Custom Web Design Process

This following is an overview of our custom web design process.

Initial Consultation/Pre Service Agreement:

  1. Discuss customers business goals and objectives for the website.
  2. Receive requirements document from customer.
  3. Review requirement document and contact customer with any questions or concerns.
  4. If no requirement document is provided, we offer an option to work with the customer on a consulting basis to develop one.  The requirements document is absolutely necessary when developing a custom application.
  5. Once site requirements are submitted and approved, we prepare and submit our proposal to the customer.
  6. Customer accepts or rejects the proposal

Service Agreement

  1. If the proposal is accepted, we fax over the service agreement.
  2. Service agreement needs to be signed and faxed back to us.
  3. We require half of the payment for the web site as Initial payment.  The final payment is due upon completion or on a specified date.  We accept checks or major credit cards (except Discover) as payment.  Payment may be made securely through our online form.

Design Specs (look and feel):

  1. We will need your logo in electronic format (no scans).  The preferred format is Photoshop .PSD or high quality .GIF or .JPG
  2. We typically base the color scheme of the site on the logo colors.  However, this is subjective and we can base it on complementary colors or colors of your choosing.
  3. We ask that you send us 4 or 5 sites that you like and tell us why.  You may like the colors on one, the layout on the other, the ease of navigation of another and so on.  This gives us an idea of the style that you like.  Another option is to just have us design it to one of our industry leading, professional specifications.
  4. Once we get a good idea of what you are looking for in the design, we start on the design composition or “comp”.  The “comp” is a single image, non-working representation of the site.
  5. We publish the comp online for you to review.
  6. At this time, the customer either approves the comp for production or asks for revisions.  All revisions to the design must be made at the comp stage.  Otherwise, the customer will incur additional charges.
  7. Once the comp is approved, we start the actual development of the site.

Content integration

  1. Once the comp is approved, the customer should start on the content development for all the pages of the site that is under development.
  2. Content development includes written copy and images that you may want to go on specific pages.  We recommend stock images unless you have a professional photographer.  We have resources that we can recommend for stock images.
  3. When the page copy is completed, the customer should specify where the content is to be integrated.  All copy needs to be sent to us in electronic format such a Microsoft Word .DOC format.  Images can be sent in .JPG format.
  4. When we receive the content, we start on the content integration.

Web Space (Hosting):

1.    We will need to setup your hosting account at this point so your site will have a place to reside.
2.    We can register your domain name for you if you haven’t already done this.
3.    We setup a hosting account in the Rackspace Cloud.
4.    The hosting plan will be based on your site requirements.  The business account is the most popular and can easily be upgraded if necessary.
5.    The customer will need to sign up for the hosting account online.
6.    Once sign up is complete, the hosting account will be online within a few hours.

Rackspace Cloud

AWSP Utilizes the Rackspace Open Stack Cloud.  Rackspace delivers mission critical hosting solutions for AWSP customers.

Easy to Grow – Get everything you need to grow, on a hybrid OpenStack cloud that scales with your business.

Easy to Manage – Plesk Control panel provides powerful management tools.

Testing and Live deployment:

Once your site is complete, we do thorough testing before going live.
We make every effort to make sure you have adequate time to review all aspects of your site on our development server.  After you review and approve the site, we then move it to the live environment.  Once live, we test again to be sure everything is perfect!
At this point, we turn the site over to you.

eCommerce Checklist – Are you Ready?

Thinking about selling a product, a product line or a variety of products on your Web site?  Here are a few things you will need to think about before and during the process of setting up your eCommerce Web site.

Choose the Right Shopping Cart Software

There are many off the shelf eCommerce solutions.  Some are free (open source) and some aren’t.  You want to choose a cart that:
1.  Has all the features you need now and in the future
2.  Is constantly updated,  upgraded, patched and improved
3.  Is supported by a development team.
4.  Is Secure.

There’s nothing worse than purchasing shopping cart software and then being unable to reach the developers or support when you have a problem.


