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What You Need to Know Before Outsourcing Your Website

By Janeson Keeley, Website Consultant


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What You Need to Know Before Outsourcing Your Website


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Know the Basic Vocabulary

Websites



Domain A web page address
Internet Protocol (IP) address Numerical website address
Web server A computer that hosts web pages and communicates with a web browser
Web host The company or individual providing and maintaining the web server
Domain name server (DNS) Converts text-based domain names into numerical IP (Internet Protocol) addresses
Web browser
  • A computer program that allows the user to view web pages
  • Web browsers interpret and display web page files
Website A collection of web pages located at a particular domain
Web page A single document on a website
Home page
  • The first page that will appear at a given domain
  • Also called an index page
Uniform Resource Locator (URL)
  • The address of a website
  • Entered into and displayed in the location or address bar of your web browser
Hyperlink/link A word or graphic that, when clicked on, causes the browser to display another location on the same web page, another web page on the same site, or a web page or at another website

Web Page Construction



Static web pages Web pages whose content is changed only by changing the web page code
Dynamic web pages
  • Web pages whose content changes in response to visitor input
  • Usually interact with web pages
  • Commonly used in e-commerce
  • Also called active server pages
  • Types:
    • Client-side dynamic web pages download a program from the website that is then run on the visitor's computer (i.e., JavaScript, Java applets)
    • Server-side dynamic web pages run the program on the application server of the website instead of on the visitor's computer (i.e., CGI, ISP, PHP, and ASP)
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) The computer language used to construct web pages
Graphic
  • A picture file
  • Types:
    • GIF - most commonly used for simple line graphics
    • JPEG - most commonly used for photographs or graphics with many shades of color
    • PNG - portable network graphic; combines some of the features of GIFs and JPEGs
    • Slower to load than text
Text Characters rendered by the browser rather than stored as picture files

Searching the Web



Search engine A website that provides a searchable directory or index for people seeking web page links to a particular topic.
Directory, i.e., Yahoo!, Looksmart
  • A search engine that collects website listings by direct entry, rather than automated indexing
  • May be fee-for-listing based
  • Listing evaluated by human editors
Web crawler, i.e., Google
  • Also called a robot
  • A program that visits websites and indexes their contents for a search engine
  • Indexing is based on the title of a site, the information contained in the description and keywords section of the web page header, and the text content of the site.
Search term
  • The word or phrase for which the user to a search engine is seeking information
  • Also called a keyword or phrase
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Know What You Want

Specify Your Budget



Upfront costs - the initial design and construction of the site

Maintenance costs - initial and annual (or biannual) domain name registration

Monthly or annual web hosting costs

Cost of regular updating/revision of content

The amount of money available budgeted for the website should be directly proportional to its size and the complexity of its functions. It's better to spend a certain amount to do less better than to spend the same amount to do more poorly.

Identify the Purpose(s) and Function(s) of the Website



Informational
  • For employees
  • For business partners
  • For potential clients/customers
  • For existing clients/customers
Service-oriented
  • Enrollment in an organization
  • Registration for events/services
  • Providing customer service
  • Providing a computer-based service to visitors, i.e., access to on-line programs or classes
Database maintenance
  • Updating information
  • Input of transactions
Advertising/Marketing
  • To potential clients/customers
  • To new clients/customers
Sales (E-commerce)
  • With business partners
  • To the public at large

Identify the Website's Target Audience(s)


  • Internal, i.e., intranet
  • Limited external, i.e., business partnerships
  • External, accessible to the general public
  • Local, domestic, or international
Note that all external pages are accessible internationally, but sales and service sites must decide what countries they are willing to do business in and be aware of any relevant laws pertaining to that business in those countries.

Sites that are truly targeting visitors internationally should have translation functions or different versions for different languages.

Frequency of use - many one-time visitors and/or frequent return visitors

Identify the Means by Which You Expect Visitors to Find Your Site



Based in part on the site's target audience and the type of business
  • Employee/business partner access
  • Local/national advertising through other media
  • Search engines/directories
  • Links for other, related sites
  • Advertising on your printed materials/ads, i.e., business cards

Develop a Site Map


  • Identify the main sections of the website.
  • Identify the particular topics to be covered on each page.
  • Show the relationships between the pages/sections.
  • Develop main and submenus.
  • Identify pattern of links.
  • Identify individual pages, including the classes of pages in which data from databases may be included.

