Web site development

Previous sections covered web hosting issues like simple email-only Internet services and management of domain names. Before getting further into web hosting, it is worth discussing how to develop a web site. If you already have web site content you are perfectly happy with, you can skip this section.

Rule 1 - pick someone to do your web site

You can try doing your own web site, and you can buy software that helps you do that. There are also thousands of people who will offer to do a web site for you. This can easily be done remotely, so someone anywhere on the planet is a possibility. You want someone who is experienced. Your 13-year old nephew whom you think is a "bit of a computer expert" might not be the ideal choice if this is his first site !. Rather find someone who has already done at least 5 sites and have a look at those sites yourself. Make sure the person gives you a business proposal you can understand e.g. clearly lays out the basis on which they will bill you and what sort of service level you should expect in return.

What makes a web site 'good' or 'interesting' can be very subjective. Your web site designer should be able to explain design decisions upfront or as he/she goes along. There are some design factors that are fairly universal e.g. a) how does the site look/work in a number of different popular web browsers, b) should you attempt to protect email addresses on the site from spam abuse. My web site is not the right place to discuss all the factors, but there are plenty of other sites that do. Your designer should be able to identify those sites for you.

Rule 2 - you own the content

Remember your web site belongs to you - not to anyone else. A web site designer has no right to the content at any stage (although some will seek to retain ownership until you have paid them). That should be absolutely clear in any agreement. Make sure that there is nothing on the Web site that contradicts this rule. For example you might allow them to have a small line 'This web site developed by Amazing Web Design Inc.' but not 'This web site copyright Amazing Web Design Inc.'.

It is a good idea to have copies of the content yourself. For example: a) your designer sends you the content compressed into a zip file, b) you keep the zip file on your own computer, c) you forward a copy of the zip file to your web hosting provider to load up onto the computer that hosts your site. The point is that you should always have a copy of the entire current content of your web site somewhere safe where you can get to it without asking anyone else.

Rule 3 - you develop the content

At the end of the day, it is you - not someone doing a web site for you - that must develop about 90% of your web site content. A web site designer at first knows nothing about you and your business. Sure you can wait for them to ask a lot of questions, but it is a lot more effective (and less expensive) if you do the initial work. You should draft a simple document that contains all the "words" you want to appear on the site - organized into suitable categories - "Who we are", "How to contact us", "Our range of products/services", "Our people" etc. Your web site designer then just has a fairly easy job of organizing the content you provide into appropriate web pages. If you can't figure out the categories, just surf the web looking to see how sites in a similar line of business to you are organized.

At its simplest, a web site can be a bit like a company brochure or presentation about your business. But it can be more than that e.g. have some dynamic features you can not find in a paper brochure. So if you reuse existing material for your web site, be prepared to "add more value". Your web site designer should be able to help you identify where the added value can be found.

Rule 4 - development never ends

Doing a web site is seldom a one-time thing. At the very least you should keep any contact details on the site uptodate. It can be really irritating, for example, to find on a web site old telephone numbers that no longer work. You would be amazed how often even very large corporations make this mistake.

Your site may change frequently as your own business evolves or changes. Make the time to keep your site relevant and accurate - even if you don't see immediate business benefit. Your web site is your showcase to the Internet world and you never know how important the next visitor to your Web site is going to be.

Rule 5 - test and verify

Test your web site after changes - particularly after big changes. Make sure what is now live on the Internet is what you expect and that no unwanted changes have crept in. An error may come from a completely unexpected source. For example, the person who uploads your site content may accidentally upload old content or even content destined for a completely different business.

Test your content before it goes live if you can. Proofread and spellcheck any new content your site designer gives you - before it all goes live.

Finally, get independent opinion on your web site. Ask friends to have a look at it and give you their overall impressions. Other people in your business are also important. They may have strong views on how the web site looks. Give them the chance to express their views - not least so they 'buy in' to the site and are proud of what it says about the total business.

October 2014.