10 New Questions to Ask Before Setting Up a Website

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You're probably too young to remember 1997, but it was a wild period of growth for the Web. Dancing babies appeared on every other website. Amazon.com sold only books. People used their new email accounts to frantically warn loved ones about the ring of kidney snatchers that left their victims in bathtubs full of ice. Some of the first non-Star Trek-related personal websites appeared. People were inundated with unsolicited email called “spam”. Well, some things don't change.

It was in '97 that I wrote an article called “Ten Questions to Ask Before Setting Up a Website” that appeared in our newsletter and on our site. At the bottom of each article on our site is a form that a visitor can use to email that article to a friend. By far, the “10 Questions” article has been sent most often.

However, it's been an Internet lifetime since I wrote that article. The boom and the bust are behind us and it's time to reexamine these questions. There's still no one correct answer, but the questions apply to everyone.

1. Do I need a website?
Maybe you don't. It could be that your marketing dollars are better spent somewhere else. However, many people won't discover your services through any other means. The Internet has become an expected tool of modern business like the phone or fax, and companies or professionals without one may appear out-of-step.

2. What are my goals for the site?
If you do decide to move ahead, it's important to know why you're building the site. Is it for sales or marketing? Is it a tool for communication or an online brochure? Do you want to sell products through the site, or just educate consumers about them? Do you want to increase membership in your organization, or offer Web-based benefits to current members? Do you want visitors to email you? Call you? Subscribe to a newsletter? Knowing your goals will help focus your ideas for the site.

3. What am I trying to sell or promote?
Even if you don't like the idea of selling yourself, it's what we all do, every day, if we want to be successful. Don't be afraid of sales and marketing. Finding the answer to this question will determine what are the most important themes of the site, what to name the buttons, and the tone to use when writing the content.

4. What are the components to getting a website up and running?

  • Design & Development: The architecture of the site needs to be built. An appropriate look and feel must be designed. The copy needs to be written and any additional tools such as online forms, shopping carts and audio clips need to be added.
  • Hosting: Just as you might rent office space, your website needs to be hosted somewhere so people can reach it.
  • Upkeep: Once live, a good site continues to post fresh material, giving people a reason to return.

5. What content do I need to build the site?
First, create an outline around the themes you want to promote. Second, remember that each line of the outline is a page that needs content–text and images that will help educate your visitors. The images may include a logo or photos of people or products. Poor quality photos or bad clip art can make the most attractive site look amateurish; sometimes no photos can be better than poor ones.

6. Do I hire a professional or do it myself?
If you have the skills, the time, the talent and most importantly the desire to design and develop the site, then by all means, do so. However, keep in mind that when you hire a professional–whether it's to create a website, change your oil, or give you financial advice–you immediately acquire thousands of hours of experience, access to the latest tools of the trade and insider knowledge of the industry. Since an unprofessional website can be worse than no site at all, I strongly suggest to do what you do best and outsource the rest.

7. What are my responsibilities to create an effective site?
Even if you hire a professional Web developer your input is essential since no one knows your business as well as you do. Before you hire a developer you should review their portfolio and ask for referrals. You should expect to help develop a site outline with your developer, pull the copy together and give input on the layouts presented to you. Once your site is live you should also budget time to add content on a regular basis. You should reply to emails and inquiries in a timely fashion to show you haven't abandoned your site.

8. What will this cost for start-up? For ongoing maintenance?
This is a young industry so there's still a wide range in billing rates. The Pricing Guide for Web Services, Second Edition, found pricing from $25 – $250 per hour for Web work, and Web pages from $30 – $1,500. (Whoever's paying $1,500 per page, please call me so I can save you a few bucks.) As a rule, you get what you pay for. An experienced designer and developer are worth their weight in gold.

Here are some rough (January 2002) costs: you'll need a Web address for about $35/year and a one-time setup fee on a Web server of $25-50. A simple site between 5 – 15 pages might cost between $1,200 and $3,500; add $1,000 or more for e-commerce. Add-ons such as Bulletin Boards, multi-media, online newsletters and forms will all cost extra.

You should also budget money for search engine submissions, which were once free, but now can run into hundreds of dollars. We're currently recommending our clients budget $500 for this.

Ongoing costs include hosting fees that can range from $30 – $100 per month. Regular updates to your site (which is a good idea) can run another $25-100 and up per incident, depending on the amount of content involved.

9. How do I attract more traffic to my site?
Search engines, links, advertising and more. A good developer will make your site search engine friendly and submit your site to search engines and directories on your behalf. You should create reciprocal links with complementary sites. Consider advertising on specific search engines, email newsletters, and traditional media. Put your url (website address) on your business cards, stationery, voice mail, and so on. Send out free email newsletters. Add a Recommend This Site to a Friend form on your website. Continually update and improve on your site. Reviewing your site's traffic reports can alert you to what visitors are finding interesting and what they're ignoring.

10. How will I know that my site is successful?
Look at your goals every 3 to 6 months. Have you met them? If so, is it time to create new, more challenging goals?

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

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