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As website developers, we get lots of questions about whether it’s useful to have a website and, if so, how does it work and what to expect from it.  Here is some useful information about website development: 

A website is a collection of pages on the World Wide Web that is accessed via a particular common URL, or web address (e.g. www.TheComputerCoach.net).  The content of the site’s pages may be varied, according to the purpose of the site.  It can be informational, sales, public access, collaborative, educational, personal or any number of other purposes.

How do you know if you have a use for a website?  The answers to this are as varied as there are businesses and people.  If you are thinking of a personal website so that you can communicate with your friends and family, maybe post photos of your family, pets and vacations, you can certainly have a site, but recently the free alternatives provided by such established “social networking” sites such as FaceBook , Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter provide a free and simple alternative to creating your own web presence.  Also, cloud storage alternatives, which come with various backup programs may suit your requirements; you can allow others to access your files.  Finally, you may use the “blog” format, which is a “diary” posted on the Internet, to which others may contribute or respond, giving it an interactive and current feel.

So lets look at the business end of website development:  If you’re only interested in posting information on the Web (such as this site), but not to actually consummate sales on line, that’s easier done and less expensive than creating and maintaining a sales site with an on-line catalog and a shopping cart for taking credit card orders which must be protected with encryption.  As you can see from even a cursory surfing of the Web, web sites can range from the simple to the extremely complex.  Add to this the increasing use of cell phones like the iPhone, Blackberry and the Droid to view websites that were previously written primarily for computers, and you will realize that you also have to design your web site to be viewable over these devices as well.

Consequently, the cost of development can range from the relatively inexpensive into tens of thousands of dollars.  However, regardless of the complexity of the site, the process for creating a web site is essentially the same.  First, you have to obtain a unique name (called a “domain name”) for your site.  If you’re lucky enough to obtain the name of your business as your domain, that’s great.  If not, you may have to get creative, establishing a memorable name that will link to your business.  Once you’ve paid and registered your domain name, you have to create the web pages, then upload them to a hosted server.  The host will, for a monthly charge, make your site available on the Internet 24x7x365.  This is something you can’t do with your home computer, which isn’t powerful enough to handle the traffic.  If you have changes, additions or deletions to the site, you can always upload them to the server immediately.

It’s important to remember, however, that simply having a website on the Web doesn’t mean that anyone is going to visit it.  Think of it like this:  You may have a car for sale, sitting on your front lawn. Only those few people who drive by and see the sale sign will know about it.  But, if you advertise in the local newspaper, telling readers where to find the car and all about the car for sale, you’ll get your message out to thousands of people, not just the few that drive past your house.  The common misconception that you can reduce traditional advertising costs because you have a web presence is absolutely incorrect.  If anything, at least initially, you will have to increase your advertising.  You must make sure that every business card, sales brochure, point-of-sale ad, print or radio/tv ad and the like have a link to your website prominently displayed.  You will have to “direct” the traffic to your site. The easiest way is to start is to add the site reference to your traditional advertising, as well as to inform your existing customers (add it to your billheads, stationery, newsletters, advertised specials, etc.).  Also, this is an excellent time, if you don’t already have one, to add a logo to your site that will carry through on your business cards, advertising, uniforms and other descriptors, providing your organization with a cohesive identity.  Moreover, even in the electronic and internet area, you have to have a more comprehensive plan, utilizing the other tools like blogs, site links,Tweets, Facebook pages and the like to drive business to the website to complete the sale transaction as well as keep your customers or prospective customers informed about sales, new products and the like. (For more click HERE.)

The second way to direct traffic to your site is through website optimization.  This topic is greatly misunderstood by clients.  Usually, optimization is not included in the website development or hosting process, and is an extra charge.  Depending on the extent of optimization desired, it can be quite expensive and must be continuous.  Simple optimization (“on-site”) involves the creating of the site in such a way that the search bots for the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) will find and index the pages in such a way that, when people type in key words, your listing will not only show up, but will show up “above the fold,” that is, on the first screen before the customer has to scroll down on the page to see your listing.  This is done using meta-tags, page descriptions, word frequency and some registrations with the major browsers.  Also, by registering variations (including misspellings) of your company’s name, slogans, logos and extensions (.com, .net, .co).  More complex (“off-site”) optimization involves, in addition, the creation and management of the site in such a way that the algorithms that are used by each browser’s search bots will locate your site and accord it high priority.  Because these algorithms are proprietary and change constantly, this is an ongoing process.  Finally, to assure placement of your site at the top of the screen, you can pay to put an advertisement for your site at the top or side of the search display page, or you can create links to and from other complementary sites, or use pay-per-click or other advertising from other sites or web portals.  Each of these optimization techniques will require time and effort and, of course, will involve additional expense. [This discussion ignores the possibility of paying for an audience by click.  This can be done by search results (e.g. Google Ads), content discovery (e.g. Outbrain, Taboola clickbait) or traffic brokers .  Costs can range from .1 cents to $670 per viewer by area and type of business.  The downside is that the “hits” you pay for may include “fake” visitors (“botnets”) or may not reach real viewers (only computer bots) that can be costly, as well as viewers who may not care about your product or service.  I don’t recommend going this way.  The old “shotgun” or “carpet bombing” approach isn’t necessary any more, unless you’re flush enough to pay for TV ads like, for example “Morgan & Morgan”.]

