Launching Your Own Website
I am certainly no “expert” on this topic—after all, my site has been up on the World Wide Web for a grand total of seven months! Nevertheless, for what it’s worth I thought I might discuss what it takes to get going in this business. This essay is written especially for those who have asked me, “What does it take, Dave, to launch and maintain a website?” Well, here goes nothing.
The first thing you’ll need to do is decide on your domain name, which you will have to register for a nominal fee. As this is a purely personal choice, I’ll go on to selecting a web hosting service. There are a zillion out there, but some are cheaper than others. (By “cheaper” I mean “less expensive.”) I use Inexpensivedomains.com because it is, well, inexpensive—only $3.95 a month (after paying a low start up cost). You can check your site statistics every day, where you will find all kinds of helpful data—number of hits, most-frequently hit pages, a bar graph showing the hits you received for each hour of the day, etc. I have had zero problems with this web host and am able to upload any time I like without any difficulty. Quick, easy, and cheap!
The layout of your site is, of course, essential to its success. You are after an overall professional look—not fancy, necessarily, but your site must look clean, your colors should complement each other, your graphics must be crisp, and you must make the visitor feel comfortable. Don’t make the mistake of having too many choices on your menu page—it only confuses people. (This is one of my greatest weaknesses, by the way.) And be careful about advertising, as most people are coming to your site for information, not to buy anything (unless you are running a commercial site, of course). I personally do not plan to use any advertising, though I am not against the idea in principle.
“Content is king” is the maxim you should remember in designing your site’s subject matter. Also, please, please, please make sure that your site is easy to load! Alexa.com (see below) rates your site on how quickly a person can access it, and you should pay close attention to this detail. If people have to wait too long to view your site, they will go elsewhere (the “five second rule” applies).
With so many websites vying for your interest, you need to have a way of checking a site’s traffic and whether or not its traffic is on the rise or declining. Probably the best service available for doing this is provided by Alexa.com. Loading Alexa is a simple process. Simply visit their site, answer a few questions, and Alexa is loaded onto your browser. It’s totally free but only works with Internet Explorer. You can place the Alexa add-on anywhere on your menu. A great feature of the latest edition of Alexa is the ad blocking feature. Rather than simply blocking pop-ups, Alexa asks you if you wish to view an ad—to which I almost invariably answer no.
With the Alexa toolbar installed, you can automatically see traffic rankings as you surf the web. The lower the number, the higher the traffic ranking. Thus you’ll see Yahoo, Google, and eBay in the top 20. If your website is in the top 500,000, it means that it receives a good number of visitors every day. If you’re in the top 100,000, you are doing great! Considering that there are more than 17,000,000 sites on the web, a ranking in the top 1,000,000 is commendable, while the first 100,000 is an exclusive club in the top 5%!
As an example, you can go here and type in your favorite website, or, if you like, you can look at daveblackonline.com’s Alexa ranking by clicking here. Notice that in addition to traffic rank Alexa also indicates how “fast” your website takes to download. As I said earlier, this feature is neglected by many webmasters—to their own detriment, in my humble opinion. When you click on “See Traffic Details,” a daily traffic graph will show you the traffic the site has had over 3 months, 6 months, or a year. (If a site is not in the top 100,000 in that period, the graph is blank.) You’ll also see “Reach per million users,” which shows the number of Alexa users per million that visited the site. Finally, the number of “page views” is indicated. Because Alexa gathers its information only from those have their “Alexa toolbar” installed, their rankings are not entirely accurate for all websites. But because Alexa has millions of users, their stats are probably a fairly accurate estimate of your site’s traffic.
The million dollar question, of course, is, “How much time does it take to maintain a website?” Well, I can only speak for myself. Seeing that I have a full-time teaching job, am heavily involved in speaking, writing, and publishing, and am currently building a new house, I am limited time-wise. I manage to update my site four or five times a week and, in addition, I try to post two or three original columns each week. I guess I spend a good hour or so a day on maintaining my site, but to tell you the truth, it’s so much fun that I don’t really notice. I imagine that a person could easily update his or her site on a weekly or semi-weekly basis and spend no more than two hours a week—certainly a manageable operation!
So thinking of setting up a website? It’s not as hard as you might think. The place to start is to “know thyself”—as Aristotle put it. The following questions will help you get started. Best wishes and bon voyage!
July 10, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.