Woogloo Today

 

How to Buy a Website

00:43 Thursday May 23, 2013

by Isaiah Mungai

            

When we first take a serious look at the Internet as a possible sales and marketing tool, many of us expect that if we can connect to the Internet for nothing, we should also be able to get our company on the web for nothing.

This expectation is what determines many people's initial choices when purchasing their first website.

I was exactly the same. I looked around the Internet and found a company offering to host a website for me for nothing - FreeYellow.com. I filled in their forms, giving them all my personal details, and used their online website development wizard to create my very first website. I then eagerly showed the site to my wife who laughed so hard she spent the next half-hour trying to get off the floor.

Since she had seen the quality of my work as a marketing & advertising consultant and graphic designer, she expected that my website would also be to the same standard as my print and television work.

First Lesson: Designing a website is a skill that must be learnt.

I struggled away at that website for many hours trying to inject into it the same standards I had come to expect in my print work and television commercials. Unfortunately, I discovered that I needed the right tools to enable me to get the look I wanted, and they cost money.

Second Lesson: Nothing costs nothing.

With the very limited resources that I had, my first site ended up looking simply horrible. What is more, even if it had looked any good, the address that my clients would have had to type in to get to my site was something like: www.freeyellow.com/members/~mycompanysite/index.html.

This made marketing the site and promoting it almost impossible - and as far as any search engine registering my site for the world to find, it was never going to happen!

This meant that I needed to buy a domain name (i.e. a web address like mycompany.co.nz) to attach to my website so that my clients could easily find it and so that I could easily promote it. Unfortunately, these domain names cost money and, in some cases, someone else may already own your company's name in the form of a web address.

Third Lesson: Nasty, horrible things can sometimes cost nothing, but they are seldom of any use (i.e. you get what you pay for).

It was not until a year later when I needed some sort of document promoting my company's unique qualities in order to win a large account that I revisited the whole concept of a website.

Being a cheapskate, I decided that I was not going to spend $1000 or more printing a company profile. Instead, I was going to buy some web development tools, a domain name (mycompany.co.nz) and pay to have my site hosted with my Internet Service Provider (ISP - the company I hook up to the Internet through) at a cost of around $49.95 per month.

The total cost of my site ended up being around $800.00, including one month's hosting and some setup charges (i.e. not much less than the cost of printing a full colour brochure!).

It also took me around three days to build a very basic 'splash' site (i.e. A site that has no database back end for e-commerce functionality and/or a product catalogue and no interactive server side scripting. A splash site is usually hard coded in HTML and is simply an electronic version of a print brochure).

If I had had to pay someone to build the site for me, it would have cost the same as having a print catalogue designed, laid-up and printed.

Fourth Lesson: There is no such thing as easy money or a cheap alternative!

Fortunately, almost immediately after the site went live online I got two jobs from it. It launched me into the web development business - from which I am not sure whether I have recovered from.

I therefore immediately recovered my costs and justified the time and money spent on the site. I also found that my customers considered my business to be far more serious and future contracts became much easier to secure.

Overall, the move to put our advertising and marketing business on the Internet was a good decision for us.

Fifth Lesson: The Internet, like anything else, when used wisely can enhance your company's other sales and marketing efforts.

Now we were online, of course we wanted to let the world know and see the international orders come flooding in. I mean, isn't that what happens when you put your company on the Internet?

Firstly we had to register our domain name with every search engine in the world so that all those keen Internet surfers could find their way to us.

I spent the equivalent of two days hunting down search engines and registering our domain name with them. Then I discovered a piece of software that would do it for me - for a small fee ($US100).

It claimed that there are some 7000 search engines that I could register our domain name with. What is more, it claimed that you had to know how to register your domain name with them - because if you did it the wrong way, they may black mark your domain name from ever being registered with them.

Since I had only found around 20 search engines in two days, and none of them seemed to have actually registered our domain name, I was sure that this must be the answer to getting all those international sales.

I brought the software and registered our domain name with every possible site that would accept our registration.

For the next two weeks I got inundated with emails from every 'spam' (unsolicited sales email) merchant on the Internet. In one day I got over 1000 emails telling me that I had just hit the jackpot, I was going to be richer than Bill Gates - if I would only send them a cheque for $US10.

Since I had already learned lesson four, I simply waited for the flood to abate and the International sales to begin.

Of course I checked everyday to see that we had been registered with all the big search engines. Then I read the fine print that said that it can take up to six months for our site to appear on the search engines after being registered.

So I checked after six months. And what do you know! Nothing! We were not even listed in the first 1000 listings on the search engines.

This was when I discovered that the search engines very rarely rank New Zealand domain names above American domain names (i.e. domain names with a .co.nz extension are ranked lower than domain names with a .com extension) - after all they are American search engines and favor US companies.

Sixth Lesson: The Internet, while being global, favors US businesses.

