Websites for Small Companies at any Budget

There are many different factors involved in developing a website, and most people are baffled by the technology. This makes the process of creating a site for your company a daunting task. Who should you hire? What should you look for? How do you evaluate the different options? What can you afford?

Websites for all budgets

Everyone knows they need a website, and with all the options available to small companies today, budget doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Of course, the old adage, “You get what you pay for” certainly applies here, but not everyone can afford to get everything they want in a website and they have to make compromises.

Looks Can be Deceiving
Most people judge websites primarily by their look. Although a nice design is important, it’s relatively easy to create a decent looking site. However, the way the designer achieves that look can make all the difference in whether search engines can find your site and the results you’ll get. There are many factors involved in designing a search-engine-friendly site, and it’s much more difficult to design an attractive site that’s search-engine-friendly.

Behind the scenes of a website
This is the complicated part, but you really should understand a little bit about how websites are built before you decide which direction is best for your company and how much you want to spend. For the purpose of this discussion, I can’t address all the different website programming languages and codes, but here is a simple explanation of the evolution of the website design process.

Most websites on the web today, especially those built more than 3 years ago, are built with a combination of JavaScript (for interactivity) and tables (for design). This allows for a nice neat design, all in little boxes lined up perfectly. Designers created fancy little buttons in PhotoShop and sliced up their beautiful photos to create slow-loading sites with interactivity and Flash movies that dazzled.

The Google Revolution
A few years ago, everything began to change in the web design world. As the web grew, search engine optimization came increasingly important and progressive web designers learned to design with a new programming language called CSS (cascading style sheets). The goal of CSS is to create the same effects as tables and JavaScript with less cumbersome graphics and all the complicated code on a separate page. This allows Google spiders to easily crawl and index sites for their content, accessing it directly rather than having to crawl through irrelevant code to get to meaningful content.

Although sites designed with CSS can be just as attractive as table sites, it’s much more difficult to achieve the same look without the use of tables. Since the typical website buyer doesn’t know the difference, most web designers haven’t bothered to learn the new technology and they continue to create table-based sites.

The Mobile Device Factor
Another reason to avoid table-based sites is that they aren’t accessible to PDA’s, smart phones and iPADS. Mobile devices can’t properly read table-based sites, JavaScript and frames. (I haven’t discussed frames because they are already almost obsolete.) With the proliferation of mobile devices, this is something that can’t be ignored. Why would you want to start with a site that’s already out of date? What is the value of that site and how long before it’s obsolete? If you pay a little more for a custom-designed, search-engine-friendly site, your site will last longer, perform better and load faster.

Websites for any budget

Everyone needs a presence on the Web, and with all the options available to small companies, there’s no excuse not to have some sort of website. Here are some of the different options available to small companies and the pros and cons of each:

Do-It Yourself Pre-Designed Template
No website budget at all? – We’ve all been there. You have to start somewhere and your cash is limited, so what are your options? The best place to start is with some sort of pre-designed do-it-yourself template. I haven’t looked into all the options for templates, but there are many and you’ll just have to do the research yourself to see who offers the best deal. Some of these templates are easier to work with than others, and most offer free trials.

Pros & cons of pre-designed templates
Pros of template sites:

  • Inexpensive – For a few dollars a month, you can have a presence on the web
  • Editable – Once you have your site built, you can easily update it yourself for free

Cons of pre-designed template sites:

  • It’s time-consuming to evaluate all the options, search for attractive templates and learn how to use them.
  • They’re not search-engine friendly because they are generally built with tables and have lots of extraneous code.
  • They generally incur a monthly fee that adds up over time. In essence, you are “renting” the template.

If you don’t have any other options, don’t be afraid to attempt a template site. Many people are intimidated by technology and afraid to even try. If you’re not computer-savvy, get someone who is to help you set it up. And don’t be afraid to call for tech support. There are no stupid questions and these people are happy to help.

Professionally developed pre-designed templates
Many people offer pre-designed template sites that they modify for their clients to create a professional-looking site that clients can edit and maintain themselves. This is a good option for those who have a small budget and no patience to learn how to do it. This method is also more likely to produce a professional-looking site, since someone who is experienced with templates can get better results. Many web designers use pre-designed templates to develop sites, but don’t admit to it. Since most people don’t know the difference, they don’t feel the need to mention it. If your web designer is offering you a site for under $1000, most likely this is the approach they’re using. Please be sure to ask your designer how he/she is building your site so you know what you’re paying for.

Pros & cons of professionally developed pre-designed templates

Pros of professionally developed pre-designed templates:

  • Inexpensive – Much less expensive than a custom-designed site
  • Editable – Once you have your site built, you can easily update it yourself for free

Cons of professionally-developed pre-designed templates:

  • They are typically not search-engine friendly because they are tend to be built with tables and have lots of extraneous code

WordPress Templates
WordPress is a very useful alternative to pre-designed templates. WordPress sites are typically used for blogs, but can be adapted to look and function like websites. In fact, many SEO professionals use WordPress to build sites because it’s easier than custom design and they are very search-engine-friendly. If you can figure out how to use WordPress or find a web developer that uses it to build sites, it would be much better than a typical pre-designed template. WordPress templates are the exception to the search engine optimization rule. The downside of WordPress templates is their complexity. Although they can be made to look like a custom-designed website, they’re not easy for the layperson to work with. Because WordPress is free, they don’t offer support and you are on your own, but if you can’t afford a custom site, it could be well worth the trouble.

Custom-Designed Websites
If you can afford it, a custom-designed site is definitely the way to go. However, please keep in mind that not all custom-designed sites are created equally and many of them are not actually custom-designed. Since most people can’t tell the difference between a custom-designed site and a pre-designed template modified to look like a custom site, some designers don’t feel the need to explain the difference to their clients. They may look similar, but there’s a big difference, and the difference is search-engine optimization.

The most important variation in custom-designed sites is searchability. The most searchable sites are built to the latest W3 standards with CSS, minimal JavaScript, and no tables or frames. Everyone uses CSS to some extent, so they may boast CSS designs, but if they use tables or frames instead of divs, they are missing the mark. And you are missing out on valuable hits.

So if you are shopping for a website, be sure to find out how your designer plans on building your site. You’ll find it generally costs more for a search-engine-friendly site, but it’ll cost less in the long run and you’ll get better results. You’ll have a framework to build on and you won’t need a new site for a while.

Shopping for a custom-designed site
A custom designed site can run the gamut in cost and options. For example, to someone who wants a really cool design and not much copy, a beautiful design is more important than function and they may want to sacrifice searchability to achieve that. Someone else might not care what the site looks like and just want to rank high in search engines. It all depends on what your goals are for your website.

If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want your site to be, try to find a website developer that can guide you through the process and help you develop a meaningful website strategy. Of course, budget comes into play again here. If you are on a tight budget, you can find an inexpensive Web designer and develop the content yourself or hire a writer to develop it for you. If you decide to go this route, try to choose a designer that uses CSS if you can afford it. And keep in mind that most web designers are just that – designers. They will expect you to come up with all the content yourself, and if you are not a professional writer, this isn’t easy. A beautiful design is worth little if the content isn’t there to support it. Depending on the complexity of the site, this could cost anywhere from $1000 to $10,000.

There are endless website development options available for small companies today, and I can’t cover them all in this article. My goal is to give small businesses a working knowledge of website development to help them navigate through the plethora of web development solutions and get the best website they can afford for their company.