Getting A Web Site

Internet Navigating column from the Spring, 1997 issue of Intermountain Woman

If you have a business, you need to have a site on the World Wide Web. I don't say that just because I'm a web publisher and it's my business. While it's true that I make my living convincing people that their business can be enhanced by advertising on the Internet, I say that because I have seen the dramatic results that people get by using the Internet to reach out into markets beyond Montana and the Northwest.

I confess, I am an Internet addict. Sure, I can get help online if I need to--which is sort of like sending an alcoholic to a bar for an AA meeting--but I've chosen to make the Internet my vocation instead. I'm a Montana native and had the luxury of growing up in the most beautiful place in the world, but there always seemed to be something missing, some connection with the world, a paucity of books and information when I craved it. When I went away to graduate school to get the education I could not get here, there being no doctoral programs in English in Montana, I taught freshman composition at Idaho State University and ended up getting taught by one of my own students about the Internet. I've been online ever since--going on six years, which is longer than 90% of the people now on the Internet.

That's because the Internet has changed radically in the past four years due to a number of factors: computers have been made more affordable, graphics technology has made them easier to use, and the Internet has transformed from the plaything of academics and nerds to a readily accessible medium so easy to use that my eleven year old, Kevin, has no trouble making his way around in it. In fact, if I can't figure out how to do something, I ask him and that's something I often refer to when I'm helping people get on the Internet; if you need help, ask any kid today.

Kevin has the Internet in the library of his school and you can go there any time of day to find a cluster of children with wide eyes exploring the world at their fingertips. I want to mention in passing that all the scary stories about nasty stuff on the Internet are overblown; in my six years on the Internet, I've never "stumbled" on a sex site...I can find them and have even been hired to help people find them, but they're not out there waiting to grab your primed adolescent. Kids like Kevin are more eager to use their Internet access to visit the Smithsonian and the Louvre and the Library of Congress (but maybe that's his age, I'll let you know when he's fifteen if he has moved on).

It's not just kids like Kevin, though, who are surfing the Internet. A couple of weeks ago I went skiing at Big Sky and did an informal poll on the lifts. With only one exception, every single person I talked to from out of state had checked out Big Sky on the Internet; the loner was a man from Switzerland who had used a CD-ROM travel planner derived from Internet web sites.

I just finished redoing a local bed and breakfast's site because they felt they needed an upgrade on their year old site and their Internet business justified it; at present, the Appleton Inn gets nearly ten percent of their customers from people who have visited their web site. Keep It Simple Software, located here in Helena, markets their innovative solar panel batteries almost exclusively from their web site to places as far away as Uganda, where power supplies are unstable, providing a perfect market for their products. I've had requests for information on Jah Provide, a Helena-based reggae and ska band, from South Africa and France, and recently a T-shirt request from New Zealand. I work with Montana realtors a lot and much as I hate the idea of selling off Montana, I do good business with them because the Internet helps them sell properties. These Montana goods and services would never have reached these people without the power of the Internet. That's why I'm convinced that you need to have your business on the Web.

When you decide to make the leap to the Internet to enhance your marketing, I want you to be an aware buyer, though. I'm really burned when I see people getting ripped off on the Internet, and I'd like to give you some suggestions for making sure you get a good site that does what it is supposed to do: sell your product!

First of all, it helps to know what you will be buying when you develop a web site. It helps if you have your own computer; if you don't have a computer, go to your local library...in Montana, even the smallest towns usually have some Internet connection. Surf to see what other kinds of businesses similiar to yours are doing on the Internet. Then it's important to define what you want to do with your site and what kind of markets you want to reach, the kind of basic information that has probably already helped you develop a business plan or marketing brochures.

With your own computer, you already have the tools necessary to develop a web site and it's relatively easy to learn how to build a basic web site. Most of that information is free on the Internet and there are several places that will host your site for free. Often, if you have basic Internet service, you have hosting space as part of your account. However, it is very time consuming and a professional can provide you with the marketing expertise that is much more difficult to do effectively if you are a beginner.

Everybody has a brother who is hip to the Internet; don't get sucked into having them do your web site. There are about twenty people here in Helena who allege to be web designers, but there are only about three (me included) that I would call professionals. First of all, ask to see their sites. Personally, I can show you about fifty sites that I've developed, which include some 300 individual pages. Look for the same things you would in good desktop publishing. Are the graphics good? Is the layout clear? Do you understand the site's presentation?

