How to Create a Useful, Popular Website

Michael LaRocca In this free email course, Ill tell you everything I know about setting up your website and placing it highly in the search engines.

Everything I tell you will also be free. Youll spend some time, but you wont spend your money.

Your two goals, useful and popular, are related. Search engines can bring you a lot of first-time users, but quality will keep them coming back.

How technical will I get

Well, you have two choices. Learn HTML, or use some free software that lets you create a site without learning HTML.

If you choose the latter option, writing the site isnt much different than creating a Power Point presentation or a word processor document.

Ill address both options. Plusses, minuses, how-to. So whether youre a computer geek like me or a technophobe like most of my family, Ill tell you how its done.

So dont let the possibility of technical language stop you.


First, decide what you want on your site. I do this with pen and paper. What menu options, what graphics, what sounds if any. How much stuff to put on each page, because I want each page to be "the right size."

Every graphic including your background and every sound takes time to load when someone visits your site. Text including links is fast. No page should be larger than 64 Kb, and that size means HTML plus graphics, sounds, etc.

I always try to strike a balance between speed and appearance. If it isnt necessary, it probably shouldnt be there. Only you know what "necessary" means.

I also draw a "flow chart" for navigation, and refer to it as I plan and again as I create. If it looks way too complicated when its done, Ill create a special page called "Site Map" to help users navigate the site.

In my case:

Index my home page leads to:



Bookstores which leads to OnLineFictionBooks


I always ensure that a "Tier 3" page like OnLineFictionBooks leads back to the Tier 2 page that leads to it Bookstores. A Tier 4 page should lead back to the appropriate Tier 3 and Tier 2 pages. Etc. All my pages lead back to Index, which is the only Tier 1 page.

Whenever someone visits your site, their browser automatically looks for a file called INDEX.HTML or INDEX.HTM for files written with Microsoft. Thats what makes it the Tier 1 page.

If the users browser doesnt find Index, you dont have a website. So your home page will be called INDEX.HTML or INDEX.HTM. You can call the other files anything you want, as long as the file extension is HTML or HTM.

A link to a Site Map on your front page that lists all your pages, regardless of what tier its on, is convenient for users and it ensures that Search Engine spiders find all your pages.

Throughout this lesson, Im going to assume youre not using Microsoft and call everything an HTML file. Files that end with HTM, the Microsoft default, are also HTML files.

As you work, put all your website files HTML, graphics, sounds into the same directory. And, remember where it is! If you like, you can give that directory some subdirectories and sort things a bit, but I never do this.

I mention file locations because this, too, is part of your planning.

Your planning stage might take longer than actually writing your website. But for me, writing pages with no plan never works.

So plan!


Once you have a plan for your website, all that remains is writing it, uploading it, and helping people find it.

The big question is, can you learn HTML If so, do you want to

If you can and want to learn HTML, you can make your website do anything you want it to. Otherwise, you may find your options limited.

Ill admit that Ive only written one page without using HTML. Not one site -- one page. I learned HTML for my job, then maintained my employers site for two years. All in HTML. The power of HTML impresses me. But, learning it isnt mandatory.

So, how to decide...

Heres a list of sites that will teach you HTML. Look them over and decide if learning this language is for you.

Interactive HTML Tutorial
This is the site where I give away about a dozen free ebooks and link to thousands more.

Writing HTML Tutorial

HTML Goodies

HTML: An Interactive Tutorial for Beginners

HTML Primer


Your homework -- forgive me, Im a teacher -- is to refine your plan. Also, think about the "learning HTML" issue a bit more if you need to.


So now you have a plan for your website, and you think youve decided whether or not to use HTML. Its time to do the work and make your site a reality.

First Ill show you how to write a website without learning HTML. Then Ill show you how to write a website after learning HTML.


The title is a lie. All websites use HTML. But you can get the computer to write the HTML without learning it yourself.

If you choose to do that, here are five possible methods:

1 Netscape 6.2 is a free program. If you dont have it, you can download a copy from

Choose FILE, then EDIT PAGE. Now you can design a web page by clicking menus and dragging things around the screen. Theres really no HTML function it cant do.

Once youre done, you can look at your HTML files using Netscape Navigator and/or Internet Explorer. Once you know theyre perfect, you can upload them.