By now, unfortunately, almost everyone knows this.  And computer users are somewhat jaded by all of the hype on Facebook pages and browsers.  You may have to be creative, almost illegal, to get ahead.  Some people, for example, use the “grenade” approach, signing into discussion forums, Twitter and blogs, where they post unpopular opinions directing viewers to a separate site containing what purport to be impartial ads (really part of the site).  Or posting an article which is really a hoax which contains facts which direct traffic for a product without saying so.  The story may not be about the website or the product, only barely mentions it, but drives viewers to go there to find something out.  Or create a situation where there are real or fake posts against your position by major players, creating sympathy for you and clicks for your site and business.

The explosion of web sites on the Internet causes a significant recognition problem for new sites.  In 1994, there were fewer than 3,000 web sites, but by 2014 there were more than 1 billion, a 33 million percent increase.  Although this number fluctuates, the site Internet Live Stats supports this number.  Of course, it’s estimated that some three-quarters are inactive.  Abandoned, not kept up, expired, never even started.  In the late 1990s, the average life span of a site was approximately 100 days, now it’s only about 44 days.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the average user views very many, even though in 1999 Google was fielding 3 million search queries per day, and now the number has rampted up to 3.5 billion per day, some 40,000 every second.  According to to 2013 Neilson estimate, the average person still visits only 96 separate domains every month.  The bad news is that you’ve got competition (but you’ve always got competition, no matter what the media), the good news is that you’ve got to stand out and stand out fast.   And the trend toward online advertising is increasing daily:  A 2016 PriceWaterhouseCoopers study (Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2016-2020)  shows that for the first time in 2017, online advertising will surpass spending on TV ads. 

Assuming you can drive some customers to your website, you have to have a product or service that they’ll want to buy once they get there.  The layout, content, style and graphic aspects of the site are very important and have to be customized specifically for you.  Everyone knows what the inexpensive “template” sites look like, and you’re not going to get much action from a cookbook site or one which isn’t at a real domain (e.g. www.geocities.com/~jkel19288).  Customers who have never met you must necessarily be influenced by solely what you say and how you say it.  This includes text and graphics such as pictures, photos and other intangible information such as colors, background, layout, etc..  While you may really know your business, it’s not the same as knowing how to promote it, particularly on the Web.  For one thing, keep in mind the focal point of the site - i.e. What do you want your prospective customer to do after viewing the site?  Call you?  Fill in an e-mail form on the site and submit it? Place an order? Set up an appointment with a rep?  Each and every aspect of your site should drive the customer to this task.  Also, you should have some idea of the ideal customer “profile” (geography, age, gender, employment, income range, etc.) for your product or service.  Does the optimization, language, photo samples and overall web design appeal to this profile?  And, if you’re in a high competition area (lots of web sites for your type of business), how have you distinguished yourself from the others?  Do you have a “hook” to get your prospective customers to take that final step and come to you?

Much will depend on your particular type of business.  Take restaurants, for example.  There are whole companies which specialize in menu design, both on-line and at the physical site.  These designers take into account many factors:  The type of restaurant may be best served by iPads, not paper menus, for example.  They know to avoid color like yellow, which have been shown not to be pleasing to diners, or green, which are.  Some don’t use the ubiquitous $xx.99, pricing, or even use dollar signs and cents at all for various reasons.  They use known psychological and physiological traits to direct your attention using “scan-paths”.  Most humans have eye fixations when reading that mean that they are initially drawn to the upper right corner of a page, then the top left and so forth.  So high profit items are usually on the top right of a menu.  Since primacy (like recency) is a proven psychological fact, most viewers will remember what they saw first and are more likely to purchase that item, although it is a practice to list a high priced item with lower priced items below, figuring that a rational human will go for the lower priced ones.  And, of course, the description of the offering is extremely important, as adjectives like “handcrafted,” “slow-cooked,” “fresh from scratch,” “grandma’s family recipe” all convey a certain experience.  Other design factors include font type, color, background, boxes to highlight specials and a host of other things to get you to purchase what they are pushing.  This discussion only related to one type of a thousand businesses, but you get the point - nothing is as simple as you think, and it takes a lot of work to manipulate (yes, manipulate) your customers into buying what you’re selling.  You can either spend a lot of time figuring this stuff out for yourself or hire an expert, but still expect to spend some time and money on it.

Basically, if I had to summarize excellent SEO strategy  these days, it would be the following order - Keyword placement, then on-site (titles, tags, images, etc.), website architecture (menus, mobile optimization, etc.), speed (clean scripts, correct links, compressed images, etc.), social media hookups (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), excellent content (writing, arrangement, product, etc.), coordination with other PR, both online and offline and, finally, links to other websites.  If that seems like a lot, it is.  It’s no longer the easy task it was back in the 90s.

These are just a few of the considerations for developing and maintaining a web presence.  If you stick to these considerations, chances are that you will be successful.

See also:  So You Think You Want Your Own Business.

See also, Webs, Twitter, Tags (QR Codes), Social Networking, How To Sell To Millennials, Marketing & Advertising on the Internet, Gen.

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