Do-It Yourself Websites

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that we live in a do-it-yourself society. There are Do-It-Yourself manuals available on most any and every topic you can possibly think of (and then some!) and designing your own web site is no exception. There are many web sites on the Internet which promote this philosophy and they’ll even provide you with the tools to perform the task. Some offer these tools free or at low cost, particularly if you host your site with them. There are free or inexpensive web design and graphics programs available to help create your own web site. So, why shouldn’t you? They make it sound so easy! Think of the money you’d save!

I truly believe that you should have the ability and the right to make informed decisions. So, I’m going to tell you some things that you really do need to consider before jumping into the do-it-yourself adventure of designing your own web site. I’m not trying to talk you out of doing it yourself nor am I trying to talk you into having Digital Mouse Designs develop your web site. That decision is totally up to you. I’m simply providing you with some up front, no punches pulled information so that you can make your own decision on an informed basis.

It’s a lengthy explanation, and some people have told me it’s got a negative tone to it. I agree but yet I don’t. I’ve seen to many people step into creating their own web sites only to watch them fail. I don’t like to see that happen, I prefer to see people succeed. Why do they fail? I feel it’s because they’re uneducated in the field. What you don’t know can hurt you in this business. I decided to tell it like it is so that unsuspecting folks like you can get an eyeful of just a part of what it takes to create a web site that has a glimmer of hope of being successful. To many people jump before they look so I’m going to give you some food-for-thought before you go stepping foot inside that web site you’re dreaming about.

Painting, Plumbing & Legal Eagles

Let’s say you painted a picture, does this make you an artist? You managed to fix the leaky drain under your sink, does this make you a plumber? You got your ticket reduced or dismissed in traffic court, does this make you a lawyer or a judge?

Unless you already hold the job titles described above, the answer to all three questions is “no!” Being able to paint a picture, fix a leaky drain or a traffic ticket does not make you an artist, a plumber, a lawyer or a judge. Just as there are many facets to each of these job descriptions, there are just as many aspects to successful web site development with the emphasis on successful.

Is Making a Website as Easy as it Sounds?

I’ve heard it said many a time “any idiot can make a web site” and I just chuckle. These people have absolutely no idea what it really takes to do the job and do it well or they wouldn’t be running off at the mouth. But the good news is that yes, anyone can design their own web site.

Will it look professional? Chances are slim and next to none unless you use a pre-designed template or you have graphic and layout skills. Does using a pre-designed template guarantee you a successful web site? Absolutely not. Will it perform properly? Success on the Internet is not based on how your site looks, in fact how it looks is secondary to how it performs. Will you save money by doing it yourself? Well, that remains to be seen …

Web Site Performance & Functionality

How your web site performs is a key ingredient to your site and business success. It’s definitely important that your site look professional. To be very honest with you, if I go to a web site that appears to be home-made, I’m likely not going to purchase the product and I’m probably not even going to re-visit it. I’m going to click over to a site that cares enough about it’s product(s) and it’s business image to display itself to the world in a professional manner and I’ll make my purchase there.

Enough on the site look, again that’s secondary to site performance anyway. Most do-it-yourself websites do not perform as well as they could. Why not? Because the developer simply does not know enough about website performance to know the difference between good and poor functionality. When I hit a site that doesn’t perform like it could (and should!) I can only think how much better for the business it would be if it was displayed in a professional manner and performed properly. I’m not the only web surfer who feels this way. Your business is very important to you and the impression site visitors get from your web site can have a significant impact on your business.

Let’s take a look at a few of the things that experienced web designers deal with every day for every site they develop. The list below is basic and does not cover everything you need to be aware of. Be honest with yourself when reviewing them before making that all important decision to venture into developing your web site on your own.

Decision Makers

  • Do you have good design and organizational skills?
  • Are you talented in graphic design, have an eye for colors and color coordination?
  • Are you skilled in image sizing, optimization, what file types can and can’t be used on a web site?
  • What do you know about web site layout strategies and user-friendly site navigation?
  • Are you familiar with browser rendering, compatibility issues and compliance standards?
  • Have you learned or even heard of the various web site coding languages?
  • Do you know how to do search engine optimization?
  • Can you trouble shoot (which relies heavily on the language used) your new web site?
  • Did you know that copywriting skills for a web site is different than copywriting for a book or magazine?
  • Do you know what type of hosting account to purchase for your site needs?
  • Ever installed a database or created a PHP contact form?
  • Do you know what a Content Management System (CMS) is?
  • If a person with a visual disability hits your site, will they be able to see it? (A completely blind person can view a web site if it includes the necessary functionality.)
  • When you hit a web site that takes forever to load, are you automatically thinking the host is having problems? Think again!
  • If it breaks, are you going to know how to fix it?
  • What’s your free-time schedule looking like?
  • Do you have the patience of a Saint?

Do You REALLY Save Money by Building Your Own Website?

Web sites that promote the do-it-yourself web site philosophy are there to make money … for them not you! They have all these great looking templates so you can have that professional look without spending all that money on design programs or hiring a professional web designer. True, yes … but … 1) Do you want your web site to look like hundreds or thousands of other web sites? 2) Do you know what to look for in a well made template? Yes, even the template itself has a bearing on the success of your web site. 3) If you break the template do you know how to fix it or are you going to have to go buy it again each time you break it?

Those Out of Pocket Expenses!

A good coding program costs about $500, a good graphics design program costs $300 or more and if you want the really good ones you’re talking $600 or more. You like FLASH? That’s and easy $500. To top it off, many of these programs now come only as a “suite” now so you not only purchase what you think you’ll use but you pay for what you’ll never use as well.

Then there’s all the little add-on programs you’ll need to compliment your web design arsenal. Ohhhh, you thought these expensive web design programs have absolutely everything you’ll need? They may tell you they do, but they either don’t or if they do, figuring out how to use them is a whole ‘nother adventure.

Just to get started you can plan on at least a $1,500.00 cash outlay and don’t even for one minute think that you’re done there. The list of helper programs is endless as can be the costs which can nickle and dime you to death! On the other hand, you could have just spent this money on hiring an experienced web page designer who already has the tools, resources and knowledge to develop your site for you and so in the end you’ll save money!

Hiring a professional web designer will most certainly save you precious time that you could be putting into other aspects of your business and what about your personal life? Can it handle you sitting at the computer for weeks on end instead of being part of your family’s life? Who’s going to be the one to tell your kindergartner you have to miss their starring role in the class play because you have to get your web site done? Are you going to be able to look in those soulful, lonely big brown eyes of your best furry friend and not feel guilty you can’t take him for a walk again today? Oh yeah, I forgot to tell ya … this little thing called web design can be addictive!

Page Load Time

Let’s say you have just created what you consider to be a great looking site and it loads in a flash for you. You may have cable or DSL, but did you know that just 55% of the web surfing population has some kind of broadband connection? That leaves 45% of users still on dial-up. It’s not always because they can’t get a high speed connection in their area. Some can’t afford it, some don’t want it for other reasons.

I updated this article in February of 2009, the era of the next Great Recession. Now just how many people do you think are going to add the cost of a high speed Internet connection to the monthly stack of bills they can’t pay already? From what I understand, there’s a large number of people dumping their cable and DSL because they can’t afford it. What about those millions of unfortunate folks that have lost their houses and now have no use for high speed anyway. It doesn’t look like the percentage of high speed users is going to climb at any great rate of speed, does it? It took several years for the percentage of high speed users to increase just 10% and that was in a good state of economy. What this means is that you simply cannot ignore the dial-up users, and one reason why it’s imperative that your web site load in no more than a reasonable amount of time. What’s reasonable today? Statistics show people will wait between 4 and 6 seconds for a web page to load, and if it doesn’t, they’re gone.

A web site that loads quickly on a cable or DSL connection is a far cry from how it loads on a slower 56k dial-up connection. We are a society of speed demons with no use for patience. When we want something, we want it now. We don’t like to wait for anything! The main reason people leave a web site before investigating it is that it takes to long to load. Load time is absolutely crucial to the success of a web site. When a site doesn’t load or doesn’t load fast enough, it’s not always that the hosting server is having a bad case of the hiccups. It could very well be it’s the web site itself that’s at the root of the problem. Some sites don’t load at all on a slower connection! If your site is not properly optimized for load time, how many customers have you just lost?

