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Frequently asked questions in planning your web site

Where do I start? First, register your domain name. Even if you're not planning to publish your site right away, you'll want to be sure your name is reserved.

Next, consider some what, who, and how questions:

What is the purpose of the site? You're probably focusing on one of three things: entertainment, education, or information. The dominant purpose will dictate the look and feel of your site.

Who is your target audience? Although you have the potential to reach far greater numbers than your target, you'll want to tailor your site to the people most likely to benefit from your product or service.

What kind of computer equipment will your audience be using? A site with sound, video, or complex graphics may take longer to download than a simpler site. If your audience is techno-savvy and likely to be using the latest equipment and fastest connection, this may not be a problem. If your audience is broader, the balance between visual enjoyment and download speed becomes critical.

How does a web site fit in with your overall marketing strategy? Design the site to be consistent with your current marketing message and materials. Plan on making your web site more than just an on-line brochure. It's an extension of your sales department, marketing, customer service, human resources, shareholder services...anywhere you need to get accurate information out to a large audience.

How much will it cost? A three-part answer:

Domain name registration. Registration costs vary, depending on the registrar you use, but won't cost any more than $35 per year. There are agencies that offer to perform the registration process for you, for a fee. Chances are, however, that your web site designer or your hosting company will do it for free. Or you can do it yourself. It's a simple process.

Site design. The cost of designing your site will depend on the length and complexity of it. See the fee schedule for an indication and remember that it's just an indication.

Hosting. You'll need a company to actually host your site; in other words, store it on a heavy-duty computer so that your audience can access it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, world-wide. Depending on the size of the site and some of its features--a shopping cart, for example--your monthly hosting cost can range from $15 or so into the hundreds of dollars. Your web site designer can help you find a host if you don't know of one yourself.

How will people find my web site? Promoting your web site can be a challenge. The most obvious course is by registering with search engines, such as Lycos or Altavista, and directories, such as Yahoo!. Talk to your web site designer about how to optimize your site so that search engines can find it. If your contract with the design firm includes maintenance, be sure ongoing search engine registration is included. Once will not be enough in most cases. Be aware, however, that this is an inexact science, and what one search engine likes another will penalize you for.

More effective than relying on search engines is integrating your web page into your overall marketing strategy. Be sure your URL appears on your business cards, letterhead, and printed materials. Include a signature line on your outgoing e-mails that links to your web site.

A third avenue to consider is reciprocal links. Contact buyers, suppliers, or others in your referral network who are on-line and see if it makes sense for you to link to each other.

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