Hopefully you have taken time to inventory your web content and to understand the strategy for your website as you move forward with creating a new site or migrating your current one. You should have an understanding of the type of content, frequency, sources, etc. and the resources available for creating and maintaining the site (See previous posts to this blog). This prework will help you choose a web hosting solution.
Web platforms vary in both functionality and price. Usually the more complex the functionality, the more you may have to pay. The rest of this post will cover different things to think about when selecting a web hosting service.
Will the website be set up and managed by volunteers or will you be able to hire someone to manage it? If you are using volunteers, what is their level of expertise in creating a website? Will you be able to maintain that level of expertise as volunteers turnover? Does their expertise match that needed by the webhosting platform? What is the learning curve of the platform?
How is the content edited? Does it have an easy to use editor or does someone have to know more about coding (or something in between)? In many cases, a WSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor is sufficent and preferred as it minimizes the learning curve and is accessible to everyone.
- Does it support special content? Videos, events/calendars? Is there functionality in the platform or does this content need to be embedded from another source?
- How does it handle images and image galleries? PDFs, Word or Excel documents?
- Can you insert HTML (to embed things like polls, etc.)
- Does it offer any special widgets?
- Can content be entered but published at a later date?
- How is the content organized? Does it support folders and subfolders, especially if you have a medium to larger site?
- How is the site navigation set up?
- Are you able to easily customize the visual design? Does it use one or multiple templates?
- Can an ACS logo for your unit be inserted?
- Can text and colors be customized?
- Is the site responsive, i.e., mobile friendly? This is particularly important as people expect to access your information on a variety of devices, not just a desktop or laptop. Do you need to create a separate mobile template or is that something done automatically?
- Do the design and site content support accessibility guidelines (the U.S. Access Board's Section 508 Standards or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 ?
- Ability to generate web analytics to help you know how many users are visiting your site and what they are looking and interacting with. Do they include analytics tracking as a part of the product offering or do you need to get a Google analytics account and add code into your site?
- Site Search - as your site become larger, having a site search will help your users find content
More advance functionality may include:
- e-Commerce - usually this requires an extra service
- Event registration - do you want to register users for events
- Forms - Do you want users to be able complete a form to contact you?
- Protected content, i.e. content available only to your members - You will probably need Integration with the ACS ID. This usually requires some custom development work.
All of these advance functionality will require https:// and probably a security certificate .
Many users choose WordPress, an open-source platform, for creating a website. Some hosting companies offer WordPress as an option.
Keep in mind:
- Using WordPress usually requires someone with coding and configuration expertise. Being open source, there is a information available online, but it requires some time.
- Be sure that your site is being maintained, i.e. patched on a regular basis. Security patches are regularly released and are necessary to prevent your site from being hacked. (You do not want your website to become a site which sells some herbal supplement). Ask a potential web hosting company how they manage WordPress patching. Automatic patching is something to look for.
- WordPress has a lots of different plugins available. Some are free; others require payment. Again, it again may take some expertise to implement and maintain plug-ins as they are upgraded.
Other Service Providers
There are some providers which include additional services ranging from design to integrating your web communications with emails and other marketing channels. These services can be quite costly but may provide the level of promotion and interaction that your group desires to have with its members.
Finally, remember your website should not really be an archive of everything your group has done. Having outdated information will make it more difficult for users to find the current, up to date details that you want to share and will negatively impact search functionality and findability. We hope to give you some ideas on archiving in a later blog post.