Website Development 101

Presented by Aaron Parecki & Effie Siverts

June 3, 2008

Topics covered:

  1. Ways You Can Have An Online Presence
  2. Understanding Websites vs. Blogging
  3. Online Identity
  4. Email Addresses
  5. Registering a Domain Name
  6. Choosing a Web Hosting Provider
  7. 8 Do’s and Don’ts of Web Design
  8. Using Proper “Netiquette” In Your Online Communications
  9. Promoting/Advertising/Marketing Your Site
  10. Resources

Ways You Can Have An Online Presence

  • Your own website: yourbiz.com
  • Blog: yourbiz.blogspot.com
  • Yahoo, eBay or Amazon store front
  • Become a member of online communities

Understanding Websites vs. Blogging

Blogging is an alternative to having a website. You can have a domain name (example.com) that points to a blog so that you can promote your blog with a professional website address.

Websites

  • Static content
  • Acts like an online business card
  • Maintains a portfolio of your work
  • Typically managed/updated by web designer
  • Can only receive email feedback

Blogs

  • Current content
  • Acts like an online journal; typically weekly updates
  • All content managed/updated by you
  • Ability to receive and control feedback from viewers online

Free vs. Fee Based Blogs

  • Free Blogger.com (aka blogspot)
  • Free WordPress.com – offers paid upgrades
  • $$ TypePad.com – monthly fee, varies depending on features

Online Identity

Usernames identify you in online communities, e-commerce websites, and blogs. You will be branded by how you define your username. If thoughtfully created and used consistently, it will become your online identity. Here are a few tips to consider when developing a memorable username for yourself or your business:

  • Create a unique username that is appropriate for your business.
  • Stay away from using numbers in your username, especially at the end, and definitely don’t use your birthday or year (e.g. puppyfan429 or memphis72)
  • A username should be a minimum of 6-8 characters in length to avoid running into the situation where someone else has already registered your username on another website.
  • Avoid usernames that will be unclear, or form “phantom” words when appearing in all lower case. For example, if your business is called “Millie’s Cats”, your first inclination might be to use this as your username. However, when written in lower case, the name looks like “milliescats”. This username is now somewhat ambiguous, since the word “scats” appears. Try to avoid this whenever possible.
  • Be consistent in using your username online:
    • You should use the same username on any websites or blogs you register for.
    • Be conscious of where you use it. Keep in mind that your username will eventually show up in searches, so don’t put it anywhere you wouldn’t want someone seeing it.

If you already have a username, what do you look like online? Google your username!

If you have multiple usernames, they are considered independent of each other until both are used or associated together on the same site.

Once you have decided on a username, it is a good idea to register that username on as many free services as you can. This way you’ll get more links back to you, and it will prevent someone else from taking your username on another service. These free services are discussed later.

Email Addresses

The best email address to publish and put on your business cards is an address ending in your businesses domain name, for example, john@example.com. The username you choose, (the part before the @ sign) depends on how personal you want the address to appear. You can use your first name (john@example.com), your first initial and last name (jdoe@example.com), sales@example.com, info@example.com, or a username you create. Using something like “sales” will give your customers the sense of contacting a larger company, where more than one person could respond, and the particular person who responds is not significant. Using your own name, or even a username, will tell your customers that they are writing directly to a person.

When you register a domain name or buy web hosting, often times the same company will offer email services for your domain. For the most part, this is adequate, especially if you use a desktop email client such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail. You can configure your email program to send and receive mail from your new email address. You can also check your email when you are away from your computer if your hosting company offers a web-based email client. (Think using Outlook compared to Gmail, Gmail can be accessed anywhere, but your Outlook mail is on your computer.)

