Additional Features for Your Website

I think it’s natural to want all sorts of bells and whistles for your website. When we’re online we see all sorts of neat widgets and tools on other websites and think how great our own website would be if we just had that extra touch, if we just had that custom program that lets our clients solve their problems.

But there’s a huge problem with this and that is: custom coding requires maintenance. And it is best if the person who maintains the code is the person that built the code, meaning that your expensive developer who you hired to build your site also has to be on call to fix anything that breaks. This is a bad idea. People who build sites usually don’t want to be webmasters. But, far more importantly, the most custom code you have, the more problems you have. And the more problems you have, the more money you spend.

So here is an easy way of deciding if you need some custom work: will your business function without it? If the answer is yes, then don’t get the custom code work done.

Another important thing to remember: if you want a feature on your website, chances are someone else wanted to have that feature already. If a similar widget/app/tool exists already, you might be able to embed it on your website instead of getting something custom built. Often you can embed such tools for free. So, unless it’s easily embeddable into your wordpress site, don’t bother with.

 

Getting a Programmer for Your Site

You may or may not need to hire a developer for your website. Just like with your site design, who you hire (and whether or not you hire anyone) depends a great deal on the type of site you are building. So let’s breakdown if and when you need to hire a developer/programmer/coder (they are one and the same) for your website.

 

Out-of-the-Box Websites

If you are building a site using one of the following website builders, you do not need a developer:

  • Jimdo
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly Wix

The whole point of these site builders is that you do not need a developer to build a website.

Yes, it’s possible to add some custom HTML to these sites but, if you are thinking of trying to further customize your site, you really should change your website to a CMS.

 

Content Management System (CMS)

If you are using a CMS, such as Drupal, Joomla or WordPress, you may or may not want a developer. There are two things a developer could do for you in the case of a CMS site:

  1. Installing and setting up your site
  2. Customizing your theme and other aspects

You should hire a developer for the first step if you are unfamiliar with installing the CMS on a server and setting up your theme. It’s more likely you’ll need a developer if you are using Drupal than if you are using WordPress. WordPress you can set up yourself, if you are willing to spend the time.

But hire a developer if you are not sure what to do. You need to make sure the developer has the following skills:

  • PHP coding experience (the code these CMSs are based in)
  • CSS (design and styling language)
  • HTML (the basic building block of the internet)

The customization of your site is a very, very different question: Normally, you should not overly customize a theme beyond making basic changes to its design (so that it no longer looks like a generic theme). The whole point of using a CMS is to not have a customized site. If you hire a developer to add customized PHP (or Javascript) to your theme, you will need a webmaster going forward, which is an expense you don’t necessarily need if you don’t customize the theme.

 

Custom Sites from Scratch

If you are building a site from scratch, you need a developer unless you know a programming language well enough to build a functioning website. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, you do not need one of these custom sites.

Who Should Design Your Website?

Unless you are using an out-of-the-box website creator, or a CMS template you find is perfect for your needs, you likely need a web designer. But there are a few things you need to consider.

Who Should Design Your Website?

The first thing to think about is, what type of site are you building? The type of site you are building should determine if you need a designer and what type of designer you need.

 

Out-of-the-box Site Creator

If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator, such as

  • Jimdo
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Wix

then you do not normally need a designer unless you do not like the template or you feel, like I feel, that your design skills are so bad that you would prefer someone arrange your template for you.

If you do want a designer, you should look for someone who has previous experience helping people with these templates. The last thing you want is someone who is going to create a beautiful picture for you which cannot be realized in your template. So do not hire someone who has pretty work but has never used your platform to create anything.

 

CMS

The point of a CMS is to use the pre-existing templates. However, sometimes those templates don’t quite look quite right or sometimes you don’t even want to set up the template yourself.

If this is your situation you want a designer who is comfortable customizing templates. In this case, and this case alone, that person might actually be a coder/developer. Just like with the out-of-the-box scenario, the last thing you want is someone who is going to create a design from scratch which cannot be realized in your template.

Make sure you’ve selected or purchased your template first, OR hire a designer who has templates they use (for your CMS), and don’t just hire someone because their work looks pretty.

 

Custom Site

If you must build a custom site, you must make sure you hire a designer who can design for the web. Usually, the company you’ve hired to build your website will have both designers and developers on staff. Make sure that’s true before you hire them! If you are working with one person to developer your site, know that this one person likley cannot be relied on to design it first. Designers and coders are not the same!¬†Just because a designer says he can code doesn’t mean he’s a good developer. And just because a coder says she’s got an eye for design doesn’t mean she can design. Do not hire one person to do both! Ever!

Who Should Build Your Website

Once you have decided what type of website you should have (choose a CMS like wordpress!), you need to decide who is going to build it.

