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What is web development, and how does it differ from web design?

According to Wikipedia, Web Development is a broad term that covers most aspects of developing websites for the Internet. This covers aspects such as web design, writing interactive web applications, designing databases, e-commerce development, security configurations of networks etc.

Most of the times though, web development refers to creating a web page using some coding mechanism. This can range from the most basic form of using HTML and CSS (for which you could use a tool such as Adobe Dreamweaver), or coding in a client side scripting language for example Javascript, or building interactive websites using a server-side scripting language such as PHP as well as a database such as MySQL. Of course these are not the only technologies of this type, you get a number of scripting languages but PHP and MySQL is by far the most popular on the web today.

Personally I would say that web development is a broad description of everything that is required to get a website online.

The includes the following activities and makes use of the following methods/disciplines:
1. Requirements extraction – you need to find out what the client wants, what functionality the website should have

2. Website specification – there should be some document to document the requirements and specify what functionality the website should have. This can include the actual Graphic Design of the site, but should also include aspects such as a sitemap, as well as any interactive functionality that the site should have. The website specification can be as little as just a sitemap and one, or more graphic design concepts of what the home page should look like of the proposed site, up to a full document containing a full wireframe, as well as details of all graphic design elements (a web design on paper, so to speak), as well as workflows of any interactive elements and components (such as a shopping cart, for example).

3. The architecture definition – this can be included in the website specification. This should include the architecture that will be used to develop the site. A popular choice is what is known as a LAMP stack where LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.

4. The development of the site making use of the appropriate scripting languages and databases. Typical examples would be to develop the site using Dreamweaver, or to make use of one of the popular Content Management Systems such as Joomla or WordPress, or to code the site from scratch making use of a combination of scripting languages (both client and server side, as well as a Database).

How much is my website going to cost?

This question is the one that is always forefront in a potential customer’s mind, and no wonder, since none of us like to pay more for something than we have to.

In fact, if you are a small company starting out then paying nothing for your website is what you would prefer to do, not so?

Let me explain what some of the factors are that goes into the cost of a website, and then some options for reducing the costs, or even doing it for free (if you want to go that route!)

1. The biggest cost component of website development is that you are paying the salary of the developer. Basically, the more skilled a developer, the higher salary he will command and the higher the base cost of the company offering your their services. Unfortunately, if you want a website that really looks professional, is designed in such a way to maximise conversions and attracts new customers, you will have a greater chance of getting it if you make use of a really good web designer, and a good web designer has built up his skills over the course of a couple of years.

What you will get with a good web designer, as opposed to a junior one, is someone who will:

  • Be on top of the lastest developments in terms of web design styles and trends in the industry and will give you a design that will ensure that your website will continue to be at the forefront of layout and design for a good couple of years (in other words, your website will not look dated soon)
  • Be able to advise you as to what works and what doesn’t work in terms of the design of the website, the layout and the functionality. He has years of experience building sites and he just knows what is possible, what is feasible and what is really not advisable! Listen to him – you are paying him for his expertise.
  • Be able to work with you, the client, and be able to really give you what you require. Junior web designers or inexperienced web designers do not know yet how to ask the right questions or read between the lines of what the client is trying to say or interpret his real requirements.

2. The second biggest impact on cost is that of the type of website. Some websites are just more expensive than others. For example, an eCommerce site (online shopping cart), is more expensive than a company site. Why is this? The problem is that shopping carts has additional components that you would not find in a normal brochure type site. These are aspects such as:

  • The shopping and checkout process and experience – most shopping carts available for the ‘average’ customer today are based on a standard way of working, such as the way that the products are displayed, and the way that the checkout process works. Sometimes clients wants this to be slightly modified – for example, they would like to have more images display on the product pages, or a hover-over effect with an enlarged image displaying, or a change to the checkout process – either an extra step, or reduced steps. All of this entail that the web developer has to tailor the code of the existing shopping cart software in order to achieve this. But believe me, all of this is still cheaper than getting a company to write a shopping cart for you from scratch!

    Let me just explain the basic difference between a shopping cart website and corporate websites, for example. Both the eCommerce website and the corporate website has a design element (the overall look and feel of the website pages) and a content element (the text and pictures on the site), but the eCommerce site has an additional component, and this software code that is used to enable the dynamic interaction between the website and the person who orders from the site.

  • The shipping process. This can be quite complex to set up and can take hours to configure correctly (and remember, hours=time=cost!) Is your shipping based on a flat rate (easy)l; or is it based on a combination of weight, size and distance (complex!)
  • The payment process. There are various payment processes and they all need to be set up. Most of the times, if you want to offer credit card payments, you need to sign up for a merchant account at one of the major banks, and then sign up with a payment gateway provider (someone who will manage the security and actual payment of the credit card, and who will then pay over the money into your account). This payment process needs to be integrated into your shopping cart website by the developer.

