If you're creating your first website, it's tempting to think that once you've got the site looking the way you want it, and added some content, then that's all you need to do. In reality, it's extremely unlikely that this is the case. It's fairly obvious with something like a blog that it needs regular care and attention, but even a static brochure site may need some additional resources to get the best out of it. Nowadays, there are loads of great resources around that you can use to enhance your websites, either for yourself or your readers (or both!) and knowing how to make the most of them can really make a difference in how well your site fulfils its intended role.
So here's a list of five things you should consider including when you set up your first website that are easy to overlook, but can offer real benefits to both you and your users. Note that there's more than a few Google tools here - this isn't deliberate, it's just that Google are so omnipresent in this area that it's hard to get away from them.
- A way to record visitor's details - With most web hosts you can just look at the log files, but that doesn't provide very much information at all, nor does it present it in a way that makes it easy to see the information you need. A much better idea is to use a dedicated web analytics service. I've used StatCounter in the past, but my favourite has to be Google Analytics. Both give you access to a great deal of useful information about your website. For instance, you can see how many people view the site in Internet Explorer 6, so you can figure out for yourself whether it's worth bothering to adjust for IE6 when you redesign the site next. Or you could see how many people view the site in a mobile browser. You can also see what pages are popular, how long people remain on your site, and how they got there in the first place. All this is extremely useful information that can give you good ideas as to how to improve your site.
- A comment system - OK, this is blog-specific, but comments mean you can gauge reader interest levels, and encourage more reader participation, so having a good comment system is essential. Most blogging engines have an OK comment system, but there are a few dedicated comment systems you can install on your blog that offer a lot more features than the default system. For instance, my blog uses Disqus in preference to the default WordPress comment system, because I find it's far more flexible and powerful. It offers threaded comments, as well as support for readers logging in via Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, OpenID or Disqus, which means they can use an existing account to submit their comment rather than having to go through the rigmarole of signing up, which can dissuade people from commenting. Also, it offers fine-grained control of moderation and spam, such as allowing you to blacklist or whitelist commenters, automatically accept comments unless they include a link (very handy for tackling spam comments), and many other useful tools. I've also heard good things about IntenseDebate.
- RSS feed management - If your site has an RSS feed, you should seriously consider using Feedburner. It's a great tool that allows you to present your site's RSS feed in an extremely pleasant way that makes it extremely easy for readers to subscribe using whatever feed reader they like, or by email (always worth having because it's ideal for people who don't know what an RSS feed is). It also allows you to add easy ways for users to share your content from within the feed, or for you to add Google AdSense to the feed itself if you wish.
- A way to share content - Again, this is more blog-specific than something suitable for a static site, but you should make it easy for people to share posts they like with friends or submit them to social bookmarking sites. It's probably to your benefit to do so since this will not only send more traffic to your site, but will mean you gain additional links to your site, improving its ranking in Google searches. Some WordPress themes include a way to share content, but other themes, or different blogging engines, may not offer this so an alternative way to share is helpful. In particular, I can recommend AddThis as a good choice.
- AdWords - If your site is something you're hoping to make money from (such as an e-commerce site, or you're hoping to attract people there to hire your services), then it makes sense to advertise. While I don't wish to sound like one of those self-appointed "social media experts" who haunt Twitter, you do need to make an effort to get your name out there, and Google AdWords is a really great way to do that cheaply and easily. You only need to pay when someone clicks on an ad, and they only show up in relevant places.
What other services would you recommend using with a new website?