It wasn’t that long ago that starting up a website required a great deal of expertise, time and commitment. There was a reason that those who created sites in the early days of the Web were stereotyped as “dorks” and “nerds”, it was because you had to know HTML, the ins and outs of site construction and at least a decent amount about how the Web worked just to get a basic site off the ground.
However, for Web development, the march of technology has been toward simplicity and ease of use. Blogging and Web publishing in general are both more approachable than ever. Not only can one set up a Facebook account in minutes but they can do the same with a WordPress.com account or a Tumblr blog as well.
In short, anyone who wants to publish a blog can easily do so and almost no experience is required, just the ability to fill in a short form and write some new content.
But this doesn’t mean we’ve gotten away from HTML and CSS being a requirement for creating a successful site. Not knowing these languages can be very detrimental to your site and not only keeps great content from finding the audience it deserves, but can actually cripple your site in ways you can’t predict.
Simply put, if you don’t know HTML and CSS, at least to a minimal extent, you are holding your blog back and gambling with its future.
To be clear, advancements in blogging platforms have greatly reduced the importance of HTML and CSS knowledge in running a site. Not only is it possible to set up a site without looking at any code, but widgets, customizable themes and plugins now make it possible to do a lot of the more common coding tasks without cracking open the theme files.
But while this is great, there are also problems with it.
The first is that, when you can’t edit your theme by hand, you are limited to what is provided with it. You can only make the changes and additions that are built in. Even though some themes can be very flexible, it also means that your site will wind up looking like the other sites that use the same theme and there isn’t much that you can do about it.
Second, there are some things you simply can’t add via a plugin or widget, such as many external services, tools and other changes that require you to add the HTML code by hand. Though the process is trivial, if you’re intimidated by HTML it can be a trying experience.
Finally, and this is possibly the most important, is that things break. If your theme begins to have trouble, images start to break or a service you were using stops functioning properly, you need the ability to leap in and fix the theme. Otherwise, your site might appear to be broken or, even worse, generate nothing but an error.
Though these types of incidents are very rare, if it happens to you and you can’t fix it, you’re at the mercy of those who help you and that can greatly slow down the time it takes to get back online.
In short, if you don’t know HTML and CSS, at least some, you’re both limiting what you can do with your site and putting yourself at risk of not being able to respond effectively if something should go wrong.
These are risks you don’t have to take and shouldn’t if you can avoid it.
How to Avoid It
The simple answer on how to avoid this pitfall is “Learn HTML and CSS”. But the answer isn’t that easy.
So, before one considers going back to school, here are a few quick ways to get just the HTML knowledge you need without spending a lot of time or money.
- Online Tutorials: W3Schools has a great basic HTML tutorial for the complete notice that familiarizes you with the basics of HTML structure and tags. Has a similar one for CSS. There are many other great tutorials out there but these are great for learning as you can work “live” and learn by experimentation.
- Get a Book: As powerful as online tutorials are, you might also want to spend a few bucks and get a decent HTML/CSS book. Not only is it a great reference, but many learn better from a book and it lets you look at your work and the guide without changing tabs.
- Set Up a Test Site: Finally, consider setting up a test site with a duplicate theme at a different URL (perhaps test.yourdomain.com) so that you can dabble with your HTML code without destroying your main site. This is a great way to get practical practice and understanding of your theme without any risk.
All in all, to get the amount of knowledge you need to move forward with your site, you only need to spend a few hours of time. However, it is time well spent as it can help you take your blog to new heights and fix problems as they arise.
In short, there’s nothing magical about learning HTML and CSS. If you know how to use a word processor or other office applications, there really isn’t significantly farther as much of the results are similar (bold, headings, tables, etc.), you’re just learning how to indicate it in a new way.
Considering the doors that HTML and CSS can open up for your site and the headache it can save later, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Even if you never actually use it in your theme, you’ll be able to not rely so much on the visual editor of your blog and that will let you ensure that posts are formatted exactly right and give you complete control over how your entries look.
In the long run, that may actually be the biggest benefit of all in getting a primer on HTML.