Getting Online

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When the oldest member of SoftForge bought his first domain, few people had heard of the web, costs were high and there was little advice available. Now there are many competing companies, systems and languages to choose from.

SoftForge can show you how to go from an idea to a fully functioning website, avoiding the pitfalls on the way. We can guide you through the entire journey, or you can use other services and agencies along the route. It’s up to you whether you stick with us for the duration, or just come back for advice and help when needed.

The sub-menu at the top of the screen walks you through all stages of the process. Some may be unnecessary for your particular business, and some you may have already covered, but if you read through the whole article you will have a good idea of all that is involved in getting a business website off the ground.


A domain name is the ‘address’ that customers type into the browser to go directly to your site. It needs to be distinct and memorable, and as short as possible. If you already have a company name, that may be available; otherwise, choose something that is different, catchy and abstract.

One word of caution, though: if you choose a name that is similar or the same as that of another company, whether they have an online presence or not, you could have problems later on.

Buying a domain name is simple and you may wonder why some companies charge just pence while others a few pounds. This is because they make more money from charging people to renew domain names than from the initial sales. After a couple of years’ trading, you may find yourself hit with a steep charge when you come to renew.

Once you have bought a domain name, you have registered yourself or your company as the only ones entitled to use it, but nothing else. For it to become an area on the web that people can view, and for you to be able to send and receive emails, the domain will need to be hosted.

However, hosting does not have to be done by the same company who sold you the domain name. So be careful of seller who try to tie you to their expensive hosting services when you buy a domain name from them.


The variety of hosting packages on offer – at a variety of prices – provide differing levels of service. Some companies provide a very basic service, then when you need extra facilities they will charge you extra. Quite often these companies will have an attractively low-looking initial charge for bandwidth or disc space. But the question you really need to ask is ‘Exactly what do I need – and how much of it?’

Rather than dealing in hidden extras, SoftForge is honest and upfront about what you will get for your money and what you won’t. All our packages are fairly priced to reflect the service that is required for a particular kind of site. You will not be paying for a product or service that you don’t really need. You can also switch packages to reflect changes in your business.

Feel free to chat to any of us about what you need now and what you think you might need in the future, and we will be happy to make the transition as smooth as possible. If you ask for a service or product that from experience we think is unsuited to your needs we will point it out and suggest a better alternative.

We want happy customers who recommend us to their friends and business partners, not customers who feel tied to us through fear of the hassle that change would bring.


 

Once you have a domain name and a host, the time has come to get a server to store the contents of your website (which may be as simple as a few interconnected files, or contain complex databases).

One option is to buy, configure and manage your own server, but this obviously requires a degree of in-house expertise. For small businesses it is generally better to hire space on someone else’s server.

The cheapest solution is to be on a shared server, renting a piece of space alongside other sites. However, the downside to this is that, like a passenger on a bus, you have little control of where the server is going. If the web hosting company you use wants some special software or a security enhancement added, then you can’t do this unless all the other passengers on the server want the same.

The next best option is a virtual private server. With this arrangement, there are blocks between all the different clients on the server so they cannot see each other or interfere with each others’ files, so it feels like having a dedicated server… mostly. But there are still some changes that can only be made if every site owner on the server agrees.

The best choice is a dedicated server. ‘Dedicated’ means exactly what it says: the server is yours alone and every setting is tailored to your business.

At SoftForge we use dedicated servers to host our clients, and they never have to share with other companies.

We run Linux servers with PHP MySQL (don’t worry if that means nothing to you, they’re just the languages the servers use) and keep them up to date with patches and security fixes.


So now you have your domain name, and we have it hosted. Next is the fun bit, as SoftForge take your ideas and turn them into a website.

Only you understand your vision completely, so PowerPoint presentations, drawings and designs on the backs of envelopes are all welcome and helpful means of getting your idea across to us.

We will need to scope the idea, i.e. to decide whether it will be, at one end of the scale, a small static site with content that seldom changes, or at the other end of the scale a larger complex of multiple pages that will need regular updating

Some examples of a static site –

  • an online curriculum vitae
  • a site marking a particular event
  • a pamphlet site promoting an idea or ideology
  • a basic business site showing your place of work, how to get there and a little about what you do

Alternatively, you might want modest regular updates, e.g. a change to the services you offer or a change to your personal information, but would like SoftForge to do them

Some examples of a static site that would require occasional updating –

  • a school, nursery or college.
  • a club, association or social organisation.
  • a high street shop offering services but not online sales.
  • a site for an accountant, musician or other independent professional

The third option is to be in total control, making changes and additions whenever you feel like it. This way you can tweak the content as much as you like, and grow your site organically as your business changes.

Any site could be managed this way, but here are some examples of the kind of site that benefits most from frequent updating by the client -

  • Businesses offering online sales
  • Recruitment consultants who frequently list new vacancies
  • Churches or other organisations holding regular events

For these a full content management system (CMS) would enable one person to be in charge of the quality of the content, but allow others to add and amend material, thus spreading the workload.


Once the basic framework of your website has been established, you will need to provide content.

It takes quite a lot of material to make even a small website – we have found that clients are often surprised by how much. It’s up to you whether you generate your own articles and source your own pictures or use our bespoke copywriting/editing and graphics expertise (see the Additional Services menu), but do we strongly recommend that you don’t let your lovely new site sit idle and empty for months due to lack of material.

That said, if there is a delay with content, it is usually better to get the site up and running so that search engines can find it. Although we want your site to be mistake-free, it will inevitably change over time, and it is often better to publish what you have rather than delay.

When adding content to your site, we work in a development area, so you don’t have to wait for us to show you what we’ve done. Instead, you can log in to see the changes as they happen and approve them or give feedback before they are released to the public. Quite often, it becomes apparent that some tweaks are needed once the content is added – for example, you may find that a different structure to the menu system would better reflect your customers’ needs.

SoftForge want you to be happy with the end product so regular feedback is encouraged, and as long as revisions are kept to a reasonable number we are happy to apply them. If you would like more extensive changes, this will have implications for the original build cost, but we will explain this in full before proceeding.