Hosting Packages – Which One?

Choosing a hosting package sounds simple, but for some it does require some thought especially for those who are not technically savvy and don’t necessarily know the terminology being referred to.

So, here are a few tips on how to choose the hosting package suitable for your website:

  • If you are still in the process of defining your website and what you want for your website, then it may be best to go for the cheapest hosting package where you can have an email address with your domain name and once you have finalized who your web agency is, you can at least get a basic splash page up. You can upgrade your account later once your website is ready – this will save you money in the long run. Important: Make sure to check if there are any issues about upgrading to another hosting package – it must be financially beneficial otherwise it’s best to go for the hosting package you will need when your site is up and running.
  • If your website is currently being developed by a web agency, definitely ask them for advice on which package to choose. Different hosting packages offer different technologies.
  • Consider how many email accounts you will need. If you plan on having 10 people who require their own email address, you need to make sure that the hosting package you choose allows for 10 email addresses.
  • Consider your traffic requirements. If you plan on having a lot of traffic, make sure to understand your costs for traffic. Sometimes, having your own server at the hosting company can be more affordable from a traffic perspective, than going for the more simple hosting packages on offer.
  • Check the support of the company. Dealing with hosting companies that don’t have good support can lead to major frustrations and can affect your business if you can’t get work done on your site or emails that don’t reach you.
  • Ask your web agency for some guidance on where to host. Your web agency doesn’t want to have delay because of hosting companies, so checking with them also helps as they will naturally want to keep their time lines in check and go for the company they are used to dealing with.
  • If you don’t have a web agency who can recommend a hosting company and you plan on choosing the hosting company yourself, make sure to shop around and compare costs. Again, check on the support – SUPPORT IS POSSIBLE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS when it comes to your website so make sure you KNOW that you can get hold of someone if and when problems occur.

10 Reasons you MUST have a website

Thinking about getting a website, but not REALLY sure why you need one? Well, then this blog article is for you.

Find below a list of reasons why a website is beneficial to your business:

  1. An online presence is incredibly important now-a-days. How many times have you taken a company name you have heard and either searched for it on Google or typed in the name into your web browser BEFORE phoning 1023 or looking in the Yellow Pages?
  2. Websites allow you to make information about your company / service / product available to the public. Having a website can save you time having to deal with phone calls. Your website can cover a lot of questions that a potential client may have e.g. where you are based, what your office hours are, who you must speak to about a particular service, information about your company / product(s) / service(s), etc
  3. Websites can help you increase your target market. Your website is up and running 24 hours a day allowing visitors from overseas to find your website and find your services / products while you sleep.
  4. Ecommerce Websites can increase your monthly / annual turnover. If you sell a particular product, implementing an online shop can increase your turnover by allowing customers to browse your product range online and buy online – customers don’t have to drive to your shop to buy your product(s).
  5. Websites can be a fantastic way of increasing your networking potential via newsletters and subscription based options.
  6. Websites allow your customers to communicate with you and you with your customers via the following:
    • Review or Feedback forms
    • Latest news facilities on the site that can assist clients can staying up to date with your company
    • FAQs
    • Polls
    • Website Forums
  7. Websites can be a great way of testing the waters with a new product / service before you spend heaps of money for media publications. By seeing how people react to a product, you can get an idea on how “in demand” or how popular your product / service is.
  8. Websites are far more cost-effective, long lasting and reliable than a number of other media options. Remember, a website runs 24 hours a day, 7 days week, 365 days a year for a small monthly fee and 1 initial setup fee. Weigh that up against a 1 page advert in a popular newspaper or magazine?
  9. Websites are an extension of your brand and certainly add a “Professional Aspec” to your business.
  10. Website is the perfect way to great a fabulous first impression.

Splash Pages

There are many websites out there that have a splash page when you arrive on the site. For those who don’t know what a splash page is, a splash page is a landing / intro page – the first page on a website that visitors see.