Identify the Corporate Identity (Branding) You Wish the Website to Project



This may be based on existing logos, letterhead, advertising in other media, etc.

Often based on type of business, i.e., more conservative for financial institutions, more avant-garde for art sites.

Identify Hosting Options



Internal
  • Expensive
  • Requires access to major ISP, domain name server
  • Requires sufficient technical staff to ensure reliability and security
External
  • Usually less expensive
  • Often more reliable
  • Contracted host provides Internet connectivity, DNS, and technical staff

Select a Domain Name



Choose several possible names in case one is already taken

You may register several domain names and have the alternate name pages re-directed to the "main" name.

Register the Domain Name/Contract With the Web Host



If the domain name is registered with one company, and the site is hosted with another, there may be a fee to transfer the domain name to the DNS for a different host.


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Know Something About the Technical Considerations Inherent in Website Design, Construction, and Traffic Management

Accessibility



The construction of web pages such that they are useable by voice or text-only browsers
  • Examples:
    • ALT tags giving text labels for graphics should always be included
    • Table summary tags should identify the content/purpose of tables used in the web page
    • Keyboard shortcuts may be provided.
  • Legal issues with government websites not being accessible

Browser Independence



Not everyone uses the same web browser.

Web browsers interpret HTML, so web pages may appear or function differently in different browsers, or even in different versions of browsers.

This may affect the colors, layout, and/or functionality of the web page and client-side dynamic elements.

To the maximum extent possible, a web page should be constructed so that its appearance and functionality are acceptable in all of the major web browsers, both current and older versions, including text-only browsers.
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer
  • Netscape Navigator
  • Opera
  • Lynx
Examples:
  • In cases where active elements are used, especially those constructed with JavaScript, alternate methods of achieving those functions should be provided.
  • "Web-safe" colors should be used when possible.
  • Proprietary HTML tags should be avoided (see Standards below).
  • Web pages should be tested on as many computers and browsers as possible (see Testing below).

Computer Monitor Variability



Computer monitors vary in:
  • Resolution
  • Color rendering
  • Consider using "web-safe" colors, which are designed to render similarly on different computers and in different browsers (see Browser Independence above).
Be very careful About Using shades of yellow and orange, which have a tendency to be extremely variable between computers.

Standards



There are standards for the construction of web page components.

Adherence to these published standards for all components of the web page (HTML, dynamic web pages, etc.) improves your chances of achieving accessibility and browser independence.

Some HTML-generating programs (i.e., Microsoft Word "Save as Web Page," Microsoft FrontPage, Adobe GoLive, Dreamweaver UltraDev) may generate non-standard HTML and/or active elements.

Loading Time

  • The amount of time it takes a web page document to load the first time it is loaded by a particular browser.
  • Faster after the first time because a browser will "cache" the page's components
  • The cache can be manually emptied to test loading speed again using that same browser. (Method for doing this varies by browser.)
Factors affecting loading speed include:
  • The total size of the web page, which is the sum of the sizes of:
    • the HTML file
    • all graphics files used in the document
    • any style sheet and JavaScript files included in the document
  • About graphics:
    • Many small graphics load faster than one large one
    • When possible, use text instead of graphics; it loads much faster.
  • The speed of the network connection of the user, which depends on the type of connection (in order from slowest to fastest):
    • Dial-up with modem - Note: Although there are several different speeds of modems, the effective loading speed between them is approximately the same.
    • DSL
    • Cable modem
    • T-1 or T-3 (business)
Rule of Thumb: About one-third of your visitors will leave your site if the majority of the page they first see has not loaded in eight seconds.

Testing



In order to ensure that a website is browser and computer independent and that the load speed is acceptable, it is important to test the website:
  • On as many different computers as possible
  • With as many different monitors as possible
  • With as many different browsers as possible
  • With as many different network connection as possible to the extent that these are likely to vary among your visitors.