You must determine what you are willing to spend for the options and functionality you need.
Shopping cart software costs range from free to tens of thousands of dollars. Developing a custom cart from the ground up can cost even more.
The free options may sound good at first until you run into problems or need support that is non-existent.  Which leads us to…


Support of a cart is the probably the most important aspect. If you have a problem, (and you will) does the software provider provide live support?
Do they have a phone number on the site for support?
Do they charge for support?
You may be surprised by the number of software providers that do not even provide a phone number.

Cart/Server Setup

The shopping cart should be professionally installed on your server by a qualified server admin or the cart software programmer.  There are typically many server/cart configuration options that can be very confusing if you are not familiar with the environment.
A database will also need to be setup and tied into your cart.
Also be sure to choose a cart that is compatible with your server operating system.  Typically, Linux servers will run PHP and Perl solutions and Windows servers will use .ASP and .NET applications.

Choose whom you will use to ship your product

Typical Options:
USPS (United States Postal Service)

Choose how you will calculate shipping cost
Some options would be:

Live rate lookup
Weight based table
Price based table

Live Rate Lookup
Our shopping cart software supports Live shipping rate lookup.  This means that it will return a shipping cost to the customer based on the actual product weight plus packaging.
(Setup varies depending on service selected)

We recommend the live lookup option if possible.
You will need to provide the weight for each product. (Including packaging)

Weight-Based Table

Alternately, you can use a weight-based table.
Weight-based Table Example:

Total Order size (weight) Shipping Price
0 – 29.99 = $9.50
30 – 59.99 = $4.50
60.00 and up Free ($0)

Cost-Based Table
If you choose shipping rate by cost of the product, you will need to setup a shipping rate table and associated costs.

Example of a Cost-based shipping table.

Total Order size (dollars) Shipping Price
$0-$24.95 = $9.00
$24.96-$49.99 = $5.00
$50.00 and up Free ($0)

Note:  The free is just an example of what you can offer.  You do not have to offer free shipping.

How will the package arrive at the shipping office?

Shipper picks up package from you on a regular basis
You deliver the package to the shipping office

This will impact your shipping cost.

Things to consider:

Package size can impact cost of shipping
Handling charge.  You have the option to add a handling charge
What countries will you ship to?

Note:  Shipping is a VERY important aspect of setting up your eCommerce shop.  Setting shipping rates too high is one of the leading causes of shopping cart abandonment.

Product Categories

You will need to determine how many product categories you are going to need and how many products will be in each category.  It’s best to start of small and add products over time.

Product Images

You will need product images.
We recommend a professional photographer.  It is essential that your photos be of top quality.  In some cases you may be able to get them from the manufacturer.
A poor quality image looks unprofessional and will not help sell your product.
However, if you choose to take the photos yourself, try and follow these guidelines

Use light backdrops (not white)
Try and use natural sunlight or studio lights that produce no shadows

You will need a thumbnail image and a larger detailed image.  There is a variety of good photo editing software on the market.  Paint Shop Pro is a good low cost, multi-purpose editor.
Adobe Photoshop is the top of the line software tool for photo editing, retouching and compressing your images.  The choice of professionals.

Photo Naming Convention

Be sure and categorize the images and give them descriptive names.  If you use numbers, be sure that they correlate with the product description detail “Photo Name” (see below).  Typically save in .JPG format.

Delivery Options (if we are doing the work)

Burn to a CD or DVD and mail to us
Zip and email (if less than 5 megs)
FTP – Publish on your site in a specified directory and give us FTP access

Product Description

For each product, you will need a written description.

You will need a Short description (one sentence) and a Long description (paragraph or more).

You want to attract and intrigue potential shoppers so be sure to use interesting copy that is full of adjectives and possibly a bullet list of features in the long description.

Product Details

Depending on the cart used, you may have to adhere to the following format.  Use a Word document or Excel worksheet for each category. Please name the document/worksheet relevant to the category, i.e. name it Widgets if the category is Widgets.

Item Name:
Description Short:
Description Long:
Photo Name:
Item or product #:
Sort Code:
Shipping Weight:
Keywords associated with the product:
Options: (color/size/scent/etc.): (If applicable)

(If we are doing your work, please submit all the products and images at one time.)

Merchant Account/Taking Payments

What is needed to accept credit cards online?

You will need a merchant account and a payment gateway.

