Why your website technology is more critical than its design

There’s a fair chance that many smaller business operators reading this won’t have a clue what I mean when I say ‘website technology’.

‘What do you mean technology? Isn’t the website the technology?’

Well, it is and it isn’t.

Yes, a website is in itself a communications technology. But it also comprises technology, and this is what I’m referring to.

Three key website building methods

Some call it platform, some call it software, while some (incorrectly) call it content management system (CMS). But what it essentially refers to is how the website was ‘built’ or created.

Was it ‘handcoded’ by a developer ‘writing’ the raw hypertext markup language programming that browsers read to assemble the website?

Was it created in a website building software like Dreamweaver or Frontpage?

Or was it an ‘off the shelf’ or Open Source solution that essentially was ready to go and only required some technically basic assembly, design and content ‘population’, saving you a packet in the process?

And why is all this important anyway?

Technology is the most expensive bit

The fact is that it’s critically important to the smaller business operator because the wrong choice of your website technology can mean very considerable future expense.

The reason for this is because each website building method requires differing amounts of labour to make additional alterations to your website.

A ‘handcoded’ website will take the longest because every single alteration requires the building blocks – computer code, to be ‘written’ or at least assembled on every occasion.

A website built in a web building software is next most labour intensive because at least they have tools with which to streamline the building process.

The least time consuming to alter is an off-the-shelf platform – provided that the right platform was chosen in the first place. For example, the addition of an email broadcast system is either standard or a simple upgrade for most platforms. But some don’t yet provide for this, requiring some development or the incorporation of a third party solution or module.

It’s important to note here that an off-the-shelf ‘platform’ differs from off-the-shelf website design software. A platform is essentially a system that contains all of your functionality like a content management system, eCommerce system and so on.

Whereas an off-the-shelf website design software simply allows you to create a website from scratch – often without much in the way of this important underlying functionality or features.

Extensibility is critical

Given the variations in cost to alter a website, it’s critical to choose a website technology which can grow with your requirements, or is ‘extensible’.

Because if it is low in this extensibility, you can expect to pay a pretty penny to add the functionality that you need.

So given all of this technology, the important design component (or layer as illustrated), is relatively straightforward and inexpensive.

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Design is (relatively) cheap

A professional website design (not including technology and content development and optimisation) can now be created for as little as a few hundred dollars. Or if really on a budget, the design templates available these days are really quite impressive. And these can cost nothing with some technology platforms (though for a small sum these templates can have some customisation performed – such as logos and colour schemes).

Whilst I’m not suggesting for one second that you should scrimp on design, the fact remains that it’s far less expensive to change the look of a website than it is to change the underlying technology.

And when I say less expensive, I’m talking several hours work versus several dozen hours of technology work, and its corresponding cost.

What is important is that the chosen technology can easily accommodate the kind of design you have in mind because some technologies do not allow for a completely ‘freeform’ design. Instead, it needs to align to a set framework to allow the technology to work properly for you.

This doesn’t mean excellent designs can’t ensue. It just means that it needs to conform to specific parameters or structures for technical reasons instead of providing designers a free reign with the ‘look and feel’.

The design trap

Unfortunately, many smaller business operators don’t consider the website technology at all, instead focusing predominantly on the look or design of the website.

One reason for this is that they are familiar with browsing websites in their business or personal world and browsing simply doesn’t expose the technology side of the website (unless something doesn’t work).

Another is that they are accustomed to using or creating brochures – a medium that many have far more familiarity with and the only technology is the paper it’s printed on (or the printing process itself).

So the business operator is pretty much completely pre-occupied with appearance and either pays scant attention to the underlying technology or leaves it in the hands of the designer.

Most of my customers who have had a previous website come to me for that specific reason – their website was expensive to change and they are disappointed that the designer didn’t reasonably allow for these changes from the outset.

Unfortunately, this approach is likely to lead to considerable future expense for the reasons outlined.

Make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.

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