3. The third biggest impact on cost are things such as design and functionality. The design aspect has to do with what the website looks like. We have already seen that you will probably pay more if the designer is more experienced and skilled, but there will also be a price impact based on how complex the design is in itself. Some designs are easier to implement than others, and a complex design will require more time and effort. The functionality of the site will also have a bearing – for example, we have already seen that shopping carts are quite interactive and therefore more expensive to implement, but even normal corporate websites or small business websites might require some measure of interactivity. For example, you might want to have a newsletter signup box on your site – this signup needs to capture email addresses and names and store them somewhere. Or you might want to allow people to upload and download documents from the site – this is also ‘interactive’ functionality and requires additional effort to implement.

As you can see, there are various cost elements going into the cost of a website and to be blunt, the less you pay, the less are the chances that you will end up with a high quality site.

Of course, we all have budgets that we work with, and especially starting out, it is difficult to scrape enough money together for everything that has to be done to get your company to be successful.

To minimise the cost of your website, you can do the following:

1. Be very clear and very specific about what you want. The less the developer have to guess, or rework things, the cheaper it will be.

2. Cut on the design costs. Ask the developer if he can use a template, and if he can direct you to some nice templates from which you can choose. Templates are normally very nicely done and can give you a good looking website at a reasonable cost. Just don’t start requesting changes to the template design – that will push up the costs again!

3. Get a web design company that makes use of a Content Management System, such as Joomla or WordPress. These will spead up the development process. Just make sure that you get a company that is experienced in Joomla Web Design or WordPress web design, else you will spend more money due to the web developers/web design companies not knowing how to use these tools to the maximum.

4. Do it yourself. If you are technically inclined you can always learn the skills yourself. It will take you a bit longer to do, but it could be a viable option to start with. Just remember – there are reasons why we don’t make our own shoes or build our own houses! In theory it is possible for anyone to do these things but you need to weigh up whether learning these skills are going to be worth it for you in the long term. The time that you are spending on learning how to design your own website, is time that you are not spending on building your business!

What is Joomla website design?

Joomla is a very popular CMS used worldwide to build websites of various shapes and sizes. So what is a CMS? CMS stands for ‘Content Management System‘ and traditionally these have been used in big corporates to build Corporate websites and especially Intranets (websites built to manage information internally to the business).

In the past few years, as more and more people start to become familiar with the Internet and wanted to start building their own websites, the facilities provided by ‘Open Source’ software became a boon to individuals and small businesses who wanted to get a relatively low cost option for building their own sites.

Now, let’s just explore some of these concepts.

The difference between the CMS software used by big corporates, and CMS software available under the ‘Open Source’ license, is that of cost. Basically, CMS software used by big corporates are normally Microsoft based, and Microsoft based software are normally licensed based OR very expensive to develop. Open Source software is based on Linux, and Linux software is all FREE.

Does this mean that you can get a Joomla websites for free?

Theoretically, yes. In the same way that you can make your own clothes, for ‘free’. The biggest problem is that although Joomla and other Open Source based CMS systems are free to use and install, they do require a learning curve. So if you are technically inclined, and a bit arty, you can definitely learn Joomla and build your own website.

On the other hand, if you are running a business it might be a better idea to rather outsource this task to people (such as us, for example) who have been building Joomla websites for a couple of years. It might cost more than ‘free’, but it will be less than big corporates are paying for corporate CMS software. The cost, as always, depends on the type and size of website that you require – contact us for a quote!

Dreamweaver is basically the de-facto web design tool of web designers world wide. It is a tool offered by Adobe and like all Adobe tools, is very feature rich and powerful.

The problem with that though, is that it also implies quite a big learning curve.

Dreamweaver is therefore not really the ideal tool to start with for aspiring web designers.

If you want to build your own websites you have to look at the exercise from the following perspectives:

1. Do you want to build a site for yourself or your own business? In other words, this is a once-off exercise and you are not planning on building any more sites. In this case, learning Dreamweaver is really not the best option – you are going to spend a hell of a long time on the learning curve and you are only going to use the skills once. In this case, it is better to rather make use of an online tool or a CMS with a templating system. Examples of online tools offered by hosting companies are RVSitebuilder, or SOHO Sitebuilder. Examples of CMS packages that offer a relatively quick learning curve but still allows you to build a good-looking site is something like WordPress.

2. If you are planning on learning web design as a profession, in other words, you want to become a professional web designer working for a web design company, then learning Dreamweaver is a good idea, since you will use these skills in future. My personal opinion is still that using a CMS tool stuch as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal are better options to build websites, the fact of the matter is that lots of web design companies require you to have Dreamweaver skills, so you might as well go through the learning curve and gain them.

3. If you are planning on doing web design as a profession, but as a freelancer or working for your own company, then by all means gain the Dreamweaver skills on a superficial level since it should give you a good grounding in understanding HTML and CSS, but I would also recommend rather using a CMS type system such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal to build the client sites since these tool help you to build sites quicker and with more functionality than using Dreamweaver on its own. You can always usefully utilise your HTML and CSS knowledge to expand on the standard templates that come with these tools and provide your client with a unique design.

