Webdesign ideas for kiwi businesses.

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Webdesign ideas for kiwi businesses.

A well-designed website can boost the growth of a small business, help you keep in touch with family or make new contacts with people who share similar interests.
Websites can be relatively inexpensive, costing a few hundred dollars for a simple one based on a standard design template. They can also be costly, with some custom-built sites of just two or three pages costing $5000.

Members we've spoken with say a good website costing somewhere between these extreme figures is money well spent.

... Quote:
The initial cost is the same as an advert in a farming paper or magazine and thereafter the cost is minimal, A website is there all year to those who wish to browse."
says Southlander Caryl Brown who, with husband John, spent around $300 for a site for their farm, http://www.weldonshorthorns...

Starting off
The hardest thing about getting a website created is knowing what you can actually do, what abilities your website can have. Whether you're going to create your own site or hire a designer, there are some key things, which you need to work out first.

What? - What is the Internet? You need to get interested in the Internet and get familiar with search engines. Purchase Netguide, and PC World magazines, and bone up on the topic. Would you make a new branch of your business in a town you knew nothing about? Spend time reading about website design, and investigating on the net what sites you like. Use these as idea platforms for your site. The more you know, the better prepared you are for maintaining and developing your site.

Why? - What is the purpose of your site? Is it to sell, advertise, or just inform? Do you want people to contact you, give feedback, sell a product, or create an online community? You will be amazed at the wide variety of sites you can have.

Who? - Define your target audience. What do they expect, what attracts them, colors, and graphics. This will influence the sort of site you set up. What is the design and colors of sites your audience already visit?

Draft out on paper the sort of information you'd like to see on your website. If it works out to more than a few pages, you could draw a site map, setting out the connections between the pages, and roughly what information sits on each page. Keep one webpage, one theme, and remember short pages are better, break up long entries to multiple pages.

Getting the content of the website right is crucial, and that's up to you, not the designer. Put yourself in the place of a visitor to your site - what sort of information would they expect to find? What photographs would help? You could trial your ideas at this stage on three or four people who are likely to be interested in what you have to offer.

Not only is the content king, but also it's crucially important to get it right. Before writing ANYTHING find out what people will type in to a search engine to find your website. For example if you are selling paua jewellery, then people will type in paua, abalone, shells, seashells, gifts, etc. Take these words, and use them as the basis for your text. These are your KEYWORDS and must be repeated through your text and your titles. Do this for every page on your site.

What's important?
Once you've answered the big questions about content, you're ready to consider the more specific details.

Six key features make a good website. It should:
* Be created for a cost (including ongoing costs) that fit your budget.
* Be found by search engines, so people looking for sites like yours will visit you.
* Download in a reasonable time.
* Have a good design which lets people find the information they want quickly.
* Be able to be updated without too much difficulty.
* Be optimized for search engines. Making your website easily indexed in search engines. Often this is overlooked, yet is crucial in gaining visitors.

These six things don't happen by accident. Cost, for example, will take a bit of homework. To a certain extent, you get what you pay for: the sites you can get for a few hundred dollars will be based on a template: a pre-designed dummy page which you fit your text and pictures into. Templates are limited in the features they offer. But this may be enough to start off with.

Don't think that professional web designers are necessarily the best option for you. For the cost of a cell phone or a slap up meal at Mac Donald's, you may get a talented teenager to create your site. Also there are often people willing to work cheaply or free to get a resume of sites for their CV's.

Payment can also be considered as a percentage of the sales taken over the net, or they may get the income generated from any advertising on the site. Such incentives mean the web master is working for you in an ongoing manner to maximise their profits. With an 'amateur' however, be more sure of the style you want as you may end up with a glitzy monstrosity out of character for your product.

Paying more can get you a unique site and useful features, but more doesn't always mean better. "I feel quite strongly that many people who want their sites to get lots of visitors are being ripped off," says ---, a computing teacher who has his own site http://www.stuffucanuse.com. His gripe is that people are paying for poorly designed websites and they don't realise what they are missing. They assume low visitor numbers and poor Google listing are normal, when it's a sign of poor website implementation and design. Websites are frequently created that are not following the principles of Search Engine Optimization in the site architecture, design, usability, and coding language. An excellent website that addresses search engine optimization is http://www.seochat.com/ with many articles and hints for designing your website.

For example --- notes that he has encountered the following poorly designed websites. One well-known construction company has a website that is very poorly indexed in Google. The owners probably have no idea that their website is operating at a low level because of errors in the design of the site. Another is a school website instrumental in attracting overseas students that fails to rate in the first 10 pages of Google for their keywords. The first website for the same keywords used is another school with a simple site that looks like it was made by one of the students. Appearances can be very deceiving on the net.

