Building a good web site presence ** updated 16 Nov 2004 **

Discussion in 'IT & Internet' started by kyber, Apr 22, 2004.

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  1. kyber

    kyber UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    836 28
    Introduction
    Getting web sites right is very important to small businesses but not the most important thing of the many items on the agenda for getting a business going.

    Getting a web site wrong though can be very damaging and often businesses would have been better off not touching the web at all.

    Purpose of this posting
    This posting is intended to provide a brief overview of some key principles/learnings with regard to getting websites up and running. Whilst you may employ someone else to design, build/implement, and manage a website to represent your business or to enable you to provide another sales channel, it is important for you to understand some basics. If you do want to do it yourself, this posting should help get you started.

    There are a few links to sources of information about the current trends included in this post.

    I plan to edit this message to add more links. I am not intending to attempt to cover in this single post topics like branding, marketing, PR, propositions, etc. - these are better covered off by other members. My focus is on the basics I feel you should be aware of before building a web site (be it done by yourself or by someone else for you). Keep in mind that all the basic principles of business apply in the online world just as much as in the real world (and sometimes more).

    Credentials
    In my professional life I have been responsible for the development and integration of some of the largest transactional sites in Europe for major retailers and online companies and have been responsible for many million pounds of expenditure in this area. I have learnt a lot from the many companies and individuals I have worked with and have had direct access to a considerable amount of market research and ongoing experience of the dynamics and customer performance of major sites.

    Whilst websites representing companies within the SMB community addressed on this forum will typically be more modest, I think that the experience from larger companies is applicable and beneficial.

    I am not personally a web developer nor designer although I have developed a few websites myself over the years that do follow many of the principles outlined in this post and which are generally fit-for-purpose.

    There are many represented on this forum who are web developers. There are many companies on the forum offering services to build and host websites. I leave you to explore the offerings of each and see how they best fit your needs. At least this post should help you better understand what they are talking about (although the best should, of course, talk your language).

    Your own domain?
    Domain names along the lines of www.mycompany.co.uk are relatively cheap these days (no more than around £10 a year for a .co.uk domain).

    Along with a web address you can have email: some providers will limit email to just a few accounts (e.g. [email protected], [email protected], etc.) which can be collect independently of each other.

    Other providers will let you use an unlimited number of email addresses but will expect you to split them into mailboxes at your end (if you want to). Instead of splitting such emails between people, you can just teach your email program to put messages into different folders for you so you can deal with them when you want to. If you have several staff with several computers though you will probably need to set up one of the machines (or a spare PC/server) to act as a local mailserver.

    There are lots of providers out there (many on this forum). You do want a reliable service but there is no need to pay Rolls Royce prices. As always, recommendations from trusted sources are the best way.

    Generally, having your own domain creates a much better impression than using something like www.mycompany.ispcompanyname.co.uk.

    Websites are located using domain information. Every webserver on the planet that is connected to the internet has a specific numeric address associated to it (the ip address). These addresses take the form of 4 numbers separated by dots, nnn.mmm.xxx.yyy, where each number is in the range 0 to 255 (e.g, 212.58.226.30 - try typing that into your web browser). As numbers are not very memorable, domain names are used instead and a complex and generally very reliable system on the internet is used to share around the real numerical addresses associated with each domain name. Many many websites sit on the same webserver (same ip address) and other techniques are involved in ensuring you get to the right one. In case you are wondering, 4 numbers each in the range 0-255 does not offer much scope in this day and age and is becoming a problem: a new 6 number version is slowly being introduced. Note also that some number ranges are not used on the internet but are kept for use within organisations so can be reused.

    Hosting
    Your web site has to live on a computer somewhere that is connected to the internet. This is the host.

    Although you might well have ADSL access for computers in your home/office, running a public website from this enviroment is probably a really bad idea. You need webspace sitting where there is a lot of good quality connectivity to the internet setup specifically for the purpose of providing websites.

    It is often most convenient to get the host space (for web content and email) from whoever provides you with (registers for you) the domain but you do not have to do so. The domain provider does need to inform the internet domain system where to find your website information though.

    If you do not have your own domain, then your ISP will probably provide email and webspace you can use.

