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Why Does a Website Cost So Much?

Early on in 1996, when I learned how to build websites, I realized an interesting phenomena with the web -- people were reluctant to pay to have a website built. My theory was that it was really hard for them to pay for something they could not touch and feel in their hands. In their minds, it was air, and how expensive could that be? I recently read an article about hidden costs on website development. I believe many clients are not aware of the time involved in the creation of a website.

We work with mostly small to medium-sized businesses, and at least 1/3 of our companies are sole proprietors with only 1-2 employees. Their budget for a website is usually "we just want to spend a few hundred dollars." They often gasp when they see the simple little website they want is in the few thousand dollar arena. Why would this be so? They only have 15 or so pages. How could it possibly cost so much? Here's a list of the steps required to build such a simple site:

Steps involved in building a website in Joomla:

  1. Create information architecture and develop quote for client: 1-2 hours
  2. Select a couple templates for the client to choose from (selecting a template saves $1500-$2000 in design fees): 1.5 hour
  3. Purchase selected template: $25-$45
  4. Customize the template with client's logo, color scheme and possible modify module positions to work with content: 3-4 hours
  5. Gather content from existing site and create content outline for client in Word: 1 hour
  6. Set up hosting, Install Joomla, create section/category, menu and article structure: 3 hours
  7. Input client's content (all static content): 3-4 hours
  8. Optimize graphic layout of content to it abides by usability standards: 2 hours
  9. Search for stock photos for the site: 1-2 hours
  10. Pay for stock photos: $25-$50
  11. Size and optimize 15-20 photos for the site: 2 hours
  12. Input images and edits to content: 1-2 hours
  13. Create online contact form: 1 hour
  14. Install and configure FAQ component with 20 questions: 1.5 hours
  15. Test and optimize template for popular browsers: 2 hours
  16. Apply SEO to page titles, links, content: 2-3 hours
  17. 1 year hosting at Rochen: $95
  18. Talking to the client and calling/emailing asking for content or clarifying issues: 3-4 hours
Total hours: 28-33 hours
Out of pocket expenses: $145-$190

And what about nifty extras?
This time estimate is for a site that is basically text with very little extended functionality. We often add the following to our client's sites, which can vary in time required depending on the complexity of the pieces:
  • Google Analytics
  • Backup System
  • Search Engine Submission
  • Keyword analysis and SEO implementation
  • Blog setup and integration with the site
  • Photo Gallery
  • Flash slide show on home page
  • Event Calendar
  • Newsflash module for marketing taglines on home page or customer testimonials
  • Modification of custom components to match site
  • Purchase of commercial components to optimize performance
  • Etc...
So you can see how quickly the hours add up, and that's if the project goes perfectly without delays or technical glitches, which isn't always the case.

The time has come where a website is an essential part of doing business. It is a critical expense to include in your budget, and because of its importance, its creation should be carefully considered. It's okay to have a budget, but talk to your designer and understand what you're really getting for your money. Sometimes that $500 saved means you're getting a less-than-optimum product.

More information:

Understanding What Goes Into Optimal SEO

People who have websites want to come up at the top of the search results in Google. It's just part of owning a website. Sort of like wanting your kid to be the start on the softball team or in a spelling bee. It's natural to want to be number one. But often when I speak to clients about SEO (search engine optimization) their eyes glass over and ultimately ask, "But what will it cost for you to do it for me?"

This is the million dollar question with regards to SEO. Why? Because you can do a lot of things to optimize your site for the search engines, but it may not have a definite correlation with your ranking. So it might take 100 hours worth of effort for one site, or 500 worth of effort for another, and continuous effort on another.

We have a new client right now who is in the daycare industry, which is an industry where people generally don't have websites. We're excited because we see getting her to the top of google for daycare searches in her area won't take a lot of effort. But then we have a client in the business coaching industry, where there are millions of sites, all seeking to be number one on Google. That's going to take a bit more effort, and we will be extremely fortunate if we achieve page 1 of Google.

I recently came across Search Engine Optimization, a great article by Court's Internet Marketing School. He talks about all the pieces that go together to create optimum SEO. He does it in a non-technical way so you can understand all the effort and processes that are involved in optimizing for maximum search engine indexing. I would recommend reading it so you can gain an overview of what is involved when optimizing a site.

The most important things you should know about SEO:

How Do I Set Up a Blog?

Setting up a blog can be really easy, if you know where to look for instructions. I have put together some of the best tutorials I have found for the two most popular blogging programs.

Two most popular blogging programs:

How do I set up the blog itself?

Where do I find free templates?

How do I install a template on my blog?

Now What?

