Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Business Essentials: Building a Great Website

It wasn’t all that long ago that for a business to have a website seemed a novel thing. The tipping point has long past, and for a start up company to not prioritize their website as a major arm of their business seems sophomoric. The hurdles that confronted the early pioneers of website building (technical complexity, cost, technological limitations) have disappeared and there is now no excuse not to have a website. There is, however, one basic rule that has not changed – nor will it ever – and that is: the better and more effective you want your website to be, the greater the investment it will represent. Below are a few handy tips that will hopefully give you greater insight into what steps are involved in building your website and allay any concerns that it might represent.

The Anatomy of a Website

There are essentially two vital parts to any website that businesses need to consider: the code and the server.

The Code: Everything you see and read on the internet is nothing more than a series of binary codes – a seemingly endless stream of 1’s and 0’s. It’s like the DNA of your website. And as your DNA eventually becomes the you that others can see and interact with, so the code is what will become the part of your website that others see and interact with.

The Server: The code, in order to be seen and read by others, needs a place to be stored and easily accessed. The place where these codes are stored, or hosted, are on servers owned by companies that continuously allow the transfer of information. These hosting companies pay for their servers, and to transfer all those billions of bytes of information, and they make their money by your renting space for your website on their server in the form of a “domain”.

A website thus becomes a website when your code occupies the domain space that you have rented.

What You Pay For

Renting space with a hosting company is a piece of cake and can be done for as little as a few dollars a month. A simple Google search will likely bring up a myriad of companies that offer hosting with different options. Most have a help line that you can call and simply knowing a little bit about what you want your website to do will easily give them a sense of what option is best for you. Most often it comes down to whether or not you plan to have a lot of data-heavy bells and whistles like streaming audio and video. These things take up space, which means you may need to rent more server space.

Once you’ve rented the space, you need your space to have a name. This is how people will remember your website. Ideally, you’ll want your domain name to reflect the essentials of what your business is about and it should be snappy and easy to remember. Acquiring a domain name is somewhat of an art. It’s quite possible that your perfect domain name is something no one has yet thought of, at which point it’s easily acquired through your hosting company at no charge. However, if your perfect website name is owned it can be a challenge to acquire. There are entire companies that purchase domain names with the sole purpose of brokering them to people who want the name for their business. At this point you have to decide what the domain is worth to you. If someone has already beat you to it and has built a whole site around that domain name it might be best to explore other options. If it is available for purchase, then it all comes down to what you’re willing to pay.

The code you can also pay for, but most hosting sites now come with their own website builder which can handle the code for you. Although these website builders are rudimentary, they can easily handle a variety of different website formats and give the user several different style sheets to choose from. If you have time, building your own website can be fun.

WordPress

Stepping it up a notch, WordPress has become the gold standard in website design. WordPress takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master. Ultimately, it is an incredibly powerful and versatile tool for building websites. The program (or code, since technically it’s not a program) is free, but you’ll definitely be investing your time to learn how to use it. It can be as simple as downloading the code for a template, or completely building your own style sheet and code right from scratch. Scouring the web there all kinds of add-ons that are available that are simple enough to add to your website’s code and that can make your website all the more engaging to the visitor.

Website Design

Website design has become a niche all unto itself and there are plenty of companies and freelancers out in the marketplace who are happy to do the legwork of building the code for your website for you. This is essentially the code that you can pay for and although prices can vary substantially, so can the quality of the workmanship. Obviously, a more complicated website brings with it a heftier price tag. It’s standard practice for companies and freelancers to have a portfolio of designs so that you know what your getting into before you buy, but ultimately their job is to make your website as concise, easy to navigate, and engaging as possible.