Websites: Hosting & Technology

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Web Site Series, Essay 05: Hosting & Technology

This is the fifth article in a six-part series on web sites–what to know, how to make your web presence successful, and other points to consider.

I will be 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.

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 slow 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.)

[Ed Note: This article was written in 2007, prior to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets. Today, any good website should be responsive to mobile devices.]

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? 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 such as WordPress, 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.

NEXT: Administration

This article first began as a September 6, 2007 writer blog post.

Erica Ridley