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WEB PAGE DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION and MAINTENANCE

 

When I originally wrote this article in 1998, professionals in the industry were claiming that the personal and business presence on the internet would increase by ten times, from 7 to 70 million, within the next two years and that annual internet sales will reach $1.5 trillion. Today, without following up on these statistics, there is no doubt in my mind that this has happened and the trend will continue for some time to come.
 

You must gain a web surfers attention within the first ten seconds or they will disappear!

 

Many people and businesses don't want to get left behind as a result of the technological advances. They understand that others are already capitalizing on an internet presence but are intimidated by the World Wide Web and don't know how it works or where to begin.   A search of the Edmonton area for web page designers will reveal an array of hi-tech companies with an amazing talent to produce those pretty sites that load annoyingly slow. Unless the average consumer has upgraded every few months to acquire the computer capacities necessary to read these web pages, these slow loading speeds simply encourage them to surf on to a simpler site.  It is widely suspected, if not proven, that if you must gain a web surfers attention within the first ten seconds or they will disappear from your site into cyberspace.  Much of this philosophy is demonstrated through the popularity of the of simple, easy to maneuver  E-Commerce sites developed by companies, like E-bay, that trade on the stock exchange every day.

 

Even in today's market, where web page designers are at a premium, buying or acquiring the necessary knowledge to get your web page on the World Wide Web need not be complicated or expensive,  This is my effort to give you my birds eye view, in layman terms, of how everything works and what you need to know to gain an effective internet presence.  Much of this information relates to internet action in the Province of  Alberta but can be interpolate to fit anywhere.

TIPS TO GETTING YOUR PAGE ONTO THE WEB

It works like this:

 

The internet and its' special computer language were developed by the U.S. Pentagon to allow military staff to communicate using computers.  Anybody can learn to write this special HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) computer language using a text editor (such as Note Pad or Word Pad) that is usually included in your computer purchase. To experienced computer users and programmers, text (also called ASCII) is more than just a term to define "words" or letters of the alphabet.  It is through writing text, using letters, numbers and the other keys on a computer keyboard, that instructions are transferred and converted to the machine language that computers understand.  HTML is simply text that has been put together in the sequences that allow internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, to display data on your screen properly.

 

In the past ten years, a number of shortcut programs have been developed to eliminate the need to actually learn HTML.  Some of the more sophisticated programs will cost a few dollars to acquire but others, like Netscape's "Mozilla" composer program, are free. These programs set up the basic web page that can be read by the internet (headers and meta tags) and allow you to place text and pictures where you want them to appear on the computer screen. They are not that difficult to use.  Other more sophisticated programs allow you to add sound, picture movement and special tasks that normally would require a programmer. Many of these, although nice, are programs that slow down the speed of your web page so that anyone with an older  (slow) computer and modem is eliminated from visiting your site.  These programs should only be used if the audience that you wish to attract are hi-tech!  If you have the desire and time, there are hundreds of free web pages on the internet that are devoted to helping you learn how to write HTML.

 

Whether or not you choose to write your HTML the hard way or grab one of these shortcut programs, your web pages are developed on your own local computer.  When you get your web pages interacting properly, you will have to upload them to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) where they are stored on a (usually) large mainframe computer connected to the internet.  (If you care to become an ISP yourself, this can be arranged with your telephone company, but be aware that it will take a lot of desire and bucks to go this route.)  Your ISP will only allow access to your files through a special password set up between you and them.

 

Your own graphics are important on the internet.  You may need to learn how to make your own graphics or hire a specialist to help you.

 

The following are things to consider:

 

1.

Seek out an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as Telus telephone, Shaw television cable or other services in your area who will offer the most attractive amount of "server" (usually ten or more megabytes) space on their large mainframe computer as part of your overall service contract with them. (Try to get service within your local telephone area to avoid long distance charges.) It should be noted that there are locations, such as Homestead.com or Angelfire (Lycos), that will host your web page at no cost or with a proviso that you allow their link to prominently appear on your web page. Our website, http://www.boondockingguide.com, makes use of a domain forwarding service to link to web space already paid for in our ISP contract. In this way we have a registered website identity on the internet but avoid paying for commercial website space.  The cost is relatively small for this service and includes your website name registered internet name (URL), ideal for the hobby website enthusiast. To learn more about this, continue reading then click on the HOVER icon at the bottom of this page.

2.

Develop a clear idea of what you want on your internet page. You can do almost everything from setting up a direct ordering (on-line "ecommerce") system, with pictures and credit card approval partners (contractors) to simply leaving contact numbers and addresses on the internet. This phase is very important because, the more time spent by the contractor defining your internet page, the more it will cost.  Pages on the internet vary dramatically, from those that require a programmer's knowledge of data base, java or special programs developed for the Web, to those that employ a few simple graphics and, maybe, a form. Have a clear purpose in mind and prepare to explain it to your web page developer!

