BushArts.com - Web Site Considerations
Recently we went on holiday. We booked our flights online. We researched and booked our accommodation online. We researched and ate at places that we could see a menu or sample online first, and we visited places that we could study online first. We did NOT visit any place that didn't have a decent relevant website to see.
People are looking for you online!
Even if it will only show the hours that you are available, what you do or sell, how to get in touch, a background CV, or just another relevant item of interest, a decent web site is now virtually compulsory, is not very difficult to arrange from scratch, and usually not very difficult to improve if not working very well.
From scratch, it is a Four Part Process...
- Develop the Content...
- Purchase a Domain Name...
- Buy space on a reliable Web Server...
Most Web Developers will be able to provide or recommend solutions to each, but that's not where it ends. There are many little issues that needs to be addressed "behind the scenes" to have a fully functioning web presence... the fourth piece.
So before you do any of the above, a few factors need to be considered first, regardless of who you get to build the site.
Seek solutions to these questions first...
What do you want to do with the site?
The first question every good developer should ask.
Some people only need a site as a static reference for visitors to look up, others only need an email function. Then there are sites requiring a database solution, a visitor feedback or forum, an online store, an image gallery, an interactive area or other site activity. Some will only need a rare update, others may want daily activity.
What you want from the site, and what you want to do with it, will have a huge effect on how the site content is created and presented.
Design and Content
Why does Content come first?
The content of your site should dictate how the pages are constructed, what type of site you would have, what computer "languages" are used, and on what equipment it is hosted. The Style or Design of your site will not matter until you know how much content you will actually have, as the quantity alone will affect the page size settings, menu system required, and type of backend coding needed.
There are many ways to create a Web page, and indeed many ways to view one. Your visitors are extremely unlikely to all be viewing your site on the same sized screen, with the same Web Browser, or with even the same local computer settings. These are just some of the factors that need to be considered first, and the amount and type of content that you wish to show, should dictate how these factors are handled.
Try a rough draft of the Home or About/Contacts page for yourself, does not matter whether you write it by hand, use a word processor, or draw it. Getting an idea of how much content, and what it may lead to is the key.
Is it Relevant?
Consider the content necessary to be on the site, if it looks good but has nothing of relevance for your visitors, there is not much point in them visiting, and you will not get value from it. Vice versa... if the content is what people are looking for, but the site is relatively not as pretty, chances are your visitors will have achieved their purpose for coming ...and the site will prove its worth. Are you reading this because it might have a pretty colour scheme, or because it is relevant to your needs?
Consider the words a visitor would use to search for a site like yours. If you want to get the visitors that are really interested in what you have to offer, then the words a visitor may search for, will need to be included within your page content. This will let the search engines (EG: Google, Yahoo, Bing etc) know that your page has appropriate relevance, and therefore be listed much earlier in a search.
Who do you expect the site to be viewed by?
A properly constructed site will be viewed not only by your clients, potential clients, friends and interested visitors, but will also be looked over by your competition. The Web is International, don't fall into the trap of creating only for a local audience. What is it that you want the site to say, and how much information do you wish to disclose?
How will people get around within the site?
Navigating throughout the site is another area worth putting a lot of consideration into. People need to know where to get the information they want quickly, and also need to understand just where within the site they are at any moment.
Also, put some careful consideration into the future of the website. You may start with only a few pages, expecting to grow the content over time. Plan ahead for future growth, and the site can be coded to allow for growth or additional content without disrupting the existing. Failure to allow for growth may mean starting from scratch every time you want to update the site.
So how should it look?
This is very subjective, but it should always be your choice. Is there an existing site that you would like to show your designer? Are there other sites with features you would appreciate having?
Remember, it is YOUR site, not a showcase for your designer.
Avoid the "Fancy" stuff!
Fancy stuff on any page, (Page transitions, cute animations, scrolling text, unneeded intro's etc), may be interesting once, but most surfers will have seen it done before, and will only find these annoying upon subsequent (if any) visits.
The size of any files you wish to display is incredibly important. Just because you can watch a 10 megabyte movie instantly on your own computer, does not mean that your website visitors will be able to. The same applies to large photographs, or any other website content.
All content is merely computer data to be transferred, and many of your visitors may have limits or restrictions on how much data they are able to view without incurring "excess" fees, or may even have restrictions on how quickly they will receive it. Make sure everything you are providing is optimized down to the smallest possible data/file size.
Sites made only with Macromedia/Adobe "Flash" often top the list of the most annoying sites on the net, and are difficult for search engines to list. These often are the most beautiful to see sites anywhere, ...but people really do hate having to wait for the entire show to load, and often go elsewhere without waiting to see the page.
