What do I need to get a website?

May 11, 2008 business
This post is more than 18 months old. Since technology changes too rapidly, this content may be out of date (but that's not always the case). Please remember to verify any technical or programming information with the current release.

This article covers the basics of what you need to know to get your business on the Internet fast and successfully.

You Have a Need and Have Ideas to be Successful

With very little exception, companies are only successful with internet presence if they have a real need to be online. If you make a personal website about yourself, you can only expect a few of your close friends to visit it. If you have a company and think you need a website, you must have a need to be online.

Do you have products that you want to sell online? Do you have a portfolio that you can showcase on your website? Do you have a clear call to action?

Think about visiting your website as a potential customer – take away the ownership of the products and business you have and look at it objectively. What do you have to offer online? Why would you visit this website? Think about other websites that you have visited looking for product information. Which ones were successful enough to make you book mark the page or generate a sales lead from you?

Make sure to have a need for your website. If you don’t have a clear goal, there is no way to measure success – and your investment could be a waste.

Now that you’ve determined that you have the need to be online, how are you going to present that need to your visitors? What ideas can you convey to get your visitors to understand the legitimacy of your need?

Come up with all kinds of ideas – the more the better. This is VERY IMPORTANT: If you’ve never seen it done online, do NOT rule it out. List it as your idea. This could make your website breakthrough and different! Don’t expect your website creation firm to know everything about your product – it is your idea that they are here to help you build. Go wild.

Focus On a Realistic Timeline and Budget

I have to interject this here just to take back the reigns. Remember, although you can pump out a million ideas, only a few are those are cream of the crop that you want to put into your website. While you may not know the timeline and charges that your website creation firm may charge, brace yourself for hearing the real-life estimates and timelines.

When working with your firm, expect them to give you the hard news – feature A may take 3 months to develop and cost $20,000. Can you accept this? This is where you have to start deciding which parts are important to fit into your budget and timeframe. Don’t become discouraged, however! Keep a list of your ideas. You never know when you’ll have the chance to revisit and add new functionality to your site.

Have Information – Your Firm May Not be Experts at Your Field

Unless you’ve specifically contracted a firm that says they will develop all of the copy, pictures and data for your website, you can assume that they’re going to expect this information from you.

Creating a website requires both a monetary and time commitment from you. You will need to provide the technical details, wording and pictures/content of your website. You can rely on your firm to present this information in a clean, attractive, consistent manner – but they may be working at this in a far more algebraic manner than you may realize. One day, the firm may be working with an auto-body shop, the next day with a ceramics manufacturer. You can’t expect them to be experts at each topic. Finally, even after the firm has completed the website, it will be your responsibility to review it and make sure it meets your expectations.

Designer or Programmer or Both?

After having your ideas together, and gathering some initial content, it is time to find a firm to do your work. As with any industry, there are entry level technicians to highly skilled professionals. It is important to know what type of firm you need to accurately put your ideas into practice while sticking to a budget.

Web Designers can usually make a graphically appealing simple website. They may make a few pages, resize images, create logos, etc.

Web Programmers are those who can do the nuts and bolts of creating contact forms, forums, blogs, maps, interactive services, etc. Traditionally, web programmers have been known not to have the best artistic design sense.

Finally, a hybrid exists: Web Developer. This term generally is used to encompass a professional who can do both design work and programming.

With this in mind, if you’re making a simple website with a few pages, you may want to pick a designer. If you have a contact form or something simple like that, they might contract with another programmer to do the work for them. If you’re looking for a fully featured website, with many bits of interactivity, concise and attractive information presentation, and high impact, you’ll want to contract a developer.

You don’t need to ask them what their ‘label’ is – you will be able to determine this from their work portfolio for tips on what kind of professional they are. If all else fails, present them with your requirements and see if they can make it happen. Remember, if you don’t feel comfortable with them, move on.

Web Hosting

While I get into the specifics of web hosting more here in this article, I’ll cover the main idea here.

You need web hosting. Web hosting is space on a computer that is always on with a fast internet connection. This is the computer that stores your website. Prices for hosting can vary depending on the company and features of the hosting. You do not need to purchase the hosting from the firm you contract for your website. However, your site may have specific technology requirements, so not just any offering may suffice. Generally, you can purchase hosting from the firm you’re working with for your site, however, to make everything seamless. This is usually a monthly or yearly reoccurring charge. Make sure to build this initial charge or setup fee into your budget.

The last important thing to find out from your provider is the information required to access this service yourself – especially if you’re using the same provider as the firm contracted to design your site. You will need this information just in case you ever decide to move your site to a different host or hire a different firm.

