What should you know about building a website? Every good mechanic knows.

Engine via Sheffield Tiger (Flickr Creative Commons)

I used to get really, really greasy. So much that no matter how much I scrubbed I couldn’t get the black out of my skin or from under my fingernails.  Used to drive my mother crazy.  But that’s what happens when you live on a small farm with an auto body shop with a dad, two uncles and grandpa that all make a living as mechanics.

I didn’t go on to make my life twisting a wrench – I’m actually kind of surprised at that considering how much of my childhood focused on engines, cars, tractors and motorcycles – but I did learn quite a bit from them.

1. Chrome don’t get you home – if your engine ain’t running right, then it doesn’t matter how pretty it is, it’s just a hunk of iron.

Not getting a good content management system with your website is a bad mistake. Why? The engine of your website is your content management system.  It drives everything on the outside.  Websites need to be constantly fed and adjusted with new information. In fact, the more information you put into it, the more the search engines scan your website and index all that info. The better the information, the more your target audience will love the website. You need a content management system (like conductor.nd.edu) that you can easily understand and use and doesn’t break down a lot. If the content management system requires that you are almost as educated as the website developer then it is a bad system.

2. Always check the gas first.

Your website is the central engine for the communications of your program, dept or college and you should treat it accordingly. When it comes to a print project here at AgencyND, most of our clients have no problem getting the writing or content done first because the design revolves around the content. Your website is no different so don’t start building a website until you understand what the content is going to be. How do you know what the content is going to be? Check out this simple creative brief – it can help you with your content. Know your target audience and your communication goals. Write them out. Then start on the content. Then come talk to us about a website.

3. Who the heck has time to read the manual?

Don’t over design. Sure, there are a lot of bells and whistles that you can add to a website that make it attractive and interesting to explore. But does your target audience want to explore? Most people hate being confused or are forced to guess how to navigate a website. Keeping the navigation on the left (where most people in our focus groups told us they look for navigation) or on top – if people are searching, they are getting frustrated. Is that what you want when what we are told is that everyone on the internet has ADHD?

4. Why use a screwdriver when a hammer will work just fine?

Have a clear call to action. Everyone loves a clear call to action. Don’t make a visitor guess what you want them to do next. Don’t make them think. Don’t beat around the bush. A professionally designed website that is clean with a simple call to action will always when over a busy distracting design with tons of calls to action. But make sure you don’t get locked into something that you can’t change in the future. BTW, we careful with rotating home page images – people hide great content in rotators and then wonder why no one ever sees it. People don’t stick around 15 seconds waiting on the next image. They look at where they are supposed to go next and move there.  Want to know what my favorite call to action is?  Newsletter sign-up.  Get their info as soon as you can.  Then you can start building that relationship.

5. Go find me a can of compressed air and some muffler bearings.

While this may have been funny to them watching me search around the shop for things that didn’t exist, you don’t need to be scared of the language of the internet – search engine optimization. SEO isn’t scary and isn’t hard. Mike Roe, the agency’s copywriter, could teach you everything you really need to know in 15 minutes but I’m sure he could talk about it for over a day if you wanted him too. SEO is the language of search engines which is actually based on the language of people.

6. There’s nothing like having to cut off a nut that you rounded by using an adjustable wrench instead of a socket.

Search Engine Optimization with Keywords. Let me try to put this simply. If I’m searching for “something”, I usually call it “something”. Then I put that “something” in the search box of the search engine because I want to find results with “something” in it. If you don’t say that “something” on your website a lot then the search engine won’t know that your website is about that “something”. Is that confusing? Maybe a little. We have tools to tell you what “something’s” that people put into search engines when searching for the “somethings” that you have. One of our tools is keyworddiscovery.com and it is awesome.

7. Wish in one hand and crap in the other – see which one fills up first.

Search Engine Optimization – Inbound Links. You need them. A lot of them. Search engines show sites with lots of inbound links at the top of the search results. What’s an inbound link? It means that someone else put a link to your website on their website. How do you get inbound links? I’ve got a whole post about that. In fact, it’s one of the busiest posts that I’ve ever written. Basically, it says write a lot of great content and then tell the world you wrote the great content. It’s as easy as it sounds. But guess what? It takes time and work to get those links. Without them, though, no one will find your website.

8. You can only bore it out so much before it will start to overheat.  Better to just drop in a big block.

So with the past two things (7. Keywords and 8. Inbound Links), means you need a website that you can build lots of pages with. That means your website has to have a news section or a blog – both are great at giving you the ability to add pages with keywords and help you get lots of inbound links. Don’t skimp on this feature. If you are talking to a website designer or developer and they don’t offer these features then run away. You’ll be glad you did later.