Its important that owners learn to read the statistics of their website, and to see for themselves where they rank in Google for their keywords. Getting found by visitors is the reason de entre (?) for having a website. The techniques of search engine optimization are fundamental to the success of any website.

Being found
Part of the solution is promoting your site beyond the net. "What some small business people don't understand is that having a website does not automatically bring business, it is only a tool to give out information about the business," says member Julianne Taylor, who has a website selling Zone Diet products, http://www.zonediet.co.nz. "People will only look if they know it's there."

Put your website address on all your printed publicity material (especially your business cards - they can travel widely) and in emails, advertisements and even vehicle signage.
But a key advantage for many sites, as Gary Dix told us, "is to be indexed, and indexed well, in a search engine such as Google.com or similar with your key words, NOT your name alone. Search engine listing is life."

Getting high ranking in search engines is not a complicated business, but may take time, up to a year to perfect your pages. There are a few things you can do to make it more likely:
* Firstly, don't put all your emphasis on graphics, because these aren't picked up by search engines. Don't put crucial text inside graphics.

* Work out the terms that a person looking for your type of site might put into a search engine, and put these words into your page. These Key words can go into topic headings and page names, but also into "meta tags" - code which isn't visible to visitors.

* Each page you make stands alone in a search engine. So each page needs to be crafted with care, having one topic with keywords in the text and in the headings

* Submit your site to search engines once it's built. Once you have achieved indexing in the search engine, you don't need to submit any new pages. The search engine will regularly reindex your site and update the pages you modify, sometimes within days of you adding them.

* Get as many links as you can from related sites. Links are buttons on other sites which people can use to come straight through to your site. You'll often reciprocate by having a link for that other site on your site. Links are very important in Google ranking.

* Get people on the Internet to critique your site. Web designers are very helpful and there are many places where you can request critiques. In this way you may get professional feedback and help for no outlay.

Fast downloads
Aim to have your site appear quickly on a visitor's screen. Too many graphics or very large photographs could make your website slow to download. Assume that a lot of your visitors will be on dial-up modems, and if your site takes too long to appear on their screen, they'll give up.

As a rough guide, the government has issued a guide that home pages on e-government sites shouldn't exceed 55 kilobytes including graphics and text. You could apply this limit to your own site.

Design and updates
Good design is crucial in helping visitors find what they need quickly on your site. While you'll be able to find plenty of books and courses on the topic, we've put a few key pieces of design advice in the "Design basics" panel below.

Whatever design you start with, it's important to update the site and keep the material fresh. How this happens is something you need to work out at the start. A website can be structured so you can easily make changes yourself after a bit of instruction, or it may be set up so that only a designer can make amendments which may incur extra charges.

Keeping track of how many visitors you are getting and where they are coming from is important because it will help you see how your site is being used. Traffic statistics are now part of the standard package from most web hosts, but if there is something very specific you need to know, and the web host's statistics don't tell you, you may be able to find a statistics package that does.

Professional, off-the-shelf or DIY?
Now you know why you want a site and you know the basics about what makes a good site. Next comes a big decision: do you want to get a site ready-made, or do you want to build one yourself?

HIRING A DESIGNER or BUYING A DESIGN
If you're not going to build your own website, one of the big choices to make is whether you'll buy a template or design package or pay to have a custom site designed from scratch.
There is a huge choice of templates and packages available, many of them in the $200 to $500 bracket, and some simple ones even below that. Some of the packages allow you to create several sites and providing hosting of the sites as well.

Jean Fitzgerald has four websites on her account with an American-based company which provides simple web creation tools. One is for family, one for her husband's business, one for New Zealand Riding Clubs and one for a hobby. The cost is US$99.99 per year. "The software allows infinite personalisation from the seriously professional to the seriously tacky."

These services are provided by many companies, often with names such as homestead, hometown, bravenet or similar. If you go down this path, be aware that the search engines may not find your site, and your audience will be severely limited. You get what you pay for in this area.

If you're hiring professionals to create a custom-built site, or if you want an existing template site customised, be prepared to pay a bit more. The site for the band millhouse cost $799. The band has had great feedback and regards the money as being well spent.
Julianne Taylor's website is one of the more complex we've looked at. She started with a template ($524) but then had this customised ($848). Adding a shopping cart which could hold up to 100 items cost her $999. She also paid the designer for the 28 hours it took him to insert all the products and information into the shopping cart: $2660.

