Website Design and The Web Design Process

Right, you’ve got your website concept, chosen your domain name, selected your web agency and have finalized your hosting requirements and have setup a hosting account with your preferred hosting company. Now, the actual website design process can begin.

Logo

Your website design reflects your company, your product and can say a lot about you. The most important thing, when starting a website, is that you have a logo designed and finalized BEFORE the website structure is designed.Your logo needs to be strong. In one of the previous articles on choosing your domain name, we mentioned the name of your domain being important that people can remember it. The same applies for your logo.

For example: Most people can tell you what the Nike logo looks like – it’s a simple design and if anyone sees a tick, they think of Nike.

That being said, having a logo that is so well remembered can be tricky and does take time, given how long Nike has been around and how strong their marketing is, but at the same time, the awareness of your brand must be reflected well in your logo and this fact is certainly something that should NOT be overlooked.

Splash Page

A Splash page(also referred to as a holding page), believe it or not, is important.

A splash page is a landing page or a temporary page that is displayed reading something like “COMING SOON”. This page is removed once the site goes live.

If you are waiting for your website to be developed and you are talking about your business and giving business cards out, you want something relatively “pretty” or “professional” to be displayed if someone happens to visit your website.

A splash page should include the following:

  • Your Logo
  • A teaser on your services – if you are launching something completely top secret, then keep it simple, but you want people to come back, so give them something to think or talk about.
  • Email Address – people MUST be able to contact you if there’s something they want to know about your services / product
  • Contact numbers (optional)

The Website Design

Every web agency does their design process differently, but for this article, we are going to run through the Mammoth Solutions way as we feel it works well for us!

So, the process is as follows:

  • Logo and Contact Details are finalized.
  • All text and images for EACH PAGE is provided to us by the client which is then handed to the website designer with the website definition. Home page text at the start of the website design process is the most important.
  • The website designer and the project manager will go over the website definition to make sure the requirements are clear. Additional meetings with the database developers may be required as there are instances where design and database need to work together to create an efficient solution.
  • The website designer will disappear into his / her design world and create a masterpiece taking into account all pages and links required and most importantly, the subject matter of the website.
  • A few variations will be put together and the designs will be sent to the client in JPEG format.
  • The client provides feedback.

Once the design has been approved, the website designer will design the remaining pages or in a number of cases, where the client updates his / her website, sets up the templates for the site. On completion of the design, the design files are handed over to the website developers / coders and the development of the website begins.

Summary

The website design process seems very simple when you read the above items, but in actual fact, it’s one of the most difficult parts of the process. As mentioned above, your website displays your brand and needs to entice or grab people when they arrive on your website.

So, getting the design right is KEY.

Defining your Website

Before your website design can begin, you need to make sure that you know what pages and links are required to begin with. In addition, you need to make sure that you know what functionality must be built and what special processing must be included.

We will cover standard or common website links that are generally included in websites as well as other pages and links to consider.

What is a Website Definition?

This is our wording or term for a document that:

  • Lists the various areas of the site including links, pages, sections (if applicable), etc
  • Provides an idea on the website ‘flow” i.e. how a visitor gets to pages
  • Provides a breakdown on functionality to be included e.g. an administration area is developed, what will the client be able to do via this administration area

Why do I need a Website Definition?

There are no rules saying you MUST have a website definition in place, but if you plan on paying a company to develop your website, you want to make sure:

  1. You have gotten what you paid for when the project is declared “complete”
  2. Both parties understand what the expectations are and what needs to be delivered

We have had a number of companies come to us due to expectations and promises not being met. Having a clear website definition in place can help everyone involved and is perfect for testing purposes towards completion of the website.

Who should do the Website Definition?

This is an interesting one. We’ve had clients develop their own website definitions and over a meeting or discussion, we finalize and adjust the definition where necessary.

If no definition is provided, then specifically in projects where a database requirement needs to be developed, we setup a website definitions document so we know we understand the requirement and the client knows what they will have upon website completion.

Website Links and Flow

Every website is different, but at the same time, many websites are similar. Your website “flow” should be clear and visitors should not have to click more than 3 links to get to where they want to be.

This is a MAMMOTH RULE and a rule we explain to almost each and every client. The more a user has to click and wait, the greater the possibility of losing the visitor to another website.

