How do you build a quick, simple web site so you can reach out to customers, in only four hours and for less than $50? Here's how to do it.
If you're ready to dabble with your first web site, where do you start? One option is to start with a very simple site: this way you can test the waters, without spending a lot of money. The site we built below is very simple - for example, it doesn't have ecommerce. But if you want to start small, this is one cheap way of going about it.
Here's your goal: build a professional looking web site with a world class content management engine behind it. You will need a bullet proof email database, as well as list management and campaign management facility so you can reach out to your customers. And of course you will want integrations into the major social networks. Finally you want to keep track of everything in real time with an easy to understand statistics package. And do it all for less than $50.
This is based on a real life example - Which-50 - that we built in four hours for $39.95.
Which-50 publishes and shares intelligence about the online marketplace, but it could just as easily be a restaurant sharing menu updates and special offers, or a home based accounting company providing information to its clients about updates to the tax code.
A reality check first. Depending on how complicated your requirements are you may need eventually professional help. For instance, we are going to get some assistance with how the site renders on different mobile devices. And if you are looking at setting up a transactional ecommerce site, that's on a different level to what we are discussing here.
But the more you can do yourself, the less you have to pay a developer later.
In this example, we are building a site which lets you share information with your clients - text, images, videos and links to other sites. It also lets your customers post information to your site, share feedback with you, and share your content with their friends and peers.
How technical will we get? You will have to cut and paste content (HTML code) between the tools and your site.
You don't have to write any code, or edit it, or modify it. The tools we will describe do all that for you. The bit you have to do is no more complex than cutting and pasting in Microsoft Word.
Our web site toolkit
Platform. Tumblr is a social blogging platform. It is very simple to join and easy use. It is also endlessly flexible around design. But if like us, design is not part of your skill set then Tumblr provides a range of free and paid design templates.
There are lots of good alternatives to Tumblr of course such as Google's Blogger and Automattic's Wordpress that are just as simple.
Social Networking. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter wrote themselves into the business plan for for Which-50.com (and we are assuming you have your own registrations on these sites.)
Facebook is doubly important because it offers the chance to build a business page and create a natural customer service channel for your audience. Research by Fifth Quadrant makes it clear consumers prefer Facebook to Twitter as a customer service channel.
Register your internet domain. Whois.com is a US based domain name registry– in other words it is where you buy your web address. And it is cheap. Which-50.com cost us $US9.95, the same domain on Melbourne IT would have cost $70.
Buying the domain name and pointing it at your site is basically straightforward although there is a little bit of complexity to making sure that both the www and non-www versions of your address point to the same place. You have to register what are called AName and CName records and whois.com provides the instructions.
Email management. Mailchimp is an email list and campaign management tool that integrates easily into sites like Tumblr and Wordpress. It is beloved by web site builders the world over.
- Statistics and ad management. Google Analytics and Google's Doubleclick are the gold standards and the best in class. But Google makes you jump through a variety of hoops to register and it can take a few days to get approvals – especially if you want to run advertising on your site and generate revenue. Here's a tip – do not register for Google Analytics or Doubleclick until your site has been running for a few weeks. Instead here' s an easy alternative to get you started. Statcounter.com is free, simple and ready to go.
Building the site
Step One. Sign up for Tumblr. Once you are inside Tumblr follow the instructions to start setting up your site. Because Tumblr is a social network it will nominate some sites for you to follow. Your customers won't see this content, only the stuff you publish. Tumblr also gives you a url to get you started which will look like username.tumblr.com. Customers won't see that url once you have set up your domain name correctly on Whois. Choose your Tumblr template, and you are ready to go.
Step Two. Register your domain name. If you want a .com.au domain you need to register a business name in Australia, or use the one you already operate.
Step Three. Add Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn buttons to your Tumblr (there are plenty of other buttons you might want to add, so choose the ones that are best for you. Don't go crazy though, too many buttons starts looking a little needy.) This page provides simple step by step instructions.
Step Four. Sign up for Mailchimp.com. Once you have registered, Mailchimp will walk you through building your first email list and adding a "Subscribe" message to you site.
Step Five . Sign up for Statcounter.com. Statcounter will create the tracking code needed to measure your site. It also tells you where to cut and paste the code and starts tracking right away.
- Step Six. Build a Facebook Business Page and run a small campaign for your site. Try and get 50 of your friends and family to like your page. That's a threshold test Facebook sets before you start getting access to many of the tools. You can run a campaign for as little as $10 on Facebook, which is great for testing new ideas, and Facebook lets you target prospects based on location, age, interests and other criteria.
With the $10 we had left over from our original budget we ran our first campaign and reached 2100 people, adding 15 likes to our Facebook page.
From little things big things grow.
Andrew Birmingham is the founder of Which-50.com and writes about technology for Haymarket Media.