Building Your Web Site
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.
Dont 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 havent 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 com 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 long
list of alternatives. 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 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 ? 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 number 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 $70 for two years.
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 $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 one mail box, 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
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
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 dont 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.
Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant, and the
Program Chairman for the Indianapolis Computer Society. Reach him
through the net at firstname.lastname@example.org