Ten years ago, building and hosting a Web site would have been a difficult and expensive undertaking. However, with more competition among Web-hosting entities and with software programs that create Web sites, it has become easy and affordable. Managing your own Web site would not only save you a lot of money, but the best part is having total control. When you decide to add or change something, you can just make the change yourself.
To get started, you need to obtain a domain name. This is a name that people enter in their browser and it will point to your Web site. It will be unique to the entire Internet and you own the right to use it exclusively. For many years, a company called Network Solutions had a monopoly on registering and protecting domain names. Today, there are hundreds of companies that provide this service for a fraction of the original cost.
The first step is to find out if the domain name is available. The sites mentioned above have a field where you can enter a name to see if it is already registered. If you want HomeLender.com and it is not available, you can try HomeLender.net, or HomeLender.biz. You can also back order a name in case the current owner decides not to renew it.
Next, you need a place to put your Web site where in can be accessed. This would be a host computer, called a server, with Internet access. In theory you could handle this part yourself, but it would not be practical. For a few dollars a month you can get a basic package that includes minimal server space and e-mail. The domain sites mentioned above also have Web-hosting packages and site building “wizards,” which walk you through the process. It is simply a matter of comparing the costs with the features. One thing I would check out in advance is the quality and accessibility of their 24/7 support. My personal favorite is Brinkster.com, for this reason. While there is no absolute advantage to registering your domain name and hosting your Web site with the same company, it is convenient. Brinkster has a package that includes the Web hosting and one domain for $7.95 a month.
Now that we have a name and a place to put our Web site, we need to build one. An easy way is to use a Web building wizard. Hosting companies typically include a method that lets you select a template and fill in the blanks with text and pictures. You don’t have to build anything and you don’t have to know anything about how Web sites work. The downside to this is lack of flexibility. Also, you will have a cookie cutter image. This might be something to start with, but eventually you will want to build your own custom site. The good news is that software companies have made this incredibly easy.
Front Page by Microsoft and Dreamweaver by Macromedia are two “what you see is what you get” Web creation programs. With either of these, you can build a Web site from scratch without any knowledge of HTML (hypertext markup language). HTML is the code that drives a Web site. You can see what the code looks like by right clicking on a Web page and select “view source.” Here is a short example: <meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>. Assuming that you don’t have time to learn a new language, then you can let the software programs deal with this. They build the code for you with an object driven interface. It is a lot like using a publishing program where you use the mouse to draw a text box or a picture box on the screen. The HTML is generated as you go. The programs also handle the task of creating links that take you to other pages or to load pictures or open an e-mail account. They let you preview your work in your Web browser, so you can see exactly how your site will look on the Internet. When you setup the program, running a wizard saves the Internet address of your Web host and remembers where your saved files are in your computer. So, when you are ready to “publish” or upload the creation to your Web hosting site, it is a simple matter of clicking on a couple buttons and the software will link to your hosting site and send your selected pages to the Internet.
Something that I really like about the Macromedia product is that they have other tools that integrate with Dreamweaver. Flash is a tool for creating animation files that can be added to your site. Balancing bandwidth and content is an ongoing issue with a Web site. You want to put a lot of cool stuff in it, but put in too much and it will take forever to load. Fireworks is a graphics creation and optimization tool. You can load a .jpg and then trim the file size down to a minimum, without losing quality. An easy way to find out if Dreamweaver is for you is to go to Macromedia.com and download the free 30 day trial. The licensed version is only $399.
Your Web site may not immediately rival the professionally designed sites that you can buy or rent for thousands of dollars. It probably won’t have embedded calculators or interactive graphics, but it can have a lot of useful tools, including information about your loan programs and interest rates. You could include a page with links to affiliates, including sites of your Realtors. Another idea would be to add a showcase of homes in your area. You could list homes by address and sales price, with thumbnail pictures of the property. When the user clicks on the little picture, it would trigger loading a bigger picture. You could also upload pdfs (portable document file) of printed open house fliers to a storage folder in your hosting site. This saves screen-loading time, but when the user clicks on the link to the pdf they can view and print it with Adobe Reader. Your Real Estate agents would love the additional exposure and it would also show your loan programs associated with the listing. You can also use your site to promote FSBO listings.
The key to all of this is to be able to manage your own site. Whether you use a site-building wizard or software program, the money you save is a plus, but control is another key advantage. If you have to go to a third party every time you want to add a listing promo or a link to an affiliate site, it becomes impractical. But if you can make the changes in your own computer and immediately publish the addition to your Web site, there is no limit to what you can do. Once you get the hang of it, you will probably think of many ways to enhance your visibility and productivity. And, I think that you will find that it is a lot of fun.