So you have been living in the dark ages for years and have finally decided to build a web site. Well, it is about time but there is so much that you need to consider before plopping down a bunch of cash. Part of this is because there will be a number of upfront costs relating from setting up the site and selecting a host to a number of ongoing costs from annual host site fees to the cost of maintaining your web site. And that is all before we start to think about what will be on your web site so it is really best to go through all of this thinking and planning beforehand as planning things out will save you time, money, aggravation, and probably, even keep you from losing customers.
Planning, Planning, and More Planning
Primary in your planning should be cost, how much are you willing to expend on the project. This makes a major difference on what is included in the content and presentation of the web. Also it impacts on how often it is updated. By coming up with a budget for initial expenses and ongoing maintenance and fees, you can then build the web site to suit your expenses and then compare that to what your expectations are. We will get back to this shortly.
Second in your planning is identifying what is your intended audience is and how often you want them visiting your site. Are you looking for people that have never heard of your business before? If so, you will probably be very disappointed. Do you have any clue as to how many web sites and news groups there are out there? Or how many search engines that need to be updated? Unless you have something very specific to present, you may discover that a search will bring up thousands and thousands of pages and yours will certainly get lost in the morass of millions of web pages out there already. So if it is new customers you are looking for, then be prepared to come up with a strategy of attracting them. From the emails I get, there are probably a thousand people out there that for an X number of dollars will guarantee a top hit on the search engines. Don’t believe them, you would only be throwing money away. There is no silver bullet but there are some software packages available to help you at least come close.
If you are interested in making information available to current customers and known prospects, then you already have your audience and this can be an excellent way to keep them informed of your products, updates, and news so what you need to do is to come up with a list of what you need to keep them informed about. This is the kind of site that many small businesses put together. The last type of web site would be just a general information site for prospects and casual browsers. Here you want to provide information to the general public and if you do catch a prospect, great.
The third issue is then how active your web site will be. I tend to lump them all into four major categories. A dead web site is one that has been forgotten by the owners. An static web site is one that is updated once a year, an inactive web site is one that changes maybe once a quarter, and an active web site changes at a minimum weekly. So, if you are interested in having people return to your site on a regular basis, then you need to consider the content and the kinds of information that will change on a regular basis to keep them coming back. Nothing kills return visitors more than coming back to a web site a couple of times and finding nothing new there. They stop coming back. Unfortunately, this means having the means, money, and effort to come up with something new for those return visitors. Options for information that change on a regular basis can include third party news organizations headlines that appear on your web site, an online newsletter that is updated daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly, new Information articles and reports that change, and finally, reviews and updates from the industry or government that you can reprint. If you also add a "Links Page" to point people to other sites of interest, be sure to check them on a regular basis.
Features for Your Web Site
Once you come up with answers to the major issues, come a ton of smaller ones and each one could add considerably to your ongoing expenses. As you hit each item, note them down as when it comes time to talk to a host provider for your web site, you will need to see if they can support that and at what cost.
Do you want a private area for your customers? This could be as simple as a separate web area not available from your main web pages or one that requires a user id and password to access.
Do you want a secure area for your customers? How much do you really want to keep other people and hackers out of this area.
Will you be selling products on the web using an online shopping basket approach? If so, we get into credit arrangements and banking issues to ensure payments are collected before your goods go out the door.
Do you want to give your customers access to your data files and databases on the web? This gets into the real of online databases and security becomes a major issue and expense.
Will you be making files and downloadable documents available on the web? Files can get to be quite large and time consuming to download via dial up access and this also increases the space required for your web site at an additional cost.
Will you be collecting personal or business information from people on the web? There are things like guest books and information pages that collect such information even to the point of setting up “cookies” to keep track of where people have been and what they last looked at.
Do you want to be able to show video clips, sound, and movies on the web? This also adds to the size of the web site and the need to make content small enough to download at dial up speeds. You will probably also have to put in links to pages that provide the players for what ever type of content you will be including so that people will be able to look at the clips.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to start looking at web sites out there that have the type of information and content that you want to provide. You want your site to be eye appealing as well as full of useful content for your customers.
So now that you are committed, or should be, getting started is actually pretty easy.