Make sure you fully understand the ongoing costs. Some basic sites may just have the host server fee, often around $20 to $50 per month. Julianne Taylor also pays an $11.25 monthly fee for the use of the shopping cart, and a $28.13 monthly licence fee for the software used on her site. (Now you know why some of the people who come up with these things are billionaires.) However these expensive alternatives can be sidetracked with an excellent local host http://myhost.co.nz/. They provide over 20 free scripts and a comprehensive package of free emails, shopping software and statistics.

 http://www.myhost.co.nz/sit... All this is included in the cost of the hosting.
You may want to be able to do the updating of the website yourself. Drummer Christopher Geong does the updates for the millhouse site. The site designer has a simple system which allows this, but Christopher wanted to learn the coding. He found he was able to pick it up easily.

We've heard from many people who were very happy to allow the designer to make updates, and find the cost reasonable. With Charmaine Pountney's site http://www.earthtalk.co.nz, looking at women's accommodation and organic growing, the designer does the updates. "I just fire off amendments and she does it quickly and easily, and every now and then sends us a bill when it adds up to an hour's work," Charmaine told us.

Designers we've spoken with quote hourly rates for updating of $75 to $150.
Whatever services you use, get an agreement in writing that specifies what the designer will provide and what it will cost. When you buy these services as an individual consumer, you have protection under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

There is one American-based organisation, StoresOnline, that sometimes visits New Zealand promoting its website design and hosting services. There have been numerous complaints about this body. You'll find some details on the free section of Consumer Online  http://www.consumer.org.nz).

Get a domain name
Not only will you have the cost of the web designer, you may also have to pay for a domain name - about $40 per year. New Zealand sites seem to prefer using the .co.nz suffix to their domains. However not only is this often slightly more expensive than a .com suffix, it is also less prestigious and limits you geographically. If you are looking for a world wide audience then choose .com to maximise your clients. Ideally your domain name will reflect your product. Search engines rank the domain name very highly so its important to have one that accurately reflects the content of your site.

What about free domain names? Not worth the money you pay for them. Search engines tend to rate them badly, I imagine the thinking is if your website is worth getting a 'real' domain for, then its worth us indexing it. The minimal tax deductible cost of a domain name is worth the effort.

Get a web host.
Having a paid domain requires you to also have paid hosting. Hosting is space on a webserver where your website will live connected to the internet. Hosting presents another hurdle, your web designer may have one he or she already uses. For a beginning website, your demands will be low, therefore it may cost less than $100 per year. If you pay more you may get many extras, such as the ability to have message boards, shopping software, blogs etc on your website.

BUILDING YOUR OWN WEBSITE
Building your own website isn't rocket science. The founders of the web wanted to make it accessible. They aimed to make the basic language that holds website pages together - HTML or "HyperText Markup Language" - easy to learn.

If you look at a website, go to VIEW on the toolbar at the top of your screen, then click "SOURCE", and you'll see the code behind the website.

While picking up HTML isn't too difficult, many people who find things they like on other websites also copy and paste tags from elsewhere. Seeing source code is a good way to learn new tricks. Don't borrow too much or you could be in breach of copyright.

But you don't have to be an expert in HTML to create your own website. For a start, if your site is mostly text, you can put it together in the widely-used Microsoft Word and then save your document as .html. But designers we've spoken with say you can get better results with design software, and it needn't be expensive.

For a beginner FrontPage, by Microsoft, is an easy to use program with familier layouts and tools for people used to using Microsoft Word.

You can find some on the internet itself, or you can buy CDs with the software.
The most basic options simply give you a ready-made template onto which you add your own text and perhaps your own pictures. These are ideal for very simple websites, but they don't give you many options to bring your own style or ideas to the design.

If you want to be a bit more creative, you can use an editing software programme to create a site. The software uses a process sometimes called "drag and drop" or "what you see is what you get". It lets you put different elements together, choosing the background colour, font sizes, and position of different elements of your page.

You can spend from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars on software. The cheaper prices tend to be academic versions. They're the same programme, but you need to be a student or teacher to buy at this price.

In addition, you can use software such as Macromedia Flash or animated ".gif" files to make animations (but beware, people can only see Flash animations if they have the Flash software installed on their own computer).

Be wary of using too much wizardry. The more of these sorts of things you put in a page, the slower it gets and - unless you really know what you're doing - the more amateurish it can look.

And don't use "pop-ups" - small windows that pop up on a screen to advertise something or just provide a greeting. They distract from page content and annoy viewers.
Viewers who want to surf the net quickly can turn off both animations and pop-ups, so if you use them your message might not be seen at all.