In the past few years it has become more prudent for small entrepreneurs to contract with a company,such as PayPal, that allows you to register and create an online shop at their website. These companies, all configured differently, may offer your customers a "shopping cart" and/or payment and shipping alternatives. There are a number of these portals available that can be found through an internet search. You will have to determine which one best fits your business requirements.

3.

Get a registered internet name. Pick a name that is unique and that people will remember because the greatest challenge on the internet today is to gain recognition. The Search Engine (see 8. below) industry is scrambling to find ways to simplify the way that people can find things on the World Wide Web (www). You can imagine the size that the telephone Yellow Pages would have to be to accommodate all of the business and personal web pages that are currently on the www!
If you don't want to register a .com, .net or .org name yourself, your contracted web designer may do that for you within the contract. This can take a large amount of time when considering that 7 million names were already registered when this web site was constructed in 1998. This number is considerably higher now.  Registration costs vary from as low as $8.75 Canadian. To register yourself, go to Cheap-Domainregistration.com. Please note that there are other companies that will register your internet name, perhaps at a cheaper price but usually with a catch. Check these out. Their conditions may be acceptable to you.
There are also country code top level domain names available such as .ca, ab.ca or edmonton.ab.ca. There is a concern that some search engines do not detect these as well. If interested in a country code (first, second or third level domain names) you can check for details at Cheap-Domainregistration.com.

4.

Get an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program if you plan to build and/or maintain your own net page. There are a number of these programs available for free on the internet or from your ISP.  You may want to pay a small price for one of the fancier ones or, better yet if you have a newer operating system on your computer like Windows XP, use the built in transfer protocols. They all work fairly well. You will need an FTP program to upload the web page documents, that you have developed on your personal computer, to the file space allocated to you on the ISP main frame (server) computer.  Your ISP will provide you a password and tell you how to get to it.

5.

Design your graphics, such as your company icon, and save them on a floppy disk if you can.  Although your web page designer may also be able to design your graphics, it is not usually considered part of the contract and, at hourly rates, can add a considerable amount to the price of your web page. Scanning an icon off of a business card is not unusual but, in most cases, the scanned image requires touch up and conversion to be adapted to the internet. This can involve many hours of work. 

6.

Consider web page design formats. The design that you chose will impact the speed that your internet page will load to the viewer.  Most new computers come with a 56k (per second) or high speed broadband modem installed but many people are still using slower modems. Depending on your target audience, your web page should be designed to accommodate the slowest modem speed used by the internet public.  DSL (digital telephone) and cable internet services are very fast and can accommodate the latest in internet technologies but in many areas these high speed services are not available and even if they were, lets face it, most people have not been able to keep up with the advances in computers, internet services or fancy video and audio add-ons.  The largest successful e-commerce web sites recognize that simple is better.  If you have a small internet usage and are willing to take the time to appreciate technological artwork, then go ahead and use the fancy stuff. 

7.

Define a good verbal description of the purpose of your web site including key words that people would normally use to find your web site while doing a search. Your description and keywords appear as dominant features in the HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) documentation that forms the basis of each internet web page. These are the important words that you must include in your HTML document to describe your web page to the internet public. A good tactic is to find out what key words are being used by the most popular but similar web pages ...  then add any new key words that they may have missed. In most instances, you can do this by viewing the Page Source of these web sites using your browser capabilities.

It should be noted that Google, now the largest and likely the most important search facility on the internet, has downgraded the importance of keywords in the meta tag section (the first part that is not visible to the public) of your web page. Instead they concentrate on the website description being found within the body of each page. It is suggested that, to accommodate Google, these "keywords" should appear within the main text of your home (index) page. Never-the-less placing good keywords within the meta tag section of your web pages remains important to other search engines and are still used, to a lesser degree, by Google.     

8.

Contact the web search engine companies such as Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, Yahoo, Google, Lycos, Netscape, MicroSoft Network (MSN), etc. to let everyone know that you have a presence on the internet. (Check the very informative CNET web site for results of their survey of the top search sites on the internet.) You may also want to list with some of the topic specific search sites that spotlight your particular interest, such as Cooking.com or SportSearch.com. These companies usually have a Submit URL button that you can click on to submit your web page description and location. 
It takes up to six weeks to get listed with a search engine and, once listed, priority may be established by how often that you submit or by the number of hits you get.  All search engines have their own idiosyncrasies and many have changed the way that they work over the last couple of years.  Your options are to keep up with their rules or dump them, depending on how important the search engine is to you.
 

Most web surfers only look at the top ten on the search engine list and 7% search to the third page of the listings!

