5 Actions When Setting Up a Site for a Novice

If you do Web development long enough, whether professionally or just as a hobby, you’ll probably find yourself building a website for someone with a lot less experience than you.

It could be a client, a favor to a friend or perhaps even a gift for a family member. You’ll get it all started and then over the keys.

However, you don’t want this to turn into a support nightmare. Though you’re probably willing to help a bit, there’s a limit. As such, you have to make sure that you take the time to set the site up right, so that it can be turned over easily and safely to someone who is still learning.

It requires a bit of planning but it can be done very easily. All you need is a few extra moments of time and a willingness to make sure that everything is done right before handing over the keys.

1. Use CPanel (or Plesk)

Firstly, you want to make sure that your friend is able to perform most of the basic hosting functions themselves. This includes setting up email accounts, managing databases, handling FTP logins and making simple DNS changes.

Most novices will be intimidated by these tasks without some kind of practical user interface. Fortunately, there are simple, effective control panels, most popularly CPanel and Plesk, that can provide just that.

Make sure that whatever host you set the site up on has CPanel access. The ideal situation would be a server with WHM/CPanel installed and control over the root account, so you can help manage the account if absolutely necessary, but simply having CPanel available will take a lot of the burden off of you (or anyone else) for simple maintenance tasks.

2. Use a Good CMS

Just as a hosting control panel helps novice users maintain and manage their server, a good content management system (CMS) helps them maintain and manage what actually appears on their site.

A good CMS, whether it’s WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, can greatly help a novice user manage their site. It simplifies adding new content to the site, editing existing material, managing themes and also helps by adding additional features.

Best of all, most of the modern CMS’ are well-documented with plenty of guides for novice users, making it easy for them to get help without having to constantly ask you how to do certain things.

3. Set Up Google Apps

The default IMAP/POP3 setup most hosts provide is fairly straightforward and works reasonably well, especially with CPanel installed. However, very few people, outside of an office, use a mail client.

Unfortunatley, the webmail options provided by most hosting companies are uninspiring. However, Google Apps offers a free version that can be set up on domain, letting your friend use Gmail as their email client and provide a slew of other benefits as well.

Best of all, if your friend does decide they want to use an email client, they can do so and even get a handy guide for setting it up.

4. Optimize for Speed

Once you have the basics of a site setup, you need to optimize it for speed and efficiency. Whether it involves installing caching systems, such as W3 Total Cache for WordPress or using a CDN such as CloudFlare, the goal is to make it so that the site runs fast and effectively before you turn over the keys.

It’s important, as you do that, to find settings that you can “set and forget” lest you create additional support problems for yourself down the road. The goal is to be able to set up the optimizations once and have them work so long as the options aren’t altered.

5. Harden for Security

Finally, whatever CMS you choose, before you turn the keys over, make sure to harden it for security. Check your permissions, make sure that the passwords are reasonably strong, install any relevant security plugins/extensions and make sure that automatic updates are either enabled or that upgrades are as easy as possible to perform.

The only thing worse than having to answer constant questions about how to do X or Y is having to repeatedly help close security holes and clean up after attacks. Fortunately, most major vulnerabilities can be avoided pretty easily if you set up a site with a good security policy.

Bottom Line

Considering most hosting accounts have CPanel or Plesk installed and very few developers build sites without using a CMS for the backend, there isn’t much that has to be done beyond making sure that everything is set up with ease of use and learning in mind.

Still, it’s important to think about those variables from day one when building a site for a novice. By the time you’re almost ready to turn the site over, it is most likely too late to make it user-friendly if it isn’t already.

Doing so will not only make the site much more valuable to the person you’re building it for, but also much less of a long-term headache for you. After all, a few minutes working on making a site user friendly may save you hours of support and help down the road.

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