What I Need to Know

All this talk of websites can be daunting and overwhelming, but you know you need one. You might need a simple information site, a contact form so people can communicate with you, the opportunity to promote your product or publicise your services. Either way if a company today does not have a website they are immediately a step behind the rest. So how does it all work and what do you need to think about.

The process goes like this:

Need

As you’re here on a site about website design and reading this page I assume you have a need and are thinking of having a website, so I won’t expand on this one.

Design

This is about the idea, about how the site will look and feel, how it interacts with the person visiting your site (the user), what it conveys to the user as they move through the site. It’s always good to have a rough idea of what you want (colours, images, wording, layouts) before you take the step of contacting a web designer. Sometimes a selection of websites to show a designer what you like, or feel is right for your website, is a good plan.

Framework

This is what your website is made from. Once you have a design that is either in your head, or better (and slightly more workable for a web developer) in a graphics package such as Adobe Photoshop, you need to transform that into something that will work on the internet. This framework could simply be HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language), which is the basic programming language that speaks to your web browser. However, if you have a more complex site with update and editing requirements it would be better to use a CMS (Content Management System), such as WordPress or Joomla!. Updates in pure HTML are generally better left to a web designer, but if you build your website on a CMS framework you’ll be able to edit most content as you would in a text editor like Microsoft Word.

Host

A host is simply where your website lives. All the files and images needed to run your website are saved on the host. A Host Provider is different to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) where you get your internet subscription from; although, some ISPs provide this service as well. You’ll need to subscribe to a Host Provider, where you will get access to saving and updating the files for your website. The host will also provide a way to register a domain name. A domain name is the string you put into the browser to visit a website; this site is www.freborn.com. This domain name is also used for email addresses (a service also provided by the host), so you won’t have to worry about organising that once you have your domain.

Upkeep

One of the main issues to plague the internet is the upkeep of websites. The excitement and drive to get a website started is there, but after a while it can become a pain to keep it up to date, or just forgotten about. Maintaining a website is very important and having a design and framework that encourages that is always a good idea. No prospective customer likes coming to an out of date or broken website.

Simple

A simple way to think about it is, a host is a garage and the domain is the address for that specific garage, the garage door is your web design and your framework is “do I lift it by the handle or get an all singing and dancing electric one!”.

I hear lots of jargon!

HTML, as mentioned, is the basic language and structure of a website. It’s rather static but does a great job of putting content and images in the right place. If you hear the word PHP, ASP or JSP just think of HTML, but more dynamic!

CSS adds the fancy bit to the HTML. HTML is the structure and CSS is the style. The colour of text, borders, font sizes, backgrounds and much more. It brings a website to life!

Then there is all the other fancy stuff that helps with galleries and animations; the scripting like JavaScript (jQuery, Angular, Mootools, protoype are all JavaScript packages).

Should I attempt to make a website myself?

It’s not always the best idea to do it yourself. As a customer’s first impression will normally come from viewing your website, it’s best to ensure they’ll leave it with a good impression and want to come back. We’ve all seen the awful websites, the ones that are out of date and the ones that simply don’t work. So yes, I’d recommended using someone who knows what they are doing, but you’d guess I’d say that.

Should I use a free template or a site builder?

Site builders are useful for getting up and running quickly; however, by necessity they have to be manageable by the Host Provider, which can cause them to be rather restrictive; and customising them can be quite involved.

You can get many free templates online and this will save money in the short term, but in my opinion this has several draw backs and you could end up paying more in the long term. Your site may end up looking very similar to other sites. Free templates are designed and developed quickly for mass market, which means that coding standards aren’t always adhered to and they can have many errors and problems. And finally, trying to edit, update and modify a pre-built site, without prior knowledge, can be time consuming. Having said that it can be a quick stepping stone towards getting your business online; however, after a while you’ll most likely want a designer to create that custom feel for you.

So how much will it cost?

The big question. There are several areas to contend with regarding the cost.

Domain Registrar – Domain names are generally cheap and need to be officially registered. Domains have what they call an extension, such as .com, .co.uk, .org. The price you pay varies depending on the extension, but it’s around £10 per year. This price is often part of a Hosting Provider package.

The Hosting Provider – For basic web sites with no ecommerce (a shop) requirements you’ll need to pay around £5 a month to host a website. Some packages are even cheaper if all you are looking for is a very basic, doesn’t change, website. A more up to date site with a CMS, such as WordPress or Joomla!, requires a database, which are sometimes not provided in host’s basic packages, so be careful when looking at the features provided by them.

The cheaper packages provided by a host will invariably be located on a shared server, which means that your website lives on the same server as other people’s websites. This creates a security risk; if a website on your shared server is compromised (catches a virus), your site could well be compromised as it lives in the same neighbourhood.

If you have confidential pages on your website or store personal information in a database it is well worth considering a dedicated server, one where your website is the only one to live on that server. Whilst this doesn’t mean your site will be compromised, it stops access to your site through other people’s mistakes.

The Designer – As for the web design and creation, that price can always look a bit scary. There are some web design companies that provide the service for £1000s; though for smaller companies, sole traders and individuals you don’t have to spend that sort of money. The investment is generally a one-off cost that will go a long way to giving your customers a good impression and hopefully a first contact.

No standard price exists for websites, particularly if you want a customised, unique one. The more complicated the design, purpose and management system the more you will need to pay. Have a chat with people you know who have had websites designed and see what they paid, use that as a starting point. But remember, as in any industry, the prices generally reflect what you’re paying for.

How do I pick a designer?

Ask questions. Make sure the designer is going to listen to your ideas and not just force theirs on you; friendly and approachable designers are always a nice to have. Also, you hear it a lot, but don’t always go for the cheapest, check out a designer’s portfolio, visit websites they have previously created and possibly contact the owners to see what the experience was like.

Well, that’s about it. Some info you’ll most likely need to know (and no doubt hear) along the journey of getting your business and idea online. If you have any questions around website design please contact me and I’ll try to de-jargonise the explanation.