Website Development

Does my business really need a Web site?
Yes, even if you are not selling a product online, it is expected by the buying public that your business will have a Web site. This will become even more important as the popularity and usefulness of the Internet increases (which it does, daily!).
What if I’m not trying to sell anything online?
Actually, most Web sites are not trying to actually sell online; they are giving the buying public information so that they can make informed choices (and hopefully, choose to buy from them). It can be very expensive to do online shopping carts properly and securely and this is out of range for most startup businesses.
Should I design my own Web site or outsource the work?
You can do the work yourself, but it’s very time-consuming and it must be maintained and updated on a frequent basis. If you are creative, have a good sense of design and have a lot of time on your hands, you may want to try your hand at creating your own site. Otherwise, you are probably best served by outsourcing at least part of the work.
Do I have to know any special programming?
No, not for the majority of Web sites. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is the current language that most Web sites use, and it is no longer necessary to have an extensive knowledge of this easy-to-learn language. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors such as Adobe Dreamweaver® or Microsoft FrontPage®—and most others on the market today—actually put in the HTML code for you. It is a very good idea, however, to have a fair understanding of the code because it is usually necessary to do some amount of hand-coding.

If you want to get into more complex functions such as animations, JavaScript and JAVA applets, databases and online shopping carts, it is necessary to know these programming specifics. You also need to know how to use a graphics program such as Paint Shop Pro (shareware) or Adobe Photoshop® (high-end graphics editing).

How do I find a good Web Developer?
One great thing is that you have the whole world to choose from, but be careful if you use someone outside your local area because it could be hard to resolve any disputes. If you are going to outsource your Web site design, make sure you keep these issues in mind when interviewing designers:

1. Can you view “live” samples of their work?
2. Do they use ready-made templates or design from scratch, custom or “canned” graphics?
3. Do they ask about your target audience and competition, and do they research for similar and complementary sites?
4. Do they price by the hour or by the job?
5. Exactly what is included in the base price and what is considered “extra”?
6. How long a review period is allowed to correct typos and other minor problems?
7. How much is charged after the review period?
8. Do they ask what YOU want in your site—do they encourage your participation and input?
9. Do they educate you on what they are doing or simply say “leave it all to me”?
10. Do they test the site on multiple browsers and/or platforms?
11. Do they use specialized descriptive and keyword meta tags and submit your site to search engines?

Where should I locate my site once it’s finished?
You can have your site hosted anywhere in the world! Most people, however, choose to have their site hosted by the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) where they have their online service. Before you decide on a host server for your business web site, make sure you read these:

Domain Name Registration (www.yourname.com)
You can register your own name or have your ISP do it for you. Choose your name carefully — it’s your identity to the world.

If registering through your ISP, preferable method, insist that all registration and contact information be in your company’s name (not the ISP’s name). Should you have an ISP that is not really reputable or if they should go out of business, you may find you don’t have access to or control over your domain name anymore.

Cost varies depending on ISP/Host, setup charges, etc.

ISP Server Setup Questions

1. How much space is available for pages? Any restrictions?
2. Do they offer Domain Name Hosting? (Many, such as AOL, do not.)
3. What is their “back-up plan” if their server goes down or if they go out of business (what happens to your site???)?
4. Do they offer a CGI bin for your scripts? If so, are there any limits or restrictions?
5. Do they offer full FTP access/Control Panel for uploading your site and changes or do you have to notify them each time you make changes? (Make sure you get full direct access to your space on the server). If you have to wait for someone at the ISP to upload your changes, you could wait for days. If you have direct access, the changes are instantaneous.
6. If using FrontPage to design your site, does the ISP/host offer FrontPage Extensions (A must in order to fully utilize all features of FrontPage).
7. Do you require a secure server (necessary only for online transactions involving credit cards or other sensitive information)?

How often should my site be updated?
That depends on what your site is offering. Some sites should be updated daily or weekly, some monthly and others less frequently. They should be updated at least quarterly with some type of new information, and you should test all hyperlinks (both internal and external) at least monthly and fix them immediately.
How do I promote my site?
Once you are satisfied with your site and it has been thoroughly tested, it is ready to go “live” to the world. The first thing to do is make sure that your URL (the Web site’s address) is on all of your marketing materials (stationery, business cards, brochures, flyers, yellow pages ads, etc.).

Next, send a “press release” to your local newspaper’s business section. Depending on where you live, they may accept this or not. Usually the smaller towns are more inclined to accept press releases of this type, but if you are offering something really special, useful or otherwise valuable to a large segment of the population, even the larger newspapers may accept it.

Finally, you should submit your site to all of the major search engines or directory services such as Google, Yahoo, Infoseek and AltaVista, etc. There are many of these services, some of which are very specialized, but your focus should be on the more popular search services initially. You can submit your site to several at once by going to a free service called Submit Express. Submission to all of the major search engines is free for basic service.

Once this is done, you can also consider such advertising methods as banners (there are some free “banner swap” services, but you have to agree to host their banners as well) and other types of paid advertising.

Another great way to promote your site is to find complementary Web sites in your local area (or even worldwide) and ask for a reciprocal link. In exchange for them advertising your Web site with a link, you will advertise theirs with a reciprocal link on your site. This is almost always free, but some people will try to get you to pay. Think long and hard before agreeing to pay for a reciprocal link unless it is from something like your local newspaper, radio or television station because the return on your investment is questionable in many cases.

How often should my site be updated?
The answer to this question varies so widely that it is impossible to give a good answer to all situations. Obviously, the least expensive in terms of dollars actually spent is to do it yourself using a shareware or freeware editor. You must then put a dollar value on the time it would take you to do the complete site, start to finish, including research, graphic design, content, uploading, testing, correcting, testing again, uploading again, submitting to search engines and maintenance. It’s up to you what your time is worth.

If you should decide to outsource all or part of the work, expect to pay about $45-$75 per hour, depending on what you need done. Prices vary, but this seems to be the average for full-service, experienced, quality designers. You can definitely pay less (sometimes much less), but remember that old adage: You Get What You Pay For. Quality design is time consuming and takes a lot of skill and knowledge in research, design, editing, programming and marketing.

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Contact Info

North Texas SBDC
Dallas County Community College Dsitrict
Bill J. Priest Institute for
Economic Development
1402 Corinth Street
Dallas, Texas 75215

(214) 860-5831
contact@ntsbdc.org