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Building a new small biz web site, please help.
Conservative HTML or not, best programs ...

 3:28 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

I'm starting to build my first small business web site. I have experience with HTML and building pages, but I've never built one for a real business. In this case the business is an art and framing store. I have a few questions:

Should I start out simple with Yahoo! like html that is very straightforward and so on, or should I try to be more flashy and spend more money on design initially?

OR, should I get a working page going and then start on getting some visitors and improve the site as it grows?

Should I hire someone to do the design (even though I think I could do an OK job?)

Who is the best registrar and host for a small business without a big budget?

What are the best programs to use to write the pages?

OK, I know this is a lot of questions, but any help would be great.

Thanks :)



 4:07 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

my .02

start out simple

>improve the site as it grows?

you'll be doing this anyway, whether you want to or not.

>hire someone to do the design

do it yourself

>the best registrar


>What are the best programs to use to write the pages?

Ultraedit, start with the best.


 4:29 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

>What are the best programs to use to write the pages?

If you're just starting out, you probably don't wanna fool around with learning to code each tag manually (if so, Ultra Edit certainly is great) go with 1st Page by Evrsoft (evrsoft.com)

It has different levels (Beginner to Hardcore) so it can grow with your abilities, it doesn't bloat your code like so many WYSIWYG HTML editors out there. It handles lots of different code (HTML, CSS, JAVA, etc.) Best of all, it's free (my favorite price)!



 5:11 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

Thanks :)

I am comfortable hardcoding in HTML, but I don't know all of the available tags so a program that lets you hardcode while also providing gui support would be great. I have checked out the Hot Dog software from sausage.com Does anyone else use this? Also, if I want to do some Java with out knowing much about it, are there packages that I can use to do this?

Thanks again!


 7:15 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

Hey physics

If you're planning on using HTML, CSS, Java, JS etc. you can forget about design for a while. You'll be spending most of your time trying to figure out how to get the darn thing working properly. And even if you do get it working correctly, with so many different codes and languages working together, you could be playing on the edge where some slight change in browser technology or language versioning could screw up the works. About a year ago I programmed some Java and JS to work together on a page. It worked fine then, but now when I try it, there is a problem. I'd say build a simple usable site now, and work on the complicated stuff in the background until it is time tested.

As for design, I'd say go ahead and design it yourself. All the best and worst designers have their work on display all over the web. Before I design I go around and check what's out there. Some people put together some really tight sites.

But, you may not have a talent for design. And it is a fortunate person who recognizes their lack of talent in some particular area. I used to think I could play piano. What a disappointment when I watched a twelve year old girl breeze through a piece I'd been practicing for three years! I learned my lesson there (and just about gave up the piano for good). So if you're strong in design, go ahead. If not, seeking out some advice probably wouldn't hurt.


 8:13 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

I'm proof-positive that design (as in artistic) isn't always required. I have some of the most gawd-awful sites you've ever seen pounding the bejabbers out of more creatively inspired sites. They convert so much business that I'm now selling leads and referrals TO my competitors.

Design as in layout, i.e., site navigation. Spend some time there. Make it simple for them to get where you want them to go. You have 30 seconds to teach a visitor how to navigate your site, 45 tops.


 9:25 pm on Mar 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

I swear by GoLive. It generates clean code, and lets you either build entirely through the WYSIWYG interface, or switch to code-view and edit your code all you want.

I build the basic site with GoLive, and then use a plain text editor for scripting and fancy stuff.

Having a site look 'good' isn't nearly as improtant as having it look 'clean', IMO. Make sure everything makes sense to a novice user, and fancy it up from there.


 12:55 pm on Mar 8, 2001 (gmt 0)

(imho) when dealing with an ecomm site, go the KISS route.

- Give the user little -- if any -- visual distraction on the page.
- Keep graphics to a bare minimum.
- Keep links the the page trimmed to the bone.
- Skip traditional menus and other visual noise.
- Show the product, only the product, and any related info.
- More than 5 links on a product page? Too many.
- More than 3 graphics on a product page? Too many.
- Need for Speed. Keep the page and graphics together under 25-30k.

When users are in "surf and shop till they drop" mode, they are sniffing for information. Anything that distracts from that mission, is a waste of their time - hello back button. You throw a visual onslaught at them, and they are history.

