Creating a New Website – The Basics

I often get emails and phone calls from people who are interested in having me help them create a website and one of the first questions (understandably) is always “how much will it cost?”

In order for me to give any kind of an accurate cost estimate, I need to know the scope of the project.  Simple websites with just a few pages can be created for as little a few hundred dollars, while websites with many pages, fancy graphics, and animated presentations can cost thousands of dollars.

Developing a website will be a collaborative effort.  While I will take care of all the technical details and work with you to come up with a dynamic creative expression of your website vision, it will be up to you to come up with the website content.

The first step will be for you to work on forming a clear vision for your website and to put together a document containing the basic content.  This document will allow me to give you an estimate of how much it will cost to develop your website.  Below, I’ve put together some of the basic information you will need in order to start moving forward…

Website Organization

Your website content can be in the form of text, audio or video.   A good way to begin is to create a Word (or any writing software of your choice) document and start writing the text that will appear on your website.

One of the most important things to consider about a website is how easy it will be for people to find what they are looking for.  I like to divide information into main menu items to cover broad categories and sub-menu items for more specific categories. For a simple site, with only a few pages often a main menu alone will suffice.  As you are creating your text document for your website, start thinking about how you can break up the information you want to make available to people into sections and subsections that will be accessed via the menus and sub-menus.  To get a better sense of this, look at the examples of websites I have created and notice how I have organized the menus and (sometimes) sub-menus.

Keywords and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Another important consideration when writing the content for your website are keywords.  You can think of keywords as the words that you expect people will be typing into search engines (like Google) in order to find your website.  There are many factors that determine how high up on the list your website will appear in the search engine results for a given set of search terms, and keywords are a big part of this. We want to optimize your website by maximizing your chances of coming up on the first page of search results.

Google and other search engines use the text that appears on each of your website pages to figure out what that page is about. The title of the page (which appears at the very top of your browser above the forward and back buttons) is weighted the most heavily.  This is also the text that appears in the headline for each search result.  The next most important text is that which appears in the headings on each page (usually in bold text).  The search engine also looks at how often certain words are repeated on each page to determine the page content.

It’s a good idea to write down a list of search words and phrases that people might use to find your website. and then refer to that list when creating titles, section headings and your text to see how you might include those words.  Of course, you have to be careful not to overdo it because your writing can sound very stilted and awkward if it is too “keyword heavy”.

Graceful Degradation

I try to design websites that degrade gracefully.  Not all browsers have the same capabilities and screen size.  For example, some browsers (especially in mobile phones) don’t support scripting languages like Javascript or multimedia elements like Flash animations.  Even on systems that do support these features, they may be turned off by people due to security concerns.

I design websites that degrade gracefully, which means that they provide a full, rich multimedia experience when viewed with a fully capable browser, but still provide basic functionality no matter what device they are using.

Using Flash

Sometimes you will see entire websites that are created using Flash.  These sites have slick transitions with text and images fading in and out and moving across the screen.  Flash allows these websites to look exactly the same on every system that can display then.

There are several big drawbacks to using Flash in this way.  One is that there is no text appearing in flash that a search engine can see, so these cannot be optimized for search engines and can be easily missed.

Another problem that arises when an entire website is created in Flash is that the different ‘pages’ all use the same web address, eliminating the possibility of emailing or posting a link to one particular ‘page’ .  Any link to the site will always lead people to the opening page.  This defeats the goal of direct connections to information which the internet achieves by linking different pages to each other.

Used judiciously, Flash elements can be added to any web-page to provide dynamic movement and access to audio and video.  For your website I will make sure to use these elements in such a way that the usability of the website is not completely dependent upon them.

Domain Name Registration

Registering a domain name costs less than $10 a year.The domain name consists of two parts, the first part is your business name or description (eg. Google, Food4less) and the second part which is called the “top level domain” (eg .com, .org, .biz and many others).  I’d recommend registering a dot-com name if at all possible since many people expect web addresses to end with .com and may not remember your domain name when trying to reach your website. It can be a challenge to find a dot-com name though because so many of them are taken at this point.

If you are planning a non-profit website, you will want to use a dot-org address, but I’d suggest registering the  dot-com version as well. The dot-com domain can be easily set up to point to your dot-org website.  My last name is commonly misspelled Reagan so I also registered the domain name skipreagan.com so that anyone who uses that misspelling will be redirected to skipregan.com.

Web Hosting

You will need to find a web server to host your website.  A web server is a computer that is hooked up to the internet 24/7 that sends your webpages to people’s browsers when they visit your website.  You will be paying for space on that computer in exchange for it storing your website files and keeping its connection to the internet.  Web hosting prices for a website vary from $5 per month to hundreds of dollars per month depending on your needs.  The vast majority of basic websites won’t cost more than $10 per month. I generally recommend bluehost.com to my clients for both domain registration and web hosting because they are cheap and reliable and their basic web hosting service is appropriate for most startup websites.