How to create paranormal website, from free templates to wordpress management
How to create paranormal website
All right, so you want to create (or update) your very own website about paranormal phenomenon or psychic phenomenon, or cryptozoology, or UFO phenomenon, or anything else unexplainable as well correct? Oh sure you do, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this ebook. Allow me to give you some tips and advices regarding your tremendous task. As I am not just a web designer and developer, but also as a person seriously interested in paranormal and unexplained phenomenons.
I have seen many websites about ghosts, psychic, spirits, hauntings, altered states of consciousness etc., and to be honest, the best website I've seen on this subject so far is Paranormal.about.com. It's simple, clean and easy to navigate. I think if it wasn't be a part of About.com, it would look like all other supernatural websites. All other websites I have seen look horrible, well to be frank – more or less they suck! Of course, what is important is that website should be informative and useful because the fact of the matter is : content is king. If the website looks like it's from those early 1997 these days, then it's not a serious concern..
Why do these websites look so horrible? Maybe because people managing them have no idea about web management. Maybe they don't know where to look for help (lack of informations or weak skills in googling), or maybe they're just too young to understand some things. What I know is that something needs to be done with this. That's why I decided to write this short ebook, to share my knowledge with those interested in paranormal, so the "paranormal web" will finally start looking like the real Web 2.0. Finally, huh? :) This short guide will point out some mistakes people often make, and show you where you can find more useful informations regarding web development.
Alone or with others?
If you want, you can create a private investigation website completely on your own, even without specific technical skills. You will find a lot of useful informations in this ebook regarding this process. But it is better to grab your own team of people interested in paranormal phenomenon. If you have an investigation team already, then that's even better! If you're alone, you need to find someone. No matter what you're going to create, having a whole team instead of just your own head, is a great advantage. The team can easily share tasks and brainstorm new ideas, which you should already know if you're not a sociopath :P.
General rule is - personal blogs are maintained by one person, forums and bigger websites should have a team. Believe me, web applications need a team :). When you finally decided if you're going to make your site on your own or with a team, it's time for...
Naming website and designing the logo
Let's start with the website name by putting words "paranormal" or "hauntings" in website name is a good start. It's not good, nor bad - it just is - If you want, you can create something like "Paranormal State", or "New York Hauntings" (I think there is a show named Paranoral State, isn't there?). An interesting idea is to create a name completely unrelated to paranormal phenomenon, like... "BoingBoing" is taken, "Wired" also... I don't know, think out something on your own. Perhaps "Switched Perspectives", "The Tracker" (tracking paranormal), "The Night Watch" (sitting in dark, looking for ghosts). As long as it will be original, it will be perfect! Something like "Paranormal Spot" might be used, "The Weird Archive" sounds a little fluffy, and "The Archive of Weirdness" sounds... pathetic. As you can see, creating a name for your website isn't an easy task but I'm sure you can manage it.
What I want to really point you to, is the fact that web is full of "Real Haunts", "Real Ghost Photos" and "Real Ghost Stories" and all this kind of names, so please, I beg you! Think about something original, or at least more original than these names.
When you will have your site' name, it's time to create a logo. If you're a graphic designer, then it's relatively simple. If you're not, sometimes it's better to stick with simple text than creating a logo without knowing anything about the design process. You can also buy someone a beer to design logo for you, or you can pay proper price for a real designer. It all depends on your skills and budget.
Either way, once you will have a name and logo, those are your brands. You know what branding is? If Coca-Cola would change its name one day, no one would buy it under new name anymore :P. People will recognize your brand, and you will be able to use it to advertise yourself and perhaps earn some money, who knows?
Books about creating websites
„Find yourself an engineer, feed him pizza, buy him beer...”
The above is a lyrics from a funny song titled "Here comes another bubble", regarding "the american dream" in the web. The point is clear, your webmaster likes pizza and coffee, and this should be enough for him to survive :P. All right, just kidding. Still, it's important for you to remember, if you don't know anything about building websites, then you have to find someone who does. Or you can learn everything on your own. I suggest looking around first. Also, it's better to pay someone for job well done, than to create crappy website on your own.
So look around, among your friends first, then among friends of your friends, maybe you will find someone with skills and interest in paranormal on some discussion board related to supernatural topics. If not, just use Job Boards to hire a freelancer and voila!
Take a look at these websites: Digg.com, Flickr.com, Delicious.com, CNN.com, Facebook.com - what can you see? White! There is a lot of bright and clean colors on these websites, and a lot of so called "white-space" or emptiness. It's because these websites are designed to be very user-friendly. Websites cannot be too dark, but more than that there can not be white font on black background. Dark websites are hard to read because each and every display is glowing (except advanced NASA technology and e-paper), and emitting light, which makes your eyes tired very quickly. Black on white is good, but white on black isn't.
