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Creating Your Own Website
Note: Much of the information in this article has gone out of date, but I haven't had time to update it yet. Please feel free to email me if you are setting up your first web site and want some advice.
This article is a step-by-step guide to creating your own website. It is not meant to be comprehensive, in the sense that I don't include every little detail. I assume that my readers are jewelry designers who will want to sell their jewelry on their sites, so I address this article to them; but these steps can be used by anyone. Please note that I recommend the methods that I have used, but there are other methods. I mention the other methods when I think of them.
The Basic Steps
You will need to take these steps (described in greater detail below) to create your site:
1. Choose and secure your
2. Find a hosting company (steps 1 and 2 can be combined).
3. Get a web publishing program (you may already have one).
4. Take pictures of your items (you'll need a camera or scanner and photo-editing program).
5. Design and publish your site (this will take time and effort, but it can be fun).
6. Install a shopping cart (you can do this for free).
7. Get a PayPal account to accept credit-card payments.
8. Publicize your site (this will take time).
1. Secure your domain name. The extension for your domain name should be ".com" or ".biz". Let's stay that you want to call your site "Lela's Designs", the logical domain name to choose would be www.lelasdesigns.com or www.lelasdesigns.biz (.biz names are easier to get than .com names, but .com names are more prestigious). If those domain names are taken, you can insert a hyphen: www.lelas-designs.com, etc. You can go to either www.networksolutions.com or www.register.com to secure the domain name. Those registrars, however, are expensive ($35 per year). You may be able to register your domain name through your hosting company, but not all hosting companies have that capability. I've seen www.dotster.com recommended – they charge only $15 per year for domain-name registration. Go Daddy (www.godaddy.com) is cheap and popular (although I find their site confusing). When you secure your domain name, the registrar may "park" it for you on one of their servers until you are ready to use it. Domain names can be moved from one hosting company to another, so you are not tied to the hosting company you choose. The process of switching hosts used to be rather involved, but it has gotten easier.
2. Find a hosting company. There is a great deal of competition for your hosting dollar, and it shouldn't be necessary to spend more than $6 or $8 a month to host your site. What, you may ask, is a host? A host is a network computer (called a "server") which is connected to the internet. You will design your site on your own computer and then "publish" it (upload it) to the host server, where people can see it. Since you do not have a server of your own, you need to find a company with a server to host your site for you – that's what hosting companies do.
Most hosting companies offer several plans at different price points. The plan you want will probably be called "basic" or "standard" or something like that. It is not necessary to get an "e-commerce" plan in order to get a shopping cart (although e-commerce plans are becoming cheaper). In another article, I tell you how to get a shopping cart for free.
When selecting a host, you want one which (1) is located in the United States, (2) owns their own computers, (3) gives you adequate storage space and web access ("bandwidth"), and (4) has adequate technical support.
Some important points:
► Problems can arise from using foreign hosting companies, especially if you use them to register your domain name (they may register it under their own name and effectively steal it from you).
► It is good if a hosting company owns its computers, but not essential. Many hosting companies lease their servers to individuals who go into the hosting business. The service you get will be better from the company that actually owns the computers because there is no middleman.
► The web space you want (i.e., the actual disk space on the server) should be at least 300-500 MB (megabytes), and the amount of web access you want (called "bandwidth" or "data transfer") should be at least 5 GB (gigabytes) a month. The amount of storage space and bandwidth being offered by hosting companies keeps going up; the figures I just mentioned should be adequate for your purposes, but you can get much more than that.
► Technical support via phone (toll free or not) is not always available, and you may have to pay more for it (but never more than $20 a month). Many of the companies with the lowest prices (as low as $4 per month) provide support only via email.
► You should avoid hosting companies that offer very low hosting fees in exchange for advertisements on your home page. That doesn't look professional.
As I said above, your hosting company may be able to secure your domain name for you. If they offer that service, the option for securing a domain name will be on their home page.
The best way to find a hosting company is simply to search Google for the term "web host" and dozens of them will pop up. Study their prices and plans carefully. There are also sites on the internet where people can review their hosting companies, although right at this time I can't give you the names of any of them. Most of them can register your domain name.
