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The Rally Virgin

January 31, 1999
The New Club Website

Ted, I want to do a website for my local club but I have no idea how to get started or what to do. Any advice?

Well, you asked ;)

So you want to do a site for your local club. Well there are a few steps you have to take before you start cranking out HTML... First, how big do you want this site to be? Second, how much money do you want to spend? Last, how much time will be able to continually provide to keep the information fresh and current?
Note that this is for the basic, new site. More advanced stuff later ;-)

OK, assuming you want to put up a decent site with the basic club info and you want to do it on a shoestring until you can see if it is worth the cash....

1. Look for a place to host the site.
There are a bunch of services (more every week it seems) that provide free web space in exchange for your allowing them to throw out an ad or two whenever someone visits your site. Usually you get 2 to 10 megs of space and believe it or not the servers are usually pretty good. Check out Tripod & Geocities. Register and get your free space. If you want a pay site (if you have your own domain name for instance) check out ISP Check for an excellent list of web hosts. Personally I now use for everything as I believe they have the best value for the price. The "Basic plan" is perfect for the budding Club Website :)

2. Get a Good HTML Editor and Learn Some HTML
How. Learning basic HTML is not hard (it has replace stuffing envelopes as the latest and greatest "work at home" scam), but really getting good at it is not easy. Luckily, you don't need to be an ace to get a nice page up :) The "Dummies" books are an excellent place to start, and there are many places on the web for more advanced learning (try WebMonkey, Builder & WebReference.) There are numerous places on the web to find basic HTML information, but really the best place to start is from a book (yes it is ironic, I know :)
Tools. There are dozens of good HTML editors out there. If you have the cash, a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor is the way to go, and none are better than Microsoft's FrontPage. FrontPage is not only a powerful editor, it is a powerful site management tool as well if you can get a free or lowcost site that will allow FrontPage extensions. If not WYSIWYG, arm yourself with a good basic HTML book and get a good editor like Homesite or Hotdog.

3. Decide What You Want on your Site
Most sites will start with the basics, afterall you are trying to get the word out not win Webby Awards. I would recommend a main (or index.htm) page that will serve as the center of the site, then a page for the officers, a page for events, a page for your rally, and a page on why you should and how you can join the club. After you get these down, start putting up more pages, just remember an outdated page is worse than no page.

4. Designing the Site.
There are a few things that are of fundamental importance in web design. The first is consistency - make sure the pages look alike and share common navigation (i.e. that the links are the same and in the same place...) Design yourself a template page - you will use this to build all of the pages in your site (using "save as") so make sure you like it :)) A good page to start with would be a page with a table that has two cells, one on the left for links and then the one on the right will be where all the content goes. This very page is a variation of that very design (with cells at the top and bottom to hold the header and footer :) With FrontPage (and on some NT boxes using ASP) you can use an "include" to ensure consistency across your site - an include basically includes the same bit of HTML on every page on your site (or wherever you want.) A good example is the footer on the bottom and the navigation to the left on this very page.

a. The Main or Index Page
This should welcome people to your site. You should have a graphic to spice it up a bit, but don't make the mistake of putting heavy (more than 50k), multiple or animated graphics on the front page. Use the graphic to brand the page, not to overwhelm it. You should immediately let people know where they are, then let them know what they will find there. Make sure to have all the links "above the fold." What this means is that people shouldn't have to scroll down to get to the links or to the title and contents of the page (this is the single biggest problem I see with web pages.)

b. Support Pages
Use the template :) Seriously, if the navigation and format are the same on every page people will ignore them and concentrate on the content (which is a good thing :) Here is a sample template page. Make sure to use a big title at the top of every page so people know where they are though. A good basic page should at minimum welcome the reader, and tell him who you are, what you do, and how someone can join up.

