Review: How to Create a Successful Web Site For Nothing (or Almost Nothing)

In its August 11, 2008 edition, the Wall Street Journal included an article entitled “How to Create a Successful Web Site For Nothing (or Almost Nothing)” in the Small Business Section of The Journal Report.

In it, the author states that if you’ve got eight hours and $10, you can have a web site up and running; and not just a brochure website, but one with a payment system!

“So, here’s a guide for owners looking to make the leap online. We’ll lay out all the steps you need to take to build your site, and present some expert opinion about getting it noticed and keeping track of customers — all with no technical background required.”

The article goes on to list the steps, and includes links to freebie services and quotes from SEO (search engine optimization) heavy hitters.

I think that readers will believe that after following the steps, they will have a bonafide website that is going to help them do business.

Sorry readers… That article is an irresponsible piece, and the author is dancing on such a fine line, that it makes me hopping mad. Readers will have the impression that they can quickly build a website with an actual “payment system” – and that their website will get found!

What the author suggests is nothing but a kluge, and the implied results are misleading. You will do your image more harm than good. Building your website with templates “shows”. Hosting your website at a free hosting service “shows”. The “payment system” is nothing more than a link to PayPal. Pl-eeeezzzz. Your image will be in the toilet. (While you are at, get yourself a yahoo, aol or gmail account.)

I have had my website design and development firm for 11 years. My experience is that most people get stuck when it comes to pointing their domain name to their hosting account, so don’t expect to be able to complete step 2 on your own. (Buried at the end of step 2… referred to as “tweak your settings” and “the hosting service will give you instructions on how to do this.”) Sounds innocent enough. This is SOOO misleading. This requires editing your DNS. Editing your DNS is such a “sensitive” process that the registrars post warnings on the edit DNS pages and then make you double confirm that you really want to make a change. It is so easy to mess up that, several local professional, super-technical business colleagues call on me to do this for them/their clients – so it’s done right – and done right the first time.

And getting found? Sure Google will add you to its index… but try to find yourself. Optimizing your website for the search engines is a “fine art”. It takes time to come up to speed, and to then make appropriate changes in order to reap the benefits of your efforts (i.e. see your website in Google). Your “free” hosting service may not even allow you access to some of the places that you should be changing.

The solution in this article is good for the consultant or sales rep who has started on their own on a bootstrap budget, made a pitch to a big firm, maybe exaggerated a little about the size of the business or length of time in business, and is under the gun to show “something”. Okay, I’ll say it…You lied and you’re in a JAM! A website like this should be used for 6 – 12 weeks at most.

Finally, I object to the use of the word “successful” in the title. It calls to mind the inquiry into President Clinton’s activities with Lewinsky when he said something like: ‘It all depends,’ … ‘on what the meaning of the word is’ is.” Huh?

How do you define “successful”? To me, a successful website portrays you in your best light – as the energetic, professional expert that you are, and the website is ranked highly by Google so that people who are unaware of your company can find it by searching on the services and products it provides.

Food for thought:

  1. If you don’t invest in yourself, how can you expect others to?
  2. If you create a website on the cheap, your audience will notice, and they will expect your services for cheap money. (Don’t be scratching your head wondering how they got that impression.)
  3. When you simply “link” to PayPal there is no way to force your client back to your website. (There are several other ways to do this, but they require advanced programming skills.)
  4. Your website address should be the domain name that you purchased. If you bought “mycompany.com”, your web address should be “mycompany.com”. It should not include any other name like “mycompany.freehostingservice.com”.
  5. If you use templates from a hosting service – what part of your website will you be able to take with you when you’ve outgrown the host? (Typically… nothing!)
  6. Search Engine Optimization is an on-going process that requires you to make changes to your content as well as to the backend of your website. Will your host allow access to the areas that you need to update?
  7. Serious business people have e-mails that include the name of their business (i.e. myname@mycompany.com, not yahoo, aol, or gmail addresses).
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