For small businesses looking to establish a presence on the World Wide Web, one of the hurdles that must be crossed is the design of the web site. There are many different types of business web site, ranging from those just wishing to present some information to their clients to full-blown ecommerce sites. These different types of site all have one thing in common – someone has to design the site.

A web page is just a small text file containing simple directions that a web browser can interpret and display on a users’ screen. These directions tell the browser, among other things, what style of font to use, at what size and in what color, and where the text that is produced should be placed on the page. It can instruct the browser to show an image or play a movie or a sound file. These directions are written in a language called Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML. In years past, the only way to do this was by hand-coding each page and saving the resulting text file, but nowadays there are many different choices available.

There are several software packages available that will help inexperienced users develop a web site. The best-known are probably FrontPage, DreamWeaver and CoffeeCup, although there are others. Of these CoffeeCup is probably best suited for the novice, although the software has many of the capabilities of its higher-priced competitors. FrontPage is ideal for those companies wishing to place a lot of existing content on to its web site, due to its integration with other members of the Office software family. However, if you do choose FrontPage then make sure that your web host can support it – most do but it’s wise to check first. Dreamweaver is the heavyweight of the three and has a steep learning curve, though once the user gets to grips with the software then he will find that it will provide all of the features needed to design and administer even complex web sites.

If you don’t feel that you have the time, resources or knowledge needed to design the web site yourself then there are still other options open to you. Many web hosting companies will offer web design templates for their users, allowing the novice user to build an attractive site without too much difficulty. There are also many companies which will sell such templates, a simple Google search will show thousands of results with prices ranging from zero to $100. However, there are a couple of drawbacks you will need to bear in mind. Firstly, using a template can give your site a certain “cookie-cutter” feel, your site being just one of many that look and feel very similar. Secondly, if you use the design services offered by your web host, you may find that certain features are locked to that host, making it difficult to move to another web hosting company if you ever have the need.

Finally, of course, there are the professional web design studios. This is probably the best choice if you are planning large complex web site, unless you are completely convinced that you have the resources and experience available in-house. The price for this would depend on the size and complexity of the design needed, a simple site could be in the range of $1,000 – $2,000, whereas a larger site could cost over $20,000. There are many different studios from which to choose, in many different countries.

If you do decide to use a design studio for your web site then there are several things to bear in mind. All studios will showcase their best designs, but you should check to see how satisfied previous customers were with the service they received. You will also need to be very specific about what type of web site you need, and what you hope to accomplish with the site. Without this information, no studio would be able to give a meaningful cost estimate, and if you keep changing your mind about what you need then expect to pay a hefty surcharge due to the extra work caused.

When you have selected a design studio, your work is still not over. You must have all of the information you want to appear on the site in a form that is usable by the studio. If you are going to be opening an ecommerce site, then it is your responsibility to supply all of the details of your products to the studio. This will include not only what the product is, but also its price and probably some images too. Make sure that all images are web-optimized – the studio will probably be able to help if needed but at a premium. Any delay in supplying what is needed by the studio will delay the launch of your studio and may also cause cost overruns.

One article can’t cover all of the different choices and options available, but I hope this has served as an introductory guide for those looking to build their first web site.