Author: Joe Kraynak
Publisher: Prentice Hall, 2011
Aimed at: Non-programmers
Pros: Pretty comprehensive and attractively presented
Cons: Short on explanation
Reviewed by: Lucy Black
Normally on this site you expect to find books that, even if they are not about programming, will be of interest to programmers. This one is an exception. But I'm sure you've been in situations where, on disclosing your profession to someone who knows next to nothing about computers, pounces on you for help and advice - and building a website is just one of the topics they could choose. And recommending a book is a quick way out!
This book is in full color and with lots of illustrations and big print so it comes across as friendly and approachable. What it doesn't make clear is on the cover that it concentrates on WordPress. This is in many ways a good idea since WordPress is free - my criticism is the minor one of including WordPress somewhere on the book description would be helpful.
Some books start with a preface - this one starts with Top 10 Website Tips and if you go with the first one, Build a free Goggle site, then a lot of the rest of the book is irrelevant. However the tip does suggest that while a Google site is a good way to learn the basics it may not be the best long term strategy. I found the second tip Create a static website with WordPress less than helpful. It raises the question "What do you mean by static?" and made me look for the introduction of the alternative idea - a dynamic website with content supplied by a database. I then discovered a shortcoming of this book - no index. The contents page does have a topic listed for every page, which is helpful for finding something quickly, but there's nothing about database although Chapter 4 is on Content Management Systems (which furnish a dynamic website) the word "dynamic" isn't mentioned as far as I can tell.
So we have a niggle with the tips section - but in fact you can skip these until later and you'll come across Tip 1 again at the very beginning of the first section. It has the title Know Your Options and goes through them in order of complexity from Build a free hosted website (i.e. a Google one), through Create a free hosted blog (using Google's Blogger.com), Use a Web Hosting service, Build offline with a Web design application (mentioning the free web authoring program KompoZer) to Code your site manually with HTML and CSS - which is does point out immediately is the most difficult way.
In the introduction to Section 2 Joe Kraynak writes:
I strongly encourage you to build your site via a Web hosting service ...
and given the reasons he then gives coupled with the fact that there are plenty of web hosting services to choose from, many of them under $5 per month, this seems sound advice. Section 2 then goes though finding and researching a Web hosting service, creating an account and exploring the hosting service's control panel with cPanel being used as the example. It next goes through lots of preliminary administrative tasks starting with Register a Domain name - but it hasn't tackled how to choose a domain name. This may be due to the nature of the book. It is very much showing how to do things. It is big on pictures and short on words and so problems like how to pick a domain name - and it is something that is fraught with pitfalls - don't really fit in.
The next section may come as a culture shock. We've been proceeding as if the reader was fairly naive and already we are into FTP for file transfer and all the admin that it involves in terms folders, clients and accounts . Well a website needs content and as the introduction points out, even if you are going to use a content management system you'll need to upload pictures.
Section 4 is about Content Management Systems and although there is a page titled Explore your options, the author recommends WordPress and quickly goes into installing and using it.
After this we get to sections that are much more creative - Design an attractive colour scheme; Choose a theme, introducing both free and premium one for WordPress; Customise the header, Configure your site with (WordPress) widgets, Accessorise your site with (WordPress) plugins.
Section 10 goes back to something more mundane - content, again with reference to WordPress. It goes through adding pages and blog posts. It also looks at adding an email contact form and whether to allow comments and there's also a look at HTML. The section concludes by reminding you to back up the site's content.
The final sections look at some useful tools for improving you site and monetizing it. Section 14, Test and improve your site's speed looks at several free resources - Pingdom.com, Google Page Speed and W3 Total Cache. Section 15 Raise your site's search engine profile explains how to register a site with search engines, the idea of SEO and the use of SEO Doctor. Section 16 is on Manage your site with Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics and Section 17 Generate income from your site covers selling through affiliate programs, AdSense for pay per click advertising, adding a PayPal shopping cart and co-ordinating with an eBay account.
The final ten pages of the book are devoted to solving the Top 10 Website Problems and if the reader has succeeded in building a website by this point some or all of them could well be useful.
So should you recommend this book?