Until about a year ago, only specialists in Web page design had the tools and skills to create such an animal. Nowadays, however, several software companies offer do-it-yourself Web page programs. With names such as 3-D Website Builder, Adobe PageMill and Claris Home Page, they enable the average techno-Twinkie (me included) to put together a Web page using a wide range of attractive templates and other accoutrements. Besides allowing you to construct a site literally in a matter of minutes, these programs also enable you to regularly update and improve your page to keep it timely and effective.
I contacted the Asymetrix Co. of Bellevue, Washington, developers of another such program, WebPublisher, to help me show you how to transform a ho-hum effort into an electronic storefront that looks welcoming and professional. Mind you, you can spend a few thousand dollars having your page custom-designed using animation, video and other electronic eye candy. But even on a limited budget, you can still produce a page that gets the job done.
WebPublisher ($70) provides 20 basic Web page themes, designed by professional artists, that you can then enhance with text, graphics and hyperlinks, also called "hot links" (highlighted words that, when selected, send the viewer to another relevant screen for more information). As you can see in the Flower Shop example on the following page, you can even give your headline a 3-D effect to grab more attention.
This may be easy enough for the ambitious do-it-yourselfer, you say, but what if you're either a complete sloth or a hopeless computer incompetent, yet still recognize the business-building power of a Web page? In that case, there are a few thousand young, Web-designing part-timers out there who knock out pages for friends or do it to make some extra money on weekends.
I ran across one such kitchen-table Web whiz through an e-mail ad he placed and gave him a call just to see what he offers. Ben Maxstadt of Albany, New York, is 19 and a freshman majoring in computer science at local Columbia Green Community College. He designs Web pages using yet another such program called HTML Assistant Pro, charges between $100 and $300 for the job, and says he's got a lot of takers. But he agrees that today's Web publishing software makes it easy for just about anyone to produce a page.
I asked if he had any helpful hints for the first-timer, and here are his top four:
1. Don't use graphics that take a long time to load because impatient viewers may not wait around.
2. In lieu of a lot of slow-loading photos, insert hypertext links that give the prospect the option to view photos elsewhere.
3. Create a "guest book," and ask visitors to sign it and add their e-mail addresses. This helps you build a database of interested people you may want to contact later.
4. Use a good Web browser to view your page. Maxstadt recommends Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Without one, the images on your page may look distorted or misaligned.