Who owns the material?
Who holds the copyright? You - or your designer? Do you get a copy of the original source files, or just a license to use? Should the designer be allowed to put a "Site created by..." notice on any page?
Is it well coded?...
There are Standards for web design. Current HTML standards were released years ago.
Many reasons for coding to the Web Standards, not least of which is that it is actually easier to write valid code!
The languages used on the web are the simplest of all computer languages, if your designer cannot handle the simplest stuff, there must be some doubt on what you are getting.
One Disclaimer... There are a couple of minor issues with current Web Standards that may prevent a designer from achieving 100% validity perfection. Minor issues only.
When getting a site made, is the design to use valid, up to date coding? (there is no excuse for not at least being close to valid code, the current web standards are over 5 years old - is your designer?). Disqualify any designer that does not have their own site up to standard.
Recommended techniques imply separation of presentation and content. This means that your pages are not bogged down with coded instructions on how pretty it should look.
Site pages written to the current web standard have a much greater chance at being successful, are much less likely to run into viewer or browser problems, and will thus stand a better chance of being supported longer. What would you think a site that contains invalid code, or is poorly designed, will tell your viewers about you?
There are also legal obligations regarding accessibility for disadvantaged persons to be considered, and these are legislated Government requirements.
Will your site be accessible to everyone, including those with older web browsers or Mobile telephones? ...or limited to people with specific computer setups? Should people come back often for another look, or an update? You can help your designer out by discussing these parameters first.
You would think that your designer would both test your site, and check on the validity of the code before presenting the pages to you wouldn't you?
Use the W3c's Web Validation service to check your completed page/s yourself.
Visit the W3.org site, type in the address to your page, and you will receive a report on the level of validity of coding on that page. If any errors are found, ask why! This is a free service from the web standards people. There is also software available to do this from your own home or office computer.
Most importantly, check the site yourself on different computers, and check by using different Web browsers, get all of your friends to look for you as well. Check with your Phone or Tablet as well. Do not accept a single error outside of any set parameters. Do not accept any page that takes longer than about 10 seconds to show some content. Do not "sign off" on the site without thorough checking.
You will need to purchase a domain name, usually for a period of one or two years.
Your Domain name (Web Address) would be the part before (and including) the ".com,.net,.org" or ".com.au" etc.
Aussies have access to the .com.au domain name under certain conditions. There are both pros and cons with the .au extension. The .au extension identifies you as Australian, and has eligibility criteria that restrict it to a reasonably legitimate user.
A .com name is much cheaper, but the most popular have long been taken.
(you can have both).
Shop around for the best Domain name price! It is quite common to find large variations between sellers, and don't forget to "renew" your domain name ownership once your initial term expires!
You should also have some degree of access to your Domain name and any associated passwords after purchase. You will also need to watch that it is in your (or your company) name. Whoever has the name registered to them, at their web or email address, has complete ownership of the site.
Don't make it difficult!
As for the site name itself, bear in mind that people will need to type in your site name at some stage. You may even pass it on via a business card or over the telephone. Very long names, or names containing difficult keyboard characters (eg: hyphens, tildes etc) are just not practical, and should be avoided at all cost.
Keep your choice of domain name as simple as possible; easy to say or type = easy to remember; hard to say or type = people will go elsewhere.
Web Space (Hosting)
You will need a Computer Server to "Host" your site. There are many companies that provide this service, either based within Australia or overseas. Whilst it is quite common to have the site hosted as close as possible to the majority of expected viewers, there are many advantages in having the site within the same time zone. Usually your designer will recommend a suitable hosted plan and company, or may self provide this service.
Site Hosting in particular involves a few background setup issues. These should be addressed as part of your total site structure, and are usually dependant on your site content.
How reliable is the equipment used to host your site? How reliable are the Host owners? Who do you get in contact with should there be a site problem? Can you get easy online access 24/7? Does the price represent competitive value? Will the hosting company be around in years to come? Do not believe any claim or guarantee of 100% uptime, it is simply not realistic.
What provisions for site security will there be? Is it likely to be "Hacked"? Will personal and private information be secure? Is your (and your clients) email address to be protected from spammers? Does your content need additional security, or are you prepared to see it copied elsewhere? Who gets the site and domain password and site details?
What server features are available? Which of these features are of benefit? How is email handled from this site? Is the email setup to match the Domain name? Can you use the site from Home as well? What other features are available? What sort of feedback will you get about your site visitors? Can people easily get in touch with you from the site, with specific questions? What happens if it doesn't work? Do you get to redirect people that make a typing mistake? Do you get your own Icon to show in a Browser address bar?
