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Five Steps for a Snazzy Web Site on a Shoestring Budget

I put off creating a Web site for a long time—a really long time. As a technophobe, the prospect was daunting to me. I knew it would help me showcase my writing and attract new freelance clients but I was overwhelmed with the options and stymied by fear. What is a domain name? How do I get a URL? Who will “host” the site? I can barely host a cocktail party and my prior experiences with content management systems left me befuddled. So it was pure luck when I stumbled across Yahoo Small Business and created my Web site easily and painlessly on a student’s shoestring budget. Here’s how I did it and you can too!

1. Why a Web site?
Before you even start, think about why you want to create a Web site. Is it for business or personal use? Do you intend to sell items using it? Do you plan to upload pictures and video? Is it meant for a large audience or people in a certain industry or just your family and friends? Jotting down the purpose of the Web site and taking some time to think about what you want it to accomplish will save time once you actually start creating it. In building the Web site, you want to include everything you may think you need right at the start, saving yourself the time and money the go with modifications later on.

2. Choose Your Domain Name … with Care
Your domain name is the address that people will visit to view your Web site. It is preceded by the World Wide Web designation www. This address says a lot about your Web site and is not often changed so consider it carefully. You should choose something that is short and memorable. If you are using two words, make sure they make sense squashed together as they will be in your URL. Finally if you have a long or cumbersome last name or company name consider something shorter, cheeky, and memorable. For instance the Web site of author Karen Salmansohn is www.notsalmon.com. Domain names can be purchased for a small fee online.

3. Find the Host with the Most
Web site hosts provide space on their server and connectivity so that your Web site will appear on the World Wide Web. Yes, of course, it’s more complicated than that but you don’t need to learn all the specifics—that’s what the pros are for. The gist is this: unless you are very tech savvy and own a server, you need a host. As with your domain name you will pay an outside company for this and you can often get both together though one provider. Friends or colleagues with Web sites may have suggestions for hosts; there are many companies that offer this on the Internet as well. I use and recommend Yahoo Small Business but no matter who you choose pick a reputable company so you can be assured that your site will be available 24/7. Your best friend’s neighbor’s son who is a self-proclaimed computer whiz probably won’t cut it.

4. Keep It Simple, Stupid!
You have a domain name and host, now the real fun begins! You no longer need to know HTML to create a dynamic Web site. Most companies that offer hosting and domain names also offer templates and simple content management systems that let you create a professional looking Web site in the privacy of your own home. As you’re doing this remember the KISS rule. To appeal to the broadest audience keep it simple both in content and design. This does not mean you have to talk down to people but it does mean your headlines should be clear and your visuals should be uncluttered. Visit Web sites you like and get ideas from their navigation bars, separate your content into simple categories, provide links so visitors can move from section to section with ease and always let them jump back to your homepage to get their bearings.

5. Update, Update, Update …
A Web site that is not updated will wither and die like the Beta video craze of the ’80s. There are simply too many Web sites competing for visitors. To have any chance at all of building a following you must update your site as much as possible. An out-of-date Web site leaves viewers distrustful. How great could your service be if your Web site still has news and notes up from Christmas ’07? Updating is vital; so whether you’re using a content management system or coding or working with an outside designer establish how you will do this right at from the start and once the site is up devote an hour a week to updating the site and considering how you can improve it.

And finally: A Web site is a great way to market yourself in this tight economy. Now more than ever Web sites deliver real bang for the buck. If you’re willing to take the time to put your fingers to the keys and create one, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that as you’re eating, sleeping, and answering email a powerful tool is out there working for you, 24/7, all over the world.

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