I've put together a page here that attempts to ask most of the questions you will need to consider when enquiring about a web site, and hopefully help to give you some idea of the answers.
There's a page that give an indication of the cost of such sites here.
Here is a quick summary of these questions, there are more details in the tabs below:
If possible domain names should be short, memorable and easy to spell out over the phone. (I made this error with my domain ‘XLEdev’ which was not memorable and is awkward to spell because it means nothing... was that xledeV or xledeB? - so I changed it to MagmaMôn - hopefully an improvement!)
If you’re running a business then the domain suffix should be ’.co.uk’ or the international ’.com’... or possibly both.
A ’.co.uk’ domain name typically cost around £9 or less for two years. The ’.com’ price varies, but is around the £8 or £9 mark for one year.
Check if your desired domain name is available:
Having purchased a domain name you could possibly host your web site for free. It’s likely your broadband package has some free web space associated with it, and there are free providers around. This is not particularly to be recommended, however, as the hosting will be low quality, possibly slow and maybe will have advertising attached.
‘Proper’ hosting therefore is required, and to make life easier it’s best to have your hosting and the domain names at the same place. So in fact normally the purchase of the domain and the hosting go hand in hand.
There are many Hosting companies, and I have direct experience of three, Fasthosts, 1&1 and Heart Internet.
Web site hosting usually comes in two ‘flavours’, either Linux or Windows based. Web sites run on ‘servers’, large computers designed for such use, and like your desktop these have ‘operating systems’. Most desktop PCs run Windows, but servers can be Windows or Linux. This matters because though web sites look the same whichever flavour you pick, the underlying technology is different.
To generalise, ‘active’ web sites, i.e. those that are not just static pages of fixed data, run by using scripts and databases. Imagine you are selling widgets. You need to display the widget on your site, and you need to know how many you’ve got in stock. You would employ a database to hold details of the widget, and you would use a script in your web page to look up these details when a visitor calls up your page about the widget.
Linux usually uses a scripting language called PHP, and a database called MySQL. Windows on the other hand uses ASP and SQL Server. These two approaches are similar but not the same.
My personal experience is mostly with the Windows system, though I have some experience of both. If however you were to ask me to do a complex active site, then Windows is the way to go. (If you need a Wordpress site, however, then Linux is your choice, more on this later).
Hosting cost for Windows or Linux are usually very similar. The price of hosting is often confusing to calculate, as all companies tend to offer great deals to get your business, for example ‘three months free’ or half price for the first year. Tempting though it may be to take the best offer, consider that you’ll probably be paying this for many years to come, so the initial incentives will quickly disappear into a memory.
Prices as of now disregarding special offers are, roughly:
Fasthosts : From £50 to £70 per year depending on features
1&1 : From £36 to £144 p.a. for Linux, starting at £86 for Windows
Heart Internet : From £36 to £155 per year, Linux based only
I am happy to go through the process of buying and paying for your domain and hosting. However, you may well prefer to do this yourself (probably with my help), because that way you are not tied to me for the future payments, and you will own your domain name totally.
So, you have your domain, you have your web hosting, the next decision is what sort of site you need.
You may need just a simple, relatively static site - a ‘web presence’ if you will, comprising of just a few pages. For example, a Home page, an ‘About’ page, a Contact page and a few pages detailing exactly what your business is all about. In the main this site may not change much over the course of a year. It’s just a way to advertise and a method of contacting you.
At the other end of the scale you may need a database driven active site. You may have changing stock that needs to be regularly updated on the site, or you may want to attract a membership of users who can log-in to the site. These things require information to be recorded and then used in a database, and for a web site to get at that data will require some programming. You may well require two sites, one for the public to use, and one for you to administer the on-line data. Such sites can get quite complex and bespoke to you, and I can provide this sort of site for you. I try to keep my fees as low as possible, but be aware this sort of site can prove expensive.
In the middle of these two options is the self-build site. Or should I say mostly self built, or at least self maintained. As mentioned before 1&1 have a MyWebSite product that enables you to make and maintain your own site. And most hosting now allows you to (fairly) easily create Wordpress sites, which is a slightly more complex way to create your own site.
My experience of these methods is that you will most likely require my assistance to create and kick-start such sites, but then if you have a little computing knowledge (and confidence) you will be able to take it from there and look after your site on your own.
So, for example, if you had a business that had quite a limited range of products then I could design and set up a Wordpress site that allowed you to enter/amend/delete items as much as you like without having to call on my services at all.
Wordpress works by creating a web site that is generated from a ‘back end’ admin system that you alone can control. There is a control panel that you log in to with a username and password, and this gives access to all the parts of your site; the look and feel, the clever bits, umpteen options and the actual content. As long as you are okay using a word processor, you should be okay dealing with the content part. I can help show you how this is done, it’s a little daunting to start with, but most people take to it easily enough.
The 1&1 product MyWebSite is like a cut down version of a Wordpress site, being easier to use, but possibly a bit restrictive in what can be achieved. It is a good solution for the less technical, but you will have to accept that your site will look a lot like many other sites, as there are a limited number of designs to choose from.
The design of both MyWebSite and Wordpress sites is based on Templates. A Template hold all the colours, font sizes and layout of the site - and from it all the others pages are made. Both these systems come with many free designs, alternative you may wish to purchase a design from a specialist template designer, or I could assist you make changes to an existing design to make it your own. Bespoke templates can cost money, but many good designs can be had for pennies. You may not be unique, but you’re unlikely to run into a similar site that often given the size of the internet.
Finally a brief word about eCommerce. If you want to sell stuff from your site then by far the easiest option is to use PayPal. PayPal is nowadays a robust and secure payment system with the advantage that you merely need to apply for an account, give them your credit card and bank details and you’re away. The ‘catch’ (in a sense) is that they take a reasonable chunk out of each transaction, which is fair enough but may cause you pause for thought if you expect to sell a lot of stuff regularly. For modest activity it’s perfect.
If you are an established business with a Merchant Number and solid bone fides, then you may well do better to use a company like Worldpay to deal with your payments. They will require much more of you to join their system, and they will require regular payments, but they will take less of a chunk of each transaction. Using them may well also make your site look more ‘kosher’.
I have experience in both methods of taking payments, and if you have your own provider in mind I’m happy to learn how they operate and include their system into your site.
There are also several companies who offer an interesting combination of a Wordpress-like eCommerce sites, where you build your own site which includes within it all the elements needed to run a business selling on-line. A paid for example is BigCommerce, who for a monthly fee give you all you need using (again) a template driven design. There is even a free version available at FreeWebStore, which is fine as long as you have only a few lines to sell.
I have experience setting up both these sort of sites, and am happy to help with any other systems you may want to use.