2 If your computer has Microsoft Power Point already installed, you can use it to write a website.

Use it like you normally would, and create a Power Point file that looks just like you want your web page to look. When youre done, click FILE and SAVE AS WEB PAGE.

You can use your browser Internet Explorer and/or Netscape Navigator to see how it will look before you upload it.

3 You can use Microsoft Word. I havent investigated whether or not it will add backgrounds.

Just open Word and create a document like you always do. BUT, when it comes time to save it, Choose FILE, then SAVE AS, then under "Save As Type" choose WEB PAGE.

Again, you can use your browsers to see how it will look before you upload it.

4 Almost every free web host has a series of "templates" that allow you to set up a web page in minutes. may have the best. is also very easy to use, but they only have two templates.

If you cant find a template at either place that is close enough to what you want to use, you can go to any search engine and look for "free web hosting."

If you just cant find a template thats close enough to perfect for you, maybe you can set something up with a template anyway and learn enough HTML to change it later.

After the "Writing A Website Using HTML" section of this lesson is a section on "Choosing A Hosting Service." If youre going to use a template, you might want to look at that now. Or you might just want to go to Bravenet or Topcities and be done with it.

5 Buy Microsoft FrontPage. Ive never used it, nor will I. I like having control of my HTML, and no website generator including the four above will give me that. But I do know some folks who use it, and they strongly endorse it. One of them even knows how to write in HTML.

But before you buy any program, ask yourself if you think itll ever pay for itself. Meaning, are you selling stuff If you are, can you sell enough to get your money back in profit If you cant, do you care


If youre going to write HTML, I salute you. Three choices are:

1 You can use Notepad or a similar text editor. Not a Word processor! Save the text file with the extension HTML, not the default TXT extension, and your browser will recognize it at as an HTML page.

2 Many free web hosting services have on-line editors that serve a similar purpose, but I prefer to do my writing off-line because its faster. And, if youre paying an hourly rate for your Internet access, off-line is cheaper.

3 I used Notepad for many months, but then I found a better way. Its called CSE HTML VALIDATOR LITE. Imagine Notepad with the ability to open five pages at a time, and the power to validate your HTML code making sure its right before you upload it. Thats CSE HTML VALIDATOR LITE, and its free at

If you have no need to validate your code -- changing contact information or background colors, for example -- I recommend Edit Pad. Its also free, and its like Notepad with the ability to open multiple pages. HTML Validator Lite limits you to five, but Edit Pad is unlimited.

Once youve written the code, preview it with your browsers before you upload it. It might not be quite right. It rarely is for me on the first try.


Im guessing you have some photos of yourself, friends, family, pets, school, whatever. Thats probably why youre setting up your website.

But what about backgrounds What about music

Whenever you visit a website, if you see any UNCOPYRIGHTED art you like, just right click it and choose "Save Target As." Then youve got it.

As for music, I dont put MP3s on-line because:

  • The files are quite large
  • I never know which are copyrighted and which arent

So on one of my sites, I have MIDIs. All public domain, meaning you can take them and use them yourself. Just right click and choose "Save Target As."

OR, you can just go to any search engine and type "free wallpaper" or "free background" to get some artwork, or "free MIDI" to get some free music. Right click, Save Target As.

Its that simple.


If you wrote your site using a template or an on-line HTML editor from one of the free hosting services, this steps done. But you still need to download all those files as backups. Sometimes free hosting services vanish suddenly, and you DONT want to lose your whole site that way! So keep reading!

If you wrote your site on your own system, you need to get it onto the Internet now.

First you need to choose a web hosting service. A free one, definitely. Its always possible to start with a freebie and move to a paid provider later, but I havent left the freebies and Ive been at this for years.

There are a lot of freebies out there. If you dont believe it, go to any search engine and type "free web hosting." I have no idea what youre looking for in your free provider, but I can tell you what I looked for in mine.

* Lots of storage space. Thanks to all the photos and music, my largest site takes 12 Mb. Since you have all your files in a single directory, look at how large that is. Open Windows Explorer, find the folder, and right-click it to look at the properties. How much do you think itll grow Pick a server with AT LEAST 20 Mb.

* No popup ads. This is a BIG deal to me. All free hosting sites have ads, but youll note that Topcities doesnt use popups. Just a banner at the top of all my pages. I can live with that. My no-popup rule knocks Tripod and Angelfire out of the running.

