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Web Site Design

89 WEB SITE DESIGN

In the late 1990s, companies all of kinds began to develop Web sites to advertise their products, to build brand recognition, and to sell their products. In some cases they hired a Web design expert to oversee the process, and in other cases they simply farmed the project out to a Web development firm. To make the Web site design and development process as easy as possible, software companies like Adobe and Macromedia began to develop comprehensive Web site design programs. As a result, a growing number of businesses began to develop their own Web sites without hiring internal specialists or outsourcing the project. Entrepreneurs planning to launch an online venture need to consider carefully which option is best for them.

Outsourcing the project to a Web design firm is certainly the path of least resistance for most small businesses. In many cases, you can use a single company to host, design, and manage your Web site. For example, Colorado-based Verio Inc. is a leading Web hosting company that also offers customized Web solutions, including design services, to businesses of all kinds. Digital Work Inc. also offers both hosting and design services at prices ranging from $34.95 per month to $194.95 per month, depending on the options you choose. Some companies charge an initial set-up fee ranging from $1,500 to $5,000 for a basic Web page and then levy a monthly fee for hosting services.

CHOOSING A WEB DESIGNER

Choosing a Web designer can be difficult due to the sheer number of companies and individuals offering such services. Webdesign.thelist.com offers an online database of Web designers that you can search by services, name, or location. Also, if you find a Web site you like and you want to know who built it, you can use Whobuiltit.com, which maintains a database of 44,000 Web sites, including information about who designed each. Entrepreneur columnist Melissa Campanelli recommends doing your homework before selecting a designer: "Check out a list of the sites the company's worked on and look closely at its own site. Ask about arrangements for maintaining the site, and make sure your new designer is interested in your company and its goals." For example, if your goal is to grow traffic significantly within a few months of your site's launch, your designer should be able to tell you how this will impact your site's performance and what steps you can take to maximize bandwidth. Keeping goals in mind during the design and development process can eliminate many future problems.

WEB DESIGN SOFTWARE

While most experts agree that large, complex Web sites are best left to professional designers, many do acknowledge that small-business owners can design their own successful sites. According to a September 2001 issue of E-Commerce Times, regardless of whether a company chooses to hire a Web developer or design its own site, it is vital that it carefully plan the site's layout, content, and security features. If you decide that you are not interested in paying somebody else to design your site, be it another company or a specialist you hire as an employee, you'll need to purchase your own Web design software. You can expect to pay about $300 for popular programs such as Dreamweaver by Macromedia, which also offers online training for an additional $100, or pGoLive by Adobe.

Once you've become comfortable with your Web design software, you'll need to begin planning your site's organization. Many analysts caution against underestimating the importance of this, pointing out that the structure of the information is as important as the information itself. Visitors who cannot find what they want quickly and easily are likely to simply go elsewhere. To find an effective and appealing organizational structure, it might prove worthwhile to examine rival Web sites.

Along with the organization and placement of textual information, you must also decide what types of graphic and audio enhancements you will use on your site. Keep in mind that many Internet users have dated PCs that might be overwhelmed by too many high-tech enhancements. If you're determined to include multiple graphics and/or audio features on your site, you can also offer visitors the choice to view your site in HTML only. Some experts recommend using images under 12KB in size to allow all users to load them quickly. Business Start-Ups writer Karen Solomon recommends that designers "trim the fat off graphics, animations, blinking text, dancing babies and smiley faces that serve no purpose other than looking cool." Solomon also advises against using front door pages and reminds designers to clean up obsolete links and to be sure that photographs are saved in the JPEG format, while graphics are saved as GIF files. This type of design maintenance can help improve site performance.

TEST AND TWEAK

Finally, once your initial design is completed, it is important to test your site from as many different computers as possible. You want to be sure that individuals with different Web browsers and different connection types can access your site as you intended. You can also ask friends and family members for feedback on how easy your site is to navigate and how appealing it is to view. As with most online tasks, be prepared to continually tweak your site's design to meet the evolving needs of your customers.

FURTHER READING

Campanelli, Melissa. "Help! You Need Somebody!" Entrepreneur, May 2000. Available from http://www.entrepreneur.com.

Enos, Lori. "Small Businesses Venturing Online." E-Commerce Times, 13 September 2001. Available from http://www.ecommercetimes.com.

Ross, Lynn Manning. "Thou Shalt Not." Business Start-Ups, September 1999. Available from http://www.entrepreneur.com.

Solomon, Karen. "Gut the Glitz." Business Start-Ups, February 2000. Available from http://www.entrepreneur.com.

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