There are a lot of decisions to make when developing a first website for business, and this page was created to answer the questions that our client’s commonly have about what’s needed, as well as some content suggestions.  Whether you become a client of ours or not, this information should be helpful.  Please feel free to contact us if you need additional information.

Getting Started

For a new website the best place to start is to browse the top rated competition in your industry. This will give you an idea of the type of pages that are commonly included and the content that you may wish to include on your own site.  After you’ve taken notes about the content you want included it is often easiest to outline your ideas in a bulleted format. It is never acceptable to copy the content verbatim from another site, but you can certainly get ideas about what to say, just write in in your own words.

Web Development Platform Options

Websites are of two types, static or dynamic. A static site has individual pages, wherein the HTML code for each section (header, body, footer, etc) is added to each page. A static site can be easily customized since each page can be edited directly. The current web standard for static sites is HTML5, and the most recent previous html version was XHTML.

In contrast, a dynamic site stores all text content in a database, and then renders the pages upon page load using a theme template (page parts). A dynamic site is commonly referred to as a CMS (Content Management System) since it includes an administrative access panel for adding content and making site changes. A dynamic site is needed for blogs, ecommerce, and other content where users interact with the pages, for which the most popular options are WordPress and Joomla.

Domains and Hosting

The domain name should be purchased by you. While many web developers will purchase the domain on your behalf, if it is registered the them then they will be the legal owner of the domain and consequently may choose not to release it to you. If you need a domain the two most popular options are GoDaddy.com and NameCheap.com. The most popular domain extension is .com, though .net is also a popular option when the .com domain is not available. For organizations .org is used, for government websites .gov is used, and for educational sites .edu is used. Some domain providers will try to upsell you by suggesting that you need variations of your domain name and/or the other common extensions (.net, .biz, .us, etc). These are not needed for most businesses, only larger brands to prevent piggyback domains. Vanity domains are also available, yet these are very expensive, and rarely worth the cost. Remember that most people if they don’t know the extension will assume that it is .com.

As with domains, the hosting company should be registered in your name. When you select hosting you will have two hosting server options — Linux or Microsoft Windows. Linux is typically the best option since it is generally less expensive, and it uses PHP, which is much more common for web development than ASP/ASPX which Microsoft servers use. For example, WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal all use PHP, so require a Linux server. With hosting there are a few options. The least expensive is “shared”, wherein a number of people share a block of space. If you intend to install an SSL certificate (required for merchant account ecommerce) you will need a fixed IP address, which previously required dedicated hosting. Now, many hosting companies do offer a fixed IP on shared hosting, so this is the cheaper option. There are also virtual/cloud servers. You can learn more about the hosting platform options at https://hostingfacts.com/different-types-of-web-hosting/ Recommended hosting companies are InMotion Hosting, GoDaddy Hosting, and HostGator Hosting. The better hosting companies include cPanel which includes PHPMyAdmin and other utilities to manage the site, including databases creation and backups. We do not recommend that you use your ISP for hosting since they typically do not provide full hosting access and often require calls to their support department to perform routine hosting services. If you intend to use GoDaddy with WordPress, it is best to use their cPanel hosting, not their managed WordPress hosting.

Website Content

If you choose to work with us, we’ll ask you to make a list of the pages that you wish included in the website; this is commonly referred to as a sitemap. Where possible please make a note about the type of content each page will contain. This is especially important for advanced functionality such as slideshows, galleries, portfolios, carousels, toggles/accordions (often used for FAQs), ecommerce (shopping carts), and password restricted pages. If you intend to have sub-level pages (drop-down menu) please represent the top-level and sub-level page/s relationship.

Please note the images that will be available for use, and specifically if images will be needed. Images can be provided in all common formats, which includes .jpg, .png, .tiff, .psd, .eps, and .pdf. For the home page slideshow the images need to be a minimum of 1900px width, and work best when the focal content is centered since the edges may be reduced some on smaller resolution devices (especially with Parallax). We will size, crop, and optimize the images as needed for contrast and color correction. Images can be provided as email attachments, through Dropbox, Google Drive, by direct mail (CD/DVD), or dropped off at our physical location (by appointment). If images are needed there are many stock photo resources online, most which charge approx. $3-$10 per image at web resolution (72 dpi). For your own images please ensure that they are of suitable quality; an SLR camera will typically provide better images than the camera on a phone. Where possible please provide the original digital image, not images added to Facebook or MS Word since both of these will add compression which lowers the quality of the images to reduce file size. This is especially important for images that are rendered large such as slideshows and full-size gallery/portfolio images. Images should not be taken from the web without permission. Logos for modern websites are typically rectangular in shape, and sized relatively small so as to display well in smaller resolution devices. For vertically tall logos a layout with sidebar navigation or where the logo is centered is typically best. Images should be keyword specific (not a digital file name) and include dashes or underscores between file names.

