As I thinking about what topic to blog on today, I came to remember something that happened recently.
Recently a couple of my friends with marketing backgrounds, who wanted to sell their product through the web asked for some tips to find the best technology for their website and asked for few developer contacts. Instead of writing emails to each of them, I thought I would write it as a blog post..
I m gonna start with things to do for creating a website targeted to a business selling a product but later will add ability to integrate social media to their website (as in user forums, etc).
Step-1) First gather the list of features you want in your website. If you are selling a product, you might want to include some kind of graphic describing your product or maybe a youtube video describing your product. Then you might want a section describing your company and yourself (the about-us page). Then a contact form so that people coming to your website could could you. Then some way to sell your product (like a shopping cart?)
a) For the graphic describing your product, you may first draw it as a flow chart in a software like Microsoft vsio or even Microsoft powerpoint.
b) For the video describing your product, shoot the video from a handycam or camera and edit it using your favorite video editing software (I m not going to talk about video editing softwares here, but you can find a lot on the web). Then you can upload the video on youtube.
c) For the about-us page, just have the description in text (maybe a powerpoint would do).
d) For the contact form, you might wonder, this would require some programming.. Not really. You can use web services like prefinery.com (this is not really a web service targeted for contact forms but you can surely use it for that) or aweber.com or wufoo.com (HTML form builder and its free). In fact you can create any kind of forms using these services without any programming experience. You just have to creative enough to be able to get your requirements done using the available form tools (almost every thing can be done using these form tools.. If you are creative, you can even build a shopping cart using these form tools).
e) For the shopping cart part, ask the question: Do you really need a shopping cart to sell your product? Can you get an amazon account (amazon.com) and list your product for sale there and link that to your website first to see if you get traffic? This way you don't have to figure out the logistics of selling (especially the shopping cart and payment collection). I think Amazon charges just over 8% as commissions. So if you don't like that, look for other e-commerce sites which charge less commissions and list your product for sale there and link back to your website. Or you can look into Google Checkout (checkout.google.com) to collect payments and sell your product. Maybe once someone pays through google checkout, you can mail them the product (or email them if its somekind of an online product). All these require no programming experience.
Now that you have done steps (a) to (e), you might have put all of them together in the form of a website.
Step-2) Use a website mockup software like balsamiq (http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups) to create the mockups. Watch the 3 minute video in the balsamiq website and you will know what wonders it can do and you can use it. First decide how may pages your website need to have. Then, you can take screenshots of your graphics, youtube video, about-us powerpoint page, web forms and place them in the appropriate pages using the balsamiq mockup software (this is one of the best mockup softwares I have used). Try to do as much as possible in this stage (the layout, fonts, color, etc) because this will reduce your web designer cost by a great deal. You can also draw the mockups using paper and pencil but this is more advanced and scalable (you don't have to look for an eraser when you have to make changes). You may also look into tools like Omnigraffle or Microsoft Vsio. Or do a google search for web mockup softwares and I m sure there will be plenty. In my opinion, balsamiq is the best.
Step-3) Once your mockup is complete using the balsamiq software, now its time to implement it on the web.
Here are some resources for drag and drop web site creation.
These two are the simplest ones among most drag and drop website creation softwares I evaluated.
If you need something more advanced (as in a CMS), try this: http://www.typeroom.com/
If none of the out of the drag and drop solutions fit your needs, you may need to hire a web designer who can implement the mockups (you have created) in html. This is when you have to think about whether you need a content management software like wordpress, drupal or joomla. For the most part, I think it could be done in simple html itself (but you can use something like wordpress to do this too.. Infact you may even use the basic wordpress template). Remember: the forms, shopping cart, etc are mashups using other web tools (forms using prefinery or aweber or wufoo and shopping cart with amazon or google checkout) and should just be link backs to your website (Don't try to do these from scratch.. just link the forms/shopping cart to the ones you have already created in step 1-d). Anyways ask your web designer for the best opinion.
You can use websites like crowdspring.com or elance.com or odesk.com or even talk to your local web designer to implement it in the website. This should not cost more than a 3-4 hours max of the designer's time to implement. If not, then you are not using the right smart web designer. Ofcourse, I havent included the cost/time to design your logos, etc but c'mon, ask the question: Do I really need the best logo to sell my product? Whats the objective here? Is it to have the best website in the world or to sell the product?
Step-4) Now say, you want to add some sort of social media to your website as in people should be able to login and post reviews and comments and participate in discussions (as in a forum). I would strongly recommend that you use facebook or twitter for that. You can make your website as a facebook connect or a twitter connect website where people can login using their twitter/facebook id (if the users don't have one, link them to twitter/facebook to create one) and post content to their twitter feed/facebook feed and you just pull those feeds to your website. Say you can have the ability to just add comments to the product you are selling (not like a forum but just a stream of comments), then look at this service called http://js-kit.com/ and the techcrunch blog post on this at http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/11/29/quick-embed-code-to-add-comments-to-any-site/ . I think this commenting service is pretty cool and as I said earlier in the forms section, you just have to creative to use it as per your needs. This is not the best social media integration to your website but you can build something like this in less than 5-10 hours max atleast to start with. Because remember your main objective is to not build a social media website but to sell your product. This would do the job.
Make sure you remember one thing: Say you are trying to sell a product or a service, the website is not your core business. The product or the service you are creating is your core business. The website is one of the many channels/means to sell your core offering. You could sell your product or service through email, face to face, word of mouth, facebook dan page, amazon, eBay, website but in the end all that matters is whether someone pays for your product or service. No one is gonna pay a premium just because you have an awesome website...
Try these steps the next time you think about build a website for selling your product or service or even just like that and let me know how it goes. Good luck!