Thursday, March 15, 2007

How to Get a Website on a Low Budget

Being a web designer I think I get asked this question almost every single day, "How can I get a website...on a low budget?" Hopefully this blog will answer this question for people.

The Easy Part

Starting a website is easy, you need to do these things:
1. Register a domain name. Go out and buy "www.mywebsitename.com" I like using godaddy.com.
2. Get web hosting. You have alot of choices here. Knowing what you're going to publish, first, will help you decide.
3. Publish your content, text and photos. Literally all you have to do is put files into your web hosting.

The Hard Part

The hard part is not publishing content to the net, the hard part is what to publish? And how to publish it? As a rule, know what you're publishing, FIRST. Get your idea for your website sketched out in a notebook, Word Doc, PowerPoint, or even a napkin. Yes napkins count as work.

Planning is the Key
I believe my job as a designer is essentially helping businesses figure out the what and how, and all the subtle nuances, of putting their content online. But you don't have to hire a designer, just do your homework. The more information you find, the more ideas you gather, the clearer you get on what you want your site to be. In the design business we call this the 'research phase', and it's really the most fun part.


I have a Vision! But how do I make it real?
Simple
Decide early if you want a blog or something simple. There are some inexpensive hosted publishing options here which can work very well! Especially if you take the time to customize them. You can point your cheap domain name at your blog on Type Pad or Blogger and voila! Or point it at Google Page Creator and you can have a FREE website. You can make some really nice web pages using iweb and .Mac. I have tried all these tools and they are very easy to use but I'm warning you now, you don't get tight control over the design of your site. Did I mention that these tools are free? There are many, many other hosted publishing solutions you can try. Almost any web hosting company has some sort of tool for you to use. Unfortunately they all have really poor demo versions. I've never heard any positive feedback about these do-it-yourself tools and I would love for people to leave a comment about some of them.

Moderate
For $150.00 I recommend Adobe Contribute. You can also just try it for free for 30 days. All you need to work with Contribute is any 'basic' web hosting. You get email accounts with your web hosting. Once you sign up for web hosting somewhere, they'll give you an FTPlogin and password. Then, plug that info into Contribute and start publishing. Contribute is great, you don't need to 'code' anything, but it does takes a little fiddling to figure out how to use it. Contribute comes with pre made templates and it is fairly easy to use it to build and customize a whole site. Plus contribute is designed to work collaboratively with many other types of software, like Microsoft Word. Ah yes, Microsoft. If you are already comfortable with MS Office tools then you should check out Microsoft Office Live Small Business Center.

Time is Money

You are never trapped into using one web hosting service or one type of software to publish your site. You can ALWAYS CHANGE your site, or add to it. You can literally copy and paste whatever you make into something else if you need to. But switching anything will cost you at least some time, and probably some money. The better you plan your project the less likely you'll get sidetracked. I cant emphasize enough how important planning is.

Real World Examples:
Many of my friends websites (on the right) were created using some of these hosted publishing tools. Check out Megan Woolever for an example using Google Page Creator. Or Art Director Meg Frost who hosts her portfolio on a Type Pad blog.

More Info Coming Soon!
Of course starting a website is only the begining. Look for more blog entries on designing for the web, maintaining a site, and search engine optimization (SEO).

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