I want something like eBay or Amazon, can you do this for £100? Really!

I’m sure that we are not alone when it comes to being asked to supply a potential client with a website that does the same as eBay or Amazon for the princely sum of £100. The other frequent request we get is for a website that the client can offer advertising space on, often followed up with the question of “how long will it take to make me a lot of money?”

The look of dismay and utter disbelief on their faces when you attempt to explain, that if it was that easy everyone would be doing it. We don’t want to destroy anybody’s dreams, but we do pride ourselves on being honest!

Our honest advice to such unrealistic goals is usually greeted with some disappointment, but then we go on to look at alternatives that are more achievable. This is the point when we know if the enquiry is likely to turn into a worthwhile project for our client. Should the client listen to our advice and have that spark of excitement or enthusiasm, or a genuine belief that they could take their idea and make it pay, we do our best to work it through with them. Sometimes they may say in an indignant tone, that “we have spoken to some other web design firms that claim this sort of thing is easily achieved, as it’s not exactly rocket science” and “to be honest, anyone can make a website”. OK then, if it’s that easy, why are you here?

Sure, with a little practice and maybe a degree of artistic flair, many people could make a fairly decent looking website, but will it deliver the goods?

Programming is the Secret

The typical website design company has no idea how to create an eBay or Amazon type of page or website, or even what they are. The ability to write HTML web pages is a very small part of what eBay does, they are programmers and database administrators. If you want to have your own eBay, Amazon or Google you need to be or have a programmer, it’s as simple as that!

The fact is eBay does not maintain millions of pages. It maintains millions of users and listings. The site manages the pages automatically. But how?  If you are used to making pages using a web page editor like FrontPage or Dream Weaver, you could well appreciate then that there is no way ebay.com can make millions of pages that way! Sites like eBay and Amazon are actually huge computer programs that know how to talk to web browsers on the front end and to an SQL database server on the back end. They may have only a few dozen hand edited pages?

SQL databases and computer programmers cost money, so you simply will not get all that service and functionality on a tiny budget. There is nothing wrong with thinking big but take your time and have your website built in manageable stages. After all, a good website is never really finished!

A professional website is like an iceberg

What you see on the browser is literally the tip of the iceberg. You can’t see the time the designer spent researching the search terms, how long the design took to generate in Photoshop, the cutting up and coding, creating the animation, adding meaningful links or coding in the content. There is also the setting up of email boxes, domain names, hosting packages and FTP for publishing the website. This and more can be achieved on some of the better DIY packages but you need to know what you’re doing. Search engine optimisation isn’t exactly a black art, but getting it right is vital if you want to drive as much traffic to your website as possible. Other considerations such as website accessibility are also important but this is a subject that many web designers don’t even know about, so what chance has the DIY website builder? So, the question is whether to use a professional design company or take the DIY route.

Considerations

There are many things to consider when setting up a website. Should you opt for a professional company, always take notice of referrals from people you know or look around the web to see what is out there. We have seen some pretty cool designs and when we have clicked through to the design company’s website, we have sometimes been amazed at the poor quality of the coding employed. Often, they have used website building packages and not hand coded their own designs.

Recently a chap came to us as the pictures on his website were encroaching into the space that was supposed to be for the text content. The first thing we noticed was that the text was in fact an image of the text, with no alt or title tags and therefore invisible to the search engines. He had repeatedly asked the design company to rectify this, but it turned out that the designer had a full time job in another trade and simply dabbled with web design in the evening, and you guessed it, he used an editing package that he was unable to fully understand.

In desperation, the website owner attempted to take over and finish the site himself, but ended up spending hundreds of hours going round in circles. His time commitment was costing him more money than it would have cost to employ the services of a reliable design company from the start.

Search the web and make a check list of what you should be asking for. Try to familiarise yourself with at least the basic principles of search engine optimisation and accessibility. This way, it will be harder for the more unscrupulous, pyjama wearing, back bedroom office designer to baffle you with a load of techno babble, so again, listen to those referrals.

Will I make millions from selling advertising space on my website!

In order to sell advertising space on your website, you need to prove to your potential clients that you have a website that has a huge number of visitors. Only then will it be worth their while in paying you to advertise their goods or services on your website in the first place. Remember, there are literally hundreds of these websites out there, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you can earn a mint by having a new website published and being flooded with requests from the world and his wife for advertising space.

So what should a website do?

A good website should promote your goods or services. It should be eye catching, easy to navigate and have meaningful content. The content should be well optimised with your target audience in mind and not be crammed full of flashy gizmos and gadgets. It should also tell the visitor what you do or sell in a matter of seconds.

Write your content like a journalist would write a newspaper article. Don’t write long drawn out essays that will have the visitor losing the will to live and leaving the page before they get to the information they wanted in the first place.

People tend to scan website content rather than read it word for word.  Journalists usually describe the structure of a news story as an inverted pyramid. The essential and most interesting elements of a story are put at the beginning, with supporting information following in order of diminishing importance.

This structure enables readers to stop reading at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows people to explore a topic to only the depth that their curiosity takes them, and without the imposition of details that they could consider irrelevant, but still making that information available to more interested readers.

What now?

So if you want a website, remember, you need to learn to walk before you try and run. Don’t expect to have an all singing and dancing website that will make you a multi-millionaire within a fortnight, it simply will not happen!

Research your target audience and what they are searching for. Look at other websites and note the URL’s of ones that catch your eye, this will give you or a professional designer a fair indication of what kind of look you are after.

Don’t wait until you think your website is 100% complete before you have it published, get it up on the web and let those search engine spiders start to do their thing. Sure, you don’t want ‘under construction’ notices on the pages, but just a couple of paragraphs of meaningful content are enough to get you started. You can and should add to the content over time, keeping it up to date, relevant and fresh.

Look into the social media scene like Facebook, Twitter, Flikr and YouTube, to mention but a few. Ultimately remember, we live in an information driven society, so get blogging, posting and sharing and you will start driving your website up the rankings and your profits will follow suit.

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