    Once you have a domain, in some cases, the domain provider will redirect web traffic and email traffic to your ISP web space and email service rather than provide dedicated webspace/email services for you. (If your ISP and domain provider is one and the same then this should be very easy.) Depending how webspace and domain are linked, it might or might not look like a genuine domain to the visiting customer. In some cases bookmarks can fail.

    Many of the ISPs only allow updates to the web space to be done when connected to the internet through them. This can be a problem when you want other people to be able to create/update the website for you. (Check standard FTP access is available using any internet connection.)

    Most ISPs allow email to be collected regardless of how you are connected to the internet. (This means you can usually also check your emails over the internet using a web browser when you are away from your office.)

    Watch out for ISPs (e.g. BT Broadband) that only allow you to send email appearing to be from domain (e.g. [email protected]) that they are the domain provider of. In such cases, you can subscribe to mail relay services that allow you to send out email associated with your domain when connected to the internet through an ISP with whom you do not have your domain registered.

    Talk to the providers of domain and hosting services on this forum for more information.

    Web pages
    The basis of the web is the humble html page (hypertext markup language) or file if you prefer. The http (hypertext transfer protocol) is used by your web browser (e.g. Microsoft Internet Explorer - yuk!, Opera, Firefox - the open source solution, Safari, etc.) to communicate with a web server (http server) to provide to the browser a copy of a particular html page/file you have asked for. Note that in Windows html file often have the file extension htm rather than html.

    If you do not specify a particular file, e.g. http://www.lamdesign.co.uk, the web server will assume you mean a default file such as index.html or default.htm.

    HTML is really very simple (and much like using bbcodes on this forum). It is mostly chuncks of text that are enclosed in codes to tell the browser what sort of content is meant to be included. The "hypertext" name refers to the way that text can be linked to other text on the same web page, on another web page under the same domain, or a web page somewhere else on the internet allowing you to browse back and forth from reference to reference.

    For example: text surround with <h1>text</h1> is a meant to be a level 1 heading (i.e. the most important heading). The browser, unless instructed otherwise, uses it own default approach for displaying a <h1> heading</h1> that looks different from normal

    paragraph</p> text.

    Various instructions can be included in html files to advise the browser how to display the content. A better way is the use of cascading style sheets (CSS) which provide detailed information about the desired presentation. The presentation does vary from browser to browser and operating system to operating system. You do not have the same control as you do in print media.

    Dynamic web pages
    Sometimes, instead of seeing pagename.htm or pagename.html as the filename, you see things like index.php and aboutus.asp. PHP and ASP (and many many other options) refer to files that need to be understood by the webserver as computer programmes BEFORE being sent to you. The programs are executed by (or on behalf of) the webserver by whatever understands the programming language concerned (php, asp, etc) and returned to the web server (and on to you) as ordinary html text that your browser can understand. This is done to allow much more dynamic content to be presented to you than is possible just referencing static html files. This allows, for example, a search to be carried out against a database for you and the results returned as a web page.

    Often, when you are looking around a web site, you will find that the address bar in the browser will have things like ...page.php?name=fred&cat=small. The information after the name of the file/page you are after is being passed to the programmes - it is one of the ways information can be passed between programmes (or indeed the same programme as it is executed in stages) as you work your way around the web. The & sign is used to split things up as spaces and commas do not work in web addresses.

    Web standards
    It is my view that the bedrock of good websites is web standards. The official place for information on this is w3.org although this can be a little hard to digest. Another good source of information (so you know what the web site developers should be doing) is the Web Standards Group.

    See a presentation on "The benefits of Web Standards to your visitors, your clients and you!" on the maxdesign website.

    Accessibility
    A key theme in the standards is accessibility and this is supported by legislation in many countries. In the UK it is covered by legislation that came into force in 1999 (yes, 1999) and some companies have had legal proceedings taken against them by disability interest groups because of a lack of accesibility on their websites (so far, all have settled out of court). The A List Apart website has an excellent article on this - the site in general is a great source of information. (I urge you to follow the discussion relating to this article as it is most instructive and answers many questions.)

    Another article by the same chap give reasons why accessibility is beneficial to businesses.

    The bottom line is that if you do not make content easily available to disabled people when it is not particularly difficult to do so then you may get in trouble. A good example is using an image of some text when text (formatted using CSS) would be a perfectly reasonable alternative suitable for all. (If you have to use an image, then an alternative text version needs to be made available.)

