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Budgeting Website Bucks

» Balancing Basics & Bling

Only six out of 100 on-line businesses succeed. That’s an astonishing failure rate. And you can bet that a significant percentage of those failures all suffered from one, almost-universal problem for any start-up.

Undercapitalization.

Great idea. Excellent product. Decent execution. And still the e-nterprise vanishes into cyberspace. The Internet is populated with failures, sometimes called ‘ghost sites’. The shell is still there, but the site owner and his/her investment are long gone.

Cash is King on the WWW
It takes money to make money on the Internet. You’ll need an attractive site, you’ll need search engine optimization, hosting and a bunch of other stuff that will be, in fact, your business.

Regardless of how much you’re starting with in your account, website design and implementation is not the place to cut corners. Again, this is the digital face of your business. And you want it right.

So, does that mean you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get noticed on the net? Maybe. It all depends on just what you need to meet your on-line objectives. Cash is flash and you want at least a little bling on your site.

Low-Ball Site = Snowball’s Chance in Hell
Sure, you can low-ball it. In fact, there are lots of sites that will register your domain name, provide some website templates and even provide hosting services at remarkably low costs. And why are the costs so low? Because these DIY sites don’t work.

You can spot these sites like road kill and they tell you a great deal about the people behind them. They don’t exactly instill the kind of confidence you want your customers or clients to have in your business.

Or, you can outsource to the Ukraine or India or the Philippines. You might get lucky and find a decent designer, but frankly, the chances are remote. (Pun intended.)

The key to success isn’t to find the lowest cost designer. In fact, the key to success is to find a pricey designer because you know they’re good. Then, work with this professional to design the best site to fit your budget.

What Website Features Do You Need?
Features cost money so it’s important to determine which features you’ll need and which you can do without. Here are some common website features and e-biz services that you might or might not need.

A Checkout
A must have for any on-line business selling products or services. This is how customers will pay you and you’ll know when to ship what and where. A pretty important feature for any e-tailer.

Now, you can buy a checkout in a box — basically software that gets back-engineered to fit your site. But these checkout software programs are only so flexible and offer only so many features. They work, but they’re probably not the best representation of your commitment to customer satisfaction.

Then there’s that confidence question, again.

Now, of course, not all sites need a checkout. Informational sites that don’t sell products don’t need a checkout. The regional tourist bureau, government sites and other similar site owners don’t have to put out cash for a checkout. But that doesn’t mean that money should be used to print up some cool stationery.

Security
Certainly related to a checkout (boxed or not), security goes much further than just the checkout.

Do you plan to collect data from visitors? Will they be completing forms or providing sensitive data? If so, your site will need to be encrypted — 64-bit or 128-bit depending on the sensitivity of the information.

And that’s another expense you may or may not have to consider. Obviously, if your site is public, with no sensitive data available to a cracker, security won’t be a major concern or a major expense.

Search Engine Optimization
Sure, you’ll pay for SEO but you may not need it. Let’s say you’re the owner of a brick and mortar tire store in Illinois. You don’t sell tires to people in Rangoon so your need for SEO is limited by geography.

On the other hand, if you’re selling batteries at “low, low prices”, chances are you sell and ship worldwide (or at least you plan to). In this case, the ultimate goal is to design a relevant site that appears “above the fold” in the SERPs for high-traffic keywords — like ‘batteries’.

Site Skin
Let’s use our tire store and on-line battery outlet to consider the importance of your website’s skin — the presentation layer that people see when they visit your site.

Our tire storeowner doesn’t need much in the way of SEO because his market is specific to a small, geographic area. And he doesn’t need a checkout because he doesn’t sell tires on-line. He’s saving website design money in those two areas.

So, should those savings go somewhere else in the site’s design? Absolutely. The tire store website is, in essence, an on-line billboard. The owner lists the store’s web address on local TV commercials, his yellow pages display ads and in all of his print materials. This is his primary means of driving traffic to the tire site.

As such, the storeowner should consider adding a little flash to the site’s skin — literally. How about a Flash presentation of the owner pitching the monthly sales? Or how about video clips of the tire techs working in the neat, clean bays?

Once again, site design is the last place you want to cut corners.

Now, things are a bit different with the on-line battery outlet. First, the owner carries a huge inventory. She sells worldwide and needs to drive traffic by way of search engines. She sells exclusively on-line. That means she needs a full-featured checkout complete with currency converter!

Working with a limited budget (aren’t we all?), the battery outlet must have a secure checkout with a long list of features and she needs a site designed for easy and accurate indexing by search engines. Because of the complexity of the site’s sub-structure, there won’t be much left over for the skin.

This is where a professional design firm will more than pay for itself. Even on a small budget, a one-stop digital design shop will not only help allocate where your design dollars must and/or should go, they’ll work within your budget to balance site needs with site esthetics and features.

The point is, analyze the purpose of your site. Who are you trying to reach and what are you trying to do or say? From there, meet the needs and whatever’s left over goes into the site skin.

You Only Have One Chance to Make a Good First Impression
In fact, you’ve got less than 10 seconds to make a good impression. That’s how long visitors take to assess the value or interest of your site. That’s where intelligent design, good-looking graphics and persuasive, compelling sales copy — the site’s skin — comes in. If it doesn’t look good or read well, they’re gone.

But once you’ve captured the visitor’s attention, the site must continue to deliver the features users expect. Easy ordering, direct links to products, confidence in the site’s security, convenience and easy navigation — the “behind the curtain” design the public never sees.

It takes both a well-designed architecture and an engaging, attractive, compelling presentation layer to ensure on-line success.

Cut corners when designing your on-line business model. But don’t cut them on the design and function of your website.

This is where success is made.

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