Frequently asked questions

What will it cost?

My standard hourly rate from 1/7/2015 is AUD$80 per hour. I don’t charge GST.

If I do 20 minutes’ work for you, I charge you for 20 minutes’ work. If I make a cuppa in the middle of a project, you’re not paying for that, unless I happen to be doing mental gymnastics on the best way to solve a problem at the same time.

To give an indication, $2700 is around what I’d normally consider the entry cost of website development, but of course it may be more or less depending on what’s involved.

Can I use my own photos for my website?

As a result of the digital photography revolution, everyone’s a photographer these days. But actually, I find, no, not really – and for me one of the toughest parts of a new website job is having to tell people that no, their photos probably won’t be good enough.

You can certainly use your own photos, but unless you’re a professional photographer, your website will look like you’ve used your own photos.

I’m pretty handy with a camera. I’ve owned an SLR since pre-digital film days, I now have a good DSLR and a couple of lenses, and I’ve turned out quite a few shots of which I think I can be rightly proud. But I don’t promote myself as a photographer who’s good enough to take the shots for my clients’ websites, because I know my limitations, and I know how vital great photography is for an effective site.

If you’re selling a service that involves a visual end-result, I would suggest that it’s true that if you genuinely can’t afford professional photography, perhaps you should hold off with a website until you can – or even prioritise the photography over the website: get the photography done first. There are plenty of ways to get an online presence for free (for example, online directories such as Start Local or a Google+ business listing), and if you have good photographs you can showcase your work this way, and also include them in emails, and use them for brochures.

Your website is your business – as soon as you have one, it will likely be the first and lasting impression potential customers encounter. I’d suggest it’s better to have a classy looking Google+ page than a website featuring DIY photography.

Good website photography is colour-balanced (and professional photographers calibrate their computer screens to ensure the colours in their images are true-to-life), well-exposed (yeah sure, that part of the house looks nice, but what about the third of the photo that’s too dark or too light to make out any detail?), well-composed (the picture simply looks “right”, or “pleasing” in some sense), high-resolution (which enables making a feature out of a certain part of a photo, if so desired), and is simply looked at with a professional’s eye – the details matter. No-one wants to see that green towel hanging on the towel rail (even if it is clean), or the garden hose running across the patio, or a full-body shot of the person behind the camera captured in a window reflection holding a camera.

As to the costs, professional photographers spend more time working with their images after shooting than they do taking the photos, a busy photographer can go through tens of thousands of dollars worth of high end equipment every couple of years, and they often work odd hours. And they have been trained.

There is of course the option of using stock photographs, but when your potential customers are wowed by the photos on your site and ask whether it was your own work, it can potentially become awkward for you and disappointing for the potential customer when you have to explain that no, it’s actually stock photography. And there’s always the chance that your competitors may use the same images.

When I’m discussing a website brief and it becomes clear that top quality photographs are going to be an important facet of the end result, I recommend Paul Redding for photography. We have no commercial arrangement other than the fact that I’m happy to recommend him as a photographer based on the images he’s captured and crafted on past projects, with a great deal of versatility.

Do you fix computers?

Generally, no, if it’s your computer that’s the problem, rather than the software running on your computer. I work on the software side of things, rather than the hardware.

So if you’re having trouble getting Windows to do something, I can help, but if you’re having trouble with your hard drive or need a memory upgrade, I’ll refer you to someone else.

Do you work with Macs?

With what?

No, really, some of my clients are on Macs, and we seem to have survived okay. It has no bearing on website development, but developing toolsets to be used on a Mac can involve some (usually surmountable) hurdles.

What's this VBA / MS Office automation you speak of?

VBA is Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications language. You may have come across “macros” in Microsoft Office products – where you ‘record’ a procedure (for example, clicking a few buttons in a certain order) and you can then do that procedure again just by running the macro.

Those macros actually create VBA code.

By working with VBA directly, you can make Office products do pretty much anything you can do with a mouse. As an example, you can write VBA code in Microsoft Word that fires up Microsoft Excel, makes a new spreadsheet, gets a heap of data from somewhere, does stuff with it, turns the data into a graph, and then puts that graph back into the Word document.

Starting to get the picture?  VBA is a very powerful component of Office, and one which is grossly underutilised!

So, is hosting the same as a website the same as a domain name?

Kinda. There are three main components to a website:

  1. The files that make up the website – the images and the files that store information about the text styles, and so on.
  2. The place where the files live – i.e. the physical space on a hard drive somewhere on a computer that’s connected to the internet. This is what’s called “hosting” – the physical space and the service that makes those files available over the internet.
  3. The domain name, or website address, such as www.mroffice.biz

These three components can be supplied by different providers, or managed by one. Actually, even when they’re managed by one, they’re quite often still provided by three different companies, and you’re dealing with someone in the middle.

