How to Build a Website in Six Easy Steps

For most web designers/web developers, building a website comes naturally. You design it, code it, and launch it. Right? Wrong! The practice of building a website may have got justifiably shorter (or longer) depending on how you see things working online – but the theory/trick behind a good site build still stands: Planning, planning and more planning!

The keyword reach associated with building a website is limitless, but essentially – as ghastly as it might sound; building a website without planning, can – and most of the time will mean danger ahead and ultimately less success in the long run!

So without further ado, here is our guide to building a successful website.

Planning/Scoping

The “Ahh, guys? What are we building again?” phase

So, you want to build a website? It’s not rocket science – but it is a science, and an art! Just like baking a cake you have several ingredients: A handful of designs, a dash of slicing, a teaspoon of code, a sprinkle of love, and ‘bob’s your uncle’ – or, ahh, not! What many people in the web industry however don’t realise is that the planning phase of a website is so crucial, that it really can dictate how well the build of the website is. Essentially, if done correctly, the planning phase – or more importantly, the scoping sub-set of the planning phase, should setup the site’s structure, navigation, as well as functional specifications for the web site build.

Scoping (also referred to as Information Architecture) should reveal not only the clients’ objectives for the project and what they would like the site to achieve – but more importantly, extrapolate all the detail, business rules, as well as technical adjustments which will be needed down the track in order to successfully design, build and launch the website.

Without mentioning any names, I’ve worked with numerous web firms, in some way or another – and the sad thing is, only 65% of them actually ‘recognised’ the importance of getting scoping/Information architecture right! Obviously Missing Pixel is in the 65 percent that got it right! Overall though, not really the statistics you’d like in the field of web design and development – right?

At the risk of helping the competition too much – to be counted up with the ‘best of the best’ you’d be expecting your Information Architects/Business Analysts/Usability Evangelists/whatever you want to call them – to be able to at least come up with the following pieces of documentation in this phase of the web build. As a side note, the documents listed below will be discussed in detail in an upcoming post so stay tuned!

  1. Requirements gathering documentation
  2. Requirements analysis documentation
  3. Functional specification documentation
  4. Prototype development

You read it here first ladies and gentlemen! This is “The GASP Method for scoping/information architecture” which will be used to outline the bare minimum in terms of documentation/deliverables; that the planning/scoping phase of a good website build whether in Sydney, Melbourne, New York, or London – should deliver. I will outline the massive importance that these documents play in the successful build of a website in an upcoming post – for now, let’s kick on to design.

Design

The “Wow! so all you needed was good documentation and you came up with THAT?!?” phase

Never thought this would be a part of this post, yeh? Okay, so nothing overly-crazy here. You can’t build a website without design. The situation is that everything that happens from this point forward will start to effect everything else throughout the project. Think of it as the literal view of ‘The Waterfall Model‘ for software development.

Further to that – everything that was done right in the previous phase will already have a dramatic affect on the project as a whole, because the difference between a good and bad design decision does not always start and end with the designer! Whether you are building a web design blog or an E-Commerce shop-front, I think that holds true.

Designers as a collective, love to think that they understand everything about usability simply because they know good design! Sure, they would be one of the few people involved in the web design process who could have a say in how and why things will work – but having a designer nutting out the usability of their website as well as designing it, without the assistance of:

a) an objective individual such as an Information architect, and
b) an objective individual such as an Information architect with previous experience in online user experience design (UXD)/User interface design (UID), or usability and accessibility analysis;

is comparable to getting a developer to bug-check his own code or bombing for peace!! Good luck with that!

The issue however is that we have come to realise that good design is not necessarily always good usability, and more importantly that good design practices is not the same as usability. Something as simple as having a login box pop-up as a div overlay upon click, as apposed to always being on the page and distracting the user from more important areas of the page, such as a call to action – can be a big talking point.

It’s a double-edged sword! Do you hide the login box to begin with under a ‘login button’, or do you go with the norm and leave it showing on the front page, but risk it being a total distraction due to its positioning? A question that a designer shouldn’t have to, and probably can’t figure out on their own without some interaction from an information architect.