After you've installed everything it's time to start writing and publicizing your blog. I would recommend subscribing to pro-blogger blogs to gain tips and learn how to manage and grow your blog:

Why Do Corporations Want Their Execs to Use Social Networking?

Online networking is getting press because there is "bling" associated with it. But why are many corporations asking their execs to create profiles and contribute this way? Here is my top 5 reasons:

  1. Enhanced education: Most large corporations value enhanced education of their key players and pay big bucks for it. Online networking allows anyone to identify experts and opinion leaders in their fields. For execs that is a two way street. They can collaborate on technical or operational issues or management practices for free. This can replace paying for seminars, coaching, consultants, trade shows, and higher education degrees to some extent. Did I mention it is free?

  2. Extend your networking opportunities: Networking is recognized as a valuable method of developing sales and partnership opportunities. "Social" networking online provides an entree into many more people in a different way.

  3. Demonstrate corporate expertise: If a company has several people recognized as leaders in their field, the company will invariably gain prestige and clientele by having their expertise publicized. As an example, LinkedIn allows members to respond to each others inquiries in groups or by publishing the executives speaking engagements, corporate executives create the appearance of expertise in a viral way. Other techniques to do this include promoting other company web-based initiatives and non- web based efforts within the social network.

  4. Stay to-the-minute current: Social networking is also a great way to get real time information and real time dialogue on issues that their decision-makers need. This is a different source (perhaps more reliable source) of information compared to customer surveys because people may be more candid online.

  5. Network when it's convenient: And all of this is available when an executive or his/her assistant has the time to do it. It also has the strength of the network tools. Instead of having to remember to ask for networking opportunities with every social contact, online networking is done when a person has the mindspace to focus on it. It provides a way to "drill down" into other people's contacts with less effort. And it provides a record of the network for future use without having to record all the information again. Corporations thrive on information and online networking is huge that way.

More information:

What is Information Architecture?

When talking to clients I will often mention working on their information architecture. Their face kind of scrunches up and I know they're thinking, "She is talking about website construction, not building construction, right?" Information architecture (also called IA) is how the information on your site is categorized and organized. I find the best way to explain IA is by example:

You come to a website and sit staring at the page wondering what link you must click to find the information you seek. You might even click one, find it wasn't accurate, and try another link. This site has very poor information architecture because the information cannot be accessed intuitively.

Conversely, you come to another site, click away and within seconds find what you were looking for. You didn't give much thought to your navigation journey as it was a cinch to follow the trail of links right to the answer. This site has very good information architecture since it was so intuitive you didn't even think about it.

An effective information architect will always strive for the second scenario, but also accept that there is no perfection when it comes to information architecture. A site is a fluid entity which is always changing, which means the information architecture needs to be revisited on a regular basis. At least once a year a site review for IA revisions should be formally completed to make certain your site retains the best possible organization for user navigation.

So how do you know when you get it right? A formal usability study is really the best way to make certain you've created a successful IA for your site. But if a formal study isn't in the cards, do an informal study by asking some regular users if they will surf your site and provide feedback to specific questions. In the end it's the users who will know if the IA is optimum, so it's important to go outside your company to confirm that your IA is a success.

12 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Web Developer

Besides the typical “What is your experience?” and “Can I have some references”, the following questions will assist you in finding a Web development company that will provide service with integrity.

1. Who registers and owns my URL (web site address)?
Whoever owns the URL, controls what server it points to. Many design companies will register the URL in your name, but not give you access to the registrar account. Others will register it in their own name, which means you DON’T own it. Register your own URL before you begin working on the site to avoid this common pitfall.

2. Where is the site hosted?
Whoever hosts your site, controls if it’s live or down. Many development companies insist you host with them, but if you want to change developers, you need to find a different hosting company as well. Make a point of understanding the host/developer relationship so you can make a choice that gives you the most flexibility down the line.

4. What sort of contract do I need to sign?
Many development companies commence business on a handshake. A contract protects you as well as the developer. It lays out the path for the project, and makes each step predicable and understandable. No contract means the developer can change their mind about price, file ownership or even completing the job.

5. How much input do I have in the process of creating my site?
Many developers take your deposit check, and the next time you hear from them your site is built. No questions, no feedback requested; they’ve built your site blindly and without your input. YOU are the business owner. If the developer says you don’t need to be involved, it’s time to look elsewhere.

6. How long does it take to build the site?
Many developers are excited to tell you that they can whip your site out in no time – a week or two tops. But what they neglect to tell you is the most challenging part of building a site is getting the content – and this is up to you! The developer can estimate the build time after they know what they are building, but remember that their build time is also dependent upon your timely delivery of content.

