Over 10 years ago, when I started to really delve into Website design it was nothing for even simple sites to easily cost five figures. Not today.
WordPress is the Best For Us
I’m a huge WordPress fan and it’s hard to argue against its robust open source platform, ease of use and cost (free) for Website design. We “eat our own dog food” at BrandMill (so to speak) as our Website actually is a WordPress site.
I highly recommend WordPress to most all of our clients and for them to use a competent Web designer or firm (like BrandMill – wink) to create a custom-branded template (StudioPress is an excellent turn-key solution) and to train them to update the site themselves.
20 Free (or Inexpensive) Website Services
However, in my travels, conversations and research, I’ve come across a growing list of inexpensive and/or free Web services available these days that may make some sense for start-ups and SMBs such as:
- Big Cartel (eCommerce)
- Big Commerce (eCommerce)
- Drupal Gardens
- Shopify (eCommerce)
- Vendder (eCommerce)
- Vendio (eCommerce)
- Volusion (eCommerce)
- YP Website Solutions
I dig Posterous, Vendio and Shopify and I’m sure sme of the other Shop sites are worth exploring) however our initial research into most of the other vendors still look like vendor sites from 10 years ago.
We consult with a lot of SMBs and nearly all of them need a new web presence if they’ve dabbled with one of the above vendors because of the lack of SEO, customer support and much, much more. You get what you pay for in life and with Websites. And, no Website in the world will achieve its true sales potential without constant care driven by keyword rich content marketing, SEO and more.
For the past few years, we’ve been providing marketing consulting for SMB borrowers of our financial client that manages a redevelopment loan fund. Most of the businesses they lend to are ‘mom and pop’ firms and their marketing funds are tight to non-existent.
Certainly if these brands could not afford a Website, we’d recommend against doing so, however in our opinion they can’t afford not to have one. In the most extreme cases, a social media presence (e.g., Facebook) could be the marketing beginning for them, but we’ve found WordPress to be a perfect solution – it has decent Shop plugins too. Facebook is great, but it is a ‘closed garden’ meaning that you need to participate/join to benefit whereas, with a Website you’re open to the world. Again, you can’t afford NOT to have a Website.
5 SMB Website Building Steps
In short, here are the 5 steps we’ve repeatedly used to help build a cost effective Website presence for our SMBs:
- Start a Facebook page, create a content strategy, contribute, respond, listen and deliver value (apply strategy to Website too)
- Buy your own domain (register.com, godaddy.com, name.com etc. – and, just get a .com extension)
- Host your domain with a reputable, cost-effective hosting firm. We like godaddy.com (search for a coupon code and use it) because it’s inexpensive, can scale with you, plays well with WordPress and has super customer care. You can actually talk to LIVE people. What a concept.
- Hire someone to help you launch a WordPress Website (e.g., a smart college intern could help too). You want to own your site and control your own brand destiny. You’ll want to add themes, analytics (WordPress comes complete with back-end analytics, but add (for free) Google analytics code to your site). Consider Flickr to host photos/albums and back into your site social media plugins.
- Read/study/master/execute content strategy. OK, well you don’t necessarily have to master Web design and code, but you should strive to gain a healthy working knowledge of it. Start with the WordPress for Dummies book. Learning this stuff is no different than learning about any investment you make. You need to have expert help to some degree, but to maximize that help, you need to understand what you’re getting into and what to expect. Keep adding rich valuable content to your site on at least a weekly basis. A Blog will help.
For my money these are the 5 steps to get a great Website up and running for little time and money.
I hope this essay helps you experience much good fortune. Good luck!