There is absolutely no doubt though how important this phase is in a good website build! It’s paramount that design is not only up to standard, but that is ’sets’ the standard! New techniques, interactions as well as connectives to modern technologies such as Ajax should all be encouraged and not frowned upon as ‘making more work for developers’.

Slicing

The “Do you seriously expect me to cut this PSD up for you in THAT many hours ONLY?!?!?” phase

Slicing is one of those things that in the past has taught me can greatly change how upper management think about the whole design process. Some managers think the hours dedicated to it are way too much, others think that’s just unscrupulous and without merit that it ‘generally’ is allocated the least amount of hours dedicated to it out of the whole web site design build process.

Which ever way we look at it, years of experience has taught me that not only are designers getting ‘crazier’ with rounded-corners, drop-shadows, beveled-edges and more; but Web 2.0 calls for all that snazzy stuff, and unfortunately, I don’t see that stopping, coupled with, we can’t stop technology – means we have to find a half-way house!

I personally think more time needs to be dedicated as a whole to the slicing process. Not only do slicers need to give the PSD (design) some life using CSS and JavaScript, on top of HTML – but cross-browser testing is a freaking arduous and taxing process – if nothing else! So respect to all you slicers, or Interface Hackers as I like to call them… I feel your pain!

Development

The “Okay, so I take the source files from here, and connect it to WHICH database?” phase

Development and slicing somewhat go hand in hand.. Whether the web site is being developed in C# (.Net), PHP, Ruby on Rails, or Perl for that matter – the task is simple and complex – or better yet, simply-complex!

This phase is important and hence why most of the time, you will find a good chunk of the hours allocated to a web-based build will be allocated to development. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of code! What you want to do, is make sure that there are adequate hours for the design and slicing – but ultimately, depending on the scope, budget and size of the project, actual development of the sever-side application as well as all the database connectivity as such should be the biggest chunk of the collective ‘development/build’ pie.

Obviously, if the project is just design and slice, then there’d be no time against development phase, or minimal (for testing, etc).

Testing/Quality Assurance

The “Yikes… You found HOW MANY bugs?” phase

It’s not easy to fight technology. Somehow, no matter how hard we try, Testing and quality assurance will (unfortunately?) always be a phase in the successful build of a website. To aid in keeping this short(er) than I expect it to be, I would just make the following suggestions in dealing with this phase.

1. Make sure the project plan/milestone outline clearly shows the testing phase as part of the project (from the get go!). This is important because the client has to realise that no matter what happens during the life cycle of the web build, how fast the build is, how many functions they take out, or whatever it may be – this phase is not going anywhere!

2. Treat it like you would any other phase. You wouldn’t get your delivery man to code your website, would you? Don’t get your secretary or janitor to ‘run through the site and tell you if they find anything out of place’. Believe me, it is sad but trust me – I heard that statement being said about two years ago and it’s been ringing in my ears ever since! Pay for a tester, they are worth the dollars you spend on them! and finally,

3. Make sure the quality assurance/testing is being done off a functional specification! For god’s sake people! Cardinal rule of unit/website testing. Go in there with a plan! Do NOT just pretend you are a user and ‘click around’. In my experience, around 60% of bugs found in this phase are always business rules that either the tester didn’t know about, or were simply forgotten. If they are on a document that has a signature on it, it WILL save your behind!

Deployment/Launch

The “So does that mean we can get paid now?” phase

Website design and development; once again, whether in Sydney, Australia or Sidney, Montana, USA – even though sadly many people don’t see it that way, is really an art.

It’s really about how you learn from your mistakes, co-ordinate change management in an ever-growing industry, and more importantly control technology that will ultimately dictate how you represent yourself as a web design agency/freelance web builder and best of all, how your competition view you in such a bloody competitive market.

