Monthly Archives: February 2012

New Site for Craobh Haven Watersports

We launched a new site for Craobh Haven Watersports today.

Craobh Haven Watersports - new websiteThis client  recently became an RYA approved training centre, and wanted a new website to reflect their  growing range of activities and their new status. 

Special features include:

  • Colour coded top level menu with dropdowns – all coded in CSS and HTML so search engine friendly and easily modified or added to

  • Different top graphic for different sections but tied together with our new interpretation of their logo

  • Weather widget on the home page

  • Social media integration with Twitter and Facebook  Share buttons

  • Lightbox photo galleries for the Projects section

  • Scrolling news ticker on home page

Future development on the site will include a complimentary WordPress section  for news, events and sales which the client will be able to keep updated themselves.

 

E-commerce – A Vital Decision

Just how easy / affordable is it to get into selling online? Probably easier and cheaper than you think, but  there are pitfalls for the unwary.

There are a whole host of dedicated shopping carts out there, some free and open source, some expensive. Some are hosted, some have to be installed on your web server.  Which to choose, which way to go? 

Firstly, don’t expect impartial advice from  a web design company.  They  will probably have a lot of r&d time and energy invested in one or two particular packages, and will tell you unequivocally that this or that particular package is the only way to go. Be assured, it isn’t!

Secondly, if you have a limited budget and a lot of products, aren’t too critical about the look or branding of your site and don’t  want to employ a web design company then have a look at hosted solutions.  At the budget end we suggest:

Actinic –  from £19.99/month (for up to 100 products)

EMPowershop – from £19.99 / month

If you have a bigger budget then just Google ‘hosted e-commerce’.  But – do be aware that although these systems all boast of being incredibly easy to use and unbelievably versatile they will, like any computer programme or application, have their limitations. It will take you quite a while to get familiar with the interface and you will at times be frustrated because the software will not do what you want it to. You may find yourself spending a lot of time on forums asking for help from other users – so check that this feature is available.

If you go to a web design company ask them what software they propose  using and check it out. We used osCommerce for some years, but no longer recommend it for the average small business.  While it has the advantage of being free it is in our opinion a clunky, camel-designed bloated monstrosity that is hard to customise and keep secure and up to date. Offshoots of this include Zen Cart and  OscMax. These are better, but be very sure that the web developer you are using has complete mastery – check their portfolio, ask their clients – and make sure you get a price for the regular security updates that these systems always seem to need.

There are dozens of other less well-known shopping cart systems.  Each has its supporters,  each will have some merit, but most will also have drawbacks in terms of design and template limitations, ease of use, security and ease of updating. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and it is worth doing a lot of research before committing yourself to any one  system or designer. In particular, you need to know how easy is it to install software updates, and whether  there a facility to make complete backups including the database.

One of the popular e-commerce solutions nowadays is to use a plug-in for WordPress. There are several available, some free, some charged for but generally not expensive. Some work better than others, and each has a different range of features.  Here are two WordPress sites we have created that use e-commerce plugins:

Sledgehammer Simple – uses the Wp E-commerce plug-in

Paradise Kitchen – uses the WP Simple PayPal Shopping cart

These plug-ins are great if you want to be able to add products yourself and have all the functionality that WordPress gives you.

But do you need a dedicated shopping cart system with its built-in set of features and limitations?  If you only have a few products to sell then sometimes it is more satisfying aesthetically to integrate a basic PayPal shopping cart into your existing website. Combine this with a clever piece of software that can deal with downloadable products and you have a very versatile system with a unique look. Have a look at the purchase page from this site we recently created  for an author and publisher.  We have been able to give the site  a unique look and feel yet it has the ability to sell both physical and downloadable products.

Whatever your eventual choice, make it an informed one.  The success or failure of your  business may depend on it.

Choosing a web design company

For many companies – particularly small businesses and start-ups – the web is going to be their major and in some cases only marketing tool, so when you choose a web design company you may literally be putting the future of your business in their hands.  It is not a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it an area where saving a few pounds should be your primary concern. You really need to take  an in depth look at a web design company before you give them your work.  It is easy to put up a glossy front, but is there any substance behind it?

The web design business is an amateur’s paradise. Start-up costs are very low, obsolete versions of poor software are given away by magazines and anyone can call themselves a web designer. Furthermore, there is a perception that ‘anyone can do it’ and that it is just a question of learning to use a new programme. The results are out there for all to see – ugly, poorly designed and hard to navigate sites that break in some browsers, that do not get any visitors and that do not show up in Google. Unless you are very certain of their capabilities you are doing your business no favours if you employ an amateur

The other option is to do it yourself. Web design is not your business however. Did you build your own computers? Do you deliver your own mail? No, of course you don’t – so why tie up valuable resources and time designing and publishing your own web site only to be disappointed with the result. Your time is more valuable than that.

So – you have decided to use a professsional website design company. There are thousands, so how do you choose? Here are some questions to ask:

How long have they been around? Businesses that have been around for ten years or more will have seen a lot of changes in the way the web works and have obviously adapted successfully. New businesses may not still be around when you need some changes made to your site. Your site could vanish, and you could lose control of your domain.

Have a look at their portfolio. Look for at least twenty websites, preferably more – if they only have a handful then they are either new starts or   just playing at it.  Do you like the sites? Do they work? Try some Google queries – do the sites show up for sensible search terms? Are the sites easy to use?  Good navigation is essential – do you always know exactly where you are on the site, can you find the information you want?

Does the company seem  interested in your business? When you ask them for a quotation do they give you a generic flat-rate quote or try to sell you things you don’t want,  or do they talk with you at length to find out more about your business, how it works and what you hope to get from the website? Do they baffle you with jargon or explain things in easy to understand terms?

Check the small print.  Are there extra set-up fees? If there are staged payments, what do you get at every stage? What sort of hosting do they offer? Will your site be able to expand with the business? How will it be updated? Are there any ongoing charges? Most importantly, make sure that you will own the copyright to all the material on the site including design and layout. We sugggest that you ask your web designer for a copy of all the files once the site is live and paid for.

What sort of support can you expect? We hear stories of ‘unavailable’ web design companies all the time. Make sure you have a phone number, not just an email address – and make sure it is not a premium rate number. Ask them what the turnaround time for an email reply is, and how long it will take to make a simple text change to the site. Remember, in many cases the same company will be looking after your business email account – you need to be sure they are there when you need them.

Lastly but not least, for genuine testimonials.  The best recommendation any business can have is a testimonial from a happy customer. Have a look on their website – are there any testimonials? If not, why not? You can also  ask the company if they are happy to provide references, and if you are still not sure you might even want to contact one or two of their existing clients and ask them if they would recommend the company.