Thanet Star

Setting up a personal or business website

Put your content in any design
For all the many different people I have done consultation work for there have only been two distinct barriers preventing the person or the company running a profitable and popular website. It does not seem to matter what the aim or scope of the site will be - one or both of these two barriers come up every time. They are both, in their own way, issues of perception.

1. Lack of understanding of what a web site is and can do
2. Lack of skills or understanding of the technology that can make things easier

Now the first issue usually results in people requesting fancy, yet pointless, interactive media be embedded on a single page. This might seem great but unless this bit of media is so hot, so fantastic, so astounding that everyone that sees it is filled with a religious zeal that motivates them to make every one they know look at it, then you site just died in the starting blocks. The reason being is that your website has just one page with an interactive movie on it.

When search engines index the site they will ignore the movie and look for text. When real people do, somehow, find their way to such a site they will (if you are very lucky) give you as many as 25 second for the movie to load and then they will go away again. Amazingly companies will pay more than £5,000 for such sites (I can name at least two that are no longer in business because of this) and yet what they get does little more than tickle the managing director's ego and appeal to his or her inner artist.

Art is fine but the right art for the right medium.

The second issue is exemplified by Michael Child's website. No, not his blog, his company web site. Michael has hand written his entire site which is no mean feat especially since (as I understand it) he taught himself to do that.

Michael has, in short, made a stunning attempt. However, much of the effort that goes into making such a site could be saved with the judicious application of website technology. I'll use Michael's sterling efforts as an example because he has unknowingly sought out all the correct elements (more or less) even though he has hand written every page.

There are three elements to a website, and it is important to understand what they are.

1. Design, presentation and colour. In IT we call this the "presentation layer". This is what the web designer should be working on. This and nothing else. It is here that the "art" takes place.

2. Logic. This is the part that you do not "see" but it is there nevertheless. In the "logic layer" we have the rules expressed in code that define what goes where and when. In Michael's case this logic is created by his use of frames and personal style of layout.

3. Content and data. The "data layer", as we IT folks call it, is where the content is stored. In Michael's case he has separated the navigation and the content with frames so that he can focus on content writing. It is this layer that you will most likely be interested.

This model is best embodied in any number of Content Management Systems (CMS). Blogger.com is a simple CMS that allows you to do the design separate from the content you type. Almost all CMS are like this even if some do not allow you to "log in, type in and press the button".

The drawback to the use of frames (as in Michael's bookshop website) is that one can not link to specific pages so well. One links to the main page and then this loads the embedded pages. In Michael's case I would recommend a custom system designed to combine his content with the design thus negating the need to use frames.

The result would be almost exactly the same at first glance but now the navigation is actually on each and every page and one can link directly to any of the content of the site. This allows us to link to any page directly, Google and Yahoo to index the site better and it allows design changes at any time. What is more a log in and push the button system could be added to the mix if required.

Most companies and "web designers" approach the task from a "make some pages" perspective. I don't do this. My background is systems analysis and business and I draw on this to create a Marketing, Branding and Site Management solution that goes beyond "just getting pages up" and examines what would be most productive for your business needs. I still manage to do this for less than most other companies.

With many companies (all the ones I have, so far, encountered in Thanet to be precise) you would expect to pay £2,000 to £10,000 for a basic site (and it is very basic). For this you may or may not get good design, you will probably not get control of your content and you may or may not be readable by search engines. You might even end up with something that was created in five minuets by a 15 year old kid running the "new site wizard" in Microsoft FrontPage (as a local solicitor firm once did).

You are not likely to get visitor metrics such as statistical analysis of sources, key words and search terms. You would not get solid SEO advice and I have never even heard the slightest hint that any other Thanet based IT firm offering "web services" has even considered offering a marketing strategy of which you site is just a part. Yet I do all this as standard.

You might also find that your site has links to the firm's homepage. It might even have a copyright message on it attributing copyright to the firm that sold you the site. Ask yourself this - they sold you the site so why are they claiming the rights not only to the site but to your content? That is your site and your content and they are telling the world it belongs to them.