  • If you are using an out-of-the-box website builder, you may need no help, especially if you yourself have an eye for design. (If you do not have an eye for design, you should get help.)
  • If you are using a CMS, you may or may not want to get some help, depending upon your expertise level. If you are okay with your website looking like this one you are on right now, you don’t need a designer, you can just buy a template. But you may want or need help setting up the CMS.
  • If you are getting your site custom built you will need two things, a design specifically for the web and a development team.

Here’s a handy chart:

What You NeedOut-of-the-Box Site Creator (Jimdo, SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix)CMS (Drupal, Joomla, Wordpress)Custom Built
DesignNot required, unless you are uncomfortable designing your site. But if you are, hire someone who has designed specifically using your site creator. Purchase a theme template. If you want more of a customized look, you can do it yourself, but you may want to hire someone with experience changing a template. Custom designs are not a great idea.You must have a designer familiar with designing specifically for the web.
Coding/DevelopmentNot requiredOnly required for customizations (not recommended)The only way your site is getting online is if you have a development team

One last piece of advice before we move on to the specifics: do not hire a designer to code your site and do not hire a coder to design your site. Under no circumstances. People will tell you they can do both. In most cases, they are lying to you.

Purchasing Hosting

Buying your domain is not the only thing you must do in order to get a website up. Many people are confused between purchasing a domain – the name of your site – and purchasing the server space to host your site, known as hosting. There is basically one rule for purchasing hosting:

Purchase Your Hosting from a Hosting Provider, Not a Registrar

Your Registrar will likely make it very easy for you to purchase hosting. Many registars now offer hosting packages in addition to hosting. The important thing to know is that some companies are registars first, and hosts second, and some companies are just hosts (or hosts first, and registars second). You want to purchase hosting from a company who started as a host, because they will be hosting experts. Registars are not normally hosting experts. There may be exceptions – GoDaddy appears to do both fairly well – but, for the most part, using your registar to host your website is a terrible idea. You will have all sorts of technical problems – including downtime.

 

Hosting Costs

You can expect to pay anywhere between CAD$4 and $20 per month for hosting. The amount you pay depends upon:

  • the host you purchase from (not all hosts are created equal)
  • the amount of server space you purchase (after all, this is what you are paying them for), and
  • the additional services you purchase (for example, some hosts charge for email services).

Both Dreamhost and Siteground, the hosts I use, are not the cheapest but among the most reliable, which is what you want. Speaking of which:

 

Downtime

The most important issue with hosts is “downtime,” which is the amount of time in a given year that your site’s server is “down” (i.e. not working). You should judge a host primarily not on cost but on how often it’s down. Hosts will (and should) publish their downtime information. You want a host which is “up” 99% of the time or more. If the host doesn’t tell you it’s average downtime/uptime, do not purchase hosting from this company.

 

Recommended Hosts

If you are setting up a WordPress site, there are hosts specifically dedicated to hosting WP sites. Here are some great ones:

 

Buying a Domain

How to Buy a Domain

What is a Domain?

Before you put your site online, you need to purchase a domain. A domain is the url for your website. The domain of this site is http://rileyhaasmarketing.com and I own it (though “rent” is probably a better word for my relationship to the domain name). It’s the thing you type in to get to your website. It’s the name of your site online, in many ways. Your domain name is ideally yourbusinessname.com (or .ca for Canada).

 

Purchasing Your Domain Name

But you shouldn’t get depressed if you cannot get your brand as an exact URL. If your business is Canadian ABC, you should not be upset if someone else already owns canadianabc.com, canadian-abc.com, canadianabc.ca and canadian-abc.ca. That’s because “exact domain match,” (when your business name and your domain are the same) is less important than it used to be. It’s good to be as close as possible, but it’s also not the end of the world. If you do a good job of marketing your business online, your domain name will be insignificant.

In order to purchase your domain, you must do the following:

  1. Pick the name of your url, and be sure to list variations:
    • canadian-abc.ca, canadianabc.ca, canadian-abc.com, canadian-abc.ca, canadianabc.business, etc. (There are now hundreds of different top level domains and you can get clever and try something like canadian.business.)
  2. Go to a trusted Registrar to see if your desired domain is available. There are tons of registrars and many of them are equal while others are not great. I would recommend Go Daddy (yes, seriously) as a good place to start for beginners as they make everything very simple and offer very competitive prices. Here are some things to keep in mind:
    • Your domain is available through the Registrar (.ca domains are not available through American-only registrars, for example)
    • They will not charge you more than USD$15 per year for your domain
    • They let you purchase your domain with out purchasing additional services (such as hosting)
    • They let you upgrade to additional services (such are privacy protection) for a nominal fee (i.e. they do not rip you off for additional services)
    • This may take some time and price comparisons.
  3. If they are reasonable, create an account and purchase your domain. You should purchase your domain for as long as possible.