What to see a good product page? Here is a page from one of our moderators, that suites most of the above qualifications: [oilmanpromotions.com]

Just a touch large in the page and graphics size (35k), but I think it as close to on the money (especially for a service page) as I've seen in awhile.

Can you design it yourself? I think you can. I'm not seeing any big sites tearing up the web with quality here. Most of the bigger designers will tend to sell you eye candy over pages that will actually produce sales.


 2:48 pm on Mar 8, 2001 (gmt 0)

related thread: 'Bells and Whistles [webmasterworld.com]'


 2:43 pm on Mar 28, 2001 (gmt 0)

Hello all and thanks for your very helpful comments. I have *tried* to follow good web site design protocol, but have I suceeded?

My beta version of the site is at:

Note: The links are "dummy" links, just for show right now. Also, it definitely won't be ready by April.

What do you think? Did I follow the KISS formula closely enough, or is the page too cluttered? Also, I am considering changing the whole structure of the site to be more organized into tables ... which I know are bad for SEO but I have heard that the home page has no SEO value anyways. If this is true isn't it more important that the home page "look and feel" really good as opposed to being nice from a semi-reductionist SEO/design point of view?


 2:56 pm on Mar 28, 2001 (gmt 0)

er.. your pointing your image source to your hard drive ;)


 3:08 pm on Mar 28, 2001 (gmt 0)

Errr.... You'll excuse me while I put my foot in my mouth *blush* I'll have it fixed up in a jiffy :)

OK, it's set now :)


 10:34 pm on Mar 28, 2001 (gmt 0)

Let's try to stay away from specifics on websites, otherwise we get into being just a help/consulting forum (which we are trying to stay away from).

Related threads:

Thanks guys...


 2:54 am on Mar 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

physics, I have to fully agree with scott's software recommendation. There's a difference between WYSIWYG editors (visually designing) and what are called tag editors, which rely on hard coding, but just have some easy features to save labor on the hard coding - like click the button to insert a tag instead of having to type it out. Tag editors can even please purists. They put out pure code because they depend on what you tell them to put in.

That program can also be used to work on changes in scripts - in fact, it comes with a number of them all included in the package - so you do not need a separate text editor, and the files will stay pure ascii.

Since it is an art and framing store, as you indicated, here is a bit of a suggestion - you will definitely want to try for a local Yahoo listing eventually (when the site is ready). Browse through the appropriate category at Yahoo to get an idea of what their editors like - use that as one of your design idea tools.

You'll have to decide between using a plain background or a background image. I *much* prefer plain backgrounds - I happen to like a clean look, as well as have a craving for white space. It depends on the site. Sometimes "artsy" people want textures - that does not mean that they are experts on what good marketing or design is.

One thing I do like is a graphic company header top of page - I once read that having one helps to get a Yahoo acceptance, and since I've had them happen, it's almost a superstition with me to include them. Besides, I would rather use my first text passages on a page for keywords (unless the company name *is* a keyword).

I think an easy way to start with small business sites is to keep them as simple as is possible and build the SEO features right in from the ground up, if you are doing a combination of the two services.

Side note: I have to admit that rather than doing both together as I usually do, this time I've *not* included much optimization on my latest site beyond the barest minimum. When the site finishes making the rounds of announcements on various lists and newsgroups, that is when I will make some significant *changes* and resubmissions.

Aside from practical design, graphics, and optimization issues, there are also a number of other, busines-related issues that start to come up when doing small business sites - particularly if you're optimizing and starting to get rankings.

It's definitely worth-while reading some threads in our forum here on Professional Webmaster Business Issues, in addition to the technical and aesthetic aspects of web site development. Definitely a good time investment!


 8:02 am on Mar 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

had to laugh with rcjordan's descr of his sites! I went to have a look and you are right RC, they are pretty close to the ugliest on the Web!

However, i can see how they attract a lot of hits and deliver a sound strategy for success..

Proof positive, that the first thing to do is develop a strategy for the site. What is its purpose, how will it atrract people, are you looking for repeat visitors or one offs..? These are key questions..

One feeling we have here is that once you refer to your websites as anything else otehr than a "Website" you are on your way... A "Website" is a poor way to describe a site. It should be something which reflects its purpose. eg: portal, e-mag, corporate site, directory etc....

