• Zachary Wallace

To-do: Build a Website

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

During the 1980s, technology as a common necessity in business was science fiction. The 1980s were just the beginning of the personalized computer, largely orchestrated by Steve Jobs’ goal to get computers in every house. Fast forward 30 years, and now it is an absolute must for a company to have a website presence. Building credibility, cutting costs, and improving customer service are just some of the key benefits of having a website. You can even reach more potential customers!

Now that you’re convinced that a website is critical to building your business, how do you build one and how much does it cost?

There are a few different routes to building a website, and it’s important to establish your purpose first. So… what is your purpose? Let’s consider the following questions:

  1. Are you focused on building a purely informative website?

  2. Will your website contain static content?

  3. Are you looking to have dynamic content spread throughout your website?

If you are able to answer these three questions, you are well on your way to building a website -- but this is just a start! In future blog posts, I will dive further into building your website as a software engineer and finding external consultation, but there are two main ways to start building a website: using a website builder or building your own website. Luckily, these options satisfy both extremes: talented software engineers and those that struggle to print a piece of paper. Regardless of which group you find yourself in, you have options.

Quick Glossary

Static content - This is content which doesn’t change over time. A great example of this is blogs. Blog posts are static pages served to the users, which will always exist as one page.

Dynamic content - This is content which changes over time. Think of a Facebook page, which has a basic user design, but information differs based on each user.

Prototype - This is an example of what you want your website to look like without any working features. Think of this similarly to an outline for a paper you had to write in grade school.

Website Builders

It’s quite common to use website builders if your purpose is building a blog, or building a homepage for a company. These are quite powerful, and there are a ton of options to ensure that these websites promote your business. I don’t want to dive too far into this, but if you are curious, you should read more from the professional, Joe, on digital marketing. In short, there are a plethora of options to build a website, and choosing a website builder from this list comes down to your personal opinion on whichever has the easiest User Experience (UX) or a theme that aligns with your business design.

Once you have a website builder chosen, you need to buy the domain you are attempting to use. Your domain is critical to successfully reaching your audience, so it’s important to do your research and follow the guidelines to choose the right domain. It’s possible that your domain isn’t available because another person owns it, but this provides you with a few options. First, you can simply choose another domain, which could be as simple as changing the extension in your domain from “.com” to anything that follows the guidelines in the link above. The second, and a more difficult option, is that you can purchase the rights for a domain from another individual. This option is far more difficult than the first because you will most likely have to propose and negotiate terms with another individual or entity. Luckily, there is a ton of work out there on this exact topic. Once you have this domain chosen, you are ready to start making your content! I would highly recommend using some of the tutorials based on the specific website builder you chose, as each builder’s UX will differ.

Building a Website

If you are building a website, this means that you have an idea for a website that will typically have dynamic information. This generally applies when you want to build an interactive website. So if you are doing this, you have two options. For software engineers, your role is going to be focused on picking the right tools to use, which differs based on your purpose. However, in this post, I want to focus on those of you that are curious about building your website through external consultation.

A common phrase that is thrown around the computer science world is “Anything is possible given the correct time frame”, and I believe you should ensure that you fully understand the scope of that phrase. When building an application, there are many different problems that could arise during development, where time and effort is the only reasonable way to find a solution. During my college days, I spent my free-time attempting to build an application that could find the real-time number of people in a specific location. We went through many phases of the application before realizing that we had one serious roadblock before we were going to be able to provide this service to the public, and that was the accuracy of geolocation. I believe that I learned a valuable lesson during the six-month endeavor. Always understand the scope of the project you are building. It should have been quite clear that the geolocation was going to be a huge barrier, but we had the mentality that we would deal with those issues as we got there.

If you can imagine, building out an application in your free-time only costs your sanity, but can you imagine wasting thousands, or even tens of thousands, of company dollars to find that your application cannot be completed based on the accuracy of the tools within the common product (phone in this case) that will be using your service? I can only imagine the conclusion of that project will result in, at the very least, a stern warning. With this in mind, I must stress two very important aspects of building an application: understand the scope and purpose.

One of the toughest parts in computer science is determining where to place the line in the sand for what is good enough to show to the end users. Typically, this takes experience to determine the key fundamental features that are necessary to implement. However, sticking to the purpose of this blog, let’s run through a few quick tips that should help you determine where that line stands.

  1. Using your purpose, draft a rough sketch (aka a mock draft) of the user experience. Essentially, ask yourself: “What problem am I trying to solve for the users?”

  2. Bring this sketch into a prototyping tool such as invision.

  3. Once you have the prototype, decide which features are “Need to have” and which features are “Nice to have”

Once you have your list of “Need to have” features, you should attempt to get what is commonly referred to as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). As the name suggests, the goal is to find the least amount of features to achieve your purpose. Finding your MVP is one of the most significant milestones in determining the scope of your project. Finally, once you have this, you must choose an independent web development team to complete your project!

As you can see, building a website isn’t as tough as one would presume, but it can seem like you are pushing a boulder up a mountain at times. One of the hardest things to do when discussing how to build a website is determining the overall cost. I cannot give you exact quotes, but I will say that I would rank the financial burden for each of these as follows:

  1. Website Builder for a static website (cheapest)

  2. Building a website yourself as a software engineer

  3. Outsourcing your website to another company (most expensive)

Depending on your needs and your financial capability, you should find the option that works the best for you in the aforementioned list. It’s always good to have an agile approach when getting into the technical world, so don’t be afraid to take small steps and iterate. Best of luck!

"If we tried to think of a good idea, we wouldn’t have been able to think of a good idea. You just have to find the solution for a problem in your own life." - Brian Chesky, Co-founder of Airbnb

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