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5 Steps to Building Your Web Site
by Mari Bontrager
Establish the purpose of your web site.
Design your web site to project your message.
Acquire a host.
Promote your site.
Maintain and grow your site.
1. Establish the purpose of your web site.
Of course you know why you want a site. But somehow, putting it into words is not quite as easy
as one might think.
Before your web site can be effectively designed, you will need to have a clear understanding of
what you wish to accomplish. And that is best done by writing it down. If you're not a good writer, say it to
a real or imaginary friend, then write down what you said. If you can't describe it, it isn't clear
The purpose of your site will guide you in your site's design and will be a major factor in
determining your target audience. Thus, the more specific you can be, the better. The generic "I want a site
to make me rich" is too broad. "I want to sell ebooks about flower arrangements, especially to Moms" is more
With "I want to sell ebooks about flower arrangements, especially to Moms," you now have a
product and a target audience to design your site for. Design your site so Moms are comfortable with it and
are impressed enough to recommend it to other Moms.
"Your Path To Success" (Bob McElwain) can help you determine exactly what your site's purpose
is. You'll find the book at http://sitetipsandtricks.com/webways/path/message.html
With a clear statement of purpose, you know what direction you are heading.
2. Design your web site to project your message.
Now that your purpose is clear, your message is either self-evident or can be developed with
little effort. With the above example purpose, the message might be "Learn how do to flower arrangements!"
Because your target audience is Moms, a sub-message might be, "Our ebooks are interruption- friendly with
short, quick-to-learn chapters. Each chapter is complete within itself, which means you can do the chapters
back to back or you can do them one chapter per week."
Many elements work together to create a successful design. Three main concerns will
Interactive opportunities (programming)
While you work on these elements to design your site, keep your site's purpose and message in mind. This is your
A. Visual design
Good visual design requires skill, training and an artistic eye for detail. However, that
doesn't mean you can't do it yourself.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when establishing your site layout:
Be consistent. Once you have decided on a layout design for your site, use it consistently on all the
Choose the color scheme that will effectively present your subject matter. What colors, textures and other visual
clues describe the intent of your site?
Use good visual sense when designing a business site: Watch that your text is readable on your background
Use web safe colors for background and text colors, especially. (See
http://www.lynda.com/hexh.html for a chart of web safe colors.)
If you are going to use a background texture or pattern, make sure it is subtle. The background
should set the ambience of the site and enhance rather than "be" the message.
Decide how you will use graphics. Keep it simple. Don't overwhelm your visitors (or waste bandwidth) with massive
graphics that serve little purpose.
Choose carefully what you will put on your web site; make each element work to present your message for
Be very aware of download time; keep your graphics sized small. One rule of thumb is to keep the total size of each
page to under 50k - that includes all graphics, all text, all the bells and whistles. Few people will hang around
for a long load time.
The two most common formats for graphics (at this time) are '.jpg' or '.gif'. As a general rule, .jpg is best used
for photographic images; .gif is best for simpler images and is necessary for graphics that incorporate transparent
Use animated gifs sparingly. They can be distracting and annoying.
Keep in mind that your visitors will arrive on a variety of operating systems and web browsers. This means your
visitors may not see exactly what you see, a designer's frustration! View your site on the major browsers and
operating systems, and accommodate the differences as you design your site.
Spend a good deal of thought on your navigation system:
Provide easy navigation tools for your visitors; make it easy for them to find their way around
How many clicks does it take to lose a potential customer?
A navigation area in the same location on each page helps your visitors get the idea of how your
site is laid out.
Visitors will spend time at your site because of what you say, what you show, how you present
that which you offer. It is the lure, the magnet, that will or will not entice visitors to linger. Visits
can't be pushed or demanded; they are entirely voluntary.
Give your visitor a reason to hang around.
Give your visitor content:
What do you offer that no one else does?
What is unique about your information (or the way it's presented)?
Do you offer valuable and/or up-to-date information?
Content is gratification with information or entertainment, the instant-er the better. Content
is text, graphics, sounds, games, surveys, self-analysis tools, contests, bells and whistles, and
combinations thereof. If your content does not inform or entertain or in some other way gratify or please
your visitors, it can not truly be called content.
