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Custom Websites vs. Templates

With all the do-it-yourself website templates available, you’re probably wondering if a custom website is worth the time and investment. Every situation is different depending on an individual’s needs and budgetary limits.

The most important thing to consider is that the success of your business can be greatly impacted by your online presence. First impressions are huge, and when viewers land on your website, they will take a quick look and literally within seconds decide if they’re intrigued enough to stay or go onto the next one.

A website emanates your brand image – it represents who you are, so careful thought should be put into the design. A powerful design can engage your viewers, and encourage them to further explore the content. A custom website may be more of an investment, but the advantages are worth the cost. Designers put expertise into building a brand image for you through creative color scheme, effective layout, user interaction, animations and visual appeal targeted to fit your company’s audience. Designers can also create custom graphics that will be have a copyright and owned by you… no one else can use them without your permission, and you won’t have to rely on stock photos that are used on other websites.

Template designs cost less and take less time to develop than a custom website, however the differences are noticeable. Templates are generic and limit creativity. They may appear lifeless and most likely the template you choose is probably being used by thousands of other sites, so there is less opportunity to express your personality and individuality. The advantages are that they’re affordable and very handy if you need to quickly build a website.

~CEO, Sunset Fire Designs

Registering Your Domain Name

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the name and number systems of the internet. Additionally, each top-level domain is maintained and serviced by a registrar responsible for maintaining the database of domain names and associated information. This information is published using a special service called “whois”, a protocol used for querying databases of registered domain names, IP addresses and other internet resources. This is the main reason that no two parties can ever hold the same domain name simultaneously. It's quick and easy to check www.whois.com to see if your domain is available. Just enter your domain name and press "Go". You'll receive an instant answer as to whether the name is available.

Your domain name is your own unique identity - your brand that gives you a professional image on the World Wide Web. The only way to obtain a domain name is through a domain name registrar services. There are hundreds of them on the internet, which means you can purchase domain names for a competitive low yearly fee. Most web hosting companies offer domain registration services and will register your domain name for you, but it's very easy to do yourself.

You can register a domain name for a year or more, depending on the company. You need to make sure that you renew it before the expiry date otherwise you will no longer own that domain name. Your registrar can then sell it to someone else. If you lose your domain name you can lose your whole online identity. So it’s a good idea to register your domain for multiple years.

Brand name registrars will cost you more – $35.00 a year compared to other companies that charge $8.00 and up for exactly the same domain services. There are no benefits to going with a brand name registrar. They’re all the same except some may offer different perks. However, the process of registering domains is basically the same.

~CEO, Sunset Fire Designs

Choosing a Web Hosting Company

The criteria for choosing either a free web host or a commercial web hosting company are slightly different. For example, free web hosts impose advertising on your website to cover the costs of providing your site the free web space and services. They limit the amount of web space, i.e., 5MB and can also limit the size on the files you upload and/or restrict the file types you can upload (i.e., GIF, JPG files, etc). They can also set a limit on the amount of traffic your website can use per day or month and will disable it if it goes beyond the limit. Additionally, free web hosts don’t always have the best reliability or access speed. A site that is frequently down or has slow access will lose visitors.

When choosing a paid commercial web host company, these are things to look for:

  • It should be reliable and fast, and guarantee a minimum of 99.5% uptime. Check their policy about how much you’ll be charged if you exceed the data transfer limit.
  • There should be 24x7 technical support (including holidays).
  • The web host should allow all he various software and tools used to build your website, i.e., HTML, JavaScript, FTP, PHP, Perl, SSI, .htaccess, SSH, MySQL, etc.
  • Control Panel to self-manage your site.
  • If you are planning on doing any sort of e-commerce through your website, the host should provide SSL (secure server), and Shopping Cart.
  • Email addresses at your own domain, like name@yourdomain.com, if you choose to do so.

If your Internet Service Provider allows it, you can run your own web server, but it’s a lot of work and can be very expensive because a server’s hardware capacity needs to be able to handle a large number of requests (website traffic) occurring simultaneously without affecting the quick response time. For this reason, more popular websites require a good server to fulfill its needs. Professional web hosting companies can run a hosting service cheaper than you can, serve pages faster and do it more reliably at an optimum cost.

~CEO, Sunset Fire Designs

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Website Traffic

What are Meta Tags, and their purpose?

Meta tags are located in the HEAD section of the HTML code. They inform web crawlers about the web page, and are primarily used by search engines to help web crawlers more easily index your pages. Creating meta tags on your page will increase the chances of coming up in a search result. KEYWORD meta tags were at one time an important tag on your website. They were used so that search engine crawlers could match to the same words, which rank your website higher in the search index.

However, today Google and any major search engine no longer pay attention to the Keyword tag because it led to a lot of people spamming the meta tag area. The search engines now focus on the TITLE and DESCRIPTION meta tags in determining a web page’s authority, along with the content of the web page. The name and description entered into these tags is what appears in the search engines, and they are the first thing a user will see on the search result, so these meta tags should be well written. The Title meta tag is indexed by the big three engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing), and though it is average importance in terms of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), it is of high importance with respect to attracting users. For this reason, your website Title should grab attention and create enough curiosity to evoke the user to click on your link, and the Description meta tag should contain well-written information on what your website is about.

~CEO, Sunset Fire Designs

How to Publicize Your Website?

What are several ways that you can publicize your sites and make them more visible on the web?

There are many ways to do this, but I’ll address some of the most popular ways. Online Article Directories (i.e, eHow.com), is one way to get traffic to your website. People search for articles on various subjects and usually follow a link at the bottom of the article to your website. Other ways to get traffic is through social network sites (i.e., Facebook and LinkedIn), classified ads such as Craigslist, Pay Per Click advertising (i.e., Google Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing), print advertising (flyers, business cards), Portfolio Sites that host portfolios of designers and artists, Link Exchanges involving contacting similarly themed websites and offering to display a link to their site on your website if they do the same for you. Today, the most popular way today to draw traffic to your site is through Viral Marketing, which involves creating a YouTube video of a clever or useful idea pertaining to your website. This is a cheap way to advertise for free or with very little money.

~CEO, Sunset Fire Designs

Website Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is an important part of website development. It should be “fit for purpose”, meaning the site should be suitable for the intended purpose. It should be “right the first time” meaning mistakes should be eliminated, because even small errors like a broken link or misspelled word can make a visitor question the credibility of your website and they might not return – first impressions are lasting, so your site should be error-free before putting it online.

Writing code in compliance with the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) standards will ensure you produce a quality website. Following a standards checklist will make certain:

  • Purpose is clearly defined.
  • Content is error-free and easy to read/understand.
  • Navigation is user-friendly, and the website displays on multiple browsers.
  • Content is accessible to a wide variety of people who visit your site, to include people who have audio or visual challenges, for example, content is accessible to color blind or other visually impaired users (i.e.,sufficient color brightness/contrasts, images include “alt” attributes for image descriptions, etc), and the website content makes sense when read by a screen reader.

~CEO, Sunset Fire Designs