Your Web Site, How Old is Too Old?

We’ve seen a lot of web sites over the years and have spoken to countless companies who had not touched their web site for years. They told us when they approached us for help with designing a new site. Probably not surprising to the average small business owner who barely has enough time in the day to run their company. Never the less, not having someone knowledgeable look at your web site code on a regular basis, at least every six months could spell big problems and unwanted surprises.

Here’s Why:

Aside from doing nothing to promote your web site and help it to help you do more business with regular updates and proper search engine optimization, not paying attention to the age of your web site’s code or keeping its code current can cause the significant problems:

  • Web Servers are continually updated in order to use the safest, most current and secure web hosting and database software, (to keep it simple). Older versions of the various software typically running on a current web server are kept around for a while but eventually, the older software and database versions are removed because the producers no longer provide security updates and patches for those older versions.And you guessed it. When your web hosting provider removes the versions your web site needs, it usually doesn’t survive.
  • Local or browser based web site code such as Java Script and others, are also updated regularly. Again, if your web site is trying to pass along instructions with out dated code to the browser, to make a drop down menu drop down, or a contact form collect and send an inquiry, that functionality is going to be broken.
  • And finally, browsers themselves like the four different “supported” versions of Internet Explorer (yes, 4!), Google Chrome, Firefox and others are updated and patched regularly. We are continually making minor and major adjustments to code and adding styles to correct what the latest browser update broke on our customer’s web sites.

Your web site is just like so many other things in our lives. If you have one, it needs to be maintained in order to keep it healthy and working the way it was designed to work.

If your web site was built more than 3 or 4 years ago and you have made no significant updates, it is time to let a professional take a look at what code it was built with, and browser test it to make sure it is working in all the current versions of the numerous different browsers that are being used.

A broken or improperly functioning web site can do more damage than not having one at all… Get a web site check up! Even if you don’t have time. And if you don’t have a web site guy, we’re be happy to help.

 

Responsive Web Design and why it’s better than having multiple web sites.

When our clients first approach us about creating a web site for small handheld devices and web enabled cellular phones, they often say they want a “Portable Web Site” or “Mobile Web Site”. But this is not necessarily the best way to go…

There are many companies out there that will create a portable web site (only). The way this works is pretty straight forward. Typically the client will contract with a company to create a separate portable web site. They also provide some code that is added to your current full sized web site. This code “sniffs” out what type of browser or device is attempting to view the web site, and if it is a portable device or cell phone, the code redirects the visitor to the portable web site, that is usually hosted under a different domain name.

The problem with this or downside is probably a better choice of words, are a couple of issues:

  • You have two separate web sites doubling the work whenever you need to update or add to your web site.
  • You have two different domain names (web sites), and neither benefit from the other with respect to SEO.
  • Google prefers one web site with one domain name.

So what’s the answer? A “Responsive Web Site”!

Web sites can be constructed in a way that allows them to dynamically resize, reorganize their content, and adjust text size to function properly on everything from a wide format computer monitor to a small cellular phone. This is called Responsive web design and it is the best way to create a web site that works well on all computer monitors and handheld devices.

Learn more about the benefits of Responsive Web Design

The Cost of Good Web Design – Large firms

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.


Larger firms with depth in staff and that seem to have a cost effective price

This is the scenario where you meet with a “custom” web design company or marketing agency at their office, and everything feels pretty good about your meeting. They have designers and programmers. They may even have writers and SEO people. You cover what you are looking for and they come back with a quote that sounds reasonable and a promise that they can get it done. What could be wrong with this picture?

Maybe nothing. But just to be sure here is what you should do to avoid potential landmines:

– As I’ve mentioned earlier, insist on a detailed site plan and statement of work that outlines the project, has milestones and covers each step of the design and development project. And understand that you are making a commitment to this plan also.

– Do your homework and know what you want your web site to look like and consist of before you enter an agreement and make sure your agreement contains language that covers your desires so that the firm you are working with clearly understands what you want and prices is accordingly. – On your side you must understand that building a web site is very similar to building a custom home. You cannot expect your builder to add another bathroom or five more electric outlets in the living room without adjusting the cost.

