Move Over Amazon.com: There's a new Web site in town . . . just about every second. And this time it's yours. Whether you want to sell products or just tell people what you do, a clean, easy-to-navigate business Web site is a necessity, and on a tight budget, it's a do-it-yourself operation. So what if you can't afford offices full of techies that dream in HTML? You don't have to write Java scripts or know what cgi-bin stands for to launch a Web site. And you don't have to hire anyone (a 12-year-old nephew who built a site dedicated to Pikachu probably isn't the best candidate anyway). With the proliferation of no-HTML-required Web editors out there, you could be the best person for the job.
You wouldn't create a PowerPoint presentation without a hard drive to store it on, so you shouldn't create a Web site without a place to put it online. As handy as the built-in previews are in programs like Adobe PageMill or CoffeeCup HTML Editor, you won't know what really works unless it's online and you're viewing it through a browser. You need the services of a Web hosting company.
There are ways around paying $20 or more per month for Web space, but they all have drawbacks. Your ISP might have tossed a few MB of space in with your dial-up deal, but you'll be stuck with the address they give you. Http://home.earthlink.net/~yourname just isn't as catchy as Yourname.com. If you're determined to use free hosting, your best bet is a place like WebJump. You get 25MB of free Web space in exchange for signing away the top portion of your Web site to WebJump's banner ads. Choose from yourname.webjump.com or use your own registered address.
To avoid long, hard-to-remember domain names and ads cluttering up your site, you'll have to pay a hosting provider. With thousands of choices out there, sites such as Compare Web Hosts, HostIndex.com and HostSearch can be invaluable. You can search their databases by price, disk space and available services. Don't forget to check into set-up and transfer fees.
Most providers will register your ".com" name for you, but you can do it yourself through sites like Net-Names, Network Solutions and Register.com among others. Typically a $70 fee gets you a two-year registration. And the sooner you register, the better. Good Web names are harder and harder to come by as speculators buy them up.
OK, you have a domain name and a place to put it- now you need a program. The leaders in WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML editors are Microsoft FrontPage 2000 ($149), Adobe PageMill 3.0 ($100), NetObjects Fusion (see "Good Buys") and CoffeeCup HTML Editor ($49). None require that you know HTML, but some familiarity with HTML tags can be helpful for fine-tuning. Here are some dos and don'ts for building a Web site, from small-business Web developer and consultant Doug Henry:
DO keep it simple: An elegant interface is what surfers look for in a site.
DO check out the competition: Your cyberworld competitors' sites can give you lots of ideas about what (and what not) to do.
DO find out what customers want: Your customers can give the best insight into how your Web site should be and what it should contain. Listen to them.
DO give it a little time: Your site probably won't be voted most popular overnight. Word-of-mouth takes on a whole new meaning on the Web.
DON'T use frames: Frames can turn people off quickly; they're often misused and implemented poorly.
DON'T use large images and files: A good rule of thumb for an entire page with images is 50 to 70KB.
DON'T assume that if you build it, they will come: Just because your site is up and running doesn't mean anyone can find it. Submitting your site to search engines and adding your URL to company stationery, mailers, your sign and more lets customers know you exist.
The basic rule of building a Web site is this: Take the time to learn your HTML editor and keep it simple. You probably won't run Amazon.com out of business, but, then again, you don't have to.