Getting A Website: Ten Things To Think About

Abstract: This article describes ten issues to consider when getting a website, some of which are not immediately obvious. It is non-technical in nature and is intended as a general introductory guide meant for readers who are not computer experts.

Getting your first website? Choosing a web designer? Here are a list of things to consider you may not have thought about.

Not all of these are relevant to every website. For example, if you're after a small personal website for you and a close circle of friends, you can ignore most of them. However, if you're after something more fancy like a company website, an online shop, or building an online community, then you'd best be mindful of these issues so they don't crop up unexpectedly.

In any case, simply being aware of these considerations will make discussions with your web designer progress more smoothly.

1. Frequency of updates

A website is a living entity. It is rare nowadays for websites to be published and remain the same forever. Or if they exist, such websites tend to be forgotten and just gather dust.

You have to consider how frequently the site will be updated. Is it perhaps once a week? A couple of times a month? A couple of times a year? Or perhaps are you planning to add a blog entry every day? If you have an online community, your site might be updated every few minutes. That's very frequent, and your website needs to be built with that criteria in mind.

2. Who can edit?

Related to the frequency of updates is the question: who can edit the site? Is there a login into a backend of some sort so you can edit the site yourself? Or do you have to send your changes to your web designer and they'll do the editing for you?

Unless you have a site that changes only a few times a year, or you absolutely can't work with computers, then you probably want a website which you can edit yourself. Sure, you could email updates to your web designer for the first few times, but that gets tedious very fast. Do you really want to wait days for your changes to appear while you and your web designer clarifies and corrects? What if he or she is on holidays? More importantly, do you really want to pay your designer to do this for you?

Any decent web designer would prefer that you edit your site yourself. Sure, you might be paying them to do it, but they'd probably rather be doing something else more interesting.

There are exceptions to this, of course. If your web designer takes your content, adds photos, diagrams, and then lays it out all nicely, then perhaps it makes sense that they edit the site since they're also having creative input. Even then, however, you probably still want to be able to make corrections yourself.

If you want to be able to self-edit your site, then you'll need some sort of content management system (CMS). Don't worry, a CMS is just a fancy term meaning you can manage the content on your website yourself.

Most websites nowadays are powered by content management systems. Unfortunately, it costs more upfront, but over the long term, you'll save more by being able to make your own changes and additions. It's quicker, more convenient, and less painful for all involved.

3. Works on different computers and web browsers

A well designed website works on different computers and web browsers. Many people use Internet Explorer on a desktop by default, but that's not the only one to consider. How does your website look on an Apple Mac? On your friend's old laptop with a small screen? On a 3G mobile phone? Does your website still work properly?

You should ask your web designer whether your website will operate just as well on the majority of computers and web browsers, not just Internet Explorer. As a minimum, your website should look the same on Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, the two most widely used web browsers. After that, your website ideally should also work with Safari (for Apple Macs) and Opera. Ask your web designer about which browsers they test for.

4. Enhancements

Since websites rarely stay the same, you might need enhancements in the future. What if you want to add a side column with news? What if you want to allow visitors to add comments to your articles? What if you want your photo gallery to have a slideshow feature?

Perhaps you've thought your website out thoroughly and you won't need any enhancements, but if you do, are you going to be able to return to your web designer for that? Or if they're busy, do you have enough access to the website that you can get someone else to do it?

5. Maintenance and security

Similarly to enhancements, your website may need maintenance from time to time. This is usually infrequent, but it does happen. For example, the software powering your website may have a newly discovered security hole that allows people to hack in. Is that enough of a risk that you need to get it fixed? Or are you willing to ignore it because you think no one will want to hack into your site?

Your website may also need maintenance because the computer server it's running on is being upgraded, and your website needs changes to remain compatible. It's not your doing, and not your fault, but your website needs maintenance all the same.

You have to consider: what is the cost to you if your website goes down? If it's a personal site, then perhaps it's okay if it's offline for a day or two. If it's an online shop, then you'll be losing sales while it's not in operation.

These are issues you need to talk to your web designer about, and preferably ahead of time so they don't crop up in an emergency.

6. Backups

A backup is a snapshot of your entire website at a point in time. It allows you or your web designer to quickly recreate your website with the latest data in the event of a failure. This could be something as mundane as a hard disk failing, or you accidentally clicking on the equivalent of "delete all" in your backend.

Do you have regular backups of your website? Do you need backups of your website?

If it's a small personal site, then perhaps you don't want the hassle of managing backups. If it's an online shop or online community, then you'd want regular weekly or daily backups just in case something unexpected happens.

7. Support

If you need to call upon your web designer for help, whether it's enhancements, maintenance, or backups, do you have some sort of support agreement? If he or she is busy with another project, does the arrangement allow you to jump the queue?

Depending on the importance of your website, you may find such support agreements a worthwhile investment. Sure, you hope you won't actually need it, but it's there if you do, and there is peace of mind to know it's available.

8. Statistics

Once your website is up and running, you probably want to know how well it's doing. That's where web statistics come in. Most websites nowadays have elementary statistics which tell you how many visitors or clicks you are getting per day, week, or month, and where the traffic is coming from.

You can use web statistics to measure the effectiveness of parts of your website, or the effectiveness of changes to the website. You might want to ask your web designer how to utilise these statistics, and, if relevant, how to track individual visitors.

9. Promotion and marketing

Once your website is live, then you have to direct traffic to it. You do want people to visit your website, do you not?

The first source of traffic to consider are hyperlinks. You can post your website address to forums, directories, or to email mailing lists and hope that people follow the links. Make sure you post in the right context, however, as it's considered bad etiquette and sometimes downright rude to promote your site repeatedly or for it's own sake.

Once you've garnered a few links, search engines will hopefully take notice of your website and then send some searches your way. A well designed website takes advantage of search engines by being easy to navigate and having well structured content. Search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine friendly (SEF) websites are an entire topic in themselves, and hence beyond the scope of this article.

Lastly, if your website plays a part in producing revenue, then you can consider paid advertisements. These are like normal hyperlinks except that they are paid to appear on high traffic websites in valuable locations, and hence people are willing to pay for the placement.

For more about website promotion and marketing, you should ask your web designer, or failing that, you can approach an online marketing practitioner.

10. You get what you pay for

The range of websites and features varies considerably. On one hand, there are cheaply designed websites which offer just the bare necessities and nothing else: no editing. On the other hand, there are high end websites with all the bells and whistles: able to handle a million users, a management and support contract, automated backups and statistics, an online marketing strategy and so on.

For most people, somewhere in the middle will do nicely. The best thing to do is to consider your own needs: What is the website used for? How fancy does it need to be? How important is it? What is the cost to you if it goes down? And then look for a price and feature set to match.

Hopefully with this article, you'll be more informed about the possibilities.

With websites, it is really a case of you get what you pay for. And sometimes you don't want to discover that the hard way.