All About Web Sites: Day 5 of 6

The web site series continues:

* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

(REMINDER: I’m discussing for the first time ever, my real-life Creative Brief I send to all potential clients. This is proprietary information, so please don’t copy anything I say without asking and/or providing credit.)

The next section on the Creative Brief questionnaire is
HOSTING & TECHNOLOGY.

Get out your pen and paper!

1. What is your target platform and browser? What screen resolution would your target audience like to see your web site and/or print media? What is the lowest common denominator of browser version you will target?

Have you ever visited a web site that looked like a tiny postage stamp in the center of your screen? How about a web site that made you scroll left-to-right in addition to up-and-down? This is where you consider your audience and design the technical specifications of your web site accordingly.

If you were targeting video game developers, for example, it would be safe to assume those visitors would have large screens with high resolution, fast internet connections, the latest browsers and every plug-in known to man. If you were targeting elderly retirees, on the other hand, it would be safe to assume a good chunk of those visitors would have dial-up connections, older computers, smaller monitors, and whatever browser came installed with their operating system.

For group A, maybe you decide on 1024×768 with the latest bells and whistles. For group B, maybe you decide on 800×600 with a straight HTML interface. (Your web developer can help you decide.)

2. Will your web site have a need for specific plug-ins or adaptive technologies? (Ex: Acrobat Reader, JavaScript, Secure SSL transactions, databases, etc) If so, how will they enhance the user experience? Please describe in detail.

This is where you say to your web developer either, “I want a basic site, so simple that people can browse my content from their cellphones.” OR, “My site better have flash animation, scrolling submenu navigation, a database-driven fan database with password protected content, real-time credit card processing for the merchandise available in the online catalog, and a Java plug-in taking polls on what to name the hero in my next book.”

(Obviously, there’s a wide spread in between those two extremes. Make sure your web developer knows where you fall.)

3. Do you have a domain name in mind? If so, what? Is it registered? If so, where? If you already have an existing web site, please indicate current programming language(s) and type of database(s) used, as applicable.

Sometimes you contract a web developer to fix, update, add to, or redesign an existing web site. Other times, you may be starting from nothing.

No matter how close or far you are from launching a web site, the second you know what domain name you want, verify its availability and make the purchase. If you prefer, your web developer can do the actual procurement for you, but the key is to own the name you want before anyone else has a chance to register it.

If you already have a domain name, share that information with your web developer. Either you or your web developer will need to access the DNS information at the registrar in order to point the nameservers toward the appropriate hosting provider.

Also let her know whether the current site is in plain HTML, or whether it contains custom JavaScript, PHP, ASP, ColdFusion, JSP, Perl, .Net, etc. This is important because if you want your web developer to modify your web site, you’d better verify she has the know-how to do so!

4. Do you have Internet access at your business (or home office)? If so, is it high-speed or dial-up? If not, do you intend to procure Internet access in the near future?

This information will help the web developer to understand how you will be interacting with your web site. She’ll want to know when and how often you’ll be available to view the changes as she posts them. Often, the time necessary to complete a web project varies proportionately with the responsiveness and availability of the web site owner.

If you have a day job that prevents you from checking your email or web site until you return home, or if you only have Internet access while at work, this is something your web developer may need to know.

5. Do you have existing web hosting? If so, will you be keeping the same service provider or are you in need of a new hosting location?

If you already have a domain name and a hosting provider, give your web developer the corresponding login information for web control panel and FTP access, so she can alter the web site.

If your vision for your website contains functionality not provided by your current hosting provider or plan (ie, tracking features, integrated databases, secure certificates, upload capabilities, etc) then you will need to research an alternate provider. Your web developer can aid you with this task, provided she is aware of the technological parameters you plan to implement in your new site.

6. Whether or not you keep your existing web-hosting provider or procure a new one, please indicate server platform, capabilities, disk quota and hosting provider contact information below.

This is important for many reasons. Perhaps your web quota is 100mb, but the video files for your book commercials total 150. Obviously, there is a disconnect there, even without factoring in the disk space required for site images and the code itself.

