Tapping Technology to Teach III.1 – The Site

Having a bad a$$ site on the web is a good idea. We use WordPress and are supported by WebManna, an internet marketing firm. Jason and Andrea have been tremendous assets to our web business in terms of design, hosting, direction and marketing. If you can find someone to host your site and run ideas by, that is definitely the way to go.

If you donʼt have that kind of support, you want to be a simple as possible. Get functional, then get fancy.

What’s the Deal with WordPress?

WordPress is an open source software – free – that you can wind up spending a good deal of money on. WordPress is pretty much the defacto standard for small business websites. Formerly a blogging application, WordPress has started to become more of a CMS – content management system – and, I believe, is the easiest to use.

WordPress is pretty basic, but with the addition of plugins, you can create a very nice site that is capable of doing quite a bit more than just presenting content.

On PVybe.com we are using the Wishlist Member plugin for our membership driven distance learning program. It creates many subscription levels and allows us to manage subscriptions and receive payment via paypal.

We are also using WP-Touch, a nifty little mobile template that creates a very slick and nice looking mobile skin of any WordPress site.

There is also a WordPress application for Android, and I would imagine the iPhone. It allows an author to post directly from the phone and insert images through sharing menus from the phoneʼs gallery. Itʼs a great little app for popping up blog posts on the fly.There are a dizzying number of plugins for making your wordpress site do exactly what you want it too. Itʼs easy to get lost in there. Just remember, get functional, then fancy!

You could also use WordPress.com. Itʼs a free service that is based on the WordPress platform, but it is a little more restrictive in terms of add on features.

Drupal is a great CMS as is Joomla, but they have a steeper learning curve and donʼt seem to have as wide a support base as WordPress. Magento is pretty nice for a storefront but can be a real bear to learn unless you are an XML whiz… Herodiscusa.com is built on Magento.

Farming it Out

Over the last couple years, it has become easier and easier to operate without a website and still have good online visibility. Facebook and now Google+ have set up a situation where it is possible to not only reach many people via social networking, but to engage them and build a relationship with them – without a site of your own. There are plenty of features and the features are very mature and well thought out – events, groups, discussions, messaging, etc.

There are some serious problems with farming out your site, in my opinion. I’ll just spell out a couple of them here:

1. Lack of Ownership

Not having a site of your own means you are dependent upon 3rd parties who have no stake in your business. A single policy change, business plan modification or something as simple as an upgrade by a company could throw years of work out the window.

2. Lack of Permanence

Depending upon a news feed, status update organization as communication and marketing for your business is great for getting information out, but it’s not so great for finding that data. Some online services are better than others in this regard, but go ahead and try to find something that was posted to your facebook activity stream from 3 months ago. It’s not an easy job.

3. Lack of Flexibility

When you are depending on 3rd party applications to run your site you often do not have granular control over how the information is sorted, queried and stored. You also lose quite a bit of flexibility in terms of displaying content.

If I were going to farm out my site and go without a strong homepage presence, I’d probably go with Google+. Google+ along with all of Google’s other online services and applications like BloggerGoogle CalendarGmail and Google Docs are looking as if they could solve a lot of the online problems that small businesses face and allow them to thrive on the web. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting closer every day.

Get Function, Then Fancy!

The biggest mistake I see made with websites and that I have made myself, over and over, is to get too focused on the things that I could do with the site instead of what I can do with the site.

The number of features, the bells and whistles, templates, plugins, lightboxes, editors, widgets, and blah, blah, blah… – there are so many options and possibilities. It’s very easy to drown in these uncharted waters.

We have a bit of a problem at PVybe in that we are so wide in terms of our services and activities. We do Pets, Sports, Assistance Dogs, Art, Online Training, Camps and Seminars, Animal Wrangling, and we have Satellite Studios. Odds are you don’t have that much ground to cover.

  • You need a contact page.
  • An About Page.
  • Your core services pages.
  • Your Storefront (optional)
  • Your Blog
That’s about it. It’s not a lot of stuff. Go simple. Get this stuff up and looking nice and then fill it with awesome content. Once you’ve got slammin’ content and a clean interface then, and only then, start to get fancy.
Content is what brings people to a website, not design and cool features.