What’s on a Splash Page?

A splash page usually has very little information on it. In many cases, splash pages have a flash movie or something animated. Other items that may be displayed on the page are the company logo, options to accessing the site e.g. some times offer a flash and an HTML option, information required to access the site e.g. browser requirements, technical requirements, language options, contact information, etc.

Splash pages have become very popular and they can be a great way for a website company to show off their skills with something fancy, with a flash movie or 3D animation.

Pros of a Splash Page

  • It provides the user with the option of viewing the site in different formats. HTML can be faster than flash sites. Some people’s browsers don’t support flash or some people just don’t like flash as many flash sites can be associated with slowing load time, so giving the visitor the option can be really useful.
  • As mentioned above, splash pages can be a show off of one’s work. It’s guaranteed to be seen, so if you want the visitor to see something fancy when they arrive on the site, splash page is the way to go.
  • If your site contains sensitive content, a disclaimer or warning cannot be missed if clearly displayed on the splash page. This can also protect and warn visitors.
  • A splash page is a great place on the site where you can give a message that can’t be missed. Maybe you’re running a special, have something important to announce or just have some news worth mentioning, then a splash page is the perfect place to do it.
  • If your website is quite complicated, then a splash page may be a good place to give a user-friendly run down on how to use and navigate the site.
  • A splash page can be useful

Cons of a Splash Page

  • A large number of people find splash pages annoying. If a visitor gets annoyed, you can lose the visitor, so think carefully when choosing to implement a splash page.
  • Because of the lack of text and information generally on a splash page, your websites home page can miss out on being optimised for search engines.
  • By implementing a splash page, you are creating one extra step for your visitor for them to access the site – this can be annoying and off putting for visitors and potential clients.

When should you use a splash page and when shouldn’t you?

It’s completely up to you as it’s your website at the end of the day.

We do not recommend splash pages to our clients. If we are building a website that is for alcohol or a website that contains any other form of sensitive content, we would recommend having a splash page whereby the visitor has to specify their age and that the Terms and Conditions have been read and agreed to – this is standard procedure on most adult or sensitive content websites. If you think your website provides a form of sensitive content, it’s worth comparing or checking competitor’s websites to see how they manage their websites and possibly checking into the legalities relating to your subject matter.

We like to use splash pages on websites that we are in the process of developing. For example, if a client comes to us for a website and we are busy with the website development, there’s very little harm in having a splash page up with their logo and email address should anyone land up on their website and want more information or want to be contacted when the site goes live.

It’s a matter of preference, so go with what you want, but take the pros and cons mentioned above into account.

Visit Smashing Magazine‘s article on splash pages where you can find more detailed examples of splash pages as well as more pros and cons.

Website Turnaround Times

A very popular question we get asked by potential clients is ‘What is your availability like’ and / or ‘How long will it take to get the website up and running’?

One thing that people need to remember when building a new website is, like the old expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, websites don’t get built overnight. There are definitely websites that get built more quickly than others, but a great deal of the time is dictated by the client. WHY? Well, a website cannot be built without information from the client. Without the information, the website cannot get started and inevitably cannot get finished.

What dictates how long a website will take to develop?

There are a few factors that dictate how long a website will take to develop:

