What a web site is not
A web site is not:
- the beginning and end of your marketing/sales strategy.
- a once off effort
- automatically going to be seen by millions
- going to be number 1 in your search engine without effort
A web site is:
- an enabler for business transactions
- a generator of business contacts/leads
- a provider of information to existing clients
- a marketing tool
A web site should be just one component of you overall marketing/sales strategy. Any other marketing material you produce should include your web site address (URL). Without it you are wasting opportunities to direct customers to a place that has more information about you and your products and service than could be displayed in any other marketing format (newspaper, billboard, radio, TV etc)
Step 1 – Why do I exist
Consider your business/association/interest group and write down your purpose for being and the intended audience of your site. This will help to define what the priority of the site will be and also help in developing measures for the success of the site in the long run.
Step 2 – What is my name
If you do not have a name for your enterprise/association/interest group then think of one. Keep in mind that you will want to use that name in your web address (Domain Name).
There are many top level domains to choose from. If you are an Australian business/association/interest group you will probably want a domain name in the .com.au , .asn.au or .org.au top level domain. Notice the .au on the end of the domain to signify that it is australian. You can also use the more generic .com, .asn or .org that do not signify your country of origin. (by default US)
getting a good domain name can be problematic, as a lot of the shorter/better names have already gone. If you are looking for a “.com.au” (eg. inov8design.com.au) domain name you may be in luck because the rules for obtaining a .com.au domain restrict owners to ones that have a registered business or company name in Australia. If you are only looking for a “.com” domain name then you can have any name that you want as long as it has not already been registered.
You can visit www.who.com.au to search for registered/unregistered domain names. For more information on domain names please read this wikipedia article.
Step 3 – Register the domain name
You now have a business name in mind and the domain name is available. Grab that domain name now and do not delay. (If you want an australian .com.au you will have to register a business name first. ) A good web site designer should be able to arrange the domain name (not business name) for you, failing that there are a number of online sites you can go to, to register a domain name. (eg www.cheapdomains.com.au, www.godaddy.com or www.melbourneit.com.au – there are many more)
The cost of registering a domain name varies between registrars. A .com domain can go for as little a few US dollars per year. A .com.au domain should can be as little as $AU40/ 2 years to register. Just confirm that the registrar is an accredited domain name registrar for that domain. Higher prices do not mean the domain name is any better/safer than the cheap ones. It just means the registrar is making more from the deal. Visit the auDA web site for more information about australian domain name management. Do a google search for “domain name registrars” to find a suitable registrar. Check out a few before you jump in. The prices and services can vary a lot.
Pause to reflect
At this stage you may have just about sunk out of your depth, technically speaking. If you are not planning on designing and developing your own site then it time to get in a professional like inov8 design. (plug for self). Do a google search for others in you area if need be. look for “Web design or web development or web hosting” Ask to see some examples of there work. Ring one of their customers and ask what their experience was like.
A good web site developer should ask you a lot of question about your business and should try to understand your goals for the site.
When comparing the costs of having a professional develop your site compared to doing it your self please consider the following:
- Purchase of design software (html and graphic)
- Your time in learning html, css and other scripting languages
- Your time in putting it together
- Graphic design capabilities
- Knowledge of font and colour usage
- Knowledge of useability and accessibility standards
- Search engine optimization
- Database support
- Experience !!!
It all adds up. If any of these issues concern you then you should be looking for a professional to help you.
There are some do it yourself, templated solutions available from some providers. These may offer a quick and cheap solution to get a site up and running and are a valid option to try out. Remember there is more to getting a quality site other than html skills alone. Knowledge of colour and font usage is critical as well as graphic design skills. Yes you may have a site but it will probably look like crap and not be intuitive to navigate. (There are exceptions of course)
A good web site developer should closely involve you in the following steps.
Step 4 – Defining an information structure (map)
Defining the structure of your sites information is a very important step in planning how your site will be mapped out to users. Consideration must be given to way the users would expect to find the information. Site navigation links must be clear and meaningful to the users.
Steve Krug in his book “Don’t make me think!” argues that you should be able to use a web page without expending any effort thinking about it . Current convention would suggest a few “must have” links on your sites homepage. People have got used to these type of links being available.
- About us
- Contact us
Keep it simple, keep it clear. The user does not want to think how to get around the site or where they currently are.
If you have a logo, if you have colour preferences, if you have photographic material, if you have product/service information gather it all together as this will assist in developing the scope and functionality of the site.
Step 5 – Design, Develop and Publish
If you have successfully defined your information structure and you have gathered all the resources then all that is left is to put it together, test and check it then publish to your live site.