Most hosting companies or domain name registrars offer some form of web-based email. Unfortunately, most of the time their web interfaces are clunky and hard to use. If you have ever used Gmail, you’ll probably agree that it is among the best web-based email applications out there. Google offers a way that you can use their Gmail application on your own domain name. They have wrapped up this service along with many others and called it “Google Apps”. It is set up where you registered your domain name, and from that point on, you don’t have to worry about keeping it running. Google handles all the email for your domain and you get an excellent web interface and the best spam protection that exists. Your customers won’t know that you are using Gmail, since all emails from you will be sent from you@yourbiz.com, not you@gmail.com. You also won’t need to worry about moving your old emails to a new service if you decide to change hosting companies or ISPs. (Learn more at google.com/a).

A yahoo.com email address is also acceptable if you use Yahoo Small Business to host your website. This service is discussed in more detail later. However, if you do not use Yahoo for your web hosting, then using a yahoo email address is not a good idea.

If you haven’t purchased a domain name yet, or if you are not yet ready to purchase one, the next best email address you can use is a Gmail address. If you are a sole proprietor, or the only member of an LLC, you are probably best off by creating a Gmail address that is your full name, like first.last@gmail.com. This form of address is the most credible among free email addresses. It is also acceptable to create a Gmail address for your business such as yourbiz@gmail.com, although you will leave many people wondering why you don’t have a domain name for your business instead.

Registering a Domain Name

There are many domain name registrars on the web. GoDaddy.com and NetworkSolutions.com both offer a simple domain search feature from their home page that allows you to quickly check if your domain name is available, and see a list of available extensions.

When registering a domain name for your business there are certain criteria you should follow:

  • Your domain name should be uniquely identifying, containing your business name or keywords from it. It can also include “inc” or “llc” to identify your business entity (i.e. “examplellc.com”).
  • Letters (abc) and dashes (-) are allowed.
  • Numbers (123) are allowed, but strongly discouraged.
  • Spaces, underscores (or other special characters), or beginning or ending a domain with dashes are NOT allowed.
  • Avoid abbreviations, unless effective in reducing the length of your domain name, such as “bn.com” for “barnesandnoble.com”.
  • Stay away from using abbreviations such as “4” instead of “for”, “2” instead of “to”, and “u” instead of “you”. This has a childish and dated look. The only reason to use these would be if the full spelling of your business name uses numbers, or if this is appropriate for your audience.
  • Avoid lengthy names. Longer names become difficult to remember and are more prone to misspelling, for instance “somerandomdomainnameexample.com” is more complicated than “example.com”.
  • In an effort to be unique, keep in mind that domain names do not have to be real words, however the best names are those that are pronounceable.
  • Would you be embarrassed to say it out loud or spell it in public? (your dash name dash here dot com)
  • Refer to the following list to select a domain extension appropriate for your business.

Most Common Top-Level Domain Extensions

  • .com represents the word “commercial”, and is the most widely used and recognized extension in the world.
  • .net represents the word “network”, and is most commonly used by Internet service providers, web-hosting companies or other businesses that are directly involved in the infrastructure of the Internet.
  • .org represents the word “organization”, and is primarily used by non-profit groups or trade associations.
  • .biz is used for small business websites.
  • .info is for credible resource websites and signifies a “resource” website, and is steadily rising in popularity.
  • .us is for websites within the United States. It has the largest amount of available names in inventory.
  • .name is used to promote personal websites for individuals and personalities, both fictional and real. It must be comprised of your first and last name, and is commonly used for easy to remember e-mail addresses (jane@doe.name) and websites that display photos or personal information about an individual. With the advent of the .ME extension, this extension is anticipated to fade out.
  • .me has been available as a top-level domain extension for individuals who want to share photos with family or friends, create an online portfolio or resume, or for individuals who want to start their own blog. This domain extension is available through a number of registrars, including GoDaddy.com.

Most web hosting providers will include one free domain registration with the purchase of web hosting or do-it-yourself services. Typically, additional domain names can be purchased at reduced costs once web hosting services are established.

What If Your Desired Domain Name Has Already Been Purchased?