That’s it! Now that you have a domain, it’s time to purchase hosting.

What Type of Website Do I Need?

So, you’re putting your business online, by building a website. But you’re not sure where to start. There are different types of websites and there is too much information online about the different types. What do you do?

All websites are not created equal. This post will explain what type of website you should have, depending on your business needs.

There isn’t just one kind of website. There are, for our purposes, at least three kinds of websites:

  1. out-of-the-box sites
  2. CMS sites
  3. Custom sites

You can think about these three types in ascending order of complexity. Unless you plan on making all sorts of changes to your site all the time, you likely just need the out-of-the-box variety.

 

Out of the Box Websites

In the last few years, a new type of website has emerged allowing people with zero knowledge of website design and coding to create their own websites. These are known as “out of the box” websites because they are pretty much ready to use after you purchase them. Here are the major providers:

Who Should Use an Out-of-The-Box Site Creator?

If you just want a webpage for your business, say you just want a place for people to look you up, or find your contact information, this is for you.

If your business provides a product or service that is easily presented in pictures, I’d recommend Squarespace.

These sites even support e-commerce so if you are planning on selling items on your site, but you don’t want to make many changes to your site, this is also a good option.

However, if you want access to the “back end” of your site, or you want to customize elements of your site, these services are not for you.

 

Content Management System (CMS)

The most common type of website currently is a CMS or Content Management System. A CMS is software for a website that allows you, the average person, to do things to your website that used to require a coder or a designer, or both. The three most common CMSs are:

  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • WordPress

All three of them are written in PHP, which is a programming language for the web. That’s not seemingly something you need to know, but there are different web languages and the advantage of these being written in the same language is that, theoretically, your site can be moved easily between them.

 

WordPress Above Everything Else

Though all three CMSs have their supporters and detractors and their pluses and minuses, Wordress is the most popular which has some distinct advantages, namely that you will be able to find templates and wordpress-centric designers and coders for WordPress much more easily than for the other two.

The short of it is: When in doubt, choose WordPress.

Drupal and Joomla are good for certain specific requirements, including very large sites, among other things, but are unlikely to be necessary.

Anyone can set up a WordPress site, just like anyone can set up an out-of-the-box website, there are a couple of extra steps with WordPress, but they are way easier than you’d think.

 

Custom Sites

It’s hard to come up with a reason, at this point, why you should pay someone to create a custom site for you.

If you need something really, really specific – say, a completely customized checkout process that meets security standards imposed upon you by regulatory body – you might (I stress might) need a fully customized site built from scratch.

But most of the most successful companies on the internet now use CMSs for their websites for the same reason small business owners should: a CMS removes the need for a developer on staff.

So if you are thinking of hiring someone who is offering you to build you a website, do not go the custom route without making sure you really, really need it. (This is especially if that person or company offering to build you a custom website is offering you a deal to build your custom site. They’re doing this specifically because they know a custom site will keep them employed after the site is built.)

 

Conclusion

When it doubt, go with a CMS. Really, when in doubt, go with WordPress. If you have specific needs use Drupal or Joomla. Or if you are really, really uncomfortable online, then use an out-of-the-box site creator. Don’t go custom.

Do I Need a Website?

If you haven’t already, please read “When Word of Mouth is No Longer Enough,” where I discuss why you might want to have a business online.

Everyone tells you that your business needs a website, don’t they? And the truth is, they’re probably right.

 

Am I Getting Enough Business?

The first question you should ask yourself is, are you getting enough business offline? Are you getting enough business from the following sources?

  • referrals
  • offline advertising (flyers, direct mail, billboards, Yellow Pages, radio and TV ads)
  • walk-ins.

If the answer is “I am getting enough business,” then maybe you don’t need a website. But, if you are planning for the future, it’s still worth thinking about getting a website. I suggest reading my post about referrals as the source of your business to see if you can subsist on them.

 

Am I Happy with My Knowledge About My Clients?

The other major question to ask yourself before you build a website is, “what do I know about my clients?” and “do I want to know more about my clients?” For example, would you like to know more about

  • who your clients are
  • what your clients do for a living and for fun
  • where your clients are from
  • why your clients chose your business
  • how your clients found your business.

Because the other advantage a website will give you is it will give you the ability to learn more about your online clients than you have ever known about any of your offline clients.

 

You should ask yourself these questions before you hire someone to build your website because, just because everyone else has a website, doesn’t mean that every single company needs a website. (Look at key cutting services – they don’t have websites.)

 

When Word of Mouth is No Longer Enough | What Type of Website Do I Need?

 

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