Choose DIY or Go with a Pro
Feeling adventurous? Are your creative juices flowing like floodwater? Do you enjoy learning new skills and sopping up new knowledge? Do you, as a user, know your way around the Web and have clear likes and dislikes about sites you visit?
Then you’re probably ready to take on much of the work of building yourself a Web site. Depending on how much functionality you need, you can even do it in a day, start to finish – your business, live on the Web!
But if you find basic word processor functions a challenge, have never uploaded an image from a digital camera to your computer or bought anything from a retail Web site, if you still haven’t set up that e-mail account you’ve been meaning to get to, it would be a very good idea to seek professional help. Web-building help, that is.
In this step, we’ll fill you in on:
- DIY Web Site Packages
- Choosing a Web Design Professional
- SEO and Red Flags
Some people think of this step at best as BBI – boring but important. But don’t be tempted to skip ahead to the fun parts. You’ll regret it later, or maybe sooner.
DIY Web Site Packages
Before you decide to build your own business Web site, be brutally honest in judging your own creative abilities or potential. This is tricky, because a lot of it is a matter of taste, and facing certain realities.
- When creating anything, do you have the ability to do it in a fresh or novel way?
- Do you have a sense not only of what appeals to you, visually and functionally, but to a wide audience?
- Are you color blind? (Many people don’t know the answer.)
- When involved in a creative task, are you persistent enough to work through the rough spots until you get it right?
If the answers to these questions add up to limited creative abilities, many DIY Web site packages, including site-builder software, will fill in the gaps for you.
Most include customizable templates – fill-in-the-blanks Web page designs that provide the visual look and feel of your site and have basic functions built in.
Some DIY packages include your choice of domain name, hosting, add-ons for more functionality, search-engine optimization (SEO) to boost your site’s visibility on the Web, and other basic but vital elements.
Before you choose:
- Be sure it includes 24/7 customer support. If one thing is certain in building and maintaining your own Web site, there will be bugs and you’ll have questions.
- Even with assurances of around-the-clock support, choose a provider in your own time zone. If they’re asleep while you’re awake, you can easily end up waiting 24 hours for the answer to even a simple question.
- Try it out. Most reputable DIY Web site providers now offer the option of downloading and trying their software free for a limited time.
That said, here’s a short list to get you going:
- Microsoft Office Live
- Godaddy Website Tonight
- Yahoo! Small Business
If you decide to try building your new website alone, consider a DIY package, at least to start.
There are many DIY packages that make it easy to build your new online home in the business boomtown of the World Wide Web. Most include customizable templates – fill-in-the-blanks Web page designs that provide the visual look and feel of your site and have basic functions built in.
Some DIY packages also provide your choice of domain name, hosting, add-ons for more functionality, search-engine optimization (SEO) to boost your site’s visibility on the Web, and other vital elements. Even the free basic version of Microsoft Office Live, for example, includes them all, as well as 500 MB of online storage and 25 company e-mail accounts. As you research, be sure the package includes 24/7 customer support. No matter how smoothly your new task goes, you’re almost certain to need it.
Choosing a Web Design Professional
If you don’t have the time, interest or ability to design and go live with your business Web site, hire a pro – or at least someone with enough knowledge or experience to assemble a simple site that meets your needs.
One way to get this done, and a good choice if you’re on a tight budget, is to contact your local college and ask how to find a student designer. Many of them already have enough experience to handle fundamental Web site design; some of them much more.
If your budget allows some elbow room, hire an established, experienced and proven pro. Just don’t do it the way old Aunt Gert picked her horse bets – by sticking a hatpin in the racing form. There are resources all over the Web, like DesignFirms.org, that can help guide your research and sort out the field.
But before you hire any Web designer or team, there are some questions you need to answer:
- Do they have experience with business Web sites?
- Can they meet the needs of the plan you carefully laid out in Step 1?
- Will you be working with one designer throughout your project, or passed around by team members? The more personal attention the better.
- Does the designer or firm have references? If so, call them. If not, move on. Ask about your candidate’s record of meeting or missing deadlines, ability to collaborate with clients, work ethic.
- Are examples of their designs at work on the Web? Carefully look over those sites, not just for quality and range, but for styles that agree with your own.
- What payment plans do they offer? Beware of any that require full payment up front. By the time you discover they’re not as good as they looked, it may be too late to cut your losses.
- What are their verbal and written communications skills? Can you understand them when you discuss your Web site needs?
It all comes down to using the same due diligence you would in hiring any member of your business team. If you wouldn’t hire them for a staff job, don’t hire them on contract.
SEO and Red Flags
Visibility on the Web, especially ranking high with major search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN, is essential to online business success. Be sure to look for search engine optimization as part of your Web design package.
SEO is arguably the biggest single challenge in designing, building and maintaining an effective business Web site – or any other sort – because the “rules” keeping changing, the Web landscape never stops shifting, and new technology regularly adds its own wrinkles.
It needs constant tending to stay competitive, and whether you have the time and patience to take on the challenge yourself, or pay a pro for SEO, you should be aware of some warning flags.
- When someone says they’ll “submit” your new Web site to one, 10 or 100 search engines, it’s more sales pitch than substance. As long as your site has solid SEO built into the design, you’ll be found by search “spiders” – automated programs that constantly crawl the Web looking at sites to include in search results.
- If a designer or team promises SEO but doesn’t say which search engines they will optimize your site for, ask. While “submitting” a site is a mostly myth, your SEO must meet the requirements of at least the Big Three: Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.
- Don’t believe anyone who “guarantees” top search engine rankings. Nobody can back up that claim.
- Don’t believe any claims of immediate results. It can take weeks for the spiders to find you and add your site to the search results roster.
Now it’s time to move forward with the hands-on work of building your new business Web site. In Step 3, we’ll explain where and how to begin.