Developing your website: the fundamentals

Developing your website the fundamentals

If you are like me, you have a love/hate relationship with your website. On the one hand, it’s great that you have a shop front that is open 24/7. However, on the other hand, it can quickly become outdated and stale and you have to spend a fortune bringing it up to scratch.

In recent blogs, I have talked about some of the important questions to ask yourself when developing or re-developing your website. In this post we go back to basics and look at what your options are if you don’t have a website at all or if you feel your website really isn’t working and you want to take it back to the drawing board.

The way I see it there are three options. Simply put they are

1. Build your own site

To do this you will need a developer of some sort to help you, unless you can write the code yourself. For Jersey Beauty Company, one of my online businesses, I actually wrote the code for the first website back in 2006, but now we have a development team on the job. It has been a long time since I actually wrote any code. However, the benefits of building your own website are quite significant. At Jersey Beauty Company for example, we have a much lighter, much more robust framework that suits our needs specifically. We have a lot of bespoke requirements with the website, and having developed the whole thing from scratch, makes it easy for us to take full advantage of these requirements – keeping us ahead of the competition. However, whilst there are a lot of upsides, there are also a lot of associated costs.

Development costs can be, from a few thousand pounds up to hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending on your platform.

It’s also worth mentioning hosting. If you are building your own site or system, then you must have the belief that it is going to be pretty successful to justify the cost. One thing you must be absolutely sure about is your hosting company. We’ve tried many over the years, and I cannot begin to tell you of the frustration you will have if you have a beautifully designed site that is simply slow to respond and load for your customers. So host your site well. Invest in your hosting, it is worth it – trust me. We use Rackspace and have done for a number of years now. They are a great company when it comes to hosting. I don’t think they are particularly cheap but my experience is that they are worth it. We tried cheap. I’m not doing that again!

"My belief is that if you can afford the bespoke site, host it well and maintain it well enough in house – it is always your best option. But it isn’t the only option." Matt Edmundson

2. Use existing software

The second option, is to use an existing software package that has already been developed. Our very first e-commerce website, which sold tanning products years ago, was such a site. We used a software package from Actinic, and it served us well, as I learned the fine art of writing code. Nowadays, there are a lot of options when it comes to e-commerce software providers. If you go down this route, I would suggest you use a subscription, cloud based model like Shopify. They host the site, they constantly develop the code and update it which saves a big headache for you. They often have apps that you can use to help your site function well, so whilst it is not as tailored to your needs as the bespoke option, it is pretty good.

The benefits of this system are also significant, you can have a site set up pretty quickly, the framework is very robust and always up-to-date. You don’t have to think about hosting the site which solves another headache, and there is more than likely an app to give you the extra bit that is missing from the standard site. You don’t need a specialist team to help you build the site and this can save you a small fortune. It’s a great option for those starting out in e-commerce or those established sites that have a niche base and steady income.

3. Piggy backing

Your third option is not to have your own website but rather have a store on sites like eBay and Amazon. I call this Piggy Backing.

A lot of people do this and make significant incomes as a result. You get access to their reputation and traffic and with Amazon you can use their fulfilment and their payment system. This is brilliant if you just want to sit back and let them take care of it all. However, being ‘found’ on Amazon through its search function is almost a course of learning in its own right. As with Google and other search engines, the same rules apply. If you are not in the top few search results – you won’t sell anything. The other thing about sites like Amazon and eBay is that you are just a reseller through their system. You are reliant on them for everything so there is no real way to bring your own brand culture through. It’s a bit like being on a shelf in a supermarket – you can easily be anonymous as the big boys take all the best space. I know that there are companies that do well on Amazon and eBay, and if you have a simple high margin product that just needs shipping and can easily be found, go for it – it’s a no brainer. However, my feeling is that you will need your own website if you are to build a community of customers and engage with them.

So, there you have it, those are the three main options to consider. If you have a simple, high margin product – look at Amazon or eBay, if you are just starting out or operate in a niche market look at services like Shopify and if you have the budget and resources available look at your own development.