Web Site Development

As part of the integrated suite of business services offered by Precision Management Group to increase business value we offer Web Site Development services. The Web has become an essential component of every company's marketing communications, without one a company appears non-existent. Even a start-up that has yet to commercialize a product needs a Web presence to attract prospective investors or to validate technology transfer partners. Generally all businesses reserve a domain before they select a name with the intent of launching a Web site at some point. The issue is when. At the very least a one page Web site will establish the company's presence and purpose.

Web sites have become the preferred method for gathering general information on a company. Such general information is expected to be provided via a company Web site by prospective customers, investors and potential employees. This is often the first impression an outsider has of the company and it is vital to make the experience a positive one. This is especially true of a technology based company; no Web site or a poorly done Web site can give the reader the impression that the company and its management may not be as technically astute as they claim to be.

Designing a Web site

What distinguishes a good Web site from a bad one? First you must decide what you will expect from your site. Is this an informational site or will you be conducting e-commerce? How many people do you expect to visit the site and who will they be? Assuming you have already formed your branding strategy when you developed your Marketing Plan, the Web site will be an implementation of that strategy, carrying the message, the impression that you have selected for the brand. Questions you should ask before designing a Web site are given on the Twenty Questions to Answer Before Designing a Web Site page.

Web Development Process

The development of a Web site can be broken down into three different disciplines:

  1. Content
  2. Graphics
  3. Structure

Content is the information, primarily text, that is included in the Web site. This is intended to give the visitor detailed information about the company; the company's mission, the management, the types of products, etc. The graphics component is the artwork, logo, photos, typography and color scheme. These give the Web site its appeal and project an impression. The structure of the Web site is how it is laid out; this is an underlying component but will impact the users experience in viewing the Web site.

Content can be written by someone who has detailed information on the company and can communicate it succinctly. The graphics can be created by someone familiar with graphic techniques and who has a general idea of what the company wants to do with the Web site. The structure of the Web site is the technical part and involves programming in HTML, Javascript, ASP or other Web technology.

Tools such as Microsoft Frontpage and Adobe Dreamweaver can make the structure component of Web site design easier for people not fluent in HTML. However, a learning curve still exists with these tools and more sophisticated results cannot be attained without considerable experience.

In most cases companies will contract the graphics and structure components of the Web site to an outside contractor and the content will be provided by internal resources, perhaps from existing marketing literature. Although a competent professional individual or firm can develop the site with little or no input from the contracting company, the resulting Web site will greatly benefit from active participation from the company. Working through the Twenty Questions to Answer Before Designing a Web Site document is a good start, but the customer must be willing to review and approve prototypes as they are made available.

Work on the Web site does not stop when the site is finished.

You will also need to sign up for an account with a webhost (e.g. www.hostway.com), a firm that will load your website onto their computers (a.k.a. servers) and make it accessible to the world through their high-bandwidth connections to the rest of the internet.

You will also want to register your own domain name (e.g. www.evelexa.com), which most webhosts will do for you as part of a package deal. If you want to reserve a domain in advance of selecting a webhost, you have the option of doing so on www.register.com, Yahoo!, and many other sites. These sites will also allow you to create email accounts using your new domain.

Every site has a unique IP (internet protocol) address consisting of a series of numbers (e.g. http://23.54.124.110) and servers throughout the internet each have a directory that knows which domain name goes with which IP address. When you register a new domain name, it takes a while for all the world's servers to be notified which IP address corresponds to your domain. There will be a delay of 2-3 days before most people will be able to use your domain, either to access your website or to send you email. During this waiting period, the only guaranteed way to access your website is to type in the exact IP address given to you by your webhost. Every time you change the domain/IP relationship (e.g. by switching your website from one webhost service to another or by changing the domain name of your site), it will take 2-3 days for this change to propagate throughout the internet.

Working with a Web Designer

When selecting a professional, ask to see all the sites he or she has developed in the past. If your firm is related to biotechnology, you will probably want your site to reflect this; it helps if the designer has some understanding of biology and the kinds of graphics that connote biotechnology. Always check references, looking particularly for responsiveness, creativity, and professionalism. The dot.com boom elevated web designers to the status of gods for a few years- and while internet stocks have come back down to earth, not all web designers have done so. A web designer you enjoy working with is invaluable.

The web project will consist of three phases:

  1. Designing the Specs: You must describe the site layout and content in great detail. These specifications or specs should describe exactly what pages you want your site to have, how pages link to each other, what kind of graphics you want to use, how forms should function (if you choose to have them), etc. The specs should include examples of websites that you like and websites that you hate, with explanations of what you like and don't like about each. Achieving a sufficient level of specificity may require several rounds of Q&A. The goal is for you to figure what you want and for the web designer to understand what you want so that he can give you a reasonably accurate estimate of the cost. Do not ask the designer to get started on site design until you have completed a thorough outline; starting prematurely will only result in extra work, extra cost, and potentially a bad relationship.

  2. Creating the Site: Once the outline is complete, the designer will then write the code that generates the website you described in your layout. He may present you with several variations for the general theme, including different combinations of colors, different combinations of fonts, and sample graphics.Some designers like to create several final templates and let you choose between them. Others will actively solicit your feedback as they create each aspect of the template so that you are more likely to agree with the final product. Both approaches work well depending on the designer.
  3. Checking for Bugs: Finally, you and the designer will need to work together to iron out the bugs. You'll probably find that you overlooked issues in your original specs that have now become apparent. You may even want to change certain aspects of the site that you thought you liked when creating the outline. Make sure the site looks equally good when viewed using Netscape and Microsoft Explorer and a PC or a MAC in all their combinations. One of the key limitations of using programs like Microsoft Frontpage is that the code they write for you may be interpreted differently by Netscape vs. Explorer and PC programs vs. MAC programs. A good designer will know how to either modify the code to make it compatible across most platforms or may even create different versions of the website tailored to Explorer and Netscape (the website would then determine which browser the visitor is using and display the appropriate version of the site).