Note: Most e-commerce hosting plans are expensive, although, as I said, prices are coming down. Some hosting companies limit the functionality of the shopping cart for their lower-priced e-commerce plans. For example, a hosting company's $20 e-commerce plan may allow you to sell only 15 items in the shopping cart, their $30 plan may allow you to sell 50 items in the shopping cart, and their $50 plan may allow you to sell an unlimited number of items. These limitations are arbitrary and unnecessary. Their only purpose is to encourage you to spend more money on a more expensive plan. Don't sign up with a hosting company that has such manipulative limitations.
3. Get a web-publishing program. This is the program that you actually design your site in. The program will reside on your computer. After you design your site, you will "publish" it (or "upload" it) to your hosting company's server. If you have Microsoft Office on your computer, you may already have FrontPage, which is a good program. If you don't have FrontPage, you may already have FrontPage Express, a scaled-down version of FrontPage. I have never used FrontPage Express, but it may be adequate for your purposes. If you use FrontPage, your hosting company will have to have "FrontPage extensions" installed on the server (most of them do). Another web-publishing program is Macromedia Dreamweaver, which is expensive and, I hear, somewhat complicated. Dreamweaver is the program that elite web designers usually use. Adobe GoLive is another expensive program that gets good reviews. NetObjects Fusion is a program that has gotten high marks from reviewers and doesn't cost too much. If you don't want to spend much money, you may be able to find a shareware program on www.tucows.com or www.download.com.
Designing your own site will be time-intensive. There is a LOT of stuff you will need to learn. However, it can be a lot of fun, like a creative project. Designing your site gives you full control over it. If you hire someone to design it for you, it will be very expensive (at least several hundred dollars); and every time you want to make a change to the site, you will have to pay money to the web designer. Doing your own site is the way to go. If you use a designer, he or she may want to choose your hosting company for you (and if you decided to stop using the designer, you may lose your entire site – I'm not sure about this, but I think it's a possibility, depending on the deal you struck with the designer).
90% of web-publishing programs these days are "wysiwyg" ("what you see is what you get"), meaning that they have a graphical interface and you don't need to know HTML (hypertext markup language). However, I strongly urge you to periodically look at the HTML code that the program creates for you so that you become familiar with it.
4. Take pictures of your items. To sell your items effectively, you must have good pictures. For information on this, please read my article on photographing beads. You will need a photo-editing program in order to fix up your pictures after you take them (most pictures will need to be cropped, lightened or darkened, shrunk to a certain size, and sharpened). Your camera may have come with a photo-editing program which is adequate. If not, you can pick up Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop Elements for $100 or less.
5. Design and publish your site. Giving you design tips would take too much space in this article. The best thing to do is to look at other sites to get an idea of what you want. Graphics to decorate your site can be gotten for free. There are many "web artists" who offer website graphics in exchange for a link back to their site. (To find them, search Google for phrases like "web graphics", "backgrounds", etc.) You can also use your photo-editing program to work on graphics. I should add that most web-publishing programs come with pre-matched graphics called "themes". If you don't want to bother with graphics at all, just use one of the program's themes.
6. Install a shopping cart. I have written an article on how to install a free shopping cart on your site. However, installing a free shopping cart requires that you be somewhat comfortable with HTML. If you want to avoid HTML entirely, then you will have to get one of those "e-commerce" hosting plans that I mentioned above. They are usually more expensive, though not always, and they come with a shopping cart program installed (usually Miva Merchant). I've never used any of those e-commerce shopping cart programs, so I can't tell you anything about them. However, I did try to set up Miva Merchant once and found it very confusing.
PayPal offers a free shopping cart to its members. It used to be that PayPal's free shopping cart would only take PayPal payments. However, it now allows customers to choose checks or money orders as a payment method; and since customers can now pay with their credit cards through PayPal (even if they don't have a PayPal account), using PayPal with the PayPal shopping cart is a pretty good solution for accepting payments. I use PayPal on my web site, and I have a pretty serious business.
7. Get a merchant account, or PayPal or ProPay. Having a shopping cart program on your site doesn't mean that you can accept credit-card payments. In order to accept credit-card payments, you will need to get a "merchant account" from a credit-card processing company. Explaining how to do that is outside the purview of this article, but let me say that there are a dozen or so credit-card processing "networks" (Authorize.net and Verisign are two of them). The networks do not sell their services directly to you; rather, various companies act as "resellers" of the network, and you have to create an account with one of them. You have to be very careful, however, as the fees vary widely, and many of these resellers are dishonest: They will lie to you about what you will be paying in order to get you to sign up. Depending on the deal you get, processing $1000 of monthly transactions can cost as little as $50 or as much as $150 or more.
