Thursday, October 18, 2007

Using blogging software to build a website

I've had a great experience using Blogger to create my blog, so when I found out I could also use this type of software to build a website, my ears pricked up. Nowadays it seems like everyone has to have their own site, so companies are scrambling to come up with ways to make programming more user-friendly, and that's good news for solopreneurs, freelancers and small business startups like us.

One of the companies my business counselor, Karen-Michelle Mirko, from the Lower Manhattan Business Solutions Center suggested I check out is SquareSpace. They have various packages to choose from but the basic one starts at 7$/month and you get a wide variety of layouts, hosting, visitor stats, and the ability to place ads with Google Adsense, so you can make money. The business packages start at $25 and also include domain mapping (that way your url will show your own domain name), polls, and a FAQ page, among other things. The only problem is tech support...they're only accessible through email - no live assistance - which might become a problem in an emergency, if people can't download your site for some reason.

Another blogging software company to consider is WordPress. It's very similar to Blogger except that they allow you to add additional pages, which Blogger doesn't at the moment. You can get your site started for free but in order to use your own domain name it's $10/ year, which is nothing. Unfortunately they too only offer email support, and they don't allow you to place ads, although they're apparently working on a premium upgrade to bypass this.

Other companies to look into: TypePad, SiteRubix and Microsoft Office Live. One caveat is that this type of software is best for service firms that are interested in generating leads. If what you want is to sell products you'll need e-commerce functionality, which is more complicated. For that you can try GoDaddy, Kingdom 247, Template Monster, or 1&

So here's a list of things I look for when deciding which programming software to choose from:

  • do I like the templates they offer? can they be customized? can I change the color on their fonts and backgrounds, etc.?

  • how many pages can I add?

  • how many email addresses will I get? (you'll want to set up different ones to target different types of clients)

  • can I place ads with Google Adsense?

  • what kind of customer support do they have?

  • can I use my own domain name?

  • what plugins/widgets are available?

  • do they offer down-loadable file backup so that I have copies of all my files?
Do you have any experience - good or bad - using website development software? Please chime in!


Jaya Schillinger said...

I'm a huge fan of DIY websites for the average small business. I started up my first ecommerce venture in '98 (when the word ecommerce was just starting to be used.) It was my ticket out of a day job.

What's funny to me is that I had zero tech skills then! I had bare-minimum word/excel skills, which I used on a used Compaq laptop. The aromatherapy company I worked for lost it's funding and we got shut down. I had to decide what to do! On one day, I decided to start up my own aromatherapy company. Then the very next day, I read a newspaper article about the newly launched Yahoo stores. Bingo! Even though I didn't even have email yet, I decided I would learn ecommerce. I jumped into it with both feet, and it allowed me to build a micro-business out of my home. My graphic design skills were meager, but my copywriting skills were pretty good. Through DIY website building, I was able to appear as a much larger company. I got a full page feature story in the Sunday business section of the local paper because (back in the stone age) it was still pretty newsworthy to be doing it yourself, and especially that I was pushing the frontier of selling a product (aromas) that people thought customers would not buy online. (Remember the old brick-n-mortar debate, before ecommerce was a given?)

Since then I've used a couple different DIY template site services. I found myself referring so many of my coaching clients to my favorite one that I negotiated a licensing deal with them a few years ago. So now it's a bit of a revenue stream, but more importantly I've got all my clients using the same system (makes it easier for me to help them launch their sites) and I know they aren't going to get burned by a flaky designer. I think most small businesses are better off learning how to do some basic brochureware, until their budget really affords top-notch talent who won't flake out.

Here's the service I use and recommend:

Joe Fusco said...

Good overview.

I would add to your list another issue to consider, one that becomes increasingly important the longer you blog and if you have any aspirations of running the "hobby" someday as a profitable business:

* how does the provider allow you to track and analyze your traffic?

Squarespace, for example, does a great job, although the availability is a little sporadic.

Whatever service you use, ask this question, or determine how easy (if allowed at all) it is to use a third party service like Google Analytics.

Supremo said...

Popular Ink, our new company, uses Word Press. We have a Yahoo Merchant account and this comes with Word Press. Word Press is great (most of the time) but it is not always intuitive and it requires some html knowledge if you want things to look different from everyone else's blog.

In order to get a fresh look, we used a web designer to come up with a basic template and now we can write to this template with Word Press.

Sometimes our lack of HTML knowledge gives us fits. Many websites with HTML advice assume that you either know nothing (and therefor only tell you how to do a handful of things) or a lot. One site that does NOT make these assumptions and is particularly useful is Annabella's HTML Help:

As far as merchant accounts or e-stores go, we are not really satisfied with Yahoo. They advertise as being user friendly and they do have good support, but it is complex and not really a DYI kind of deal. Would love to hear about other merchant services that are easier to use!

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adrin said...

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