What is more, that link to their site is stealing from you! They are using you to advertise them and without paying you for it. They are, also, draining off the "page rank" for your site so that they rank higher than you in the search engine results.

I do not happen to think that these parasitic practices are very fair. For the kind of money many charge one should expect a bit more than just "a few pages about the company". Part of that price there is ego but part of that price is the cost of software used but used unnecessarily as many time equally good or better software exists for free.

That is why I have sent many years compiling an extensive list of Open Source software that can be used at a fraction of the usual cost. I then select only tried and tested software so that I know it can be relied upon to deliver what is needed. I also get to know the code so that I can safely create new modules and add new features quickly and easily to meet each specific need.

Further reducing costs is the fact that I run my own servers in different parts of the world. This means that technical issues are addressed quickly and that email services can be added at no extra cost. Not that we have to use my servers if you have prepaid hosting although not all hosting is the same. (But this is another story).

As a result you get both push button control and reliability (often) starting as low £500. This includes set up, configuration, basic analysis and the cost of hosting (for 2 years with all the work required to keep your site online for that time). Specific customisations and bespoke solutions are, naturally, going to cost a little more because of the added work and testing required. For example, a realty site might cost nearer £1,000 but that would include a full set of specific features to manage packages of photo's and descriptions and well as tours, agents, branches and the like.

E-commerce (or web sales) is another area that I often see highly over charged by local companies. I often see e-commerce packages starting at an amazing £5,000 when the entire thing including branding and training can be done well for less than half of that. Much less in some cases.

I can charge so much less because I am not trying to "juice you for every penny I can" and I happen to know exactly what I am doing. I also know that if you improve your turnover as a result of my work then you will have more money to expand you site and the services it offers. We both win.

If these services are something that interests then contact me and tell me about your Internet needs, requirements and desires and I will get back to you both a quote and an overview of what you might need.

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Public Comments

This Normal comment was left by Michael Child [score: 0]:

Matt to be perfectly honest with you I donít think I am going to have much spare cash for a while, you just have to look at the number of closed shops in Ramsgate at the moment.

I am however very interested in what you are saying and wonder if you could point me to a site that is similar in content to the http://www.thanetonline.com/ and http://www.michaelsbookshop... maze but is designed in a way that makes it easy to navigate.

I added 2 new titles to the bit where I sell the local books today at http://www.michaelsbookshop... I suppose you could call it the e-commerce part of the site if you were being kind, doing this means that every page of that section has to have extra links, this seemed to make the computer quite angry.

We sell the same books on Ebay at http://stores.ebay.co.uk/th... charging postage to cover the extra costs however I find when I Google our titles the shop site nearly always comes up above Ebay although I would have thought from what you say it ought to be the other way round.

From your own point of view I think there would be a lot of money to be made from a site where secondhand booksellers could list their inventories, I had a go using Access based asp but my computing skills were not really up to it. The people who already do this have the computing skills but donít really understand secondhand books. I for instance list some Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/... they bought out the firm that did this much better.

I would have thought that there are about 40,000 secondhand booksellers worldwide who have the stock organised on a database and I would know how to contact them and present this service in a way that would appeal to them.
26/01/2008 16:55:58

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

You know what - there is the beginning of a very very good idea there. I would suggest that if you were to help me build a picture of the sorts of data/info that booksellers and buyers might need to manage I could come up with a design spec.

It'd have to be the middle to end of the week due to conference commitments.
27/01/2008 09:32:09

This Normal comment was left by donuts73 [score: 0]:

This was an interesting article and one that I hope many have found useful. In a recent survey it was discovered that Thanet is well behind national averages for businesses with a web site - 42% in Thanet compared to over 60% as a national average. Certain market sectors - namely construction - did very badly.

There are people out there that will produce bespoke websites for under £100. Its time more people started to consider it rather than just thinking that the web is not for them.
05/03/2008 09:33:26

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

I suspected it was low but not that low. Are these figures on line anywhere?
07/03/2008 13:50:07
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