Guest blogger Ralph Pombo discusses business websites and how they work
- What is a website?
- Why does your business need a website?
- What is the cost of a good business website?
- Why does a website need maintenance and care?
- What do you want your website to do for your business?
After our last discussion on the basics of the internet, you should now feel more comfortable with the internet and the overview of how it functions. This blog (short for “web log”) installment will be focused on websites; what they are, why you should have one for your business, and what the website should be doing for you.
1) What is a website?
A website is a collection of pages (web pages) that contain information on a common subject. You are currently looking at a web page. It is on the Tracy Chamber of Commerce website. Anyone that has opened the internet has seen an example of a website. By simply clicking on any link or by entering in a web address into your browser address bar, you will be directed to new websites.
Websites are as unique as the companies that they represent and the website developer that created them. Each of these can be very simple, costing just a couple of hundred dollars to start, or they can be very intelligent, sophisticated, and complex, costing tens of thousands to develop and maintain. Don’t let the cost scare you off just yet though. Remember that in the 21st century, a business without an online presence is forfeiting much more revenue, in lost business internet related income, than the expense of a website.
2) Why do you need a website for your business?
It is my belief that every business needs to be connected and showing their best business face digitally. In today’s connected world, you are missing a huge and growing part of your customer base by ignoring the internet. In years past, your business might have reached out to customers through print advertising in magazines and newspapers. Did your business run printed coupons in local newspapers or did you ever cut them out yourself? You may have also been able to draw in additional business with an ad in the Yellow Pages or fliers placed on car windshields in the parking lot.
With technology, all of these methods are being replaced with a digital form. Company websites, advertising on other websites, coupon and discount websites, and digital directories have all replaced, or offered major competition for, print advertising. Now you are probably thinking to yourself, “What about word of mouth advertising? That is always the best.” Forums, social media, and review-style websites have even started to replaced word of mouth advertising. These new online methods have also shown to be much more reliable. This is due to the fact that you can compare many (sometimes thousands of) opinions regarding a product or place of business in just a few seconds, any time day or night, and from any place in the world.
3) What is the cost of a good business website?
Here is a lame answer, “That depends…”. As we have already mentioned, websites are each very unique. They range wildly from being a simple and basic single page, to a website with thousands (or even tens of thousands) of pages, to another that might be considered a true graphic work of art. This is one of those cases where you really do get what you pay for.
Imagine for a minute that you are shopping for a new car instead of a website. You show up to the dealership and tell them that you need a new car. They immediately show you a used 1971 Ford Pinto for $500. You tell them that you really need something more reliable, so they start showing you new cars instead. Now the cost has just jumped up to a minimum of $12,000. Now you tell them that you need to have seating for at least six people, so the salesperson walks you over to the new sedans with starting prices of $30,000. That is fine, but you really want to make a statement when you come driving up. Oh well, now that is completely different. The salesman now walks over to the luxury lot and begins to try to sell you a Cadillac where prices start at $50,000. Do you see where this is going? It really depends on what you are looking for in a vehicle.
If you go with a low cost website, it will have very few functions and will definitely look like a low cost and inexpensive website. For custom websites, the competition is huge when web (website) developers are vying for your hard earned currency. This means that the average reputable developers have very little fat that they can trim from their website budgets and are truly giving you a large bang for your buck. Speaking from experience, when developing a large website my earnings can quickly drop below minimum wage if I am not careful with my bid or the amount of time that I invest.
The bottom line on website cost is that simple websites that you build yourself can be free (or less than $200) for a website that you have very little control over and one that is filled with company advertising to offset the costs. On the other hand, very decent (simple) websites can be custom developed for $1000 and up depending on what features you need. When adding a shopping cart (also called eCommerce) or other features, the cost increases quickly and could run into the thousands of dollars.
No matter what you decide, you really must have some type of website to showcase your business or at the bare minimum, a Facebook page. Your business website cost will vary greatly. You need to discuss all of your options with a reputable website developer. They can give you ideas of what functions that you might need and an estimate of website cost before regular maintenance is added.
4) Why does my website need maintenance and care?