7. How much does it cost to build the site?
This question is like asking how much a car is without knowing the make and model. Expect surprises from a developer who gives you a price without knowing what you want. Also be wary of a developer who gives you a price that is too low. With a clear understanding of what is to be built, the developer can give you a fixed-price bid for construction. A developer should give you a written estimate that specifies the number of pages included as well as any complex functionality that is required.

8. Who owns my finished site?
It is very common for developers to neglect to mention that by law they have ownership of all files related to your site. Unless a work-for-hire statement is incorporated into your contract, they maintain the copyright on the design and assets for your site. They are not obligated to release these files to you. Make certain language is in your contract that states that you have ownership of the work that is done.

9. What technology is used to build the site?
There are many excellent technical solutions for creating sites today, but what is more important in this question is how the developer answers it. Do they explain the technology in a way that it is clear so you understand? Effective communication is critical for accomplishing a Web project. Make certain the developer communicates in a way that you understand.

10. How is the site maintained once it is built?
It’s an easy thing to get involved in the creation of your site and not consider how it is maintained once it is built. It is important to discuss this with the developer as you don’t want to launch your site and then be hit with surprise bills or no means of managing it yourself. You need to find out if software is required to maintain the site, and if the developer offers training for it. Maintenance fees can be as much if not more than build fees, so consider self-management options if budget is a concern. If the design firm insists on being in control of maintenance, get a copy of the fee schedule before signing your contract.

11. Are they using any proprietary software to build the site?
Many development companies create their own software for building Web sites. They license it to customers for use on the site. The main issue with this is if you want to move the site, you can never really own it, even with a work-for-hire. Also, you can never choose to use a different developer, so you are locked into the same company regardless of how the relationship is working out. Avoid proprietary software sites. Make sure it’s built in such a way that you can change your mind and switch companies down the line.

12. Do you have any questions for me?
A developer cannot give you an honest assessment of your project without having an understanding of what is to be built. This question gives the opportunity to see how the developer would approach the project. You can observe the developer’s listening skills as you explain your project, as well as their ability to gain better understanding by asking clarifying questions. It’s important the developer include questions regarding who the site users will be and what the business goals are.

How Does a Search Engine Spider My Site?

The means by which a search engine moves through the web is called spidering the web, also known as web crawling. In other words, it crawls through the world wide web like a real spider crawls over a spider web - one thread at a time. This is an automatic process the search engines continuously engage in.

When a search engine comes to your site, it begins on the page of entry (may not necessarily be the home page -- depends where the spider came from). As it examines your page, if it comes across another link, it will follow that link to where it leads (i.e. follow another thread in the web). That link could be internal to your site, in which case the search engine continues to examine your site. It may also lead outside your site, in which case it has gone elsewhere.

When you request that a search engine index your site, you are asking for the search engine to crawl through your site, examine all pages, or spider your site completely. Be sure to limit your requests to no more than once every 2 months. Over requesting indexing is a surefire way to make the search engines ignore you.

When the search engine spiders your site, it examines your meta tags and content to determine how your site should be indexed in the search engine. Your content is given the greatest weight, but your meta tags are also very important for gaining valuable indexing.

More information:
What Does a Spider See When It Visits Your Site?
Just What Do Spiders Look For?
What is a Webcrawler on Wikipedia

21 Years of Using Macs

This spring is an auspicious time for me. It's been 21 years since I used my first Mac computer. I still remember the day my friend, Michael Fukutome, dragged me from a typewriter to a Mac Plus, insisting I would learn the computer that day. I thought he was nuts. The only computer I had ever touched up until then was a DOS computer, and we all know how not-easy those are to learn! But he was right! Within hours I was using the computer without issue. I quickly became smitten with this wonderful new invention!

I got my first job because I knew how to use a Mac. It was as a receptionist in a printing company. They noticed I had a flair for graphics, so I was moved to in-house graphic designer and they hired a new receptionist. And the rest, as they say, is history. My entire graphic design career evolved from the fact that I learned how to use a Mac.

Today I read an article about Microsoft's new ad campaign to try and prove that PC's are better than Macs. Apparently the recent Apple ads about a young-hip Mac-user versus a geeky PC-user have rubbed Microsoft the wrong way. They are fighting back with their own version of a hip PC-user. But does it really matter? I mean, don't we all know that Macs are the true usability experts when it comes to operating systems?

What do you think? If you're a PC user, do you wish you could throw it in for a Mac? And if you're a Mac user, would you ever give it up for a PC?

Why Should I Syndicate My Content?

Syndicating online is just like it is in other media. When Oprah first started in television, her show only aired on the local ABC station in Chicago. But when her show became syndicated, it was broadcast to all ABC stations around the country. Web syndication is a means of distributing content you have created to other places on the web. An RSS feed is the code used to share this content.

