For whatever reason, the ISITE team loves Martha Stewart. We often admire her aptitude for growing petunias, crafting stylish centerpieces, and to be totally honest — she’s got some nice website navigation going on. Yet I think we can all agree a 72-step applesauce recipe is not for everyone. Sometimes a jar of Mott’s will do just fine.
Along the same lines, not everyone can afford a Flash masterpiece or an action-triggered multi-tiered email marketing solution — but the good news is that not everyone needs to. We have helped small businesses and non-profits craft award-winning web experiences using some moderately priced or free tools.
Here is a menu of useful ingredients to serve up a memorable experience for your users.
The Meat of It
Like the holiday turkey, the meat of most sites is a content management system. When it comes to CMS, it is not unreasonable to take the Butterball approach. Depending on your business needs, size of site and how often your content changes, it is possible to use free (or very cheap) blog software as the platform for your content. We like solutions such as WordPress and Textpattern as an alternative to more costly CMS solutions. While these options might not be as (feature) rich, they can be every bit as tasty.
Mashed, baked, or in a nice cheesy gratin, it’s a solid fact that no meal is complete without some sort of starch. Whether you go for the potatoes or the yams, starchy foods are usually the most soul satisfying and sought-after dish on the table. Keeping your site visitors coming back for seconds and thirds (whether or not they are still hungry) requires implementing community-driven features on your website. After sifting through a staggering array of web 2.0 options, we have come to love Ning — a social software platform that provides everything from forums to video sharing for less than the cost of a single potato at your local grocery store.
Don’t Forget Your Veggies
Despite the breadth of options in the produce aisle, a smart chef should choose a select few veggie options. We suggest serving up the web’s fresh bounty of open APIs. We have found great success using Google Maps (mapping), OpenID (authentication), Flickr (photo sharing), Upcoming (event calendaring), or Google’s AJAX Search API to name just a few. Shopper beware: These APIs offer up the best services on the web for free, but do require a bit of technical know-how and thus are not quite suited for the kiddie table.
Jump on the Gravy Train
No matter what the combination of dishes, the most versatile thing on the table is the gravy. Gravy is often smothered across plates, providing a polite way to fix overly dry meat or under-salted potatoes. Analytics is the gravy of the web. Apply Google Analytics liberally to all aspects of your site, and it can help you fix your culinary missteps along the way.
The Sweet Stuff
Finally, no meal would be complete without the dessert. While the other stuff is tasty, a well-prepared dessert will be talked about for years to come. Getting people talking about your site (and your product) requires letting them know that it exists. For those who like setting things on fire, Martha would recommend a nice crème brulèe. ISITE recommends FeedBurner, which allows you to publicize, optimize and track your feed subscriptions — whether you are blogging, podcasting or feeding other goodies to the web-o-sphere. Along the same lines, Campaign Monitor is an (almost free) email marketing tool that can help bring great results without spending 14 hours in the kitchen.
Instead of laboring over a messy kitchen once the meal is complete, let the tryptophan kick in. Our web marketer’s feast should help you sit back and relax knowing full well you’ve spent your pennies wisely while checking off all the tasks on your to do list. Have some tools you like? We’d love to hear about them. In the meantime, bon appétit!
Speaking of good food, learn how we used Ning to earn Farm Aid’s Top of the Haystack site a Marketing Sherpa Viral Hall of Fame award!