Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WHAT YOU DON'T SEE IS WHAT YOU GET

The internet is full of every type of website imaginable. Some are slick, some are trendy, some are beautiful, some are cluttered and some are loud. Getting the right design is important for your business image, but so is the functionality of the website.

I'll let you in on a secret. Anyone can create a website. You don't even need special software. In fact, the best place to create a website is in the most basic text editing software there is. This would be a program that doesn't even include formatting or a selection of fonts. That's because websites aren't built by placing visual elements on a page the way you might do in a graphics program. Websites are constructed from code. This is the part that most people rarely see.

The major part of the code is called HTML (HyperText Markup Language) or XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language). HTML/XHTML tells the browser where to put all the elements on the web page. This code provides the structure for the site, like the framework for a house being built. Another type of code, CSS, provides all the style - just like paint, carpet and fixtures provide style for that new home. CSS tells the browser what fonts should appear, what size they need to be, how pictures should appear, etc.

Code is also important to the functionality of the site because what works in one web browser won't necessarily work in another. Some browsers have major differences that need to be worked around. A good designer knows how to do that with code. 

There are a lot of web designers out there these days. Some are good designers who rely on special programs, but don't know code. Some know the code, but don't know design. To get the most for your money, it is advantageous to hire a designer who knows code and design.

Want to learn more?
Check out CSS Zen Garden for examples of what can be done just by changing the CSS portion of a website. (Make sure to click on the different designs listed on the right.) If you're a beginner, you can try your hand at a bit of code in Head  First HTML with CSS and XHTML. It's a great step by step way to get started learning the most important part of website creation and can also give you an advantage in understanding what your web designer is talking about.


Friday, March 11, 2011

MAINTAIN CONTROL OVER YOUR WEBSITE

"Running a business is hard enough," you say, "but now I have to keep track of all this website stuff?" There is a lot, too. You've got your webhost, domain registration, design, edits, search engine rankings, passwords, FTP...it's enough to drive you crazy isn't it? It's so tempting to hand it all over to someone else to take care of.

You don't necessarily have to keep track of all of it, but it is wise to hold onto some of it. I encourage my clients to at least maintain control over their webhosting and domain registration. It has become all too common for me to get frustrated phone calls from potential clients who are stuck with a bully who is overcharging for hosting and holding their website and domain  name hostage. Most people don't realize what has happened until it's too late and why would they? This website stuff is like a foreign language.

If you are signing on with a service to handle your website, make sure to ask plenty of questions and read any fine print before you finalize an agreement. Here are a few important things to check on:

• Make sure you will own your domain name and they aren't just "renting" it to you. Some nefarious characters will charge you a hefty sum to turn your name over to you if you leave their service.

• What about your website? Maybe you can cancel your service, but can you take your website with you? Some services will tell you that you can take your website with you, but they won't tell you they'll be charging you quite a bit to get your files from them.

• Is it worth the $30-50 per month they're charging? Maybe so. Some services offer an interface that allows you to edit your own website or they provide special e-commerce features. If you change things often and have an online store, it could be worth it. If you change things once or twice a year, it's doubtful.

Take your time making your decision, especially if you have been approached by a salesperson who is pressuring you to sign up because their "special" is going to expire. Ask other website owners what they do and compare terms by researching online. For most people, standard webhosting for a few dollars a month with domain included is all that's necessary. Above all - stay away from bullies!