10 Tips For Building A Company Web Site - By Charles D. Smith

1. Why have a company web site?
First you need to ask yourself some questions about your new company web site. What will the primary goal of the web site be? Will it be to showcase the quality of your work and the services your company offers? Will it simply be an online business card describing the services you offer? Will it be to gain new customers? Will it be a combination of goals? Will you want to be able to sell your products online? The most common is a combination of all of the above, and then some. Make detailed notes.

2. Find a host for your site.
There are many options for hosting your web site. It can be very confusing, especially if you are not familiar with the "jargon" associated with web sites and computer programming. A host is a company that has "servers" that store your web site. Much like a computer network in many offices uses a server, your web site needs to have its files (pages and images) stored on a server. When someone visits your web site, the files are loaded into their web browser from the host server.

Finding a host can be a difficult task. Some things to keep in mind are what is important for your site, based on the goals of the site. Most hosts offer various hosting packages. Finding the package that suits your needs can be difficult, but doesn't have to be if you plan accordingly. It is easiest for a company building their first web site to use a local company for hosting the site. By using a local company, you can better communicate exactly what you want your site to look like, and what you want it to focus on.

3. Hosting Packages.
There are many different packages available. Knowing what your goals are, can help you narrow down the packages that would best suit your needs. Some things to keep in mind when making a choice are:
" The amount of space you will require on the host server.
" The number of e mail addresses you will require.
" Who will be editing and maintaining your site once it is built?
" What program will you use to maintain your site?
" Will you analyze the data generated about visitors to your site?
" Will you offer a company newsletter to your current customer base?
" Will you have forms on your site for customers to fill out and submit?

Let us look at this sample package:

100MB of disk space
5 users
24/7 Server & Network Monitoring
Toll-free technical support & access to online support forum
Email forwarding
CGI & server side includes
Shockwave & Java Script supported
Real Audio/Video Supported
Uninterruptible power with generator backup
Custom error messages (404s, etc.)
Off-site data backups
FrontPage 2002 extensions available for free
Full access logs & web based statistics
Web based control panel

Now, lets explore what all this means to your company and its needs.
" 100 MB of disc space - This is the amount of space allocated on the host server for your files. This is particularly important. Something to keep in mind is that web pages with text on them, do not take up much space. Web pages with images on them, can take up a lot of space fast. Even just having the images on the server takes up a lot of space, depending on the size of the images. Quality images are typically large size files. Large images also mean large file size. So if you plan to have a lot of images on your site, keep in mind that you want to keep the file sizes small, yet still have quality images.
" 5 Users - This means you can have up to five users. That doesn't explain much. Users are persons that have their own space in your company web space on the server. Each user can have an e mail address. For example JDoe@yourcompanyname.com. One or more users can be site administrators. This means they can edit the web site, and access data logs for the site, on the host server.
" 24 / 7 Monitoring - This means there is a system at the host location always making sure the servers are running. This ensures your web site will always be available.
" Toll -free tech support - This simply means they have a toll free number you can call with any concerns about your site.
" E Mail forwarding - This is a nice feature. It enables you to have e mail forwarded to another e mail address. So you don't have to check multiple e mail addresses. For example, you can have an e mail address; sales@yourcompanyname.com automatically forwarded to your lead salesperson's e mail address.
" CGI & server side includes - CGI is a type of computer script, which can perform many functions. CGI is typically used for visitor guest books, and for gathering information from forms that visitors can fill out on your web site.
" Shockwave & Java Script supported - Shockwave is a graphics program that generates some very nice graphics. This means that with this package, you can have shockwave graphic effects on your site. Java Script is another type of script that can enable many effects on web pages.
" Real Audio / Video supported - This means you can have video files on your site that visitors can view.
" Uninterruptible power supply with generator back up - This is self explanatory. Even in the event of a power failure at the host location, your web site will still be accessible.
" Custom error messages (404 etc.) - The 404 error message is a common one. It is the message visitors get if they try to access a page that does not exist on your site. By being able to customize the message, you can let visitors know they are still on your site. Without a custom 404, the visitor will get a generic "Page Not Found" error message.
" Off site data back ups - Just as it implies, your site is backed up in the event of a server crash at the host location. None of your site's data will be lost.
" Front Page 2002 extensions available for free - Microsoft's Front Page is probably the most popular web page building and editing program used by small businesses today. For some of the features and effects it creates to work properly on your site, there are files that must be installed on the host server.
" Full access logs and web based statistics - This is an important feature. This is how your can learn a lot about your visitors. You can see what pages of your web site are accessed the most, what version of windows your visitors are using, and what web browser they are using. You can also tell what domain they are connecting to your site from. For example, you will know if they came to your site from a search they did at Yahoo.com, or if they came from one of your competitor's sites, or whatever site they were at before they visited yours. This is a good resource for marketing.
" Web based control panel - This allows you to add users, add e mail addresses, control where e mail will be forwarded to for each e mail address, create automatic e mail responses (such as when an employee is on vacation), in addition to learning how much disk space is left unused, as well as a lot of other data. Without a web based control panel, you will have to call your host anytime you want to make changes such as these, and it almost always involves an additional charge.