The text of the pages is best provided in MS Word, WordPad, or Notepad with each document named per the page it is to be added to. You can also provide text by email or PDF (rendered from a Word doc). Graphical text (using a scanner or similar) cannot be copied/pasted, so it not recommended. Please ensure that all text is web-ready, so proofed for spelling, grammar, and completeness. Content to be linked to — PDF, Excel, Word Docs, etc should be named as you want them added to the site and should include dashes or underscores between file names.

Business Email

For domain specific email we recommend using an authenticated mail server such as G Suite (Google Mail for Business), GoDaddy webmail, or Microsoft Office 365. These mail servers have very good security as well as spam protection. To work with a website contact form the hosting server needs to add records provided by the mail provider to work with DKIM and SPF protection protocols. Typically this will require verification that you are the owner of the domain, and the addition of records at the hosting account — MX Records, CName, and/or TXT Records.  If you don’t need a contact form, then a Google email address that is domain specific is a good option … yourbusinessname@gmail.com.

Social Media

Social media options are many, but at a minimum we suggest Facebook and LinkedIn. If you intend to provide frequent promotions or write a lot of blog posts then Twitter is also recommended. For sites that are portfolio driver (artists and craftsman) then Pinterest and Instagram are good options. Google+ can also be effective, as can Houzz for interior designers and related trades. That being said, it can be difficult to regularly maintain social media sites so we recommend starting with a couple of platforms and then adding more as your time allows.

Review Websites and Testimonials

Review websites are important since they are often highly ranked, and as a quality inbound link will benefit your SEO authority ranking. The two most popular options are Yelp and Google Review (Places/Maps). Angies’ list and industry related review sites can also be important in some industries.

Testimonials are commonly added to web pages, and can be added in a carousel format within a page, on a sidebar, or a page can be added for them. It is important to note the source of the testimonials so as to verify they are legitimate.

Blogs and Video

Blogs are a good option for many businesses since it allows you to share resources, talk about your industry, offer promotions, and otherwise interact with your visitors. Websites with good resource content, especially changeable content (which a Blog provides) will commonly rank better, be linked to, and be bookmarked which increases the likelihood of increased traffic and visitors (an SEO ranking criteria). As noted above, Blogs require a CMS platform.

Video is a great option if they are professionally done, and while a video can be linked to directly, the best option is to host it elsewhere and embed it into a page (YouTube or Vimeo). YouTube uses your Google ID, and you select “share” using the iframe option to add it to a web page. We typically recommend creating a YouTube channel if you plan to include videos over time. It is important to include a description since this is where keywords can be added for SEO benefit.

Directory Websites

Top ranked and industry specific directory sites are important since they provide inbound links, which in turn improves one’s SEO ranking. Popular directories are YP.com and Superpages.com. The best directories for a business/industry does vary some, so a good option is to do a name search of your top ranked competition to see the directories that link to them, and from this create a list of where to link your own business website to.

Security

Website security is provided for in part by the hosting company, but dynamic CMS (Content Management Websites) are common targets of hacker exploits since they use a database to store content. Hackers commonly gain access to a website if the email server is used and the password is too easy. In this regard it is best to include lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. For CMS websites, the platform version, theme, and plugins will require periodic updates which commonly provide security and compatibility upgrades. In addition, a CMS website will require one or more security plugins and routine monitoring. The two WordPress security plugins we commonly recommend are IThemes Security and WordFence.  To assist our CMS clients with security we provide a 50% discount on maintenance updates, which includes daily security monitoring, plugin and theme updates, platform upgrades, and site and database backups (typically $10-$20/mo).

Website Tracking

After your website is online it is a good idea to utilize tracking tools.  Two of the best free options are Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools.  These provide a lot of useful information, which includes the number of daily visitors, the number of pages viewed, the duration of the visit, their city/country, the device used (desktop, tablet, mobile), the referral link, etc. For analytics you add a code string to the footer of your pages to start tracking. For webmaster tools you upload a file to the hosting server, or verify your site by the domain. Both of these use your Google login. Bing also has a webmaster tools, yet Google is still by far the most popular search engine so this is where your primary attention needs to be.

The Developer’s Role

I know that some people will question if they do in fact need a web developer? If you’re the hands-on type, and you have good idea of what you need to say, and your need is something simple (such as a personal website) then there are a variety of free and low-cost builders that you can use, which include Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress.com, or Wix.  The concern with the builders is that they only provide the framework, and many have limitations on what can be added and edited so won’t provide the flexibility needed to effectively customize the pages.

In contrast, we evaluate hundreds of the best modern layouts to ensure that the one selected effectively meets the needs of the business, we assist our clients with their content development, and we then create the pages with consideration of what works best in a given area while utilizing the best elements and features available.  When you hire a professional web developer you are getting more than a development framework, you are enlisting their expertise and experience on what is needed to ensure that your business is received well by visitors and can be easily found online.