Firstly, what is W3c? And what does it mean for your site to be W3C compatible? Th W3C is the World Wide Web Consortium, and it is an international community who develops web standards. If your site is W3C compliant, it means that the coding has been done in such a way that it complies to the standards as laid down by the W3C.

Unfortunately not all browsers make it equally easy to comply to these standards! It is really easy for a website not to be fully W3C compliant. You can validate your website by checking it on this page – http://validator.w3.org/, or you can add a little button to your site that does the validation for you on the fly.

But is it really important for your site to be compliant from a SEO perspective?

Frankly, W3C compliance is not a big factor in SEO. In other words, a site that is not fully compliant with W3C might perform as well as a site that is compliant. It is just not one of the major indicators.

Google IS interested in your page load speed, however. So basically you should make sure that any W3C errors do not influence your page load speed. Google has some tools that you can use to test your site load speed, so I would suggest rather using that instead of really stressing about whether your site is fully W3C compliant.

See what Mat Cutts is saying about it:

There is nothing to beat the excitement of choosing your first domain name. It is similar to buying your first car, or moving into your own place. Luckily it is not that expensive – at first glance.

It is actually quite easy to register a new domain name, and once you get a taste for it you might keep on registering new domain names just for the fun of it. In other words, you could become a serial domain name registrar…

But to register a domain for a business needs some forethought. Even though it is not expensive to register a new domain name, it can become a costly exercise to change it after it has been in use for a couple of years.  You are going to build up a business and branding around your domain and website, and the time invested in this can represent quite a big investment.

Here are some tips therefore in choosing the best domain name for your business.

My advice if you are starting a new business is actually to select the domain name first before even selecting a name for your business. The problem is that the domain name (your website name, in other words), is going to be your main branding on the internet, and it is a lot more difficult to find an available domain name than a business name. Think about it, it is a lot easier to register a domain name than a business, so obviously it is a lot more difficult to find an available domain name than a business name.

But let’s say you are not worried about linking your domain name to your actual business (company) name, you just want to create an online business and the domain name IS your main business name.

Questions that arise are:

Should you choose a long descriptive name or a short, snappy memorable name?

Use the following rules of thumb:

  • Avoid hyphens. It is difficult to explain to people that they should use a hyphen for your website name, especially if your are trying to explain this over the phone.
  • Avoid too long names, it becomes cumbersome to manage and remember, your email addresses are linked to this name as well.
  • Try and stick to one or two syllables. Make sure that that the syllables next to each other do not create a confusing spelling (e.g. All Life Insurance products – their website is alllife.co.za. The three repeating l’s next to each other does not make for easy reading of the name and can quite easily be misspelled with only two l’s)
  • If SEO rankings are important to you, try and combine a short syllable with your main keyword (e.g. booksnap.com or SEOcomp.co.za or something similar.
  • Try not to have confusing syllables or numbers in the domain name, for example try not to use the number ’4′ for ‘for’ (as in this domain!) It makes it difficult to explain to people when you say the name.

If you want to build a complete new brand from a short, snappy ‘nonsense’ name (e.g. yahoo, google, dig etc) there are some tools that will generate these names for you. There are also tools that will help you combine prefixes or suffixes with your main keywords.

Here is a list of domain name generating tools that I have found useful (or at least then, fun to use!)

http://www.dotomator.com/   (do try the ‘web 2.0′ domain name generator for amusing nonsense type names)

http://www.surf7.net/services/value-added-services/free-web-tools/web-20-name-generator/

 

 

 

 

WordPress is great for building quick websites, however, it does have its limitations when you want to use it as a full-fledged CMS.

Examples of these limitations are that the templates often restrict you very much to a static type layout, and that it is sometimes frustrating to work with the permalink structure imposed by WordPress.

Typical examples are that if you create a menu item or have your categories displayed in the sidebar, WordPress adds the word ‘category’ to the URL.

E.g. http://www.yourblog.com/category/category-name

On this site for example, it would be:

http://www.4webdesign.co.za/category/wordpress

instead of the neater and shorter:

http://www.4webdesign.co.za/wordpress

There are various ways to get around this,  not all of them work and not all of them work equally well.

This page suggests a mod-rewrite solution, which I tried but it is not working:

http://www.wprecipes.com/how-to-remove-category-from-your-wordpress-url

This does work, but does not work well with sub-categories:

1. Set your permalink structure to:

/%category%/%postname%/

then set your category base to

/.

This solution was found on http://wpmu.org/daily-tip-quick-trick-to-remove-category-from-wordpress-url/

You can also read about the various problems with this solution on that page, although even though they say that they are experiencing problems with sub-categories, on this installation of WordPress v 3.3.1 it worked fine with sub categories.

Lastly, you can use the plugin WP No Category Base (just search for it on the WP Plugins sites). This also works fine out of the box and should really be added to your essential WP plugin list.