Domain Name

I give more detail on what a domain name is in this article. However, here is the main idea.

You need a domain name to point to your web hosting. A domain name is those familiar www dot something dot com labels. You can have a .com, .net, .org, etc, domain name – there are a lot to pick from. This usually is an annual reoccurring charge. Some web hosting providers throw in the domain name for free.

The important thing to find out from your provider is how to access the domain name yourself to make changes. You (or your next provider) may need access to it if you design to switch services.

Search Engine Optimization and Submission: the Truth

When organizing and presenting your information, your firm may request a few different wording changes to your content. This might be used to boost the chance that a search engine, like www.google.com, might find your website or list it higher on the page. Overall, if you have quality content, there should be only tweaks to the actual design of the page – not complete rewrites of information.

If the firm promises to get your website on the front page of a search engine – or get you a top 10 listing – run away! There is no legitimate way to guarantee search engine placement. They may be practicing questionable tactics for search engine placement and optimization which could lead to penalties for your website.

Search engine submission services are not needed. With the advanced technology of search engines currently, one link from someone is all you’ll need. Years ago, these services may have been needed, but today they might even hurt your chances of being listed as a high quality link in the top search engines.

Update Plan for your website

As your business changes, so might your products, portfolio, etc. You have two options to keep your website up to date. You could request a self-service website (commonly referred to as a “Content Management System” or “CMS”) or you could hire someone to make your changes when applicable. There are pros and cons to each solution.

When using a CMS, the initial development investment may be much higher. You may also be required to invest more time initially learning the system, adding content, and formatting your words and pictures. With a system like this, however, you are put into control of your website – you can make changes to it 24x7 – whenever you want to.

If you hire a firm to update your website, the initial roll-out costs are probably lower. If you like the firm you worked with for the initial deployment, discuss an update contract with them. They may cut you a deal on future changes to your website. If you did not like them, all is not lost. You may move onto another firm and they can make the changes. Keep in mind, a new firm may need some ramp-up time to get familiar with the website. They will also need the information for your web hosting to access your files.

It is important to have an update plan for your website. Once your website starts lagging behind your business, your successful leads will dramatically drop. You might also garner ill will from visitors who find out that the product representation on the internet is not accurate.

Last But Not Least, How Much is this Going to Cost? What is the timeline?

That’s the million dollar question – or at least you hope it isn’t!!

Don’t be afraid to ask for the cost of the project. Understand that there might be actual cost versus estimated costs. Ask the firm you’re working for how they plan to update you if the cost changes. Also, remember that some firms, especially smaller free-lance ones, require a down payment first.

Cost may vary between firms. You may shop around – but it is my experience that you won’t find a lot of bargaining and price lowering from web developers in particular. It is important to ask for reasons for the price difference – but then judge by their response as well as by their actual words whether you believe the price difference to be acceptable and reflect quality and services.

You may find that you will be quoted a certain number of hours at a specific amount per hour. For example, you may be quoted 20 hours at $100 an hour. Initially, this may sound like a very scary amount. It is important that you discuss with the firm what is all covered in that 20 hours, what happens if they’re under estimate or over budget, etc.

Scheduling 20 hours may be different than what you’re used to. You need to request a due date from the firm. Just because they quote 20 hours doesn’t mean they’ll be working on it for 3 days straight. You might find that they can fit your work in at five four hour blocks over 2 weeks. This is why it is important to discuss the actual due date of the project, and not just the billable estimate in hours.

There is no right answer for the final price. For the most part, one would hope that you get what you pay for. Be wary of an estimate that is drastically lower than anyone else’s. Also, if you receive an estimate that is drastically higher than anyone else’s, make sure that that firm understands the project requirements and your budget. It also could be that they just might not be able to make it work.

With All of this Information, How Do I Proceed?

First of all, check out the first few steps again. Make sure that you have your idea and need set, and determine if you have enough information to begin. Your firm may not be able to help you determine all of your needs because their expertise is internet service – not your business.

Next, contact your providers/firms of choice. Be completely honest. Say what you’ve done so far, what you need help with, etc. If a firm refuses to provide assistance with your initial planning, it doesn’t look like they’d be one to continue your project with. Politely remember that the more information you request from a firm to flesh out the details of your project, the more they’re expecting to work with you from start to finish. Don’t be surprised if they’re very reluctant to help you again if you request a lot of information and start planning with them – and then don’t choose them. It is not personal; it is just time investment from a business perspective.

So it looks like you’ve got your bullet points of what you need to know to get your business online. From here, it’s up to you. As always, if you’re looking for a firm to handle your project, visit the contact link on the 102 Degrees website!

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