 

Although getting listed on the top seven or eight search engines is your prime target, there are companies that will contract to update your internet presence on over 800 search engines on a regular basis for a price. Others do it free providing that you sign up for their other services or will provide a link if you reciprocate with a link to their page.  Maintaining a top spot with the most popular search engines is very time consuming but necessary and should be done every 2 to 3 months at the minimum.  It should be noted that most web surfers only look at the top ten of the search engine listings and only about 7% continue the search through to the third page.

9.

Browse the internet for valuable links.  Probably more important than search engines to your internet presence are links to sites that compliment yours.  For example, if you are in the RV sales business, links to and from travel club web pages work very well for both interests.  Contact these sites and ask for a reciprocal link.  Most other sites appreciate the bond, since your exposure goals are the same. Your customers and readers want all of the "dope" and would rather see you provide access to your opposition's information than have to search for it elsewhere.  If you have a good product or subject, they will hit the Back button.

10.

Track the success of your internet presence with a statistics package. Find out where people are coming from and how they are leaving your site.  Find out what areas of your site are the most popular.  Have the statistics sent right to your home or office and use these statistics to your advantage!  For example, I found that most of the "hits" for the Boondocking Guide were coming from the United States, as well as overseas, even though our web page would be most beneficial to Canadians traveling south.  Steps were taken to correct this!  Again, there are free or commercial services available to do this for you. Free services may require that you provide an advertising icon on your page to link to their web site.  Your web page designer can usually do this for you if you include it in a maintenance agreement. 

11.

Train, teach yourself or contract a maintenance person to update your web page content on a regular basis.  One of the most important goals of web site ownership is to enticing people to come back to see what's new. Think of it as an on going advertising campaign, even if it is just your personal home page.  It should be noted that training to update a site is simple compared to the design phase. This can be set up in a couple of hours with a person who has a basic knowledge of computers. Expect to pay for some training and setup time.


THE PROS AND CONS OF DO-IT-YOURSELF WEBSITES

 

The three obvious approaches to getting your website up and running.
 

1.

The Do-It-Yourself approach: Create and maintain your web site yourself by using software such as Microsoft FrontPage, or Netscape Composer (free) or by writing the HTML directly using a text editor.

2.

The Half-n-Half approach: Have someone else create the web site and then do the regular updating of the site yourself.

3.

The Full Outsourcing approach: Have someone else create and update the web site.

 

The strengths and weaknesses of each:
 
THE DO-IT-YOURSELF APPROACH
ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES SKILLS REQUIRED
The cheapest solution because no fees are paid to consultants. Resulting sites often look amateurish and can turn away customers. Patience: Time consuming.
Can be an enjoyable and rewarding activity if you are creative and have the time. Resulting sites often have poor navigation controls.  On a well designed site, users are able to find what they  want in seconds. Achieving this can be difficult. Good PC skills; e.g. a familiarity with both text and graphics applications.
You have complete control over how the web site looks and feels. Time must be spent to acquire suitable software and to learn how to use it. Technical skills or a willingness to acquire them.
There's no chance of a consultant handing you a site that isn't what you wanted. Time must be spent to learn how to produce effective META tags, compress images, test browser compatibility, about FTP (File Transfer Protocol) programs, loading speeds and more if you want the site to perform well. Graphic design and page-layout skills.
THE HALF-N-HALF APPROACH
ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES SKILLS REQUIRED
Far less technical knowledge required. Must have, or learn, some technical skills, but not nearly as many as with the Do-it-Yourself approach. Some technical skills or a willingness to acquire them.
Graphic design, page layout and navigation elements are done for you, bypassing common pitfalls. Consultant's cost may be hundreds of dollars. An ability to liaise with the consultant about how you want the site to look and what you want it to achieve.
Site likely produced faster. A risk of the consultant not providing the design that you want.
When having the skills, time and desire to update the site yourself, this is likely the best trade-off between price, speed and professionality. Consultant likely required to implement major changes or upgrades when necessary.
A risk of  "breaking" something when updating on your own.
THE FULL OUTSOURCING APPROACH
ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES SKILLS REQUIRED
No requirment to spend time and effort learning technical skills. The most costly solution. An ability to liaise with the consultant about how you want the site to look and what you want it to achieve.
Quicker site production. Less control over the content of the site.
Production of a professional looking site that navigates easily, loads quickly, is compatible with all browsers and works well with search engines.

Conclusion

 

Adopting an appropriate approach for you can save hundreds of dollars in consultants' fees but will depend on your skills and free time.  Ideally, a site should be designed in such a way as to allow the owner (or an employee) a free hand in maintaining the content without further need of a consultant. Of course, if you are already a very busy over stressed person, bringing in a consultant to design and maintain the site is probably the answer.

 

The Boondocking Guide Uses Hover!

 

Last Updated: March 20, 2010
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