TOP 8 WAYS TO GET THE BEST FROM YOUR WEBSITE.
This excellent article is summarized from Clint Dixon on http://www.seochat.com/. These techniques can be performed on a new or existing website.

1. The number one way to reach Google's front pages is: Add content everyday. A page of good keyword optimized content will do more for you than five links from Google PR6 websites. Answer your website's email, market with a newsletter, and participate daily on the Internet as much as you can, such as forums and blogs. The Internet is a popularity party; the more popular your website, the higher in the results pages you will soon find it.

Content is the single most important thing any website owner or would-be Internet business czar can do to drive targeted traffic to their website. Make sure you are writing keyword enriched content for your website.

Keyword enriched means using your keyword term about three to four times per page of content. Since most pages will only be able to rank on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for two keyword terms, concentrate on writing about the two terms that match the content theme and your traffic goals.

Try to write one new page every day. Page length should be between 500 and 750 words. Search engine spiders cannot store much more than that per page. If your content is over 1000 words, try to add a few hundred more words and then split it into two pages. Each page could be based on one of your keywords.

Remember that content is king, information is power, and Google loves content, so you can never have too much content. The problem is that many people have to little content on their sites.

Consider where you will use your content. Some is best used on your website, of course; however you can also use content to give away as articles with links back to your site.

2 Monitoring and Web Analytics -- You need some sort of analysis software to track your visitors' habits when they come to your website, or you will need to learn how to use the tools provided by your Web host. These stats tell you valuable information which can help you optimize your website for your users, which is what search engine optimization is meant to be when it is reduced to its basic core.

You will also need a way to monitor your website's keyword ranking results in the various search engine and directory results pages. There are many free, low cost and professional software titles that will allow you to do this. With these reports you can see which pages need tweaking in order to increase the ranking results.

3. Putting it all together -- After the site is online and working completely, you should start to submit it to the search engines and directories. When considering your submission to Google, you might want to get a link to your site from a site being indexed by Googlebot already. Some observers speculate that allowing Google to find you through a link is better than submitting your site to Google. Make sure to submit manually to DMOZ. If you have the money, pay for inclusion into Yahoo.com's Directory listings.

4. Optimization -- This point covers the basic search engine optimization of your website's pages.
Use you primary keyword term and two secondary terms at least once each in the following areas:
* title tag,
* meta description tag,
* meta keywords tag,
* URL,
* folder name,
* file name,
* and one time each in the image alt tags of the top three images on your page,
* three to four times in the page content at the top,
* once in the middle and close to the bottom of the last paragraph of content.

Use keyword terms as links to other pages on your site or to other well-ranked authority sites in your industry. Use it in your head line tag, once in bold and once in italic font. You can even go so far as to underline the keyword terms one time on each page.

5. Site Design and Usability -- This is probably the single largest inhibitor to most sites ranking well on the search engines. Beautiful looking Web pages constructed from a couple hundred little images, or that nice Flash-based website, are very pleasing to the eye -- however, nether will do very well in most competitive categories in the search engines. The site with all the images will take forever to load, and the flash sites can't be crawled by the search spiders very well. Google loves speed! Their spiders measure how long it takes to return results for your search query, and it is usually done in fractions of a second. Your website must also load this quickly for your users.

Separate the content of your site from its presentation using cascading style sheets (CSS) where possible. These pages load super quick and are clean in their coding. By implementing these steps into your site design and architecture you move the content of your pages close to the top of your Web page, where the search engine spider bots do most of their reading. Often the stop reading after 50 lines, and for many sites those lines could be all code.

When considering what users like, simple wins over bells and whistles. Keep a simplistic approach to the design. Make sure to use lots of white space and definitive calls to action for your users.

6. Structure -- Be sure to set up your website in a sensible manner, with folders named for your keyword terms. These folders should include relevant files and file names that relate to your chosen keyword term.

Your site's navigation and ease of use are factors that will also help you win or lose in the Internet-based business world. Your website needs clear and concise calls to action, to draw the visitor further into your site. A site with 100 visitors a day that all stay on the home page will be out of business before it has a chance to start.

COURSES IN WEB DESIGN
There is a huge range of training courses available. Many don't require any particular expertise apart from basic familiarity with a computer and keyboard.
NOT-FOR-PROFIT COMMUNITY GROUPS These are often sponsored by local councils or businesses. For example, Wellington's Newtown Community College offers simple website design courses over two 2-hour sessions. Cost: Free.
LOCAL COLLEGE COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMMES Onslow College and Newlands College in Wellington, for example, offer one-day courses on "how to create simple web pages and prepare images for the web". Cost: $50.
UNIVERSITY CONTINUING EDUCATION PROGRAMMES The University of Auckland is one which offers intensive two-day, hands-on courses in web design and web graphics. Costs: $894 and $1119 respectively.
PRIVATE TRAINING BODIES There are dozens. An example: Auldhouse computer training runs a two-day course in the three main centres, "Introduction to FrontPage" (Front Page is a Microsoft website construction software programme). Cost : $844
THE INTERNET ITSELF offers courses and help, some free and some for a price. Websites where you'll find useful free information include http://www.w3schools.com. and http://webmonkey.wired.com/...