Or perhaps you want to transfer your existing ASP web site to a Linux server, because Linux hosting is so much cheaper than Windows hosting. It is not as simple as moving the files from Point A to Point B, because ASP is a Windows-based programming language and will not work on Linux servers. The converse is true for other programming languages.

Also, any time you move files from one server to another, even if you keep the same language and the same server platform, many times scripts will need to be updated with the new file paths or DSNs or IPs or mailservers or any number of other details. Make sure your web developer is kept abreast of these items.

7. Do you intend to maintain the web site (i.e. content and site updates) internally? If so, does your staff need training to do this? Please indicate a contact person. Will your web site require administrative content-updating functionality?

In other words, will the web developer be providing web site maintenance and content updates or will you? You will need to come up with a solid plan.

Perhaps your site content will change once a month, and even then, only on the home page. In that case, perhaps you don’t wish to be bothered with learning a programming language, and it’s just as easy to email your web developer with the new changes. Determine in advance whether your web developer will be operating on a fixed-fee monthly retainer or a billable hourly rate.

Or perhaps your site will change frequently, with merchandise coming and going from an online catalog and a news ticker updating hourly and a Tip Of The Day scrolling across the home page. In this case, it may not make sense to bombard your web developer with emails requesting content changes.

You may wish to learn enough HTML to make your own updates. (And if so, tell your web developer in advance so she can design the pages with that in mind.) Or, perhaps you want your web developer to install or create an easy content management system, where you can type the new text into a text box and click a submit button to push those changes live. Decide well in advance, so the site can be created accordingly.

It is always much faster and much cheaper to develop a web site correctly the first time than to have to go back and redo whole chunks due to functionality changes after programming has begun.

YOUR TURN: Do you have a web site? If so, how did you choose your hosting provider? If not, do you at least own a domain name (or three)? In a perfect world, how would you prefer to have your web site content updates handled?

10 comments

  1. Bill Clark - Reply

    No matter how close or far you are from launching a web site, the second you know what domain name you want, verify its availability and make the purchase.

    OK, it sounds like this is the must-do first step for anyone with even a remote interest in a web site. Some questions:

    1) Where do you go to check availability and make the purchase?

    2) How much does it cost?

    3) Is this a one-time fee, or an annual expense?

    4) Are there competing “vendors” in this area? If so, which one should a person choose, and why?

    5) Do any of the vendors also offer web site hosting, or other bennies that might make them a more attractive choice? (You know, mouse pads or keychains with your fabulous new web address in day-glo colors, or whatever?)

  2. Erica Ridley - Reply

    1) Any registrar will check availability before allowing you to purchase. For example, if you go to GoDaddy.com and do a search for “microsoft.com”, it will tell you that domain is already taken. (And probably offer several alternate choices/spellings.)

    2) Between $5 and $30? I use GoDaddy, who tends to keep it under $10.

    3) Annual expense

    4) Gazillions. Number one importance is availability and responsiveness.

    I once purchased a domain name (years ago) which I wanted to transfer to a different registrar. I tried to contact the company where I initially bought the domain name, but they were overseas, only did sales via telephone/internet, and required paper mail documentation for any other requests.

    They never did acknowledge my letters requesting them to transfer my domain elsewhere, and my ownership expired. Before I had a chance to renew elsewhere (I’m talking minutes, not days) one of the many squatter companies trolling the internet for expired domains purchased my recently-expired domain name out from under me.

    To this day I do not own it, and it is still “available” via auction. I have not made that mistake again. Saving two or three bucks a year is not worth being unable to handle all transactions yourself.

    Your registrar should give you the ability to buy, edit, transfer, remove, etc, your domain names via an easy control panel, without need of calling, emailing, or sending registered letters. And if you do not know how to use the control panel, no worries–your web developer certainly will.

    5) Yes, many do. It is not necessarily a bad idea to go with them, but it is also not necessarily the best idea. Totally depends on what they offer as compared to what you need, and their price for doing so.

    Web hosting runs from $5/mo to $1500/mo, depending on multiple variables ranging from available support staff to quantity/licensing of technology to corporation overhead.

    There is a balance here as well between a low cost provider whose support staff and options are negligible to a high cost provider who may or may not provide better service, but happens to be local or a big name. Definitely shop around. Your web developer should also have ideas and tips.