Okay, so imagine that now have invested your money into a beautiful website that you are really proud of. The website represents your company perfectly. It has taken your web developer several months to complete the website and it works exactly as you hoped that it would. You have several options added and the customers are loving the interaction with you online. One morning you open up the website and all you see is a blank page, or even worse someone has hacked your website and everything is now gone and replaced with spam or x-rated images. What do you do now? Who do you turn to? Is your investment gone for good?
This is one reason that maintenance and security must be a requirement when you own a website. Your first concern with any established website is online security. The same developer that created your website, should be offering you a monthly or yearly maintenance package. If they do not, then contact someone immediately to make sure that you are covered.
As you have probably seen in the news, even very large corporations with millions of dollars to spend on digital security, cannot keep hackers from getting into their systems. This is critical to your online business and you need to be prepared. Luckily, there are several safeguards that can be put into place and the average business like yours does not have anything that hackers really want to steal. To be honest, the typical hacker is just trying to cause a disruption and to leave his mark. We will go into online security in a future article, but for now you don’t have a lot to worry about as long as you have a trustworthy developer working with you.
There is another side of maintenance that can be just as crucial. Software updates must be installed on a regular basis. Due to an ever changing internet environment, software is constantly being updated. Online software is being improved and modified on a regular basis. In order for your website to work correctly with browsers and other software, someone needs to keep your website up to date. If your website gets too far behind on the updates, it will eventually lock up and stop working.
As an added benefit, many web developers that take care of your maintenance, will add or replace text for you when you need simple updates on your website. This is especially nice for websites that do not need many changes, but once a year you might want to go on vacation and close for a few days or maybe your business hours have changed. Most web developers can make these changes for you very quickly. I am sure that they would be open to adding some time to the maintenance agreement to help you with small changes if you negotiate this with them.
5) What do you want your website to do for your business?
This is the main question that you need to ask yourself before shopping for a new website. This will be the a major factor in estimating the cost and complexity of your new website. The features that you list will also help to determine how much time you, or your staff, must invest into the website supervision. Some features, like live chats, forums, or other interactivity may not be worth it to you once you see how much attention they need.
Now let’s break this down into even simpler questions:
- Does the website need to inform people about the products that you sell? This could be solved in many different ways. The website might be made to explain your services or products, show images of your products, or you might decide to have a full digital online catalog.
- Should the website describe what you business is and where you are located? This is the an easy requirement to meet. All websites should give basic business information like a business description, your location, hours, phone number, and other contact information.
- Does the website need to sell your products online? This will mean that you need to invest in an eCommerce solution. These solutions can be quite simple or very complex depending on your products and what information is required to complete the transaction.
- Do you want to make a connection to current and future customers (clients) allowing you to directly interact with them? This, again, has many solutions. The easiest solution is to simply have a Contact Us page that allows the user to ask questions or leave comments. You could have a live chat feature, a forum allowing customers to talk to each other, or several other solution features.
- Would you like to answer questions that you hear repeatedly? This may reduce the amount of time wasted on answering the same question over and over. This is known as an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page. Most websites have these in one form or another and save you from repeating answers to common questions.
You are probably starting to see the pattern. Website development has become very sophisticated and it can solve almost any online business communication problem that you can imagine.
I would like to end by stressing one main point. No matter what the business or organization is that you are currently running, you really must have a website of some type. This is your business connection to the digital world. A website will be the first impression of you and your business that a new client (customer) will receive. It is as unique as you and your business are. The website should be an extension of your personality and a reflection of the hard work and determination that you have already invested into your business. Do not look at a website as being separate from your current business. Look at it as not being an optional part, but a crucial requirement for your business. Remember that you can develop it in any style and fashion that you would like. Would you like it to be similar to a neon sign that blazes your company name brightly and attracts customers from near and far? Or would you like for it to be as gentle as a whisper in someone’s ear as if you are sharing an important secret from a friend? This is your website and these decisions are completely up to you.
Ralph Pombo is the Vice President of Software Development for the Nnvent Corporation, a web development corporation that specializes is eCommerce software solutions. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or visit our corporate website.