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Web Design for the Karate Dojo: Part 1
Domain Name, Web Hosting, Basic Design and Site Structure

by Henry Norris

Deciding that you need a website is easy. Actually building one can be challenging. Maintaining the one you have can be rough as well. Adding new things to your site is always a lot of fun.

In this series of articles, I will take a step-by-step approach to building a website for your dojo. I will not cover technical details of HTML and CSS, but will cover the steps to developing a website for your dojo, using mine as an example.

First, I will cover domain name registration, obtaining and setting up web hosting, web site structure and basic website design. In subsequent articles I will discuss graphic design, using CSS for your web coding, adding content, and then search engine optimization and submission.

I am a fan of planning things out and executing in phases. Keep in mind that anything you create, you will need to maintain. Or you will have to hire someone to maintain for you. There are some options about this I’ll talk about later.

Domain Name Registration

The domain name you choose is in many ways a brand identity for your dojo. You will want something short and descriptive, so that it is easy to remember and type. You do not want to be too general, or too detailed. Simpler is better. Ideally, you will want something location specific. If you teach a style or are a member of an organization, base it on that.

Some examples:

KarateDoRaleigh.com - Covers the basics - I teach karate in Raleigh so this might work. When a local instructor in town hosted her club website, she chose KarateDoOfRaleigh.com. Someone actually came in one day and asked to meet the 'Karate Doof'. Choose your words carefully. Were I unaffiliated with an organization, karatedoraleigh.com might be a good choice for me.

JKORaleigh.com - I am a member of the JKO, and I want my website to be region specific like the other members of the Japan Karatedo Org. For this reason, this is the one I'll go with for now.

Where to register domain names? You can try several like dotster.com or godaddy.com. Prices run the range of $6 to $15 a year. Don't go crazy and register a dozen domain names if you aren't going to use them, it just costs more every year. Some very cheap domain registrars, like godaddy.com, send out frequent spam about their specials. I'd rather pay more and not get the spam.

Once you have your domain name, you need to update your two domain nameservers to the web host you have chosen. This is usually easy to do with most domain registrars, but can take about 24 hours to propagate across the internet DNS servers.

Web Hosting

There are two basic types of web hosting to consider. The inexpensive unix web hosting versus the more costly windows web hosting. Windows hosting offers you the advantages of using ASP for web scipting and microsoft Access or SQL Server for databases. Unix hosting offers PHP for web scripting and MySql for databases, two technologies bursting with open-source pride.

Used to be, people preferred windows hosting because it had easier tools to use. PHP and MySql were too new and arcane to use. That’s not true any more, though. There are plenty of PHP and MySql tools that a beginner webgeek can learn quickly and look like a veteran codeslinger.

I wouldn't base my decision on a hatred for Microsoft or a love of open-source, I'd consider something much more important when deciding on type of web hosting to pursue.

Web Site Statistics: Every website needs to know who is coming to it, what they are looking at, and how they got there. Your hosting statistics package is extremely important. Your host should provide a thorough web stats package that is invisible to your website code (meaning you do not have to add it to your web pages to use it). I prefer SmarterStats from Smarter Tools, it simply tells you everything you need to know, and you can often discover things just by casually browsing your site statistics.

Eventually you will want to do some marketing, and when you do, you’ll be able to use your website statistics to tell you if it’s paying off or a waste of time. Without web stats, you may as well just guess and throw money away.

You will also want an easy way to create email accounts, and do a variety of server side things to your web hosting account such as creating an FTP account to allow you upload files. Your host should have an easy web hosting package to help you get these things done. Plesk, Helm and Hosting Controller are examples of web host automation packages that make it very easy for a non-technical person to get technical things done, like create a MySql database or turn on Parent Paths. Those sound complicated, don’t they? Aren’t you glad you can deal with them in a few mouse clicks?

Disk space and hundreds of email accounts aren't as important as you'd think. Often, your website won't use but a small fraction of the disk space you are given, and you only need a couple of email accounts. It's nice to set up auto responders to email, for your contact pages to automatically reply to people.

A more important consideration is bandwidth - depending on how much traffic you have and the size of your images or video files, you can go over your bandwidth . Since it's a precious commodity, it's metered and if you go over your limit, your hosting can be suspended until you cough up extra cash. Careful with those videos – try using google video or youtube instead.

Web hosting usually costs between $5 to $25 a month, often with a break for paying for a year in advance. At my web host, for example, the basic package is $120 a year. That includes the domain name, 500Mb of disk space, 10 email accounts, 1Gb bandwidth and the statistics package. It's windows hosting running the Helm hosting software and you can use PHP and MySql at no extra cost or fuss.

Now I've got my domain and hosting set up - I can now resolve the domain name to a domain parking page at http://www.jkoraleigh.com

Planning the website

You have to decide what you want your website to say, and who your target audience is. For a dojo website, your target audience are potential students and your existing students. Your website needs to provide descriptions of your classes, a class schedule, and some instructor information. You should include a contact page that has a contact form for them to email you (and you should promptly answer such email) with a mapquest link so they can easily generate directions. You should use lots of pictures of your dojo and the instructors.

There is always the temptation to add additional features, like a forum, a picture gallery, a article library, an e-commerce section and a variety of other things. These are all fine for subsequent phases if you have the time to develop and maintain them, but for now, they do not accomplish the primary mission for a dojo website - to tell people who you are, what you do, when you do it, and how they can join.

Sit down and map out what pages you'd like to have on your website. Write down quick notes about what should be on each page. You can look at other sites, but don't copy and paste. Write your own content.

Basic Website Design

If you are creative and have a vision, that's fantastic. Most people don't. I usually recommend that people browse web template sites to get an idea of what they are after. One such site is http://www.raleighwebdesigns.biz - an affiliate of templatemonster.com. You can search by category and they have over ten thousand website designs.

Browse through and make notes about which templates you like and what you like about them.

On http://www.raleighwebdesigns.biz take a look at template number 11100 - use the search item feature to find it and take a look. I like the basic idea of that site - the color scheme and layout I like. I don't like the flash menu and the flash dragon animation.

I could buy the template for the website - it's only $54. However, I just wanted inspiration and a new idea. In this case, I'm going to borrow liberally from the look and come up with my own. In this case, I've created my own template http://www.jkoraleigh.com/Template.html which you can now view.

If you open my template, you'll see I've borrowed heavily - the color scheme is very similar as are the content blocks. However, I used the strange and mysterious power of CSS to develop my site - I've not used any HTML code at all. If you view source on my template, you'll not see any tables or site structure at all. CSS allows you to keep your page structure completely separate from your content, which allows much faster loading of the pages and much smaller pages to load.

I also used Photoshop to mock up my graphics and slicing to create the structure. I then used Dreamweaver to convert all the html code into CSS layers. This is too much geek talk for non-technical people, but trust me, it's very cool stuff that you want on your site.

I'll go into CSS, Photoshop and Dreamweaver in my next article and provide you some resources to get you up to speed.

In November of 2002, Henry Norris started a web design firm, Fountainhead Technology Services, and web hosting company, Fountainhead Hosting, in Raleigh, NC. He has developed a number of informational websites, ecommerce sites, and community portals for a variety of clients, including several for martial arts instructors and organizations. He teaches karate in Raleigh, NC where he lives with his wife and two sons.