Customizing Your Web Site

There are a number of things you can add to your website or pages to customize them or to make the site easier to maintain.  Some of the items listed below apply to any host. Some will only work with a paid hosting account like BlueHost.

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Using custom 404 pages

If your visitor arrives at a page that does not exist on your site, what will they see? A generic 404 error page? The 404 page is the page displayed if someone tries to reach a page on your website that does not exist. Most of the time, it’s because the visitor mistyped the URL or maybe you renamed a page. Because 404 pages are just simple HTML pages, you can change the default 404 page to a page that displays anything you want. So instead of the generic "this page does not exist" message that tells your visitors nothing, you can put up an informative page that will help them find what they are looking for. For help in creating a custom 404 error page, check out the links listed below. You can view the custom error page I created for my family genealogy site. This option is NOT usually available for a free hosting account. This is the error page you receive from RootsWeb if you click on a broken link.

Use include files for repeating content

Any time you have a lot of repeated content in a website - things like page headers, page footers and navigation menus - you can use includes.  Include files are separate pages of plain text or HTML code that contain things like the items just mentioned; things that are intended to be used on many different pages. The top and bottom menus  on this site use FrontPage includes. The right sidebar index to articles and tutorials is also an include page. It can be inserted on any page I want to use it.

Create a site map

A site map is essentially a categorized page of links to all your websites’ pages - a table of contents of your site. Some users may go straight to your site map to navigate through your site. A site map can make a difference in the number of pages that are indexed by the search engines.

Include a consistent footer

Some suggestions to include in your footer would be your contact information: email address and phone number. Also your privacy policy and copyright information. If you are using a javascript menu system or a graphics menu, you should include a text-only navigation menu in your footer.

Use a consistent navigation system

Adding navigation to your website is a MUST! The more complex your site, the more important good navigation is. Make your navigation easy to use. Remember, your navigation is the road map to your site and people will not always enter via your "front door." A search engine could take them anywhere within your site. Will they be able to find there way around?

Add a Search Box

If you have a large site, you want to consider adding a search box to your site. There are a number of free ones available or if you are using paid hosting, there may be one available through the host. The free ones I have used are listed below. Each is customizable to reflect the "look" of your site.

  • FreeFind Here you sign up to "Add a search engine to your site." You will need to enter your page URL and your e-mail address.. Your password and setup instructions will be e-mailed to you. My Family Genealogy site uses FreeFind.
  • PicoSearch Here you sign up for your search engine. You will need to set up all the requested information. You'll then see the web page from which you manage and customize the Picosearch tool for your website. I have used this in the past.
  • Atomz Search  is now a part of WestSide Story Search. Just fill in your email address and you will receive instructions via return email. The website for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harrisonburg Virginia uses Atomz as the search engine.

Link to your Genealogy Database at WorldConnect

You can provide a link to your genealogy database at WorldConnect by using a straight text link as I have done by adding a hyperlink with the text Search the Database included in my Navigation Menu (see example below). You can also add one of the graphic images from RootsWeb to link to your site. I have shown the smallest one available below.

Search the Database Link Example. Search the Database Graphic Example.

RootsWeb FrontPage & Expression Web Mailing Lists

Are you hosting your website on one of the RootsWeb servers? Are you using FrontPage  or Expression Web to design and maintain your website? If so, join us on the
RootsWeb FrontPage list or the RootsWeb Expression Web list.  Two other lists that are not specific to RootsWeb are FrontPage List and Expression Web List.

CSS Layout Templates - FREE

CSS Layout Templates using external style sheets and written using XHTML Transitional Coding. They are meant to be used with FrontPage or Expression Web but can be used with any editing program. Free to use and enjoy. Additional DWT's specific to Expression Web.

Would you like some help with the design and layout of your site?

I am willing to work with you on setting up the design and layout of your genealogy website. Why? Because I enjoy doing it and it is a way to "pay it forward" for the help that I have received. See some examples of sites I have helped with. I do this on a volunteer basis so may have to limit the amount of time I can spend with you. If interested, contact Pat.