Websites: Q & A With Erica

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Web Site Series: General Questions & Answers

The following Q&A comes from the comment threads in a six-part blog series on web sites. If you have additional questions, leave them in the comments and I will try to get to them as quickly as possible.

Q:
Is there anything you think does or does not work for slogans?

A:
The most important thing for slogans is to make them memorable and relevant. (Note: IF you choose to have one. Only maybe half of my corporate clients have slogans.)

Memorable means short, and relevant means that even if the only thing they know about you is your slogan, they know about your books.

Q:
Any colors you think are overdone?

A:
I would worry less about so-called overdone colors and more about finding that happy medium between legibility and complementary branding. (Note: Complementary Branding refers to matching your web site to your blog or your book covers or your tone/genre etc. You do not have to make your web site look anything like your book covers if you don’t want to, but you also don’t want the reader to think they’ve found the wrong place.)

If you’re going for a dark tone, make sure it’s not so dark that visitors can’t easily read your content or figure out what’s going on. Easy is the name of the game.

If you’re avoiding, say, “black”, simply because you’re afraid too many other urban fantasy writers are using black, then that’s not a good enough reason. First and foremost, you have to do what’s right for your brand. And secondly, you have to keep reader expectation in mind.

Be creative, but choose your aesthetics based on that goal.

Q:
Cost. Tell us about cost. There are a lot of less than optimal people in your business, I suspect, but they probably charge the same as or more than you do (whatever that may be). How is a person to avoid getting took?

A:
Cost. Okay. This is a tricky subject. It’s like saying, how much does laser eye surgery cost? Well, there’s some licensed doctors who do it for $400 per eye. And there’s others who do it for $4,000 per eye. And of course, there’s all the space in between.

The best way not to get taken is to make sure of two things:

1) That you get multiple proposals from multiple sources, for comparative purposes.

2) That the proposals detail exactly what you’re going to get for your money; what you have to provide, and what you’ll own when the contract is over.

EX: If the proposal says, “Website: $3000”, I have no idea if this is a con or a steal. If it’s for a basic no-frills design and half a dozen HTML pages, you’re getting taken. If it’s for an interactive, database-driven web site with user login features, dynamic feature-filled content and web-enabled content administration, buy buy buy! =)

So it’s hard to say. The best example I can give is if you go to a builder and say, “Hey, I’ve got this empty lot. How much will you charge to build me a house?”

The first thing the builder will (probably) say is, “Depends on what you want!”

Web sites are like that, too. You could probably find a college kid to whip up something basic for $500, or you could go to an ad agency and get one with all the bells and whistles for over $50k.

A small business or an ex-corporate freelancer would be in the middle. More experience than the college kid, and lower prices because of no physical overhead.

Q:
Do reputable designers charge by the project or by the hour?

A:
Charging by the project or by the hour depends on multiple variables, but no matter which way your contract is written, you should have a darn good idea of both before the first check exchanges hands. So, if Designer X charges $100/hr and says your web site will take 10 hours (obviously these numbers are for ease of math *g) then your estimated total is $1000.

If the contract is a flat $1000 and something goes wrong that’s not the designer’s fault, they better have those circumstances written into the contract or they’re taking all the risk. Conversely, if it’s an hourly project and the designer doesn’t stipulate which elements are their responsibility (not charged) and which are yours (charged), you might end up paying a lot more.

For example, in all my contracts, it says I will never charge for extra work necessary due to bugs/typos/etc on the part of myself or my employees. However, if rework is necessary due to the actions of the client or the client’s emissaries (web host, etc) then I would have to charge for that.

Q:
What is a fair hourly wage for a guru such as yourself (OK, OK, we all know you are boyond price, above rubies, and all that, so let’s talk about gurus in general, not you in particular)?

A:
Guru hourly wages can range from $50/hr to $150/hr, with some being above or below that, depending on many variables, not the least of which is what you’re contracting them for.

Q:
Also timeframe: should a good guru get you up and running in a week? A month? The twelfth of never? (Assuming you’ve done your part by filling out the survey questions.)

A:
Timeframe totally depends, much like the “building a house” metaphor. How big is the house? Is there a basement? Will you request blueprint changes after construction has started or design changes after the wallpaper is up? Etc.

Q:
Tweaking – that fuchsia that looked so good in theory looks like hell onscreen…how much time/money should one allot for necessary improvements?

Ongoing review: should a good guru be in touch with you every so often to meet your changing/expanded/newfound needs? How often? Is this type of service a la carte or part of an ongoing arrangement?

Self-service: since most of us pump our own gas, can we also fiddle with our own websites? Or is this just a sure-fire way to throw more business to the guru when the whole thing crashes and burns?

A:
Tweaking and maintenance should also be dealt with in advance, in the contract. Same with self-service. The programmer needs to know ahead of time if you plan to futz with the HTML (they can design accordingly) or if you need them to build a content editing wizard, or if you plan to just email them when you need updates.

Q:
I assume distance makes little or no difference, right? Does it matter if the designer lives in the same state?

A:
Logistics don’t matter. For example, half my business comes from out-of-state, and I’ve worked on web sites while halfway around the world. The designer just needs a decent Internet connection. Well, and time, talent, skill, responsibility, responsiveness, etc. Point being, don’t choose your designer based on location, choose based on what you need, what they can offer you, and the value/ROI of contracting with her.

Q:
Where do you go to check availability of a web site domain name and make the actual purchase?

A:
Any registrar will check availability before allowing you to purchase. For example, if you go to GoDaddy.com and do a search for “microsoft.com”, it will tell you that domain is already taken. (And probably offer several alternate choices/spellings.)

Q:
How much does a web site domain name cost?

A:
Between $5 and $30? I use GoDaddy, who tends to keep it under $10.

Q:
Is a web site domain name a one-time fee, or an annual expense?

A:
This is a recurring annual expense.

Q:
Are there competing “vendors” for web site domain names? If so, which one should a person choose, and why?

A:
Gazillions. As with anything, do your research and keep both your budget and schedule firmly in mind. To me, of number one importance is availability and responsiveness.

I once purchased a domain name (years ago) which I wanted to transfer to a different registrar. I tried to contact the company where I initially bought the domain name, but they were overseas, only did sales via telephone/internet, and required paper mail documentation for any other requests.

They never did acknowledge my letters requesting them to transfer my domain elsewhere, and my ownership expired. Before I had a chance to renew elsewhere (I’m talking minutes, not days) one of the many squatter companies trolling the internet for expired domains purchased my recently-expired domain name out from under me.

To this day I do not own it, and it is still “available” via auction. I have not made that mistake again. Saving two or three bucks a year is not worth being unable to handle all transactions yourself.

Your registrar should give you the ability to buy, edit, transfer, remove, etc, your domain names via an easy control panel, without need of calling, emailing, or sending registered letters. And if you do not know how to use the control panel, no worries–your web developer certainly will.

Q:
Do any web site domain name vendors also offer web site hosting, or other bennies that might make them a more attractive choice? (You know, mouse pads or keychains with your fabulous new web address in day-glo colors, or whatever?)

A:
Yes, many do. It is not necessarily a bad idea to go with them, but it is also not necessarily the best idea. Totally depends on what they offer as compared to what you need, and their price for doing so.

Web hosting runs from $5/mo to $1500/mo, depending on multiple variables ranging from available support staff to quantity/licensing of technology to corporation overhead.

There is a balance here as well between a low cost provider whose support staff and options are negligible to a high cost provider who may or may not provide better service, but happens to be local or a big name. Definitely shop around. Your web developer should also have ideas and tips.

This article first began as an August 28, 2007 writer blog post.