Your First Website
Creating your first web site can seem like a daunting task.
It is so important to the success of your business, but where do you begin?
Do you need a domain or web hosting?
If you do not have one already, the first step is to secure a domain name. The process is simple, go to one of the many registrars on-line, such as namecheap.com. They have an area on the home page where you can see if a domain name is available or not. Sullivan + Wolf Design can help you through the process and in deciding what names may be better than others. It's important that you save all the info they send you. Also important is that you are an Administrative contact. Many web firms try to make life easier for you by registering the domain name for you. Yet, if you ever need to switch design teams, this can create an issue. Always be in control.
Once you have a domain, you will need a "web host". A web host will provide you with computer space for your web site. They will also provide you with e-mail. Again, we're here to help you and can recommend a web host based on your needs. Sullivan + Wolf Design does provide hosting for our smaller clientele, but, you are never required to use it.
What pages will there be?
Before we can estimate your project, we will need a site map from you. We can hired to work with you to develop a site map and functionality list. But to go about it yourself, you will want to first think about the different types of viewers that your website will service. Potential new customers, existing customers, vendors, job seekers, investors, etc. Make a list for each one indicating what they need. Role playing is important. Put yourself in their seat and think about it. Review competitors and see what they have. Are there any special tools like calculators needed. Once you have your lists, review them and look for common items. Then place them into groups where possible. Common groups, or areas are About the company, products, services, support, contact, articles, and solutions. We recommend using MS Word in outline to construct your website's sitemap. It may look like this;
- About Us
- Management Team
- Service 1
- Service 2
- Knowledge Base
- Contact Support
The main purpose behind a site map is to identify what pages need to be built. Not what content will be on the page. If you wish to put comments on what needs to be on the page, identify it somehow like making it regular italic type, maybe in gray.
If a page is to have a special functionality, such as password protected, a form, calculator, etc. we DO need to know that up-front.
What about website forms
Web site forms are one of the more important facets of your website. They are usually an action step. The point where a customer is inquiring or buying. A good form will be easy to use. It may require that certain fields be filled in. That's called validation. We use various forms of validation to make sure that the required fields are filled out, the correct info is being submitted, that the email they typed in is correct, etc. Our proprietary form protection script prevents form abuse, and is far better at it than CAPTCHA.
Will the form be emailed to you or will you want this in a database or both? We'll need to know this. Placing a form's information into a database allows many report options and analytical tools. We will need to know what reports or capabilities you will need. If more than one user or group will be accessing the information, we'll need to know this to set this up properly.
Will there be any ordering (eCommerce)?
As above, we will need to know whether you will be selling items over the website. If so, will there be a need for a shopping cart or will an order form do? What's the difference? Primarily, a Shopping cart allows you to put something in the cart and go back shopping. An order form just allows you to proceed with Checkout.
If you are looking at less than 25 items, and you feel that the majority of people will just order and buy and not go back to look for other items, an order form may be what you need. It is a lot cheaper than a shopping cart. It will add up the purchase, including shipping, get the billing and shipping information, and of course payment, whether a credit card purchase or through PayPal.
How will the website be maintained
This is a big buzzword in the industry. A lot of website designers push what they call a CMS (Content Management System) onto clients. They often add cost to a project and may not be needed. It is important that you consider, in real terms, what will need to be changed and how often. In our experience, most websites do not change that much, that often. Keep in mind that we, like many other web site designers can do the maintenance for you. Just e-mail us what you need done, and it is often done in a day or two. We bill to the minute and invoice you monthly. Many smaller companies only require an hour or two PER YEAR of website maintenance. Important to note is whether the website design company you pick has built in X amount of maintenance hours. Will you use them all? What happens if you don't? Chances are you lose the money.
Maybe you just need to update a particular thing on a web site frequently, such as rate, or availability. A specialized CMS for this can usually be set up relatively cheaply.
If you are selling products, will the price or photos change frequently? If so, a CMS for that would be a good idea. If it is just once a year, or not often, then a database CMS may not be needed.
How will people find the site
Now that your site is published, all sorts of people will immediately come to the site. Wrong. It takes month to get into the Search Engine databases and more months to start even showing up at all. Depending on how much competition you have, this may be a difficult task to do well on search engine returns. For instance, if your site is about document management, or website design, you have a lot of competition putting a lot of effort into doing well. If you are selling antique door knobs, you may find little competition and it would be far easier to do well. We recommend that new sites invest into a Pay-Per-Click program like Google's Adwords. Your monthly budget can be as low as $50 a month to maybe hundreds per month. We can help you set up your program and to managing it.
Yet, you should have a SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plan into place. At least twice a year, we should check to see your rankings and to provide recommendations and/or provide adjustments to your site.
Also think about whether your customers are local, regional, national, or worldwide. The smaller the geographical area, the better one can do. An example would be if you are a financial consultant and only do business in New Hampshire. It is easier to get good results on "financial consultant NH" than just "financial consultant" which would return results from around the country and the World.
Social Media can be a powerful tool to not only attract new customers, but, to keep existing customers engaged with your company and website.
How much should I spend?
The big question. First, let's understand the basic areas that add to the cost of a website.
