Technophobes Guide


WHAT IS A WEB SITE?

A web site is a page or collection of pages of electronic information which can be viewed by anyone with access to the World Wide Web. Anyone with the appropriate skills and knowledge can build a web site and it is an ideal way for companies to establish a presence on the Internet.

Web sites are hosted on servers that are permanently connected to the Internet so that people surfing the web can visit any site twenty-four hours a day.

Web pages

The web site comprises a number of web pages written in a computer language called HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language). These web pages can contain a variety of information, including simple text, graphics, audio and video files and clips, database search facilities, online forms and customer survey information.

Web pages are linked together through a series of hyperlinks, which are used to jump from page to page by clicking on a link. Hyperlinks are used to take you from section to section within a single web page, to a new page in the same web site or to a web page on a completely different web site.

The first page of a web site is called the home page and serves as the starting point of the web site. This gives an overview of what is contained in the web site, normally with a brief introduction to the web site and a contents list with links to other parts of the web site. Some sites have a ‘splash page’ preceding the homepage, often being a piece of animation or graphic display.

THE BUSINESS PROPOSITION

Do I really need a web site?

There are approximately 1 billion web pages and 27.5 million registered domain names and 20 million active web sites in the World Wide Web (WWW). Whatever business you are involved in it’s unlikely that you can afford to ignore a potential market of this size.

Companies set up web sites for many different reasons, from establishing a simple credible presence on the WWW through brand building, marketing and promotion to full e-commerce or e-business operations. Before embarking on your web site you should consider whether it will add value to your business and enhance, complement or replace any of your existing business activities or channels?

Business considerations

Competition for customer attention is fierce on the Internet and to be successful a web site must meet your business objectives. Running a web site requires commitment to treat it seriously and to update and promote it and your company must be able to cope with the business implications.

If you are ready to go ahead, then here are some considerations to bear in mind:

Is your product or service unique?

How will you differentiate your company? Will you compete with other businesses offering similar products or services?

Pricing?

Customers can conduct price comparisons very easily on the Internet. You may have to consider other ways of differentiating your business to add value to your proposition.

Target audience

Define and focus on your target audience. Depending on your business, it may be better aim for a small but specialist audience rather than attempting to attract large numbers of one-off visitors. Pitch your web site at your target audience.

Return On Investment

There are many reasons for setting up a web site apart from making money, for example, generating sales leads, business networking, promoting your company. Ensure that the cost of your web site, after say three years, provide you with a good return on investment (ROI).

Out-of-hours orders and enquiries

The Internet allows customers to log in at any time of the day or night and they will expect a prompt response to enquiries and orders they place.

Swings in demand

Sudden exposure to a huge world-wide audience can result in substantial increases in demand.

Refund and Returns

The Distance Selling Directive gives consumers the right to return items they have bought within an agreed period of time.

Payment by credit card

On line transactions are made by credit card or if you have a personal/business account. It should be easy for customers to pay this way. Provide reassurance by emphasising security and payment policies.

Site maintenance

A certain amount of technical skill and understanding of the WWW is needed to maintain a web site.

Content

Material must be written and structured in a way that works well on a computer screen.

Site promotion

How will you attract your visitors and keep them coming back?

THE COSTS

The costs of building and maintaining a web site may include:

  • Build and maintenance costs
  • Internet connectivity charges
  • Online and offline advertising to generate awareness and traffic
  • Credit card processing fees

GETTING STARTED

To achieve a presence on the WWW you will need to:

  • Rent web space on a host computer/server
  • Register the name of your web site
  • Design your web site
  • Go on-line
  • Promote your web site

RENTING THE SPACE

Many ISPs provide 5MB+ of web space as part of their basic monthly Internet access fee. This should be enough to meet the requirements of most small or medium sized businesses.

REGISTERING YOUR NAME

Before you go on-line you should register the name of your web site – your Internet domain name. There is a set charge for this and normally is billed for an initial two year period after which the domain can be re-registered for yearly periods. You will need to enquire through the Net or seek advice to ascertain the availability of your chosen domain name.

The simplest way to register is through an ISP who can advise on availability and choice. Ensure that your name can be easily recognised and cannot be confused with any other person or organisation.

DESIGNING YOUR WEB SITE

Good web site design is essential and requires careful attention to structure, presentation and content. It is in your interest to ensure that any visitor can access and use your web site easily and effectively. Your web site should be entertaining and attractive as well as informative.

Before you begin to design your site, it is worth spending time on-line reviewing the sites of competitors or companies with a similar offering to yours to see what works and what doesn’t.

