With the advent of the worldwide web came an evolution in the way business is conducted.
The web has changed the way we attract customers because we put up an "Open for business" sign when we put up a website. Think of a website as being as essential to a business as a sign out front.
To many business owners, the process of launching a website seems time-consuming, complicated and tricky ... and for most of us, best left to experts in such matters. But, take heart, it is possible to do a lot of it yourself if you are somewhat of a techie. Some insight and knowledge will go a long way toward website success.
No matter how simple or complex the website, there are steps and considerations involved:
* domain names, registration and site hosting;
* website goals;
* site plan;
* design and templates;
* programming, implementation and search engine optimization;
* maintenance; and
The first thing to do is to stake your territory by registering domain names. Choose a domain name that is meaningful to your customers.
If your manufacturing company is "Totally Super Products Inc.”
then choose "totallysuperproducts.ca" and "totallysuperproducts.com.”
They will be easy for your customers to remember. If both .ca and .com versions are available, register both and set one up as the main site and have the other point to it. That way, no matter which one is typed in, your site will pop up.
To see if a domain name is available, check a website designed for this such as: http://www.cadns.ca/cgi-bin/ WHOIS.pl You can register .com names through an online registrar.
NetworkSolutions.com is the biggest one, but there are others.
To support Canadian companies, register both your .com and .ca names through a Canadian registrar. Find all certified Canadian registrars at: http://ro.cira.ca /re-choose-en It costs $10 to register a .ca domain name. CIRA is the Canadian Internet Registration Authority and its website is a good place to start.
Hint: It is a good idea to register the domain name in your company's name to avoid the hassle and extra costs of transferring domain name registrations later.
Once a name is chosen and registered, a host is needed to publish your website. Hosting services are provided by the registrars found on cira.ca Before choosing which hosting option best suits you, the goals for the website should be determined. An online store, for example, needs different services than a simple brochure site.
Website goals include providing company, product, service and contact information (essentially an online brochure); a company blog to keep your clients up-to-date (digital newsletter); database building through surveys or contests (data harvesting); selling products (an online store); providing free information and forms for download (government agencies); providing a free service to users that is paid for through advertising (dictionary.com).
Planning is a major part of website development. A site map is the first stage in the process and is a way to determine how best to organize the information. It is a visual map of subjects in order of importance. At the top is the home page. Dropping down from that are the click-on subsections, such as History, About Us, Contact, Galleries, Store, Catalogue, etc. Dropping from these subsections are additional pages related to each of them. Cross-page connections and outside links will also be noted.
Hint: If a section is not vital, interesting and purposeful, then leave it out. A history that is six months long is likely not worth noting.
A site map requires knowledge of the company and a clear idea of website goals, but does not need to be technical ... if you have a napkin and a pen, that is sufficient! Note that this is not the design (look) of the website, just the layout (structure).
We now need the content - words, photos, product shots, maps, etc. for this website. Someone has to write each of the sections ... History, for example, needs to be a concise, interesting story. The overall content tone and language should be consistent, professional and suited to your target audience. The site should also contain keywords to make it easy to find by search engines.
Hint: A website is not the place for War and Peace ... use executive summaries instead or you risk that your audience will click away.
Branding is essential. That means that your company advertising material - ads, brochures, business cards, stationery, forms and website should share a common look and feel. The same colours, fonts, logo and design should make them look like a cohesive, professional unit. It goes without saying that the website design should mirror other material. Use a professional to achieve this. As a less expensive alternative to custom design, many companies sell website templates. If this choice is made, ensure that your branding is consistent. Provide logos, specific corporate colours and other materials so that the template matches as closely as possible.
Programming a website is done by trained and talented developers who are as prized and popular as a neighbour with a snowblower. They are expensive, busy and hard to find. A recommendation is helpful, as is perusing websites until you are suitably impressed. Contact information for the company or individual who programmed it is often included on a page. Before contacting them, however, ask the owner of the website (contact info is on the website) how happy he/she is with the experience of working with the developer. If it "... is beautiful but took forever," "way more than quoted" or "doesn't do what we expected it to," then keep shopping.
More complex sites need more complex programming, and perhaps more than a few programmers. For the sake of time, many larger websites are worked on by teams of programmers. Custom flash animation, database development, shopping cart capability and CMS (content management systems) will add to the cost and time of development.
Search engines, such as Google, need to be able to find your site. Search engines find websites by regularly scanning ("crawling") a website, so it has to be built in a way that makes it easy to read. This is accomplished through a combination of clean programming and careful content choices to include keywords everywhere.
Hint: Make sure your website is search-engine friendly.
Implementation involves uploading your website to a host server and doing what it takes to make it "live.”
It is like building a car, getting to the end, then turning the ignition. Hopefully your website roars to life and you have an effective online Porsche.
Hint: Make sure that your developer includes troubleshooting in their quote.
Your "Porsche" may require regular maintenance, especially if there are frequent updates.
Much maintenance can be done "in-house" by semi-savvy office techies if the site is programmed accordingly using a CMS. Make sure to specify in your site plan who will be doing the updates to catalogues, offers, contests, surveys, etc.
Hint: The person who designed the website is rarely also a brilliant programmer ... the skillsets are dramatically different. An architect is not usually also the drywaller.
Expect to pay upward of $50 per hour for specialized programming. Websites range in price from $1,000 (or less) for template sites to many thousands of dollars for complex ones. For on-time and on-budget delivery, make sure your goals and site plan are final before work begins. Changes afterward will almost always cost more.
A website is a form of communication to your clients, prospective clients, suppliers and trade partners. Not everything has to be explained on a website, and not every detail about your company has to be there. Provide essential information and encourage people to contact you. The best business is still done between real people ... the web gives us just one more way to promote this.
(Brenda McMillan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)