Let's not get into technical details, we're not creating a designer's or artist's portfolio here, we want to create a website which is going to be read by people. Picking up the wrong colors and people will get easily tired, and it is possible they will look for something better than your website.
Another issue of the dark
Another important thing regarding this technical issue is the fact that when you're creating a dark website, you automatically want to say "Ooo, this is spooky and scary" (can you hear this Irish accent, like Conan O'Brian's?). This is OK, as long as you're making a website for 14-years old kids who can't fit into school's society... If you want to reach normal people interested in paranormal or those looking for more reliable informations on the subject, you can not create dark website "cause it's cool", because it will throw most people away. Black is bad, dark is nice but if you won't pay your professional designer minimum $1500 USD, then your dark layout will look awful too. This is caused because creating dark template/layout requires a lot of skills (I mean it, a lot), and those who can do this know they can't charge too little for such hard work.
Grunge and Vintage styles
A lot of dirt, some vintage photos, hand-drawen buttons etc., and yes, a grunge style in web design is very nice.It fits the paranormal subject, but you have to remember a few things about it. First, creating a good looking grunge layout isn't an easy task, so it will probably cost you a few dollars. Secondly, not every website should use grunge style, simply because it won't fit. Simple example : a website for your investigators team can use nice grunge layout, but your huge vortal about paranormal phenomenon should stick with something much cleaner. It's not set-in-stone rule, more like a guideline and it depends on your designer' skills, but basically you should stick to it :).
If you don't know any designer and you don't like free themes, you can look on Theme Forest to find some cool cheap premium themes.
Ghost comic images and animated GIF's
Put an animated ghost GIF image on your super-scientific website and I will surely define you as a 16-year old girl who loves pink and has an emotional problems. No, seriously, what do you want to achieve by placing such animations on your website? No, it's not cool, it's not spooky, it's stupid, childish and completely insane. You want people to consider you as serious paranormal investigator and you're placing animated ghosts on your websites? No one will take you seriously, and what worries me the most are the called "investigators" with such elements on their websites. No! No animated gifs or any "cool" or "spooky" images on your paranormal website!
Look around the web - useful things you can find
Even without technical skills, you can still make your own paranormal website, all you have to do is to look around the web and find useful stuff. Like templates and layouts for your website. There's a plenty of these and all you have to do is to spent some time on googling themes.
And you can find a CMS. CMS stands for Content Management System. It's a special script, or maybe it's better to say, an engine you will use to easily manage the content on your website. 90% of sites you want to create can be created using the best CMS ever : WordPress Publishing Platform. It's easy to install, has thousands of useful plugins, expanding script capabilities, and it's damn well supported so there's no way for you to get stuck without being able to find any help. If you're not a programmer nor a designer, WordPress is your best friend, learn it well. With a little bit of work and reading and learning, you will be able to create a nice "magazine-like" website using the capabilities of this CMS. And if you're looking for some WordPress themes you're willing to pay for, check ThemeForest.
Advertisement and Monetization
Advertisement in the web is powerful tool, but it will work only if your website is targeted to a specific audience. Remember that in the case of a simple Investigators Team style website, there is no point in "heavy" advertising everywhere you can. Bigger portals should focus on bigger advertising campaigns, and smaller portals should focus on smaller advertising.
Let's just say you have your Investigators Team website, what you should do is to ask every member of your team to advertise for site using some simple methods. Some links in forum' signatures, links on their own blogs, word of mouth advertising etc. In case of formal advertisement, you can try getting banners and links on your local websites focusing on the community of an area your team is operating within. Some classic off-line business cards, posters and leaflets are also a good idea, as long as they're not against local law. You can also exchange banners with other investigation groups with websites, but don't pay for advertisement, look for friendly people who can advertise your site for free. Same rules apply for single-investigator website.
The bigger the website, the bigger the campaign
Bigger website means bigger advertisement, and bigger advertisement means money. Look for other paranormal-related websites and first try to exchange banners and/or links. If this won't work, just offer money in exchange for adspace. Remember about Google AdWords, and Text Link Ads, those are the best methods of advertising for websites focusing on paranormal phenomenon right now. Don't forget about the power of Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious, as well as other social media websites.
No matter how small website you have, you can use Google AdSense and Text Link Ads to monetize it and using the money to support your off-line activities. Remember not to place invasive pop-ups and huge banners, as they will scare people and push them away. Also, use AdSense with caution - search the web for tips and advices regarding AdSense placement, or if you want, look for other contextual ad systems. Small websites can also use donation buttons - it's not a shame to ask for donations, believe me, there are people out there who will be happy to help.
