Planning Your Web Site - Common Pages, Elements and Concepts
How much will a website cost me?
I frequently get asked the question, "How much will a website cost me?" That is really tough to answer without knowing the scope of the project. It is likely to be between $500 - $3000. A truly enterprise level project can run many times that figure - the U.S. Humane Society site reportedly cost between $100,000 to $150,000. Plain and simply the answer is, "It depends." Be it a one page site or an enterprise level project, it truly depends on how much time it will take to develop the site, how much you have to say, what you have to work with, etc. The answer to the unasked question is, "Yes, I can create a site for under $500, but it is unlikely to become a solution."
These are the first set of questions which come to mind when asked to develop or redo a website:
- What is your goal, what do you hope to accomplish in having a website?
- Can you give me an overview of your business, business name, your expected client base, etc? Who is your audience?
- Can you list the pages that you want on your site?
- What do you want people to do on your site? --- Change in behavior, solve problems before calling you, fill out a form, purchase something, subscribe to a list, etc?
- Will you be selling services or merchandise online?
- Do you have a design in mind? Is it on paper or can you point me to similar designs/sites?
- Do you have artwork, logo, imagery, etc?
- Do you have content?
- Have you done any internet research of your competition? Who is it?
- Do you understand the concept of search engine optimization? Do you have any keyword phrases in mind?
- Do you understand that it takes many months for new sites/pages to gain acceptance/visibility amongst search engines?
- Will you have the time to be able to add/update content yourself or is that something you would like me to do?
- What is your budget - and/or - how much were you expecting to pay for your site?
- What is your results-oriented timeframe? This is critical to setting expectations.
Some other considerations that will impact the amount of time, effort and cost:
- Simple vs complex (many elements, intricate) design
- Number and complexity of pages
- Available assets - images, logos, banner ads, backgrounds, etc. - the more of these things you can provide (of quality), the less research time and effort for the developer. Stock photography is not free, nor is the research time to locate it.
- Time spent in researching the competition, competitive analysis, developing site plan
- Time and energy placed on Search Engine Optimization and/or Search Engine Marketing.
- Cost of hosting, domain registration, shopping cart software, etc.
- Account management
Characteristics of a Successful Web Site
Most small businesses don't need an intricate, flashy, ornate site. What is needed is a site that:
- Search engines will love - i.e. is findable by current/future clients who use the internet
- Loads fast
- Is easy to update and is frequently updated
- Is 'accessible' to surfers, including the visually handicapped
- Uses current best practice web development techniques
- Will be easy to 're-skin' when the time comes
- Provides relevant content to the audience
You probably don't want a site that will turn people away because it is archaic, out of date, broken, unduly expensive to update, is not findable because it was not developed with search engines in mind and/or banned by the search engines. Good websites are designed to look reasonably similar across different platforms and web browsers, the most commmon of which are Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera. If your site breaks for Firefox users and they make up your primary audience, then you have some homework in hand.
Be it simple or ornate, put some thought into design. Make notes of other sites that interest you as you cruise the internet. For examples of a variety of layout variations, visit my Layouts and Designs page. Take notes.
Getting seen by Google and the other Search Engines
Lead time - setting your expectations - although it may take a day, a week, a month to develop a site and make it available on the web, it will take longer to convince Google that it is trustworthy and relevent. Although there are other major search engines out there, Google is currently the master, well ahead of Avis... Generally speaking, it can take perhaps 6-12 months to get Google to trust you in getting good rankings in organic searches. The point - Plan ahead! There are many articles that discuss this, the logic and reasoning.
If you have chosen to put the 'project' on hold for several months while you gather content/funds, you would be much better off getting a skeleton site with links to planned pages set up now, than waiting to have all your ducks lined up. This will give Google, etc. some time to get acquainted with you. Another option to get through this 'sandbox' stage is to set up some paid advertising such as 'Adwords'.
Use the tables that follow to get an idea of just a few of the ways a web site can be used to benefit a business, giving it a professional quality. Your homework is to make up a drawing or diagram of what might constitute the home or landing page and identify supporting pages that work for your business profile. Think dynamic! In your drawing sectionalize pieces that are static vs those that might have rotating information, etc. This forms the basis of a functional specification document.
Review and print the list if necessary, highlighting the pages, sections that fit your need. If it's a one page site, that's fine.
Table I - Common Pages
|Home / About||Home is the traditional landing page. About us (optional) can be a subsection of Home, does not need to be separate page. Your choice!|
|FAQ||Depending on business type, educate your viewers - In automotive terms, what is the difference in cost, warranty, etc for NEW, OEM or AfterMarket, USED parts - what situations are good opportunities to buy USED? When is OEM a must? When to be on guard against USED, OEM; smart buying tips.
