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What is a website?

If you don't really know what the Internet or a website is, don't feel bad. It's really incredible how many people who have websites don't have a clue what it is or what to do with it. They just got one because they heard that it's the latest thing or were convinced by their staff or technical consultant to get one. To find out what it really is read on, if you already know it all then this article is not for you, please continue with what you were doing.

In its simplest form a website is merely a medium for communicating. This concept doesn't seem like anything new, does it? If this is true then why do we see so much fanfare about this thing called the Internet and websites that don't seem to give us anything that we do not already have?

Ever since man learned how to communicate with fellow inhabitants we have continuously developed different mediums to expand this concept of communicating with each other. We have found that each new method will give us different capabilities that may have been lacking in previous methods. We first developed gestures and sounds that gave us the ability to express basic human needs and emotions.

The next step evolved to the creation of words that were spoken. Then pictures that were drawn to express concepts and the pictures would remain or be persistent after a spoken word would diminish after just the instant that it was spoken. Written words would come next and now we were able to express very long and complicated information that the mere picture was not able to do. Written language also had the ability to be portable. The words of one person could be written down and then delivered to another great distances away. We also learned to improve our capability to express information in the form of images also. In the form of artwork included with the written word and then finally pictures or photographs. We also discovered that some communicating did not lend itself well to the newly recorded writing method.

We discovered that the way that things were communicated could be just as important if not more important to the true message as was what was said. Music and performances were not well represented by the written communication. We then discovered ways of representing the actual waves that were generated by music and speech. At this point we were now able to speak, record images and duplicate sound waves.

The next limiting factor involved the portability of this information. We wanted to be able to move the information more rapidly from one place to the other. We discovered new ways of moving our information. The telegraph was developed, radio was created, the telephone put into place. Television had a major impact on our ability to communicate. We invented fax machines and computers. Communication is now growing at an ever increasing pace.

Even with all of this we have still discovered limitations. To communicate inexpensively we still needed to bring the communicator and the communicant together at the same time. To make our communication sessions persistent required a monetary investment. This investment could make some information cost prohibitive. Another drawback to persistent information is that it is static in nature. Once information is created and disseminated changes require a reinvestment. The real expense in information change is the dissemination method. All of the books must be reprinted, catalogs, video tapes, etc. Consequently, change is not an easy thing to do. The problem stems from the way we disseminate information. This is where the Internet comes in.

All along we have been storing information and disseminating it using atoms. That is to say we are storing our communications on physical, tangible mediums. What is revolutionary about the Internet is the way that we store and disseminate information, we use an intangible medium called bits. A bit is a non physical, reusable, storage medium that is capable of representing written word, images and sound representation. A bit can also travel at the speed of light from one location to another and it has persistence until it is changed. Now we only need to maintain the original master copy of our information and dissemination is a copy of the master at that instant in time. What's so great about the Internet, bits versus atoms.

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What can you do with a website?

After reading the previous section you now understand that the Internet and a website is merely communicating. What you do with a website is answered by how you do communicate and how you would like to communicate. The most common misconception that exists is that if you're not planning on selling on the Internet that you have no need for a website. Selling is just one way of communicating. The only reason that a business or individual would not need a website is if they have no reason to communicate amongst themselves or outside of their organization.

Internal information lends itself well to website information. Take for example the cafeteria of a company or hospital. The menu changes daily. Traditionally a menu master is made up and then using manpower and atoms is reproduced and disseminated throughout the organization. Imagine the costs involved in this process. Now change this example to bits. The master is still made up as before but the time and expense of duplication and dissemination is completely eliminated. Imagine now this same example if a critical delivery were missed and the menu needed to change the night before. It would be cost prohibitive to redistribute the information when done using atoms. Using bits we merely change the master and on the next day when the information is called for display we have the correct update.

Another example might be a furniture manufacturer who only sells their product through retail outlets. The furniture company would like more people exposed to their products and the features and benefits they have. With a website displaying products and features they can instantly increase their exposure. They can also immediately introduce new products, or product finishes, or fabrics that are now available. Using traditional methods publicity masters need to be made, reproduced and distributed to the retail stores. A store might miss a press release by the manufacturer about a new product or option that is available. The manufacturer would also put up a dealer locator on their website so that potential customers would know where to purchase products in their area. The retailer is being fed customers from one of their suppliers strengthening the relationship. This feeding of customers can also be used as an incentive to become a retailer of the manufacturers products. The relationship becomes synergistic. Again, this is just information dissemination, imagine the cost of sending printed advertisements to every potential furniture buyer and including a list of retailers, completely cost prohibitive.