Now that you have written your content, how does it sound? Is the grammar and punctuation
correct? Is what you have written what your really mean to say? Use valuable resources at your
How to Win the Grammar Game: http://www.ossweb.com/vp-intro.html
Grammar and Punctuation tips, Style Guides: http://www.webgrammar.com/
As a minimum, your site should have a feedback form for your visitors to talk to you and it
should have a form that lets your visitors recommend your site to their friends. Programs to process both of
those essential forms can be downloaded free at http://willmaster.com/master/
Your web site may require only the simplest programming or it may require sophisticated
database, tracking, page generation, communication, and web site maintenance systems. If you're just starting
out, keep the programming aspect to the minimum, if you can, until you gain some experience as a webmaster.
Then, add features as needed to promote your site's purpose and deliver its message.
Programs for sites generally fall into two categories, (1) programs integrated directly into web
pages and (2) programs that reside on a site's server.
distinguishes web page programming is that, once the web page is loaded into a browser, the programs can
continue to run without needing a continuous connection to the internet. Many fine, entertaining, and
illuminating things can be done with web page programming. A few of these are listed below. (Attempting to
list all possibilities would produce a seemingly endless list.)
Horizontal scrolling text.
Overriding the browser's status bar with custom text.
Real-time interaction with your visitor — calculator, game, chat, psychic reading, IQ test, etc. — without needing
to download new pages or pressing the "back" button.
Current (and constantly updated) date, time, and/or weather.
A drawback to using web page programs is that some users disable their browser's ability to run
scripts and/or Java.
An advantage with web page programming is that, in most cases, the entire program loads into
your visitor's browser. This may allow them to use/run the web page without being connected to the internet.
Also, some visual effects can currently be produced only with web page programming.
(2) Server programs abound. Although other types are popular, such as PHP, for example, probably
most server programs are CGI programs (see http://willmaster.com/possibilities/archives/ for related
articles, and http://willmaster.com/master/ and http://mastercgi.com/ for CGI programs and CGI help,
CGI means "Common Gateway Interface" and is a standard method for browsers and servers to
communicate with each other. So long as the standard method (protocol) is followed, it doesn't matter which
brand of browser is asking for information, what operating system the server is using, or what programming
language the requested program is written in. CGI is seemingly unlimited when it comes to applications that
fit within the protocol. CGI is used for (again, a short list of examples):
Creating web pages dynamically
Mailing systems and maintaining mailing lists
Surveys and tests
Presenting and/or manipulating database contents
Creating graphics dynamically
Visitor tracking and presenting statistics
Password verification and/or updating
CGI Resources at http://www.cgi-resources.com/ is a valuable site for research and examples of
Perl and other programming languages, as well as thousands of CGI programs.
Matt's Script Archive at http://www.worldwidemart.com/scripts/ has some
high quality CGI programs available for download. WillMaster's Master Series at http://willmaster.com/master/
contains several dozen efficient and easy to install CGI programs. Some are free and some require a
If you need to hire someone to install the CGI programs you choose, the author of the program is
often a good choice. Otherwise, there are people who are available to install CGI programs. Jackie McCutcheon
at http://jackiemccutcheon.com/script_installation.html is professional with reasonable rates.
(The source for Perl and a developer's site, www.perl.com, is a must-visit if you're thinking
about delving into Perl CGI programming.)
3. Acquire a host.
Responsive customer support is important, especially after the sale when a quick answer can make
a lot of difference.
Budget hosting companies save operational money somewhere. Often it's customer support because
it's expensive. Sometimes it's tech staff availability that suffers. Internet server gurus can demand high
salaries. The server can be slow because of too many sites or a few very busy sites on one
Paying higher rates for hosting does not guarantee service and responsive servers. But paying
budget rates means a high probability that expenses are cut somewhere.
I almost always recommend UNIX/Linux servers. For several reasons:
Our Master Series of CGI programs are built for UNIX/Linux.
There are more UNIX/Linux servers in use at hosting companies than there are NT.
Almost all server attacking virii released during the past year were directed at NT servers.
The majority of readily available free Perl CGI programs, are built for UNIX/Linux.
If you anticipate using CGI on your site, you'll want a customizable cgi-bin. Some hosting
accounts provide a cgi-bin but only for the hosting company's scripts — you aren't allowed to install your
own. So, ensure that your cgi-bin is fully customizable by you.