A financial advisor could discuss some confusing topics in layman's terms.
|Services / Products||Assumed services can be easilty overlooked. How many times has someone said, "I didn't know you did that. You sell tires in addition to doing tune-ups. But you're probably more expensive than Discount Tire, yes?"|
|Firm/Business Profile||Meet our Friendly Staff or Firm Profile with/without BIOs, pictures.|
|Testimonials - References||Page with form that folks can use to submit a testimonial or reference online. Or internally you can add/administer the content yourself. Keep it flowing|
|Image Gallery / Showroom||Image galleries, slide shows and showrooms are great for businesses which have a visual service to offer, perhaps before/after service (work samples) as with a body shop, travel, destinations, artists. Numerous variations are available.|
|Memberships||List organizations, affiliations, memberships, credits, etc.|
|Latest news!||Self-administration forms can be used to help the business owner to be less reliant on the web developer to update a web site. A form can be developed that can be used to display a paragraph or so of Hot News of an article in a section on the front page along with a link to view the rest.|
|Signup / Registration||Signup form - for newsletter, future mailings; registration form to access member only content.|
|Online newsletter||Develop an online newsletter - could be managed through a self-administration form.|
|Privacy, Confidentiality, Disclaimer||Frequently seen on eCommerce and enterprise sites.|
|Contact Us||Contact us can be a simple page with address, email and directions/map or a form which guides folks through a few questions first.|
Table II - Consumer Help & Advice
|Site map||A site map is a page which lists all the pages of a web site. The purpose is both to aid viewers in finding pages as well as help search engines to spider sites that have sometimes overly creative, yet difficult to spider menus.|
|Link exchange||a.k.a. Reciprocal Link Exchange page. Find complementary businesses will to link to your site in exchange for a link on yours - does not need to be reciprocal, but may help to get process going. This is often managed by an SEO expert for you. SEO experts give extremely high emphasis on a link exchange campaign to boost search engine rankings. This is work!|
|Site search||Not usually necessary for small sites, but extremely beneficial on multi-page complex ones.|
|Ask the expert||Identify a topic (topics) that you are the expert with and let folks pose questions - probably something they could not 'easily' do themselves or perhaps 'screwed up' in the past. An alternative approach would be to do this as an hour chat session weekly - and programmatically dump the sessions to a spot on the website. There would need to be a disclaimer, etc discussing limiting topics, extent of advice - and for anything published, noting that it may be summarized, paraphrased, etc for publication.|
|How to interview||Show you are an expert by offering tips on how to interview an expert in whatever service you are offering.|
|Self-help||How you can help yourself - In the example with a lawfirm, list of things that potential clients can do for themselves before contacting an attorney.|
|Publicize a list||Folks love lists. They are popular are game shows, educational sites, etc. Think about lists in the concept of both a list of do's and don't. Gotcha lists are entertaining. Submit a list to www.digg.com - and pray that the voice is heard.|
|Relevant links||Have a page listing links of other relevant sites with pertinent info - example for an attorney - could be pointers to some of the government sites with court forms.|
|Noteworthy events & decisions||Information that makes a difference in trust, concept - for an attorney you might identify some major cases that indicate you match up with the big guys.|
|Tour our Facility||Page taking you through a tour of a facility. For a health club could show various fitness and exercise equipment; for a spa/salon could show treatment rooms, perhaps with some clients enjoying some chill time. Need quality photographs, not amateur.|
|Data collection forms||Forms can be used to collect information/data which you would need online at some point anyway. A good example would be a complaint form.|
Table III - Service / Marketing / e-Commerce
|eCommerce / PayPal||If sell merchandise or services, is there need for a shopping cart or perhaps a way to accept donations?|
|Contest||Online Contest - Chance to WIN a prize - offer a monthly prize for responding to something during a specific timeframe. - Credibility warrants that you must be prepared to identify prize winners.|
|Full service at competitive prices||Full service != higher cost. Need to dispel the myth that full service typically means higher prices. The negative example is a specialty store like Hobby Town - they offer more variety in models, but at 15-20% higher cost. Several hardware stores such as Ace Hardware or Mcguckin also seem to offer extraordinary selection and good service, but at a premium cost. If yours is an automotive repair service, show examples of how you not only stack up, but beat the competition for price and also provide the opportunity to support a smaller, local business, rather than a conglomerate.|
|Check out our Current Specials - daily, weekly, monthly, spontaneous||Collateral marketing is costly, time-consuming and inefficient- find ways to divert all paper marketing to the website. Train your client base to check the web. Say things like "Check our specials page for the most current special", rather than detailing the special. Clients will need constant reinforcing that the specials are there, up to date, accurate:
|Bundled packages/savings||Think about packages - bundled services that complement one another. An automotive business example - Folks don't like to buy a second set of wheels at dealer prices to keep snow tires mounted. The smart automotive business could offer a service locating used wheels with a set of snow tires. There could also be a page listing new merchandise as well as used stuff sitting in the back of the garage, fenders, trannies, etc. "Did you know we sell tires and wheels - compare our prices with our competitors". Provide an example. For areas where you can't compete in price, how about service? Let folks on the internet find your stuff that would be collecting dust.|
Table IV - Sectional Elements
Many of the following items will typically occupy a section of a page, perhaps a column or a block.
