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Expert Interview with Steve Burge on Learning Web Design

Building and managing a website is overwhelming for business owners who are either strapped for time or who don’t have the right skillsets. Luckily, there are companies like OSTraining that offer online courses on web design for just about anyone.

“We teach using simple, plain English so that absolute beginners and non-techies can learn,” says CEO Steve Burge.

We recently checked in with Steve to learn more about the courses he offers through OSTraining and get his take on the most important web design and web marketing trends and skills business owners and marketing professionals should follow and obtain. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell us about OSTraining. When and why did you start your company?

We are web design training company, so it’s appropriate that I have a background in both areas: I’ve been both a teacher and a web developer.

I worked as a teacher for nearly a decade in Japan, Mexico, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. and loved it. But I never made much money as a teacher, and I started creating websites to pay the bills.

By the time I moved to the U.S., my evening job as a web designer was paying better than my day job as a teacher. So, I started building websites full time. Thus, web design became my second career.

After a few years and a few dozen websites, I was spending too long in my office staring at the screen and missed the social interaction in my previous career. I started to feel the urge to teach again. A friend asked me to teach a class in Chicago; I tried it and loved it. That reintroduction to teaching led to more classes across the country.

We kept growing, and by 2010 I ended up combining my two careers and becoming a full-time web design teacher.

Can you tell us about what kind of training courses you offer?

We teach people how to build great websites, currently focusing on WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. Our training is online, available 24/7 and really comprehensive. We start with the basics, then work our way up into more advanced topics such as SEO, ecommerce, theme design, security, etc.

What advice do you have for non-technical people who are just starting out building a website? What types of fundamentals should they learn first?

The biggest difference is that we provide expert support, while most other online training companies provide no support or subpar support.

Non-technical people love the ability to get help for their specific situations, which often aren’t addressed in the video classes.

Many of our members have stuck with us for years simply for the support. Also, we’ve been told by our students who have also taken other training courses that our videos are a lot more professional and teach the material more clearly.

What are some of your web design pet peeves? What are the most common mistakes you see businesses making on their sites?

I’m not a fan of the enormous header images that so many sites use these days. For many non-professional designers, it’s hard to find an image that’s a good fit for a larger header. Either they use an image that’s too small and it looks blurry, or they use an image that’s too large and they end up with a significantly slower site.

How easy is it for a non-technical person to build a site today? When should a small business consider enlisting a professional?

These days, it’s mainly a question of time. If you can use your computer, you can probably build a website with WordPress or even a hosted solution such as Squarespace or Wix.

It’s worth hiring a professional if you think your time is best spent elsewhere. If you’re busy running your business, you don’t need to be loading up slideshow images for your website.

What should small businesses be focusing on when it comes online marketing today? Where should they spend the most time?

If you really are a small business with a limited budget, I’d recommend focusing on just one or two channels. If you don’t have much time, don’t try to keep dozens of social profiles up to date.

Right now, Facebook and YouTube are the dominant marketing platforms, with Twitter and Pinterest a long way behind.

Facebook has great advertising options and a very wide audience, but you need to pay to play. Right now, if we post something to our Facebook page, only 1 percent of our followers will see that post unless we pay.

What do you think are some underrated online marketing opportunities that businesses overlook?

YouTube is phenomenally underrated as an advertising tool.

It’s free to use, plus it’s owned by Google; and YouTube results often show high in search results.

The downside is that making successful videos is time consuming.

What are some trends in web design/web development that you think business owners should be aware of? Why are they important?

The most important trend right now for businesses is the continued rise of mobile devices. Websites need to be mobile-friendly and work on any device – phone, tablet or PC – to make it a better experience for the user.

Google has also started making significant algorithm changes to give a boost to mobile-friendly sites. That will continue in 2015 and beyond.

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