- Overall design
- Typesetting and content treatment
- Back-end requirements
- Overall code
This is the look and feel of the site, the interface, the navigation schemes. They can be basic to a ground breaking award winning design. It should be homogeneous to your Corporate Standards and Marketing and Advertising. If you do not have these items firmly in place, we may need to spend more time to develop one. Many bigger companies are opting for simpler interfaces, putting more time and energy on the content. Content is King.
But, if your site does not have a lot of great content and tools, you may want to opt for a fancier interface. This is especially true if you are a new company and want to create a more memorable look and start to establish Corporate identity and branding.
Typesetting and content treatment
Content is King.
Good writing, graphs and tables, photos, interactive items may add to the viewers experience and to build confidence. Remember, they are here for the content so put your effort into this. Generally, for most pages, the difference is about a half hour per page on the basic end to about 2 hours per page on the high end.
This often is what makes a website smart. For you and the viewer. Smart forms, searches, password protected areas, interactive display of information all make a website a better visit. Yet, they are usually not cheap, running from hundreds of dollars per item to thousands of dollars per item.
We are a full stack website design team. We are proficient at both front and back-end. While a third party web application is sometimes a better route to go than developing from scratch, we don't need to rely on other peoples coding to either create or web application, or improve upon an existing one.
Does the site work? Any bad links or images not found. Is the site set up logically and utilize current accepted coding practices? Has the website been optimized for speed and ease of maintenance? Is it scalable. A lot of website designers may be good artists, but do they have what it takes to build a good working web site? We often cringe when we view other web designer's work. Sloppy, shortcuts and bad practices often lead to problems down the road. We're here to help you if you are one of these website owners. We do it all the time. And most CMS applications have extremely bloated code which effects search engines and how fast your site downloads.
With the above factors in mind, you should then look at your competition. How good are their sites? You will want yours to be as good or better. That's simple enough. You should also consider the potential rewards. Increase sales, less cost on printed materials be produced and mailed, and also valuable info on customers wants and habits. For some companies, just one sale makes the cost mute. We are often amazed how that a company's website budget is less than the cost of the President of the company's desk!
OK, some rules of thumb;
- If your business has only a few employees and does less than 250,000/year, you should be around $800-$3,000. (Number of pages, back-end requirements, etc can affect these estimates)
- If your business has less than 50 people, and does less than 10 million a year in sales, around $3,000 - $8,000.
- If your business has more than 50 people, more than 10 million a year, and/or has stiff competition, consider around $12,000 to $30,000.
Again, there are many factors involved here and there is no one price that we can give. It is good that we truly understand your budget. It is not so much to "pad the bill" but to offer you what you should have that you can afford. Consider the purchase of a car, say a Jeep Grand Cherokee. They offer many models, with different capabilities ranging in price from about $28,000 to $68,000. Knowing that you want to spend around $30,000 allows us the knowledge so we do not try to sell you the model with the 6.1 Hemi engine going for about $47,000.
How long does it take?
Generally speaking, most website design projects usually take about 3 months. We have done them faster, but it requires that all your copy be ready at job start and for you to really stay on top of things. In reality most people can handle the pace. 95% of all sites we have built, that wanted a fast turnaround time did not launch on time due to the customer not getting us content and responding quickly to reviews. Consider too that we a re talking about custom work. Moving it to quickly doesn't allow us, or you, to live with the site and design long enough to really get a long term understanding. Unfortunately, we do not have a special button that inserts brilliance. It takes time, not just brute hours onto the job, but calendar time to think and reflect about decisions.
What differences are there between website designers/developers?
There are two basic groups of designers today, full stack and CMS orientated.
CMS orientated teams utilize popular Content Management Systems, or CMS, such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. They tend to be more front-end orientated, leaving major code writing to others by employing plug-ins. The problem is, that a plug-in to do exactly what you need it to do might not be available. In this case, you are out of luck as re-writing these plug-ins is not recommended and even if done, will be overwritten if they are updated, which they often need to do to maintain security.
Full stack teams or developers employ talent in both back-end and front-end. They do not need to rely so much on other peoples code. Applications and websites are designed, developed, and employed to do exactly what you need them to do. Since full stack teams are not relying on the rules of a CMS, their designs can often be more innovative.
Sullivan+Wolf Design, LLC is a full stack team
Freelancers versus Studios
Freelancers can often give a better price than a studio. Their overhead is low. But, how long have they been doing and most importantly, how long will they be doing it. Having been in the website design business for awhile may have provided them with the business experience required to do a job properly. Things like estimation, documentation, etc. may be affected by a "newby" It is also an indication if they will be around to finish the job as well as maintain your website.
The traditional studio can be expensive. That fancy building, the model behind reception, and the fancy work stations are all being paid for by you. They also need to keep on staff more people than needed to handle immediate requests from demanding clients. They also tend to add to the bill by having a lot of meetings with a lot of staff. Hey, making a font 20% bigger on page 26 doesn't require 4 people at $150 hour. They may also try to add on things like maintenance or copy editing that you don't need. For back-end design companies, they may require for you to have their expensive web hosting.
Sullivan + Wolf Design, LLC is a hybrid, a combination of a freelancer and full blown studio. We are a virtual company, with a main office, and can add talent as needs arise. This keeps our costs low. We try to avoid expensive meetings and know when to spend money and when not to. We've been around since 1989 and plan to be here for a long time. We have worked hard on listening to your demands and real needs and have formed a Studio that is the best of both Worlds. We hope you take the time to see the difference and why we have serviced so many companies