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The Straight Dope on Small Business Web Sites
Jeff Pasternack

I recently gave a pair of lectures to two groups of small business owners about the things that matter when getting involved in designing a small business' web site. This program covered a myriad of topics, ranging from esoteric topics such as crafting domain names to tactical decisions regarding paid inclusion advertising on search engines. Regardless the steady advances that have been made in technology as a whole, the rules for working with a web designer haven't changed much over the past few years.

Have a Site Map
Make sure you have your materials together before you talk to any web design companies and organize them into an outline that serves as a comprehensive site map. It should include button names, ideas for photos and the content. While the version of the site map you send out to your designer may not be the last, it serves as a great spot in which to consolidate your ideas and make incremental edits.

Domain Names
The only game in town is Network Solutions ( If you envision being in business for more than three years, then register the domain for three years for $75. Registering your domain with any other company is risky. To measure the risk, simply call the phone number provided by a Network Solutions competitor and see how long it takes to reach a helpful human. Also, avoid using dashes or numbers in your domain name.

Host with the Most
Hosting companies are a dime a dozen. Avoid the freebies or those that require you to post their ads. Also call tech support and see how long it takes to a reach a human. You may choose to rely on your web design firm to support the site, which is fine, but if not, make sure you can reach a human when you call. Most small businesses will find more than adequate hosting for less than $18 a month.

Marketing Vision
Your web site is a marketing support tool. It backs your personal networking and other marketing efforts and can serve as a generator of unqualified leads. Unless you sell a product on the site itself, don't let your ego make site design decisions for you. Do check competitor sites for what you do and don't like and make sure that your site's marketing language is tailored to your niche.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
The neighborhood kid, niece, nephew or other freelancers may save you money in the beginning, but what about the day after? Just as designers differ in graphic design skills, so too do they differ in programming skills. Relying upon a single, seemingly inexpensive individual today may have a hidden cost tied to having someone else pickup that person's code and try to enhance the site as your business grows.

Budgets and Deliverables
Rates vary and paying more may not buy you any better design, service, business knowledge or support. Expect to pay between $75-$150 an hour to a company with three to ten designers and $30-$50 an hour to a freelancer. The initial site build is generally not billed hourly. Don't enter into any monthly retainer fees unless you know, for sure, that you are going to be updating your site that frequently. Do insist on work orders that specify the tasks to be done, especially if the work is anticipated to be more than 2 hours or if there are many small changes. Avoid verbal work orders and try not to put changes in email. Attach a document and keep a record.

SEO - Snake Oil for the Modern Era
Don't pay for search engine optimization or registration. Put Meta tags on each page of your site and be sure that the title, description and keyword tags are found throughout the site, particularly on the home page. Use to register your site and spend your time and money on learning about paid-inclusion advertising.

Advertising All the rage with proven results. If you missed the article a few issues ago, paid-inclusion advertising is when you select a word or phrase that relates to the type of product or service you offer. You create an ad around your selection and determine what you are willing to pay for it to be placed on the search results page when someone searches on your selection. In most circumstances, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

Resolving Revolving and Evolving Resolutions
Every computer, monitor and browser shows colors and sites differently. Take a look at your site on different monitors and, if you have Internet Explorer, look at your site with the Favorites bar opened and closed. Have the site designed to 800x600 as a base and have your designer show you what it would look like 1024 x 768. Depending on the design and the designer's skill, your site can scale to the higher resolution. Don't bother with trying to customize your site for cell phones and PDAs.

Own Your Site and Graphics
Make sure that the domain name and hosting agreement is in your name: store the username and password in a safe place. Require that your designer give you the files used to build the graphics for the site. If you ever need to expand your site and want to use a different designer, having those files will be key. Also require your designer to provide you with a disc of your site. Working with a web designer can be a fun and rewarding process. The more effort you invest up front in putting together a quality site map and setting requirements, the better your results will be when the site finally goes live.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group and author of the TechnoPeasant Review. If you have questions about technology or comments about this column, please write to him at


Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at