So I decided to get a .com domain name for our company. This is when we discovered that someone else owned our domain name (or we owned their company's name in New Zealand).

So we had to change our company name to suit the Internet and to get all those international deals - right? Wrong! We had to find a domain name with our company name in it that was not already owned by someone else (e.g. mycompanyadvertising.com instead of mycompany.com).

Another major factor in getting listed with search engines is the Meta tags on your web site. These are the HTML tags at the top of each page that tells the search engine what is on your site and how they should list or classify your site.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution in regard to these Meta tags as the various search engines treat them in very different ways - and now with Google Meta tags have almost no bearing on the rank your website gets.

However, after some trial and error we did end up finding a setup which got our site listed with the very biggest search engines at the very top of their listings.

For some reason we still were not getting all those international sales that the Internet seems to offer.

At this point we decided to analyze the 'hits' on our website. This is when we discovered that 'hits' are not the number of people who visit a site, they are the number of items that are downloaded from a site - i.e. individual images and other page elements.

Sessions, on the other hand, are a true indication of how many people are actually visiting a site. This figure combined with the number and nature of Page Hits will tell you how much traffic your site is getting and where on the site people are going.

We also discovered that the most frequent visitors to our site were search engines scanning the Internet for new sites to list.

Unfortunately, without any screening, activity reports can't tell you whether your site is attracting potential customers or just lots of little Internet search robots roaming around looking for food.

The most surprising thing we discovered was that our site was getting only around 200 Session hits a month (i.e. only around 200 people were visiting our site every month) and most of these where search engines. This is certainly not enough traffic from which to expect to get any sales.

So after all of our hard work to get listed on the search engines, we discovered that they really make very little difference to the potential for sales off a site.

Seventh Lesson: Having a website is like have a shop in the basement of your house right next to a motorway with no signage on the outside to indicate that the shop is there.

What quickly became obvious about the Internet is that in order to make money from a website you have to attract people to it using ordinary marketing methods - i.e. you have to promote and advertise your site in order to get regular 'foot' traffic.

With this in mind, we soon realised that, in the same way you need to invest a certain amount of money to create a successful branch of your business or retail outlet, you also need to invest an equal amount of money to create a successful e-commerce business.

You also would not expect to create a multi-national, multi-outlet business overnight for the cost of a print brochure (see the fourth lesson).

Our web business had now grown to include a number of our former advertising clients. Their requirements for displaying numbers of products and allowing their customers to purchase those products online meant that we had to learn how best to build a full e-commerce site.

Fortunately, our business had also grown to include a software development company that employed programmers who were capable of building any type of fancy Internet site.

We quickly discovered that the more functionality the site needs, the greater the time it takes to develop it.

One of our first clients went to a competitor and was charged $12,500 to have their site created.

The site had a full product catalogue with a shopping 'trolley' and the ability for clients to place an order. For an extra $2,500 our client could get their site fitted with security to allow only those with a valid user id and password to access the trade pricing in the catalogue on the site.

At the time we felt this was a pretty good deal, since we knew how much hard work went into creating a site of that type.

However, pricing of sites has changed a great deal since then.

Now for around $500 you can get a website that has the same features as our client's $12,500 site.

If you want, you can also buy complete systems that integrate your accounting, client management and e-commerce needs seamlessly into one package. These usually start at around the $2500 mark for smaller businesses and very rapidly move up to around $25,000-$150,000 plus.

Many web developers, however, have not yet caught up with the trends and are still charging anywhere from $10,000 - $25,000 for e-commerce solutions.

Another trend in web development is the 'fluid' site model. That is, a website that is totally fluid. It has all of its parameters in terms of look, colours, fonts, layup and content stored in a database. Every page is dynamically created when a surfer accesses it through the site.

As far as a user of the site is concerned, it looks like every other highly functional website. But for the owner of the site, it means that the site can grow and change according to their ongoing needs.

Our experience has shown us that most people follow a similar route to us. They start by spending as little as they can to get onto the Internet. Once they have discovered some of its benefits, they re-invest on a more complete package. Then every couple of years after that they re-make their site to suit their changing needs.

This typically means that they are spending ever-increasing amounts of money in order to achieve their e-commerce goals. This is why the new fluid site model is so relevant for the future of how companies buy web sites.

It means a one-off investment will last the life of the company's e-business. It will allow for expansion and growth in the future and even enable companies to add new divisions to their business and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

This new fluid model also enables the owner of the site to edit, update and manage their site's look and content - which eliminates ongoing expensive professional web developer charges.

Therefore, when buying a web site for your company, you should learn the final and most important lesson: spend once and spend right.

 

NOTE: This story was first writen in 1998 to help our clients 'learn from our mistakes'. While some of the details have been updated (e.g. prices, meta tag relavence with the introduction of Google, etc.) the lessons to be learn are still just as valid as they were back then.

 

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