Monday, November 26, 2012

Google's $10 Small Business Website: A cheaper and easier alternative to WordPress

Last year, in the course of co-founding a software company and talking with other new entrepreneurs who were founding their own ventures, I noticed a problem: Almost everyone wanted to set up a website to promote their businesses. But few owners, co-founders, or employees were ready to deal with the cost and complexity of WordPress, the online publishing software that is considered the standard platform for small business websites.

Don't get me wrong: WordPress is a powerful tool for creating websites. It's great for blogs or static websites (i.e., informational websites that seldom change). In fact, for our software venture, we ended up using WordPress. But this was mainly because my co-founder and I were both experienced with Web development and online publishing tools. We were also willing to pay the premiums. There were Web hosting costs for our .com domain (we used a hosting package that cost $20/month). There were also costs in the form of time requirements. Setting up, configuring, and updating site features took well over 50 hours, spread out over several months.

Few of my fellow entrepreneurs had the skills or patience to deal with WordPress. One of my MIT classmates who started his own company attempted to get something up and running on WordPress. After a few frustrating days, he concluded it was a waste of his time fiddling around with themes, plugins, and other settings -- he had a business to get off the ground! WordPress costs were also a barrier. Even at the lower end, hosting a WordPress site with its own .com domain costs around $80/year -- enough to give many startup founders pause.

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However, I knew there was a cheaper and easier way to create small business websites with dedicated .com domains. I have been using Google's Blogger service since 2004 for various blogging projects, and have also created some static sites around specific themes  as well as promotional sites for my In 30 Minutes series of books. Blogger is not intended for static sites, but it's easy to hack some of the settings and use Blogger's Pages features to make good-looking informational websites. Besides Blogger's super-easy interface for creating posts and pages, what makes Blogger a viable option for small business sites is the fact that hosting is free and domain registration is integrated into the service for just $10 per year.

In effect, for less than the cost of a pizza, it's possible for tech startups, consultants, shop owners, restaurants, and other types of small businesses (or people still at the concept stage) to rapidly create a small business website with its own .com domain. The site URL can be placed on business cards, on Twitter pages and Facebook profiles, or in email signatures. It will be indexed by Google and other search engines, and can help new customers learn about the business.

I showed a few friends how to create static business websites using Blogger. Very quickly a bunch of small companies, ranging from an established carpentry business in Rhode Island to a high-tech energy startup, had their own .com sites to promote their products and services. The time and cost requirements were a fraction of what they would have spent had they gone the WordPress route.

I realized that my in-person lessons could be expanded to a much larger audience through an In 30 Minutes™ book as well as videos. I began writing the book in September and finished it last week. I launched a small business website (on Blogger, naturally!) and posted some Blogger video tutorials.

Now, I am ready to get the word out about the book. If you have a business or a business concept that you want to promote, but don't want to invest the time or other costs associated with a WordPress site, Google Blogger For Small Businesses In 30 Minutes is an easy way to get started. The book is designed to be read in 30 minutes, and uses step-by-step instructions and lots of screenshots that explain all of the necessary steps to get a website up and running. Please also consider sharing this site with friends who have their own businesses -- links to send email or share the URL on Facebook or Twitter can be found on this page.

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