Do You Need a Website?

Of course you need a website! Everyone should have a website. It is the in thing. They are (or can be) extremely cheap and effective, if you are focused on the right expectations. If you think a website will do all your advertising, then you are badly mistaken. It is a wonderful supplement, but no replacement for other forms of advertisement -- at least not for a start-up company.

The reason a website is not a good means of advertising for a startup company has everything to do with search engines such as Google. Suppose you are interested in selling thoroughbred dachshund puppies. If you search Google using the search terms "dachshund puppies", you will get back about 163,000 hits -- listed for you at 10 hits per page. They are NOT in random order. Google uses highly secret algorithms for ranking websites. The web pages that make it to the front couple of pages of the search results are the ones who are seen by most customers. Studies have been done which show that very few web searchers ever get past the top two or three pages of a Google search. So, if you don't get your ratings way, way up, your website doesn't get seen. Simple as that.

What we do know is that a big part of Google's ranking scheme is based on the popularity of a website -- as measured by it being mentioned (linked to, actually) by other websites. But more importantly, if it is mentioned in a low ranking website, that mention counts very little. So exchanging links with other puppy breeders is relatively futile. What really counts is to be mentioned (linked to) by a hugely popular website. How do you make that happen? Be a top breeder, and have your dogs featured by a national association. Lacking that, buy an advertising space on their website. And it doesn't come cheap. Better, and you might even get paid for it, write articles for a major website, and give your website link under the credits for the article. You now have your link on a major website.

So what are the alternatives? Conventional advertising. Do exactly what you would have done without a website. Just use your website as a place interested persons -- attracted by your conventional advertising -- come to see using your web address printed on your business card, brochures, TV ads, newspaper and magazine ads and articles. Notice I did not mention advertising with Google directly. If you do so, your website will be found on the right margin of searches for dachshund puppies based on how high a priority you are willing to pay for. You pay for the "hits;" that is, the number of persons who click on that paid advertisement. You can do that, but I don't do it myself. I just don't like to pay for the number of hits when I have no way of independently verifying the number of hits. I make absolutely no accusations. I am just adverse to any accounting that I am incapable of reviewing.

So, if your expectations are proper, by all means have a website. You can use one simply to share pictures with your family; and you can password protect it so only family sees it. Or you can use it as a bully pulpit -- just like I do mine. Or, it can be a very inexpensive way to create a business "brochure" that would cost a small fortune to give to every potential customer. Or you can start a small online business, complete with shopping cart and PayPal or Google Cart checkout. Every charity, church, club, homeowners association, business, event, and cause need a website. There is no cheaper media if you keep it to the essentials and find the right webmaster.

Do It Yourself?

It all depends. If you like learning new things, and have a technology bent, sure. With these attributes, plan on taking one $99. online course for 6 weeks, meeting 2hrs per session, twice per week. In those 12 lessions you will be proficient enough to make a useful website. Not one with database interaction and shopping carts, but one that can display your brochure, tell your story, as you would on paper.

If you are not into learning new things, and do not have a technology bent, then don't try to roll your own. It will be unprofessional and may actually turn people off. In your case, do your homework and hire a professional web designer.

Hire a Web Designer?

Sure. Just be careful. There are the scrupulously honest, and the unscrupulously dishonest. Do your homework before you seek one out.

What do I mean by "do your homework"? Look at the websites the designer had made. Find out how much he/she charged for the website you liked, if any. Ask yourself if what you see looks and feels professional. Does the website get you from one place to another cleanly and efficiently? (I hate websites that get me lost. I hate websites where I click on a button to go to a topic, and it takes me to a second page where I have to find the topic again, and click on it to get to yet another page, and FINALLY I get to the page I wanted. Such runarounds are a sign of a lousy web designer.) Call up customers your prospective designer has worked for. Ask them if he/she readily grasps what they want and deliver it, or did they get something different than they expected? Ask them how easy he/she is to work with? How open to being told that something isn't quite right? Your webmaster is a consultant to you. You get to decide. Period. If not, find a different webmaster.

Elements of a Website

There are three very fundamental parts to every website: the domain name (that you type in to get to a specific website is the domain name); the design and structure of every page (the programming that produces the look and feel of your website); and the website content (the pictures, text, illustrations, tables, and so on that tell your story). Other parts which may be added, but are not essentials are a web-form email system; forums; blogs; databases; shopping carts; and payment methods such as PayPal or Google Checkout.

  • The domain name:
  • The website programming: its design and structure
  • The website content: what it tells the customer
  • The options: an email system for the website?; a forum?; a blog? a shopping cart system and checkout system?

You need to think about your website, element-by-element, as listed above, and decide what you want for the first three -- in detail. Then you need to think about the other options and whether they are needed/desired or not. After you have done these mental and paper exercises, you can contact a potential webmaster. Don't waste his/her time and yours by contacting them before you do these steps.


Domain name cost per year: from free to $12.00. Any more than that is a rip off.

Webhosting cost per year: from $33.00 to $60.00 for a small business. If more than that, it is probably a rip off. There are loads of overpriced hosting plans out there.

Design of your website: from free (do it yourself) to $100/page. The guys who want $500/page are ... well, you get the idea. A truly complex website like Amazon could cost a whole lot more than $500 per page, because the page changes dynamically based on customer choices. This requires lots of programming. But a simple static (as opposed to dynamic) website that displays information that changes very little should be quite reasonable to construct and publish.

Maintenance of a website, once it is constructed and published, should cost you only $20.00 to $40.00 for an hour's work on the website. Maintenance should be inexpensive unless you are constantly changing products and prices, or adding lots of new features to the website. I can receive a new picture and the text that goes with it from a customer by email, take that photo and digitize it, and get it on the website in less than 15 minutes. At $40/hour, it would cost you $10.00. But I see folks charging $40 to $80 for doing this.

And of course, design and maintenance can be almost free if you find a friend who knows how to do websites and likes to do them just for the fun and experience and the closer friendship that results from working closely with you.

The point I am making is this; it doesn't need to be a bank breaker. Heck, I design websites, and I sometimes find that the free website templates are just what I want. If not, I'll design my own, but why pass up free if it is suits your needs AND your fancy? I found the template for this website online, for free. I loved it, so I used it. Most of my others I have designed myself; but I'm not too proud to use someone else's neat design.

Before You Build a Website

Write down exactly what you want the website to do for you. This will be the basis for your design work.

Pull together all the pictures you want on the website. Digital pictures or photos are fine. Any web designer can scan actual photos to make them into digital images. Or, do that yourself, and cut the designer's billable time.

Think of the Who?, What?, Where?, When?, and Why? of your website. Write paragraphs for each of these questions. Some will be used directly in the website, others will be guides for the designer. Do as much of your own writing for the website as you can.

Look at the content of a website that is selling something similar to what you want to sell (or advocate). Think of the elements that they have included. Think of the ones they missed, that leave you wishing they'd told you more. This exercise can be extremely helpful.

Don't be afraid to do it differently than anyone else is doing it. Just be sure you get your message across.

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