Web-Pop.US Consulting

SmartMoney Magazine by Dyan Machan (Author Archive)

The Tangled Web Site

A business without a great Web presence might as well have its front door boarded up. But where do you go for advice, should you want to start from scratch? Web site building, after all, is like doing home renovations:a u can get wildly different quotes from different contractors for the same marble sink. For perspective, we talked to two distinctly different entrepreneurs with Web sites that serve each of them well. One site is homegrown and inexpensively created; the other needed big guns and a big budget to fulfill its great ambitions.

Katrina Garnett, 48, is an Australian-born Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose Crossworlds Software sold to IBM in 2001. Garnett has invested $2 million of her money to create My Little Swans, an adventure-travel business catering to wealthy families. A key part of her plan was a highly interactive, sleek and sophisticated Web site to woo similarly sleek and sophisticated travelers. MyLittleSwans.com went fully live this January, at a cost of $250,000. At first glance, the spending seems worth it: The site is quick to load, enabled for easy picture-sharing with Facebook and iPhone-compatible. The site's members can click on content about travel destinations that interest them and drag it into their own personalized folders. "I like to start with a big idea," Garnett explains.

Getting it online, however, was hardly smooth sailing. Garnett knew from experience that she'd be best off hiring a full-service Web-building partner. Countless specialist firms do just Web design or only programming and operations, but Garnett recommends finding one that can walk and chew gum at the same time. Too many times, she has witnessed design firms "that haven't got a clue about 'the back-end'" and operations firms that can't spell user interface, which virtually guarantees a hailstorm of finger-pointing once something goes wrong. The San Francisco-based Garnett spent two months looking and eventually went all the way to the East Coast for a firm she felt had adequate strengths, front and back.

The next tricky issue: brand identity. Tens of thousands of dollars can get sucked down the drain in the name of branding, or how a business is graphically presented to the world. But most entrepreneurs instinctively know what they want here, and it's best if you, like Garnett, have a design concept in mind before walking in the door. Garnett, a mother of three, thought the image of little swans evoked both a certain grace and a family image. But many design teams she talked to wished to change her mind, with a steep price tag attached, of course. Her advice: Stand firm. "I already know I want a swan," she recalls saying, and then when she realized they had trouble hearing this, insisted: "No, it's gonna be a swan!"

Once you find a partner, remember that complications can continue after a Web site launches. It's common practice for technology firms to state that they will fix glitches for only the first 30 days after a site goes public. But it can take several months before certain problems show, particularly when there are multiple moving parts and a building group of users. When Garnett found out that fixing or adapting her site after one month being live "wasn't in the contract," she dealt with the account manager the same way an angry mother swan would react-going over his head and complaining loudly. Garnett says she went straight to the company's CEO and got what she wanted: access to the gearhead who worked directly on MyLittleSwans's code. "They made the bug, they fix the bug," she says, adding, "You have to micromanage."

To build a luxury-vacation site, owner Katrina Garnett paid $250,000 to a Web-design firm - and made sure it had the chops to handle nuts-and-bolts programming.

Unless, of course, you have nobody to manage but yourself. Joan Bradford is a former schoolteacher and a theatrical costume-shop owner who bought and renovated an 1840s house 15 years ago in New Windsor, Md., and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast. She named it the Yellow Turtle Inn after she had a dream about such creatures and learned that they're the only turtles that guard their nests. But while Bradford may have a mystical bent (she also says she has seen angels near the house), she also has great technical skills. Bradford managed the renovation, decorated each room and cooks guests breakfast each morning-and also created the inn's Web site.

"Young people don't think we can do things like this," says Bradford, who doesn't care to specify her age but describes it as "way past retirement."

Ten years ago, Bradford didn't even have a computer. But she made it to the Web and found her way to software company Homestead Technologies, which advertises: "Make a free website in minutes." She took the challenge and ran with it, setting up two home pages-one for overnight guests and another for brides ("they like to have their own Web sites," she says). Bradford selected templates; uploaded pictures; wrote information; and set up a reservations, payment and e-mail system entirely on her own. "It was so simple to point and click," she says. But the work did''t stop there. Bradford has fussed over every image and word of her expansive and constantly changing Web presence, which now includes a third site. When the spirit moves her, often after midnight, she updates or rearranges things, a process she calls "creative and meditative."

It's also smart, because fresh content is highly valued by the humans and machines that trawl the Web and determine the ranking a site will achieve in a search engine like Google. One reason the Yellow Turtle site has done well, helping to bring in some 300 guests a year, is that Bradford's always adding rich new material, notes Angus Thomson, of Intuit, the company that owns Homestead. "If you don't follow up on your Web site, it's like not answering your phone," Thomson says. And having a higher search ranking is thought to be far more effective at getting users to respond than buying the auctioned and often expensive paid-for ads that generally appear in the highlighted sections of a search-engine page.

Bradford also laces her sites with terms that frequently get used in searches, a process the pros call SEO, or search-engine optimization. Figuring that romance is a hot search term, she has put together pages describing how couples used her grounds for marriage proposals. Reiki and tranquility also frequently populate her changing text. Bradford says she understands the search process intuitively, and hopefully those instincts will serve her well in her next Web venture. After a satisfying decade-plus at the helm, she's putting the inn on the market-and advertising it, of course, with a Web site she built herself.

Joan Bradford cooks all the meals and designed all the rooms at her Maryland bed-and-breakfast. She also designed and runs the Web site, using inexpensive DIY software.

Read more: The Tangled Web Site - Personal Finance - Employment - SmartMoney.com http://www.smartmoney.com/personal-finance/employment/the-tangled-web-site/#ixzz0nFvvaZq7

Source: http://www.smartmoney.com/personal-finance/employment/the-tangled-web-site/

For more coverage of small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs, vist Smart Money's smSmallBiz.com

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]