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Choosing a Web Host

When shopping for a company to host your website, first and foremost, you want a company that is reliable with good service at a fair price — one that guarantees at least 99.5% uptime and offers some form of 24-7-365 support (online chat, email or phone).

Look for a web host with a good reputation and history of service, perhaps one that has been reviewed well. Google “top ten web hosts” and compare results; then Google something like “consumer complaints web host” and take note of those as well – poor service from your web host can make you or your webmaster absolutely miserable, can waste hours of your time, cost you money and business — and there’s really no reason for it, with so many good companies to choose from.

You also want to look for a sufficient amount of storage space and bandwidth, which most companies offer, but beware of those cheaper $3.00-4.00/month hosts.  Often the reason they are so cheap is because they store as many as 4,000 websites on the same server. You would be better off finding a hosting service where you are sharing server space with far fewer other websites, perhaps more in the range of 200-400.  Why?  It will effect the response times your visitors will experience when visiting your website.

Also, if you plan to have an extremely busy site, perhaps running on an intensive database application, you may need to look into having a dedicated server; however, expect to pay a premium rate for a dedicated server.

Compare several hosting companies, looking also at the features they offer.  Compare their email services, see if they offer some sort of spam protection, check for the number and type of ftp accounts they offer, whether they offer multiple domains or subdomains, what kind of site management tools, statistics packages, marketing features, security features, and multimedia options they provide, and whether they offer any special features you may require, such as e-commerce, databases, scripts, etc.

Our favorite hosting company is Hostgator; their prices are very good; they offer a lot for the money; their tech support is excellent; they use the easy-to-navigate C-Panel interface…and so much more!   Should you decide to host your site with Hostgator, use this link if you’d like to give us credit for referring you.  We’d very much appreciate it!

Contact us if you would like help selecting a web host.

One more important tip: we recommend that you obtain your domain name from a different company than your web host, in the case of  failure or dispute with either your domain name registrar or your web host.

Finally, for more detailed information about Web Hosting, this article at www.web-source.net covers a lot of the basics.

(I originally wrote and published this article on my design website, Marilyn Fenn Design.  I have updated the content for re-posting here.)

Choosing a Domain Name

dotcomChoosing a good domain name can be daunting, or may be quite simple.  If possible, you want your domain name to be the same as your website name, which should probably be the same as your company name, with a ‘.com’ extension if you are a business. However, the chance of that exact name and extension being available may not be good.

Special tip for artists: unless you have a good reason not to, we recommend that you use the name you are known by as an artist as your domain name.  That is the way that people will most likely look for you, and they are far more likely to remember your name rather than a made up “studio” name.

Start by searching for available domain names that would work for you.  Domain Tools is a great place to begin your domain name search.  If you can’t find the exact name you desire, consider using hyphens for a multiple word name, or an abbreviation of your company name, like an acronym, or using a different extension, such as ‘.biz,’ ‘.net, .’org,’ ‘.info’ or ‘.us.’

There are several more domain extensions to choose from, and one of them may be more appropriate for your particular needs.  Here is an article at thesitewizard.com that goes into more depth about Choosing a Good Domain Name.

Getting the ‘right’ domain name can be difficult, so it is best to register one as soon as possible.  You shouldn’t pay more than about $30.00/year for a domain name, and many companies will offer domain registration for as low as $7.00 or $8.00 per year.

Here are links to three hosting services with whom I have had good luck where you can register your domain name for $15.00 per year or less:

Please feel free to contact us if you would like help beginning at this point.

If you want to understand domain names at a more basic level, this article at theinternetdigest.net explains what they are, how they came to be, and more.

(I originally wrote and published this article on my design website, Marilyn Fenn Design.  I have updated the content for re-posting here.)

What to Expect from Your Web Designer

We can’t really detail the process by which other web designers create websites for their clients, but here is what we typically do when designing a website:
  1. Ensure that it is easy to navigate, with clear and consistent navigation, requiring minimal clicks to find information;
  2. Give your site an extremely professional look, with good colors, contrast, and balance of text, graphics, and white space, and well-organized information;
  3. Ensure that any graphics or photos used throughout the site are compressed properly for a balance of optimum file size and visual quality;
  4. Ensure that all graphic elements have ‘alt-tags’ for accessibility purposes, and that no links are broken;
  5. Use common fonts and consistent style throughout the site;
  6. Check for typographical or grammatical errors;
  7. Code it in the currently accepted web design standard;
  8. Ensure that it is cross-browser compatible; currently, we test on the latest versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, and Opera on Windows, and earlier versions of Internet Explorer (back through version 6); as well as obtaining screenshots for available browsers on Mac OS and Linux.
  9. Ensure that the code validates to current W3C Standards (i.e., all HTML, CSS and any JavaScript OR a blog type website in WordPress).  Here is a good article on why your site should be designed to W3C standards, should you want to know more;
  10. Vaildate your site for basic accessibility;
  11. Ensure that it displays without horizontal scrolling at the agreed upon size; it can be a fluid or static width site, as you desire;
  12. Code the site to download quickly;
  13. Include meta-tags, such as page-specific titles, site description, and a minimum of keywords, to aid in natural search engine searches;
  14. Hand-submit your site to the major search engines, if desired;
  15. Submit a Google style site map to Google, if desired;
  16. Make all external links open in a new window or tab, so viewers are not sent away from your site, if desired;
  17. Encode any email addresses on your site and/or put the contact email in a form with “captcha,” to reduce chances of getting spammed;
  18. Include some or all of the following items in the footer of the website (in small text), as you desire:
    • text links
    • copyright data
    • link to contact form
    • other contact info, as desired (address, phone, etc.)
    • link to your Privacy Policy
    • link to your Terms and Conditions
    • link to a Site Map
    • last modified date, if desired