* Accessibility from anywhere in the world. This knocks out very popular freebies like Freeservers formerly my favorite and Yahoo Geocities. Oh, and Tripod again. China doesnt like them, and I live in China.

So now, your assignment is simple. Decide where youre going to put your new website. I chose but you dont have to.

Once youve made a decision, youll have to apply for an account and fill out some information about yourself, including the name you want for your site.

Usually the web host will send you an email to confirm your address. You respond to it, and you have access. Then its just a matter of sending your files.


For the beginners... Upload means to send files to another computer. Download means to take files from another computer.

If your files exist on a server but not on your own hard drive, youll be downloading!

Some web host providers have excellent file transfer abilities built right in. Topcities is especially strong in this regard. Or, you may need an FTP server program.

FTP simply means "File Transfer Protocol." In short, a way for your computer to talk to the one your hosting service is using.

You can pick up a free FTP program at Drop down to the bottom left and click Try WS_FTP Pro. Its a stripped-down version of the commercial version, but itll do everything you need and it never expires.

Depending on the speed of your connection and the sizes of your files, this step can be very quick or very slow. But either way, you dont have to do much work. Just click a few buttons and let er rip!

Now might be a good time for a refill on the beverage of your choice. I know I had a few as I wrote this lesson.

Once you transfer all your files, you have a website. Your hosting service will tell you the URL address. Make sure it works, surf it a bit, and just enjoy the fruits of your labor. Then tell your friends and take a break!

Congratulations! Youre a webmaster now!


Hello, webmaster!

Thats right, youre a webmaster. Youve got a website.

But, you probably want to improve it, and you probably want people to know how to find it.

This is the final lesson, and probably the one youll keep referring to. Fortunately all its resources are online, so you can just bookmark a few pages and go to them as necessary.

Now that you have a website up and running, you might want to look at Is Your Website Unfriendly

If youre programming in HTML, Web Colour Codes is an easy way to find the six-digit hex code for whatever color you may be seeking. This is especially useful for background colors, as fast good-looking graphics can be hard to find.

After youve uploaded your web pages, running a diagnostic Will tell you how long it takes them to load at various modem speeds, how compatible they are with older browsers, how to improve problem areas, if you have busted links, etc. These are all free.

Speaking of busted links, download Xenu. I have over 1000 outgoing links on one of my websites, and it checks them all automatically. I manually check the ones it claims are busted.

You can find my complete list of diagnostic tools at:

That page also contains a few more goodies you might want to use. Software & Graphics, and CGI Scripts.

Speaking of CGI scripts, visit if you havent already. This wont work in China.

Scripts are defined as things where the user can send info back to your website. Guestbooks, feedback forms, newsletter subscriptions, chat rooms, games, you name it. Things HTML just cant do.

Bravenet lets you use their scripts, free. You just copy and paste a small bit of HTML code into your site and they handle the rest. Its worth a look, AFTER you use the scripts that your free web host gives you. contains my analysis of Search Engine placement. Itll take you some time to go through all that.

I recommend running the diagnostics before you submit to the Search Engines, because some Search Engines penalize or even ban pages with badly-written HTML.

Then, swing by The Web Marketing Checklist at to make sure youve done everything youre supposed to. contains a large selection of free ebooks. Many are about website and newsletter promotion.

Have you subscribed to my free newsletter yet Its called Mad About Books, but it covers more than that. As I discover new ways to improve and promote my websites and newsletter, I include them in my newsletter.

Good luck with your new website!

Best regards,

Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRoccas website at was chosen by WRITERS DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For Writers in 2001 and 2002. He published two novels in 2002 and has two more scheduled for publication in 2004. He also works as an editor for an e-publisher. He teaches English at a university in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter Mad About Books.

Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca

About The Author

Michael is an American whos lived in Asia since 1999. He currently teaches English at Shaoxing University in Zhejiang Province, China. He telecommutes to Hong Kong as a legal transcriptionist, edits for Books Unbound, and he published four novels in 2002.

His website will show you how to improve your writing, find the right publisher, and promote your book after the sale. It explains why you should never pay to be published. It has won two Sime~Gen Readers Choice Awards and was listed in Writers Digests The Best 101 Websites For Writers in 2001 and 2002.

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