Understanding the Who, What and Why Will Save You Time and Money
When it comes to web development (building a website), most small and mid-sized companies understand they need to be online, but they usually don’t understand what is involved or what is practical.

In some instances, we have spoken to individuals wanting a site who barely could send us an email. Rest assured, the internet, smart phones, iPads and email are here to stay and the vast majority of companies without a web presence (we estimate 90%+) will fail over the next 5 years.

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Companies Yank the Cord on Residential Phone Books” stated “a survey conducted for SuperMedia, Inc. by Gallup shows that between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of households relying on stand-alone residential white pages fell from 24% to 11%.” That astounding figure means households are not using the phone book to find individuals. In the same article, the Yellow Pages Association claims half the people in the country still use Yellow Pages for business information. Even if those numbers are correct, (which we highly doubt), half of the country has abandoned yellow pages. Furthermore, the trend is likely to make hard copy (paper) directories a very minor portion of the market. There is a reason why Dex is now selling programs for online presence.

So what’s the point? People are looking on the internet for business information, not in the phone books. In the case of professional care services like doctors, lawyers and dentists, your potential clients may be referred, but it’s a given fact they will “Google” you first before wasting time on a phone call. If you are not online, you need to get a site up. Furthermore, if you’re online and your site looks bad, you’re losing business and building a negative brand identity and scaring customers away.

Domains and Hosting Services
To move into the wide world of web, you need three things.

  1. Content – all the files, coding, images, database(s), scripts that will make up your site.
  2. Domain Name – the address you see on the end of emails and in advertisements. For example: www.mywebsite.com. “Mywebsite.com” would be your domain name. Domains are relatively inexpensive and once you have yours, guard it like it’s golden. Once you print it on your business cards and other advertising materials the last thing you want to do is lose it. Domains are typically renewed and billed on an annual basis.
  3. Hosting Service – a technical service where all your files (content) are kept on a server that is linked to the internet.  Hosting services come in all flavors and shapes. Some websites require specific services and hosting servers. Your developer should be able to advise you of what is needed. Hosting services are typically renewed and billed on an annual basis.

What does a cost to develop a website?
You want a website developed and you want to know what it will cost. Asking this question is similar to saying, “I want a house built; how much will it cost me?” To make matters worse, the whole service of web development spans the incredibly ridiculous cheap web $295 site developers to those who make the process seem like expensive advanced molecular quantum physics. As with most things, extremes are just that, extreme.

Truly professional sites begin in the low thousands and can move into five figures depending on what you design. Irregardless of your technical expertise, there are specific questions you can ask your developer that will give you an insight into exactly what you are buying. In the very end you are exchanging your money for a website. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what makes a good website and how to choose a great developer? Glad you asked!

Do You Develop for a Living?
There is a very marked difference between professional developers and people who build websites “on the side.” It’s not uncommon for us to receive a phone call from a frustrated individual who is half-way through launching a site only to find that his high school tech guru can no longer be contacted. The price was great, but the delivery never took place.

Reputable services make their livelihood servicing clients and strive for complete customer satisfaction. Choose a firm that has a good reputation with previous clients. It’s ok to ask for references but remember you won’t get any bad ones. They should also be able to provide you with a list of links to sites they have developed. Check out the sites. Make sure everything displays correctly and click all the menus and buttons to ensure there are no broken links. The pages should load fast and the design should be appealing and simple to understand.

Can I make changes myself?
Next to the “how much is this going to cost” the second most heard question among developers is “Can I change the site myself?” The answer is a simple, yes (assuming you know some basic coding knowledge).
One must face the fact if building websites were easy, developers would not be needed. That being said, more and more sites are being built with CMS (content management system) platforms.  These types of sites allow the customers access to their sites via a “control panel” or “dashboard.” Users can usually make easy changes to the site by using an interface similar to a Microsoft Word formatting pallet.

Simple type changes to web page layouts can be made depending on the client’s level of expertise. Web pages are the result of many lines of code. The simple web page may have over 100,000 characters that describe its look and function. What may appear very simple may in fact be technically challenging.

Make sure you understand if your website is being built with static HTML pages or by using a CMS system like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla or DotNetNuke. In most instances, there are no software fees with these types of systems since they are GNU General Public License. The advantage of a CMS is that global changes can be made much easier than static HTML pages. Furthermore, these systems have a large amount of modular plug-ins allowing additional functionality to be added without having to start writing code from scratch.

Steps to Building a Site
Almost all website development can be defined in three major phases.

  1. Investigative – This is where you talk to your developer about what you want your site to do, how it should look, and what content should be included. For simple sites, most developers will accommodate this step without a fee. In many instances it is a simple discussion that allows the developer to determine the amount of work involved and assign a budget to the project. For larger corporate sites, this fact-finding mission make take a fair amount of time to define, in which case developers usually bill for the time required to “spec out” a site.
  2. Wireframe / Creative – Once the site is defined, a wireframe diagram and designs for the home and tier page(s) will be developed. With these items, the client can see the amount of pages in the site, how they link together and see an image of what sample pages will look like.
  3. Coding – After the wireframe and page designs are approved, the next and final step is coding and testing of the site.  Initially, several test pages are coded and tested before beginning the development of all pages. Usually these pages are built on a test server using a different URL than your current site and moved to your domain for final launch.

Unless otherwise agreed upon, you will need to provide content (text), images and logos. Web developers can provide these services but they are usually in addition to the costs for design, coding and implementation. Developers will generally add keywords and page titles as part of a SEF (search engine friendly) site, but ongoing SEO (search engine optimization) is a separate project.

Most developers will honor their work for a period of 30 to 90 days in case any issues arise from their work. Make sure you ask your developer how they will test your site. Properly developed sites should display in all modern internet browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Additionally, sites should display correctly on various computer platforms such as Window or Apple. Since the standards governing the web by the WC3 are not adhered to by all companies, various coding work arounds are needed to achieve proper display on the majority of computers. These “hacks” can be very tricky!

A professionally designed website is a substantial investment for any company. Based on the vast audience and 24x7x365 presence, websites are the best marketing expenditure you will ever make. If your aspirations are high but your budget is low, plan on building your site out in phases. Make certain you understand what you are purchasing and don’t be swayed by technical jargon. If your developer cannot plainly explain what is involved and why it costs, politely thank them and find someone else.