Have you bought a website or a set of website tools?

In last week’s blog we discussed the two key schools of thought when it comes to website platforms — open source and proprietary systems — and the pros and cons of each.

This week we’ll look at the fundamental definition of what a website is.

You’ve heard the pitches before — great design, easy to use, full reporting, search engine friendly, and more. But does your investment yield a full-blown, well presented, well written, search engine prominent and extensible (future-proof) website?

Or is it simply a bunch of tools that you have no hope of perfecting, let alone preparing and optimising all important content for?

Nice shell

In most cases what you have been sold is the latter — not a complete website at all but a set of website building tools and maybe a nice design, all ready for you to do the hard work of populating it with professional, well optimised content.

That’s right. These days, what used to be the most expensive bit — the ‘system’, its functionality and the website’s appearance — has been developed to the point where its relatively easy and affordable to provide.

What’s much harder is coming up with professional and enticing content, arranging it so it’s easy to navigate, and then ensuring search engines will come knocking to scour your site content to determine just how pertinent it is to the keywords you want to rank you highly for.

Custom design vs templates

Many designers would beg to differ on this score, arguing that without great design, yours is just another boring website.

There is plenty of merit to that argument, suffice to say that clever templating has raised the bar on what constitutes a good entry level website design — to the point where it can often be difficult to ascertain whether you are viewing a relatively pricey custom design or just a well-adapted template.

As much as pro designers will protest me saying it, in the right hands a template can deliver a very presentable site indeed without as much as an inspection by a professional designer. This development alone can save smaller businesses well into four figures.

Design the differentiator

On the other hand, if you have the budget, nothing can be more effective and enticing than a fully customised website design. It just lifts it to a new and ultra-competitive level and is bound to attract more attention and ‘stickiness’ than a templated website.

But back to the main point of what constitutes a website.

At the end of the day it comes down to budget. You can certainly arrange a very serviceable and attractive website ‘shell’ ready for you to learn and ‘populate’ with your content.

But be prepared for several often painstaking hours getting your content to a presentable state, ensuring that it’s optimised for search engines, learning the intricacies of your new website system and then populating it well enough so that your visitors don’t exit faster than school kids at home time.

Pay a pro if possible

On the other hand if you do have the budget, have these tasks performed by a professional so that you can get on with what you do best.

When considering this ‘dollar saved is a dollar earned’ argument, remember the professional will both perform the work much faster than you can hope to and you will usually end up with a more effective result.

Either way, it’s important you know exactly what you are signing up for before applying ink to paper.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. 

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