Posts Tagged "site building 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!

Do You Really Need E-Commerce?

E-Commerce, for many online sellers, is somewhat like the last frontier. You want to offer the service, you think you’re ready, but something keeps holding you back. What if you make a mistake? What if something goes wrong? What if…what if…?

This type of thinking, although common, is ultimately bad for business. Your web space deserves all the time and attention you can give it, and your customers deserve the utmost in convenience. In short, if you’re selling products, you do need e-commerce. Here, we’ll review the best ways to get started and the benefits your customers will enjoy.

Start with Existing Marketplaces

For the truly commerce-phobic, sites which incorporate e-commerce are an excellent way to become familiar with selling online. Etsy, which is dedicated to handmade and vintage products, is a great example. Through these sites, you can become familiar with the process of handling credit card and PayPal orders. After a while, once you feel more confident, you can move up to offering e-commerce in your own personal web space.

Choose a Trusted Platform or Software

There are several reliable and trustworthy selling platforms out there, each backed by a reputable security guarantee. These are your choices—don’t be tempted to cut costs by choosing an unknown provider. When dealing with customers’ money, safety is key. Your web space needs to be a safe place for customers to shop, and a cut-rate e-commerce provider is a very dangerous way to save a few bucks.

Make It Convenient

In the past, you’ve probably found a product or service online, only to find that you can’t purchase it. Frustrating, right? Don’t let your customers go through this—they’re likely to end up becoming somebody else’s customers.

Convenience is huge when it comes to online shopping, and a checkout right on your web space is the most convenient option. While some online sellers start by offering products through a larger site such as Amazon, keep in mind that this also automatically places other products in front of your customers. Start small if you must, but keep your own e-commerce web space as your ultimate goal. In today’s society, where we’ve all been conditioned to expect service at a single click, your customers will appreciate the effort.

Show Your Accepted Payment Methods

Whether it’s actually true or not, seeing a verified, familiar e-commerce checkout logo on a web space automatically instills a level of trust in customers. Seeing that your web space will accept their credit card or PayPal lets them know that you’re serious about your business, and have taken the steps to ensure a speedy, convenient checkout experience. This speaks volumes about your reliability as a seller, and nearly always leads to increased sales.

If you’re on an extremely tight budget, you may want to begin by accepting only PayPal. This is low-cost in nearly every scenario, and is quickly becoming one of the most trusted forms of e-commerce. Once the increased sales start rolling in, you’ll have enough extra cash to advance your e-commerce into having your own credit card merchant account. In the meantime, however, your customers will still feel an increased level of trust at seeing an e-commerce name they know related to your web space.

Look Professional

There are a few major, nationally-known sites which simply do not offer e-commerce. This is common in the worlds of haute couture, for example. However, these sites can afford to avoid e-commerce because they are so well known. For most small businesses, this level of name recognition is still years into the future.

In order to appear as professional as possible, e-commerce is a must. Regardless of how detailed your product or service descriptions, or how beautiful your photographs, customers will feel they’re dealing with an amateur if they can’t purchase via your own web space.

Conclusion

Although it can be daunting at first, e-commerce is a true must for any serious business-related web space. Not only will it make purchasing more convenient for your customers, but it will lend your site an air of professionalism and consumer trust which can’t be found through any other site component. Want to get started today? Check out these hosts, all of which let you install an e-commerce system with a few clicks!

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.

How to Find the Right Web Designer

Creating a website is an important project for your company, since a website can either make or break a potential client’s first impression online about your company. You have literally just a few seconds to capture the attention of a potential client, present benefit-oriented messages about your products or services, and persuade them to buy what you’re selling. Keeping this in mind, unless you have web design skills, to create your own website, it’s important to ensure you look for and choose the right web designer for your web space business needs.

The first thing you need to do is to find a few different web designers and research on their services, cost, reputation, experience, and customer service before selecting the one that suits your needs.