Why syndicate?
If you want to increase your online exposure, syndication is the way to go! A large component of the Internet is about sharing information. By sharing your content through a syndication feed, you are allowing others to benefit from your knowledge. In addition, you provide fresh content to other sites so they can do less work maintaining a current site.

What kind of content should I syndicate?
Anything you have that would be of interest to others. Syndication is not just for blogs, it could also be for press releases or other content within your website. It’s also not just for text either. You can also syndicate images and video. Focus on the area you have knowledge or can add value, and offer that information in an RSS feed. At Landau Design we created this blog to answer the questions all our clients ask, and we have syndicated this blog to help others who are creating or maintaining their web presence.

How do I get people to subscribe?
Make certain you have an easily visible link on your site that says “subscribe to our RSS feed.” Using the orange RSS icon is an excellent way to get your feed link noticed. In Joomla there is a syndication feature built into the system which allows for syndication of any content category. You can also subscribe your content to syndication directories, which allows users to search and select content to use on their site.

More information:

What is an RSS feed and how do I use it?

RSS is an acronym used to describe a method for aggregating and exporting site content. Also known as a web feed, RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” It is a means of exporting information from a website and integrating it into another site. Specific code is integrated into the web page that allows the creators of the page to syndicate their content, and this in turn allows outside users to take the content and put it elsewhere on the web. Most pages will display the orange RSS icon (shown to the right) when that page has an RSS feed you can subscribe to.

Site owners use RSS feeds to pull outside content into their websites because it’s a means of keeping their site fresh without having to create the content themselves. Every time the source site is updated, the site a feed is pulled into is updated as well. A site receiving an RSS requires special code to integrate and display the content. In Joomla there are simple plugins we can use to quickly set up one or more RSS feeds.

Users pull RSS feeds into readers as a way of organizing all their blog reading into one place. Again, every time the source feed is updated, your reader marks the new article as unread, and you know there is something new to view.

More information:

Getting Links in Other Blogs

Link building is an important piece of gaining ranking in Google. Different links have different levels of relevance, so it's important to understand what you're getting when you obtain links to your site. The best types of links are organic links, or ones that are within content that is relevant to your site.

Other people's blogs are an excellent way to gain these relevant links. But how do you get links in other people's blogs? Here are a few articles that give excellent suggestions on how to gain these valuable links:

Should I Spend More Money on My Website?

The Internet is part of our society now (thank you Al Gore) so this is a question that should be asked continuously. How do you decide what to do online?

Define Expectations
Know what your audience is looking for. I always say the receptionist is the first person to ask what people need from your company. This individual is the one who receives the harried phone calls from your customers.

Take Usability to Heart
If your site confuses people well… that’s not what anyone expects. Usability studies have shown that there are uniform expectations about how to find information. Readers look at the web differently from other media. If your information architecture is poorly designed, they won't stay long. Utilize proper technology. I just went to look for a replacement car manual on The main page has a Flash component…. if I haven’t updated my Flash recently, I will be distracted and perhaps get frustrated enough to leave without getting my needs met. If I am selling GM and want to sell a car, this is not a good thing.

Don't Shortchange Information
If people need to review your products, technical specs or other information before making a purchase decision, it's best ot have that information online. If you lead a user to information, but don't deliver it, there is an annoyance factor that is raised in the user. "Under Construction" pages are big no-no. If you don't have the content, either create it or don't put up the page.

Bling When Necessary
If your company is an industry where “bling” is status quo e.g. entertainment, your customers expect to see a cool website. It is very important that they still can find the some basic information, but also pizzazz. Just for fun, search for your favorite movie star and look at their home page. Does the “smoke and mirrors” effect still allow you find what you want?

Let Them Know You Mean Business
If people need reassurance about doing business with you, they will want to see testimonials, case studies or perhaps a portfolio. This is especially important for demonstrating good customer service. Users need to believe you care about them, and they will want to know how you work through warm fuzzy examples.

Back Up Your Facts
If people see you as an expert in your field, they will want that validated. If you are a contractor or attorney, this means more than giving your license or your JD credentials. They will want a demonstration of your wisdom. What about tips from the master plumber? What about published articles from the expert in landlord law? A calendar of speaking engagements?

Keep It Current
If you have a calendar or dated information, people expect it to be current. Don't post on your blog or calendar once every month or so. If you make a commitment to calendared content, be committed to keeping it up to date.

If you are missing on one of these points, you website is not representing you well. There are many other ways to please users, but these are the key points that are often overlooked. Always keep thinking: is there a way our online strategy could do better? That’s where you have to put on your thinking cap and determine if you need to invest more in your online presence.