4. Avoid inexpensive hosts, especially free ones.
Free hosts always have to make a profit somehow. The common way they do it is by bombarding your visitors with advertisements. They can be annoying "pop up" windows, or they can be a static "frame" across the top of your visitor's web browser window. This limits the viewing area for the visitor to "see" your site. It also puts forth an unprofessional image of your company.

5. Avoid carbon copy web hosts.
Many telephone companies offer carbon copy type sites. They all look basically the same; only the company information is different. They are more of a single page than a site. They are like the "online business card" I mentioned above. There is nothing wrong with a single page for your snow and ice management company, but it should not look exactly like the hardware store that has a web page with the same layout and colors as yours.

6. Keep your site updated
The last thing visitors want to see is information about your "seasonal snow removal contract special pricing" in March, no more than they want to see your "lawn watering tips" in January. There are far too many sites on the web that are not up to date. Remember, you are presenting your company to the world on the internet. Little things like this can make you look very unprofessional.

7. Avoid using common ISP e mail addresses on your site.
It looks very unprofessional to have your contact e mail address on your website going to a free e mail account like Hotmail or Yahoo, or even an MSN or AOL e mail address. It looks much more professional having addresses such as info@yourcompanyname.com, sales@yourcompanyname.com, than it does to have one like a_guy_with_a_plow@yahoo.com.

8. Avoid making pages that take too long to load.
Recent studies show that just a few years ago, the average amount of time a site visitor would wait for a page to load was eight seconds. With today's technology and so many people surfing the web with DSL and cable modems, the average amount of time a visitor will wait for a page to load is just four seconds! Avoid putting more than 5 images on each web page. When possible, use smaller images, with a hyperlink to a larger version of the image. This way, the visitor can decide if they want to wait and see the larger image, rather than force them to wait for the page to load.

9. Analyze your data!
Web sites generate tons of data that is very useful to your company. An easy way for you to be able to analyze the data without needing to know anything about log files, or "administrative control panels" is to put a counter on each web page in your web. Counters keep track of how many times a page has been viewed. A perfect example of this is one company I designed a web site for recently. When checking the page counters, it became apparent that more visitors went to their web pages featuring hardscapes / pavers, and ponds/ water gardens than their actual home page! This also indicates that these visitors bypassed the home page, and went directly to the respective pages. This also indicates that these visitors came from search engine results, and it verifies that this web site has individual pages indexed on search engines.

10. Often overlooked uses.
There are many additional uses for your web site aside from showing off your past jobs, and finding new clients. A company newsletter that your current customers can subscribe to is a great tool. You can write it in house, quarterly, and give useful information such as: lawn watering tips, advance notice of when you will be planting bulbs, when you might be on customer's sites putting in stakes for the winter to mark obstacles for plowing operations, and much more. You can remind clients from the previous year that you will be sending out contracts for snow removal on a specific date. You can give a short bio of any new employees, or mention any recent training your staff has had. Newsletters can be a great tool, because as anyone with an e mail account knows, when you get an interesting e mail, you forward it on to your friends. This can be a great way to get new customers. Mailing lists are a great marketing tool to have. You can have several forms that can be filled out on your web site, such as bid requests, sub contractor sign up forms, even job applications to help find new employees.


Affordable  Web Site Design & Hosting - Details & Pricing.


The above article originally appeared in the May 2003 Issue of Snow Business Magazine. Reprinted with permission.


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