To build or not to build.. That is not the question.
The World of Information
This age is the age of information. Just as early man had no choice but to go out and hunt, today’s man has no choice but to go online. It is only logical, seeing as our large and ever increasing population limits and reduces how much is available. There are space constraints when performing functions like storing or communicating information on traditional physical media like paper. Everything is being digitized, and for the better. In the abstract world of bits and bytes, this limitation is reduced exponentially. Besides, we can always add more servers, which coincidentally may be the only thing an apocalyptic AI technology will need us humans for. Back here in the present, it may not be feasible for one to buy the perfect house or set up shop on the perfect corner street, luckily the web domain market is not as prohibitive. Having a website can often times be a profitable affair, giving your business a strategic advantage and access to the marketplace of the next generation. Furthermore, this marketplace has a targetable audience, which makes it easy for you to take your shop to the customer, rather than wait for the customers to walk into your shop. Not to mention other great advantages of the internet such as real-time communication and an open, almost perfectly flat playing field.
To illustrate what a blessing the last point is, imagine the internet as a dense network of superfast, super thin highways. Websites are all basically practically equally valuable properties on the highways of the internet. Contrast the following tasks, given that you are to start with nothing: trying to open a hotel that is even remotely comparable to [insert high end hotel chain here]; and opening a website that is a streamlined and better featured version of [insert popular website here]. If you are determined enough, with this Fast Track you could achieve the second task in a matter of weeks! In less than 24 hours even, if you’re that kind of genius who naturally appears to be on NZT-48. Of course, we did say almost perfectly flat. Which was to stress on the fact that it is NOT a level playing ground, unfair advantages do exist. Other than sites that have already made a mark in our minds (like Google), the prime differentiator between websites are the number of high- ways that link to them. These links come from search engines and other websites, as we saw in detail in last month’s Fast Track to Search Engine Optimization, and as we will briefly see in forthcoming chapters. As far as content is concerned, unless you’re hosting gigabytes of video (which is still freely stored on YouTube), storage is cheap. Domain registration is cheaper still, unless you want a really common word which is a premium domain (which is why many new companies have names that spell like typos). Overall, other than the effort and expertise, owning a web domain is a highly affordable (and did we mention potentially profitable?) affair. So unless you’re an anxious loner by choice, get your website up already!
Of course, you could always pay someone else to do it for you, but that is a much larger investment than it needs to be, until you’re dealing with six digits. That’s about the number (cost and/or traffic) when hiring a professional specialist can make a significant difference. With high traffic volumes (like Amazon level high volume), even a single word from the content can affect a big chunk of revenue. For the purposes of the above average Digit reader (because all Digit readers are above average), the investment in this month’s magazine should be enough. Well, if you want a website with your own domain name (like www.yourname.com), it will cost you some more, say, another magazine. That is still less than quarter the cost of hiring the lowest wage web developer. Now that you hold this Fast Track in your hands, the first step has been taken, your website is in the making.
“What to build?” that is the question!
To have a clear idea of what you want to build, you first need to decide on why you are building in the first place. Are you expanding the accessibility of your business? Are you showcasing your skills and work to enhance your employability? Are you creating a community around a certain topic/issue? Even though you may be initiating into the world of web domains only now, the world wide web has been around for a while. In that time, various web- sites performing various functions evolved in various ways, and patterns emerged from the chaos. Naturally therefore, what you see today is what works, for each type of website. For example – OLX and Quikr, Amazon and Flipkart, Google and Bing, etc. Of course, there are always mavericks who follow no one and put up whatever they want to for its own sake, but if you study the websites who chase the traffic and undergo overhauls based on the data from their users, you will find that the most popular sites in a particular category are more similar than not.
Even if you’re the artistic type who wants a completely custom site, you still need to have a look at the most popular sites on the internet that are related to yours, if only to see what’s already been done. As long as you think you need traffic, take note of the format of the website, and imagine how you can adapt it to your needs. We have scoured the internet aimlessly for you, so without further ado, here are the most common formats of websites on the internet of today:
1. The Blog
This is a very popular format for websites, and accounts for the statistical majority. That is because it also consists of many subtypes. The word ‘blog’ is derived from ‘weblog’, which is “a Web site that consists of a series of entries arranged in reverse chronological order, often updated frequently with new information about particular topics.” After all, like food is consumed as raw material for repair and regeneration, information is consumed as raw material for action or communication. Most of the time, it’s communication. Guess what? Light speed makes the internet very conducive as a medium for communication.
What most people automatically think of when they hear “blog” is the written blog. Then there are image blogs (and platforms) like flickr, EyeEm and instagram, video blogs and platforms (vlogs) like YouTube and Vimeo, but mostly just mixed media blogs like Facebook. Yes, every Facebook page is basically a blog. Along with the thousands of people doing this for social sustenance or out of pure passion, there are the corporate blogs (more like blog platforms) like the Times of India, Huffington Post, New York Times, Forbes, Autocar, The Economist, and hundreds more than churn out page after page every few hours.
You should start a blog or a YouTube channel if you want to reach out to a mass of people, gain a following, and share a passion or spread a message.
Some people make a website just for the fun of it, to showcase themselves or their work. These websites are usually one or few pages, containing specific mixed media information. There are even platforms like about.me for readymade ‘instant’ personal websites with literally a little information about you. If you’re any kind of artist, you can host your body of work, and if you’re a student, you can put up your resumé.
These are the commercial equivalent of the personal/portfolio style web- sites, in that they are designed to sell a service, or brand a brand image on your brain. If there are products to sell, there are few. These websites must have a crafty copy with a call to action, testimonials to build trust, videos to demonstrate value, and also contain the most crucial contact information. The name of this game is turn casual visitors into interested inquirers. Build your website according to this format if you have an offline business which you would like to market online, or if you’re a startup looking for funding.
These are websites that have evolved a design with the specific intent of have users buy as many products as easily as possible. They feature multiple levels of categorization and are usually image heavy, because people like to see what they are buying. User reviews on individual product pages are an important tool for users to make decisions about the purchase. Daily discounts and deals are a common tactic to push products and increase sales. E-commerce websites necessarily have tie ups with merchant transaction handlers such as PayPal, PayU, CCAvenue, etc to enable the customer to purchase instantly. Today, the biggest e-commerce websites have massive amounts of traffic and consequently, usage data, which is studied to uncover trends and triggers for manipulating consumer behaviour. You should aim for this type of website if your motive is to sell products, especially if you have many products, and even more so if you want save on real world space with only an online outlet.
The community/forum format is a design that evolved primarily for intra-site user interaction. They are some form of message boards where users can discuss topics by posting in threads, which functions somewhat like a non-transient chat room. The first example that comes to mind is Reddit, which is where most of the internet hangs out. Many large websites that may be multi-media blogs, and even business websites, also have their own forum section. For example – IGN forums, Affinity forums. As long as there are a sufficient number of people dedicated to a pursuit, you can be certain there is a forum for that somewhere. These websites are usually a treasure trove of information, with most of it being experiential. Use this format if you want to build your online real estate to be a place where certain people virtually hang out, where they can share information and other resources.
6. Cloud Apps
Cloud applications are online software services that can be accessed like any other website. These websites have a lot of complex server-side logic, and amalgamate high levels of functionality with usability. Examples illustrate like nothing else, so here a few types of cloud applications: Search engines, Email clients, Document processors, Storage space, Image editors, Format converters, the list goes on.. Besides highlighting Google’s dominance, you can easily see that the possibilities are only limited by imagination and hard work. However, this type of a website is not in the scope of this Fast Track, but if you do want to build something like this, start by heading over to Chapter 11 for some old school basics.