Getting Started With A Name and Site
The first thing to do is to come up with your dot something name. This exercise should really be done on paper before hand and I would suggest you come up with your ideal name and then a very long list of alternatives unless you have something that is quite unique. With as many sites out there already, you may find your choices are very limited. The easy way of course to see if it is taken or not is to simply get connected to the internet, fire up the browser, and then tell it to look for www.yourfavoritename.com and see if it exists. You do have some alternatives if the .com name you really want is not available. One is to see if .org, or .net is taken, another is to look for another country code might work for you. How about www.yourfavoritename.tv ? One of my sites is now www.drbob.ws as in Western Samoa. Many countries will allow you to use the name with their high level domain for a fee and usually, those fees are very reasonable. My advise though is to stick with the dot com, dot net, dot org, or one of the new dot names coming out that are licensed by ICANN, the internet policing agency. There are a ton of web sites out there that will tell you if any of these names are available and what I usually do is to go to Network Solutions, www.networksolutions.com and check through them. If you do find a name available, then by all means, get it locked in and buy the name. The cost will be usually $7 a year and sometimes less if you go a few years out. For a place to pickup a name, look at www.godaddy.com or www.webhostinganddomains.net which is who I use.
The next thing to do is to select a host site to "host" your web name. I have done considerable research on this and have found that www.hostway.com out of the Chicago area, is very competitive, has a lot of features, is reliable, and at a good value. This is the company that I have used to host my personal web site and my business site. Cost of the host site ranges from less than $10 per month to over $250 per month depending on features and that is where the list above of features we talked about is important. The $10 site gets you five mail boxes, limited features, and space for a basic site with limited traffic to the site. This is what I have done with my www.sanbornsoftware.com site. You can look at that and see it is a basic, few frills and features, web site. Additional monthly costs will include multiple mail boxes and accounts, secure site for shopping carts and the like.
When selecting your web host, you need to consider access to it as well. Most host sites, including Hostway, have no dial up access for getting your email and updating your web site so you need to have regular internet access. Now most people, already have internet access from companies such as AOL, Microsoft MSN, Earthlink, or a local internet access provider like I use. This gives me access to the email, internet, and to allow me to update my web pages. But remember, you are paying extra for that access to that provider from usually $20 to $25 per month so when selecting the web host, you might check with your local provider to see what the cost is and if it includes local access. You may find the additional cost of hosting not that much more. Of course, if you are concerned with things like your site being always up and online, you might decide that a larger company is warranted.
Now comes the difficult part of determining content, how extensive the site is to be such as the features discussed above, graphics, and how often it is to be updated.
Developing A Web Site
If you look at some of the splashy web sites out there such as Microsoft, Pepsi, CNN, and ESPN, you will see there is a ton of content, video clips, active buttons, and the like. They are very cool, great to look at, and they cost a bundle to develop and maintain.
My recommendation is to keep it simple. Nothing frustrates someone looking at a web page more than waiting a long time for graphics to download so keep them small. The best size for a graphic is the smallest you can make it and still keep it visible and recognizable. When scanning for the web and building graphics, keep them no more than 90 dpi in resolution size. Also when building your image, be sure to consider that most computers are still looking at images at a screen resolution of 800x600.
The more you can put together in the way of content, graphics, and images, the lower the cost of the project especially if you are using an outside source for development and if you do use an outside source for development, by all means, get copies of everything they do. If things go wrong with that developer, you want to be able to immediately pull the plug and move on to someone else.
Doing the web site yourself can actually be pretty easy with so many tools available today. It seems that every high end word processor, publisher package, and even many of the minor publishing programs will build the web HTML code for you. Tools that I use for web development include for graphics, Paint Shop Pro from Jasc software, and Photoshop from Adobe. For web development, I use Go Live from Adobe. Alternatives are Front Page 2000 from Microsoft, and Page Mill from Adobe. For uploading the finished web products to the host site, any FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program will work and I use WSFTP, available on the web.
Finally, as to cost, developing a web site can be quite expensive if you are having it done with outside help. This is especially true if you depend on the developer to do all the design work, scan images, build graphics, and the like. This type of work can take a long time and can be very expensive. The same holds true if you want them to develop the shopping cart, secure site, passwords, and database information on your site. For these types of features, look at what the host site can provide for you.
More and more companies are doing incredible things on the web from customer relationships management to selling all sorts of products and finding that it really enhances business. Then again, there are many who have sunk tons of cash into their web sites to only find that no one visits and those that do don’t stay long enough to see who you really are and what your business is. That is were the initial planning really pays off in the long run and it should for you and your business.
Email Robert Sanborn at:
Copyright 2004 Sanborn Software Systems LLC
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