  • Availability of content – the client is responsible for getting their content together. Content consists of text for each page to be implemented on the website, images, logo, contact information, etc. Once the content is available, the website design can get started.
  • Complexity of website – the more complex or involved the website is, the longer it could potentially take. While this isn’t always the case, it is an important factor. Sometimes things that a client thinks are quick and easy to implement / develop may not in reality be that quick and / or easy. So, make sure to ask your web agency about time lines for certain ideas that are not the type of things you see everyday on websites. This may give you an idea of complexity.
  • Database Development – if the website requires a database to be implemented, this usually adds to the development time of the website. Databases are NOT something you want to rush, especially if they are a fundamental part of your website. The programmer / developer needs to make sure your database structure is correct before development begins and thorough testing needs to be done by both developer and client to ensure the database backend is functionally correctly.
  • Size of website – you may not require a database, but you require a website that is completely static i.e. doesn’t have any form of database requirements and is NOT a Content Management System (CMS) and it consists of 50 pages that need to be designed and coded. And, you may also want each page to be optimised for major search engines such as Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc. In these instances, web developers who have experience in building CMS or database driven websites, may suggest building a CMS for your website, but in some instances that may even be overkill. So, the web agency lands up coding every page manually. This certainly adds to the design and coding time. PLEASE NOTE: Every website company designs and develops websites differently, so some agencies may take longer to develop than others.
  • Client Feedback – a client can delay the website process if they don’t respond to emails or questions sent by the project manager / designer. The client may be away, may not be contactable or may even be sick. Delays in feedback can carry a heavy impact on website development.
  • Third Parties getting involved – Another delay can be caused when a third party gets involved in the project that wasn’t involved from the beginning. Everyone thinks differently and as soon as a new person / third party gets involved and doesn’t know the background or hasn’t been involved in previous discussions, delays can creep in. This is a VERY important factor in ensuring faster turnaround times.

How to I increase my website turnaround time?

Simply take the factors mentioned above into account by doing the following:

  • Make sure to get the information together that your web agency has requested. Get the information through to them as soon as possible.
  • Make yourself available. You’re building a website and want it done as promptly as possible. Your feedback and input will be required, so make sure you’re available for questions, comments and feedback whether it be by email or phone / cell.
  • Make sure your requirements are clear and understood by your web agency. Miscommunication can happen, so make sure that you are 100% on what you want and that you have communicated it clearly and precisely to your web agency.
  • Don’t pass the buck. You are responsible for your website. Make sure your web agency speaks directly to you and don’t handover responsibility to a third party.
  • Give feedback promptly and make sure it’s consolidated. When your website is being developed and you need to do testing or run through the new website, make sure to make a consolidated list of changes and send the list through to them. Filtering information through as you spot things can delay fixes as the web agency doesn’t know when they can allocate a slot to address all issues.

Right, so if you want to get started with your website, make sure to take the above information into account and consider reading the articles in our Building a Website category which may help you get the information quickly that will not only save your web company time, but YOU time.

The Website Coding or Website Development Process

The website coding side is really where the website design, all the meetings and discussions come to life as the functionality required gets built in and the website ultimately, at the end of this stage is ready for testing and / or final approval.

Again, as mentioned through this article series, every web agency operates differently, so in this particular article, we will be sharing with you our process when it comes to coding the website.

The process for BEFORE coding commences would typically be as follows:

  1. Technologies are finalized between project manager and coder(s). These would have been discussed with the project manager during the “Choosing a Web Agency” and / or “Choosing a Web Hosting Company” stage of the website process.
  2. Website structure discussed and finalized between designer and coder(s). Some agencies have chosen to work with HTML tables; others choose to use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and some to choose both for different projects. While we are focussing more on the CSS side for our development now, there is sometimes a need to make use of the good-old fashioned table way. During this phase, we discuss which would work best for the site.
  3. Specifications and Functionality (if any) clarified between project manager, designer and coder(s). Everything that has been handled between project manager and client is handed down to the coder. The Website Designers may also be involved during this process specifically if they have designed a specific feature or fancy feature that needs to be implemented. The designer will then explain how the functionality may work – this would typically be for menus or navigation types.

What happens during coding?

Well, in summary – A WHOLE LOT!