Are You Being Objective?

Let’s say you just created your own web site and in your eyes it’s a “work of art.” You’re are all jazzed up about what you’ve just created. That’s what usually happens to first time web page designers. It happened to me and to every other designer who I’ve ever talked with about it.

In whose opinion is it a great work of art? Be honest now … you are the only one to have seen this unless you’ve shared it with a trusted friend or family member. If you’ve shared, are these people going to be honest with you and tell you where they think you could improve or are they going to tell you “oh that’s so cool!” and then turn and walk away shaking their heads thinking “man, that’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!” but because they love you and know how proud you are of your “new baby” they don’t want to hurt your feelings or crush your high spirits into a bazillion pieces of meat loaf crumbles. Hey, that’s what friends are for! To be very honest with you, I’ve come across some web sites that boast faces only a Mother could love, but I most certainly can’t tell the creator this!

How a web site looks is most definitely a matter of taste. What’s breathtaking to one, may be nothing more than an eyesore to someone else. Unless you’ve gone to art school, have had some design training or are one of the lucky ones who were gifted with naturally artistic talents, you need to be totally and absolutely objective about how your web site looks. You need tough skin and be able to take criticism if someone happens to not be as crazy about your art work as you are.

Differences in Browser Rendering

Did you know there is more than one browser available to use and that people do use different browsers? Believe it or not, the entire world does not use what comes pre-installed on their computer! Even if they did, depending upon how old their computer is, if they haven’t upgraded the browser it could be a much older version than what you or the next person uses. So what’s the big deal here? Check it out sometime, hit a few web sites with an older browser, then if you don’t have a newer one yourself, next time your at your friend’s house or if you can do this at work, hit the same web sites using a computer that has a newer browser. What’s even more of a kick, is viewing websites on a PC and then viewing them on a Mac or vice-versa.

What looks one way in one version of Internet Explorer can and does quite often look totally different (and many times totally messed up) in another version of the same browser brand and even more different in say Firefox, Netscape, Opera or other browsers and that’s just for PC users. What about the Mac users out there? What are they seeing? In most cases – believe me, it’s not at all what you’re seeing! In order to make sure your web site looks good in all of these platforms, are you prepared to install all these other browsers and various browser versions and then run out and purchase a Mac so you can see what happens to your web site depending on the browser and OS your visitors are using? Just how much time and money do you have to devote to your do-it-yourself web site project? While you’re doing all of this, what’s happening with your business?

I could go on and on but I don’t think that’s necessary at this point. Ask yourself how much time and money are you willing to invest in your do-it-yourself web site project? How important is it to you to have your web site be as successful as it can be? One should never rely solely on their web site for their business success, but a good web site has the potential to help you become more successful. A bad website can’t.

“Can I?” vs. “Should I” Make My Own Website?

Yes, you can develop your own web site but a more important question to ask yourself is should you develop your own web site? When you hire a professional web designer, you not only hire someone who’s already got the means to develop a site for you which includes the professional look and the working functionality – but you hire that designer’s knowledge and experience as well. A professional web designer does not rely solely on their own eyes alone to judge the look of a site – they get objective opinions from other professionals who are not afraid to tell them where they can improve your site.

I’ve had a number of clients who originally designed their own web site and found that it’s not doing what they’d hoped for and have come to me to fix it. These people put quite a bit of time, hard work and money into designing their own site, watching it fail until sadly … they give up. I look at it this way, you can either spend your money on a good web designer now and get your site up with the potential for success and making money – or you can do it yourself now and then pay a good designer later to redo what’s not working for you. The choice is yours.

Will everyone who does it themselves fail? Absolutely not! But the cards are stacked against you if you have dreams of becoming an overnight online success. Even the best designer cannot do that for you.

Can you learn? Of course! Just be prepared to spend the time and money (and a whole lotta sweat and tears) to get yourself from know-nothing to being educated enough to pull it off successfully. If you can do that, go for it! If you decide that this is more of an undertaking than you want to deal with, hire a professional web designer, put your time and efforts into your business and into what you know best – while we do what we know best to help make it work for you!