I decided to write down all the advice on website building that I always give my friends and customers so that I don't ever miss anything out. This is the first of several articles.
I've been making webpages since the 90s. So I think I know a thing or two about building websites.
I really ought to since I've already built more than a handful of websites professionally and for my business owner friends.
Every time I do so, I find that I have to explain the same things to my clients and friends—the things to watch out for, the parts that make up the website, the available kinds of hosting options, etc.
The thing is, there are so many things to mention that each time I explain, I inevitably miss something out. So I decided to write it all down in the form of articles, listicles, or checklists that are easy to read and digest. My target readers are the average people and small business owners. I try to be as concise and non-technical as possible, so that they can read, understand, do it right, and get on with their lives.
To keep the length of this article manageable, I will discuss just the three fundamental things to look out for.
1. Make Sure Domain Ownership is Clear
If there is only one thing I can share, it is this: make sure you own the domain!
“Why would I not own the domain? I paid for it!”
That's the typical response I get. The reason is that domain names are registered with ICANN through registrars. When a domain name is registered, there are 4 pieces of contact information that needs to be provided—registrant, admin, tech, and billing.
Most important among them is the registrant information—the entity/person that has registered for the domain.
So why would that be a problem? The issue is actually due to human behaviour. You see, people loathe to enter data into fields. The cognitive burden when entering fields for four contacts is even higher. As a result, many vendors are often tempted to enter one set of information (his/her own) and use the same for all four contacts (this is usually made possible by the user interface).
Most of the time, this is not a problem, but when it does become a problem, there is generally no recourse for the site owner. The problem typically manifests itself when the working relationship between the vendor and the site owner turns sour.
I have not had to deal with this yet, fortunately. But imagine if the vendor became hostile and denies the domain to you, the site owner, there would be no records of ownership as far as ICANN is concerned. If the vendor is not cooperative, it would take you a king's ransom and a long time in order to reclaim the domain.
This is why it is so, so important for you to make sure that the selected vendor is a reliable and trustworthy one. Otherwise, it might be better to just handle the domain portion personally.
I will be writing a piece on domain names separately to delve into more details.
2. Costs Are Not Necessarily Indicative of Quality
Creating a website is not like buying a car where there are clear boundaries that links quality with the right price tag.
Two vendors (developers) can quote the same price for a website but deliver wildly different results.
In my next piece on website fundamentals, I discuss the dirty little secrets of the industry (among other reasons) that explain why there is now such a large variation of quality.
So if price is not the answer, then what is?
There are generally two ways to make sure you hire the right developer.
One, check out the developer's previous work. For most of you reading this, the only criterion by which the work can be judged is through the aesthetics. That is well and good, but may not be sufficient, as I'll explain in another article.
Two, have the developer create the mock-up (also sometimes referred to as the prototype) of the website before starting actual programming work. This way you can have an idea of what the final product will look like much more quickly (and cheaply) than waiting for the site to be fully developed. This is the way it is because it takes a lot more work and time to create the actual website than to illustrate what the final design will look like.
To make it fair for both parties, I always recommend creating the mock-up first. Let's be clear, the mock-up isn't some sketch or hand-drawn representation of the site. Rather, it is an almost exact replica of the website. There are tools now that do not even cost money that the vendor can use to present the final look-and-feel without writing a single line of code.
I also recommend that you pay a fair sum of money for this prototype. While no code is written, it still takes time, effort and creative brain juice to think of and create the design. There is no right figure as the price of a website may differ greatly. Generally though, some 10% to 25% may be a ballpark figure to pay for this mock-up. It is a good way to hedge the risk and still be fair to both you and the vendor.
3. Check the Email Service Provider
From my experience, when a business owner wants to create his or her own website, that usually means there is no decent email service as well.
By “decent” I mean an email address ending in the same domain as your website. That means no @singnet.com.sg, @gmail.com, or @outlook.com addresses.
This is another topic that warrants another article. For now just be aware that there are many email server options that may be close in price but vary greatly in terms of features and functions.
I think that Gmail has set the gold standard for email service. To me, an inbox capacity of less than a gigabyte is not considered usable given the propensity for people to send large attachments nowadays.
Yet, there are still traditional providers that provide (understandably small capacity) email accounts along with web hosting as a package on the cheap. While that might sound nice, especially for the start where you think “I can just change when my business grows”, the reality is typically different.
Email is a critical business function in the work environment. When you start outgrowing your meagre inbox capacity, you'll start to experience all the inefficiencies and potential lost businesses due to a full inbox.
If you then want to switch to a bigger inbox, and you wish to move the contents from the old inbox to the new one, there is then this email migration cost that you will have to factor in. This migration cost is significantly higher than the subscription price of your email service. Unless… you are alright with putting up with the inconvenience of switching between your old inbox and the new one (and potential confusion that comes with it).
Bear in mind that this does not affect just yourself but the other coworkers in your company that have an inbox. So any inefficiency/lost productivity is magnified.
In summary, if you want to avoid this kind of headaches and potential lost productivity, be sure to get your email hosting solution right at the start.
(If you want to have the Gmail equivalent experience for your inbox, use G Suite! If you decide to go with that, hit me up! I've got promotion codes for you that give you 20% off the first year subscription per user. Also, I get a commission 😉)
So that's it. These are the three things that I would advise anyone thinking of commissioning a website to establish a web presence. Reach me on Twitter (@chuacheehow) if you have any questions.
My thanks go to Abdul Rahman for helping with proofreading.