This is a weekly diary series focused on marketing strategies and tactics. The objective is simple. Outline the basics to help somebody working on a grassroots political campaign raise money or secure votes, help a group increase awareness about their cause, or just help a small business owner who wants to market themselves more effectively.
It wasn't that long ago it took some programming skills to launch a website/blog, but that is simply no longer the case. There are a number of cost effective options that if you can get around on Daily Kos, post a Diary, and leave a comment, then you can have a website/blog in a matter of minutes.
More than any other Diary in this series I'll be talking about a lot of third party products or services. Three important caveats. Every product I mention I have used for years and would highly recommend. Two, with every product I suggest there are dozens of other options I have not used. And finally, I don't work with any of the companies I mention.
For most people, regardless if you are running for office or trying to sell a product or service, about the first thing you need is a website/blog. And the reason is simple. If you start to attend professional meetings or mention to somebody you are running for office the first question they will usually ask, is what is your URL (unique resource location), or domain name?
DOMAIN NAME REGISTRATION & HOSTING
Your domain name is just that, the name somebody types into their browser to arrive at your site.
You could purchase your domain name from one company and use another to host your site, but I strongly suggest against this. Once you purchase a domain from a firm you then need to have a server to host it on and upload the files that will become your website/blog. It is best to get both the domain and hosting services from the same firm.
A hosting account means you just rent a small amount of space on a hard drive of a really fast computer (server). Your domain name, IP (Internet protocol) information, and email is attached to that section of the computer, so you can upload (like copying files) to create and manage your site and other people can type in your domain to reach it.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of companies that provide both of these services. I use GoDaddy. They are cost effective, easy to use, they can install all the applications I mention below (and many more), and they have free 24/7 US-based customer support.
I've used GoDaddy with dozens and dozens of clients and never had a single problem. Their most basic hosting account is $4.99/month. Domain names $9.99/year. Up to 100 email addresses. That is all any of you will most likely ever need.
NOTE: I've done some consulting work for a number of people running for office, and as you might expect they wanted to use a local provider (union) if possible to support their district. Of course I understand this. But unless you live in a major metro area or running for a state-wide office a local hosting service might be impossible to locate.
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET (WYSIWYG) EDITORS
Basic HTML programming, the core code (along with CSS) that creates websites/blogs is not rocket science. I wouldn't even suggest I am an expert and I have to admit at times I will attempt to make the most basic change to a page and end up banging my head against the wall for hours.
But all the applications I am going to mention have WYSIWYG/HTML editors. Meaning you don't need to be able to code to do some fairly advance formatting. Just point and click on icons. In fact, Daily Kos uses a very basic editor, that is below each comment box to let you bold, italic, link, or insert blockquotes.
The editors in the website/blog applications you would use to create your site do about 20 times as much.
Blogger, WordPress, and Typepad. These are by far the easiest applications to launch a site/blog. In fact in many instances you can have a site/blog set-up and "live" in a matter of minutes, not hours or days. Hosted means they are run off the servers of each company so you don't even need a domain name or hosting account. The downside is that cause they are hosted on another server you have less control. You have limited ability from a design/visual point-of-view, you can't always use your domain if you bought one, and you can't create email addresses.
Blogger is a service now owned by Google, and where I set-up my first blog. Without a doubt the easiest service to set up and manage. Heck, if you have a Gmail or Google News account you would just use that log-in information to set-up a site/blog. It is very limited from a design point-of-view, you only have a few dozens templates to choose from.
And at its core it is just a blogging application and doesn't offer many of the options I will mention with the other services.
However, I want to stress if you are not trying to sell something like web design services, the content of your site is far more important then what it looks like (but both are nice). Heck, several of the more popular liberal blogs run Blogger and have become more than a little successful.
Typepad is a hosted service owned by SixApart. I maintained a blog on this platform for five years. It is a powerful service, monthly fee of $4.95 (basic package). It is harder to manage than Blogger but offers many more advance options. They also offer a number of templates/designs as well that I find visually pleasing.