  3. Celeste - Reply

    I’ll go! I’m using GoDaddy because that’s who I registered my domain name through. My head was spinning at first because there were so many options of where to go. I knew my website was going to be very straightforward, because I’m unpublished and can’t drop a chunk of change on my writing career until it’s paying me at least something. So far, this has been just fine for my needs, but I do make little tweaks to it regularly, especially when a friend cares to comment on how I could make it look nicer.

    Thanks again, Erica. This is really generous of you to share all this with us 🙂

  4. Mary Witzl - Reply

    Wow. Please don’t delete this blog, Erica, as I’ll know where all of this is when I get to this point. Someday!

    Today I learned how to create links. Please don’t laugh. I only just learned what a blog was in December of last year; the fact that I can now create links should be viewed on par with, say, George Bush writing out the U.S. Constitution from memory.

  5. TJ Killian - Reply

    I’ll go next – I’m with GoDaddy and Freewebs (this one will go live and ad free in October).

    Both I chose first for cost (you gotta love low price and in the case of Freewebs – free to set up)and second because I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to develop the website.

    If you live in the land of novice to website development, such as I do, GoDaddy was a tad more difficult to set up and update. I’ve gotten used to it, but at first it was a bit frustrating.

    Freewebs is almost idiot proof. It’s a simple pick template, build site, then use function keys to edit. Though for some, when you go live (ad free), their webhosting for a fairly prolific author, like myself, is twice what it is with GoDaddy.

    I was with Yahoo for a short period of time – but they are now no adult content. They were another point and click site. They are also moderately priced.

  6. Bill Clark - Reply

    OMG!! I blinked and the scenes-to-go-meter dropped from 12 to 6!!

    Almost there!!

    *Bill squiggles with excitement*

  7. Bill Clark - Reply

    And now it’s down to 4!!

    *Bill wonders if he should get a life and stop staring at Erica’s metric progress*

  8. erica - Reply

    Thanks, Celeste and Mary! Glad it was helpful! =)

    Bill: LOL. Fair warning: I’m heading out the door for a client meeting. No progress for a little while…

    *sobs*

    I’m soooo close! Darn those pesky clients!! 😉

  9. Vicki - Reply

    I’m with godaddy.com and yahoo, I have two domain names since my first one was not exactly what I wanted.

    Instead of doing via the internet I called godaddy and did over the phone. We talked about several different ways to do my name since the name by itself was taken. What happened next is the guy used the wrong one. Not the one I ended up picking.

    I’d like to say it was all his fault but I didn’t use it for several months and didn’t verify that I had the correct domain name. So, now I have readvicklane.com (who is going to go to that? no one).

    I still like godaddy alot. This was truly my mistake and not theirs. Since we talked about so many names it became confusing.

    I have to agree with Erica. If you know the name you want, do it now. It may be gone when you try to get it later.

    My website is through yahoo. It’s okay. Nothing great. Since I’m not yet published I decided it would be fine for now.

    I will probably do something different once I’m agented. At that point I’ll probably pay someone professional to set it up. While I’m pretty good on the computer I still have tons to learn about websites. 🙂

  10. Katrina Stonoff - Reply

    I have registered domain names with both GoDaddy and NetworkSolutions, and I’ve been able to transfer with both. I think GoDaddy is a little cheaper. I own the domain names for my last name, my first and last name, and both my novel titles, but I’m anal that way.

    I’ve also used NetworkSolutions as a host, which worked fine as long as my website was really simple but got much more complicated as I wanted more pages.

    My current webhost is AmericanAuthor.com. They cater to authors (the owner is an author himself), so their templates are designed to meet our needs: i.e. a page for news, a page for tour schedule, a bio page, a page for excerpts, etc. Mine is a customized site: it was relatively cheap because they started with a pre-existing template, but it’s unique. Best of all, I can update it myself, using html if I want/can or their online form software if I don’t/can’t. If I have a question, I’ve found them readily available and always gracious about giving me time.

    I think I pay about $30 a month for hosting, but it’s a nice compromise between needing money (to pay a professional) or needing time (to learn and use html myself).

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Erica Ridley
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