Where to Find Web Designers

  • Search engines. A good reputable web designing company should have a website to sell their services. Choose web designers based on your geographical location to make things easier and cheaper for you. Meeting with a local designer will be helpful to help them understand your vision for your web space.
  • Referrals. This is a good way of finding web designers as you will get firsthand information concerning the best designers. Ask friends and family about the best designer they have had an experience with. If you’re active on social media, you could post the question online to your followers.
  • Freelance job sites. There are various sites where you could browse to look for web designers. Some of the reputable sites online include Elance, Guru, oDesk, and Freelancer. Go through the profiles a number of designers and look for the one that has the qualities you want in a website designer based on education, experience, and proof of finished works
  • Directories. These contain listings of different companies or individuals who offer website designing services.
  • Existing partners. Ask your trusted partners, such as your IT services, if they know anyone who does web design.

How to Choose the Right Web Designer for Your Needs

Once you’ve selected a list of web designers you would like to work with, below are tips to help you choose the best.

  • Look through the portfolio of different designers and a list of recently completed projects to have a feel of the designer’s style and the type of projects they have completed
  • Ask for references. Don’t rely too much on the testimonials on the designers’ website as some may control these testimonials to only show the positive ones.
  • Determine their skills. Web designers usually specialize in a few skills. Some are better at programming, some are better at visual design. Ideally, a good designer should have expertise on both.
  • Choose a website designer who has experience in search engine optimization as well as other online marketing techniques to ensure that your website is optimized to improve your business.

After choosing the best website designer for your needs, ask for a quote. Ensure that you provide the designer with all the necessary information to provide an accurate quote. You may want to include the following in your brief:

  • Examples of designs you like
  • Your website audience and goals
  • Your business’s background
  • Specific project deliverables such as logos, templates, etc.
  • Any necessary back-end integration with an existing portal or database
  • Ideal delivery dates

It’s important to communicate your needs with the website designer to ensure a good relationship and rapport between you and the designer.

If you’re just starting out and aren’t ready to hire a web designer just yet, our recommended web hosts offer free site-building tools that let you build and design your own website without having to know any code.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

The Two Versions of WordPress:

You actually have two options with WordPress: the self-hosted version (wordpress.org), and the WordPress.com version (wordpress.com). Each version has its advantages and disadvantages.

In the WordPress.com version, you just sign up for a blog very similar to the way you sign up for free email. You get an instant blog that is hosted on http://wordpress.com/.

In the case of the self-hosted version, the software is free, but you need a domain name and have to purchase web hosting so you can host it yourself.

Pros and Cons of the WordPress.com Version

It’s easy to start a blog or website with WordPress.com. All you need to do is register and then start working on your website. You don’t have to worry about hosting, setup, upgrades, security, backups, spam, etc. which are all taken care of by WordPress.com.

WordPress.com does provide many themes and a lot of features, but you are limited to only those themes. You can’t do any custom code changes and you can’t upload any plug-ins. So basically, it has limitations as far as the functionality and customization options are concerned.

There are other drawbacks as well. WordPress.com does not allow you to monetize your blog using affiliate links and pay per click programs like AdSense or Infolinks. Although you can have your own domain name, like yourbusiness.com for your website, a paid upgrade is required. If you want it free, you only get a subdomain, e.g. yourbusiness.wordpress.com.

Pros and Cons of the Self-Hosted Version (wordpress.org)

In the case of the self-hosted version, which you can get directly at http://wordpress.org/, the advantages and disadvantages are different. You get a free script that you have to install on a web server. You are responsible for maintenance aspects of your site, like hosting, installation, security, backup, and fighting spam. However, these are not difficult to do even with minimal knowledge about web hosting. Good web hosts, such as the ones recommended here, have a one-click install of WordPress, and after that everything can be managed from the dashboard. For any technical issues, the customer support team of your hosting provider will be able to help you, though this is rarely required.

If you have a self-hosted version of WordPress, you have complete freedom. There are no restrictions on what you can do with your website, except the reasonable restrictions that your hosting provider may impose. With paid web hosting, this is not something to worry about.

If you want to get yourself a web presence, then one of the best ways would be to find WordPress web space that allows you to do one-click installation. It’s generally better to use the self-hosted version rather than live with the restrictions of WordPress.com.