Increasing Site Traffic



If are relying on search engines to guide visitors to your site, then you'll want your site to rank highly when visitors search on specific terms related to your site.

Ranking and visitor numbers are affected by:
  • The listing of your site in web page directories, such as Yahoo!
  • The indexing of your site by crawler-based search engines such as Google
  • The link popularity of your site (the number of other sites that link to it)
  • Sponsored links based on keyword bids or impressions

Optimizing Your Site for Search Engines



For directory-based search engines:
  • Submissions are made manually, and include your site's URL, the title of your site, and a brief description.
  • Commercial organizations may have to pay to submit their site, or may wish to opt for paid submission to get your listing evaluated or listed more quickly.
  • Titles and descriptions should include key search terms, although these may be edited by the human editors who evaluated submissions.
In order for your web pages to rank well in crawler-based search engine indexes, they should be constructed with certain components:
  • Descriptive titles
  • META tags, which give information about the page's content and construction to the web crawler
  • ALT tags, which give textual descriptions of images
  • Text, which includes the search terms that you would expect someone searching for your type of website to use
  • Heading tags, which emphasize the most important information on the page
  • Links to other pages within the website, which will lead the spider to index those pages as well
  • The website directory structure should be no more than three levels deep, since few web crawlers will go any deeper than that.
Note that the use of multimedia (i.e., Flash) presentations on the home page reduces the chances that your site will be indexed (or indexed well) by web crawlers.

Link popularity may be increased by requesting that your site be added to directories related to your topic, or by link exchanges with other, related sites.


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Know How to Evaluate Web Contractors

How to Find Them



You can locate various types of web consultants via:
  • Word of mouth
  • Traditional phone directories and ads
  • Web directories
  • Web searches
  • Credits on websites you like

Local Versus Virtual



Web page design, construction, maintenance, and traffic management can conceivably be done from anywhere in the world.

Types


Graphic designers
  • Strengths:
    • Development of logos and graphics
    • Development of custom layouts
    • Development of multimedia presentations, i.e., Flash, Quicktime
  • Weaknesses:
    • Frequently use HTML-generating programs to develop web pages, which may produce browser-dependent and slow-loading pages and applications
    • May be unfamiliar with the technical aspects of web page design and construction, search engine optimization, and testing
HTML programmers
  • Strengths
    • Should be more familiar with the technical aspects of web page and website construction, search engine optimization, and testing
    • Can manually create and/or optimize HTML for browser independence and loading speed
  • Weaknesses
    • Less likely to have the artistic background or experience with graphics software to be able to create original art
    • Less likely to be extensively skilled in computer applications development techniques
Computer applications programmers
  • Strengths
    • Skilled in dynamic web page construction and testing techniques, usually specializing in server-side applications development
  • Weaknesses
    • Less likely to spend time on other aspects of design or construction
    • And you wouldn't want them to - their rates tend to be higher than those of graphic artists and HTML programmers
Traffic management/search engine optimization consultants
  • Strengths
    • Search term/keyword selection
    • Copywriting
    • Optimization of pages for web crawlers
    • Search engine directory submission
    • Pay-per-click management
  • Weaknesses
    • Specialty area - must know some of the other techniques in order to do this effectively
Choose the type or combination of types of contractors that will allow you to do the most with the requirements you have specified and the budget you have allocated

Beware of "hybrids" - People who have taken classes in graphics, HTML-generating and/or applications development software, and have purchased search engine optimization tools, but have not been trained in the technical aspects of any of them. In these cases, you will often get none of the strengths and all of the weaknesses.

Evaluation Criteria

  • Portfolio
  • References
  • Training - particularity competency in areas that you feel are especially important to your business
  • Availability - initial design, maintenance

Fees

  • Estimates are only as accurate as the information you give the web consultant
  • Prepare a request for proposal (RFP) containing all of the information from the Know What You Want section above

    Estimates may be given:
    • By the hour
    • By the project
    • For maintenance: on retainer for a contract period

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© 2001-2017 Janeson T. Keeley. All rights reserved.  
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Janeson T. Keeley, Owner/Website Consultant

Roanoke, Virginia
Phone: 540-366-3222
E-mail: janesonkeeley@gmail.com

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