The theme for the day is websites. Every writer can benefit from getting their name out there to the world, and there are a number of free resources available to help us do that well.
There are a number of great website builders out there, both that require some coding and some with no coding – the essential WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) platforms.
For something basic, many web hosters like GoDaddy and FatCow (and a host of others) have basic web templates that are ready to go in a matter of a few hours for nothing more than what you’re paying for your hosting and web site address. You’re often limited as to your free options, but many people like to go this route to get something basic up & going quickly.
If you have a recent Mac, you already have iWeb, a ridiculously easy WYSIWYG web builder with great templates. I understand you can even buy a website address through Apple and host through them, although as a PC-based person I sadly haven’t experienced it yet. For help, search “tutorial iWeb” for some great guides.
If you’re brave and reasonably computer-savvy, you can figure out how to build your own website in a program like Dreamweaver (free trial for about 30 days, after that ~$500) or the open source Amaya (free & recommended by these guys, though liable to be clunky). Try searching “tutorial Dreamweaver” or “tutorial Amaya” for help along the way.
If you’re comfortable with code, try a free text editor like Notepad++ or use the free 30-day trial for TextMate (for Mac) and host-it-yourself through a service like MobileMe, which let’s face it, as a code person you probably already have.
Regardless of the route you go, you should go ahead and download the free client version of FileZilla to help you upload your files in bulk when it’s time. It’s not as tough as it looks – just enter in the username and password from your hoster, and upload and download files quickly by dragging from one side to the other.
CMS & Why They Rock
If you need a little more functionality than a few static web pages, like, say, a blog or a store, you want to talk about getting a CMS (content management system). This sounds scary but isn’t. There are several great free ones out there – the most famous of which is probably WordPress – with a host of wonderful people in the Interwebs who have already invented most anything you’d want for free.
As I said, WordPress is probably the most famous of these. You have a choice between the self-hosted WordPress.com (think: easy) which works like Blogspot or any other online blog company, or WordPress.org, where you can get into the code itself and have a lot more control over your features. A great compromise is to buy web hosting from a big company like the ones mentioned above – with FatCow, GoDaddy and other companies of that caliber. Often they’ll install WordPress for you with the push of a button. Plus, there’s a huge number of free themes and plugins you can use to make your website work any way you like – not all of these are available on WordPress.com.
As great alternatives to WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! operate in different ways but offer the same choices between hosting on their website (easy) and getting the code onto your website (your name plus more control). Check these alternatives out before you make a final decision – many people like these better than WordPress, as they aren’t so blog-driven and offer different features.
Playing With Media
So much of marketing and websites these days is driven by media – pictures, videos, and sound – that I thought I’d touch on some free resources to help you develop your own.
Get free photos at one of these sites – though be a good citizen and be careful of the licensing restrictions. And I’ve heard you can use free online services to edit videos – here’s a review site I found to give you the skinny.
For vector-based drawing (like logos), check out the free open-source Inkscape. For a great sound editor (to help you with projects like podcasts or audio talks), try Audacity. And nothing beats pencil and paper – so don’t forget a scanner or a camera to help you get those images in.
Nothing beats knowing how many people you’re reaching. And while there are a number of native measurement tools in WordPress plugins, in website hosters, and in other places, it’s often worth installing your own. Google Analytics is free and is rapidly becoming the industry standard, as you can attach it to your html website or WordPress blog so easily (look for the plugins) – I’m certain they’re doing the same for Drupal and Joomla!. The program will tell you not only how many hits you got, but from where and how often.