People don't want to have to read a manual, take a course or become a programmer just to make changes on their website. They just want to put content up on their site.
If you are looking an entry level site that is low cost or free, Blogger can be an amazing deal. I work with my clients to create permanent websites using Blogger in about an hour. That includes setting up accounts, walking them through the process of creating setting a few pages and taking time to walk them though the process of adding content and graphics on their site. Most of my clients also choose to have me either customize the look of the site for them or address specific requirements by signing up for additional time.
Blogger gives you full control over customizing the way your site looks using a template. Some people also call these "themes". Blogger also allows you to customize your domain name (for about $10 per year). Since Blogger itself is free, your total ongoing cost ends up being less than a dollar per month. By the time I am finished working with my client, most visitors won't even realize that it's a Blogger site . A good example of this is my sample coaching website at http://webforcoaches.blogspot.com/. If I were to give it a custom address, do you think people could really tell that it is hosted on Blogger? Once set up, Blogger is amazingly easy to use for people who don't know anything about managing a website. That makes it it perfect for your first website or blog.
Like most of the solutions I will mention, the only skills you need to have include how to use a web browser and how to use a basic word processor.
Blogger does have a few limitations, most of which are probably not a problem for a first website. For example, you can only create up to 10 static web pages, none of which can be used as your home page. There are ways to get around the Home page issue. You can however create as many Post type pages. Post type pages are typically used to publish many of the same type of information. For example, you could use it to publish articles on your site or even just use it as it was intended, as a blog.
Another limitation is that text and images are the only things you can store on a Blogger site. Again, there are ways around this by using other web based services. Having to rely on 3rd party services for things like storing files, web forms and shopping carts is quite common when it comes to Blogger.
If you think you might have a hot website that many people will visit, you also need to be aware that Blogger does have limitations on data transfers. As a result, your site could be automatically disabled part way through the month if it gets too many visitors. Unless your site goes viral, I don't think it's something to be too concerned about. And should your website go viral, chances are, you're business is very successful and you can afford to upgrade your website (yes, you can move your domain to a different website).
Low cost and free do have its drawbacks. Still, it's a great way to get your feet wet with a very low cost and learning curve.
WordPress.com also offers free hosting. Like Blogger, WordPress is made to be used as a blog but can certainly be used as a website.
They have some great looking quality templates available however you are limited to just those they make available to you and they limit your ability to customize them. Unlike Blogger, you can not apply a custom domain name to your site and are stuck with the less professional looking yourcompany.wordpress.com name for your site. These are two reasons I very rarely end up creating a WordPress.com site for clients.
That being said, WordPress does allow you to easily use a static page as your home page and to upload audio, video, documents, presentation and image files which are definitely points in its favour. Like Blogger, it just takes about an hour of working with a Tech Coach to setup your site, and that includes time for some essential one-on-one coaching on how to use it.
WEBSITE HOSTING SERVICES
To moving beyond the two blog sites mentioned above, you will need web hosting. There are amazingly low cost deals available today for hosting, although it is best to ensure that they are compatible with the platform you want to use and are reliable before signing up. The moment you move to a hosted site, many of the restrictions mentioned above are eliminated. For example, your data transfer limits are raised much higher or removed completely, you can host any kind of file on your site such as Word DOC documents, Acrobat PDF, Audio MP3, Flash FLV, anything you want really. If your hosting service includes PHP and MySQL (a programming and database language), you start to have the choice of using a content management system. Some of my favourite web hosting services will either install the software for you or offer a one-click solution that installs the software for you. Depending on where you go, your ongoing cost for having a hosted website can be between about $5-$25 per month plus the cost of your domain name, about $10 per year.
Here are the two self-hosted content management systems that I recommend:
WordPress.org -- It's exactly the same thing as WordPress.com but without the restrictions mentioned above. WordPress has a marginally higher learning curve than Blogger but offers a lot more flexibility in return. Once you have it setup the way you want, it takes just a few seconds to create a new posting. Because WordPress is the #1 most popular content management solution being used in the world today, you will find many plug-ins, templates and lots of support available on the web.
Although it can be used as a website, it's still made to be a blogging platform which means it is going to require a few additional steps to keep it working as a website.
You can customize WordPress' appearance very easily, probably more so than with most other solutions. This is a major strength for WordPress.
You can try it out for yourself without committing by visiting: http://php.opensourcecms.com/scripts/details.php?scriptid=88
WebsiteBaker.org -- This ended up being my platform of choice for small and medium size businesses including my own business. This is a full fledged website content management system that even a beginner can handle. I am not kidding you when I say, the first time I created a web page, I could not believe how easy it was. Like Blogger and WordPress, it too uses a template system to give your website a consistent look and feel. The big advantage of Website Baker though is that it can grow with you. You can use it's add-on module system you can add a photo gallery, an FAQ listing, web forms, shopping cart, a blog, and lots more. By the time your needs outgrow this system, you probably won't be worrying about how to pay for your next site.
Keeping in mind that you can customize the way it looks using a template, you can try it out for yourself without committing by visiting: http://php.opensourcecms.com/scripts/details.php?scriptid=69
If you are looking for something that is more challenging and more flexible, the only two other content management systems I would recommend are Joomla.org and Drupal.org. Although they are extremely popular with medium size businesses, they come with a much higher learning curve. Given the availability of easy to use alternatives, I only recommend these for people with very specific needs.
You can try these out for yourself by visiting their demo sites:
- Joomla: http://php.opensourcecms.com/scripts/details.php?scriptid=39
- Drupal: http://php.opensourcecms.com/scripts/details.php?scriptid=191
By the way, any ads you see at the top of the screen on the demo sites mentioned above will not be there on your own website. Also, keep in mind that these demo sites are open to the public. If they don't seem to work or appear in some strange language, just try again a little later. They get reset back to their factory settings every couple of hours.
So there you have it, from super easy to more complicated than I am willing to work with.
What it all comes down to is how you want to use your website. Some people don't know what they want or just want the equivalent of a business card on the Internet and don't want to think about it again. Others have a vision and want to take advantage of the possibilities such as having a mailing lists, taking registrations and payments on-line, offering their own or affiliate product for sale, interacting with their visitors.
Whatever you decide, know that the existence of your website isn't likely to bring people to you unless you also find ways to let people know it exists. Clients will often go to your website in hopes of finding a connection with you, or at the very least to learn something. Once you can afford to allocate it a larger budget, or more of your time, you can apply marketing techniques to it in order to attract clients through search engines.
This is not to say that it isn't worthwhile. I believe there are many people out there who will evaluate you and your business by your presence on the Internet. Before they decide to part with their money, I suspect most people will want to check you out by searching for you on the web.
Finally, keep in mind nothing is ever written in stone. You can always edit, delete or even change your mind and go in a completely different direction that better serves your needs. All web sites are work in progress and evolve over time to meet our needs. It's an evolutionary process that just needs one thing to become a reality… for you start the momentum. Once you start moving, your ideas will sort themselves out and you will be able to start steering which way you want it to go. Before you know it, confusion will be replaced with vision and potential… and more questions.
Take what makes sense to you and forget the rest. Be sure to let me know if there is any way I can be of service to you.
With warmest regards,
Life and Tech Coach Michael Milette