What links are a MUST?

Home

Every website needs a home page. Your home page is where you get the opportunity of:

  • Convincing the visitor that they are at the right website
  • Grabbing the interest of the visitor with special features, bargains, sales or even information that is important or valuable to them
  • Making an impression

Contact Page

Most people when surfing the web, look for a contact page. Your contact page would typically contain the following:

  • Contact Numbers – phone, fax, mobile (if applicable)
  • Email Address(es) – sales, enquiries, admin, etc
  • Contact form – allow the user to contact you there and then from your website

Some websites don’t have a contact page. If you don’t want a contact page, make sure you have your contact information (phone numbers and an email address) clearly available on EVERY page.

About Us / Services

You need to give credibility and providing more information on your company and / or your services usually assists visitors is deciding whether you “know what you’re doing”. You can have 2 separate pages i.e. one page on About the company and a Services page that provides a breakdown of your services or alternatively, choose the link that suits you best.

For the About Us page, you can include the following information:

  • When the company began
  • Who are the main parties involved in the company
  • Your company motto or goal

For your Services page, you can include the following information:

  • Breakdown and explanation of services that your company offers
  • Why use your company

What other links could I have?

The beauty of a website is that you can have as many pages as you want. Sometimes, less is more, but when your subject matter is broad, you may need to consider what information needs to be included that your visitor will find useful.

Other links to consider including are:

  • Portfolio
  • Latest News
  • Products
  • Specials
  • How it works?
  • Why Us?
  • Gallery
  • Sitemap (we like this page – it’s valuable and useful, but some companies don’t like to include it)
  • Blog (links to a blog – see blogging article for more information on blogs)
  • Directions (could also form part of your contact page)
  • Service specific pages (breaking up your core services into pages of their own – so in our case it would be web design, web development, database development, seo etc)

** Some of the above mentioned links would not be applicable or suitable for your website. You will need to use your discretion when choosing your website links. **

What functionality is a MUST?

This is completely up to you and what you:

  • Want your visitor to be able to do
  • Want to be able to do/manage on your website

Functionality you may want included in your website may include:

  • The ability to update a gallery
  • The ability to have users be able to login and view “protected information”
  • The ability to update text on your pages like (see content management system)
  • The ability for a user to sign up for your newsletter
  • A search facility

Functionality is very much based on your subject matter and is ultimately up to you, the website owner. Complex functionality will need to be discussed and documented with both you and the web agency to ensure the functionality requirements are clearly understood by both parties.

Certain functionality included in websites will dictate the hosting required for a website (see choosing you hosting company). For example: if a database is required, then you will need to be hosted at a company that supports the appropriate database and can support the appropriate scripting language e.g. ASP, PHP, etc.

What else is there to think about?

One particular thing of importance is the future of the project and whether you know that you would like to expand the website as the business / concept grows.

There are 2 ways that you can do this:

  • Rebuild your website when your website needs an additional 20 links added on the home page
  • Make sure your website is designed and built with flexibility in mind and that additional links can be incorporated easily.

Summary

You are paying for your website to be developed PROPERLY. You need to make sure that you and the web agency are clear on requirements and expectations to ensure the project runs as smoothly as possible.
MAKE SURE that if you plan on adding significantly onto the website in the future, that your Web Agency is aware of this and designs accordingly, Left Navigation, tree like menus and drop down menus are great in assisting with these kinds of scenarios.

Choosing a Web Hosting Company

When we mention “hosting company”, a large number of clients will look at us with a blank expression on their face, so this article should help you, as a client or potential client, gain an understanding on what’s involved in choosing a hosting company and what a hosting company actually does for you.

What is hosting?

Hosting companies HOST your website.

Each website has a domain name (see Choosing your Domain Name for more info) and ultimately the aim is for you to have visitors type in your website address and your website to miraculously appear on their browser. This is where Hosting companies come into play.

Each website address /domain name has an IP address allocated to it. The IP address is like your ID number – it’s something unique and “special” and is allocated to your domain name at the hosting company you choose to use.

When your web developers / web agency (see Choosing your Web Agency for more info) have completed your website, they will need to upload the website files to the hosting company of choice. Once these files are uploaded to a dedicated location at the hosting company, you are able to browse your website on the World Wide Web (WWW).