Designing the graphical look and feel of a site is critical to its success. Consistent and complimentary use of graphics, colours, fonts and white space play an important role in the design of a web site. There are accessibility (sight impaired users) and usability(ease of use) standards that should be followed.
An understanding of the bandwidth usage issues of a design can improve the visual performance of web site to users. Consideration needs to be given to those that may not be accessing the site from a broadband connection.
Some general design issues to consider:
- Avoid a motherhood statement on your homepage.(unless you business is life coaching or motherhood statement writing) People are not interested in your goals and life events. They have enough problems of their own. People come looking for products/services/information. Give it to them.
- You don’t have to use every colour in the rainbow on a single page
- You don’t have to try out every available font. Stick with one and use size and weight to make things stand out.
- Beware of colour combinations.(e.g. A purple or blue background with red writing is very difficult to read.)
- You don’t have to cover every inch of the page. White space is your friend.
- Multiple flashing items on a page can distract and annoy the user.
- As people read from left to right, so they view web pages. Structure you site accordingly so that the important information comes easily to the eye.
- Keep lines of text to no more than 15-20 words long
In saying all this there are exception and artistic licence can be invoked. But beware, it takes some skill to break the rules and get away with it.
Choose an appropriate development platform. There are a range of web development technologies available, each have its pros and cons. The operating system of your web site host will play a major part in defining which technologies are available. Some common technologies you might hear about are:
- PHP – open source multi platform software for dynamically-generated web pages
- ASP – Active Server Pages (ASP) is Microsoft’s Server-side script engine for dynamically-generated web pages
- ASP.NET – ASP.NET is a set of web application development technologies marketed by Microsoft only available on windows servers
- ColdFusion – ColdFusion is an application server and software development framework used for the development of computer software in general, and dynamic web sites in particular. Available on multiple platforms.
- PERL – Perl is a dynamic programming language available on multiple platforms
- Flash – Flash is a multi-platform multimedia authoring and play back application
- Flex – Rich internet application development framework based on Flash
The development process is not a one way street. Continual review and appraisal of the site should continue during the development phase. With proper planning in the early stages this should not be to time consuming.
A web site is generally hosted by a web site hosting service. Your web site designer/developer should be able to suggest and arrange a hosting option for you. The hosting service is usually separate from your normal Internet services provider (Dial up or Broadband Service). In considering a hosting service take into account the following issues
- Once off Setup Fees
- Monthly fees – all the issues below will have an affect on the monthly cost.
- Bandwidth limits per month – unless you have a highly popular site or you have a large number of images or video to be viewed then up to 1Gb/month (Giga Byte) should be sufficient
- Hard drive storage space – If your site makes use of a lot of video and images then your site may need some significant space. Most small business web site will use less than 100Mb (Mega Byte). Many will be under 10Mb.
- ** Geek Alert ** Scripting language support – ASP,PHP,CFM, ASP.NET, PERL etc. The scripting languages allow for dynamic generation of the web pages given some user input. (eg. forms and applications)
- Database support and space – access to MS Access, MS SQL or mySQL database products
- Email account availability and space
- E-commerce support (if needed)
- Web site usage statistics – lets you track the usage and monitor the success/failure of your web strategy.
- Technical Support
- Speed (Site hosted overseas can tend to be slower when accessed from within Australia. The bandwidth between countries is limited and can lead to slow downs. Conversely that site might respond very well in the overseas country and if that is where your target audience is then that could be the option for you)
- Locality of servers – relates to the speed issue and whether you like to support a local provider.
In having a registered domain name you are now able to have email accounts that use your domain name (ie firstname.lastname@example.org). Your web site host or developer can arrange for this to be put in place. (obviously there will be a cost for this. It many cases it will come free with your web site hosting solution).
If you have a domain name you can set up the email component without the web site. This may be a cheap way to start online with a professional looking email address.
Step 6 – Maintain the site
Creating a web site is not a once off event. You should be continually reviewing the content and function of your site. If you have photos of products show them. If you have prices, display them and keep them up to date. If you have promotional notices on the site then remove them as soon as the time period has passed. If you say you will publish a monthly newsletter don’t publish at random multi monthly interval. Beware what you promise. People don’t like being short changed.
Your site will require regular tuning to maintain or improve your ranking within popular search engines. This process is call Search Engine Optimization.
Start small and get online today. Over 70% of all Australians have have access to the internet . More people are shopping or researching a purchase via the web. Get your products and services out there. You have to be in it to win it.(sorry for the cliche) If you want to take the next step then talk to a good web developer and discuss your options.
Remember having a vibrant link worthy web site can take some commitment in time and effort to maintain.
 Krug, Steve. Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Indianapolis, 2003.
 NSW Department of State and Regional Development http://www.business.nsw.gov.au/aboutnsw/infrastructre/D10_internetusers_intl.htm