with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Step-By-Step Website Development

Today’s businesses require letterhead and envelopes, business cards, ads in the Yellow Pages, and web pages as part of their business stationary. Website Under Construction Graphic - designed by Lorelle VanFossenEven if you have the smallest of businesses with a limited clientèle, a website is part of your professional arsenal to attract and keep clients.

People new to the Internet or web pages tend to see them as complicated or expensive. They are neither, unless you choose to allow them to be. They are, in their simplest form, a billboard on the information highway, advertising your wares and expertise for all to see, if they can find you. Like a billboard, potential clients must travel down that particular road to see the signs.

Websites are not to be separated from your business stationary or advertising plans or budget. To ensure a successful website, make sure your website address is featured on all of your business cards, letterhead, classified ads, shop signs, yellow pages listings or ads, emails, and any advertising. The cost of a web site should be a natural inclusion in your financial accounting as a business expense for advertising or stationary. The initial set up costs may be high, but add these to the long term expense of the site to make the figures more reasonable. For instance, it may cost $500 to set up your site and then $300 a year for three years, which comes to $38 a month, fairly cheap advertising.

The process of creating a website is three fold.

Website Development
Developing a website is based upon gathering information and organizing it within the website so people can easily access the information they require to help them make a decision or be informed. It also includes promotion of the website to advertisers and search engines, concentrating on getting visitors to the website and keeping them there.
Website Design
Designing a website is the creative side of the process and involves the expertise of the site owner, artists, photographers, writers, technical writers, programmers, and code experts. This list of experts can be a whole team or one person. Either way, it is a team effort to combine all these skills and talents to complete an interesting and professional website.
Website Maintenance
After the development and design, someone must maintain the site, as simple as looking at it once a week to see that it is still there and working, or more intensive such as adding frequent updated information or content regularly. In general, a small site (1-10 pages) may require 2-20 hours a month to maintain properly. If designed well to begin with, a small site can be ignored for months on end, except for the occasional check-in.

Why Do I Have To Do All This Work?

The purpose of the following information and forms is to help you, the website owner, process the information the web page developer and designer needs to create your website. If you are the owner and developer and designer, consider this information your prep sheet.

The more time you spend filling out the information, the less time and money you have to pay a developer and designer to research this information for you. The developer and designer will go through the information with you, but the better prepared you are, the faster and easier the process is for everyone. If you have money to splurge, hire them to do this research and preparation for you.

A lot of information is required before sitting in front of the computer and laying out the first page, though many people start with the design of a page before getting to its content. What goes INTO a web page is more important that how it looks, at least to start. The prettiest web page is worthless without good content that keeps the viewer there after the first blush of “wow” is over.

Take your time filling out this information, asking advice from employees, friends, family, and other businesses to insure you get as much information as possible about your business and the information you want presented to the public on the Internet. It is the responsibility of the website developer and designer to edit and present this information in a concise fashion that is unique to web page design and different from other forms of advertising or promotions.

How Much Does It Cost

For your information, the average price for development of a basic website (5-10 pages) is between $250 – $2000. The diverse range is based upon how many professionals are involved, their expertise and reputation, the length of project time, the complexity and sophistication of the development and design, and the inclusion of animation, interaction, e-commerce or advertising. On average, it can take 5 to 20 hours to design a one to five page website, even for a professional. Expect longer hours for more pages, dependent upon their complexity and content. Hourly rates range from $20 – $50 an hour. Different regions offer more or less than the average rate. If you are paying less than $250 to produce a web page, you are probably getting someone inexperienced or less than qualified, which could result in problems in the future with the design or less promotional coverage. A well-designed website must meet certain standards and requirements established by professional organizations, including meeting the country or state accessibility laws for the handicapped, which means you need to go with an experienced web developer and designer, or spend hours learning these rules and regulations yourself.

Domain name and website hosts fees are typically not included in the website design and development. Domain name fees are for one year, though they may be discounted if purchased for more than one year’s service. They may be included free with the fees of a web server host or a separate fee, typically $35-$50 per year. Web site host “rents” space on their computers to host your website. The come in all shapes and sizes, offering various products, storage sizes, email accounts, and services. Prices for a small, simple site can range from $10-$50 a month, with discounts for a single or multiple annual payment. Commercial sites with many email accounts and e-commerce range from $50-$200 a month.

Plan your website budget to include the initial set up fee spread across the length of time you expect the site to remain basically as it is. Typically, a website requires only minor changes and updates to its development and design for at least three years, sometimes five if the page is very simple. The web site design and development industry is still evolving, so changes to the underlying structure might be required within the three to five year life of the site to keep up with technological advances.

What’s Next?

The next step is to review the Website Development Checklist we have put together to help you understand the steps involved in creating and developing your website. Then carefully read through the Website Development Form Explanations and Instructions and complete the Web Site Development Form and Website Structure Chart to help you get started putting your website together.

When you are ready to validate your web page code and make sure it meets web standards, we also have an article series on validating your web page code, optimizing your web page and website for fast loading and access, and preparing and optimizing your website for search engines to fall in love with you.

To help you explore HTML and CSS capabilities, we’ve put together a series of articles about the code behind our own pages, based upon our old design, but still worth a look. It may look simple, but it isn’t, which is the secret behind a good web page: To look simple on the outside. If you are ready to really explore the creative possibilities of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), we have a popular series on CSS Experiments, putting CSS to the test.

There’s a lot to learn! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Start your website development slowly and begin with the checklist of things to do.


  • Posted October 21, 2006 at 10:20 | Permalink

    My friend wants me to take over the development of his website and develop a website for a large Italian Restaurant with an Orchestra, etc. and I dont know what to charge them. Your website is very valuable in my decision to learn how to accomplish this. I am a computer teacher and I am willing to learn how to develop these websites. I am familiar with HTML but have never tried to create webpages or websites. and I dont know what to charge for this. I will research more but if you have any advice, thank you very much.

  • Posted October 22, 2006 at 0:29 | Permalink

    If you found this helpful, please check out my full blog on WordPress and blogging at Lorelle on WordPress, especially Genealogy Blog: The Blog Budget – How Much Does a Blog Cost? which might help you.

    As for those who want to charge for website design work and maintenance without experience, honestly, would you pay a stranger off the street to fix your Mercedes? I recommend that you recommend they go with someone else, a professional whose mortgage is dependent upon getting it right. And then you take lessons and study and practice with non-business blogs and websites before you take on such a project. It’s a much more complicated and complex subject than you think.

    I know this sounds cruel, but it is crueler to take on such a project without experience and expertise in marketing, web research, XHTML/PHP and CSS, Javascript, forms, advertising, graphic design, video, flash, web standards, accessibility standards and laws, and so on. You have one to two years of learning to get under your belt, from what you describe, before you are barely ready for a non-commercial site. It’s hard work, and learning as you go means you are wasting their money and hurting their business. Be thoughtful and kind and recommend them to a professional.

    And kick them for thinking you qualified. Web design is not for amateurs any more. Especially when done for businesses. It’s serious business.

    Good luck, whatever you decide.

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