News from

The Computer Workshop

The Internet, part 3 (of 3):

Do You Want a Web Site, What Does It Cost and How Do You Make One?

In previous issues we've discussed connecting to the internet and the joys of e-mail and web surfing. Now we get to the stuff which generates the most questions: building a web site. But first let’s back off and be sure you know why you want to spent the time, money and effort.

As with anything you publish, you need to know who your audience is and what response you want from them. A non-profit web site might have several goals: to share information with their members so they have a more informed member-ship and not so many phone calls; to attract new members and to raise money. This may be several different audiences and perhaps each should be addressed with their own page(s). Most importantly they probably don’t want to exclude people with older browsers or slower connections. On the other hand, a photo-grapher might want a quick way to show off their work to potential ad agency clients. The photographer loads the site with graphics, making the assumption that the agencies they want to attract will have fast connections and fancy monitors. That the pages load slowly on a regular modem connection does not matter in this case. Having a good idea of what you are trying to accomplish and who you are trying to reach (or don't mind inconveniencing) will help guide your site design and other choices.

Do you have a realistic view of how much it will cost up front and on an ongoing basis to set up and maintain your website to meet your goals?

• Name: $15/year for registration alone (yes, bulk rates are $5 or so per name, but folks at that level are not my target audience). Can be combined with site forwarding (see site space below) for about $35/year, 2 year minimum.

• Site space: you probably already have space with your internet service provider (ISP). Commercial site hosting offers more space, your name.com and secure links for sensitive information transfer at a cost of $15/month and up depending on features (on top of your dial-up account with your ISP). If your ISP-based space is good enough, use site forwarding to become yourname .com for a lot cheaper. I use Domain Direct because they do site and e-mail forwarding for about $35/year. The downside is that search engines index your real address instead of yourname.com so you must re-register if you change ISPs.

• Registering with search engines: some now charge a fee for registering businesses, saying that they get moved to the top of the processing pile; otherwise it may take a few months for your site to show up. The major sites seem to be Google, Altavista, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Excite, Go (was Infoseek), Lycos and Hotbot but this, as with anything on the web, is open to change. Registering is a matter of going there and filling out the form. The"we’ll register you at 100 search engines for $$$" seems a waste of money if you register yourself with the search engines most people use. It is better to have a good description and keywords in the meta tags on your pages. The other way to get noticed is links from other sites to yours. Several of the sites have notes about how to get noticed linked to their registering pages. Altavista has a particularly good essay.

• Design: for simple sites, you can easily do-it-yourself with the free Composer part of Netscape (there are several other free site-making software packages but I have no experience with them). I prefer to use Adobe GoLive because it makes many things a bit easier. MacroMedia’s DreamWeaver is also widely used by professionals. (Microsoft’s FrontPage used to be widely used but it has some problems). Lots of folks have learned how to write their pages by looking at the code of pages they like. Go to a web page you like. Go to "view" in the browser menu, choose "page source". You can copy the code, paste it on your page and modify it to do what you want. It is legal to do this with generic HTML code. Be sure you are not breaking any copyrights if you are thinking of copying graphics. You can also take a look at the meta tags: keywords help a search engine cate-gorize a site and the description is shown by the search engines instead of the default first two lines of text from the page.

If you want to hire someone to create your site, shop carefully. There are many folks doing it and charging a lot for the service but they are not necessarily creating effective sites. A good site won't exclude part of your target audience and will help you meet your goals and your budget. It will also be able to be changed as needed without having to pay and pay and pay. Look at their portfolio sites and check references. Just as with any artwork, if the "feel" of the sites in the portfolio isn't like what you want, the site they create for you may leave you feeling disappointed even if they are a top-notch designer. Look for a good match.

• Taking money for products or services on-line also entails the additional cost of a secure site to handle the trans-action and an agreement with an internet bank. This can be handled by your ISP for a fee. For those who want to keep costs low, PayPal seems to be offering fine service for a very reasonable fee. I have not used them but they are getting great reviews in the press. See their fee schedule at paypal.com.

• Maintenance: this is the do as I say, not as I do part of the lesson. Keeping your site up-to-date takes time, in some cases nearly as much as the original creation. If your site is important to your business, be sure to allocate enough person-hours to get the job done each month (or however often you decide you should change) rather than adding it as “when you have time” to an already overbur-dened schedule. The planners among you will be bored by my belaboring this but it is amazing how often the maintenance schedule and who’s going to do it are never discussed when the web site is designed.

Other Design Issues To Consider:

Do you want to be sure your site is accessible to the visually handicapped? Use relative font sizes rather than specific font sizes so that the user can control how large the “normal” text size is in their browser. Don’t use frames (those multiple scrollable windows on the same page) or Flash (fancy animated pages) because they break most web readers for the blind.

Again, using lots of large, slow loading graphics will lose the home audience. Some home users also have older browsers — or even just a different browser from the one you are using.

Be sure to test your pages with both Netscape and Internet Explorer in several versions (commercial packages like GoLive and DreamWeaver warn you of possible problems). Platform changes (Mac, Windows, Unix) shows in problems with some characters and color shifts if you’re not careful.

Frames can cause problems for searches because the search engine may find just the inner page: be sure all pages have a way to get to the main site (and a way to contact you if you’re pushing a product).

Don’t be talked into using features which will irritate your audience: only graphic artists seem to like "splash screens"— those intro screens which take forever to download and then have you click or sit through dancing graphics before you get to the real site. Many folks over 40 prefer text to "cool graphics" (or whatever has replaced "cool": you can tell what side of 40 I’m on). Most of the younger surfers appreciate graphics and interactivity used purposefully in a site. Nobody wants to wait for irrelevant graphics or interactivity. You need to know who you are trying to reach and create your graphics with care. The site webpagesthatsuck.com (and in print as a book by the same name) has several examples of things not to do and how to avoid them.

We’ll be glad to help if you have further questions, 206-523-0872.

Give us a call at 206-523-0872 if you have further questions.

copyright 2000 Karen Seymour

Back to Articles index         Back to The Computer Workshop home page



Trademarked names belong to their respective companies and are used for identification with no infringement of trademark intended.