– There are no materials involved in building a web site but there are hours and that is how your design firm earns their living. Don’t expect them to give additional hours away when you realize you would like to make an adjustment to your plan.

Next you should consider the firms capabilities. There are many, many ways to cause what looks like a web page to display in a web browser, and there a many web browsers out there that people use to view them. What is important here is that you are dealing with experienced designers and programmers that understand the importance of building your web site in a way that allows it to adjusted and added to without a lot of financial pain.

– Ask them to explain how they will support your web site and explain how they will be able to make modifications like adding additional buttons to the main navigation for you in the future easily. It’s easy to create an HTML component and then copy it twenty times to create twenty new pages, but imagine how long it will take to go back later and change the same thing on twenty pages.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Small firms or freelancers

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.

Small firms or freelancers who don’t have the overhead or depth of a full service firm can be economical and risky at the same time.

I’ve covered this option in a number of articles and I’m always careful not to discredit the small design firm or freelance professional. Back in the beginning we were a small design firm too and without the trust of our clients we would have never grown to the firm we are today. Doing business with a small design firm or freelance design professional is like doing business with any small company. Just do your homework. Look at their portfolio, check at least three references and require a detailed quote and contract that spells out exactly what your web site is to include and who is responsible to do it or provide it.

It’s not a bad idea to have milestones in your agreement with due dates that are tied to payment. Chances are you’ll be fine with a small firm that can prove to you that they are capable of completing your site by showing you other sites they have created (recently), who can provide you with references, and who can demonstrate that their web sites achieve reasonably good rankings in Google.

Things to watch out for would be a very vague or design and development agreement. This is a business deal so insist on a detailed contract. Write your own if you need to. Sometimes designers and programmers are great at what they do but a little weak at the formal side of business. It’s even a good idea to give your attorney a few hundred dollars to look it over an agreement.

Make sure the project is scheduled to be completed in a reasonable period of time. It should not take more than 60 to 90 days to complete a 10 to 15 page brochure web site or 120 to 150 days to complete a reasonable data driven, interactive web site. Firms taking longer are more than likely short on internal talent and resources or they are not managing their production load properly and taking on too much work.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Low cost, high contract firms

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.

Web site companies who will build your web site for a low cost up front and charge but require a contract term for monthly hosting and support at a considerably higher price monthly rate than normal.

Here’s a solution that sounds good, and it can be, for the right situation. If you are in need of a web site or a simple brochure site that you are not planning on changing or updating very much and you would rather put out as little as possible up front (usually $100 to $300 to get started) then make larger monthly payments for hosting and possibly some updates later as you need them but not often (usually $200 to $300 per month for up to 3 years), then this approach might be a solution for you.

Firms that offer this type of solution are operating at a volume and usually specialize in a particular industry such as chiropractors or plastic surgeons. Just remember that like most everything, you are going to get what you pay for. Don’t expect lots of attention during your project. Their goal will be to complete you website fast without asking for a lot of content (Images and text) from you. They will most likely use a template and then dress it out with stock images and content they have on file and alter slightly for each new site they build.

This is where you need to watch out. Ask this solution provider to show you examples of their work. And I don’t mean 1 or 2 examples. Ask for 15 to 20 sites. Assure they have many designs that they use so there is little chance there is another site out there that will look just like yours.

Also look through their examples for duplicate text content. In their rush to build out your site, these firms often reuse text content over and over. This is really bad but we’ve seen it first hand a number of times. In the end you can have a site built with a small investment up front. Just don’t expect it to be highly original or unique. And be prepared to keep it for a few years unless you pay the penalty to get out of your agreement.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Template Firms

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.

“Template” web design solutions

You can find them all over the Internet and a lot of “web design” firms like to use templates to cut the cost of design time in order to offer you a lower overall price. Templates can be used as a shortcut that will give you a nice look and feel. But look close at your quote for “Additional” costs. The problem with templates is that “the house is already there” to use an analogy.

These firms will want you to stick to the floor plan that is already there so you are sort of hand cuffed into sticking to the layout of the template and insert text and images where the template allows you to. It is likely that you are going to want to make an adjustment, but beware; this is where what started as a low cost option begins to increase in price.

