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Articles
Web Site Solutions for Small Budgets
by: Rebecca Ragland
 
As a Web site developer, I have spent much of my career listening to tales of woe from people who have tried to get a Web site built and have ended up spending a great deal of money and not getting what they were promised—or worse, getting a terrible mess that was not even usable. Beyond that, they find that the person or company they used to build their Web site has disappeared and they have to hire someone new to clean up the mess, incurring further expense. This is a deplorable situation and can be avoided by doing a little research. Never hire a Web site developer or designer who is not willing to give you a list of active Web sites that they have built. You can then contact some of their clients and ask about their experience.

I am going to give you some options that can, in many cases, help avoid the need for a Web site developer altogether if you are willing to spend some time reading instructions and/or have someone that you trust who has a beginner’s level understanding of the Internet. These are entry-level solutions and can get you up and running. As time goes on you will want to have a more robust Internet presence. This will get you started and will give you some confidence about what you do and do not need in a Web site. The examples we are dealing with here are essentially blog engines that can be used as Web sites. Next month we will deal with Content Management Systems (CMS) that can be developed at a low cost. Any experience you gain through this process will be positive in familiarizing yourself with the working of the Web.

First Steps:

Domain Name
You must have a domain name, and you can purchase one yourself. You do not need professional help for this. I recommend GoDaddy because that is the company we use and it has never let us down. I have been using them for over eight years. If you are uncomfortable buying a domain name online they will walk you through it and any other problems you might encounter. There are other sites that sell domain names and the prices vary broadly. The most important part of doing this yourself is that you will have control of your domain name. This is of huge importance. NEVER let a Web developer or designer have control of your domain name.

Hosting
Your Web site has to have a place to live. Hosts maintain servers that allow your Web site to be seen on the Net. The pricing for this service varies greatly, as does the quality of service. We use ValueTech and have had a fabulous experience with them. Others have good reputations like Yahoo and GoDaddy. I just mention these few because I have personal experience with them. Again, ask people you know who they use. You should expect to pay around $250 to $300 a year for hosting for an entry-level Web site. If you want to include e-commerce, you will pay more, but we will save that discussion for another day. (Most Real Estate professionals will not need conventional e-commerce solutions.)

Whichever company you use be sure to ask them about their up time and redundancy. You want to be sure that your site is going to be reliably up (visible on the Web) and that should something terrible happen, your data is backed up and ready to be sent on the Web from another location as seamlessly as possible. Their only job is to protect and show your data.

Suggested Blog/Web Site Solutions:

The solutions below are ones that I have had hands-on experience with and feel very comfortable in recommending. As we have stated, we have no affiliation with these vendors, just knowledge of their high quality and ease of use in this scenario.

SquareSpace

This is a creative option for building a blog/Web site. It is not free, but it is worth the small price you pay from $7 to $175 per month. Here is a perfect example of how a blog can be used as a Web site: I used it when it first came online 5 years ago and found it quite straightforward even then. It is much more efficient and easy to use now. It offers a 15-day free trial, so you have nothing to lose by trying it out. They do not require that you give them your credit card information to use the trial, so you are not going to find that unexpected charge a month or so from now should you lose track of time or are too busy to use or cancel it during the trial period. But I suggest that you not sign up for any free trial until you do think you have time to work on it.

When you go there take some time to look at their features page and you will see a listing of the things that you absolutely need now and others that you will need as you grow. When you are ready, you can upgrade to your own domain name with no sign of Squarespace being your underlying architecture. No matter what solution you use—or even when you go to a developer to create a Web site for you from scratch—this is a good list to have.

I spent about 45 minutes on the site and built this skeleton Web site. I know you are thinking, “Sure 45 minutes for you, 45 days for me.” Just go there and try it out. They have extensive help and support options. The interface is very intuitive.

Besides, what is the worst that can happen? You can always start over.

TypePad

This is also a good service and it ranges from $4.95 to $29.95 per month for a wide range of services. We used TypePad as our blog early on and found it very easy to use. It offers a huge number of templates that are easy to apply, as well as many Widgets (little programs that do special things like add videos from your YouTube account, etc.). You can upload custom banners to further brand your site. It also offers stats tracking and has the added advantage of being almost instantly listed on most major search engines.

TypePad offers a 14-day free trial, so you have nothing to lose by trying it out. (They do require that you give them your credit card information to use the trial.)

One well-known Real Estate blogging information site, Real Estate Tomato, began on and still stays with TypePad. Usually once a site develops some traction online, they will upgrade to their own Web site.

WordPress
WordPress is the only free option I am mentioning here. It is an awesome application on many levels and you can put it on your own domain name. It has most of the features that the above-mentioned options have and is highly customizable. We use it as our blog on ExecMediaGroup.com and love it. You can also easily adapt it to use as a Web site as was indicated in last month’s article.

As you can see, there is no sign of this Web site not belonging completely to ExecMediaGroup, because in essence, it does. WordPress is an open-source engine for blogs and Web sites. This is an example of the best of the open-source system.

There are massive numbers of WordPress templates that are available for free or at reasonable rates. This is an example of a template for sale by Revolution. It is rather traditional, but there are many more. Remember the thing that you pay the most for when you are building a Web site is not the design itself, but the mechanism of the Web site that makes it possible to function online. Do not put design ahead of functionality. You can have both.

There are many more blog/Web site solutions out there. I have used the above examples because I have had personal, positive experiences with them.

Here are a few more:

Blogger (Google’s solution)
Yahoo 360
Windows Live Spaces
MoveableType

Finally

There are companies that dedicate themselves to developing these services and architectures for clients who do not have either the skills or the time to customize the solution for themselves. Of course, we would like to think that you would come to sublingua for such services, but you will find that there are many developers out there who specialize in one or more of each company’s options described here.

I hope that this has given those of you who have been worried about the expense or difficulty of getting out there on the Web the courage to try one or more of these providers. I think you will be amazed at how easy it is. The one goal that they all have in mind is to develop a solution that is user-friendly. Try it and use the comment section below to let me know what you think or to ask any questions.