Your website: build it or outsource it?

Your website: build it or outsource it?
You might want a website for your portfolio, for your company, to show off pictures or just to talk about your cats. It might be your first web page, or maybe you had one at a time but had bad experience with it. It any case, you want a new one and don’t know here to start.

There are a few questions to ask yourself first:

  • What kind of content will you need for your site? Interactive forms? E-commerce? Video or audio feeds?
  • Does the site have to look pro?
  • Do you change your mind every 2 days and like to change your website about as often?
  • How much time do you have to invest in your site?
  • How much money do you have to invest in your site?
  • Do you enjoy learning new technology? Can you learn fast?
  • When do you need your site?
  • How much updating and maintenance will your site need?
  • Do you want to build a page to LEARN how it’s done? (As a hobby or for future use)?

Yeah, that sounds like a lot of questions, but choosing to do your site yourself or to outsource is an important choice to make. There are other options that are a mix of the 2, like using a ready made template or hiring someone to build the site and teach you how to update it.
Personnal page option
If all you want is a personal space to put up pics and talk about personnal stuff, you don’t really need to build a site, you can just create an account on MySpace (just like I did) or on any blogging site. You can also create a www.photobucket.com account and put your pics there, from there you can link to your pics from any forums or blogging account. These services are free and ad-driven, but if you aren’t looking for pro-level webspace they are quite sufficient and easy to use and maintain. One thing to consider when choosing a free space is:”will your visitors have to login/create an account to see your stuff?” Having to create an account is a major turn off to a lot of people. I think MSN livespace is like that.

If you are interested in learning to build your page yourself for fun or to put that in your resume even if you only have personnal content, keep reading.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a programmer but I am fairly tech savvy. That said, I have been working with HTML since 1996 and had time to adapt to the newer technologies. My first book was Teach Yourself web publishing with HTML in a week by Laura Lemay. In 3 hours I had a pro-looking (for the time) website up and running, on my hard drive. That was back when websites were in black text on grey background and when you stumbled upon an image you were all excited. Nowadays it’s a little more complicated… But not that much.
DIY option
What does building your site involve? Well, a basic website nowadays isn’t much more complicated than it was circa 1995. Everything web is based on HTML just like it was back then. An HTML file is just a .txt file containing specific codes where you change the .txt extension to .htm or .html. HTML stands for HyperTextMarkupLanguage.

To see what it looks like, there is an option in most browser to view the HTML of the page you are currently looking at. Like in Opera it’s View>Source or CTRL+F3. The difference is now there are many other kinds of technologies that can be used to generate HTML or to be plugged in HTML to give more functionalities. CSS is one of the most used options, it allows you to separate the content of the page from it’s formating. So if your site has 10 pages (10 html files,) you can change 1 CSS file and the colors and layout of the entire site changes.

Other options are Java, Javascript, Flash, Shockwave. Means to generate HTML and scripts are PHP, Pearl, ASP etc.

Having a website also involves having a home for it, do you want to use a free hosting service, (maybe one is included in your ISP service) or do you want full service and your own domain like mywebsite.com. Hosting and domain registry are 2 different services but many providers have bundles with both services together for the same price. Paid for hosting can range from 25$ a year to thousands of dollars so you have to be careful and see what your needs are before choosing.

I will come back in a later post about advises on actually building pages but I will start with some links of interest:

How To Identify Effective Color Schemes
Online tools to choose a color scheme to your website, often a tricky topic.
W3Schools
The most complete online guide I have seen so far about the technologies used to put content online and their proper use. May seem a bit dry but a useful reference.
CSSZenGarden
Fairly advanced site that shows the possibilities of CSS for layout while being compliant to proper web standards.

Outsourcing option
Maybe your want many different kinds of content to your page, like a shopping cart and video feed and you don’t want to go throught the trouble of learning it all. Some designers will build your site, manage your domains and host your site for a 1 time building fee and a monthly service fee. You have to be aware that they will take a profit from the hosting and managing but it may well be worth your time if you don’t want to bother with that stuff. Some will most likely build the thing and turn it over to you for maintenance and management. You have to be clear with them about what you want to handle and what your budget is.

Content with databases (like shopping carts, catalogs, forums, memberships) will most likely require regular maintenance. If you are tech savvy but artisticaly impaired you can hire a designer to build the look and feel of the site and do the maintenance yourself.

In any case, always ask for the source files of your site and keep it on back up yourself, .psd and .fla files are always useful for minor updates and you will hate yourself if you lose them or if your web designer leaves the project without giving them to you.

I’ll have an update with more details soon because I have bitten more than I can chew in a single post.

If you have any specific questions about this post or past post, don’t hesitate to ask!

Edited to fix a broken link for the color tools, the original resource has been removed but I found a new one.

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