    Content and Presentation
    Another key theme in the standards is the separation of content from presentation. That is the information can be provided in a structured manner (usually with a hierarchical structure) and presented in many different ways. An extreme example of this (demonstrating the capability rather than the best way of doing things) can be seen on the css zen garden - compare these two web pages for which the content is exactly the same (and I do mean exactly - the same source html file is used) only the presentation varies (using different css files and supporting image files):

    Springtime
    Comic strip

    Spreading the word
    There is not much point building a web site if no one finds it. Ensuring that details of the web site appear in all of your postings, emails, letters, leaflets, brochures, adverts, etc. is a good start.

    Getting your web site listed in the many web directories, particularly those that specialise in your industry/service area (or have sub-sections for this) or your locality, will be very beneficial. To find these, simply start from the major search engines and start to search for things covering what you do and related activities and the directories will soon show themselves. Some directories are free, others require a fee (often a basic entry is free but a more prominent or fancy entry costs).

    Content is king. A decent site will attract and retain interest. What gets your site under people's noses is good quality links to other sites. Look to link to people offering complimentary products and services. Exchange links with these sites. Have a page of links but also try and focus links on particular sections of your web site.

    The big search engines such as Google will find your sites through the above types of links. You can also go to most of the engines and submit your site details (often including summary details). Some will only accept submissions on payment of a fee, others ask for a fee to be certain of a listing or to hasten the process.

    It is very very important that you get decent textual content onto your web site and make good use of titles (the details that appear in the border of the web browser) - different, clear and useful titles for each page. Plenty of useful and in context content on every page. Avoid lots of repetition and tricks such as hiding text.

    Some search engines give a lot of attention to META tag information on yoru web pages. This is information that is not displayed by web browsers. It includes key words and site/page descriptions or overviews. These have been abused in the past (putting in popular words that have nothing to do with the site for example) and so the biggest search engines such as Google do not give much attention to them now. They are still worth using though. Do not make them very long though. Make sure the key words are justified - most should appear in the body of the page as well. There are different views on how to specify key word lists, for me typing them in without any punctuation is the best way and maximises the combinations the search engine will assume.

    Remember that when a search engine looks at your site (spiders it) it is very much like a blind user. The advice given above on keeping content and presentation apart, using clean markup and keeping to good structure siginificantly improves the attractiveness of your site to the search engines.

    There is a lot of advice on the web about Search Engine Optimisation - do a search for SEO.

    Feedback
    Your comments on whether or not a posting along these lines is helpful would be appreciated as would any suggestions on additional content and links. This posting is now STICKY and, with the help of the mods, I intend that the response thread is kept tidy. Feedback will be incorporated or edited to add value and original responses may be removed. Other responses will be used to hold additional content.

    Stuart
     
    Posted: Apr 22, 2004 By: kyber Member since: Mar 3, 2004
    #1
  2. gj

    gj UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    308 2
    Interesting posting Stuart. Sometimes waht is needed is the views of someone who has been through it, but is not a web developer, to get concepts across in laymans terms.

    Would be interested in viewing further versions of his posting

    Regards

    Graham Jenner
     
    Posted: May 6, 2004 By: gj Member since: Apr 25, 2004
    #2
  3. Carl

    Carl UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    18 1
    Really good posting! :)
    Hope it helps a few people.
     
    Posted: Jun 10, 2004 By: Carl Member since: Feb 17, 2004
    #3
  4. kyber

    kyber UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    836 28
    I have done some minor edits on the post but it would be good to have some contributions from others on related matters (such as the use of Flash media for example) as well as feedback on what is missing.

    Stuart
     
    Posted: Nov 16, 2004 By: kyber Member since: Mar 3, 2004
    #4
  5. Thais

    Thais UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    328 0
    A good post, Stuart! I can't say I understand all of it :oops: but I do get the gist. Thank you.
     
    Posted: Nov 17, 2004 By: Thais Member since: Aug 29, 2003
    #5
  6. kyber

    kyber UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    836 28
    Thanks Thais. Which bits are confusing? I can try to improve them.
     