Another example could be a construction company. This company does not sell on the Internet but they do have crews of workers all over who are working on projects. Imagine a foreman who might need a technical specification while at the jobsite. If the information were published on a website it would be instantly available wherever the job might be. Employee work schedules could be posted and a worker would be able to find out about work assignments before leaving home. Timecard information could be posted through a website instead of only being able to report when office staff was available to receive the information. Project status could be posted so that customers or the general contractor could be kept immediately aware of the progress being made. Projects that have been completed can be published as a form of reference to a potential customer and be cost effectively kept up to date.

Common shipping companies have relied on the Internet for information dissemination for years and realized a tremendous cost savings at the same time. United Parcel Service and Federal Express both have online package tracking systems that enable both the shipper and shippee to instantly verify the status of a shipment. These companies don't sell on the Internet but they use it to communicate.

The government agencies publish important forms on a website that enable people to retrieve the paperwork that might be needed for tax or judicial issues. Traditionally this information has had staggering costs for form information dissemination as well as the hassle for people to try and acquire them. These costs have been significantly reduced by using the Internet for publishing.

A scuba diving store caters to people who want to go diving in the area where the shop is located. The store publishes diving condition information about the conditions that day. Their potential customers can view this information and make decisions before they drive all the way to the beach. The store also publishes a products rental agreement on their website so that customers can have paperwork already filled out and ready the night before. This saves the customer time and the store the expense of publishing this information. The customer wins with good information and a time savings and the store wins with a happy customer.

Yes, selling is one way that a website can be used. More importantly though it is a medium for information dissemination and communication. When contemplating a website think about how and what you want want to communicate, not just if you can sell something.

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What is a Domain name?

You now know that you can, and should, do more with a website than just sell. The next step involves the registering of a name to be known by on the Internet This name is called a domain name. Ideally you will name your domain the same as your business or what your business does. Be aware that there are tens or thousands of domain names being registered daily. This means that competition for names can be fierce. There is also a good chance that the name that you want is already taken. An example of this is the domain, this name was registered by an insightful computer dealer who's last name is Nissan. He registered the name and began using his website for his businesses needs. When the Nissan Motor corp. went to register a name they found that their fist choice had already been taken, they reluctantly had to use for their business needs.

The lesson to be learned here is that even if you are contemplating a website that you should get a domain name registered as soon as possible. Once you own the name nobody else can take it from you. There are some limitations to this however. In the case of registering names for the purpose of trying to extort money from businesses when you have registered a domain name that is their registered trademark and you have no other claim to the name. Some enterprising individuals anticipated making a killing by selling a company their name. This cybersquattings as it's called is a good way to find yourself in court.

When selecting a name try to find as short and descriptive a name as possible, again try to use the businesses actual name when doing this. Alternately you may want to find a name that describes your business. One way to find out if a name is to to networksolutions website and type in the name that you would like to have. They will let you know if the name is available or not. This may take some time, have patience and be creative. They also may prompt you with names that are similar and available for you to select from. Once you have found a name to register follow the prompts on the website to go about purchasing the name. There are several companies who can do this, networksolutions is just one.

This is also an area where a competent consultant, website developer or hosting company can assist you. Unless you feel very comfortable doing this the fees that they charge for assistance can be well worth it.

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Planning the website

The next step in the creation of a website is to plan what you are going to do with the site. When trying to plan the website don't get trapped by the same rules that were used in the past when using other mediums. You don't have to plan things out to the state where things are perfect and you don't do anything until you have the perfect site with every little detail perfect and reviewed. This will be a work in progress that is ever evolving. If you think that you are going to create the perfect site and that will be one other thing that you can check off on your to do list and never to return, you need to change your thinking right now.