If your desired domain name has already been taken, your options are limited. Get creative with name variations or keywords that can be used to support your business name, such as your state (oregonexample.com) or business entity (exampleinc.com or examplellc.com). If your business name is very specific however, the best alternative would be to use dashes to separate the name components, such as “domain-example.com”. Dashes are browser and search engine friendly.

The downside of dashes is that they are harder for people to remember to type in at the address bar. If they’re thinking of your business name “domain example”, and type in “domainexample.com”, without the dash and get a site other than yours, they might become confused or frustrated. You will become dependent on your marketing materials (including email correspondence) to promote the use of the dash in your domain name. Also keep in mind that some people confuse the dash (-) with the slash (/); most commonly confused when sharing your domain name verbally.

Should You Register More Than One Domain Name?

If you have multiple extensions available to you, such as .com, .net, .org and .biz, when going to register your domain name, it is usually a good idea to purchase all desired extensions at the same time.

By doing this, you:

  • Prevent the other extensions of your domain from being snatched up by “domain name squatters” who fill the page with links to other websites.
  • Prevent competition from registering your domain name with another extension that could potentially draw customers away from you.
  • Are able to maintain websites that promote the different products and services you offer (for example, if you run both commercial and non-profit businesses. See wordpress.com and wordpress.org as an example).
  • Can create distinct advertising strategies that reach different target markets.

Choosing a Web Hosting Provider

ISPs

An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is any company or business that provides access to the internet. Many small, local ISPs may offer domain registration and web hosting services, however, on the whole, larger ISPs such as Comcast and Qwest might only offer email services in addition to your internet connection plan. Earthlink is an exception, however monthly hosting rates skyrocket after initial incentive prices expire.

It is a good idea to keep your web hosting services separate from your ISP provider. Should you switch internet service companies for your home or office, or relocate, you will not have to migrate your website to another web hosting provider, which could result in “downtime”.

Web Hosting Providers

If you are working with a web designer to create a website for your business, and have not yet purchased your domain name or web hosting services, allow the web designer to be involved in the decision of which web hosting provider you use. Certain technical requirements will be necessary for the development of your site.

If you have already purchased a domain name, but do not have web hosting services, there are many options available to you. Some domain name registrars will only offer registration services, and require you to purchase web hosting services elsewhere, but most popular domain registrars will sell these services as well. Doing so is good for them, and also enables you to manage your website with a single account and service provider.

Template-based Web Hosts

Yahoo Small Business and Google Sites offer inexpensive or free template-based website hosting. You can choose from a set of templates they offer, and quickly build your own website by creating pages and links.

Many major web hosting providers such as GoDaddy.com and NetworkSolutions.com also offer services to build your own website. These “do-it-yourself” web design services come in a variety of package prices that cater to the intended size of your site. Through easy-to-use online interfaces, they offer templates that allow you to customize colors, page layouts and images to suit your desired design, and keep maintenance of your design and site content at your fingertips.

This can be a good option if you don’t feel you have the budget to hire someone to create a customized website for you.

On the Technical Side of Things…

You may have heard the term DNS tossed around. This refers to the Domain Name System (DNS) servers every web hosting provider maintains that act as the “phone book” for translating readable domain names (e.g. “example.com”) into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (e.g. 208.77.188.166), which all networking equipment/servers need to deliver information across the internet.

For instance, when someone types “example.com” into the URL address bar of their browser, hoping to access your website, your web hosting provider supplies the DNS reference so that person can view your web site in their browser.

DNS hosting is usually provided by your web hosting provider. If your domain name is registered with a company other than your web hosting provider, the domain registrar will need to “point” your domain name to your web hosting provider’s DNS servers.

Hosted by Your Web Developer

Some web developers offer to relieve you of the burden of dealing with all the technical aspects of getting your website off the ground and keeping it running. They may do any combination of registering the domain name, configuring the DNS settings, finding a hosting provider, configuring email services, and making changes to the content of your website. Depending on your wishes and/or budget, they may or may not stay involved after the initial start-up phase.

