If you’re a small business, starting up, or adding some social media presence – there are lots of free options to leverage the internet and technologies.
The offerings available now are mind-boggling; there are so many free or almost-free technologies you can leverage for your business, your branding, your marketing, and your customer engagement.
It’s so much simpler than when we had to build-or-buy an application for everything and were first building websites in the 90s – and a website designer is no longer a must-have, just as building a server room or even buying a server is no longer a must.
You can leverage the technologies now available – many free – to get a website and blog for your business. You can use cloud services for social media to help you with building your brand, building your market. And there are other cloud services available for data backups and much more. You can use cloud services to get what you need without buying a server and building a server room.
So, getting started on the internet couldn’t be easier for a few basics:
A website, email (besides free gmail, hotmail, yahoo mail addresses), and a blog (web-log).
- Besides the basic name of your company and legal requirements, try to get that company name – or a close cousin to it – in a URL (website address), with email. You can purchase your URL and email from any one of a number of providers, including register.com, godaddy.com, and hundreds more. But there are new offerings now that will let you do an all-in-one for those wanting a fairly versatile, yet basic website – read number 2 below! (For those wanting lots more flexibility and a techie-type control panel, I’ve also tried inmotionhosting.com and justhost.com – and am going to try bluehost.com next. When I have more information available, I’ll share it, but these specific hosting sites are for more tech-savvy users who want [?] to get their hands dirty.)
- You can also purchase your website address and email from Posterous.com and host your site there; conversely, you can host your custom website on Tumblr.com. Posterous is, personally speaking, a stable platform; Tumblr has been beset by some growth pains (uptime challenges) in recent months. (Then again, Linkedin has been bogging down regularly also; one can hope that they spend some of their IPO monies on improving their infrastructure.) For either Posterous or Tumblr, you have numerous options to your website look-and-feel (and can, naturally, pay to have it further customized). But these are both viable options – and free or close-to-free for a custom URL, completely free if you take the standard “your-chosen-name.posterous.com” or “your-chosen-name.tumblr.com“.
- At this writing, Tumblr is free for hosting your custom URL, but provides no support in helping you do it; if you’re not internet-savvy (things like name servers, DNS, moving domains, etc.), it’s best to either get some help from a consultant or not move forward with this option.You can see what’s available out there: My Posterous site on customer engagement is here and my Tumblr site, a bit of a catchall of my Tweets and some microblog posts, is here.
- Again, you can use either (or both!) of these for blog sites that reference back to your main website – or not! The flexibility is terrific and both sites give you the ability to send updates to numerous other sites, like Twitter, Facebook, and many more.
- Be careful not to replicate a lot of the same content or you may get penalties from the big search engines. I’ll write more about this in a later post.
- Once you obtain a Google Analytics code, to leverage the free service from Google (not essential, but helpful!), you can plug that into any website so you can monitor website hits. See Google Analytics to get a feel for this toolset. The only requirement from Google is having a Gmail ID – and that’s free. Note that analytics aren’t required, but once you see what is available, you’ll want it!
- You can also establish a blog through these services above (Posterous, Tumblr, or through a Sitebuilder option with some of the larger hosting firms) or through wordpress.com or other sites (like blogger.com). There are more out there every month. Don’t get caught up in rolling your own unless you have the time and money: Leverage what’s available out there now and focus on your core business!
Setting Up Your Web Presence: Website versus Blog versus Social Media
- This is key: Your website should be separate and distinct from your social media outreach. While you can combine a blog with your website – and SHOULD, for search engine optimization, house your blog ON your website – any social media sites should definitely be kept apart from your core website. This means do not build your house and your tribe on Facebook, for example. It should be just a spoke on the wheel.
- So, while Facebook continues rocketing along, it would be wise to not use Facebook as your primary presence. It can, depending on your markets, be part of your outreach, much as Twitter is. (Note, I think that Facebook is a better tool for B2C companies – not for B2B. Just an opinion. )
- If you already have a company website, you should still consider having a blog and sharing new content – and even videos – at least weekly. You can quickly and easily (see #2 above) start a blog – just as soon as you write some content!
- You can even establish a free account at Youtube.com for videos and either embed those in your blog and reference them in any email marketing campaign. (There are other sites available for video, picture sharing, and more. There’s a lot of movement in this area as videos are adopted more broadly for marketing purposes.)
Blogs are the new sales brochure!
A blog can extend your presence everywhere the internet reaches. Use your blog to launch your internet marketing efforts everywhere.
When you write a new blog post, your blog site should have the tools to automatically share that content with Twitter and Facebook – and perhaps other sites, like LinkedIn. Your blog should use tools so readers can comment and share your content on their favorite sites, including Digg and StumbleUpon and more as the market expands. (Note that both Tumblr and Posterous have tools to help you do autoposts to other sites. So does Amplify, a newer site for sharing content and communications; but that’s for another post since it’s not a “website” or “blog site”.)
Additionally, having a blog that points via keywords and hyperlinks to your company website (preferably into internal website pages to build more SEO) can help enhance your presence on the web, including helping bring your firm up in search engines’ queries to the first few pages. If you need more, you may contact an SEO firm to help in getting search engine optimization for your business.
For the do-it-yourself types, there are several helpful websites out there.
One I particularly enjoyed is from Josh in Australia at Teach Yourself Websites. It’s a free course delivered daily to your email inbox and is not technical in nature, but covers the essentials. Josh is a WordPress guy – just like my blog here – but many of his basics apply to any website. A plus? He’s very helpful and supportive – a great guy! (You can follow him on Twitter here: @jkohlbach)
Meantime, even INC. has gotten into the act: Here’s a quick recommendation on how to write an “About” page for your website. [Edit: Google+ is growing and is another option for a business to use as a micro-blogging platform, with lots of other benefits. More to be written on this later.]
What will your internet presence cost you?
The only monies you have to spend are for your URL – your website address – and your email. Most hosting firms charge a specific amount by email address (e.g., Godaddy.com), but there are some that give you up to 10 in a package. It’s worth taking a look and evaluating the vendors and their offerings, based on your specific needs.
There are free tools available for the rest of what I’ve written here.
On a final note, sometimes it pays to spend a few dollars on a premium offering – if you go the route of WordPress. I’ll update this post after I finish overhauling my site to use a new framework! Not for the faint-of-heart, though… [Edit: I've finally succumbed to use yet a more expensive framework and, thus far, am thrilled. But all that's for another day. October, 2012]
Leverage the free cloud services and internet tools available to get your web presence out there. Remember your business basics about marketing.