There are alternative options to getting a merchant account. Since PayPal started accepting payments from non-members, it became possible to use PayPal as a merchant account. (PayPal charges you 2.9% of each transaction, plus a 30¢ fee – so $1000 of monthly transactions will cost you about $30 or a bit more.) However, if your customer has a PayPal account which she is not using, or which has some problem associated with it, she may have trouble paying you. Also, your customers will not be able to use their PayPal debit cards to pay you. PayPal will also try to get your customers to open a PayPal account every time they buy something from you, and that can be obnoxious. Another problem is that PayPal is famous for its heavy-handed treatment of members when something goes wrong. If they suspect you of any kind of fraudulent activity, they may freeze your account for months at a time. However, I haven't had a problem in the six years that I've been using them..
PayPal Payments Pro is a new service that doesn't have any of regular PayPal's drawbacks. It functions just like a merchant account, except that it is more user-friendly. I used to recommend Payments Pro as the best e-commerce solution, but then PayPal increased the monthly fee to $30 from $20 and it became too expensive (that's in addition to the fees mentioned above). Since certain restrictions have since been dropped from the regular PayPal account (discussed above), I now recommend that.
Google Checkout is a new service offered by Google. It is a method by which customers can pay merchants on the internet without revealing their credit-card number. For the merchant, it is less expensive than PayPal's regular account, but it isn't in wide use yet. I recommend putting both Google Checkout and PayPal on your site.
ProPay (www.propay.com) is another option. ProPay has higher fees than PayPal, but they are cheaper than a merchant account up to about $2000 in monthly transactions. However, with ProPay you have to manually enter the payment on their site. In other words, payment processing doesn't happen invisibly in the background as it does with PayPal or a merchant account.
8. Publicize your site. Getting people to be aware that your site is there will take some time. The best ways to do it are:
► List your site with Google and other search engines (Google will eventually find your site anyway, but there's no reason not to tell them about it). Don't list your site before it is completed, however.
► Exchange links with other sites. Links on other sites are very useful for getting traffic to your site.
► Sell your jewelry on eBay and tell all your customers about your site.
► Join a jewelry forum or newsgroup and tell other members about your site (but please don't spam where spamming isn't permitted).
As I said above, I'll be revising and expanding this article over time, but I believe I have included all the basic steps.
More on Merchant Accounts
Here are some of the fees you can expect to be charged as part of your merchant account::
- Discount fee (the percentage they take out of each payment – 2.2% to 3%)
- Monthly minimum for discount fee (if your monthly discount fees total less than this, you have to pay a minimum – $20 to $25)
- Per-transaction fee (usually 30 cents)
- Additional per-transaction fees (10 or 15 cents per transaction)*
- Monthly gateway fee (the fee you pay to access the network – $10 to $20)
- Monthly statement fee (the fee you pay to get a monthly statement – $5 to $10)
- Batch deposit fee (the fee you pay to have the money transferred to your checking account – 25-30 cents)
It is not generally possible to get a merchant account without paying all of the above fees, but the fees below you should never have to pay:
- Application fee (unless it is very small)
- Setup fee (unless it is very small)
- Annual fee (unless it is very small)
- Other fees: license fee, gateway setup fee, risk-assessment fee, address verification fee, programming fee, realtime fee
- Termination fee if you cancel the service
Generally, you will have to sign an agreement with a term of several years, but you should insist on having the right to terminate the contract early, and you should not agree to pay a termination fee if you do.
When you screen resellers, you should find out how large the company is and how long they have been in business. Some resellers consist of nothing more than a man behind a desk, whereas some are well-sized companies.
You will have to undergo a credit
check to get your merchant account. Some resellers will not give you their
business if you have poor credit, but for many of them, poor credit it not an
issue (they are not, after all, giving you credit).
* I was not told about these extra per-transaction fees when I signed up with my merchant-account provider, and in my opinion I was lied to – and yet I was very careful to ask all the right questions. These extra fees that they didn't tell me about cost me a lot of money. Instead of paying about 4% of my sales to them, I paid over 5%. I have since switched to PayPal as my main payment-processor.