It is essential to have a Web presence for your business, even if it's no more than a simple information page. Your customers will look for a website to learn about your business before they look for a phone book or newspaper ad. You can publish and maintain your website yourself, and with these five open source site builders, it's inexpensive and easy.
First Things First
A website and an email address are two essential components of your branding, so you should have your own registered domain name. Let's say your business is Golden Touch Tattoos. You want your customers visiting goldentouchtattoos.com and emailing you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using a free service like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo looks amateurish, and why should you promote their businesses? The email address email@example.com doesn't support a consistent identity or help people remember you. It costs only about $16 per year to keep a registered domain name, and it's easy to find registrars.
Next you need to find a Web hosting service. These abound, and don't spend more than $50/month for a service with lots of features and lots of choices for site builders. The Internet is powered by free-of-cost open source, so it doesn't cost much for a Web host to offer all the bells and whistles. The hosting business is cutthroat and full of bad hosts, so visit Web Hosting Talk to find out which hosts are good and which hosts you should avoid.
Please resist the temptation to load your shiny new site with special effects, animations, weird fonts and garish color schemes. Your customers want information, and they want to find it quickly.
Remember that posting contact information, like email and phone numbers, is just the first part -- who will answer the phone, who will reply to emails? Will they reply quickly and knowledgeably? If you enable forums and commenting, who will moderate them? Not weeding out spammers, trolls and mean people, and not replying quickly and courteously to site visitors, are all good ways to chase away customers.
Here, for your consideration, are five open source website builders -- in order from small-and-simple to large-and-feature-crammed. They all come with multiple themes for customizing their appearance, spam filters, support multiple languages, require no coding knowledge, and should all be available at any good Web host.
Textpattern is a nice choice for a text-heavy site with, for example, lots of tutorials, detailed product information, announcements, press releases or a CEO blog full of deep thoughts. You can easily post and organize images as well.
Textpattern uses a Web-based administration console and includes slick tools like a plain text-to-Web-page converter, human-readable clean URLs (which are also search engine optimization-friendly, very flexible organization and categorization, and nice control of reader comments. Writing and editing new content is fast and intuitive, and its layout controls don't drive you crazy -- you can actually make your pages and articles look the way you want without a fight.
DotClear, like Textpattern, is friendly to writers and editors with easy formatting, editing and layout tools that don't get in your way. It offers modules for importing your content from other blogs and nice multi-media management.
Better yet, it includes features not present in most other site builders: accessibility for Braille displays and screen readers. Don't forget your vision-impaired or keyboard/mouse-impaired customers, because their money spends exactly the same as everyone else's, and even in this modern 21st century they're still overlooked by most businesses.
Wordpress is two different things: Wordpress is free open source blogging software that you download and install on your own Web server, and Wordpress.com is a site that hosts Wordpress blogs, with both free and paid services. It's the most popular blogging site, and for good reason -- Wordpress is fast to learn.
You can literally create and publish a new site in a few minutes. If you're brand-new to building your own website, I recommend signing up for a free Wordpress account for practice. This includes 3GB of storage, a statistics system so you can see where your traffic is coming from, spam filter and 100+ free themes.
A free Wordpress account isn't adequate for a business site, because you can't use your own domain name. Instead you get a subdomain like mysite.wordpress.com. This is fine for a personal site or for practice, but for a business you should spend a few bucks to use your own domain name.
Wordpress.com charges $17 to $24 per year for a custom domain name. If you are verbose and publish much content, or you want to post lots of photos or videos, extra storage costs $19.97 to $289.97 per year, depending on how much you need. There are no bandwidth charges.
Video hosting costs $59.97 per year, and it's pretty slick. It supports high- and low-definition videos, and when you upload your video Wordpress.com automatically converts it to the correct format. Wordpress supports forums, image galleries, videos, blogs, newsfeeds and pretty much everything you might ever need.
Plone doesn't get much buzz, which is surprising for such an excellent, elegant site builder. It is known for its polish, speed and user-friendliness. It has superior editing tools, excellent search and indexing and painless upgrades.
It renders pages correctly in all Web browsers, even the ancient Internet Explore 6, which still holds about 10 percent market share. Wordpress and Drupal use database backends, which has some advantages but at the cost of greater complexity. Plone stores binary files and file data in the filesystem, and is very efficient in terms of server speed and storage.
Plone's one downside is complexity, which is hard to avoid with a fully-featured content management system (CMS), so the initial setup is more work than Wordpress. After the initial setup, it's fairly painless to administer with a nicely-organized administration interface.
Drupal is the most flexible site builder and CMS, which also makes it the most future-proof. You can start small, learn your way around, add features and content at your own pace, and Drupal will grow with you. Its administration interface is a sleek, dynamic overlay with controls appropriate to the page you are on, so everything you need is always in front of you.
Drupal has a huge developer and user community cranking out cool themes and extensions day after day, so if there is some specific feature you want it's probably out there somewhere. It's a bit overkill for a simple site, but if you want the option to grow over time and add features, then Drupal's a great choice.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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