My feeling, completely subjective, is that there is too much spent on creating "pretty sites" when they do not need to be pretty... (RC's site is a great example of strategic positioning for a travel portal). And making them pretty, causes heaps of problems with SEO..

Everthing is a trade off, and your competitive positioning and branding strategy is central. There are some great tips in this thread for building a small biz web site.

My modest tip is to position, build a competitive branding strategy, stick it on the walls, and stick to it in everthing from graphic design, SEO, page design, promotion etc etc. Avoid most new tech, expecially ones that limit access to the any of the prospect group you are targeting.

Avoid bells and whistles and anything that is trying to prove what a smartiepants the designer is rather than selling your products/services/info.. Brett was spot on - KISS Rules!


 12:53 pm on Mar 30, 2001 (gmt 0)

>- More than 5 links on a product page? Too many.
>- More than 3 graphics on a product page? Too many.

What utter nonsense!

I have 40 links on a main e-commerce site and about 30 graphics, the page is under 40k and this month i had over 1000 hits on the homepage with those visitors signing up for newsletters, buying online, viewing product pages etc.

As long as you can do what you want to do without confusing or hindering the user the go for it!

Design isnt just about creating 'pretty pages' its about designing user and browser friendly sites that not only appeal to the user but provide functionality.


 3:57 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the help, all. However, I have a real problem now For some god forsaken reason when I try to view any of the pages on my site, such as [neartexpress.com ] in a browser a box pops up saying "You have chosen to download a file from this location..." And if I do download the file it is the index.html from that directory. What the heck is going on here? Does anyone have an idea of what the problem might be? I put the link in so others could check on it to see whether or not it is just me. It was fine yesterday until some point late last night it started doing this (several files were added and changed last night ... maybe this caused it? .. but wait, the same problem happens with pages which were left alone yesterday as well)


 4:51 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

I've had that happen when I try to use PHP embedded in the page without using the .php extension and also when the permissions for a certain page in PHP aren't set correctly. Try chmod'ing the page to 666 and see if that helps and also if it is PHP on the page make sure the server is turned on to parse it. If so try changing the file extension to .php.

If I'm totally missing the mark here just ignore me and I'll go hide somewhere and pout. :)


 5:21 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

You mentioned using a gui editor that shows tags, hotmetal pro works like this and seems ok (I used it a few years ago) - though I would try 1st page that scott mentions as i've heard a lot of good things about it.


 6:52 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

>I've had that happen when I try to use PHP embedded in the page without using the .php extension and also when the permissions for a certain page in PHP aren't set correctly.

T H A N K Y O U Toolman! This suggestion lead me to the problem. Last night I added a line to my .htaccess file that was supposed to make me be able to rename any .php files to .html However, instead what happened is that *any* file, even the ones that are plan .html, had the problem I talked about above. When I remove that line all is good in the world. Cool, now I can spend all day messing around with my site some more ;)

By the way, that line was:
AddType Application/x-httpd-php .html
I guess the problem was --^ this d here, when I remove that all seems OK

That line was from Possible to change php to html? [webmasterworld.com] on WebmasterWorld.

Cheers <he says happily>


 7:00 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

So by removing the d from httpd fixed it, huh? Cool...I had exactly the same problem and just removed it all and forgot about til another day. Great! Now I'm gonna go play too.


 7:02 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)


By the way, I am using 1stPage now and it's great. Highly recommended. Sausage software was cool, but 1stPage is just as good or better ... and it's free!

What I'm looking for now is:
<start laundry list>
1) Program that will turn large images into thumbnails automatically (perl??)
2) More information on PHP and how to use it so I don't make similar mistakes as above ;)
3) Examples of perl code that people have used to build out static .html sites with.
4) A shopping cart program that is easy to administrate from within a perl script (i.e. add categories and products and so on) I'm working on this for AlaCart ... but just starting to see how.
5) Form mail script that allows people to upload files.
<end laundry list>


 8:08 pm on May 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

Oops, changing that part of the line didn't actually work... I just tried to visit one of my sites and now I have the same problem ("would you like to download ..."). Removed that line again and all is well. Could this be because I actually have php3 or something? I don't know anything about php so maybe someone who is a php guru could point us in the right direction.

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