8 Do’s and Don’ts of Web Design

As you’re getting started it’s often best to explore what your competition is doing. How have they designed their websites? Is it effective? What works, what doesn’t? Are there color schemes that work best for your industry?

Plan your website before you start building it! Be simple, realistic and specific in your design.

Try using this color scheme generator to pick colors that work well together:
http://colorschemedesigner.com/

Follow these eight basic do’s and don’ts for building a effective website.

Do:

  1. Break down your site into logical sections/pages.
  2. Know your audience! Use colors and graphics appropriate for your industry.
  3. Maintain a consistent design across all pages – keep navigation in a consistent location on each page of your website (left-side vertical or top-horizontal placement is the most common).
  4. Use either solid-color backgrounds or extremely subtle background patterns.
  5. Use contrasting text and link colors, and make sure to use adequate whitespace. Things like headings, lists, and short paragraphs help improve readability.
  6. Group like items together – maintain alignment and unity with your site components. This is called proximity.
  7. Make sure links to all “outside” resources open in a new window. This leaves your site open in the original browser window (or tab) and prevents users from having to backtrack to your site.
  8. Keep links to contact you visible on every page. A link to your contact page is sufficient.

Don’t:

  1. Use excessive colors or variations in font sizes.
  2. Let your site design scroll horizontally.
  3. Use images for text in content, discouraged for site navigation as well.
  4. Use copyrighted images without permission, or flashy animated gifs that make your site look unprofessional.
  5. Alternate too frequently between centered text and left-aligned text; most text should be left-aligned.
  6. Use boldface, underline (mistaken for hyperlinks), or ALL CAPS for long text intended to be read by users.
  7. Allow mystery-meat navigation. This is where the user does not know where they will be directed to when they click a link, or in severe cases, even struggle to identify hyperlinks. This is often an issue where a link destination can only be determined by hovering a mouse cursor over it.
  8. Use the Papyrus or Comic Sans fonts. These have both been overused and look dated.

See webpagesthatsuck.com for examples and explanations of poorly designed websites.

Using Proper “Netiquette” In Your Online Communications

Use proper etiquette when emailing and blogging. This is reflected back on your business, and way of doing business. Online communications lack the non-verbal cues of a face-to-face conversation. This means you must choose your words carefully. You definitely want to avoid writing emails in ALL CAPS, as this appears to the reader as if you are shouting at them. Using all lowercase makes the sentences harder to discern and appears as if it is written by a child. Be sure to check for typos. You can use the spell checker built in to Microsoft Word, or most email clients. See albion.com/netiquette for more information on “netiquette”.

Promoting/Advertising/Marketing Your Site

Simply creating a website is not enough. Once your website is built, no one will find it unless you advertise it. Having a website is not like having an ad in the yellow pages. Your website is a place people go to after they have already heard about you and want more information.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  • NO ONE can guarantee you top placement in search engines! Do NOT pay anyone who says they can – this may actually work against you if they employ underhanded tactics and include you in spam resources.
  • If you have hired a web designer, the technical side of SEO will be the responsibility that individual or firm.
  • What you can do: You have control over the wording used to identify your site to the public. Search engines index your site based on words or phrases it finds on your web pages, typically based on the number of times specific words or combinations of words are found in the title and body.
  • Stay on top of domain name registration!! Do not let your domain name expire, or you will most likely never be able to get it back.

Linking

  • The best thing you can do to promote your site is to get other websites to link to yours. If even just one website links to yours, it will eventually show up in a search engine without any extra effort on your part. Now the question becomes: how do you get other websites to link to you?
  • Link exchange: Find similar or complementary businesses with whom you can exchange links. Doing so requires establishing a relationship/communications with that business. This could also be a publicity exchange, where you write about their product, and they write about yours.
  • If you create a product from raw material, link to the website of the company that you get the material from. For you, this shows where your product comes from. For them, it shows the end result – how their product has been used. It’s good for you and good for them! e.g. If you have a coffee shop, link to the company you get your beans from.
  • Comment on other people’s or businesses’ blogs, and be sure to include your website address in the comment so that these sites link back to you. Be sure to leave relevant and thoughtful comments. If you leave a comment full of typos, you may find yourself being dismissed as juvenile. If your comment is too short and includes a link, it may be filtered out by the blog’s spam filter.
  • Establish accounts at the many free services available such as flickr.com, twitter.com (discussed in more detail later). Most of these websites give you a brief “profile” page where you can put a link to your primary website. These social networking websites allow you to “friend” other people, establishing links to each other’s profile pages.

