I've been involved in producing websites for a while, which means I'm often asked how to go about it. The internet is full of contradictory advice on the subject, so here's my take. It's full of terms that may not be familiar to new content commissioners (that's you), but there are lots of online resources to help explain. I encourage you to learn about the area before spending any money.

Start simple and grow
It's better to create 1 page today, 1 next month than 10 now

Make sure you publish it all yourself
Do not provider a developer with content. While it might be expedient to getting your first iteration online, it's bad in the long run. If you don't know how to publish content, you won't update it

Use what's out there
If you have a budget (>£5k) approach a development company and get an open source CMS (such as Drupal, Wordpress or Joomla) customised for what you need.

Don't reinvent the wheel
If the functionality you're requesting can be found elsewhere on the Internet, don't reinvent it. Don't replicate existing functionality because:

  • It's expensive to build initially
  • It's expensive to keep updated
  • There'll be a better alternative before you know it. If you're not innovating, it's better to ride someone elses development curve that fund your own.

Your own forum/social network won't get used
You might have a better fundamental understanding of how your users should navigate your site, but it's unlikely. Everyone considers themself an expert (look at me, I'm writing a blog about it!) but ultimately the only way to know what users like is to ask them. It takes a long time to build a really good interface, but it's best done by iteratively polling users and reacting to their feedback.

Use free tools
Unless you've got money to burn, don't spend it. Learn, learn, learn. Setup a basic version of your site for free using Blogger.com or Blogspot (or one of a myriad of others).

Blog, often, most and always
Google will love you and you'll stay relevant.

Forget about having static content
And if you do create static pages, don't expect anyone to look at them.

Develop a clear message
Refine it. Keep rewriting it. Forget about anything you wrote more than 6 months ago.

Keep putting your message out there in new posts
Even if it feels like you're writing the same thing, the context is changing and your understanding is changing.

Keep it current
Blog about relevant issues in your sector. Link to relevant news articles. If users find what you're writing relevant they'll:

  1. not write you off (which happens most of the time)
  2. return to your site (which happens occassionally)
  3. digg you (which happens rarely, but is a really good thing)

Use Social bookmarking tools
Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit. They're all good ways to allow users to say they like what you're saying.

Twitter about your activities
Syndicate your twits on your website, which means get them to show up publicly BUT be very careful. If you start twittering about this gig you're going to on Friday night, someone might use that information in a way you hadn't predicted. Privacy issues are the next big thing online.

Create a Facebook group in support of your company
Convince friends to join it, but be wary. It's easy to annoy the hell out of your friends. They're probably not friends with you because of what your company does!

Create a Linked in personal profile and company profile

Embrace the network phenomenon
It's the only thing likely to bring users to your site. The people you know may have an interest in what you're doing. It might sound counter-intuitive, but ideally they'll pigeonhole you "X is the guy who does Y". The next time they need a Y or know someone who needs a Y, they'll think of you.

Forget about searches
Initially people you don't know aren't going to find you. Build your network the hard way, one person at a time.

Be search engine friendly
Just because you're not going to be getting a lot of hits to start with doesn't mean you shouldn't try. The long tail effect means that more obscure aspects of what you're talking about may bring in search results.

Email journals/press in your area
Tell them about what you're doing. Build relationships with reporters. Send free samples to reviewers.

Find out who's blogging in your sphere
Get in touch with them. Do something nice for them: maybe in a few months time they'll remember you when you ask them to review your product.

Above all
Keep going. These things take a long time and require a constant effort, not a Herculean one.

Any questions
Drop me a line.