A.    If applicable, use your existing merchant account and setup an authorization gateway (, Linkpoint, etc.) that will interface with your merchant account through your cart and handle the transactions in real time.

B.    Setup a new merchant account and payment gateway.  This is the most professional setup and will instill confidence in your customers.

C.    Interface with PayPal.   We consider this a stop gat measure until you get your merchant account and payment gateway setup.  Many people use PayPal as an entry point for eCommerce or selling products at lower volumes.


All transactions should be encrypted via SSL (Secure Socket Layer) This requires a security certificate to be installed on the server.  There is a variety of SSL vendors such as Verisign, Thawte, GeoTrust and many more.  This is absolutely essential for any site accepting credit card payments online.

Other configurations
Take your time and go through all the configuration options.  Shopping carts are complex programs and there are often 10 or more page of configuration options.  Each option should be reviewed to determine if it’s right for your store/product.

Ultimately, setting up an eCommerce solution takes a lot of thought, time and effort.  Advanced Web Site Publishing has setup hundreds of eCommerce solutions. We are also experienced in all facets of running an eCommerce site.  Let us recommend the correct solution for you.
Contact [email protected] for more information.

Integrate MS Word Content in SiteBuilder

Integrating content is a very simple thing to do with SiteBuilder.  However, there are incorrect ways to do this that can cause problems.  I will briefly talk about them here.

The most common problem is when customer’s copy and paste text/written copy from Microsoft Word into the SiteBuilder WYSIWYG text field.  While this seems innocuous, it actually can cause lots of issues.

Common issues:
Browser incompatibility
Different font sizes and spacing
Blown out table cells
Entire site spacing issues
Large WYSIWYG toolbar images
Incorrect HTML
Search engine unfriendly
Heavy page to download.  (Extra code increases file size and increases load times)

This occurs because when you copy from MS Word, you are not just copying the text on your document, you are also copying the “invisible” markup code that is behind the scene that controls the look and feel of the Word document.  MS Word markup code is not compatible with HTML and a combination of the two will cause multiple site errors.  Your browser cannot understand the Word markup.

Here is an example of some Word markup pasted into a SiteBuilder site.

In SiteBuilder the text looks like this:  Welcome to My Site

However, if you look at the source, it looks like this.

Word Markup:
<p style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 10pt; LINE-HEIGHT: normal; mso-margin-top-alt: auto; mso-margin-bottom-alt: auto”><strong style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”><span style=”FONT-SIZE: 14pt; COLOR: #9bbb59; FONT-FAMILY: ‘Times New Roman’,’serif’; mso-fareast-font-family: ‘Times New Roman’; mso-themecolor: accent3″><font color=”#008080″>Welcome to My Site</font></span></strong><span style=”FONT-SIZE: 12pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: ‘Times New Roman’,’serif’; mso-fareast-font-family: ‘Times New Roman’”>

This may look familiar to anyone who worked with “Reveal” codes in the old Word Perfect program.

Proper HTML would look like this:
<p>Welcome to My Site </p>

All formatting should be done using the SiteBuilder WYSIWYG tool.  This will ensure proper HTML formatting.

Solving this problem is very easy.  Just copy from MS Word and paste into Notepad or any text editor.  This will strip away the Word markup and leave you with clean text!  Next, copy from notepad the paste into SiteBuilder.  Apply any formatting you need such as Bold, color, etc. and your done.

Another way to add clean text to your page is to type your copy directly into the text area in the SiteBuilder interface.

Update:  SiteBuilder now has a Paste from Word feature in the WYSIWYG editor.  If you are pasting from Word, remember to use it!

Are Your Online Accounts Protected?

When you think of someone hacking your Computer, Website, email account or worse yet, bank account, what do you think of? Some geeky computer prodigy working out of his mother’s basement, meticulously hacking his way into any computer system? The hackers you see in movies and on TV are a far cry from reality.

Hackers, better know now as “Script Kiddies” now rely on “scripts” or automated programs that perform hacking tasks automatically. These scanning scripts are readily available to download.  They run against thousands of IP addresses 24/7 unattended. Once a vulnerability is found anywhere, it is flagged and then exploited.