You can also easily use your own domain name with this service (but not email). Once you get comfortable with the application you can use the more advance features to drastically tweak the design/layout of the site. Plus they have partnerships with a number of third parties where you can add pretty advance features (called a Widget), with just a mouse click or two, to your site/blog (interactive photo galleries, search, news feeds, Twitter, Facebook, and many more).
WordPress is a free, open source service. Open source means that they allow developers/programmers access to the code of their product so people can write plug-ins (like with your Firefox browser) to drastically change the functionality of the site and design custom templates (there are thousands of them).
Therefore, for multiple reasons it is the most powerful product in this section. The hosted version is so similar to the custom version (installed on your own server) that I will talk about many of the features in far more details in the next section.
They offer a free version (where you don't need a hosting account), that still has a lot of functionality, but they reserve the right to run Google Ads on your blogs, you can't use your own domain name, and a few other restrictions you can read about here. There monthly fees vary, depending on what you want to do, but start at $29.97/year.
Note: Of all the products I mention here WordPress.com is the only product I have NOT used, the version hosted on their server. But looked at the video before posting this diary and read through the site and I am 100% sure the core product is the same, with a few small restrictions, as the version I use and will talk about in detail below.
CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS (CMS)/SERVICES
WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are free CMS applications. CMS is just a "buzz word" for applications that are far more than just blogging platforms (like the above ones) and once installed they are pretty advance (although still pretty easy to use) applications that will let you manage complex sites.
These services require a domain name and hosting account. They also require some advanced applications be installed on your server to run. However, all of the "popular" hosting services have "One Click Install" of these applications (Python and SQL for example), so it couldn't be more stupid simple. Some of the smaller hosting services might not have "One Click Installs," but you should quickly be able to determine this by looking at their site.
Note: Since you have your own server space with these options you need a FTP (file transfer protocol) program. Or put in non-tech jargon, you need a way to get files (images, PDF files, audio) from your computer to your server so they can be used on your site. Most major hosting services with let you do this through the back-end of your account via your browser, but I find them clunky. I use FileZilla, a free Windows application. I use Transmit on my Mac ($29.95). And you can even use this free Firefox extension, FireFTP to make your browser an FTP application.
I currently use WordPress with my two blogs and professional/business site. It might be the most popular web site/blogging software on the Internet. And I feel very safe in saying that the majority of the most popular, and high traffic blogs run WordPress. In fact it is even used by sites such as eBay, New York Times, Wired Magazine, and Sony PlayStation.
To just get a basic site/blog up and running isn't much more difficult then the previous applications I've outlined. The difference with WordPress is if you want to take the time to learn, and they have an outstanding help forum, you can literally do anything you could ever want with the site/blog.
Put in its most basic terms, you have the basic functionality of the application (more than you need to manage your site/blog), but the real power of WordPress is noticed when you get into third party templates and plug-ins.
WordPress HTML Templates
As I mentioned WordPress is open source, so there are thousands of free templates you can use, developed my third parties, to give your site/blog the look and feel you want. There is a searchable template database on the WordPress site, and also countless third party lists of the best of the best (here, here, and here for example).
All you do is download the template you want, unzip, and then FTP to your account. They then all show up in the design area of your WordPress account (in a test account I have more than a 100). You could have 5,000 blog posts, and if you want to change the design you just click on the one you want and it changes, all your content still there. It is actually pretty freaking cool.
Third parties have also written thousands of free plug-ins that can drastically change the functionality of your site. Interactive photo galleries. Integrated your eBay store on the site/blog. Multiple tools to help you get better search engine rankings (SEO), create complex forms, electronic commerce (shopping chart), you name it they have it.