Although CGI can be used in conjunction with other programming languages, you'll also want Perl
5+ on the server. Many Perl CGI programs now make use of standard Perl 5 modules, so ask your prospective
hosting company if they'll install standard modules if needed. This is rarely a problem, but it's good to
have an affirmative before deciding on a hosting plan.
If you anticipate needing certain programs to automatically run at specific times, then you'll
want your own "cron" (UNIX/Linux servers) or "at" (NT servers). Those are schedulers to launch
If you anticipate needing to route emails to scripts (for example, autoresponders or list
servers where an email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, is to be automatically processed by a
script), then you'll need access to either your own procmail or your own "alias" or ".forward" files. Ask
your prospective hosting company what system is available to pipe certain incoming email to a
4. Promote Your Site
Spread the word!
Your web site can be promoted through traditional channels as well as internet
Traditional channels include news releases, advertising, and mention on company letterhead and
business cards. Your web site might benefit from traditional promotion just as much as your other products
Internet channels include web site submission to search engines and directories, running your
own email list, advertising on the internet, and participating in e-mail, newsgroup, chat
Just because your web site has been submitted to search engines and internet directories does
not automatically mean it will be accepted. Manually submit your web site, especially to the top search
engines and directories. Or hire someone to do it for you. Many search engines and directories now charge for
submissions or for priority submissions.
Search Engine Watch at http://searchenginewatch.com/ has lots of information about search
engines. Renee Kennedy's "Search Engine Optimization and Placement" at
http://thewritemarket.com/seo-book.shtml and her search engine promotion tutorial at
http://www.thewritemarket.com/intro.shtml are valuable resources.
5. Maintain and grow your site.
If your web site never changes, who is going to visit twice? Staleness is the grim reaper of web sites.
Update information. Check for broken links. Add new content. Keep your site fresh and
Just because this step has the least number of words, does not mean it's the least important. It
sure would be a shame to accomplish the other steps and have a nice, popular site, and then have all that
slowly waste away for lack of attention.
By: Mari Bontrager
Copyright 2001 Bontrager Connection, LLC
What To Expect
When Buying Site Creation Services
by William Bontrager
re you thinking about hiring someone to create a web site for
Read on. Find out what to expect and what skills you may need.
First: Because these articles are syndicated at many web sites, it is possible that you, the
reader, are newer to the internet than most WillMaster Possibilities ezine subscribers. If this applies to
you and you are uncertain about what a web site consists of or what hosting is, and yet you want a business
web site, read ".COMstruction: The Basics" by Eldon Sarte. It does not push any particular methods of making
money; but it covers some of the basics you need to know to create a business web site. The ebook can be
purchased at http://willmaster.com/a/6/pl.pl?pie
Let's suppose you will be hiring somebody to create a site for you.
You have this vision. And your contractor creates your site.
It's done and it's live.
Unless you contract for search engine submission/optimization, site promotion, and site
maintenance, the rest is up to you.
Business web sites are similar to physical store locations in the sense that it takes time to
build up trade. Unless you can put a lot of money into promotion, it will take much time and energy to create
a substantial visitor count and begin to turn a profit.
One of the major myths about the internet is that all you have to do is create a site and it
will quickly make you rich.
If it were true, why do you suppose anyone would be willing to create a site for you in the
first place? Why wouldn't they just create their own site and sit back and let the gold pour out of buckets
by their feet?
So, now what?
Anyone who can follow written directions and knows how to fill in web page forms can do search
engine submissions. But search engine optimization (getting your site listed nearer the top for specific
searches) is a learned skill. To be an effective specialist is a full-time job.
Of course, it isn't necessary to rate high in search engines. But for many sites it can help
business a lot.
You can hire someone to do it, learn how to do it yourself, or let it slide.
To hire someone, be aware that there are a lot of scams out there. There are also some good,
honest, hard working people. If it smells like a scam or feels like it might be too good to be true, go
somewhere else. Don't let greed be your guide. Ask fellow site owners for recommendations.
To do it yourself, frequent sites dedicated to search engine positioning and subscribe to some
search engine positioning lists. Ask http://aj.com for search engine positioning sites. And
http://list-resources.com/ is a place to start finding the lists you want.
Or you can let it slide and concentrate on other ways to promote your site.