    Posted: Nov 17, 2004 By: kyber Member since: Mar 3, 2004
    #6
  7. owen@westwindmoves

    [email protected] UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    20 1
    In my opinion, using Flash is not a particularly good choice in the vast majority of cases.
    If you look at the majority of successful websites - Google, Amazon, Paypal, eBay ..etc there is a common element - no or very little flash.
    Some people may class them as bland or lacking creativity, but the overriding factor is that they WORK - simple, fast, well structured and clear.
     
    Posted: Nov 22, 2004 By: [email protected] Member since: Oct 17, 2004
    #7
  8. Ozzy

    Ozzy UKBF Founder Full Member - Verified Business

    3,403 157
    Hi Owen,
    I agree with your comments within reason, but if used correctly then Flash animation can be an affective tool. The problem that the sites you mention come across is the volume of traffic they attract, and by using un-necessary images/flash it will vastly increase their traffic usage and cost them loads. Sites that have less traffic can afford to use a bit more flashy bits to make their sites that bit more attractive and stand out from the crowd ... so long as they don't overdo it -- too much flash I do agree is tacky and draws attention away from what the message itself may be.
     
    Posted: Nov 24, 2004 By: Ozzy Member since: Feb 9, 2003
    #8
  9. kyber

    kyber UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    836 28
    I agree with Richard. For certain types of site/services/products, then Flash is a high suitable media. There are though too many sites that use it inappropriately and add no value through its use (in fact, often remove value by making the site more complicated and slow).

    Sites involved in rich media or complex configurations or with complex products that need AV presentation can benefit significantly from appropriately used Flash.

    Stuart

    PS. Do you remember when Flash first appeared and was called Splash and streaming files were in the Spalsh Wave Format/File (hence SWF). Who would have thought it would take on the World. One of my team took pleasure in embedding some early animations we created as BLOBS on a large Oracle database.
     
    Posted: Nov 25, 2004 By: kyber Member since: Mar 3, 2004
    #9
  10. browncow

    browncow UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    6 4
    I would be very wary of using your ISP for your business web hosting service. Make sure that they are offering you proper business web space and not just cramming you on to the same computer with all of the free pages that they offer.

    Most ISPs offer free hosting by cramming as many sites on to a server as they can which slows your site down and opens you up to further problems created by other users of the free space.

    I would always recommend looking out for a proper business web hosting company (your web designer should be able to advise here). Most of them will offer a better service than an ISP and in many cases they even work out to be cheaper.

    Don't get a bad web reputation by skimping on a few pounds, it's easy to lose customers if your web site is under achieving.

    Chris
     
    Posted: Mar 8, 2005 By: browncow Member since: Mar 7, 2005
    #10
  11. David Harris

    David Harris UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    12 1
    An additional serious problem with Flash is that search engines dont know how to index it. If your content is all in Flash Google will not pick up the keywords and that will have a serious effect on your listings in search engines.
     
    Posted: Mar 30, 2005 By: David Harris Member since: Mar 30, 2005
    #11
  12. Jose

    Jose UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    14 0
    Stuart,

    Thanks for the explanation. I have sent a copy of your explanations to a complete techno-phobe.

    Thanks
    Jose
     
    Posted: Apr 21, 2005 By: Jose Member since: Nov 30, 2004
    #12
  13. kyber

    kyber UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    836 28
    Thanks Jose. Thanks to you making this topic live, I have just re-read it to check it is still useful and that the links work. Apart from minor typos, I would say it is in pretty good shape so there is no urgent need for an edit although I would welcome suggestions on additional content that should be included. More on accesibility and latest trends possibly.

    Stuart
     
    Posted: Apr 21, 2005 By: kyber Member since: Mar 3, 2004
    #13
  14. Webstuff

    Webstuff UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    377 1
    hey hey hey... I'd agree flash is a very bad idea for business websites, but I thought google announced some time ago that their crawler now recognised .swf files?
     
    Posted: Apr 21, 2005 By: Webstuff Member since: Apr 11, 2005
    #14
  15. David Harris

    David Harris UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    12 1
    Posted: Apr 21, 2005 By: David Harris Member since: Mar 30, 2005
    #15
  16. Webstuff

    Webstuff UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    377 1
    Thats a good point, cheers for the link ;)
     
    Posted: Apr 21, 2005 By: Webstuff Member since: Apr 11, 2005
    #16
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