This is where the “Template” design firm may run into issues and your original quote goes out the window. It’s a template! The whole idea with a template is that it is quick and cheap. All you are supposed to do is fill in the spaces with text and images and insert your logo.

This is also why the firms that use them often do so; because they have limitations with high-end design. And as soon as you ask them to crack open the template and start tweaking it more to your liking, you are now asking for custom web design you will find yourself paying what you would have paid a custom design firm.

Back to the analogy; if the house is too small or not quite what you want, and you’re not sure about the floor plan, would you buy it an pay to change it, or would you just find one you like better or build exactly what you want to begin with.

If you do go this route with your new web site, choose your template and gain an agreement of what you want done with it to make it your company web site before signing a contract. You’ll avoid surprises this way.

Trust me on this. You are going to want to make adjustments to your web site as it is being built. Absolutely every project we have completed over the last ten years included some level of adjusting during design and development. And your project will too.

The Cost of Good Web Design

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

So you’re out there trying to sift through a handful of quotes you’ve received along with some surfing you’ve done to try and identify the best web design company to help you build your new web site. And like most things you’ve never had to do, you’re learning how complicated a decision like this can be. Of course you want the best site you can get for the money but there is one thing that’s driving you nuts; there is a huge difference between the lowest quote you’ve been given and the highest.

So now you’re perplexed. Are these guys the least expensive because they don’t know what their doing? And the other guys; are they the most expensive because they have a big ego? Exactly what is a fair price for a well built web site that will work for me? Hopefully, what I’m about to tell you will help…

First, understand this. Anyone in business knows that businesses have to make a profit to stay in business. Thus every web design firm or web site solution provider has to make a profit. Now, there are different business models in the web design industry just like any other industry. Some are models of scale (high volume) while other firms focus more on the details of quality web design such as careful attention to SEO, clean code, original detailed text content and so on. Either way you go will have its upsides and downsides. Your decision needs to rest with what is most important to you.

That being said, there are solutions of scale and a variety of strategies. Below are a few more common models:

  • Web design companies who use web site templates.
  • Web site companies who will build your web site for a low cost up front but charge a considerably higher price monthly for support and hosting, (and require contracts).
  • Small firms or freelancers who don’t have the overhead or resources of a full service firm can be economical but may not have the depth for your project.
  • Larger firms with depth in staff that seems to have a reasonable price
  • Larger firms with extensive experience that fall into the high priced solution category

And there are different pricing models as I alluded to above:

  • Just plain cheap, quick and easy web site design
  • Low up front investment with a term contract of inflated hosting and support costs
  • Web design and development by the hour

So what is best for you? This series help you organize your decision making on all this. There is a market out there for each of the above, which is why they exist. But where do you fit in?

Peak 10 Internet Data Center was there when we needed them.

These days when you find a service oriented company, its worth mentioning. So here goes. Peak 10 has been our colo provider now for about 6 years. And in that time I can’t think of one bad experience. From the technicians on the floor, to the folks in the NOC in Charlotte, to senior management. Everyone has always demonstrated a very high level of professionalism.

Here’s the home run and why anyone who is operating important web servers should strongly consider Peak 10. A couple of years ago, our primary web hosting platform including all of our customer’s web sites suddenly went down. Nothing was responding. We we’re at our cabinet at Peak 10 in minutes, logged in at the console and the server is fine? Everything checked out. By this time the Peak 10 tech on duty is offering assistance, (very cool). After some basic checking on their end of the all the obvious possible connectivity issues and some packet sniffing, we identify the problem. Our gateway was being pounded with failed login requests from some IP address in the Pacific rim.

So here we are. Some real nice guy in the Orient has decided to completely shut us down with a DOS attack. I mean gigs of data. We were being pounded. Who knows why, but it was happening to our gateway IP. Talk about feeling helpless. We couldn’t even block the originating IP’s in our firewalls because of the sheer amount of traffic they were hammering us with. We even pulled our main drop to see if they would automatically stop if our platform stopped responding, but as soon as we went back online, we were slammed again. Nothing worked.

