A week ago The Wall Street Journal posted an article that bothers me a great deal. The title of the article is How to Create a Successful Web Site For Nothing (or Almost Nothing). The article starts out:
Have you got eight hours and $10? Then you can build a Web site for your business.
Let’s start out by talking about the white elephant in the room. I’m a website developer and I earn my living by helping people with their websites. If everyone could make their own website with so little time and effort then I’d be out of a job. That’s true. It’s also true that I’m not in this for the money. If I was I’d still be working for a corporation and earning about three times as much as I am now. I like getting paid, but the main reason I’ve chosen this profession is that it allows me to help people. I “get” this whole website thing. I get a kick out of giving people a hand with websites.
And the fact is that as a professional website developer I’m in a good position to judge the veracity of the above claim. Can you make a website with just $10 and eight hours? Yes. Can you make a good website for $10 and eight hours? Probably not.
Let’s look at the first three points in the article.
STEP ONE: Get a Website Address
This is where the $10 comes in. This is also the only point in the article that I think is correct. As I’ve said before GoDaddy is a fine place to register your domain name and the cost right now is about $10.
STEP TWO – Find a Home
In this step the article is talking about finding a website host. It advocates using a free service for this.
They often make money by charging for premium services or running ads on your Web pages.
Do you really want ads for another company running on your business website? In this situation you’ll often have no control of the ads featured on your site.
You’ll also have to configure the settings at your domain name registrar to point to your website host. Chances are that I lost about 80% of you with that sentence. Let’s hear the same thing from the article:
Visit your domain-name registrar and tweak your settings so that your Web address points to the service you’ve chosen. The hosting service will give you instructions on how to do this.
Still clear as mud? Think of it like this, you’ve got your domain name from GoDaddy or another company right? OK, so now you have to tell GoDaddy where your website “lives”. You have to give it the address (called a DNS server) of your website host. Is it rocket science. Nope. Does this sound technical, intimidating and scary to most people? Yes. Most people I know would rather wait 3 hours in line at the DMV rather than attempt switching their DNS.
The article makes no mention of a website host’s most important qualification – their up time. If a website host has a server go down then your website goes down too. Some website hosts have a very nonchalant attitude about up time. “Your website is down? OK, well we should have that fixed in the next 48 hours or so.” If a host does that there is nothing you can do. Nothing. You can’t sue them. You can’t make them go faster. Sometimes you can’t even get updates. All you can do is wait and wish your website were hosted somewhere else.
Never select a website host based only on price.
STEP THREE: Build Your Site
Once you’ve got a host, you’ll want to design your site. The good news: Most of the free hosting services provide tools that let you build a site quickly, without lots of technical know-how.
The article is speaking of website templates. A lot of website hosts, free or otherwise, provide website templates. In the biz we call these “cookie cutter” websites. If you use a template and aren’t able to change it your website won’t be unique. Why is that important? Isn’t your business unique? Doesn’t it deserve a website that shows how special it (and you) are? If you don’t think that’s important what sort of message are you sending to your customers?
What if you want to add a “share this page feature” or a photo slide show? Here’s what the article says about that:
Most of these services don’t offer an easy, one-click way to add flourishes such as shopping carts or more than two columns on a page; that, too, takes some know-how. Mostly, you just arrange pictures, text and other elements, and that’s it. And, sometimes, even doing that can be tricky for nontechies.
In other words, you get what you pay for. In this case it’s a simple site that looks like other websites.
The article does point out that there are some free services that allow you to copy and paste HTML into your site do do some more advanced functions. What’s HTML you ask? Again, in my experience working with real business people in the real world, about 50% of people freak out at the sight of HTML. If you’re feeling brave you can view HTML and see what things look like in my world. Again, this is too much for about half of my customers. Most of my customers that can do it don’t want to do it. It makes them nervous. It makes them anxious. It takes them too much time.
Visit this site again on Friday as we analyze the last four points of the article.
I’ll also tell you about one of my customers who was bound and determined to do her website herself. I’ll tell you about her experiences before we started working together and what her life is like now that I’m her website developer.