Apart from the narrow technical courses, good advice is also available on setting objectives for your site, identifying your target audience, and testing the site's usability to make it easier for visitors.

If you're planning to invest a lot of money in a course, such as one preparing you for a career in website design, do some careful homework first. Last year (Consumer 430) we reported the case of a young woman who paid $12,000 to take a 10-month diploma course. It was disappointing. The course didn't even require her to set up a functioning website, and after the course a recruitment consultant told her the best she could hope for was a help-desk job.

Going live
Once your website is complete, you're ready to put it up on the internet. You'll need to find a host "server" - a company with a computer where your site will live and be accessible.

Some internet service providers (ISPs), the people you sign up with when you want to visit the web, allow you to put up your own website as part of the deal. You may have a design and host package, where the company which provided the design for you will also host it. Or you may choose to shop around for your own host.

Next month, we'll look at website hosts - what they cost and what you get for your money.

OUR ADVICE
Whether you're getting someone else to make your website or creating it yourself, remember that the content of the website is your responsibility and needs to be carefully thought out first. Work through the Why? Who? and How? part of our article before anything else. And sort out the overall impression you want your site to give visitors - don't leave this to the designer.

If you're using a designer, ask to see what other pages they have done. Talk to the people who own the sites. See how quickly the sites load. If there's a reasonably specialised site - a Puhoi homestay, for example - see if it comes up when you insert the key words "homestay" and "Puhoi" in Google.

But bear in mind that the design is only one contributor to search engine ranking - as we've explained, content and links are also important and not in the designer's hands.
Get quotes for the initial design and for any ongoing charges such as fees for updating the site or software licensing fees.

Always make sure the site can be updated. You may be happy to do this yourself, or you may want the designer to do it.

Test the site thoroughly and on different browsers (the software packages which people use to visit the web). You need to be sure it will appear properly for every visitor, regardless of the browser they use. The site should display properly on Explorer and Netscape, the two most commonly-used browsers.

Get people from your target market to try out the draft site before it goes live, and ask for their feedback.
If you want to see what the search engines see - and thus get an indication of how well your site will be indexed by search engines - you can use the Google Poodle. You'll find it at http://gritechnologies.com/...

Once the website is up, promote it. Look for low-cost advertising in the appropriate media. A very short classified advertisement in a specialist magazine might work.
One of the best ways of promoting your website is to negotiate "links" with other websites. This is where visitors to another site find a button which will take them through to your site.

Links are imortant marketing tools for big sites like Consumer Online, but they can work well for much smaller sites too.

DESIGN BASICS
Content and readability are crucial. Don't let graphics, animations or photographs overwhelm the content.

Make the text easy to read. Body text shouldn't be any smaller than 10 or 12 point. It should be scaleable and not fixed, so users can adjust it to suit their own needs. Avoid big blocks of text in capitals or italic, which is more difficult to read. Dark text on light background is easier to read than vice versa.

Don't use more than two or three fonts.

Make text align to the left and use short line lengths - not across the entire width of the screen. It's important that your site should be printable, and text which is too wide on the screen may not print properly on A4 paper.

Features common to each page should look the same on each page.

Limit your colour range and use colours appropriate to the subject. Choose standard browser or "web safe" colours.

Allow breathing space. Your pages will be more attractive and easy to read if you don't cram them too full.

If a page is longer than five screens, break it up.

If you can reuse the same graphics on different pages - an identical navigation bar throughout, for example - do it. When a visitor downloads the first, their browser "caches" it, or stores it, so when they download another page the browser recalls the graphic from memory and the pages display faster.

CONTENT BASICS
Give people what they expect and keep it consistent. For example, many small business sites have a section for "FAQs" (frequently asked questions), "Contact us" with email and phone details, and "About us" with information on who's behind the site. (Think carefully about the email address you use. Some people collect emails from websites to send out spam.)
Check the grammar and spelling is correct. If you're not a hot speller, use a spell checker, and get someone else to check the grammar.

Bear in mind the law: copyright and defamation both apply to websites.
By netchicken: posted on 4-8-2005








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