You’ve finally decided it’s time to build your first website. Or, maybe you’re in the market to upgrade the one you already got.
But do you know what components make up a website?
I hear too many stories about website projects that end badly – or worse, websites that never get completed.
There was the massage therapist who paid nearly $1,000 for her first website. At the time, a thousand dollars was a HUGE investment for her. She expected a polished website that made her and her services look great.
Instead, she got a website that looked like it was built in early 1990 by her 13 year old cousin. Even today, she can hardly bare to look at this site that was (no joke) created with GoDaddy’s drag and drop designer.
She felt swindled given the big $1,000 investment she made.
Then there’s my good friend who is currently on her fifth (!!!) web developer to maintain her e-commerce site.
She’s so unhappy with the level of service (read: things aren’t getting done) and the lack of communication that she’s already looking for number six.
While I do build websites from time to time for clients, more often today I assist them as a website consultant.
I’ll offer strategic advice on their current website. Based on their business goals, I identify areas that could benefit from new additions or minor changes.
And in the process, I’m privy to more than a few crazy tales about websites and the professionals who build them.
There’s a lot of confusion out there about what it takes to build a website and who can help you.
Here’s what I tell my clients:
Because you are your business’s advocate. It’s up to you to have hired the right professionals who can get it done. To do that, at an extremely basic level, you’ve got to understand what’s involved.
Very few clients at first have a handle on the following:
- The four essential website components that make up a website.
- Identifying which components their web professional works on.
I promise you, as a business owner you DO NOT have to become an expert on any of the four website components. By all means, please value your time and hire out what you can!
But it is important for modern business owners to know there are four components, and to recognize that not every professional is an expert with all components.
To help you get up to speed so your website project stays in-budget and gets done, I’m going to help explain the four components that make up a website.
THE FOUR ESSENTIAL WEBSITE COMPONENTS?
Websites consist of four main elements:
- Graphics (images) and other media.
- Written marketing content, called “copy.”
- Code that allows the graphics/copy to display in website form on a browser. Code also allows you to add some bells and whistles to your site, like an email opt-in form.
- The physical hardware (e.g. web servers) that host your site.
1. Graphic (images) and other media
Most websites today include images, videos, and/or audio to make the website more visually (and/or audibly) engaging for the visitor.
For example, your business logo is likely a graphic image. And if you use the ever popular homepage slider, that picture that change every few seconds? It’s a graphic, too.
While there are a few websites that are text-only, most modern business websites include images and other media.
2. Written marketing content, called “copy”
Pictures alone probably won’t explain what your business is about or what it offers.
If you want to sell your services or products, then your website is going to need written descriptions that explain and market what you offer. This written content is called copy.
Plus, written content helps search engines determine how to categorize your business – and how relevant you are within your market. If you’re at all concerned about “SEO” (or search engine optimization), then having well-written content on your website is non-negotiable.
3. Website programming code
Your internet browser, whether you use Chrome, IE, Safari, or Firefox, must know where exactly on the page to display your graphics and copy.
Internet browsers can’t read your developer’s mind about how the website should look. Instead your web developer has to specifically tell the browser, in a language it understands, that he wants your logo to display in the top left-hand corner and for the copy to be in a column underneath.
To communicate how the website is displayed, your website’s page must be created in a special website language, called HTML, that the browser understands.
Think of your website’s code (or HTML) like a symphony conductor.
Whereas a conductor tells certain instruments when to play so that the result sounds pleasant, the HTML code tells the browser where to display images and copy so that the page looks fantastic.
Today you can create websites without knowing HTML or it’s design-related little sister, CSS.
Website platforms, like WordPress, and website drag-and-drop editors (SquareSpace is popular) can create a website without you knowing any HTML at all. These platform provide an editor (usually similar to a blank Microsoft Word page) and asks, “What do you want the page to say? Where do you want your images at?”
The platform will take what you write and add in the editor, and outputs the HTML for you.
In essence, these platforms remove that coding layer. They make website creation simpler and more accessible for everyday folks.
But like a foreigner visiting a country that isn’t fluent in the native language, using the platform’s editor without any HTML knowledge will limit what you can do.
In addition to HTML, if you want truly custom features on your website – including forms and connecting to databases, then you will need to find a professional who knows a web programming language.
4. Web hosting and web server
Website content (graphic, copy, and code) has to “live” on a web server if it’s going to be available for the public to find and view it.
Website hosting companies effectively rent web servers, so you can have your website available to the world. You’ll choose a web hosting company depending on how big your website is, how much traffic visits it each day, and what website platform (e.g. WordPress) you use.
Setting up and a maintaining a web server requires someone who knows how to transfer files and who has experience with simple “system administration” tasks.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT WEB PRO
You’ll need to understand which of the four website components each website professional you interview is able and willing to help you with.
A few web professionals are well-rounded, highly talented creatives who also know how to manage a project and keep it moving forward. They wear multiple hats and can help in all of the above areas. (But naturally, most will have areas where they’re stronger and others where they’re less strong.)
Others specialize and only handle one or two areas. They’ll expect you to hire other contractors for the website components they don’t do.
For example, I am not overly strong on the graphic design component. While I can do basic graphics and it may be suitable for some jobs, anything too complex would need to be outsourced to a graphic designer.
It’s your job to understand what services the person you hire does. That way you’re not left with half a website and going over budget while trying to complete the other half.
For example, there’s a difference between a website designer and a website developer.
Granted, many web professionals do both: they’ll create the design for you to approve, and then they’ll build the real website.
But not all of them do.
I know freelancers who will create beautiful design and gorgeous mockups, but they’ll require you to have somebody else build the real website.
I do find that the most highly sought after web professionals can help you do it all. They also keep up on other business related topics such as marketing, SEO, current design trends, social media etc.
They usually know who the best hosting companies are within your budget and traffic demands.
These high-end web pros are typically decent writers, too. They blog. They can advise from a marketing perspective what copy will make your business look credible, and some may even help write copy as part of their service.
Because they’re top pros and can take care of multiple areas, they’ll charge more. But they tend to be true pleasures to work with – and they may cost less in the long run, too.
It’s much easier to manage and work with one, maybe two, contractors on a project. There’s less chance for confusion. There’s fewer channels of communication.
Trying to find three to four decent contractors is time consuming. Remember, time is also money and I’ve seen the need for multiple contractors derail websites from ever getting completed.
BUILDING A WEBSITE IS A LOT OF WORK
Look, I know that for most people websites seem like they’re made from magic. You’d much rather find a great professional, write a check, and have your dream website show up a few weeks later.
In an ideal world that would work.
But because websites are so complex, it’s easy to hire the wrong professional – or at least not understand that the person you hired only rocks one area in website creation.
Remember, there are consultants (like myself) here to help you identify what you want with your website. We help you interview and hire the right pros. Spending time and money upfront on requirements helps your project succeed, prevents scope creep, and (oddly enough) usually saves money.
For your business to succeed in today’s busy online marketplace, first you have got to be online. You’re going to need a website.
If this was useful for you, please share this article with a business networking group you’re a part of. Or with a friend who’s thinking about starting a business!
Then take a moment to share in the comments below your experience with hiring a web professional.
Did your web pro do it all, or did you have to find multiple contractors. (Maybe you did some of it yourself?)
I’d love to hear how it went for you!