templates. Price ranges from a few dollars to thousands of dollars for an outright buy. Others offer a subscription service so you can download as many templates as you want.

As you surf the Internet and come across a Web site you like, check at the bottom and you might find a link to the source of the design. Often you’ll find the site is based off one that was downloaded free of charge, or the designer used a low cost one as a template. Do not copy that Web site but go and grab the original from the template Web site.

Once you have downloaded the template, which should include all the graphics and associated files, you can open the HTML pages in a text editor and see the components. You can swap the graphic files with your own art and you can obviously change the wording and add links, etc. Yes you will need to learn HTML, but there are plenty of books and online resources to teach you the basics.

Once you get into it and begin to understand the lingo, you’ll find it is fun creating simple, static Web pages. Who knows, you might want to go further and learn more complex scripting programs such a JavaScript and PHP.

Free Credit Card Service
I suspect a majority of readers can accept credit cards as payment for services or products in their business. However, I bet there are many, myself included, who would like to but have been put off by the cost and aggravation involved in accepting credit cards for payments.

Until now you have had to set up a merchant account and then lease or purchase a terminal, pay a monthly fee and meet numerous requirements. Obviously if you run a retail business with many customers it’s just part of the cost of doing business.

As I write this column there are credible rumors that Apple’s next iPhone 5 will be capable of making and receiving payments without the need for a credit card. It’s called NFC (Near Field Communication) mobile payments. Similar systems are already in fairly wide use in Japan and just beginning to appear in
other countries.

Here’s a question—how many checks did you write last year? I’ll bet it was far fewer than the number you wrote 10 years ago. Did you know that banks in Britain plan to stop accepting checks (sorry cheques) by 2018? So don’t laugh at the idea that credit cards will also disappear.

But back to today and credit cards—they are certainly going to be with us for few more years. For those who cannot accept credit cards, PayPal has become a viable alternative for payments when transactions are done via the Internet.

Now anyone can accept credit cards through a new service called Square (www.squareup.com) that uses an iPhone app to process payments. Best of all it does not entail any upfront fees or monthly charges.
You may have heard of the company and perhaps you’ve read about early start up problems and delays in getting card readers delivered due to the enormous interest in the service.

I signed up in January and within minutes they had run an automatic credit check and I had to answer some questions to verify I was legitimate. I was accepted and within a couple of days they notified me that the card reader was on its way. They also deposited two small amounts of money in my bank account and then withdrew them to make sure the account was valid. Once I verified these amounts I was ready.

The card reader is very small and it plugs into the audio port on an iPhone or Android phone. The customer signs on the iPhone 4 screen and a picture of that person or the product can be taken as well. A receipt is then e-mailed to the purchaser with a copy of their signature and the location where the transaction took place marked on a map.

Charge backs are a problem for many merchants and these procedures should help mitigate some of them, as it’ll be more difficult for customers to dispute charges if they are trying to cheat on their payment. Naturally, you can also manually enter credit card information for Internet or telephone orders. There is no difference in procedure, as you can still take a picture and the location is obviously where you are at the time of transaction.

Square makes its money on transaction fees so they charge slightly more than regular merchant accounts, but not that much more. When I processed a charge of $15 by manually entering the credit card number as if it was a telephone order, Square said I would receive $14.32 after deducting 53 cents as transaction fees (3.5% + 15 cents). Less than two days after this test I received an e-mail telling me the amount would be deposited in my bank account within one to three business days. When I checked it had actually got credited to my bank the next day, so in all it only took three days from accepting the charge to receiving payment in my account. Charges over $1000 take longer to deposit. But I guess Square has to be cautious to avoid fraud.

Judging by threads in forums the Square service has been well received and it is proving a boon for small businesses and individuals like me that rarely need to receive payments by credit card. It’s certainly nice to know that I can now—without having to pay any monthly charges.

John Rettie is a photojournalist who resides in Santa Barbara, CA. He has been using a computer for over 30 years, and has been on the Internet for years. He is hoping his experiences will help readers learn how it all works—you can find links to resources on his Web site: www.webinsight.info or contact him directly at john@johnrettie.com

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