Will your site be found by search engines? or lost among the millions of others? Build it and they will come? Not!
Will the search engine "robots" be able to accurately list the parts of your site that you want them to? Will the "Bad Robots" be told to go away?
Every single request to your site is "Logged" by the web server. Whether someone is viewing a web page, just an image, or any other request on your server, a record is kept in the form of a server log. These logs are then used to present the site statistics.
How do you get to access the Statistics for the site? What will the Statistics show?
How do you go about creating backup copies of the site? How often will you need to update the site? Never allow "out of date" information to remain visible. How much time do you have available to commit to the site yourself? Will you do the maintenance, or leave it all up to your designer? How long will it take to do an update? What happens if a server or software upgrade "breaks" parts of your site? Will you be charged for the repairs?
Content Management Systems...
One of the current trends within this industry is the use of "Content Management Systems" (CMS). Modern versions now output valid code. These are server based programs that allow an end user a very easy web browser based maintenance/updating process. They are very suitable for many small to medium sites, but do need to be setup correctly from the very beginning, and maintained regularly to prevent security breaches. Ask for a full demonstration before committing yourself to one of these systems.
Site requirements often change over time, coding methods go in (and out) of fashion, Web Browsers or Web Servers do get updated, and new security measures are occasionally needed, any of which can have a significant impact on an existing site. Ask for some allowances for the future needs of your site wherever possible, by building in the capacity to quickly and easily adapt to any necessary changes.
In example, this can be as simple as having little "invisible" comments within the web code, explaining how the pages are constructed, or having the menus written into an easily changeable external text based file, instead of being explicitly coded into each page.
Should you make yourself aware of how and why the site gets constructed the way it has, you will be much better placed to understand the consequences of any future internet changes.
There are Five factors that should make up your total pricing structure. And whilst each can be purchased independently of the other, many developers roll these together into a single packaged price.
- Domain Naming Fees (Street Pricing - .com & .com.au between Au$20 - $30 per year from a decent seller)
- Hosting and Bandwidth Fees (Street pricing - around Au$1.00 per Mb of space)
- Creative Fees (Many Pro's suggest an hourly rate between Au$70 - $120 per hour, allow 2 hours per page as a rough guide.)
- Coding or setup Fees (As above)
- Maintenance Charges (As above)
How long should it take?
Only you are aware of what you want the site to be, and how it should look. Have your specific ideas ready for your designer, and he/she will not have to charge you for the time they spend "guessing" about what you may want. Provide as much information as you possibly can, or even lay out a rough draft on paper or computer first. Any reasonably skilled designer should be capable of quickly converting your ideas into a web suitable format.
Have no ideas?, or nothing in preparation for a designer, and they will have to devote time to creating these for you. Be prepared to be charged a reasonable additional fee for this. The more "input" you have into your own site, the faster it will be created.
An example using the above figures... (.com name, sufficient space and bandwidth, one or two pages of Static information that you provide), should easily be under $500AUD completed, and should be fully operating within 48 - 72 hours. (Search engines may take a while longer to start listing the site). This example should be typically sufficient for most Aussie Small Business or hobby type sites to get started. Ongoing annual charges would apply to site and name fees.
Larger sites will naturally require more involvement from your designer, you would expect the pricing and time frame to reflect this. Alternately, you can do it yourself... where you only need to pay for the name and necessary site fees. The resulting page/s will mirror your own coding skill level.
Obviously there are many variables that would make up your own final quote, but feel free to use the above as a guide. Online financial transactions from your site will have further requirements, and would incur other charges and responsibilities also.
Social Network sites (EG: Facebook, Myspace etc) are for personal social use. Whilst you can easily setup and operate a page within these sites, they are not web sites that the general public can easily find or access, and should not be confused with a traditional site setup.
Web sites are not difficult to arrange, and are not difficult to code. Ask the above questions of your designer/s first, if you do, and get the right answers, chances are you'll get better than expected results.
Often we see, or get asked to repair, sites that are having "issues". In almost every situation that we've seen, every one of the "issues" could have been addressed by discussing much of the above before the site was created. There is so much more to a successful web site than just a few pages of html code.
The vast majority of designers we've come across are honest, hard working and reliable, and some possess absolute creative brilliance. Some others however, assume that because they have learnt how to use a computer program such as "Frontpage", "Dreamweaver", "Photoshop" or "Flash", they have automatically become expert web developers. Thus there are still a very large number of poorly built sites around. Far too many existing sites assume that they have a quality site, simply because they have paid well for it.
Get what you pay for? Time for a reality check. Ask first.