Creating the most dynamic and effective business website doesn’t have to break the bank. With reasonable effort, investment and a modicum of Web know-how, you can either build a website or significantly improve your existing Web presence -- for less than $200 in one-time costs.
To do so, you’ll need to know which tools are essential and how to use them. Here are four low-cost ways to get your site not only functional, but attracting customers and helping you close more sales.
1. Get a professional look.
One of the easiest ways to create an effective, low-maintenance website is to combine off-the-shelf content management systems with a pre-made Website template. That way you have a unique-looking site that’s distinguished from basic Web tools such as Google’s Blogger format or Typepad that can also support complex live content.
Among the most popular website hosting services that support free content management systems are WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. All can manage dynamic content without any tricky or costly coding on your part.
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The basic software packages for Joomla, Drupal and WordPress are free. Premium features and extensions, such as e-commerce tools, can be purchased but prices vary. Downloading and installing the basic and advanced versions of these tools does require an understanding of Web software. WordPress, however, offers a hosted version which doesn’t require any software installation.
You’ll also need a professional-looking template for your site that is compatible with your content management system. Options include New York-based Template Monster, which lets users narrow down themes based on business type and website purpose. Templates can cost about $50 each.
2. Analyze your website.
Not getting an accurate picture of how customers use your site might be the single biggest mistake online businesses make. Analytics tools can help you find out how many people visit your website, how much time they spend on each page and what service referred them.
One option is Visistat, which not only offers a number of web analytics services but also tracking of your online marketing campaigns and behavioral data on your site’s visitors. The average package costs about $50 per month.
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But the most popular and perhaps the most effective analytics tool is Google Analytics. This free service generates deep, constantly updated visitor statistics. Installation usually only requires you to copy and paste a line of tracking code into your Website code, although some content management systems including WordPress make it even easier through plugins.
3. Get feedback.
Constructive criticism can be key to any business website. While full-on website testing technologies can be effective, they can also be costly.
Southborough, Mass.-based uTest offers access to a global network of 50,000 Web-connected testers and can create custom testing templates for everything from usability to security. Basic usability testing starts at several thousand dollars per engagement.
But there are numerous low-cost online testing services that can provide reviews. For example, Washington, D.C.-based Feedback Army lets businesses post four to six questions about its website, which are answered by online testers. Prices start at $20 for 10 reviews. For $39, Mountain View, Calif.-based UserTesting.com, can provide you with a video of an actual human tester using your website and talking about it as he or she navigates it.
4. Integrate social media.
Your website should link to your business’ social media accounts, but it’s even more important that your visitors be prompted to share your website through their own social media identities.
Most social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, provide detailed instructions for how to insert “Like”, “Share”, “Comment”, and “Tweet” buttons onto your Web page. Depending on how your website is hosted, can be installed as simple as copying and pasting some code into a website template or downloading and installing a plugin.
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They also provide feeds showing your Facebook updates, Tweets and other ways people are interacting with your website -- which can be some valuable information when it comes to knowing your customers.
Bottom line: Working through the fundamentals of good design, compelling dynamic content, properly installed social media and user data can be the fastest and most affordable ways to gets results online.