Steve mentioned in a comment on my last post about the huge learning curve involved with this whole webmastering thing. Shortcuts can be taken, things can be outsourced, and sorftware can be purchased to make everything a bit less painful but I’m a firm believer that if you want to earn a good amount of money online you have to learn as much as you can about what it takes to get a website up and running and, more importantly, earning.
I thought it might be a good idea to make a list of everything I’ve learned so far as an example of how someone can go from knowing nothing to earning a nice monthly sum from their sites. It’s taken me seven years to get where I am now with a few years of not doing anything and a few years of working really hard but I’ve enjoyed the journey and look forward to learning more down the road.
- Basic HTML - My very first step was learning HTML. I’m not sure how I got into this whole thing… I think it started with me making a cheesy ‘about me’ type page with the one image I’d scanned into my computer. I logged onto an online tutorial, followed the steps and built my first webpage.
- FTP - Now that I had my very own shitty webpage I had to find a way to add it to all the other shitty webpages that made up the internet back in 2000. I’d never heard of Geocities or other places that hosted free websites but I did have some free web space with my ISP. So I downloaded wsFTP and spent a few days (maybe even weeks) extremely frustrated as I worked out how to upload my site’s files.
- TablesÂ and More Advanced HTMLÂ - I’m an artist at heart and love a good design. My first website was not a shining example of a good design given that it looked like a Word document with an image in the middle. By looking at the page source of websites I likedÂ I was able to figure out how tables worked and achieve the sort of layouts I wanted.
- Adobe Photodelux - I guess this is some sort of dumbed down version of Photoshop. It came with my printer and it was all I had so I learned how to make some basic images and how toÂ manipulate photos.
- Animated GIFs - Yep, I was one of those people who went a bit crazy with the ol’ animated GIF. I took the images I’d created in Adobe Photodelux and downloaded some animation wizard program and created a seizure-inducing medley of online animation. My first ever site was called ‘All Things Canuck’ and was about, well, anything that was Canadian. I pimped that sucker out with enough spinning maple leaves to make a reader nauseous. I wish I had saved those files… it was so bad it was awesome.
- Domains & Hosting - It was about this time when I discovered that travel was my true passion and having just returned from a few weeks in Ireland I started Travoholic.com. I registered the domain name in 2001 with Network Solutions for an obscene $35/year. I was actually paying that up until two years ago because I didn’t think it was possible to change to a cheaper company. Oops. My first hosting account was with a company called Hostway and everything was pretty straightforward with that whole side of things.
- Affiliate Programs - Once my travel site was up and running, I signed up for Amazon’s affiliate program and have made $0.00 since that day. I also signed up to Commission Junction and am unhappy to report that I have also made $0.00 with them. I also added Hostelworld.com and I still remember my amazement when I made my first few dollars with them. I had to wait about two years to get my first $200 cheque but I was so excited about having made money from my site.
- Forms - The whole idea for my travel site was based around accepting hostel reviews from other travellers. At the time, if you can believe it, there were a few sites listing the names and addresses of hostelsÂ but nothingÂ offering up opinions and that’s what I was looking for. SinceÂ nobody else was doing it, I decided I should and to do this I came up with a form for accepting reviews. I still use the same form I created five years agoÂ and, to be honest, I don’t even check the email addressÂ the reviews go to because I get so muchÂ fake, spammy reviews. I’ll have to revisit this area at some point and sortÂ theÂ form out to filter the spam.
- Adobe Photoshop - After graduating from university in 2001 I went travelling to Australia and completely neglected my site. When I moved to London in 2002 I bought a laptop and it had Photoshop on it. I decided to overhaul my site and add an Australia section and spent a lot of time fiddling with things in Photoshop. I could definitely stand to take a course or buy a book on it, but for now I’m able to do most things I want to do.
- Google Adsense - This was the most important thing in getting me to take building websites seriously and was the spark I needed to start working hard again.Â The program itself is easy to use but there is a lot to it as far as tracking stats and maximising earnings by putting ads in the right places and there’s still a lot to learn.
- Server Side Includes (SSI) - My site by this point had grown toÂ nearly 1000 pages and was extremely unruly. Every time I wanted to make a simple change to any part of the header, navigation or footer I would have to open each HTML file, make the change (or sometimes several changes), save it and upload it. Needless to say, this was a nightmare and I wanted to throw my laptop out the window on many occasions. I think there are ways to make templates with Dreamweaver but I couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use it. Then I stumbled onto SSI and life was about to become a lot easier. I spent weeks adjusting all my pages to include SSI but it was worth it. Now if I want to make a change I only have to alter one file instead of 1000. Saves some time. Just a bit.
- Search Engine Optimisation -Â Now thatÂ I wasÂ getting more serious about my websites I startedÂ visiting webmaster forums regularly and devouring information. I had never heard of SEO before but it seemed to be what everyone was talking about. I’d never paid attention to my search engine rankings and didn’t evenÂ have a stats trackingÂ program.Â I made some changes to improve my SEO according to what I read on those boards and everything tanked! My site’s traffic nosedived and, to this day, I still have no idea why.Â I’m a bit wary now of fixing things that aren’t broken but all my new sites use any SEO tricks I’ve learned.
- Stats - I put the code for Add Free Stats onto my site and then switched over to Google Analytics later. I’m sure that I’m not using this program to anywhere near its potential so there’s still a lot of learning to do.
- CSS - Cascading Style Sheets are the devil. I have tried to get my head around them but to no avail. The stylesheets I’ve come up with so far are huge and unruly but I guess they get the job done in a very roundabout way. What I’ve learned so far though has done a lot to improve the look of my sites.
- Link Sales - Discovering that people want to buy space on my sites was another huge wakeup call. I explored Linkworth, Text Link Ads and selling links directly to companies and learned what space on my site is worth to other people.
- Paypal - There’s not much to it but I had to learn how to set up a Paypal account to start getting paid. I’ve managed to set up automatic incoming monthlyÂ payments which is handy.
- Google Maps - I love these suckers and have built a few myself by looking at examples on other sites. I think there are websites where you can have it build a map for you but I like to have full control and an understand of what’s going on so am willing to deal with some seriously confusing stuff to get there. The people over at the Google Maps API forum are amazingly helpful.
- WordPress - Blogging is something I’ve avoided for a long time but with WordPress it makes things easy and I’m loving it. Adding plugins and uploading themes was tricky to start out with but I’ve got the hang of it all now.Â I’ve alsoÂ started delving into altering themes to suit my needs and it’s been frustrating at times but nothing a bit of trial and error can’t solve. If I had better knowledge of CSS I’m sure I’d be making quicker progress.
I’ve probably left some things off this list but for the most part that is my seven year learning curve laid out for you. I had long breaks in between doing nothing and I have had, and continue to have, some pretty frustrating times but I’m glad I’ve spent the time to learn everything for myself rather than taking shortcuts.
There are still loads of things I want to learn. Top of my list are Adobe Illustrator, more advanced CSS, and enough PHP to be able to tinker with behind the scenes stuff without the constant fear that I’m going to make my website implode with one false move.
When I think back on how far I’ve come I’m amazed. When I see a complete newbie just starting out I know exactly how long the road will be and how many obstacles there will be along the way but I would still tell them to stick with it no matter what because none of this is rocket science, it just takes a lot of desire andÂ determination.