So we’ve made it all this way. Launch the bugger! You’ve come all this way though and apparently you’ve survived. Don’t lose it all now! You want to make sure you take your time to get the launch right. Just like a top-secret launch sequence, make sure testing is complete, you have document listing where everything should go (server wise) – your databases are working fine and everything is connecting to where it should be – and then hit the switch!

Damn, wait.. Did you kill something? refresh, clear cache, refresh again, is it all still up? post to that forum that you created; is it threading correctly? Point is, make sure it doesn’t just stop when the last file is transferred. Building a great website involves a lot of co-operation from many people. It won’t happen overnight. Heck, sometimes it won’t happen over a six month period; but when you get it right? It’s a feeling like no other – or at least you’d hope so!

And that’s just about it… Happy web building people!

How To Start Your Own Web Hosting Company

How To Start Your Own Web Hosting Company

Ever been interested in starting your own web hosting company? You should be! It’s an exciting opportunity for people interested in e-commerce. Web hosts are the foundation of every website. Everyone interested in starting their own website would need a web host and with thousands of people making their own websites every day, there can never be too many web hosts!

And you can also start a cloud hosting company. Most companies are open for resellers too.

How much can you make by selling web hosting?

The profit from web hosting can add up quick and it isn’t difficult to find yourself in a situation with money rolling in left and right.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but to start a legitimate hosting company you will need a personal or company bank account, a credit card (debit is fine), and a contact number. I will discuss how to obtain all of these. Keep in mind, being a web hosting company does not mean you have to be 18 years old!

What Do You Need to Start Your Own Hosting Company?

Before I jump into the fascinating world of being a web host, I want to talk a little bit about the prerequisites. Like in many other businesses, you need money to make money. This is the same case for web hosting.

Things you will need to purchase to begin include

– Dedicated Server

– Billing Software License

– Control Panel License

– Staff Members

– Website Development

– Marketing

These are just a few things you will need to invest in, but I will touch base on getting the best deals for each of these so you can start web hosting under $150.

The great thing about web hosting, like in most businesses – is the profit.

You Will Need a Server

Lets talk about pricing. Dedicated servers aren’t cheap and there are hundreds of companies that overprice them. As a web host, you will have a respectable amount of resource useage and bandwidth consumption. Because of this you will want a powerful machine to handle everything and along with that, you will want a decent amount of bandwidth. It is important to not overstep your boundaries when first starting out, you don’t want to buy a $400/month server only to find out web hosting isn’t what you want to do.

My personal recommendation for a starting server would be a…

Dell PowerEdge PE860 chassis

Dual Core Intel Xeon 3050, 2.13GHz

2GB DDR-2 RAM

(2x) 250GB SATA Drives

Hardware RAID with 64MB of memory

2000GB Bandwidth

Now these specs aren’t bad, but they do sound expensive. Fortunately you can get this deal as a special from a lot of places at the low price of around $100 per month. Not bad right?

You Have to Set Up a Control Panel

As a web host you will want a control panel for your clients, the mainstream control panel used by web hosting companies is cPanel. DirectAdmin is a popular alternative considering it is a few bucks cheaper, but cPanel is the recommended favorite. For an additional $30, you can have your server licensed for cPanel. The good thing is you can add this license directly into your order with most reseller hosts. So now you have the two most underlying foundation pieces of your web hosting company, the dedicated server and the client control panel. All for $139/month. Not too shabby – you could go for a lower spec dedicated server and save some money but as a web host, showing off your beast machine is bound to attract clients.

A benefit to using your dedicated server provider is that they offer all their clients with a web control panel where they can monitor the status of the server and reboot it at will. This is a huge benefit in case you ever run into server issues and you are unable to reboot it via command line. This is the next thing we’re going to talk about.

Linux is Free

The majority of servers today run off Linux, a popular operating system. You may have heard of it in comparison to Windows. Both are great operating systems but Linux distributions are preferred in the web hosting scene because every bit of CPU consumption counts and Linux is able to provide lower resource usage and maximize the server’s capabilities. For those not familiar with Linux and command line commands, it is best to Google a few tutorials on basic commands. I will discuss a few things quickly with you to get you started.

