Posts Tagged "design tools"

Free and Low-Cost Web Design Options

Strapped for cash? You’re not alone. In fact, a low budget is the most universally familiar obstacle to small business owners. There are many ways to safely cut costs when setting up your web space, and finding less-costly web design options falls into this category. Here, we’ll take a look at the best ways to approach low-cost web design while maintaining a polished, professional appearance.

Free Options

There are two main free options available to you—an unpaid worker and a ready-made design built into a web space package you’re already purchasing. As with any budget option, there are disadvantages and advantages to both options.

Going with a ready-made design for your web space is a reliable option. Keep in mind, however, that a creativity-based business can suffer from an obviously-stock template. If, for example, you are a painter selling canvases online, customers will be a bit confused by a standard, boring web space design. Thankfully, there are many excellent bundled designs to be found via our top hosting picks. These designs are included in your purchase price, but still offer customizable and exciting visual options.

Your next free option is to find a skilled designer who’s just starting out. They are rather easy to find if you look in the right places—college campuses are a great place to begin. Place ads on the bulletin boards—real-world and online—of some local colleges and universities. You’ll probably receive more than a few offers, which gives you a nice selection. Just be sure to check the work over very carefully before it ‘goes live’ on your web space. Taking advantage of a fellow start-up is never good business, so be sure to use the barter system—offer a gift card, discount code or even profit-sharing potential in exchange for services.

Low-Cost Options

The most readily available low-cost web space design options are, essentially, enhanced versions of free options. You can find a great deal of customizable, yet ready-made, web space designs available through many different platforms. Many of these options can be customized to the point that they are unrecognizable as ready-made designs, lending your site that all-important air of creativity.

Another low-cost option involves seeking out a talented, yet undiscovered, individual or company. These individuals are in the same boat as you—just getting started. Services can often be obtained at a significantly reduced cost, or through bartering. Just be careful to pay fairly; after all, your business is worth a reasonable investment.

For a world of attractive, professional-looking templates which don’t require an IT degree to set up, visit sites such as ThemeForest. Even those brand-new to the world of web design can customize beautiful designs with just a few clicks!

Safety Comes First

Glitches can occur when utilizing the services of a less-than-professional individual or company. However, there’s no reason to get paranoid.

In order to keep costs down and stay sane, have your web space checked over by an internet safety professional before it goes live. This can usually be done at a very reasonable cost, and very quickly. This is a step best left to professionals backed by a well-regarded company. The money you spend is an investment in your and your customers’ safety—well worth every penny.

The Bottom Line

With so many low- and no-cost options out there, finding the right one for you should be an easy task. However, keep in mind that a professionally designed web space is your ultimate goal. These sites are easy to spot, and they immediately foster a sense of consumer trust. They cost more but, ultimately, that cost is neutralized by increased traffic and sales. Check out our best budget-friendly picks and start building your best site right away!

Top 10 WordPress Plugins

WordPress’s basic feature set makes it a top-notch blogging platform, but the software isn’t limited to that. There are all sorts of plugins that can enhance and extend its functionality. Let’s look into ten of those.

Jetpack

While it’s generally an inferior option to hosting a WordPress site on your own web space, the hosted solution provided by WordPress.com does include a number of interesting social features. Additional stats, email subscriptions, and social networking integration are just three of these features; there’s a huge list of everything included at the link. Jetpack is a massive upgrade to WordPress’s ability to build and retain community, and can be useful for almost anyone.

Tumblr Importer

Not every worthwhile plugin is as feature-packed as Jetpack; some are more utilitarian. Tumblr Importer does just that: it imports posts from a Tumblr blog to your new WordPress installation. If you were using Tumblr before setting up your own web space, this means that you can effortlessly carry content over. Your users will never know that this plugin is there—but it does its job, and that’s what matters.

Hotfix

If everything is going well, Hotfix does nothing. Literally, nothing. That’s okay, because this plugin is intended for when things don’t go well—it patches known bugs in the installed version of WordPress that have yet to be fixed in a core release. It’s not a substitute for a WordPress update, but it can help immensely with security while you’re waiting on that update.

Akismet

Spam is ubiquitous in comment threads and email inboxes the world over; that doesn’t mean you can’t combat it, though. Akismet is a web service that identifies comments as spam via a sophisticated pattern recognition algorithm, pulled from its data on every site using the service. It’ll go a long way to making your site’s comments worth using.

Google Analytics for WordPress

If you want advanced data on your site’s visitors, Google Analytics provides some of the best tools available. This plugin ties that functionality into WordPress, allowing you to customize and target your content or advertising for its viewers.

bbPress

If you want to foster community among your users, a message board is a great way to do that—but most of the existing forum software is hard to use and set up on your own web space. bbPress ties that functionality into WordPress, giving it a fully functional message board.

Google XML Sitemaps

Your content is only worth as much as its viewers, and most of those viewers will be encountering it through a search engine. XML sitemaps allow search engines to better explore and catalog your site, increasing its visibility. This plugin generates a sitemap automatically, in real time. All of your pages are included and made available to search engines, without any effort on your part.

Ultimate TinyMCE

WordPress has a basic WYSIWYG text editor for your posts, but by default you’ll have to use HTML to do anything really impressive with the formatting. Ultimate TinyMCE beefs up the options of that text editor, and enables you to do far more entirely from within the graphical interface. It’s great for non-technical users.

NextGEN Gallery

If your site uses a lot of images, a properly organized image gallery can be a good way to make those available to users. NextGEN Gallery integrates a powerful, easy-to-use image gallery solution into WordPress, and makes presentation of visual content much easier on you.

WP Super Cache

By default, WordPress runs resource-intensive PHP scripts to generate every page served to your users. WP Super Cache stores the HTML results of those scripts, and—unless the page has been updated—will serve these static HTML versions to users if possible. It’s the same result on the user’s end, but it conserves your web server’s resources.