Features of a successful web site

Your web site should be:

  • Easy to navigate
  • Constantly updated and improved
  • Simple and stylish
  • Quick to download

Your home page

As your site’s ‘shop window’ your home page must seize the attention of your visitors and tempt them to explore the site further. A home page should feature:

  • A descriptive title
  • Company name and logo
  • Prominent display of your key message
  • A site map, or overview of what is available on other pages

Aim for simplicity

If your site is too complicated or if it downloads too slowly, people may lose patience and move on. Ensure your site is as simple and as user friendly as possible.

  • Keep text to a minimum
  • Help customers find information quickly and easily
  • Have a consistent style throughout the site
  • Give users a site map that details the content of the whole site on one page
  • Give instructions when necessary

Use of images and colours

Think carefully about what images you are using.

Be selective in your use of images. Use enough images to promote your business and make your site attractive to customers, but be aware that too many images will slow down your site

Ensure images are the right size to display the product, or can be enlarged

White space makes text easier to read and keeps the site looking fresh

Use colours and text styles to highlight crucial elements of the site

Basic content

Your site must serve as an introduction to your company and catch the attention of new customers. It must:

  • Explain who you are and the nature of your business
  • Include your company name and logo
  • Explain how you differentiate from your competitors
  • List your contact details – name, address, fax and phone numbers as well as e-mail address

Push your USP (Unique Selling Point)

Your site must contain clear product information. The more information you can give about who you are and what you do, the more confidence your customers will have in your ability to deliver.

  • Focus on the main features and benefits
  • Provide clear delivery and refund details
  • Use customer comments or case studies to encourage sales

Update your site

How often you update your site depends on the nature of your site and your resources. However, people will return to your web site more if they find new information there.

  • Update information regularly to keep it interesting
  • Don’t cause confusion by changing the layout too often
  • Ask for feedback and measure customer usage so that you can improve your offer and service

Language

If you intend to sell or provide services abroad, have your site in different languages. Some search engines will provide basic translations for free.

Buying on-line

Buy online from other sites to find out the simplest and most effective ways of purchasing on-line. The process must be as user-friendly and secure as possible.

  • Let your customers see and alter their shopping basket before purchase
  • Always show total costs, including delivery and VAT

Customer confidence

Many people are still wary about using credit cards to buy on-line. As with mail order, customers cannot see what they are buying before the make the purchase.

  • Use a well-known bank or credit card company to process payments
  • Draw attention to site security
  • Show you comply with the Consumer Credit Act (Distance Selling) 2000
  • Explain to customers how they can get refunds and make returns

Your reputation

Deliver on your promises to build up repeat business and develop a good reputation. Excellent customer service is essential. If something does go wrong, keep the customer informed as to what is happening and how you are going to put it right.

Marketing your site

Make your site work for you by incorporating some essential sales and marketing tools:

  • A facility for visitors to your site to send you e-mails
  • A simple form for customers to make enquiries, place orders or give feedback
  • Record how many visitors, or ‘hits’, your site receives and which pages are the most and least successful

BUILDING YOUR WEB SITE

Whether you build your web site yourself or you commission a professional web site developer will depend on your requirements, your budget, your technical expertise and how much time you have available.

Be realistic about what can be achieved within your budget. It is better to have a simple but effective web presence than a larger, poorly constructed site.

There are three basic options:

  • DIY
  • Bespoke design from a professional web developer
  • Quick Start Web Sites

DIY

This is the cheapest way to build your web site. However you will need Design and IT knowledge and experience, as well as plenty of time. There are many good, inexpensive software packages available to help you create your own web site. You will also find plenty of advice from suppliers and in magazines and reference books. Whilst not usually as impressive as professionally-designed pages, a DIY web site can be adequate as a basic starting point for some companies. The acid test is whether you can produce your web site to the same standard as a professional web developer.

Professional web developer

A bespoke web site service is suitable if you require a credible business web site. A good web designer will work closely with you to gain an understanding of the message and information that you wish to present to your target audience and provide a proposal for your approval. In addition to designing your web site, a professional web developer may also offer a hosting solution, monthly feedback analysis reports and the ability to update pages within the site.

Commissioning a web site can be a complex task. You should write a good brief, before approaching web design companies. There are many types of web designers, from small production studios to multinational cross-media agencies. The cost to design a ten page bespoke web site is likely to start at around £2,000. Bear in mind the following considerations:

  • What approach are you looking for? Conservative or innovative?
  • What range of technical solutions and services can the company offer?
  • The scale of your project. A small design studio might have difficulty coping with a very large project, but may devote more time and attention to a small project than a large agency.
  • Has the company done any similar projects? Check their own web site and portfolio.
  • Does the company understand your business?
  • Can they produce content? If so, how good is their writing style?
  • Do you need ongoing support and maintenance?
  • Is the company recommended?
  • What questions do they ask you?
  • Can they offer any additional services beyond your brief?
  • Do they make you feel confident?

