This weekend I ordered glasses from two different websites. (I’m going to hold off mentioning which ones for now. I’ll wait to find out what kind of a job they do.)
I ordered four pairs of glasses for much less than what a single pair used to cost me. If all goes well, I’ll be getting one pair of sunglasses, one pair of color changing glasses, one pair that looks almost identical to the ones I wear now, and one pair of funky glasses (this was the free one).
The trade-off is that the glasses will take about two weeks.
The second worst way to create a website is to build it totally out of frames. There are several workers’ compensation defense firms who have websites built out of frames – and they’re terrible.
In the early days of the internet frames were an easy way to enable navigation throughout a website. Since then easy-to-use intelligent server-side languages2 and client-side languages3 have made building website navigation tools a breeze. More importantly, these other technologies and techniques do everything frames do – only better.
Here are some of the problems with websites created using frames:
Un-bookmark-able. Just as with Adobe Flash, users can’t bookmark specific pages within a website built using frames. This means your website visitors can’t come back to visit that specific page and, more importantly, can’t send a meaningful link to their friends.
Un-navigable. Depending on how someone links to your frame based website, its very possible that they will link directly to an internal frame. This means a website visitor getting to your website from a search engine might never see your website’s name or logo!
Printing. Frame based websites don’t always interact properly with web browsers. When you go to print, you might end up printing the wrong frame. Make it easy for your clients to make a hard copy of the information they see on your website and don’t use frames.
Search Engine Optimization. Search engines are designed to be smart. Even so, search engines still have trouble untangling a website made out of frames. If people cannot reach your website by searching for exactly what you’re about, your website is a failure.
I know why there some web developers sell frame-based websites. From a development standpoint, they’re very very easy to write. Frames are little more than HTML, so they’re if you can create a Word document, you can create an frames-based website. I suppose it would be relatively easy to also recyle parts of that website in a new website. These websites are also deceptively good-looking. When the web developer is showing you a frame based website, you’re going to see exactly what you expect. The “danger” of a frame-based website, as indicated above, is that its so easy for it to be shown to your potential clients in the wrong way or out of context.
I think I also know why businesses invest in frame-based websites. They require so little skill to create that a business can just have one of their file clerks or some high school kid build the website cheaply. The website would be, for all intents and purposes, free.
A website is essentially the 21st century equivalent of a resume. You’re using it to tell your clients about you before you ever get a chance to meet them. These days everyone considers Google to be a verb. If your potential clients are already looking for you through the internet, shouldn’t you try to put your best foot forward? A cheap temporary website is fine … as long as its temporary. As soon as you can afford to do so hire someone to put togther something better.
Website Development Tips:
Never build a site out of frames.
Other web technologies and techniques do everything frames do, only better.
Think of your website as your business’s resume, since that’s what potential clients may see first.
Think of your website like a business suit. If it doesn’t look good on a first impression, a potential client may never even speak to you.
The worst way imaginable for a website to be built is one entirely powered by Adobe Flash animation. I know of at least one workers’ compensation defense firm that has an all Flash website – and I feel sorry for them. Their clients probably never use their website. They’re squandering one of their best marketing tools.
Here are just a few of the problems with Flash websites:
Bandwidth. A picture of the word “website” is much much larger than the text “website.” In a similar way, a Flash website is going to be much much larger than the same information presented in pure HTML. The bigger your website, the longer it will take for it to load.
Maintenance. The smallest change to the website needs to be handled by the original web developer. If you “invest” in an all-Flash website, you’re basically hiring that web developer for life. With traditional websites, you can hire any code monkey to adjust your website.
Unnavigable. Flash websites do not work with the browser’s “Back” button. If your users can’t navigate your website in a normal fashion, they will leave and never come back.
Search Engine Optimization. Or, SEO, as it is known in the business. If your website is basically a bunch of moving pictures, it can’t be indexed by a search engine, so it doesn’t know what your website is about, so it doesn’t know when to show it to people who are searching for exactly the kinds of things you are trying to sell.
Repeat Business. If your website is meant to be something people look at once and never return to, I suppose its fine. The problem with a Flash website is that it will not allow users to bookmark or link to particular pages. This means if your clients really love a particular page on your site they can’t e-mail the link to their co-workers!
I know why web developers sell Flash websites. These websites show off how great you are at creating swooshing logos and nifty pages transitions. And, if your client ever needs a little change, they have to come back to you or pay someone else to build them a website from scratch.1
I also know why businesses invest in Flash websites. They want something stylish and unique. In reality all truly successful website forgo snazzy animations for functional user friendly pages. If Amazon, eBay, and Google don’t build their websites out of Flash, why should you?
This isn’t to say that Flash animation doesn’t have its place. It think its great for product demos, presentations, and banner ads. Its an excellent way to present information in a graphical format. That said, you should never ever purchase a Flash website.
Website Development Tips:
Never build a site out of Flash.
Never use Flash to show words.
If its good enough for Google, its good enough for you.
Focus on what your customers want to see, not what you want to show them.
Make it easy for your customers to tell people about you.
Heaven forbid you have a new hire or, you know, the law changes. [↩]
For a very nuts-and-bolts look at starting a business, look to Guy Kawasaki‘s “The Art of Bootstrapping.” This is an excerpt from his new book, “Reality Check.” My understanding is that this book is a distillation of his prior books and blog posts. Its on my Christmas wish list, so I’ll look forward to reading it in about a month.
I used many of these bootstrapping techniques while building this website. Using the bullet points from Guy’s post, here’s some of the things I used to start this business:
“Ship then test.” To be more exact, I tested the calculators rigorously but didn’t spend nearly as much time testing how the earliest versions of this website looked in different web browsers. Once I got it to work in Internet Explorer, I started marketing it.
“Start a service business.” In the first few months of building this website I worked as a technology consultant and part-time programmer. In addition to being a nice change from my day job as an attorney and earning a little extra, it also gave me the chance to learn some new programming languages and techniques.
“Go direct.” I schlepped my laptop to every appearance and showed off the website to every single attorney that was foolish enough to sit still and listen to me. Besides not having the resources to hire people to sell for me, it also allowed me to learn more about what my customers wanted. Keeping in touch with my clients/customers has lead to a LOT of new developments on this site.
As to “how” I started this business, here was my process:
I wanted to build my own online rating calculators.2
I bought some books about web based programming languages. $55.00 or so for two books.
“SAM’s Teach Yourself PHP, MySQL, and Apache” is probably written for the beginning programmer who’s already familiar with other programming language structures, but not with PHP, MySQL or Apache. I found this book the more helpful of the two.