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A website project can sometimes seem like an overwhelming and confusing venture. To help ease the pain, here’s a quick run down of basic logistics involved with maintaining a website regardless of who does the design and development (hint, hint!). Please note that this is a very basic high-level overview.

Domain Names and Website Hosting

Your website address is also known as the domain name. (www.nashvilleinteractive.com for example). If you haven’t purchased your domain name, GoDaddy is a great option and is inexpensive. For Search Engine Optimization reasons, most people would recommend that you purchase your domain name for several years at a time. The longer the better.

If you already own your domain name, you simply need to point your DNS info to your hosting server. (Nashville Interactive can take care of this for you.) A hosting server is where your web files reside (html, css, javascript files etc.)

Your website must have a hosting account in order to be viewed online. While certain web hosts offer less expensive plans, the Media Temple Grid Server account is a great option at $20 per month. The Grid Server plan allows you to host multiple websites (they claim up to 100!), set up email addresses at will, plus Media Temple has great tech support and is very cost-effective.

Content Management

Being able to manage your own content is a must have for any website owner. Building your site on top of a Content Management System is the best way to accomplish this. Content Management Systems allow users (non-techies) to edit the content of their website via a browser (Firefox or Internet Explorer for example). Depending on the website’s setup, you may have control over text, photos, videos, backgrounds and custom data. There are literally hundreds of CMSs out there but some of the more popular ones are WordPress, Joomla, Silver Stripe, and the list goes on. Certain CMSs do certain things well and other things not so well so you should assess your goals with someone in-the-know before making a choice. Getting wrapped up in a bad Content Management System can make for a very bad experience with your website project.

Ecommerce

There are almost infinite options for selling products online. Solutions range from simple PayPal buttons to full blown, self-hosted online stores. Fulfillment of physical and digital goods needs to be considered as does amount of sales etc. You need several basic things to sell products online; a secure server to process credit cards, a way to collect the money (like a merchant account for example), shopping cart or storefront (either dedicated software or a page with links like PayPal buttons for instance), and if you’ll have digital downloads, a way to serve the digital files to only the people who have purchased them.

PayPal is a great solution to handle payments. They have multiple solutions both big and small and are a very recognizable and trusted name in ecommerce. They would be the ones who process your customer’s credit cards and pay you. Setting up a free business account is a good place to start for most people (under Business > Products & Services > Website Payments Standard)

Secure servers are a crucial component to an online store. If you’re using a simple PayPal button that links directly to their site, their secure servers are used and you don’t need to worry about much. If you want a more branded and consistent user experience, you’ll need to look into either setting up your own secure hosting server (via purchasing an SSL certificate) or utilizing a third party to process credit cards securely. Setting up your own secure server can be very involved and complicated. The alternative is to allow a service such as Foxycart to host your online transactions for you. Basically Foxycart hosts your shopping cart and the online checkout form where users input their sensitive information. One of the advantages to this systems is that the checkout process is very branded and can mimic the design of the website. Average users are rarely aware that they have even left your website. The Foxycart shopping cart is also very intuitive and easy to use. For an example of an implementation like this go to www.tuckintime.com

Expected sales volume will be a main considerations when selecting an ecommerce option. Lower sales volumes will require less robust options such as the aforementioned PayPal buttons. Higher volumes may warrant building a self-hosted store for a better user experience and therefore better conversions. Self hosted stores require a secure server to handle transactions and are more involved from a development standpoint.

So to recap, your basic needs will include:

1. Website Domain Name (GoDaddy)
2. Website Hosting (Media Temple – Grid Server)
3. A CMS (Consult a pro)
4. Payment Processor* (PayPal)
5. Secure Server* (your own setup – varies per host or Foxycart for a third-party host)

*if you have an ecommerce aspect to your site