Quick Start Web Sites

A Quick Start Web Site is an ideal solution if you need an immediate low cost web site but lack the in-house skills and time to do it yourself.

You can choose from a range of is4profit designs, navigation styles and colours to achieve a professional and credible web presence.

A typical quick start web site from is4profit would comprise:

  • Four page web site
  • Choice of designs, navigation and colours
  • Your company logo
  • Images for each page
  • Interactive reply/enquiry form

The cost for this would be £399 plus VAT

is4profit can also provide a hosting solution for your web site, which includes

  • 12 month rental of 10mb web space
  • registration of your domain name
  • e-mail dial account
  • unlimited e-mail addresses

HOSTING YOUR WEB SITE

Your web site must be hosted on a web server that is permanently connected to the Internet. Its primary task is to receive requests from the Internet, and to send the page requested for display.

The cheapest option is to host your web site with your ISP. The most expensive option is to host your own web site. This is not usually a viable proposition for small and medium sized companies.

Your web hosting should have as high a bandwidth as possible so that information can travel rapidly. Bandwidth describes how quickly information can travel through a communication link.

PROMOTING YOUR WEB SITE

There are many ways you can promote your web site both on-and-off-line.

On line promotion

Many potential customers will find your site through a search engine. To ensure that your site is identified, you need to ‘optimise’ it for these search engines by embedding appropriate keywords in your pages. The most important place to put these keywords is in the page titles. Your web developer can help you with this.

Register your site with various search engines. Most major search engine systems include an ‘add URL’ function. Also register your site with directory sites, such as Interactive Yellow Pages. Don’t forget regional directory sites.

Use links to promote your site by forming hyperlink ‘alliances’ with other related sites. These may be businesses in complementary areas, customers, suppliers or directories relevant to your products and services.

Send press releases to relevant Usenet groups on the Internet.

Should getting traffic to your site be critical then it is best to outsource the project to a specialist agency.

Off line promotion

You can use any of the traditional promotional activities to promote your web site, from simple adverts in newspapers to lavish press launches. Ensure that your web site address appears on all business stationery, e-mails, catalogues and promotional literature. Make sure your staff are familiar with the web address and what the site has to offer so they can mention it to customers. Use direct mail to promote your web site, particularly when it is new or when some significant change occurs. Take every opportunity for coverage in your trade, local or national press by releasing news of new products, services or developments.

There are also ways of adding value to your web site online to attract customers to your web site. You can increase interest in your web site by:

  • Special offers
  • Offering additional customer services
  • Giving customers advice or solving problems
  • Setting up on line communities and chat rooms
  • Offering games
  • Conducting surveys

MEASURING THE SUCCESS OF YOUR WEB SITE

Does the return on your web site justify the time, effort and money invested in it?
There are a number of ways to measure the success of your web site.

Traffic Analysis

Each time someone visits a page on your site, an entry is automatically added to the server’s log file. This records the number of times a particular file has been requested. Every visit to the site is logged up as a ‘hit’.

Your ISP or hosting service should be able to provide you with a summary of activity on your site and also analyse the information. The activity report should be able to tell you:

  • The number of hits on your site
  • How long visitors remain on the site
  • Which are the most/least popular web pages
  • The main entry and exit pages
  • The most popular paths through your site
  • The most downloaded files
  • The most submitted on line forms and scripts
  • The most active organisations accessing your site
  • Conversion rates – how many visitors turn into buyers
  • Web browser and web server errors.
  • The number of page impressions
  • The number of user sessions

You may need to purchase special software to analyse and report on your server log files. Alternatively you can hire the services of a specialist in the field.

Beware of ISPs who only tell you the number of hits on your site. A hit is simply a request for a file from the server and the number can be misleading. For example, a single web page may record five hits.

Are you meeting your objectives?

A key measurement is whether the objectives set when you launched your web site have been met. If they have, then it may be time to plan the next stage of development and define new goals and objectives. If not, then remedial action must be taken.

Feedback

Encourage comments from customers, suppliers and even friends and take criticism seriously. Be sure to respond to feedback promptly.

MAINTAIN YOUR SITE

It is important to update your web site content continually to ensure it is relevant. Visitors will not return to your web site if they keep on seeing the same information time and time again.

Use the analysis of your user logs to identify unsuccessful pages and re-develop them.

Keep up to date with technology in order to take advantage of new facilities which might add value to your web site.

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