Choosing what you want your website to be isn't always as obvious as it might seem. There are so many options available to you that it really pays to take time out to think about this question before jumping in. Ask yourself what you are actually aiming for in having an online presence? Do you want a personal website, an online shop, a blog or diary style presence? Or do you want to run a forum related to your product or interest, perhaps an ezine with a back-issue website or if you are an artist, photographer or craftworker, maybe an online gallery would best promote you? To help you decide, try asking yourself these questions.
Do you want to sell physical goods? Items that have to be delivered by post, such as books, toys, clothes, electrical goods etc are ideal for an ecommerce website. There are many options open to you whereby you can catalog your items by entering them into a database. This sounds more complicated than it actually is. Most shop building software has a simple interface whereby you can enter items in obvious categories, add prices, sizes etc and postage costs. The add to basket buttons are generated for you for each item.
There's a huge number of companies offering you shop solutions for your website but they don't all have the same facilities. As ever, it pays to research and find one that does everything you want it to. Most companies will offer you a free trial and I recommend that you select a company that does.
You can choose to buy shopbuilding software to install on your computer, the benefit being that this is a one-off purchase and no recurring monthly payments, apart from your web hosting.
Alternatively you can go for the hosted shop option. There are an enormous number of companies offering this. Advantages are that your hosting and website are integral. Everything is done online so you can even update your shop from any computer wherever you may be. These options are usually very simple to use and have good help menus.
Do You want to sell downloadable goods, eg. software, music, ebooks? Downloadable products are very hot selling items on the internet. The reason is obvious and it benefits everyone involved. The buyer receives his / her purchase immediately, payment has cleared and the seller has no stock to buy, keep or deliver. Some product examples are music, images, software, templates and ebooks.
Ebooks are one of the most popular downloadable products. They are very easy to produce and most people have the ability to read them from their computer screen or even print them out. "How to" books are the most popular by far as they provide answers, solutions and ideas. The internet is used by many as a research tool and people are actively looking for information and solutions to problems. If you can provide these on a popular enough niche topic, your ebook is likely to be in demand. There are several websites which offer you the facility to sell downloadable products, such as Clickbank and Payloadz. A quick Google search will give you more options to explore to find the most suitable for your particular needs.
Are you an artist or photographer or craftworker? Firstly, ask yourself what your purpose of having an online presence will be. For example, are you looking to have a classy online portfolio or do you want to set up an ecommerce shop where you promote the sale of your original work and prints? Can you design websites or do you have the financial means to ask someone to build one for you? Do you have sufficient IT skills to join one of the many online galleries that allow you to upload your work to your own gallery area on their website?
Do you like the idea of being part of a larger online gallery but need someone to do all the techy things for you? There are an enormous number of online galleries now but knowing what you want to achieve will help you narrow your search significantly.
Do you have a bricks and mortar shop? If your business is in the real world, think about what it is you require your website to do in order to promote or give added value to your business. Do you wish it to be simply an online information post so that people can find more about what you offer or find their way to your premises? If so, you may if that your local government will offer you a free web page or mini website on their main council site. If you want something more individual, then a simple site built with Frontpage or a webuilder is probably your best option. If money is no object, then you can hire a webdesigner and achieve something more sophisticated.
Or perhaps you wish to add something extra to your business such as an online, out of hours, ordering system with home delivery. Again, unless you can pay for your site to be custom built, one of the easy web-shop builders is probably your best option.
Do you want to sell or promote a service? For example, are you a webdesigner, childminder, photographer, plumber, tutor, dogwalker, typist, financial adviser, mobile hairdresser, decorator, gardener, acupuncturist or beautician? The list is endless. If you offer a service whether online or off you will want to reflect your professionalism in a well designed and easy to navigate website. If you are able to afford to have your website designed for you to your own specifications, then this can be a good choice as it frees up your time to get on with actually providing the service you are involved in.
This is in option which many cannot afford. An alternative would be to build the website yourself. The advantages to this can really repay the time you put in. To start with, you can update your site whenever you wish, so keeping the content fresh and relevant. Software to help you do this is easily obtained. Dreamweaver and Frontpage are amongst the most popular. I find that the latter is an excellent choice for someone new to web design as it is so intuitive and easy to learn.
Having built your site yourself, the only ongoing costs are the time you decide to spend on it plus your webhosting and there are some excellent deals to be these days. If you feel uncomfortable with building sites, don't despair. There are some fabulous online website builders on offer these days. With this option, your website and hosting are all inclusive. Typically, you will be given a login area where you can select the template, ie. look and feel of your website and add images and information in a very simple step by step way. There is significant competition amongst web hosts offering this option and for you, the consumer, this means that more added value is being tagged onto these packages all the time.
Do you want to build a community website? Websites reflecting the interests of a community or group membership don't need to be sophisticated but it is an excellent idea to have one that is interactive. Being able to post questions and opinions, vote on a member poll or even post photographs will encourage members to participate more fully and can lead to new ideas and renewed enthusiasm within the group. An ideal solution might be a one page website linked to a forum. Some web hosts will offer free websites and hosting for not-for-profit groups and this is well worth looking into. Another idea is to have a community Blog. Again, these are something that permit group participation in posting plus are easy to set up and manage and many are free.
Good luck with your endeavors whatever your aims! The internet is a great place to have your own voice.