|Calendar, Events reminder||Calendar, events reminder, schedule of events - list format or graphical interface.|
|Poll / Survey||Survey your customers|
|Blog||Short definition - Blog is the common acronym of the term weblog. A blog is a publicly (commonly) accessible web-based journal. Blogs can allow for the posting and updating (if update access is configured) to the journal by non-technical people. Blogs are now popular in business and academia as an enterprise knowledge management tool for internal use. Beware - a blog is not a sit and watch tool - here again you gotta do your homework to make it successful.|
|Coupons||If applicable, the printed output of an online coupon should include an area where the client enters his/her name and fills in how he found out about us - i.e. google, regularly checks the site, etc. This info would later be used for statistical analysis.|
|News/RSS feeds||Setting up pages with sections for news and RSS feeds can be used to increase the dynamic nature of a site without having to put in T/E to manually update content.|
|Banner ads||Tasteful, relevant banner ads can bring income in through a site.|
|Time/date, weather, stock, astrology, games||If not overused, not too tacky, a little bit of fun stuff can spice up a very bland site.|
|Flash Intro||Flash intros/banners can also be eye-catching if properly used. The common problem with intros such as these is that they can act as a wall to both search engines and handicapped visitors and tend to be expensive.|
Table V - Marketing Concepts
|Search Engine Optimization||Concepts - Learn the basic buzzwords around search engine optimization so that you can make educated decisions whether an SEO or SEM (search engine marketing) campaign would fit your business needs. Put yourself in your client's shoes. Learn enough about search engine optimization to be able to ask smart questions of the future SEO expert you want at your side. See my page on Search Engine Optimization for a general overview on the topic.|
|Key phrases / search phrases||What would you guess are some of the key phrases that someone would type into google or any search engine that you would like to bring them to your site? An SEO expert will take and analyze your ideas, research optional phrases and come up with a plan to meet your needs.|
|Voice Recording/Message||If you have a phone system which has a voice recording for when folks are placed on hold, incorporate references to the site in the message - could say something like visit www.mysite.com for a list of our current specials, including those that change daily, check for chance to WIN...|
|Craigslist - Denver||Use the local www.craigslist.org (www.denver.craigslist.org) to offer merchandise for sale and/or services.|
|Viral marketing||Viral marketing is an interesting concept. As you know a virus is a type of contagious infection that can spread from the original host to many in alarming speed and logarithmically increasing scale. Viral marketing works the same way. You find something cute, interesting, pass it along to the next carrier who passes it along to a couple more. Email and blogs are common carriers. con|
|Accessibility||Accessibility refers to presentation of a web site in a structure that is accessible (navigable) to handicapped or visually impaired readers. See the article Introduction to Web Accessibility published on the World Wide Web Consortium site for elaboration. Just as many old sites were not developed with accessibility in mind, many present day designers (your neighbor's son next door, the weekend warrior cousin who creates site in his spare time) aren't familiar with the need nor the fact that at some point in time the Government will make accessibility requirements the law. Your web designer should be someone whose passion is web design, not just a hobby.
See the article Legal Precedent Set for Web Accessibility published on yahoo for pertinent information.
|Statistics||Anything can be done with numbers. 10,000 hits on your site per month mean little. Determine the elements of success and get a statistical package that delivers pertinent, relevant results.|
The Project Plan
There still needs to be a consensus between the owner and designer on who does what, who owns what, etc. It might include:
- List and types of pages including administration forms
- Diagrams, drawings and/or a functional specifications document describing the site
- General background regarding the purpose of the web site and services offered - this helps me as a developer to better meet the needs of the site! Who are your clients?
- Who is handling graphics, including stock photography, clip art (research time if necessary)
- Who owns creating content, etc.
- Help documentation (if applicable) for the site owner
- Set up and registration of hosting, transfer of domain, etc.
- Training time included
- Project completion date
- Account management - meeting time (included or not) and mileage
- Project cost or hourly rate
- Agreed upon rate for maintenance and modifications after site up and running, including search engine optimization
The agreement need not be formal, nor long, just lay it out so there are no open doors. Without it, enter the picture, scope creep! In the development world scope creep is the phrase which describes a project in which, for whatever reason, the project tasks keep getting amended as the project moves along. It can be caused by mixed expectations, an ambiguous requirements document, new information, change in direction, whatever. The effect of scope creep is that the project takes longer than expected, the designer ends up putting more hours in than expected and there are frequently disagreements around billing for the extra time.