So in desperation I called my representative at the time (who already knew what was going on) and asked if they could help. Within a few minutes the answer I needed was back. It took a few minutes but they actually blocked the IP addresses that were originating the traffic in their Cisco 12000 core routers. This immediately stopped the assault on our hosting platform. I swear I heard angels singing.

Just so everyone knows, this is not typical. To my knowledge, it is not the carrier or datacenter’s problem or responsibility to protect anyone’s hosting platform from such an attach unless they offer such a service and or you pay for it. Peak 10 stepped up when we needed them and for that I am eternally grateful. We will be their customer for a very long time. Thanks guys!

Choosing the right web design company

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say they chose the wrong web desinger, I would be a very rich man. I was speaking with a potential client today and you guessed it, they had really chosen the wrong web designer. I always feel bad for folks who find themselves stuck with a stalled project that isn’t even close to the level of professionalism they had hoped to receive. Especially when I hear how much they’ve invested.

Just like any other industry, there are the good, bad and the ugly in the web design industry. So I thought I would pass on a few suggestions that might help you choose the right designer or design firm for your new web site.

  1. Be very leery of great deals. It takes time to plan, build and optimize a web site that will properly present you or your company and perform well in the search engines. There are of course inexpensive options that will allow you to build your own web site if you want to go down that road, but if you are looking to have someone build a web site for you, plan on spending at least $2,000 for a well built 3-5 page custom web site. Most old timers in this business will tell you that anything less will probably not perform for you and will end up being a lesson learned.
  2. ALWAYS ask to see a portfolio. This will tell you right away of they are experienced, and it will give you an idea of their design capabilities.
  3. Most of us want to take everyone at their word but it’s usually a good idea to randomly call a few of their customers unannounced. If you do this, be fair and call 3 or 4 to get a reasonable sample.
  4. Web design companies, in my opinion are generally a better option than the individual freelance web designer when it comes to a larger web site.  Let me explain because I don’t want to offend my peers out there that are holding down the fort by themselves. What I mean is this: if your web site is going to be a larger web site with flash, many pages of text content, interactive features, databases, and it must also rank well in the search engines; it’s going to be very difficult to find a single person who is well practiced in each area of expertise. A design firm on the other hand will often have copy writers, designers, programmers and SEO / SEM specialists that are very good in their individual area of expertise. If however you feel that your web site is a basic project comparable to most small and mid-sized business web sites, don’t discount the freelance designers. Whichever direction you go, always look over their previous work and check a few references before contracting with a firm or an individual web designer or programmer.
  5. Another tell-tale is how whoever you are considering is equipped to support your web site after it is built. This often gets overlooked by our clients when we first discuss their project. They rarely ask about web hosting or changes to their site. You should expect that you will at some point need to make a change to your web site. So give some thought to the possibility of doing your own updates. If you don’t want to take care of your web site and would prefer support, make sure you choose a person or firm that currently hosts (even if it is through a third party) and manages their current customer’s web sites.
  6. As far as fees go, what you should pay for a quality web site is going to vary. The top level firms in Jacksonville Florida charge between $100 and $150 per hour. You should do what you always do, shop around. This will give you a chance to learn a little about the industry, you’ll be able to see the significant differences in how quotes are written and detailed, and you’ll have the opportunity to review a number of web sites. In the end, you should work with the individual or firm you have the best report with, that seems to have rates in line with other similar options, that has demonstrated the ability to build what you need built, and that gets good marks from current customers.

Check back again later for more on this subject. Unfortunately there is no formula for the choosing the right design firm for your new web site. Web sites are by design as unique as any other totally custom product. So your goal should be to find a person or firm you feel comfortable with and that has a proven track record.

Does Google know about all of your web site’s pages?

This is another one of those things that all of us in the web design industry already know, but for those of you braving the waters of web design for the first time, here’s a helpful tool: If you would like to see which pages of your web site that Google has found or knows of, not evaluated and ranked necessarily. Just the pages Google knows of, perform a Google search with “site:” in front of your whole domain name (site:www.yourdomainname.com). Google will return all of the pages of your web site that it knows of.