Sunday, February 18, 2007

10 Things to Think About For Your First Web Site

A person I know has recently decided to take the plunge and develop her first web site for her business. She is, she says, "a people person and not a computer person". She is understandably a little lost as to how to even get started. Below is my answer to her.

Most non-technical people have no idea of how much of their time and money they are going to need to spend to have somebody do this. Everybody wants something like without having any idea that this site was probably way over 40K to produce and it’s hard to imagine how many artists, sound editors, flash animators, writers, editors, photographers, developers, testers, project managers and time went into it. You can get a very good site for $500 to $1,000 if you are very organized and willing to compromise.

You will generally get a better site and it will generally take much less of your time if you can spend more money, but I’ve seen some amazing sites done for very little money because the customer was so well prepared. There are some key things you can do that will make any site better and also reduce the costs. You should do most of this before you get real estimates for your site. Since it is harder to do this on the cheap, I will focus there.

Rules for a cheaper web site:

1. Know the vision, mission and goals for your website. It is probably marketing related; describing the business, contact information and maybe gathering names for a mailing list. But you might also want to ease office processes, like having forms to fill out or something like that. Go to your competitors' web sites and see what they do and what you like. Add these site addresses to your Favorites.

2. Let your webmaster pick a template for you and stay away from creating a design or a "look". If you get too much into what colors should be next to each other and how much space there should be between thing x and thing y add at least a $1,000 if not $10,000. In general it is cheaper to mix in on the design side as little as possible. I used to tell my customers on a budget "Don't let perfect stand in the way of good." Pick your colors in a general way like a bride might. Be ready to show a few printouts from a variety of designs of sites you liked from step #1. But otherwise just stay open. It never hurts to ask questions but something as little as specifying rounded corners .vs. square corners can cost you a bundle and send everything back to the drawing board.

Stay away from anything very arty. Pictures are OK, but not animations. Very arty sites are very hard to do well. Most of them are way too slow, are not very usable and do not get along well with the search engines. Technically most of what I’m trying to say here is; for sites done on the cheap, stay away from the computer program called Flash.

3. You will probably need your own URL. There are whole books written about this. It's a big deal. If you have any doubts at all, get some help. is the site to test different naming ideas. You can also go to and they will tell you who owns the URL. Even if they show a domain as unavailable, it's often worth going there or doing a google search for it. There are companies like that buy lots of address for the express point of reselling them. Often times they are not that much more expensive than going through Network Solutions.

4. You probably want your site to be professionally hosted and you will write a check to these people every month. There are free site hosters but your customers will really pay a bad price for this and it doesn't reflect well on you. There are lots of little things that will make a big difference in the price. Things like having the address be is more expensive. Having five email addresses at is probably free. Having 6 may cost you $10.00 extra a month. How many visitors you think you will have will be important. Are there going to be photos and videos on your site or will you link to other sites. Be willing to dive in here and really think these things through.

5. Document the kind of words your customers would type into a search engine to find you. These are called keywords for obvious reasons. I would recommend spending at least 40 hours on this. Yes, it really is worth a week of your time. Search for your competitors and see what words work for them and where they get listed. Make sure you have this down cold. You will need to create a Priority 1 list of approximately 20 to 40 words for the search engines. *

6. Create as much of the site as you can in Word or Excel. Use all the buzzwords that you came up with in the previous step as much as possible while creating easy to read prose. Make sure that you have all the pictures/photos done and all the copy solid. I mean solid as in “it's been through a professional editor” solid. Good professional editors that do not take very long to go through a few documents are are worth their weight in gold. Changing any of this stuff after the webmaster has done their magic will be much more expensive.

7. Now, if you want, you can take a shot at bringing up your own site. For a non-technical person I think this is similar in scope to asking a novice to create a real TV commercial by themselves, so expect a bit of a bumpy ride. Right now for sites on the lower end I like (they charge ~$8 a month) or There are lots of others, but these guys are not going anywhere. If you run into problems, get help first from a more technical friend before your paid consultant.

Bring up a space on MySpace. It will be ugly, but the experiance will be good for you and it's something you will probably need to do anyway and at least you will understand what MySpace is about.

8. With all that said, if I didn’t have any web presence in this day and age I wouldn’t start with a static web site. I would start with a blog. To answer the question of why this is true would take a whole other post, but users now expect a site that has dynamic content and they also want to forge a personal link with you. Plan on posting new entries at least three times a week, 5 days a week would be better.

9. Jump into the water and get your toes wet right now. You can do it without having to do all the dreary prep work listed above. All of the following sites have templates and you can you play around getting things the way you want all the time. I have a blog on just about every service for fun. I put my mother and mother-in-law on because it is by far the easiest to use. is another direction that might be a good start. For the more technical business types I would tell them to check out All of these are free, which is somehow OK in the blog world. is fun too.

10. It doesn't matter if you went with a blog or a site, now you need to get the name out. There are lots of tricks to do this and I say avoid them all. Just do a very good faith effort to 1) make your site relevent to your customers 2) take the word of your site to them, for example make thoughtful posts on other people's blogs and leave the address to your blog, and 3) give it some time. The Internet is a big place and it takes some time for it to sort itself out.

None of this is that hard, assuming you use templates for the design of your site and you have a technical friend that can be bribed by beer and/or cookies to get you through the rough spots. I think that non-technical types would be happier having the site built by somebody else but would do just fine with a blog.

Dive in and good luck!

* From the Keyword step:

A trick that may help generate keyword ideas is, as you visit competitors' sites, right click on the white space on the page and then choose “View Source”. You will then see a bunch of text/tags, most of which we don’t care about. Look for a section that looks something like: "META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="Power, performance, motivational, inspirational, quotes …” with angled braces around it. This is the list of the keywords that your competitors think are important and where your list of priority one keywords is destined to go. This will not work on every site, but is generally worth a try.

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