Site promotion can take many forms, including:
Networking with other site owners.
Making sure you have a "recommend this site" button prominent on every web page.
Belonging to discussion lists your ideal customers belong to and being a valuable contributor.
Responding to email inquiries as soon as possible with relevant and helpful answers.
Delivering good products.
Advertising with banners and in print publications.
Creating an affiliate program.
Publishing a newsletter related to your site with valuable content.
Giving away quality samples of your products or services.
If you decide to hire someone to do some of your promotion for you, ask fellow site owners for recommendations. The
internet lends itself to some different marketing methods than land-based businesses, but that doesn't mean common
sense can go out the door.
Site maintenance is essential. Once your site is created, it will need updating. Contact data
changes. You may want to add a page or change a paragraph. You may need to change hosts for one reason or
another. Technology changes. Visitor expectations change.
With frequent fresh content, people have more reason to come back to your site.
What to do? Update your site every few weeks or so: Add a page. Delete a page. Change a
paragraph to convey your message better. Add a link or two to relevant sites. Add a testimonial.
Whatever you do, don't let your site go stale.
Like search engine optimization and marketing, site maintenance is something you can hire out or
If you hire it out, you may want to have the person who created your site do the work, or hire
someone who specializes in site maintenance.
To do maintenance by yourself, the first basic skill you will need (and this may seem too
obvious to even mention, but you might be surprised) is competence with your own computer.
You will need to have a good FTP program and know how to use it. There are many tutorial sites
on the net -- ask at http://aj.com/ -- and http://www.tucows.com/ lists some great FTP programs ready to
You will also want to learn some HTML. There are a lot of good tutorials on the net. Again, ask
A good HTML reference site is http://vzone.virgin.net/sizzling.jalfrezi/iniframe.htm
As you gain in skills, you may also want to learn how to Telnet into your site (if your hosting
company allows such access) and how to install your own CGI programs.
The more you learn about maintaining your own web pages, the more independence you will
What to expect? A lot of work. And a lot of learning.
If you enjoy your work, expect the rewards to be worth it.
The internet is still a frontier. Some of what you learn now might be automated later. But
you'll have the advantage, then, because you will know what the automation does and won't be dependent on
Above all, have fun!
Copyright 2000 William Bontrager
Programmer/Publisher, "WillMaster Possibilities" ezine
Customer Friendly, Cart-less E-commerce Site
by William Bontrager
Here is a customer friendly e-commerce site for you.
It does not require a shopping cart.
It does not require CGI. It does not require cookies.
Your customer orders directly from your order form. The totals, including shipping/handling and
any taxes, are added up and displayed on the same page with the order form every time your customer adds an
item to their order.
This is how it works:
You make an order form with a short description for each item, which may include an image
thumbnail. Within the description can be popup window links to a detailed description. The description can
also have a link to a popup window with a large image. The popup window links are optional. Everything except
credit card information is provided on this one page.
Your customer can quickly scan what you have available and click for more information or a large
image of those items s/he is interested in -- provided you made the popup windows available.
If you have a large number of items, you'll want to have short descriptions and a minimum of
thumbnails so your order form page loads faster. But if you have only a few items, the descriptions can be
With the popup window method, you may have a description page (which may contain images) and/or
an independent image for each item. Yet, your customer is not harried with having to click to other pages for
order descriptions or totals, and then the "back" button numerous times to return to previous
Your customers always know where they're at. They always know their order total. They provide
everything except their credit card information right on your order form.
It is a two-step ordering system:
Fill in the order form.
Click the button to provide credit card information on a secure server.
This e-commerce system truly is customer friendly:
No shopping cart.
All product and ordering information available from one page.
Go to the Customer Friendly, Cart-less E-commerce Site demo page at http://willmaster.com/a/6/pl.pl?67demo and pick
up your copy.
Instructions are embedded in the source code of the demo page. The demo page is, as implied, an
example of how to do it.
familiarity, practice with the descriptive articles and tutorials found at
an excellent familiarization project. Also, scan articles in the archives with the word "popup" in the
Like any other skill, familiarity and practice instill confidence. And with confidence you can
Copyright 2000 William Bontrager
Programmer/Publisher, "WillMaster Possibilities" ezine
Business Home Page: http://willmaster.com/