c. Some Design Issues
Enhance, Don't Overwhelm. If you want to spice up the site with some color, do it with the idea of making the content and navigation easier to find and to read. Using too many colors or using too bold colors will make the site difficult to read so stick to mild to start. When you've got time and can start digesting feedback, start experimenting.
Welcome Readers, Don't Annoy Them. There are basically two things that are so annoying that they should be avoided at all cost: animated graphics and blinking text. They are like trying to read in a room with someone flipping the lights off and on. Don't use them.
Borrowing... OK, the web is 5% inspiration and 95% immitation. And believe it or not, immitation is OK as long as you change what you've taken enough that it is not obvious theft. If you see something cool, figure out how to change it and customize it so it will fit on your site. Never, ever just outright copy - a lot of people put a lot of hard work into design and while taking inspiration is widely accepted, simply taking is widely condemned (and possible a copyright violation...)
Bring it UP. You generally have about 3 seconds to capture a web surfer. If all your page shows (on a 640x480) is the top two-thirds of a graphic you've already lost. Bring your content and navigation "above the fold" so that when the screen opens, your reader has a big title telling him where he is, a set of plainly labelled links so he knows he can go somewhere, and maybe a small graphic to draw him in a little.
Go Easy on Yourself. Make your pages easy to update. The coolest looking page will be completely useless if the information is out of date. The easier your pages are to update the more likely it will be that you will frequently update them (and then the more likey your site will be successful.)

5. Uploading
OK, you've designed your site and you are happy with how it looks. First, you'll need to upload it to your pages to your webspace. Since each free service has their own way of doing it, simply follow their directions for uploading files. If you have an AOL account, create a screen name for the club, in our case you would want something like "EEBMW" or something like that, then go to keyword "My Place." If you have a free acount through your local provider (and you are sure you want to donate it to your local club) you will in all likleyhood need an FTP program. With FrontPage, you can create the files ON the website so no uploading is neccessary. OK, once all your files are uploaded, you'll need to test them.

6. Testing
Start by typing in the URL and see what happens. In our "free web host" case it would be something like:
As you can see, by naming your main page "index.htm" it will automatically go straight to that page unless you type in a file name. Now that you are on the main page, try the links. You will need to test every link on the site. Don't be discouraged, you will make lots of mistakes (just don't make the same ones over and over again ;-) You will probably have some errors and some broken links, just track them down, fix them, upload the corrected page and move on.

7. Going Public
OK, the site is up, it is working correctly and you have an address you can send to people. Now is the time to get the word out. First, go to the big search engines and submit it (Yahoo!, Alta-Vista, Go, etc.) Next, go to the big Motorcycle Links pages on the net and submit your new link there. Lastly, go to the BMW MOA and BMW RA sites and submit it there. Browse a bit - see a site with other BMW Clubs listed?  Send them a note asking for a link! Make it something like:

Dear Webmaster:
I am putting the site together for the BMW Riders of Greater East Egypt and was wondering if you could add a link to us on your links page. We are at:
When we manage to put together our own links page, you'll be on it :)
Webmaster, BMWRGEE

8. Improve
Alright, now the tweaking starts :) There are a ton of things you can do to improve your pages, and the best way to do it is to figure out how someone else did something cool and come up with your own variation (never straight out copy someone else's work.) Here are some things you might want to consider:

  • Get your own domain name and a pay site - the domain name will run you $35 a year and the hosting from $10 to hundreds. See ISP Check for a large listing of web hosts.
  • Use META tage to aid in the cataloging and identification of your pages (hit "view source" to see how they are used on this page.)
  • Improve your graphics
  • Add a links page - Do NOT make the mistake of just copying someone else's... Find and link to a complete, generic list of links on someone else's site then concentrate on the links that would be of value to your members (things like links to local weather reports, local attractions, web pages of members and local businesses, etc...)
  • Add pages for things like regularly scheduled events, for your rally, for rides you like, etc. Just remember, you will need to update them :)
  • Add functionality like online forms and message boards
  • Put portions of your club's Newsletter online
  • The list goes on. The more you look at what other club's have done the more ideas you will have.

BTW, If you want to start with the files I created for this demonstration, download

(Thanks to G.A. for this one :))

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