Marketing Materials

Don’t let anything leave your office without your website printed on it. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Email
  • Business cards
  • Letters, postcards
  • Faxes
  • Brochures, flyers, announcements
  • Product labels

Videos

YouTube is a great way to promote your business and/or product. Just be careful of creating a bad image! Such videos can be included in your site as well. Ideas to consider:

  • You don’t have to be in front of the camera to promote your product. Think about hiring someone to speak or demonstrate for you.
  • Humor works: If at all possible and/or appropriate, creating a funny video will encourage people to share your video with their friends. This is known as “viral marketing”.
  • If it is a technical or web service you provide, you can do a screen demonstration with audio voice over.

Resources

Gmail, Gmail for your domain

http://gmail.com, http://google.com/a
As mentioned in the “Email Addresses” section above, Gmail provides the sleekest and most-respected free email accounts. “Gmail for your domain” (also called Google Apps) allows you to use Google’s excellent Gmail application while still writing from an email address at your domain name instead of @gmail.com.

Blogger

http://blogger.com
Blogger is the most popular hosted blog platform. You get a URL such as yourbiz.blogger.com where you can publish content easily and for free. It is also possible to use Blogger to publish to your own website address, or to have a URL such as blog.example.com point to your blogger page as well. They offer limited options to customize the look and colors of your blog.

YouTube

http://youtube.com
YouTube is the most popular video sharing website. You can upload any video you create, and it can be seen by potentially millions of people. If you have created ads for TV, you should also upload them to YouTube so they will get even more exposure. It is free to create an account and upload videos.

Flickr, Photobucket

http://flickr.com, http://photobucket.com
Both Flickr and Photobucket are image (and recently video) hosting websites. They are used by many photographers as a portfolio of their work, and are also used by bloggers to host the photos they place on their blogs. These are free services for a basic account, and offer additional capacity for a monthly or annual fee.

Twitter

http://twitter.com
Twitter is a “micro-blogging” and social networking platform. Instead of writing full paragraphs, the entries are limited to 140 characters. This encourages brief and frequent updates, and allows the messages to be sent to cell phones as SMS messages. In the last year or so, it has become popular for businesses, politicians, and news media organizations to post brief updates to this website. Others can subscribe to receive these updates in near real-time, having the messages delivered by Instant Message, SMS, or by reading them on the website.

Google Sites

http://sites.google.com
Google Sites is a relatively new platform for easily creating a starter website. The websites are extremely limited in the customization of the design, although you can easily add things like a calendar, photo slideshow, and embed videos. With Google Apps, you can use Google Sites at your own domain name, so you don’t end up with a URL like example-biz.googlesites.com.

Amazon.com, EBay, Yahoo Stores

http://amazon.com, http://ebay.com, http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com
Although selling products online is outside the scope of this document, there are a few websites worth briefly mentioning. These websites allow you to sell products online. You can also use them to create a virtual store-front, similar to having a web page, although the look is usually less customizable than having your own website.

Paypal, Google Checkout

https://paypal.com, https://checkout.google.com
Paypal and Google Checkout are alternatives to setting up a credit card merchant account to accept payments online. A merchant account typically involves a monthly charge as well as a transaction fee, whereas these services usually charge only a transaction fee. You will be able to accept credit card payments, although you will require your customers to create an account at Paypal or Google Checkout during the process.


You can also view the latest version of this document online at:
aaronparecki.com/webdev101 or effie.bz/webdev101