Not all of us come into this business as complete web design and graphic design wizards. Most of us don't know our PSDs from our PDFs, and learning how to build a website can be a painful learning curve. We need all the help we can get.
So a lot of new affiliates turn to website templates for that helping hand.
The thing is, templates can sometimes be more trouble than they're worth. There are a lot of website templates available on the internet that look really good when you go to buy them... they've got boxes and graphics and buttons and widgets up the wazoo... Neat!
But if you're new to web design, you're probably not going to have a CLUE what to do with this fancy thing you've just bought. What if you want to remove that fancy widget? What if you want to add another navigation item? What if you want to change the header image? Any idea how to do that?
The thing to understand is that editing a website template is pretty much going to be a crash course in web design. The benefit is that you've got a finished product already, and now you just need to tweak bits and pieces and see what it does.
The bad part is that even for experienced web designers, going into a web template is like trying to cook in somebody else's kitchen. You don't know where everything is.
So here are some hints for finding and editing website templates:
1) Simple is better.
Don't be sucked in by fancy graphics and swish effects... ESPECIALLY don't get sucked in by fancy Flash graphics! You want a template that you have a hope of being able to edit, and the fancier it is... the slimmer your chances!
2) Check whether you get the source files.
If your template comes with a header image that you really like, are you going to need to edit that header to put your website name in there? If so, does the template come with the image source files (probably in a .PSD or .AI format?). If not, you'll either have to put up with the existing header, or try to re-create it yourself. And if there are image source files supplied, check whether you're going to have the capabilities of editing them. PSD files are opened by Adobe Photoshop (or sometimes Gimp, which is a free software). AI files are opened in Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand.
3) Get tools to figure out how it all works.
I would be completely lost in the world without the Firebug plugin for Firefox. (http://getfirebug.com/) It allows you to "inspect" a webpage by holding your mouse over sections of the page, and then shows you which HTML and CSS is being used to make the page look like that. Since you'll probably be spending a little while figuring out how your template "works", this tool is pretty invaluable. (It's also good for diagnosing problems in your site when your image ends up on the wrong side of the page, and other nasty happenings like that!)
4) Don't spend money if possible.
There are plenty of free website templates out there on the internet, although you might have a bit of trouble finding the good and reputable sites, versus the ones that want to suck you into buying something eventually. It's a really good idea not to sink your money into something you don't understand completely, which is why free templates are the best. There's no risk involved.
One really good site that I recommend again and again is http://www.oswd.org. Be careful! There's also an http://www.oswd.com which SELLS templates. You don't want that... you want free ones!
The good thing about this site is that it allows you to search the templates by colour, number of columns, etc. You can preview the sites to see what they look like, and then you just download them and start playing! Most of the templates are pretty "clean" in their HTML and CSS, which means that they're easier for you to edit.
5) Know the difference.
I know that there are a lot of you who are going to be confused about this, but WEBSITE templates are completely different to WORDPRESS templates. If you're looking for templates to change the appearance of your WordPress blog, that's a very different story. These templates aren't for you... although some of the same rules apply. There are also plenty of free WordPress templates (called "themes") out there... and the best place to start is http://www.wordpress.org/extend/themes.
Any great tips or advice you would like to share on this topic?