December 21, 2000
Outsourcing Web design and hosting
By Maria O'Daniel
WHEN I first started drafting this article, it was going to describe a local Web design and hosting service. However, when I looked into the project, I found the show cased Web sites had been poorly designed. So instead, we'll take a look at some of the common problems with Web site design, and how to go about finding a Web host and design company.
Web site fundamentals: Your Web pages are part of your image. If the pages are badly designed, this will reflect on your company. To avoid this problem, you must learn how to evaluate Web design. If you don't have the time or energy, don't waste your money. I know this is not very popular advice at a time where everyone is pushing electronic commerce (e-commerce) opportunities, but it's well meant.
Think of it this way. Would you buy a car or a boat without understanding the slightest thing about how to use them, what it will take to maintain and what it will cost to run? Or let someone make up and start a publicity campaign in the newspapers featuring your company without your being involved? Of course not!
Luckily, learning to evaluate Web site design is fairly simple.
There are books on the market (including one written by yours truly, Instant Genius! Web Design published by Pelanduk and available at a competitive price of RM15.90) that will introduce you to the ins and outs of Web design without asking you to learn anything about programming.
Spending a little money on books will save you tonnes later when talking to consultants and designers. Also, spend a few days surfing the Internet to see what popular Web sites are doing.
Common problems and mistakes: The most common problem is that the client doesn't understand what is needed to create a good Web site, and that the designer doesn't understand the client's business. Money and time is also a problem, especially if the customer isn't sure what they want and continually ask for changes, or the designer has too much work on and "forgets" your project. To avoid this situation, spend a few weeks checking out what your competitors are doing online - both locally and abroad.
Make a note of the sites you really like and those you hate. Think about the text, pictures and colours you want to use. State what you want on each page.
Find a local designer who is recommended by word of mouth as being honest and on time. Then work out a project plan with your designer and check on every stage of development.
In Web design, there are five important points to remember:
1. Putting in too much flash resulting in slow downloading. People won't wait more than 20 to 30 seconds to see your page download. Test each page at peak time. For example, 9.30am weekdays and Saturday afternoons and make sure it's fast.
2. A splash page, a pretty picture that says nothing and does nothing except waste your visitor's time, belongs on a corporate brochure, not on a Web site. Chuck it away!
3. Make your contact details easily available. Be open, say where you are and list who to contact for what information. If you want to work with foreigners, list out a list of national holidays so that they know when to expect your slow electronic mail (e- mail) replies.
4. Always state your e-mail address plainly. Yes, it's nice to collect data via feedback forms, but most people will turn away rather than telling you their names and telephone numbers. Privacy is becoming a hot topic for Internet citizens. So don't expect them to tell you anything about themselves. Also, with a feedback form visitors cannot keep a copy of their e-mail to you. This is inconvenient and discourages people from contacting you.
5. Label your images. Run your mouse over every picture and check that a meaningful identifying label pops up. Labelled images means people can surf your site without waiting for the images to download. Faster is better!
Costs and places to start looking: If you register your own domain name, you can expect a .com to cost around US$26 (RM98.80) and a .com.my to cost RM100.
If you want a .com, start your search with the keywords "Domain Registration", there is a lot of competition with some companies offering extra incentives, so find the deal that suits you best.
For .com.my, you can contact MYNIC at www.mynic.net. Web site design can be anything from free to thousands of dollars. On the whole, you will get what you pay for.
Spend some time checking out what's on offer and speak to friends and colleagues to find out if there are any attractive deals being offered by local companies.
To find Web hosting and design services, search the Net for "Web hosting" and "Web design".
If you want to find local companies, specify Malaysia, or use a local search engine such as catcha.com.my or cari.com.my. Alternatively, take a walk down to your local cybercafe. You will probably be able to find your own personal Web design person there at a reasonable price and have a little more control over the process than when dealing with a larger company online.
Many cybercafes also have attractive hosting services that are worth checking out. One local company you might want to try is iRepublics at www.iRepublics.com. This company offers free Web hosting and e-mail services. The total package has no set-up or renewal fees and includes 20 megabytes disk space for Web hosting, 30 Web-based e-mail accounts, free short messaging service, 24-hour file transfer protocol access, Web site traffic reports and pre-defined cgi scripts.
How do they make money? iRepublics put advert banners into your webmail interface and other communications to recoup cost and hopes that you will use their other products.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.