Every business needs a website
That statement probably sounds like another web developer trying to justify his existence. I concede I may have a bias but let me see if I can explain my position.
I'm not suggesting every business needs a blog, eCommerce, forum or any other large scale development. For some businesses it can be as simple as a single web page with not much more information than is contained on a business card - business name, brief description of the services / products offered and essential communication details. This style of website can be created in any number of ways and at minimal cost.
The next stage up is a website with 4 to 8 pages. The actual number will depend on the circumstances. The information provided will be similar to the "one page" version but each set of information should appear on its own page in a more expanded format. For example the contact page might include phone numbers, street address and email address, but might also be supplemented with a contact form to make it easier for any potential clients to make contact. In addition to these pages, extra information might be provided in the form of a history of the business, staff details and frequently asked questions.
After that the sky's the limit.
"You still haven't explained WHY"
These days, fewer people are relying on yellow pages and other printed media to locate suppliers of products and services. Instead they are turning to the internet, in particular the search engines for a solution. How many times have you heard "why don't you google it?" in conversations with friends or business acquaintances? If you don't have a website, how can your business be found in these circumstances?
Even existing customers will sometime use a search engine to find your business details to contact you. If they search for your business name and can't find you will they look for your details elsewhere or will they look for your competitor. Perhaps they will show a friend or colleague your website as your business might be of interest to them as well.
"OK I'm interested, but what will a website cost me?"
It's tricky to give a definitive answer to that question, but let me see if I can give you some ideas about the costs.
At the simplest level, there are 4 components to a website - domain name, hosting, content and design. The choices you make for each of these impact the cost.
Most businesses should register their own domain name. The domain name for this site is midboh.com.au. Domain names have to be renewed periodically (every 2 years for anything that ends in ".au"). Expect to pay approximately $15 per year for the registration. There are other options. You could use a subdomain of another site (first choice is usually your ISP). This is not ideal as you may wish to change ISP and then any loyalty you have built up could be lost. I think mybusiness.com.au is preferable to mybusiness.myisp.com.au or myisp.com.au/~mybusiness. We recommend you budget for $15 / year.
The material you publish to the web has to be stored somewhere. In internet speak this is referred to as hosting. You can host it yourself but it requires a permanent connection to the internet, a computer that is running continuously and you have to ensure it remains protected from computer hackers. Most small organisation aren't equipped for this so they choose between contracting with an organisation that specialises in this service or organising some form of free hosting. Free hosting sounds good but there are issues. One source of free hosting is your ISP, but then you have the URL problems I mentioned earlier. Other free hosting options are available but they are often limited in capacity (small storage space, no provision for your own email accounts, may not remain free indefinitely, may be hosted offshore or may be unreliable) and / or require you to show ads on your website. There are many reliable and well equipped hosting operators available in Australia. The final price will be determined by the particular set of features you require but a budget of $180 / year will be more than adequate for most small to mid-sized business.
How much content do you need to publish? This is about the purpose of the website. If you want it to be very effective in attracting new customers, then the more relevant content you can develop the better. To attract new customers your website material should be as interesting for the search engines as it is for human readers. Search engines devour words, but they only digest words that are relevant to the overall the theme of the website. If you are a manufacturer of sporting goods then words about growing apples are NOT relevant.
How much material can you produce? Start small and grow. Don't set an impossible target. Write some essential material about the business and it's products and services initially to start the ball rolling. After that talk to us, we may not be able to write it for you but we may have some ideas about what else you can write about. Pictures relevant to your activities are always useful but search engines only read words so be prepared to talk about the images.
A budget of about $150 / page should be a reasonable starting point for most businesses.
Here you can spend some serious money but there are economical alternatives. At the top end you can engage a designer to produce a personalised layout using your corporate colours, logo and pretty much anything you care to mention. Be prepared to spend a few thousand dollars if you go down this path.
At the other end you can do some research and find some free or inexpensive templates that you can use. These will not be unique but can be very effective. Designs in this range can vary significantly in quality and price is not the most significant indicator. What I mean by quality here is solid construction, adaptability and usability.
These free / inexpensive designs may need to be adapted to fit your particular needs - your logo, your colours, your slogan, but with a good choice of foundation this should be relatively inexpensive, perhaps as low as $150.
Wrapping up the package
I mentioned eCommerce earlier. This isn't a requirement for all businesses, which may be a blessing as a fully functioning eCommerce site with shopping cart and credit card facilities can be an expensive option. There are alternatives. The simplest is an order form / invoice that can be downloaded with a list of products / services and account details for a bank transfer. You may already have the appropriate form. Making it available for download is generally a simple task.
This discussion is intended to act as a starting point for anyone considering a website. If you don't understand any of the terminology don't be disheartened and don't think you can get your own website. We are always happy to answer questions, even if you are just shopping around at the moment.
Please contact us to discuss your circumstances.
Prices are purely an indication and reflect conditions in November 2010, when this was written.
Prices are in Australian dollars and include GST.