Linux servers do not use a desktop, although they can – it is not used to conserve server resources. Linux servers are controlled via command line. The best way to do this is use a program called Putty which allows you to SSH (Secure Shell) to the server and login as a root user. When you receive your server in your email, you will be given the server’s IP and root password.

The root user of a server can control everything and anything, and that is why it is important not to give out this password. Anyways – you connect via SSH and you will install cPanel through there. Once cPanel is installed, you can easily manage your server through the cPanel page. I am not going to give you a lesson on the Linux environment, I recommend using Google for that. It is important to know basic commands so you can personally analyze your server statistics. Although this is not necessary since cPanel kindly offers you detailed statistics and features to control every aspect of your server.

You Need a Billing System

The next thing you’re going to want to do is use billing software to manage your clients and their registrations. The mainstream billing software is called WHMCS. I will assume you already know what it is but a basic license for this will cost you about $12/monthly and is worth every penny. It allows you to manage your clients support tickets, their payment information, your packages, and so on. It is the skin and bones of your client communication.

A Unique Website is a Must

You will obviously need a web site where potential clients can view your plans and various related information. You can use a premade template from one of the thousands of websites that sell them. You can also pay someone to personally design you a website for about $70. A unique web page is Key to customer attraction.

You will notice me talking about the customer’s satisfaction a lot and it is important that you understand that customer’s are the lifeline of your company. There is a popular saying, “An unhappy customer tells 3,000 – A happy customer tells 3.” To some extent this is true and it is important you try and satisfy all of your customers.

Rounding Out Your Website

Once you have your web page setup, you can consider adding additional items such as live chat, a Status2k page which provides detailed statistics of your uptime, CPU usage levels, RAM usage, and so on. A Status2k page speaks a lot about the reliability of the web host and how stable they are. Little things like this can make the difference between gaining a customer and losing one – so they may well worth be investing in.

Staff? Maybe.

You don’t always need staff. Thanks to WHMCS’ amazing functionality and simple interface – it is easy for one person to assist customer support tickets in a timely manner, unless of course you have hundreds of customers – then it may be time to upgrade your staff. In the mean time, you will be able to handle the requests seeing as you are just starting out as a web hosting company. It never hurts to grab an additional staff member, maybe a friend or hire someone for a small wage of $8/h – whatever suits you.

A Good .com Domain Name

Along with every website, you need a domain. It is important to register a .com domain

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen web hosts register .info domains and lose customers because they didn’t invest the extra $6 into a professional TLD. It is also important not to use an irrelevant domain, if you are a web hosting company then let people know by having the words “host” or similar in your domain.

Marketing is Essential

Now a huge factor in becoming successful is marketing. When advertising, you don’t want to be too pushy. It may convince potential customers that you are desperate for clients and this may make them think that you aren’t established enough to maintain a steady stream of income and that you are a failure as a web host. We certainly don’t want this.

Posting your offers on popular forums like DigitalPoint & WebHostTalk is a good way to attract customers. PPC Campaigns like Google AdWords is a good way to show off your name as well.

Work on Your Offer

Now, let’s talk about the packages you can offer. Most web hosts oversell their plans, meaning they offer a ton more disk space & bandwidth then they can afford because they know that you probably will never use that much. This is known as overselling and is looked down upon by established web hosting companies run by individuals or small groups.

Sure this can trick customers into thinking they are getting an amazing deal, but they will be unhappy once they find out that you have to kick them off your server because they are using too much disk space or bandwidth. Offer reasonable plans that you know your server can support.

Offering reasonable plans will attract customers who may know their way around overselling companies and this will promote your reputation as an honest and reliable web host.

Offer Reliable Service

Now we will talk about reliability. Uptime and server care is everything – if your server is constantly down because it is overloaded with customers or you are running extraneous applications on it for your personal gain, then customers will leave without hesitation.

