Weaving a Web can be deceiving By Harold Glicken
Building a website is not for the faint of heart, the impatient or the naive. When Web hosters claim that a budding entrepreneur will be up and running in a matter of hours, they are exaggerating or offering fill-in-the-blank templates that are so inflexible they're useless.
I've been building websites for at least 15 years. I never could master Front Page or the html programming language that's used for building websites, so I was left with using Web hosters' templates, which barely served my needs.
Trying to customize them is frustrating, and the results are almost always clumsy, unaesthetic and in some cases so amateurish, I felt ashamed to publish them. But that doesn't mean they weren't successful.
For my current website, www.lastyearssoftware.com, I started by testing out several hosting sites' tech support.
The winner, hands-down, is Hostway.com. Their tech support and other services are based in Bulgaria, but unlike many other offshore tech support sites, these folks have an excellent grasp of English.
Sure, they have an accent, but they understand and fix things remarkably well and, what's more important, they are willing to ask a senior tech when they encounter a problem they can't solve. And what's even more important, they're on duty 24/7. Wait times have never been more than five minutes.
But their templates for what I wanted to do are as flexible as a dried sausage. The templates, which are stored on their website, look great, and would be fine for blogging or for businesses that just want to get their names out there. Hostway includes an SSL certificate, but because of the limitations of the templates, they can't be displayed. An SSL (secure socket layer) certificate is essential for conducting business on the Web because it shows shoppers that your site is secure.
If you're taking credit cards for transactions, your customers will want to know that their information can't be viewed by anyone but the store owner. You also need a payment gateway, a service that collects a commission for processing credit cards.
So, it was off in search of a website-building program that would let me customize my home page without breaking the bank. I found Wix.com, which has attractive templates for just about any kind of business or blog.
It touts itself as being free, so I spent a night and a day building a four-page site. I saved it multiple times to Wix's server, but when I tried to publish it, I got the bad news that I'd have to pay for the site, which Wix hosts. I should have known that nothing in life is free. But I liked what I had produced, and decided to pony up $10 a month for them to host the site. That's reasonable, I know, but it still left a bad taste.
Tech support consists of searching knowledge bases, unless you buy more expensive plans. As soon as I have time, I'm going to look for a website builder that displays its charges upfront. I've heard great things about WordPress.
So, where do I stand? Since I have a shopping cart, I'm spending my time adding products, initiating new categories, figuring out how to offer special promotions and, most important of all, submitting my site to search engines.
I'm using Hostway's shopping cart, which is easy to navigate and does exactly what I want it to do. There are free shopping carts out there _ Zen Cart comes to mind _ or you can pay hundreds for carts that do things like offer promotional codes and send email blasts to customers.
Will my new site be the next Amazon.com? Is there such a thing as a free lunch? Can pigs fly ... ?