Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Websites I: What is a Website and Why do I Want One?

August 1998

By Mike Gould

I can hear it already, the moaning of the faithful readers of this column: "Enough with email already, I wanna be on the Web!". Rejoice! This is the first of a series of columns dealing with web works.

What is a Website, anyway?
A website is a presence on the World Wide Web, or WWW. The WWW is a series of protocols enabling suitably-connected (networked) computers to share information. Envision an electronic yellow pages made up of all the cyber-savvy businesses and users out there, all exploring, buying and selling their little hearts out. The WWW is not the Internet; the Internet is the physical collection of wires, hubs, computers, and whatnot that enables the WWW to do its thing. The WWW can be thought of as a service provided via the Internet, along with email and various other services. As we learned from previous articles in this series (see below for WWW address), you join the crowd on the Internet via an ISP - the business that provides your email and Internet connectivity.

A website is where someone "goes", via their computer, to find out about your company. A website is where you tell the world "Here I am, this is how you contact me, this is what I sell, these are the services I provide, send me your money!" (We are talking business here, after all.)

A website is made up of a collection of pages all linked together via hypertext, which is a fancy way of saying there are buttons on the pages that take you to other pages. If you only have one page of info on the WWW, you have a web page; if you have more than one page you have a website.

Building Blocks on the Web
Let's examine a website, taking as an example the site I built and now maintain for Harmony Hollow, an Ann Arbor-based maker and seller of bells (http://harmonyhollow.com). When you enter the site you land on the homepage, or entry way for the site. You get a quick overview of what's on the site, see a picture of a bell you can click on to hear a bell sound, have the opportunity to jump immediately to various bell pages, and, most importantly, are led to the index page of the site. The index page here is called the Back Deck, serving as a metaphor for a place where bells can be found. Once on the Back Deck, you can surf to the various pages that make up the bulk of the site; bells, chimes, mobiles, etc. You can also learn about the company, meet the owner, read the guarantee, and learn about bells in general. Because Harmony Hollow also sells via art fairs, there is a listing of fairs where folk can go to hear and buy bells.

It's a Catalog
This is a catalog site; here you can see and hear the products, find the price of each item, and order it, just like with a paper catalog. The advantages over paper catalogs are many: the prices and listings are always up to date (a paper catalog has to be re-printed and re-mailed, often at great expense; a web-based catalog can be updated in minutes at very little expense), you can add sound and video to presentations of your product, and you can be found by anyone in the world who is online.

There are a few disadvantages: your catalog is only available to those who have computers and are online, you have constraints on how big pictures can be, and you have to deal with the fact that your catalog will look and act somewhat differently depending on the computer, software, and network connection of the person accessing it.

It's Advertising
The main point here is that this use of the WWW is ADVERTISING and should be treated and budgeted as such. Advertising agencies are getting into the WWW in a big way, adding web presence as a part of a coordinated ad campaign. Once on the web, all your print advertising should mention the address to the site (URL, or Universal Resource Locator), and all your web pages should have an easy means of letting people contact you for print brochures, phone orders, etc.

Why Do I Want One?
Because your competitors have one, because it is a very effective means of advertising, and because a web presence tells the world that you are one very modern, hip, computer-savvy, happenin' kind of company that people want to send money to.

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