A Good Terms of Service

Make sure you have a Terms of Service which clearly explains your rules and what clients can or cannot do. It is important to be specific and clear so you can point troublesome clients back to it when they disagree with your actions.

Keep Software Up-to-date

There are a lot of people out there that want to hack your server and use it for their own malicious purposes, so it is important to make sure that your software is up to date, but don’t worry – cPanel does most of this for you.

The Plans You Can Offer

Now before we continue, lets quickly discuss about what kind of plans you can offer. For the most part you will be offering basic shared hosting plans – which means that multiple clients will be hosted on the same server. You can also offer reseller hosting – which gives the client the ability to sell his own portion of shared accounts to whomever he wants at his own price. You can offer miscellaneous services such as domain registration and ShoutCast hosting. For domain registration, you will most likely need to setup a reseller account with popular registrars like DirectI and Enom. An alternative to this is just charge extra on your domains and individually purchase the domain yourself for the client, the problem with this is the client doesn’t have access to changing the nameservers and other DNS features through his WHMCS control panel.

Now – for large sums of money, the best way to go is Dedicated Servers. You can purchase your own hardware and collocate them – then rent them out to people, or you can lease them from resellers at a discounted price and sell to your clients at your own price. Popular resellers include BurstNET and FDCServers.

Colocation may sometimes require a heavy investment; therefore it is generally better to resell servers from existing major datacenters.

Offer Phone Support

Ok – now a huge selling point is offering phone support. I personally don’t want to give out my personal phone number so I would register a separate phone line and the best company I suggest for this is Skype.

You can use Skype‘s services such as SkypeIn and SkypeOut and at about a fee of $13/month, you can get your own private permanent online phone number and you can make unlimited calls to anyone anywhere in the world. This is an awesome addition to your company and would really improve your relationships with your clients. Keep in mind you do need working speakers and a microphone to use Skype – I suggest purchasing a headset.

Organize Your Business

Organization is the next thing we are going to talk about. Without organization, you will lose track of extraneous funds (taxes, handling costs, staff wages, etc…) so I personally recommend using Microsoft Excel to keep everything tidy.

Keep a detailed list of your pricing, potential income, your investments, etc… So you will know exactly how much you are profiting, if at all, and what steps you will need to take to improve your business.

Keep track of everything! At the end of the month, look back on sales and see if there is any relation to current events, site changes, staff changes, etc… and as a entrepreneur, make a responsible decision. A lot of people do not go into the Web Hosting business with these facts in mind. In fact, a lot of people don’t even have these intentions – and you have to remember. It is a business. You provide a service for money and fortunately, the demand for web hosting has been high for quite some time and the only competition you face with other major companies are uptime, reliability, and support.

In The End It All Comes Down to Customer Satisfaction

I can’t stress how important it is to make a client feel like they can count on you. If the customer is truly convinced that you will fix his problems and you will make him happy, then do it! He will tell friends which only means more business.

I want to conclude this post with a few personal words of advice which will pay off in the long run.

  1. Do not waste money. Even if it is $1, make an effort to save it. Why is that? The act of saving money builds character and changes your outlook on customer satisfaction, business management, and income. Don’t buy useless domains, take the proper precautions to prevent fraud orders, charge backs, etc… And especially don’t invest in advertising with companies that have no reputation.
  2. When advertising, don’t overwhelm your customer with graphics & information. They will most likely exit out without second thought. Take your time, create a professional looking pitch page.
  3. Make your customers feel like that you went the extra mile to make them happy. Everyone in this world is part of the global economy. You work for money, customer’s pay you this money and rely on your ability to maintain the server and keep them happy.

The final thing I want to talk about is affiliate programs. If you really want to maximize income then you may want to consider setting up an affiliate program where others can promote your web hosting and they receive a percentage of the sale. This is a really good way to get the name out about your company and build up a reputation. That is all for now, I hope you have learned something from reading this post and if you really do plan on starting a Web Hosting company – then use some of the tips I provided. They will help you become successful.