You will need to put together the specifications and go over them with the designer before you can get an initial estimate for total cost of the project. Some designers will charge you for this initial step while others don't start charging until they start putting the site together. Once you get a quote from the designer, agree on a maximum amount (therefore, the hourly rate is only a basis for establishing a cost for the project). You may have to pay a portion upfront and the rest upon hitting milestones. It is not unreasonable for you to hold-back 30% of the payment until the job is entirely completed to your satisfaction. Try to include incentives for the designer to finish the work on-time. You might even write into the contract that if you respond to all questions within 24 hours of receiving them (thereby guaranteeing a certain level of responsiveness from you), then the designer must finish the project by a certain date in order to receive full payment plus a bonus (if the deadline is not met, you don't pay the bonus and may start deducting from the full payment).

Expect the site to take one month or more to design. If you hire a freelancer, he or she will probably have other projects, so even if the work takes a total of 30 hours, it will most likely be stretched out. Though paying more may get the job done faster, watching the site develop gradually will allow you to modify the design a bit on the fly.

Your relationship with your designer is extremely important (see "Maintaining your website" below) so if the designer is making a good effort, don't feel obligated to stick to the harsher terms of the contract.

Choosing a Webhost

Webhost companies offer you the service of hosting your website on their servers, which are fast computers with a lot of memory that have very fast connections to the internet. Services range from free to expensive and from horrible to great. Not surprisingly, the free ones tend to be worse than the costly ones, though this is not a solid trend. $30/month will get you what you want 95% of the time.

You will find an excellent selection of services at www.tophosts.com

Setting up your service initially may be simple, but you will probably encounter some snags. Some webhosts will give tech support to their customers over the phone and talk you through solutions, while others will only offer tech support via email or a form on their website. As long as the tech support people respond quickly to your request for help, any of these methods is acceptable. You probably won't know how good a service's tech support is until you try it. If possible, ask for recommendations from people with websites, just as you would when selecting a web designer.

Suggested Layout for a Biotech Company Website

Each page should have a menu bar, either on top or along the left side, listing all the main sections of the site. Include a Copyright line at the bottom of each page as a footer. Do not use frames when building your site- it makes it difficult to refer a person to any particular page on your site with a simple link (e.g. www.phylos.com/techno5.html). If you must use Flash on your site, make sure that each page has its own URL so that people can bookmark individual pages and enable users to highlight text within the page (if you or your web designer can't do this in Flash, then don't use Flash).

If you choose to have an introductory "Splash" page (the animated ones that are the first thing you see when visiting some sites such as www.cellegy.com), avoid long animations that will annoy repeat visitors. Make sure to have a "skip intro" link that takes visitors directly to the Home page.

If you use a form for any reason that requires visitors to submit their contact information, you should also include a Disclaimer and/or Privacy Policy like the ones used by Evelexa (see bottom of page).

Below are all of the possible sections of a Web site that a biotech startup might want to have. Some sections do not have any sub-pages (e.g. Home), whereas others will have an index page (the page that first loads when you click on that section in the Menu) and at least one sub-page (e.g. Management within the About Us section). These are all just suggested headings; the layout is meant to help you organize your thoughts. Sites such as www.neogenesis.com deviate significantly from the structure below while still offering all the useful information a visitor could want laid out very clearly.

HOME
Logo & Brief Description of Company or Mission Statement. Avoid superlatives such as "ACME is the leading genomics solutions provider".

ABOUT US
Index: Introduction to the Company
Management: Name and bios of management. If there are few SAB members and Directors, then include those people here and call this section PEOPLE. Otherwise, create a new sub-page in the About Us section for Scientific Advisory Board and Board of Directors.
Investors (optional): List your company's investors, especially if they are well known.
Join Our Team (optional): List open positions your company is currently recruiting for. Alternatively, you might make this a separate main section on your website, particularly if you are recruiting for many positions and want to break them up as sub-pages.
News (optional): list all the press releases your company has issued or links to articles about your company. If there is little or no such news, you don't need this page. If there is considerable news and it is highly favorable, consider breaking out this page as a separate main section.

PRODUCTS (optional)
Index: overview of products with each product given its own sub-page in this section. Obviously, if your company does not have a product on the market, there is no need for this section.

TECHNOLOGY (optional)
Index: overview of the technologies your company uses with a sub-page dedicated to each worthwhile special technology. If your company is focused on developing drugs and does not use a particularly special or novel technology platform, then you don't need this section. Instead, put the focus on the Pipeline section.

PIPELINE (optional)
Index: overview of the pipeline with a sub-page for each program. It is good to have a chart if you are in clinical trials, but don't put up a chart if all the drugs are in preclinical development. If your company primarily has a technology platform and no pipeline, you don't need this section.

CONTACT US
List address, phone number, and email, either general or for a specific person.

FAQ (optional)
If you find that people often misunderstand your company's mission or the underlying science, it might be useful to have a Frequently Asked Questions page.

Maintaining your website

It is essential that you keep your website up-to-date. This means that if you have a news section, you should post each new press release as soon as you issue it. If you change your management team, your website should reflect that change. Avoid referring to specific future events on your website in the future tense (e.g. "we will be presenting at the ICAAC conference in on August 20th" because you will have to change the tense as soon as the event passes. If you hire someone for a position, take that position off your website. Clearly, there is less hassle in not putting up temporary information on your website. Failure to keep it up-to-date, even in a small way, may cause visitors to assume that you have forgotten about your site and that the company may now be substantially different from how it represents itself on the site.