It’s a Web Web World: Part 2

I spent some time in the last week giving advice to a friend on setting up her website in preparation for the release of her novel. This is part 2/3, focusing on some of the specific features you should focus on when thinking about setting up your site! If you missed the other parts in this series:

Part 1

I always recommend stopping and thinking about what you’re trying to do with the site prior to doing a bunch of research. There are so so many options for web presences that you could spend days trying to track them all down. In general, here are a few things you’ll need to consider:

  • What sorts of things do I want to do with my website?
  • A blog? [Moderate]
  • Social Media (e.g. Twitter/Facebook) Integration?  [Easy]
  • Basic Contact Information / Bio / Publications List [Easy]
  • Link to existing store-front (e.g. Amazon Store) [Easy]
  • Event calendar / appearances [Moderate]
  • On-Site E-Commerce [Difficult]

There are of course countless other things you might do, but these are some of the common ones. If you are thinking you want to do something complicated (like e-commerce) that will help you limit your options from the next list. If you are just wanting a blog, again, that will help you decide.

Easy items above are essentially static content. Once you post them, they don’t change very often. Even basic HTML can be used for something like this.

Moderate items above (the blog, the calendar) are items that you are likely to change regularly (daily, weekly, etc.). Because of this, having a static HTML site is going to be incredibly painful for you, and having some sort of database driven solution will make your life infinitely simpler. However, this requires more technical resources as a result (not necessarily more expensive, just more complex).

Difficult items (the store) get even more complicated, because while you need the database driven complexity of the moderate items, you also have to have the payment processing and product support required for e-commerce. Note that payment processors like PayPal and Authorize.net are super easy to setup and use, but they will take a commission out of every sale (and this should be considered a cost of doing business). Expect on top of everything else that commission to be a few cents ($.30) or so a transaction, plus a percentage of the transaction.

In the web world, we recommend that you write simple statements about what you want to do with your site to help you keep track. These user stories / use cases are very helpful in determining the components you need for your software. Things like:

  • I want my readers to find me online
  • I want my readers to buy signed copies of my books
  • I want to publish my appearance schedule in an easy to find location
  • I want an easily updatable blog (to help me post regularly)

As you consider these levels of complexity and the uses for your site, the other things to consider are the actual subscriptions you’ll need to accomplish what you want to do.

  • Domain/URL: I strongly recommend owning your own domain. The actual URL doesn’t matter much, as long as it’s yours and you plan to keep it.
  • Where to get it? Many of the places you will host your website will provide a discounted domain if you get it from them. I would leave this step until later (despite it being incredibly important)
  • What is privacy? When registering a domain, you have an option to get a private registration. I strongly recommend this, as it ensures that people can’t look up your contact information by looking up your domain. (Yes, it does roughly double the price of the domain.)
  • Hosting: The host is the person who actually provides the computing resources for you to manage your website from. You have to have hosting of “some variety” (more on this in a moment) unless you own a web server that you are publishing to the Internet (and, let’s be honest, if you are still reading this post, you probably don’t!)
  • Should I auto-renew? YES. You do NOT want your domain to expire. Someone can buy it the instant it does. Don’t mess around with this. Put a reminder on your calendar and buy the domain for multiple years at a time if you can afford it.
  • Can I have my own email @mydomain? YES.
  • Managed Software Solutions: A managed solution is something like Square Space, Wordpress.com, Shopify, etc. Each of these services charges you a flat monthly rate (or, nothing, depending) and provides you with software and the basics to run that software on the web. In general these options are the simplest, fastest, and least labor-intensive ways to get a site up and running. I recommend Wordpress.com or Tumblr if you need a simple solution.
  • Managed Hosting: This option is similar to the first, but you are responsible for managing the software. So, they manage the database, the server, etc., but you do the rest. Often cheaper (even a few dollars a month), this option requires significantly more understanding of technology and time on your part.  Note too that this option is often a shared hosting resource (vs. dedicated below) and as a result, you may not get the most blazing fast, incredibly powerful website, ever. Services like Blue Host and Fat Cow are good places to begin your search (or they were 5 years ago).
  • Dedicated Hosting: This option is basically the “on your own” model. You might still be able to get some management from the company if you want to pay for it. Most beginners don’t need this level of service. There are pros in this arena, mainly related to the performance of the server, but the costs of renting one can be prohibitive, and again, if you don’t know what you’re doing, this is going to be a very confusing path indeed.

Next, consider your budget. Are you looking to spend a couple hundred dollars a year? More? Less?

As I discussed with my friend, e-commerce can rapidly raise the cost of what you’re trying to do. If you just need a basic blog, Wordpress.com provides you with a blog and domain for about $20 a year. If you want to bring in your own domain from someplace else, it will run you about $40 a year . That’s all. That falls nicely into the Managed Software Solution I mentioned above and it’s pretty cheap.

On the other hand, if you want to have a store front on your site, going with something like Square Space ($20 a month if you pay up front) as a managed solution is one option, versus getting a managed hosting site, installing a content manager (e.g. Wordpress again) and then setting up e-commerce that ay. Again, in this option, you will be paying less than $20 a month, but you will be on the hook to make sure that you don’t have any security vulnerabilities, etc.

Make sure to check back in a few days, or subscribe, for part 3 which will talk about a few items I think are must haves for the site.

If you missed the other parts in this series:

Part 3