If you have bigger website, then forget about donations, they might scare people away. Instead, use some graphical banners. The bigger the website, the higher the prizes for your adspace. Unfortunately, it's hard to find serious advertisers in this field, so AdSense and Text Link Ads are still the best choice.
Management & Collaboration Systems
If you are an investigators team, then there should be no problem with management and collaboration. Still, you can find on-line management and collaboration systems very useful. Such systems and applications are mandatory if you're running a website and your editorial team is located in every corner of the world. Most collaboration applications can be accessed not just by the web browser, but also via iPhone and other mobile devices which is good. You can use these apps to assign tasks, set meetings and define goals etc.
You can find a list of many on-line applications on FeedMyApp directory here. If you have your own server, you can think about downloading and installing free Collabtive application. And if you're feeling rich, you can buy an activeCollab - very advanced, useful and easy to use.
Don't forget about basics - Gmail, Google Docs, as well as Google Calendar are the very basics of your on-line management "empire" :).
Informative Website, or „Vortal”
Let's say you want to create a general website with some news, articles, case studies, and some galleries. Let's start with the proper layout. In this case we will choose a simple and clean "magazine-look".
Let's use a clean and user-friendly layout, perfect for classic informative website. Also recognized as a "minimalistic" style, it will be easy to read and easy to navigate soyou can be sure as long as you will have good content, your users won't leave too quickly. In this specific case you can allow yourself room for some "craziness" and some grunge elements but we'll get to that later. For now let's keep it clean and simple.
Using WordPress will make creating new content easily. It will support both galleries and comments system, as well as a team of editors with a simple and useful privileges system. Never forget about comments, it's what makes your community. Your community is an invaluable element.
Investigators Team Website
You have an investigators team, you need a website, huh? No animations, no grunge/dark template, bright and clean, corporate layout is the best choice for this site. You want to look very serious so your website has to do the same.
Again, WordPress is the best choice. Create an "About" page and write something about your team, present each and every member with a photo. Put some contact informations in a visible area, header is good. General idea is - the less navigation elements the better. When a person will visit your website, they will first look for information about yout and what you do. Remember that when people contact you, your community will grow too.
After the above is done, you can think about some sub-navigation to put your investigations reports on. Do not insert typical articles on this website. Rather create another, informative vortal for this. On an investigators team/group site, you should put only information related directly to your group and its activity, while "how-to" articles and other stuff should be placed on other, more general website.
Finally, remember you're still humans, don't look too seriously, show some emotions, show you're not machines :P.
Forums & Discussion Boards
Personally I really see no point of creating another cookie cutter forum about paranormal phenomenon mainly because it will attract kids and trolls who see ghosts on every photo they take. There's no simple way of persuading them that it's just a mist. But if you're going to create a forum anyway, remember the basic layout rules : clean and simple. Know that you need a serious team of moderators who are seriously interested in paranormal, and they're not fluffy kids :).
The best choice is to use SimpleMachines or phpBB3 as forum engines. If you're thinking about adding abforum for your bigger website, then use bbPress or FluxBB. Vanilla is a good choice if you want a private forum for your group management.
Using your own server?
You can ask "should I create my own shared server, or should I use free hosting?" It's a little complicated. Free hosting almost always puts ads on your page and this won't look very professional. So try to avoid free FTP hosting at all costs. WordPress.com and Blogger.com, on the other hand, are completely different, you can attach your own domain to both services, and you will be able to change site template when needed. WordPress.com is good for small Investigations Teams, but still I would suggest Blogger.com. You can use AdSense there, with a little bit of luck you will be able to monetize your website to finance your activity. And Blogger.com doesn't have restrictions regarding templates. You can upload a template from the web, and there are plenty of Blogger.com layouts. It's simple to use, easy to configure and maintain. It's a perfect choice for those who want something simple and easy to customize. After few hours of work your, Blogger website will look professional enough.
Thumblr.com and WordPress.com can be used for single investigator website. WordPress.com is a little more complicated, so if you don't need too many fireworks, use Thumblr. It has some nice templates, you can create your own template, put ads, and customize your website, attach your own domain and finally, stop worrying about "how the heck works" :).
No Google Pages or other "create-your-own-website-in-a-matter-of-minutes" kind of stuff (like Freewebs). They're good but not for what we're creating here. I like Google' apps, but in this case not this one :P. Finally, if you want to create a huge, original and useful website for paranormal maniacs, a professional portal or some web application, or even more professional blog, you have to decide to your own server, starting with a shared one, like budget hosting here.
You now know how to create a website, you know where to look for useful resources, and you have discover useful web services to help you manage your projects. Also, you probably know already that creating paranormal website today is just a matter of learning how to use the resources crawling all over the web.