Also, we will be happy to advise you on any of the above mentioned items (whether to have them or not, and why or why not), and on any other technical/design issues about which you may have questions.  We can advise you on content considerations, such as what verbal content to include and how to write it, and what forms of visual communications may be of most benefit to your site.

Not all of our clients choose to follow all of our advice, for various reasons: sometimes an artist prefers higher quality, but slower loading graphics, or a company knows their particular audience is more comfortable with language that may be more colloquial than ‘proper’ grammar.  We offer what we consider to be our best advice from a usability and design point of view, but defer to our clients who know their audience best.

(I originally wrote and published this article on my design website, Marilyn Fenn Design.  I have updated the content for re-posting here.)

The Design Process

Exploring Your Needs and Desires

We will begin by meeting virtually or in person to discuss your project and objectives — your goals, audience, technical requirements and limitations, budget, and time frame.  We offer an initial free consultation of one-two hours, as needed, to determine if we are a good match for your specific designer requirements.

Researching the Best Solution

If we decide to further explore working togther, we will then begin to research any unknowns about your target market, competitors and technical requirements.  Then we will present you with an outline of our plan for the execution of your project.  Upon your approval of our design plan, we will sign a statement of work, and any other legal documents that may be required, such as confidentiality agreements.

Concept Creation and Design

Together we will then begin to identify all required information — existing identity and colors, if any, as well as any images and text you will want to include in your project.  Depending on your needs, desires and budget, we may produce anywhere from one to several design concepts from which you can choose.  Two rounds of revisions may be necessary, though we will work until we get it right, should it take more.

Implementing Your Design

Once we have settled on a specific design direction, you may provide any remaining text and graphics you have for your project, or we can create them.  Following this, the rest of this phase may go fairly quickly, as we complete the technical portion of the implementation.  Finally, your design will be checked for accuracy or tested for usability and functionality.  If we are working on a website, the assets can be uploaded to a testing server for you to try out to be sure you are happy with the design and functionality.

Final Approval and Delivery

We will make a final presentation of your completed project.  Upon your approval, arrangements will be made for final delivery of all assets.

(I originally wrote and published this article on my design website, Marilyn Fenn Design.  I have updated the content for re-posting here.)

10 Steps to Plan Your Website

How to Get Started:

Having a website designed that meets your needs and expectations can depend, in part, on the preparation you put into planning your site. Here are some basic suggestions to help you get started planning for a successful website:

  1. Make a list of your top four or five objectives.  What message do you want to promote?  What do you want your website to do for you or your business?
  2. Surf the web for a few websites whose design and function you like and some that you dislike.  Make particular note of navigational styles, colors, layout, and features you’d like to have on your site.  Send the links to your designer.
  3. Look at what your competitors are doing and how they’re doing it.  Consider if you want to offer something more, better, or different.
  4. Jot down a few notes about your ideas; making a rough outline or sketch can be helpful.
  5. Consider what pages or sections you want to have on your site.  A typical site may start with the following basic pages:
    • Home/Welcome: The Home page should answer the question ‘What is this site about?’
    • Profile or About: This page should answer the question ‘Who are we?’
    • Products and/or Services and/or Portfolio: Here is where you answer the question ‘What do we offer?’
    • News and/or FAQs and/or Links
    • Contact
  6. Make a list of any additional pages you may want on your site, such as:
    • image gallery
    • shopping cart
    • feedback form
    • events/calendar
    • blog
    • newsletter
    • search box
    • site map
    • privacy policy
    • terms of use
    • copyright information
  7. List any additional features you’d like, such as:
    • social networking links
    • audio posting
    • video posting
    • Google map and/or directions
    • polls/surveys
    • forum
    • particular statistics packages such as Google analytics
    • database
    • Flash or other animation
  8. Register your desired domain name, or contact us if you would like help beginning at this point.
  9. If you do not already have a hosting service, please contact us to help you with the selection process.
  10. Contact us to get started on the design process for your new website.

And a bonus tip: at any time in the process, start roughing out the text content for your site, and send the content in digital format to your designer.  If you plan on offering a gallery or portfolio of media on your site—such as images, music, or video—ask your designer for the file format and size requirements, and begin organizing your media content to send to your designer.

(I originally wrote and published this article on my design website, Marilyn Fenn Design. I have updated the content for re-posting here.)