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Posted: January 16, 2013
by Stephanie Findlay

Secrets to building a great website: Patience, platforms, and communication,

Businesses have been using the internet for nearly two decades. But maintaining a website hasn’t become any easier in that time.

 

This past November, Adobe Systems, one of the world’s largest software providers, shut its site down after a data breach. Malfunctions with United Airlines flight monitoring website grounded planes in the United States. And the people in charge of Yahoo Sports were profusely apologizing to thousands of fantasy football players after an outage disrupted their line-ups.

 

And those are just the huge companies. Perhaps no one grapples with the problem of building and maintaining a site more than small businesses owners, whose websites can be limited by tight budgets and small staff. Still, experts in the website development industry have some tips to ensure you end up with the right online presence.

 

The first step to a successful site is getting a web developer to understand the company’s objectives, says Nehal Kazim, CEO and founder of Amplifii, a Canadian marketing agency that focuses on online presence.

 

“The challenge is getting the person designing the site to understand what the goal of the business is,” says Kazim. “The person that designed the site from India for 300 bucks is simply trying to get their template out. They don’t understand the business aspect of the site,” he says, adding that the site will likely suffer as a result.

 

Amanda Parker, founder of Aha Moment Media Inc., a Toronto-based web development and branding firm, says small to medium sized organisations with simple websites would do well to hire a freelance developer. It’s a practice she describes as a “lightweight solution that can turn a simple project around quickly.”

 

However, if the business depends on a strong web presence — an online store, for example — Parker recommends seeking the services of an agency or firm.

 

The best website platform, in Parker’s opinion, is WordPress.

 

“It has thousands of plugins, themes, and configurations that allow even basic users to reach their goals, yet is still customizable enough that experts can configure it to their needs,” she says.

 

Simple websites, 10 to 20 pages with no e-commerce or custom programming, can cost as little as $2000 – $5000 on the platform, she says.

 

Other site design options include programs such as Adobe Muse ($14.99 a month), CoffeeCup Web Designer Pack ($150), Google Sites (free), Homestead ($4.99 a month), and Webs, ($3.75 a month). Most come with hosting options, and space on a server that can reliably keep the website running (a service that ranges anywhere from zero dollars to upwards of $20 monthly, depending on how much data the site uses.)

 

Integrating payment options means paying more fees.

 

Paypal is the most ubiquitous online merchant. But it does come with drawbacks, primarily that the company takes a cut of sales — 2.9 per cent in Canada — and requires users to leave a website for payment.

 

“There’s something called shopping cart abandonment. As soon as people go through PayPal they leave,” says Kazim. “Ideally you want to keep people on your own site, and how you do that is install the payment process into the site.”

 

Such e-commerce options include Stripe, Shopify, Authorize.Net, and PSiGate, and often include the useful bonus of integrating with online accounting apps, such as WaveAccounting or Freshbooks.

 

Ramtin Lotfabadi helps manage the Ontario College of Art and Design’s website, and is pursuing a graduate degree in systems design and engineering at Waterloo University.

 

In order to avoid website mistakes, Lotfabadi suggests creating free or inexpensive mock-up sites with WordPress.com to help business owners figure out exactly what they want.

 

“The good thing about the world wide web today is that there are a lot of opportunities to roll up your sleeves and do prep work,” he says. “With 10, 20, 30 dollars you can build something that helps visualize what you want to do.”

 

Looking to the future, Parker says the creation of mobile sites is becoming a priority for all businesses, adding that many are now focussing exclusively on smartphone and tablet optimized websites.

 

“Everyone has a cellphone,” she says, “organizations can’t ignore building for mobile.”

 

But patience, in building websites and in moving to new platforms, is key.

 

“Rushing the site to production, hiring the wrong person for the job to save money or using a generic template are mistakes I think people make most often,” she says. “In the end, you’ll have better results if you have patience and hire the right team for the job.”