It really isn’t something complicated and although this may sounds a little “hairy”, hosting companies take care of everything for you. Typically the process of organizing you hosting is as follows:

  1. Contact the hosting company and determine the most suitable hosting package for your requirement. Bear in mind that you WILL need to consult your website company to assist you in choosing the appropriate hosting package.
  2. Register or sign up with the hosting company.
  3. The hosting company will “do their thing” and you will be provided information that includes FTP details.
  4. You would send the FTP information to your website company.
  5. The website would use the FTP information to upload the files to your hosting company’s dedicated space for your website.
  6. Your website will then be able to be viewed via an internet browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc

FTP what?

This is a question we are often faced with. And, although you don’t need to understand it in too much depth, we will give a quick rundown.

FTP = File Transfer Protocol

When a web agency receives the FTP information to the client’s hosting account, the FTP details allow them to connect to the hosting company’s server and, as the name states, transfer the files from their web agency’s local server to the hosting company’s server.

How to choose the best hosting company?

There’s no real answer for this as every hosting company offers different services, packages and offers. Your website company has more than likely worked with a few hosting companies and will often guide you in the right direction.

The best suggestion would be to look around and search online. Read testimonials and compare prices.
An important thing worth keeping an eye on is the load time or the speed that websites take to open in your browser. You need a reliable company who has good machines and fast connectivity.

Can I host a website myself?

Yes, BUT, you do need to know how. You do need some technical experience especially if the website is slow to load as well as if the server / machine where you host your website goes down.

We suggest you use a company who specializes in hosting to ensure peace of mind, support when you need it and basically have people dealing with your hosting issues who know best when it comes to hosting.

How do I choose the best hosting package?

As mentioned above, you website agency will be able to assist you with this especially when it relates to the technologies being used to develop your website. For example: you don’t want to host your website at a company that offers Windows based hosting when your website has been built for a Linux hosting company.

If your website is very simple and doesn’t have any fancy coding, then generally you would opt for the cheaper hosting package. Other things that you do need to check when you are looking at hosting packages include:

  • Number of mailboxes available – if you have a website and would like 10 people to have email addresses, but the hosting company only offers 5 for a particular package, you need to find out the costs for extra mail boxes or alternatively a better hosting solution to meet your mail account needs.
  • Bandwidth allowances – make sure the company offers you sufficient hosting options. If you are expecting high volumes of traffic, then bandwidth may be an issue for you. Make sure of the following:
    • Total bandwidth included in the hosting packages
    • What happens if you exceed your bandwidth? Does your website get suspended? Do you get charged extra? Do you get warned of the excessive bandwidth being used?
  • Website Statistics – make sure the hosting company provides some form of stats. The Mammoth Solutions favorite is AWStats.
  • Support- How, when, where? You need to know that if you have an email problem or your website is down, that you can contact someone to sort out the problem quickly and efficiently.
  • Backups – make sure that the hosting company does backups of your website. This is VERY IMPORTANT for websites where that run on a database or are updated via content management systems. You need to know that if something happens, your data and website is backed up and can be restored quickly. The reality of the internet is such that you can have your website hacked. You want to know that in the case of a hack attempt or data loss, your website can be restored without any hiccups. Most hosting companies back up and some keep up to 1 to 2 weeks worth of backups. However, some hosting companies DO NOT BACKUP and makes it YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, so make sure you understand what is involved when it comes to ensuring your website is “safe”.
  • Security – this IS an issue. You don’t want to have your site hacked, so make sure the company you’re using has a good track record and mentions some form of virus protection.
  • Hosting Packages and Options
  • As mentioned above, there are so many types of hosting options that you simply need to look around and find the one that suits you and will support your website requirements best.
  • The most popular hosting solutions are the following:
  • Linux Hosting – usually slightly cheaper than Windows platform hosting due to Linux being an open source. Linux hosting typically supports 3 major technologies:
    • MYSQL
    • PHP
    • PERL
  • Windows Hosting – usually more expensive that Linux Hosting due to the licenses involved. Windows Hosting typically supports the popular Microsoft website technologies including:
    • ASP
    • ASP.NET
    • MS SQL SERVER

Summary and Final Thoughts

For us, at Mammoth Solutions, our priority is service and support. Your hosting company, as with your web agency, is part of your website development and both play a role in helping your website business succeed. You need to know you can rely on your hosting company and that you will receive good service for your monthly or annual fee.

You will need to find a hosting company that covers your website technology requirements, support needs, business infrastructure (mailboxes) and financially suits your pocket.

Choosing a Web Agency

Right, so you’ve finalized your website concept and you’ve chosen your domains, now it’s time to choose who will build your website for you and make your business / website concept a reality.

Well, given the fact that we are a South Africa Web Agency, the purpose of this particular post or article is to try and not be biased, but give neutral tips and advice on how to choose the web agency that you can rely on to get the job done properly and efficiently.

Choosing a Web Agency to build your website:

Your website reflects your brand and / or your company, so you want the site to look and function well. There are numerous things to consider doing before choosing a web company to build your website to ensure your website is a good representation of your business.

Find below our thoughts / comments on choosing your website development company:

  • The web agency you use SHOULD HAVE A WEBSITE. A web agency without a website should ring alarm bells.
  • Check out their portfolio of work and visit websites they have built – usually this will be available on their website.
    • Does the design look good?
    • Do all the links work?
    • Has the template been applied throughout the website i.e. on the all pages (keeping a standard)
  • Get references or testimonials from 1 or 2 clients and find out their feedback on working with the web company
    • Did they meet deadlines?
    • Were they happy with their turnaround time?
    • Etc
  • If search engine optimization is an issue for you i.e. you want to be found on search engines, check whether their sites rank on search engines. A number of agencies are saying they do search engine optimization, but their techniques are either old, dangerous or simply don’t work. Tips on checking if a site ranks well or not:
    • Don’t type in the name of the site
    • Type in the subject of the site, or type in the title of the site, as this is generally what they would try to rank for i.e. if it’s a hotel accommodation site in south Africa, type in South Africa Hotels, or if they are web designers in South Africa, type in South Africa Web Design.
    • Check the sites on major and local search engines e.g. Google.com, Google.co.za, Ananzi.co.za, MSN.com, Yahoo.com, etc
  • If you are looking for a customized database solution or a website where you can manage certain elements or want fancy processing, make sure to find out whether:
    • The company can develop systems to support your requirement.
    • The company can do the work
  • Find out the process of developing a website with the web agency – ask questions like:
    • How much – get a quote in writing
    • Terms and conditions
    • Payment terms (Do you pay a deposit? When do you pay final amount?)
    • Do you get to see a design first before they code?
    • How many variations / different designs will you see?
    • DEADLINE! DEADLINE! DEADLINE!
    • How does support work e.g. if you have a content management system and you pick up a funny / issue / bug, will you be billed extra for it, will they support you, etc
  • Find out the support costs once the site has been built and you need enhancements done.

Comments / Tips / Advice:

  • If you are looking to have a custom system built that is built to support your process / business, be careful that you are not sold one of these off the shelf content management systems.
  • Avoid using a friend or a “friend of a friend” to build your website SPECIFICALLY IF they don’t build websites regularly or for a living.
  • If you are looking for a customized solution, make sure that you get asked questions. If a company is going to build a website requirement that is to support your business, how are they going to do that WITHOUT KNOWING OR UNDERSTANDING YOUR BUSINESS AND BUSINESS NEEDS.
  • When building a website that may need constant attention and may need enhancements as your business grows, make sure you are comfortable working with the selected web agency. A web agency, in a funny way, is almost part of your business as they are responsible for your online presentation and as a “partner” in the business, you need to be comfortable when working with them, trust them to do a good job and rely on them to do the required work in a suitable time frame.
  • Use your gut feeling / intuition.
  • Don’t opt for the cheapest or most expensive web agency. Cheaper / More Expensive doesn’t mean better.

Choosing a Domain Name

If you have not read the first article in the “Building a Website” series, we highly suggest you read the first article on The New Website Concept before continuing with this article on choosing your domain name.

What is a Domain Name?

The domain name is your website address. Other references you may hear in the website industry have the same meaning or are similar to
“domain name” include:

  • Website address
  • Website URL
  • URL
  • Domain (i.e. excludes “Name”)
  • Registered Domain Name

How do I choose the right domain name?

There are 2 things to consider when choosing your domain name:

  • What would you like your domain extension(TLD – top level domain) to be, for example: .com, .co.za, .net, .biz, etc.
  • What would you like the name of your domain to be?

Your domain name represents your brand. But, when choosing your name, you need to consider the following:

  • The domain name may NOT be available – what are alternatives you would be happy with?
  • Is your choice of domain name relevant and / or is the name of the domain name clear?
  • How easy is your domain name to remember? Do your visitors need to be able to remember your domain name?
  • How long is your domain name?
  • How does the domain name read?

How do I check whether my choice of domain name is available?

That’s the easiest part of all and this part will take you less than 5 minutes. You can check availability domain names at various sites including the 2 mentioned below:

What NOT to do when choosing your Domain Name:

Domain names are often set up as being one word e.g. “mammothsolutions”, but sometimes if you put one or more words together, the name reads completely wrong or makes no sense and in some instances, can even be slightly rude – see examples below.

  1. www.expertsexchange.com – a very popular website that offers tips and advice on technical issues among other things. But, this is an example of a domain that when the 2 words ‘Experts Exchange” are put together as one word, the domain name isn’t particularly forthcoming.
  2. www.therapistfinder.com – a therapist website that allows you to find therapists in your area. In this instance, the domain name is 2 words, but if read incorrectly, it can be read as 3 words.
  3. www.ipanywhere.com – a website that offers IP related software. Although the name is the name of the company, when you read it out loud, it can be fairly amusing.
  4. www.penisland.net – a website that specializes in the sales of pens. Do we really need to say more about what could possibly be wrong in this domain name?

There are many others, but hopefully the examples above give you an idea on the implications of not considering how your domain name reads.

One way of solving the “read issue” is to consider putting in hyphens. For example, if we look at the domain names mentioned above, adding a hyphen in the appropriate places would make the domain name not misleading for example:

  • www.experts-exchange.com
  • www.therapist-finder.com
  • www.ip-anywhere.com
  • www.pen-island.net

Keep in mind that adding hyphens may make a domain name read better, BUT people who need to remember your domain name may forget the domain name has a hyphen in the name.

So, in those instances, we would recommend you buy both domains (i.e. domain names with and without hyphens), but use the hyphenated domain as the primary domain. If any visitor types in the name incorrectly i.e. without the hyphen, they get redirected to the hyphenated domain (this feature can be organized by your website hosting company and / or website developers).

What do I do if the domain is not available?

This is more than often the case, since the number of websites have grown enormously over the last few years.

The only option when a domain is not available is to:

  • Choose another domain name and check its availability
  • Check if the domain name that is unavailable is being used and if not, contact the domain owner (available via the WHOIS info) and offer to buy the domain. This isn’t always possible, but is always worth a try if the domain owner has not setup a website yet.

How do I know which Domain Extension(TLD) to choose?

The type of TLD is really a matter of preference. If you are building a South African website, we would definitely suggest you buy the co.za domain option. If you want your website to be a .com, that is absolutely fine, but we would still suggest you buy both the co.za, and the .com domains. By purchasing the co.za domain name as well as the .com for a South African website, you also protect yourself from potential individuals / companies buying the co.za domain name and building a similar website or a website that can compete with yours in a South African market.

All of us Mammoths are fans of the .com and .co.za TLDs. Why? Because “.com” and “.co.za” are the most widely used TLDs in South Africa, and are most likely to be typed into a browser when a client wants to return to a website.

Co.za is obviously irrelevant if your website is not for South Africa purposes.

Reputation Management:

Always try and buy negatives of your domain/company name. This is critical for good reputation management. You never know when some troll buys a domain that is www.anti-yourdomain.com or www.yourdomainsucks.com, and ends up ranking for your name in the Search Engines.

As you all may know South Africa is undergoing some power cuts and loadshedding, due to a power shortage. A great example of not-so-great reputation management is Eskom failing to buy the www.eskomsucks.co.za domain.

Final thoughts…

The selection and purchasing of your domain name is the start to getting your website going. It may seem like one of the easiest tasks during the whole process, but taking into consideration the factors mentioned above, you can see now see that choosing a domain name is important.

Remember: The website can change, the business concept can be adjusted / changed, but the domain usually stays the same. You want a domain that:

  • Represents your business
  • Reads easily
  • Can easily be remembered