Then you need to check out some things specific to Internet publishing. Does the site load quickly? (You get about 12 seconds of the web surfer's time to grab them.) Can you navigate easily through the site? (I have my technophobe significant other test all my sites because he can get lost better than anyone I know; a beginning web surfer should be able to move easily around the site.)

These aesthetic issues are all important to having a good site, but most important is the marketing itself. Having a web site that is not marketed effectively if like having an unlisted number for your business. Asking a web designer to show you the META tags on their sites is the quickest and easiest way to find out if they know what they're doing; what you should see is something like this one I did for the Appleton Inn:

META Name="keywords" Content="Helena, Montana, Bed and Breakfast, B&B, Victorian, Historic, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, accommodations, hotel, motel, lodging, Gold West, furniture, antiques, romantic, private bath, photos, USA, reservation, service, MT, Inns, retreats, country, workshops, conference"

If they don't have a clue about what you're asking, find somebody else to do the job. If they pass this test, then ask them about what they'll do about basic marketing, which means getting your site out to the search engines. I have a professional SubmitWolf account and it takes me about two hours to get that information out; without one, it takes about ten hours.

You're probably wondering about what kind of prices you should be paying for a web site. I'll tell you what I charge and you can comparison shop from there. For a basic web page (and that's an ill-defined thing, but usually about as much information as you can fit on an 8-1/2 X 11 sheet of paper), it's usually $50-100; a basic web site usually has about four pages but often small businesses only need one. I'll put your photographs up for $10 each. I do basic graphics as part of the design but specialized graphics are usually $50 per hour.

If you have your own Internet access account and can store it in your own space, that's where I put it and you only have to pay your monthly Internet Service Provider costs, which should be no more than $20-30 per month. Otherwise, I'd sell you your domain for $20 per month, with your own address (or URL as it is called on the Internet) such as http://www.yourbusinessname.com, which has some prestige as well as being easy to call up.

I do basic marketing for $50 (putting the information on 200 search engines) and advanced marketing for $50 per hour, based on strategies developed with the client. I encourage all my clients to have an account with Internet Link Exchange (ILE), an Internet marketing strategy where I create a 400 X 40 pixel banner for the site. Every time two visitors land on your page where you have a banner ad, then you get one placement somewhere out on the Internet. For that, I charge $25. For clients who don't have email but do have fax, I offer them email-to-fax service and vice versa; it's all data to me.

Of course, it's possible to spend a lot more to do by developing a web site with an extensive database like the one I used to work on with the Montana Association of Realtors, which has a fully searchable database of real estate listings in Montana.

Final tips: once you have your web site, I expect my clients to put their email address and web site URL on all their advertising, correspondence and business cards. Our success depends on you working to get information out there, too.

Rereading this, I'm afraid this sounds like too much of an advertisement for what MY business; right now, I have a thirty to sixty wait for people wanting new sites. If you call me, I'll help you or be glad to refer you to someone good in your area.

When Jeannine asked me to write a column, I was eager to do it because I really LOVE the Internet and like any convert, I'm eager to promote the cause...I have a book of short stories and essays coming out this year from Pecan Grove Press because of a friendship I forged with the publisher, in an active online community, CREWRT-L, where I get great writing ideas every day. In my next column, I'd like to talk about listservs and virtual communities and how they can work the Internet for you.

Earlier tonight Kevin and I searched out information on the Holocaust as we were watching Schindler's List. As I was writing this online, a friend from Missouri emailed me to come out and play Scrabble online and a woman from the Harvard Business School asked me about doing site development for a womens' web site on weight management. All this after a great day of skiing at Great Divide, which means that doing this I get to live and work in Montana and never hunger for the contact and information missing from my life when I grew up here. My ex-husband always says--in the most derogatory fashion--in reference to my growing up in Billings, "You can take the girl out of the South Side (as if HE did), but you can't take South Side out of the girl." Well, this South Side girl is going places HE can't imagine...on the Internet.

 
Most of the information here is dated as the Internet changes so quickly.
Another Scorpio link... More Scorpio horoscopes... Yup, I'm a Scorpio...
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