A plebs guide to the web — my first web design experience

“How can I make more money?”

That’s what I thought while staring at my bank account late last year. Unless you’re a Buddhist monk you’ve probably thought something similar. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you lots of other stuff. Pretty much anything actually; you can even buy other types of money if you want to. Drawing inspiration from that South Park episode where Canada wanted more money, I thought “what about some of that internet money? Why can’t I have some of that?”. So then I was off. I started frantically Googling how to make income off the web. After some research, at face value, internet businesses seemed pretty straightforward — you make a website with a blog, build an audience, then start selling them products that you recommend. “Ok cool, I’ll start a blog. Just need an idea.”. I landed on the topic of ‘travel’ pretty quickly. I had done a fair amount of travelling in the past so it seemed pretty reasonable that I could put some decent content together quickly without too much effort. I started searching for available domain names relating to travel and minutes I had decided on backpackscout.com. With my idea and address sorted, it was time to move on to building my site…

Shortly after I started researching how to build websites, I came across this stat;

“25% of all websites on the internet are powered WordPress.”

I was instantly impressed. That’s a big number. There must be millions of websites on the internet, surely there’s a reason why so many people are using WordPress? It didn’t take me long to figure out why — WordPress is a website building software that’s easy to use. Really easy. You can get pretty decent pages set up without writing a single line of code and I was able to install WordPress and set myself up a website within just a few hours. If I had to do it all again, it would probably take me half the time. For someone who had never created a web-page before, I thought I had a pretty professional looking site. I put a bit of work into the logo and styling, but there was nothing technical about it.

Front page of backpackscout.com — my first website

There are plenty of tools available on WordPress that enable you to make your page look (sort of) how you want. If you want complete control, you’re going to have to learn how to code. Sorry. That’s just the trade-off you have to accept — ease of use vs. functionality. For just getting started, I thought it had more than enough features for what I wanted to achieve. I set up some basic pages as a start— a blog, about me page, a resources section for products. I also wrote a few blog posts, just to round it all off with some nice content.

Ok, I had a website set up that looked pretty good and a decent amount of content. Actually, upon reflection, I had way too much content for a site that hadn’t even launched yet. Now came the hard part. I had to start considering how I was actually going to make any money off this thing. After looking at my options, the simplest solution I could come up with was placing ‘affiliate’ links on my pages. An affiliate link is a special link to a product on another website, which you can make small commissions from. The barrier to entry is low and the links don’t require any upfront investment. Why not? I just wanted to get the ball rolling, I could always figure out a more profitable system later.

I had always planned on driving traffic to backpackscout.com after I had set it up ‘just right’. I was a pleb, but I had at least figured out that with affiliate links, if you don’t have any traffic, you don’t make any money. None. Even if you do get traffic and no one clicks the links, you still make nothing. This was crunch time for me. If I was going to make any money off backpackscout.com, I needed to start plugging it big time. I’d probably even have to buy some Facebook ads to get any semi-decent traffic. By now I had a fair idea of just how much work it takes to create and maintain website content, which raised a fairly major question. It was a question I had more or less tried to avoid up until this point, because it’s uncomfortable to answer —

“Can I really commit to this idea long term?”

At this point, I started to see the answer with a little more clarity. I needed to have enough passion to write about my topic week in week out. Was travel going to become ‘my thing’ that everyone knows me for? I love travel, but I’m not really in that ‘backpacker’ frame of mind anymore. When I actually thought about it, I couldn’t really see myself consistently writing about travel for long periods of time. I have other considerations now — a job, a girlfriend, hobbies. I didn’t really feel like giving those things up for another long term trip to fuel my blog posts. That was my first major lesson. I should have spent a lot more time thinking about my idea and validating it before putting so much effort into the content. There was one thing that I did really love about building my first website. It was the process itself. I really enjoyed creating the pages and writing content, so much that I knew I wanted to keep doing it. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes came my next goal — teaching myself to become a ‘proper’ non-pleb web designer and writing about it as I go. My first website idea was admittedly half-baked. I chose it with only slightly more focus than a chimp throwing darts in exchange for bananas. This method may end up in a bulls-eye first time for some people, but that’s going to be a very small percentage. What I needed was to take my time, decide what I’m aiming at and then learn to throw. My first shot didn’t even hit the board, my second may not either, but gradually I will get closer to that target and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey.