A reader asked me to speak on the topic of web design. I will give the disclaimer that I give before many things I speak about. I am not a web designer. Well, I did make the Worlds Apart Games web site, which is better than a kick in the teeth, but not exactly a true work of marketing art. I do, however, have a good feel for what is and is not effective in the realm of marketing, which is really what a web site is.
When approaching any problem that you are trying to solve, you need to identify the problem clearly first. If you are thinking about getting or updating a web site, the first issue is what is the problem that you are trying to solve here. You might just be thinking "It is 2010, everyone but me has a web site, and I should too." This is actually a reasonable concern. If you are in business and have no web presence, you are not so much in business as you think. If I am considering doing business with someone, I will check the web first.
By the way, if you are in business and you do not have a web site, you still have a web presence most likely. Your name is probably on various review and listing sites. You do not have the believe in the Internet, the Internet believes in you. You probably would rather that the first thing that someone sees when they Google you to be your site rather than the review by YahooBoy9696.
Beyond just having a web presence, you will want to think about what you want the site to do. There is a wide range of sites and what they can do, as I will show in a few examples below. You can have a site that can do anything you have ever seen on the Internet if you are willing to pay for it. Forums, social networks, picture galleries, reviews, and anything else you can imagine can be yours. Large scale sites like that can be expensive for an individual to create, but if you are running a business, you may find the cost of building such a site surprisingly reasonable.
OK, enough talk. Time for examples.
First, an example of what I call a business card site. This is the simplest kind of site. As the description implies, it is like a business card. It gives a basic idea of who you are, what you do, and how to reach you. You can get a site like this for very little money. You can find very inexpensive hosting, and if you pay more than $15/year for domain registration, you are being taken for a ride. It's not flashy, but at least it will mean that something shows up if someone Googles your name.
A business card style site: Clean and Green Cleaning
Maybe you want to have a little more information on your site. Green Earth Computers' web site is a multi-page site. It is very straightforward and was made by the business owner. As you can see, it has various pieces of information, which give you a pretty clear idea of what Green Earth Computers offers. This is also a site that you can, with various resources available on the web, make yourself.
The next step up is a static site (a site that the user just reads rather than interacting with) which is professionally designed. Take a look at SkyTemple, a web design company that I work with. This site also has information on the company as well as other information that may be of interest to the community in order to draw more traffic. You will notice that the quantity of the information is similar to Green Earth Computers' site, but the presentation is snazzier. This professional presentation is where you will begin to experience expense as you move out of the areas of sites that can be built with free tools to sites that require professional design skills.
The next level of complexity is a site which is interactive in some way such as http://westernma.biz/. This site allows users to go on it to list their business, discuss issues with other users, ask questions, get information, etc. At this level, the site moves away from selling a product to being the product. For some sites, like WesternMABiz as well Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Twitter, OKCupid, etc, the site is the product. For other sites, they use these kinds of features to draw traffic in order to get eyes to the site to sell them other products.
This is, of course, just a quick overview of what you can do with the web. If you are interested in a more comprehensive look at what the web can do for you, contact me. I would be happy to meet with you for a free consultation on how to make the most of what the 21st century has to offer.
Go look at some web sites, then talk to people face to face to find out their reactions to sites, because ultimately the purpose of a web site is to elicit a response from the viewer, and because that gets you talking to live humans again and keeps you from becoming part of the Network!
Somewhat Important Notes:
Clean and Green Cleaning, Green Earth Computers, and Skytemple are all members of the Stone Soup Network, and I think they are pretty cool folks who you should do business with. If you do contact them, please be sure to mention that you heard about them from Michael Whitehouse's blog.
WesternMABiz is not presently a member of the Stone Soup Network, but only because I have not had the chance to sit down with Terran and get to know him as is required to be added to the network. He is well recommended to me, and I hope to bring him into the network soon.
I do have commission arrangements with web designers, so I do have a financial interest. However, I would never recommend for someone to get more web site than they need or can afford. My job is to give good advice. If that advice is helpful and generates commissions, more the better, but I would rather be helpful than paid.
Some books that might be useful to you: