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Next steps: building a better Web site for your business

Editor’s note: Part one of this column was published in the May 22-28, 2006, issue of the Mississippi Business Journal.

You’ve decided that your business needs a Web site. You’ve done your research, created a site outline, collected your content, and you have a pretty good idea about what you want.

Now it is time to find a reputable developer.

During the second part of our guide to help you establish your business Web site, we’ll discuss how to tell if the Web developer is worth their weight in salt and the different costs of having a Web site.

The developer

Finding the right Web developer can make or break your project. Be sure to know what to look for in a developer.

Just as you wouldn’t hire a part-time contractor to build your office building, you should avoid hiring a part-time “Web designer”. There are many “weekend Web wannabes” out there that will underbid any professional Web development firm. However, you will have to ask yourself if you are willing to take the chance of having a sub-standard site, as well as not having contact with the “Web designer” while that person is at a “day job.”

If a Web developer does not have her own business Web site with an online portfolio, a big red flag should go up for you, and you will need to consider looking elsewhere. It is also advisable to avoid using Web developers whose Web site has a non-professional domain name or Web address such as, http://www.generichosting.com/Webfirmname or any Web address that has a tilde (~) in it such as, http://www.freehosting.com/~Webfirmname. Professional firms will have a domain name that relates directly to their business name or field.

It is also important that the Web development firm you choose has a physical business address and has been in the business of Web development for more than four years. This will help insure that you won’t become a victim of the many Web ventures out there that are here one day, but disappear the next, taking your domain name and Web site files with them. You will begin to realize this more once you go through the Yellow Pages looking for a Web developer and find that half of the phone numbers have been disconnected.

Once you have found a few Web development firms and have established that they are all legit businesses, you will need to schedule a meeting to discuss your Web site and get a quote from them. This brings us to the main unknown for many: costs.

Considering the costs

Web sites can be just another form of advertising or they can function as your entire business. Either way, it is going to be an investment. There will be upfront costs and ongoing costs. Just as you might have an advertising budget, you may need to consider having a Web site budget if you are serious about having an online presence.

Most people do not have a clue as to how much a Web site costs or the other costs that are involved. This is usually the first question most Web developers are asked before even meeting the client, or knowing any information about what type of Web site the client wants. Without knowing the details of the Web site, the question of cost is unanswerable. This industry is still so young with so many different variables to consider: half of it is art; the other half is technology (forms, e-commerce, Web applications, databases, mailing lists, forums, blogs, etc…). Most developers charge by the hour and the price can be anywhere from $25/hour to $250/hour depending on the type of work to be done.

As a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for.

If you have done your research, decided on what you want your Web site to do, and have outlined your site’s content, you have already taken out most of the guess work for the developer. With this information, your Web developer should then be able to give you a more precise cost estimate for the site’s construction and any additional fees involved.

There are generally four basic fees involved in having a Web site: the Web site itself, the domain name for your Web site, the hosting fee and, finally, the maintenance.

The Web site development cost will be the largest of these fees, but it is a one-time deal. Once created, the Web site design is complete until you decide to re-design it. The second fee is the domain name (www.yourbusinessname.com) for your business and is an annual fee that is usually less than $30/year.

In order for people to get to your Web site, the files that make up your Web site will have to be “hosted” on a computer that has a special connection to the Internet. The hosting cost is usually a monthly fee and the price, once again, depends on the functionality of your Web site (e-commerce and other more functional Web sites will need special hosting which usually costs more). Your maintenance fee depends on your Web developer; this can be a reoccurring fee, or an as-needed cost.

The world of Web site development can be a large and seemingly daunting area to many business people. The benefits of having a Web site far outweigh the consequences of not having one. Hopefully this guide will serve as a good “measurement” so that you only have to “cut once.”

Patrice Anderson has been building Web sites since 1996 and is currently a Web developer for RedMagnet Inc. of Tupelo. Her email is patrice@redmagnet.com, and the firm is online at www.redmagnet.com.

About Contributing Columnist

One comment

  1. As a Mississippi Web Designer of over 7 years, I have to say that I completely agree with this article. However, I think one very important point is missing above …

    Designing a successful website involves far more than just creating and coding a pretty online picture. Once the website has been designed, it is very important that your web designer has the experience and knowledge to optimize your website so that it performs well in the search engines.

    I’ve seen far too many beautiful websites that lacked search engine optimization, and therefore never experienced their full potential.

    Before selecting a website designer, I’d definitely recommend assessing the success of their past web projects. Do those websites rank well in the search engines? Has the designer successfully demonstrated the expertise to make your website a success?

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