Imagine a writer who felt like once they wrote their book that that would be the end of it. They had nothing else that they would ever want to communicate. Information is dynamic, your ability to communicate is dynamic and those who further their skills at this tend to excel in their niche. Remember you only need to create the master document, the dissemination is free.

Begin by determining the information that you would like to present. Structure your information into outlined categories that will continue to grow and become more useful. Look at how your competitors have presented themselves and take note of places that you like to visit on the Internet Once you know the categories that your information falls into you need to come up with a way that the information will be presented. This includes a concept of how a visitor will navigate back and forth among the differing sections of your website. Generally speaking simpler is better, you don't want to give a visitor too many choices on one page. An initial page with 143 menu options probably will not be received well. Allow a user to go to sections and drill into the site from there. There is also a fine line on this concept also, think about the auto attendant phone systems where you keep having to make selections only to not find what you want. Make it easy for a visitor to find what they are looking for.

Fluorescent orange backgrounds and spinning do-dahs rarely enhance the presentation of information. Information needs to be presented in a human appealing manner. There is a reason that books and the newspaper are printed on white paper, it's easy to read! Many designers and newcomers to the Internet go crazy with all of the color possibilities and end up with a marvelous creation that is just not appealing. There is an element of artistic presentation that needs to be adhered to so that your visitors will like what they see. It is also tempting to place animated images on a site, be cautious, it might look neat the first time you see it but how are your visitors perceiving this. Have they seen this a thousand times before, if so then your site will look just like so many others that they have already seen. They might assume that your information is not original either. If you have spent the time and effort to create custom images then your information will also be perceived as original.

Wording needs to be presented properly also, just because you cannot spell or have no sense of grammar does not mean that your visitors are equally ignorant. This is a major reflection on the quality of your business or you as a person. You may not get it perfect the first time, but you do need to constantly review what you do have and strive for improvement. Take a class in the language that you plan on presenting in, have people you know that have skills in word presentation review the material. Listen to your visitors, no matter how many times you review your content someone will still find a mistake. That's OK, just fix it!

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Hosting (storage)

Hosting a website is where you rent a storage unit where your site will reside. When selecting a hosting company there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all is the undeniable belief in the old adage that you get what you pay for. You can find hosting companies that will display your web pages for free! I'm sorry to disappoint you, but nothing is free. Website hosting is an expensive business and these companies do not exist off of government grants and exist solely to make you life less expensive. There will be a catch somewhere, we have heard numerous complaints about cheap service. Website hosting is however relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of publishing a catalog or local phonebook advertising.

Another common mistake is to confuse renting a storage unit with putting something in it. A website host is like a landlord renting you space. Putting something in your newly rented facility is like purchasing furniture, equipment and supplies to be used. Creating content or web pages is different than having someplace to put them. Just because you rented a space don't expect your landlord to furnish it also. You, a member of your staff or a development company need to be hired to place furnishings in your hosted place.

The hosting company will typically provide you with an e-mail capability also. This gives you the added professionalism of sending out e-mail that comes from your domain. This is another area where a qualified consultant or web developer can be of valuable assistance.

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You now have a domain name, have a basic plan in mind and a place to put your creation. It's time to actually start the creation process. If you want to do this yourself you need to learn how. Take a class, read a book or hire someone to help you do it. This is a very involved process that is best left to the very committed, consider hiring someone and spend your time running your business.

There are also low cost website developers, buyer beware. Many people purchase a website development program and let it ask them a few questions and presto, a website exists. The problem with this method is that the website will look like it came out of a copy machine. Standard look, and feel, standard colors, standard clipart images. Your business is unique and you want your presentation to be also.

Either learn how to do it yourself or have someone with references do it for you!

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You have already heard about the importance of keeping your communications dynamic. Once the site is up keep thinking about how else you want to communicate, how else you can use this new medium to your advantage. Make sure that your plan and budget include changes. You may want to find out if your developer offers an update service. If the developer is already familiar with your business, they will be uniquely qualified to assist you in adding more functionality to your investment. They will keep you informed about new trends, keep you abreast of your competition, let you know about new services that they offer.

Imagine if you subscribed to a magazine and in January you received the January issue, then in February you received the January issue, and in March you received the January issue. How long would you keep your subscription? Not that you need to change the whole thing every month, but you do need to stay dynamic.

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