Do you provide hosting?

No, I’m not a website host, but I can organise and manage this for you. I frequently work with a Hobart-based website host whose responsiveness I find very impressive. If budget is a major concern, there are certainly cheaper options, some of which still include reasonable service, but on the whole it’s usually true with hosting that you get what you pay for (except when you pay a lot and get little, which can also happen).

Do you sell domain names?

Strictly speaking, no-one sells domain names – they are effectively registered or licensed for a set period. The only bodies that can do this are domain name registrars. Confusingly, the people between you and the registrars are often referred to as “resellers”.

I can certainly register a domain name for you through a registrar or reseller, if it’s available. I don’t charge any extra for this, other than the cost of the domain name itself and the time required to register it. You can also register a domain name yourself, but unless you know exactly what you need, you may find you end up with more than you bargained for, depending on the provider.

If you require an Australian domain name (ending in “.au”) you may need to provide extra information to demonstrate that you have a “right” to a domain name (e.g. an ABN for a .com.au domain name).

Always ensure that the domain name is registered in YOUR name. The person listed as the ‘registrant’ of the domain name is treated as the ‘owner’ of that domain name, and it can’t be transferred to another provider, for example, unless the registrant approves the transfer. So if someone offers to register a domain name on your behalf, I would suggest getting it in writing that you (or a trusted representative) will be listed as the registrant, not the person/business who does the registration for you. Your domain name is the gateway to your website, and quite likely your email service as well, and ownership of it should be protected as such.

Should I get a .au domain name? A .com domain name?

I normally recommend people get .au domain names if they’re doing their business in Australia because there are extra requirements around registering .au domain names, which in turn means they have an extra level of trust.

For example, you could register www.example.net with no questions asked, whereas if you wanted to register www.example.com.au you would need to provide an ABN to demonstrate that you’re a bona fide business, and you would also need to be in the business of selling examples. That is, your .com.au domain name needs to have a close association with your business (in theory at least), while a .com domain name doesn’t.

That’s partly why I’d recommend businesses use a .com or .biz address too. The “com” refers to commercial, and “biz” to business, and it’s best to have the domain name match your activity.

Organisations such as registered charities can use “.org.au”

There are also search engine advantages and disadvantages to be considered when choosing whether to use location-specific domain names. Search engine optimisation (SEO) truths often have a short half-life, however. I’m happy to talk with you about the latest SEO research and suggest a solution to suit your needs.

Do you do SEO?

Yep, I perform at least some basic search engine optimisation (SEO) on all the sites I develop, and I’ve performed intensive SEO for some clients with good results.

This is an area where there’s a lot of hype and a lot of money changing hands for, sometimes, not a lot of results. The term itself is also quite nebulous and covers a swathe of different practices.

Don’t get me wrong, SEO is important, and can have big impacts on your business. There are some very, very good SEO practitioners out there – some of whom devote all their time to SEO. But for most businesses, once the basics are covered, the law of diminishing returns tends to kick in – depending on what your competitors are doing.

At some point, you might find you’re having to pay to see better results (e.g. Google Adwords). Adwords can be a very cost-effective tool – I know one business owner who has come to view his Adwords campaigns as the ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch for his phones. But it requires a well-managed campaign, and its success will depend on what sector you’re in, and what your competition is doing.

If you’re promised the world from SEO, look out. One business owner told me about a proposal he’d received for a complete website package including ongoing SEO and Adwords management. The bottom line exceeded my entire annual income!

If you’re given a proposal, do some background checking. Search for the package and the provider on the internet and see what others have had to say about their experiences.

My approach with SEO is typically to cover the basics first, and consider more instensive work later, if the basics aren’t yielding the results you’d like. The more intensive work can include approaches such as paid advertising, off-page promotion and social media linkages, and further tweaks of the website to capitalise on search engine advantages you are enjoying, and addressing areas where you’re falling behind.

Will I be locked into you as a provider?

For websites, definitely not. On completing a website I provide my clients with a complete backup of the site on suitable media, as well as a copy of all passwords. That means that if I get hit by a bus, or you just decide you don’t like me anymore, you can take the website anywhere for management.

We get into a grey area if you want to share ongoing management of a website between me and another provider, because it can (and does) raise questions about who’s responsible for what. If you took your car into the mechanic for a service and then took it back a week later because it had no oil and had seized, your mechanic would be unlikely to come to the party on repair bills if, between times, you’d taken up your neighbour’s offer to fit a turbo.

For documentation, copyright is owned by the author (that’s me) unless we come to another arrangement, which I’m happy to do.

For any toolsets I’ve developed, I’m also very flexible. Talk to me about it before we start if it’s important to you.