Should You Hire a Web Designer?

If you own a business and want to step into the Internet to sell your products and services to a global market, you may want a website designed to enable you get to potential customers. You may choose to design a website for your business if you have web design skills, or decide to hire a website designer.

Should you hire a professional to design your web space for you? This is a question that many people ask. Below are advantages and disadvantages to hiring a web designer to help you in making your decision.

Advantages of Hiring a Web Designer

  • You get a professional-looking website. To help you achieve your business goals, you need to have an efficient functional website. Potential customers visiting your site should find it easy to browse through the site. The site should also have a professional look and feel to gain the trust of potential clients. A designer should ensure your web space is professional to help you gain a competitive edge.
  • You save time. Hiring a reputable web design company will help you save time. By setting a deadline, the web designer should be able to deliver quality services within the stipulated time.
  • Software and design updates are easier. A good web designer not only creates and publishes a website for you; they can also ensure that the site stays up-to-date and fresh to appeal potential customers.
  • It costs money. Hiring a good reputable web designer is not a cheap affair. They normally charge anywhere from a hundred to thousands of dollars for a good website.
  • You need to know and explain your vision. No one can understand the vision you have for your site as well as you. This might result in a website that doesn’t meet your requirements. So even if you hire a web designer, you still have to explain your vision to them clearly.
  • You’re dependent on them for changes. If you want to make changes, you sometimes have to contact them and wait for the changes to be done. This depends on the type of website they create for you. If they create a website that has a content management system, the cost will be more expensive, but you’ll be able to make changes easily on your own.

Disadvantages of Hiring a Web Designer

There are situations that make it necessary to hire a web designer. You may not have the time to design the website yourself or you may want to see various ideas on the look. Other reasons that may necessitate the need for a professional designer include lost opportunity for initial sales due to lack of a good website, and loss of sales to competitors who have used a good website to market their product and services.

The best ways to find website designers include looking at freelancing sites, doing Google searches, asking friends for referrals, and researching existing local businesses.

If you don’t need or can’t afford the services of a professional web designer, there are many alternatives to get a website. For example, you can use website builders bundled with your web hosting. The best web hosts usually offer free site builders. You could also install WordPress and just buy a premium theme for a generally good design.

Dreamweaver Web Space

WYSIWYG HTML editors like Adobe Dreamweaver have existed for ages, but have long had a reputation for being clunky and basic—and producing hard-to-work-with, inelegant HTML. Modern versions of Dreamweaver have solved these problems, though, allowing their good points to shine through.

Adobe Dreamweaver provides a simple, easy-to-use graphical interface for website creation. You can see what you’re doing instead of trying to visualize lines and lines of HTML in your head. For less technical users, you can make great-looking sites without writing any HTML at all. For more advanced users, you can quickly draft a design using the GUI before touching things up by hand.

Which isn’t to say that Dreamweaver is flawless. For starters, it’s Adobe software, which means that it’s pricey. The considerable license fees can place it out of reach for many personal or small business users. But while cheaper (or free) competitors exist, their results pale in comparison with Dreamweaver’s. These are perfectly usable for people who intend to do most of the work by hand, but if you intend to work primarily through the GUI, Dreamweaver is uncontested.

If you’ve got the funds, though, it’s a great option for creating your website. The next step is finding web space. What does this mean for someone who isn’t well-versed in website creation?

Dreamweaver produces websites powered by HTML5 and CSS3. This means that you don’t have any real special requirements in terms of features that your web space needs to provide; there’s little to no server-side work being done by your pages. Robust PHP support or a good number of MySQL databases can still be useful if you intend to run software packages alongside your content, but you can get away with fairly little in this regard.

The most important thing is simply that you find good general-purpose web space. As long as you can upload vanilla HTML pages, a website created in Dreamweaver will work fine. Prioritize bandwidth and disk space; the vast majority of sites can derive some benefit from having access to more of those resources, so—absent any other, more specific needs—you should be looking into the best package you should get for your budget there.

Don’t go for something completely bare-bones, though. You do want to be able to expand to use other functions later if needed. One important thing is that you’ll want to be able to run some server-side scripts, such as PHP, later on.

Once you’ve got your web space in order, uploading your pages should be simple and easy. Most hosts feature user-friendly control panels, powered by solutions like cPanel and VistaPanel. These include online file managers that will allow you to upload files to your account from your web browser.

For most web hosts, you can also use dedicated FTP software such as the open-source FileZilla. This is fairly simple. You input the username, password, and FTP server you were given by your host, connect, and move your files as needed.

With good web hosts, you’ll be able to design your website in Dreamweaver, upload your files, and visit your site at its web address and test it in your browser before putting out links for the world to see.

FrontPage Web Space

Creating a website with Microsoft FrontPage can be tricky if you don’t go for the right web host. You need to find a provider whose technical platform supports websites made by this software.

Intuitive and easy to use

Microsoft FrontPage works well for people who want to build their own websites without much technical knowledge. It’s an application that allows you to create your website and publish it easily to a host.

It’s a very simple yet robust design software that you can use to build good-looking pages in minutes. Not only that, it’s also a great file manager. When you use it to build your website, it organizes all of the files and folders within it.

Choosing your web host

Here are some things you need to look out for when choosing your web host:

  • The web host’s servers should support the version of FrontPage you’re using to build your website.
  • Make sure you’ll be able to create the number of email addresses you’ll need. This is particularly important if you own a business and need multiple email accounts.
  • Check the bandwidth and storage limits.

Our recommended FrontPage web space provider is Just Host, which offers a generous hosting package and a wide variety of features for an affordable price. Of course, it supports websites created with Microsoft FrontPage.