9. My mechanic just ran off with my wife.  Oh no, that’s horrible.  I know I sure do miss him.

Don’t have one webmaster or owner. Your website needs a lot of people to feed it. It’s good to have one person to oversee everything going on with the website but it needs multiple people wanting to feed it with information. Having just one person write all the content, update it and put up pictures and videos is just too much nowadays. You could get away with that in the past but having multiple people feed the beast helps the website grow in a healthy way.

10. It’s like buying the car because you like the color.

If you don’t have analytics on your website, then how do you know it’s doing what it is supposed to be doing for you. Every website should have analytics – a way to see what is going on when people come to visit. People tell me all the time that they want a new website because the old one isn’t working. I ask, “Is that what the analytics are telling you?”

“We don’t have analytics.”
“Well, then how to do you know it’s not working.”
They usually look at me as if I’m confused. “We don’t know, we just don’t like it. Can you build us a new website or not?”

Analytics can help you so much – you should always be paying attention to what the data tells you. BTW, Google Analytics are free and easy to install. We use them for everything.

11. I couldn’t fix the brakes so I made your horn louder.

Don’t be afraid of usability and testing. I’ve been building websites since 1999 and I still don’t know exactly what’s in the mind of every user that visits a website. No one does. That’s why it’s great to test for usability issues. Even verbiage can be tested. Sure you may spend a couple hundred dollars at the beginning of a project or maybe a couple of months in, but if it can save your users a headache when they can’t find what they need, isn’t it worth it? I think so.

12. You got your ears on, good buddy. We had CBs in all our vehicles.

Your website has to be mobile-friendly. I can’t tell you how important mobile is now. It’s not just a buzz term for communication people. Mobile websites are visited a lot and your website should have a mobile version or a mobile style sheet. Have you ever been to m.nd.edu? Pretty cool, huh? And you shouldn’t have to pay extra for a mobile version. We make one for every one of our websites and we give away the code for free. The analytics told us that we aren’t wrong. More and more people are accessing our websites via mobile and we don’t want that experience to be frustrating.

13. Fuel injection killed the carburetor. Electronic ignition killed the solenoid. What’s next?

What’s next with websites? I don’t know exactly other than they are getting more and more integrated with social media. More and more personalized. More and more busy. Your website should be easy to adjust to add new features and have APIs that can talk to other websites like having our Conductor websites talk directly with calendar.nd.edu and map.nd.edu. Seamless integration without more work on the communicator.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few things here. What do you think you should know before building a website?


11 responses to “What should you know about building a website? Every good mechanic knows.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Don Schindler and Chas Grundy, Notre Dame Alumni. Notre Dame Alumni said: RT @donschindler: What you should know before you build your website. Advice from my mechanic. http://bit.ly/fCHrmx […]

  2. Thanks for the heads up about m.nd.edu . I didn’t know we had that–just tried it on my phone and it’s very cool.

  3. Great analogy, I enjoyed that article.
    I think wordpress is the easiest CMS for those just starting out.

  4. What I really like here is the inbound link. But regarding about this just be aware of the anchor text you will be using. When using an anchor text for you link to other be precise and please just 1 or 2 keyword for that.

  5. Great post. Easily the best content management system is WordPress in my opinion. Its user friendly for new users. For the SEO side of things its a breeze with the huge amount of plugins that make SEO virtually point and click.

    One thing i enjoy that you hit on is “over design”. I hate over designed websites. They are like a room in a house thats over stuffer with furniture. The reason most people visit a website is to view the content. Not to look at the design.

    Great post none the less

  6. Really nice tips. Just starting my first site and i hope I won’t mess it up too bad.

  7. “I couldn’t fix the brakes so I made your horn louder.”

    LOL! Don, great article. I wish you come over and give us a few SEO tips on motorcyclist.com. We’re a lot better mechanics than website designers, unfortunately.

    Thanks again,


  8. Very informative Post!
    A Search Engine Optimizer needs to look for the new keywords and work on specific key words to get new traffic.
    Thank U for sharing Cool Stuff!
    Let me share “How Get My Website On Google”

  9. Very Good Post.
    I am going to go back through it and try to utilize the key points in re-building some of my site.
    Thanks for the help.

  10. Great Post.
    I have used WordPress and Drupal.
    Drupal wasn’t exactly my favorite, but WordPress is great.
    I definitely think beginner’s should use it.

  11. Great publish. Easily the very best cms is WordPress for me. Its easy to use for brand new customers. For that Search engine optimization aspect its very simple using the large amount of plug ins which make Search engine optimization virtually point and click on.

    One factor i like that you simply hit on is “over design”. I personally don’t like over designed websites. They’re just like a room inside a house thats over stuffer with furniture. The main reason many people go to a website would be to see the content. To not look in the design.

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