Wanna Buy a Web Site? A Primer

Posted on 12 March 2010

Continuing my “Historical Perspective” series, this article was originally posted on February 10th, 2003. With the benefit of over 7 years of hindsight, I would probably have done a better job explaining things but, for newbies to the Web, I still think this is a valid high-level primer.

I received an email from a business associate the other day stating that they needed to “buy a web site [sic]” for a client and if I could just go to Network Solutions to purchase a Web site. Now I have worked with this person in the past and granted, I may know more about what goes into building a Web site than most laymen, but they were so oblivious as to think that paying $35 to Network Solutions got them a complete site. I (kindly) asked them if they wanted just a domain name or a full Web site — they didn’t realize that the domain name isn’t the whole Web site. What follows is the explanation that I gave:

Buying a domain name is just that — buying the name. A (bad) analogy? Think of building a Web site like buying a car. You go to the dealership and pick out the car and all the extras (call that the Web site itself) but you still have to pay extra for tag and title (call that the domain name) and still more for registration or property tax (call that hosting).

When you register a domain name with Network Solutions, Dotster, whomever, you are only getting the domain name — it’s like getting the license plate for your new car. Once you’ve done that then you need to set up hosting in order to have somewhere to point that domain name to (and it usually takes around 72 hours for the domain name to get into the system and propogate around the world.

Building a Web site is a separate cost — and usually we figure the cost to purchase a domain name in with the cost of building the site itself. The cost of building the site can range from a cheap $3000 site to a multi-million dollar e-commerce solution. It all depends on the bells and whistles. Go back to the car analogy and it’s the difference between a moped and a Porsche 911 with heated leather seats.

Hosting is usually a separate cost from building the site itself and that can range from a cheapy $16.95/month to (like for one of our clients) $3000/month and that is usually based on the bells and whistles and traffic. The more expensive (and intricate) the site is, the more that you’re going to need to run it.

If you’re looking to build a Web site, I’m more than willing to offer help — Hell, that’s what I do — but Web sites are not an off-the-shelf product that you can just pick up at Staples or Office Depot. Unfortunately I think there are many people out there who don’t realize this. They think that by purchasing a copy of FrontPage or Dreamweaver, they can task a person from their marketing or IT department with developing the site and be done with it. In most cases these people do not have any idea of what they are doing and end up creating a site which, although functional, does not really meet the requirements of both the company’s business model and hence the customers. This has started to change with the rise of information architecture and developers paying more attention to the needs of the client and customer, but there is still a plethora of bad UI out there and the word needs to get out.

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