Our typical process once a full understanding of the website has been clarified is the following:

  1. Setup the basic framework based on the approved design. This would typically be the home page that we start with as the home page is where “it all begins” when a visitor visits your website. The home page also dictates the framework, so it’s the best and most obvious place to start. This setup process would include:
    • Setting up of CSS – setup positioning and styles for the text that will be displayed on the site.
    • Cutting, slicing and optimising of images. Image slicing and optimising is crucial during the coding phase as images contribute to a large portion on your website speed. You want a website that loads quickly and not slowly due to too large images or to poorly optimised images.
    • Implementing the HTML and any special functionality (discussed in step 2 above)
  2. Identify reusable sections of the coded framework (called Server Side Includes). For hosting accounts that allow particular scripting languages to be used such as PHP or ASP, reusable pieces of code can be separated into their own files and pulled in through the necessary commands. A typical use for “Server Side Includes” sections would be for menus, footers, advertising areas, banners, etc. One doesn’t HAVE to have ASP or PHP enabled, but if the hosting company allows for SHTML to be implemented, the same process would be followed. Hosting companies / account that only support HTML will not be able to use this facility as well.
  3. Implement the “Server Side Includes” into the framework. This doesn’t take too long to do and will only need to be done once really. Other “Server Side Includes” may be required for other pages, but the key ones at this point are ones that help with the structure.

** See “Why use Server Side Includes?” for a better explanation on these “Server Side Includes”

Once the framework has been setup, the following will take place:

  1. The home page is tested in different browsers – this is particular important when building using NO tables and just CSS. The most common browsers that we will test on include:
    • Internet Explorer (v.6 up until current version)
    • Firefox (Mac and PC)
    • Safari

    Generally speaking, if the site works across the above mentioned browsers, it will more than like work across other browsers such as Opera.

  2. Review by the designer. This can be a very painful time for the coder, but it’s crucial that the client gets the design they approved. This includes structure, colours, spacing, etc. The designer typically has a good eye and any issues picked up will be corrected and the coder can then continue once approval is done.
    Then, the wheels can start turning a little faster. The remaining pages will be developed according to the designs setup for each page and a very similar process mentioned above will take place for each page which will include some of the following:

    • Menu options and hyperlinks will be setup
    • Text and images (cut, sliced and optimised) will be implemented
    • Special functionality will be implemented
    • Testing in various browsers
    • Etc

Then what?

Now, the coder and the project manager will run through the site and check everything is in order such as:

  • Menu options look and link correctly
  • Text is correct
  • Functionality works correctly
  • Website looks and runs correctly on major browsers
  • Check that everything in the spec has been covered

Once all is in order, the website will be uploaded to a temporary link for the client to review. Any minor text changes can be addressed.
Once the client has approved the website, and possibly the odd tweak, the website is set live and the client is finally in business and his / her website has come to life!!

What about Search Engine Optimization(SEO)?

This would depend on the client and whether they wanted search engine optimisation (SEO) done. There are no guarantees with SEO, but there are some standard and good practices that can be made use of.

If the client requested SEO, towards the end of the coding, the project manager would request some search terms and phrases the client would like to be found for.

Once we receive that information, each page is manually optimised as close as possible to the requested search terms.

But, we may cover the search engine optimisation in another article in the future. For some information on SEO, you can keep an eye on our South Africa SEO category in our blog.

Why use Server Side Includes?

This is a great question and we just love using these so-called “Server Side Includes” because of the following:

  1. It allows more flexibility within the site. If a client has a website that has 100 pages, only 1 simple change in 1 file needs to be implemented opposed to in EACH page on the site. This saves both the client FINANCIALLY and makes things more practical from a development point of view.
  2. They make your file size smaller. Websites, when opened in an web browser such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc, look so beautiful. But, what is actually making them look like that is code which is ultimately like a text file. Have 1 line in this “text file” that tells the server to pull in “Server Side Include” opposed to having all the text in the reusable file in the “text file” makes far less text in the text file. Make sense? If not, then don’t worries – leave the technical stuff to us or your website coders – just know that these little “Server Side Includes” can be a godsend.
  3. Reduces development time. Doesn’t that sound great to you as a client? Well, it’s true. It makes changes / tweaks to the site easier and it makes working in the code much nicer.