One of the simplest ways for a hacker to compromise your account is called a Dictionary Attack.

A Dictionary Attack is when a script uses a dictionary file that includes every word in the dictionary to try and access your account. It runs and runs tirelessly trying to login using each word. This is the easiest form or attack because users still do not use strong passwords. Many people are in the habit of using easy, everyday words or names that are easily cracked.

The Next form of attack is called the the Hybrid Dictionary Attack. This stems from the fact the people use numbers or characters after simple words and names. So john1, john2, [email protected], etc. are easily cracked using this method.

Finally, there is the brute Force Attack which is comprehensive attack on your password and can take weeks.

The point of all this is that you must use strong passwords to protect yourself from these advanced hacking programs.

A strong password should have alpha, numeric, upper & lower case characters.  A good example of a strong password is “Bl%[email protected]” .  It may be hard to remember but it is worth the effort.  This simple method can protect you from potential disaster.

Password bit and length correlation is beyond the scope of this post.  Follow this link to learn more on Password Entropy and Length Correlations.

Is Your SiteBuilder Site Search Engine Friendly?

The SiteBuilder developers have worked very hard to make our online Website Builder responsive and search engine friendly, however,  there are changes you can make to circumvent  those efforts.

These are the top 5 things to consider.

  1. One of the worst things you can do is setup an intro screen or a “splash” page before you get to your main content. Many times this is Flash that has no readable content for the search engines to pickup. Your home page is the most relevant page to the search engines, do not waste it on a splash page.
  2. Using I-Frames. Do not place content in I-Frames. The search engines do not recognize this as on page content and will not index it.
  3. Do not use images instead of written text on your pages. Search engines cannot index text that is in an image. Make sure you do not overuse images where you could use written text or CSS that the search engine can index.
  4. Slow page load times. Google is starting to look at page load times. Heavy pages may be penalized. Therefore, you need to keep the page loading fast as possible.  If you need to put images on the page make sure they are optimized locally (jpg compressed to 60%) on your local machine before uploading  We highly recommend Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
    A JPG should always be compressed.  For instance, using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements a 1.3 meg photo can be compresses down to 60k without losing definition.  The quality setting should be set at 60 when compressing JPG images.  All good image editing software will have a similar feature.  A good image editing program is a must for web design.
  5. Pasting from Word and using HTML tables.
    a) Pasting from MS Word will also paste in the markup from Word which is not HTML .  This can throw the design and responsive nature of the site off.  If you paste from work, use the paste from Word tool that strips out the Word markup or paste to notepad, them copy from notepad and paste into your content area.   This effectively strips out the Word Code.
    b) Using HTML tables instead of CSS can cause the site to display improperly in devices, essentially mucking up the responsive nature of the site.  There is no need to use tables anymore.   CSS is the way to go to keep your site responsive.

These are just a few tips to give you a good foundation for starting your SEO program.

What is a Requirements Document?

When an off the shelf or purchased Web application doesn’t meet your needs, you will probably start thinking about custom development.  A few things you should think about first are:

  1. Cost.   Custom programming/application development from scratch is expensive.
  2. Have you thought the functionality of the application through thoroughly?
  3. If #1 is not an issue and you have a clear idea of what you want, the next step is to develop a requirements document.  This is one of the first things you need to provide to your developer for a quote on the development work.

What is a requirements document?

A requirement document defines the functionality of the application from the server platform to the last click of the mouse.
Depending on the complexity of your application, you may need to define the following in detail.

  • Project Overview (purpose/indented audience)
  • Server platform
  • Programming language
  • Specific project features
  • User interface (define in detail)
  • Admin Interface (define in detail)
  • Flow Charts
  • Decision tables
  • Navigation structures
  • Browser compatibility
  • Performance
  • Security
  • Assumptions

Why do I need a requirements document?

The requirements document ensures that the customer and the developer are communicating effectively to meet the common goal of creating a custom application.
Going back and adding/changing  the app in the final stages will extend the scope of the project and push the roll out date back.  There is nothing worse than hearing “It’s going to be another 10k to add that”.  Doing your homework up front prevents this from happening.

For sample requirement documents search Google for “web application requirements document template” or just click here.

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