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How to Launch a Web Site Without Fear & Frustration

Having a web site is an essential part of a successful marketing program because more and more people are going to the internet to find out about businesses - even those right in their own neighborhoods.

Launching a web site can be an intimidating process, especially for smaller businesses. However, today’s marketing environment increasingly gives the advantage to businesses which have a web presence. This even includes businesses whose market is highly localized.

If you don’t have a web site because you find the process a mystery or fear the cost - or if you have a web site but are frustrated by the expense and complications of keeping it up-to-date - then this article could provide the solution for you.

There’s more than one way to start a web site. There are also a bazillion books, web sites and opinions on the best way to go about doing this. After visiting many web resources, talking to a number of “experts,” and examining various web services, it occurred to me that the one thing I did not find was a quick and easy overview of the options. So, here is what I found - in a nutshell.

Assuming that you have or are going to get your own domain (you should have your own domain if you are serious about a web presence) and are not utilizing a “freebie” web site, there are essentially 2 ways to start and manage your web site: 1) hire a comprehensive service which can be expensive, 2) do it yourself which will be time-consuming.

There are a number of variations on these two approaches. Either way, certain elements will have to be dealt with.

1. A domain name will have to be chosen and registered. Registering a domain is simple and inexpensive. Choosing a good domain name can be a bit tricky.

Your first instinct might be to use a domain name that is the same as your business name. This is fine if your business name contains the main "key word" that people will use to search for your product or service on the Internet. The best domain names will help search engines find your site by utilizing your main key word in the domain name. Key word research will help you focus on names that the search engines like.

Many registrars provide a tool that will allow you to brainstorm your web site name. All tell you if a name is available. (Be sure that YOU own the name that you are registering and not the registration service.) Quality of service and pricing runs the gamut so you will have to do research to find the one that best suits your needs. By the way, you can check to see who owns a domain name at www.whois.net

2. You will need to hire a web hosting service. This is the business that provides the hardware and software that puts your site onto the internet. There are literally hundreds of options and an infinite array of prices, service and quality. Some hosts own their own equipment and others lease space on servers that are owned by someone else. A lot of research is needed to properly understand and evaluate the options. You can get help in this area from web sites that are dedicated to reviewing and rating hosting services. You can find a listing of these sites at www.webhostmagazine.com/wf/reviews.asp

3. You need to decide what you want your web site to do. Will it be a source of information to your customers? Will you be selling products from the site? Will you keep up-to-date information on it? Are you going to launch and archive a newsletter? Will part of the site be password-protected for use of members or customers? The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The purpose that you set for your web site will guide your decisions about the type of hosting service and software that you need to operate it.

4. Content will have to be developed. This is the compiling and writing of what goes into your site. The computer screen is a specialized medium and your site’s content needs to be developed specifically to take advantage of the possibilities and constraints of that medium. In other words, someone is going to have to write this stuff so that it looks right and is readable on a computer screen. Furthermore, if you want to place well on search engines, usage of keywords, naming of files, how headings are used and other technical details come into play. Writing for the web is a specialized skill.

5. Determine how often content needs to be updated and who will do that work. Web pages need to be “freshened up” periodically - and more often is better. If you do not know how to write computer code for web sites (HTML, XML, etc.), have trouble dealing with FTP, or your software is cumbersome, this will become a task that you avoid - to the detriment of your web site.

6. Design how your site will look. You want a site that is inviting and is compatible with your corporate image. You can hire a designer who has the special expertise to design a web site or use one of the templates that come with most software packages.

7. Obtain the technology and skills needed to develop and operate your web site. You will need to select a software package or learn coding. You will also need to understand how to use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) which is the program that is used to get your web site from your computer onto the web host’s server so that it goes out onto the internet. Some hosting packages include software that can be used without a lot of technical know-how.

If you hire a comprehensive service, most of these issues will be taken care of for you. It is the easiest way to go - and the most expensive. These are consultants and hosting services that offer complete packages with hosting, a custom designed web site including graphic design, all of the technical details, copy written for search engine maximization, and what ever else you want. Some offer contract rates for regular updates and revisions. Typically, the cost for doing a simple web site this way will be around $2500. The cost goes up as your site gets bigger and more complex.

If you don’t have the time to do-it-yourself, want a top-notch job, and have a complicated web site, this is the way to go. Shop for the best deal and check references just as you would when hiring any kind of service. Searching through one or more of the “finder” web sites found at the link in #2 above will give you a good start in this process.

If you are going to do-it-yourself, you will have to look at the elements outlined above and decide how you are going to accomplish each. The pay off is that you will learn a great deal, save money, and have ultimate control over what is produced.

As you research your options, you will find that there are a number of intermediate possibilities between totally “doing it yourself” and hiring a consultant to do it all. Some hosting services offer “bundled” packages that will register your domain name, host and provide some kind of site building software. Some of these are excellent and others are very “bare bones.” Most of the time, you get what you pay for.

You can also hire freelancers to take care of the parts with which you are not comfortable. Hire a graphic designer to do the art work and basic design, a writer to develop content, or a web consultant to help with the technical aspects.

What solution did I choose? A hosting package that rolls together domain registration, site building software, search engine optimization and other goodies.

Copyright 2003 Kathleen Thompson

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