My core list of recommended (again all free) plug-ins I use include:
- All in One SEO Pack (helps to increase your search engine rankings)
- Contact Form 7 (adds advance forms, like an email contact form)
- flickrRSS (streams your photos from flickr on your blog)
- WassUp (integrates your Google Analytics stats within WordPress)
- NextGEN Gallery (super cool photo gallery tool)
- Twitter Tools (automatic integrate your Tweets into your blog)
- WP-SpamFree (stops comment SPAM on our blog)
- WordPress Database Backup (does just what it says)
Drupal & Joomla
These two applications, both open source, are by far the most complex applications on this list. They are not for the "faint" of heart. But I would be remiss if I didn't include them. In fact, some of us news junkies here might recall there was more than a little buzz in the tech community, cause Obama based Whitehouse.gov on Drupal.
Each of these applications, if you use somebody like GoDaddy to host your account, have "One Click Installs." But once installed they get a lot more complex to use than WordPress. As with WordPress the application has its built in functionality and also uses templates and plug-ins. You have far less template options and many of the best plug-ins cost anywhere from $4.95 to $50.
WordPress has been around longer than Drupal and Joomla, so it is more polished and has a much lager universe of people creating templates and plug-ins. But Drupal and Joomla are quickly catching up and they are far more powerful. Literally they will let you do anything and everything you can imagine.
In fact, I could recreate all the functionality of Daily Kos and add a whole lot of other stuff with either of these applications, if I had the time and a business idea.
Note: I just started a project based on Joomla for a large school district. Of course they need a site with basic information, but they also want teachers to be able to upload their class schedules, maintain a calendar for parent/teacher conferences, let student/parents create password protected log-ins to view their grades, even complex threaded discussion forums. Both Drupal and Joomla will allow all this a lot more.
I didn't want to mention this option, but felt for full disclosure I should. There are any number of sites (here, here, and here) that will sell you (prices can start as lower at $25, one-time only fee) HTML templates, including all the images you need to create your site. They just have "place holders" for copy, like "Headline Goes Here" or "Body Copy Goes Here" where you add what you want, upload via your FTP program to your server, and you are done.
Cause you are not using the "One Click Install" to get databases and applications on your server, they are NOT blogging platforms. Just a static site. But if you just need something very simple, you can live with one design, no need for a blog, and don't want the added functionality of plug-ins, this may be a perfect solution for you.
Note: There are any number of stand alone WYSIWYG/HTML editors that are 100 times more powerful then the editors you can use via a browser. The most powerful/popular/expensive ($399) option is DreamWeaver (what I use). But there are other more cost effective solutions, like HotDog ($99.95), that are wonderful. It is nice to have one to look at and tweak the design/code even if you use one of the services I have mentioned, but if you are a novice and decide to use a static HTML template it is a must.
I did my best when I edited what I wrote here to not use any more jargon then needed. I also tried to give you enough information to be helpful, but not scare you away. I swear to you, if you can get around and write Dairies here you have most of the skills required to manage a site via something like Blogger, Typepad, and WordPress.
And if you are willing to spend a few hours here or there and read a few help documents you can use the hosted version of WordPress. It is not rocket science!
Note: If you consider yourself a novice start with Blogger, then move to TypePad, and then finally WordPress hosted on your own server. All the services I have mentioned here allow you to export and then import any content you've written. Therefore as your experience level improves you can upgrade to a more advance service and not lose your content (although there may be minor formatting issues). So don't think if you get your "feet wet" with Blogger you'll never be able to move to a more robust option later on.
MARKETING 101 TOPICS
- Marketing 101: An Introduction To This Series
- Marketing 101: What The Heck Is Marketing & Where Do I Start
- Website & Blog Development
- Pay-Per-Click Ads (6/15)
- Email Marketing Basics (6/22)
- Public/Media Relations (7/6)
- How Do I Measure The Effectiveness Of My Marketing? (7/13)
- Interruption vs. Permission Marketing (7/20)
- Social Media: Should I Even Care? (7/27)
- Paper-based Direct Mail (8/3)
- Print Advertising Basics (8/10)
- Trade Show/Event Marketing (8/17)
- Online Webinars/Web Meetings (8/24)
See you all next Monday at 8 AM CST when we talk PPC ads on Google. MSN (guess I should say Bing now), and Yahoo!.