Building a web site
Every company these days has a website. This is not novelty any more. The website is an important marketing and production tool.
Our company is not an exception. The site that you see today is our third site in the last vew years. We built one with all the knowledge we have, then a year later, scraped it and built another one. Now we have the third version of the website.
This is just a consequence of the fact that the technology is changing pretty fast. We, as you understand, are the ones who build sites for others. How can others that are not in this trade cope with the changes?
Having the proper website is simply a must. This is what represents your company, tells about your products, and does marketing and selling for you. It is in a heart of your business.
Make it simple
One of reasons that we have redesigned out site the last time was to separate each product or service line and put them on separate sites. Each site has to be simple and clear. There is no reason for people interested for instance in our Membership Management System to read about Insurance products. Our message must be simple and show you what you came to the site for in the first place.
This has also to do a lot with Google and the way they value our sites. They want our sites to be clean simple and up to the point. They are after all the ones who have to recommend us to others by showing us in their search results.
Define a purpose of the site
Ok, your site is a company brochure and catalogue. The visitor comes there and can see the content. What do you want them to see while on your site? What do you want them to do?
The answer is sometimes very simple and surprising. Most probably all you want for the visitor to do is to leave their email address. That’s all! Once you have the email you have established the contact. The rest is up to your sales people to guide further process.
If your goal is to get the visitor email address, you have to design the site specifically for that purpose. Ask those that know how to do that.
Build using a platform
Making a simple site is not a difficult job. You can create one page site using Word processor and in less than 30 minutes. Anybody can do that. Bigger sites require better tools. There are many people who have mastered one of the many tools and are ready to offer their services. That’s how sites were built a few years ago.
Things have changed. A simple static site is in fact not static any more. You want to send email form the site, have user’s comments below your articles, list data feeds, have social media buttons, and be able to post your blog articles. All this is just an ordinary site not yet doing any business or accessing your data.
Can a whiz kid from your neighbourhood develop this for you? Yes they can, but it will still cost you and you will have to tell what you want, how you want etc. Is this the right way? No. That’s not the way to do the web site any more. You don’t have to do any of these if you use one of existing web platforms.
There are number of platforms for building webs. Some of them are more prominent than others. They allow you to build the web site quickly and all bells and whistles that today go with it are already there. They are called plug-ins. There is a plug-in for comment area under your article, for social media buttons etc.
We have recently decided to split content of our current website into 5 different sites: products and services for different industries will be on separate websites. So we had one existing site and needed other 4 more. You can expect those sites to be similar and to use the same technology. The idea is: make it once and then copy 3 more times. So, which platform to use? We sampled several of them. Every platform was good and had some advantages. They also have some drawbacks. Here is what we have found:
· They have become a bit too complicated. When I look at the web files I didn’t like seeing so many DLLs. At some point I will have to understand all of them, I want to be able to maintain it in the future myself. A big mess!
· They are made for dummies. It is all made so that everybody can do it (providing they have enough time for building the web site). So what is wrong with that? The reality is that you will still need a web developer to design your website. And the web developer does not need all this holding hands. This is overkill that makes the platforms top complicated. For the developer to make the site, the platform should be much, much simpler.
· I want more from the site. To be able to integrate with my applications and be able draw data from my databases. I want to add things programmatically. The problem is that those platforms are not Windows environment. That’s not good as the fact is that a majority of customer already have Windows servers, so having the site that works in windows environment is simply a must.
What do you think we did? We developed our own web platform! We are a software company after all.
There are couple of good reasons for that:
· We have developed the platform for web developers and designers. They have to understand HTML, CSS and SQL to use it. But who doesn’t? This is a basic item you have to know if you want to do anything with the web.
· We don’t treat them like dummies, so there are no holding hands, wizards etc. As a result our platform is very simple, easy to understand, fiew files, and very fast. It can’t be better that that.
· All is data driven using a small database and is easy to update and change.
· We can access data from other databases and applications in a simple way.
· We can easily build components on a fly and add them to pages.
· Once we build the platform and our 4 sites we will be able to offer the platform to others. Another product!
Once we did the platform, the rest was easy. We could concentrate on graphical design and preparing content. The result are several web sites you can navigate to form our main www.timemark.com.au site.
Sometimes you will want much more from your site. You will want it to run some business for you. This is now leading you to the real dynamic sites like: shop front ends, insurance quotation sites, sites that deal with job vacancies and properties. The list is long and gets longer every day.
This is not a web design application any more. It is a serious application development making software that will run part of your business on-line. You’ll need proper developers to design it. You should treat this as every other custom system development. Every new system these days is in effect a website, it is just a matter of security whether they are visible outside the company or not.
We have done number of on-line business sites. The last one is interesting as it is made to offer various on-line services to members (to associations, clubs or any other organisation that has members).
The site offers the following services to its members:
· Membership registration forms
· Service to renew membership subscription on-line
· Ability for each member to create a rich web page (with texts, images, movies, maps etc) and have it published as directory service provided by the association. Public users can then search, list and view member’s page.
· Service to publish their job vacancies. Public can view them apply and submit resume.
· Tools to create an event, specify sessions, and control bookings. Public can apply, register and pay on-line.
· Ability to run a souvenir shop. A full shop front with shop cart and payment on-line.
This is as far as we went. We can add to this list in the course of time.
The example above highlights the versatility of ideas that you put in action. There is one rule in software development: everything can be done, it is just matter whether it pays-off or not. Sometimes you may go overboard and it may require much work. But it can be done!
|Slava Krnjetin - I have graduated Mathematics and then turned to IT and never looked back. I have now over 25 years of experience in IT industry doing consulting and development. It has always been my passion to follow the new IT trends and tools as they evolved over years.|