I’ve mentioned before that I have worked in churches, non-profit organizations, and NGOs. One thing that I’ve seen with astonishing regularity is organizations paying exorbitant amounts of money for basic and sometimes hideous websites. The contract usually sits somewhere around $500 USD per year and includes content updates; however, the organization rarely makes use of these updates because the provider did not use a content management system but rather requires all updates to be emailed to the webmaster. This is great for the webmaster as he probably pockets nearly the entire $500 dollars as profit without really working much for it, but is horrible for the organization who hired him.
Being technically inclined and realizing what is actually going on: exorbitant pay for substandard product, I feel compelled to give a primer on how to go about setting up your organization’s website.
What is the Alternative?
You definitely should not host for $500 USD a year unless that person is also writing quality articles for you that are driving customers, volunteers, or donors to your site. The best way to host your site is via a content management system. You can think of a content management system kind of like a website with two sides, on the first side you have the pages and articles that the user sees, on the other side you have a management interface that looks like a word processor where you create and edit new content. Ask yourself this: “can I or someone in my organization operate a word processor?” Of course you can!
Now here’s the kicker, a lot of the best content management systems are free. That’s right, they don’t cost anything, and are easy to install, some like WordPress even have apps for your phone or tablet that allow you to add new pages and posts as easily as text messaging. The tricky part is just installing to a server then creating a theme (the artistic look of the page) but this is becoming easier over time due to hosting providers offering automated install. Ultimately, the cost of your website will be the annual cost of your domain name (www.whateveryoursiteiscalled.com) and the monthly cost of hosting (typically under $10 dollars a month). All said and done a content management system will offer huge usability leaps at a fraction of the cost!
Choosing a Content Management System
By now you are probably asking how to get started, first pick out a content management system you feel comfortable with, here are a few popular options.
Probably the easiest way to get a content management based website going is Weebly. My father and brother-in-law both swear by Weebly, and with good reason, weebly takes pretty much all the fuss out of building your website. It is drag and drop, there are plenty of options as to how to make your website look, Weebly hosts your site for you, and it is cheap. The three tiers are free, 4 dollars and 8 dollars. It’s a great option for small organizations and can even support e-commerce shopping carts for internet sales. You’d have to be crazy not to consider it.
WordPress is a favorite of bloggers and really excels as a blogging platform; however, it is free and open source, easily read by web search engines, and is very easy to use so it makes a fantastic content management system for your business. While it is nothing the GeekOut Technologies website is based on WordPress and a theme called Responsive (although, I’ve customized the color scheme). There is an abundance of free themes and really slick themes can generally be had for under $100 dollars; you can host it all on wordpress.com; however, wordpress.com has historically not supported all the extensions available for wordpress.
Joomla is another popular free and open source content management system and like WordPress is also quite easy to use. Joomla is not as focused on article writing and blogging as WordPress is, but it is a solid content management system with plenty of extensions to make it do just about anything you want it to. Joomla is good for sites that will become expansive but won’t need quite the complexity of Drupal.
Drupal is not as easy to manage as Joomla and certainly not as easy as WordPress, and I personally try to avoid using it; however, when a site needs extensive customization and needs to serve up a lot of content to a lot of people, Drupal is the content management system to go with. There are a lot of designers that love Drupal because it offers a lot of customization in how the site looks and presents information. If you want to get the most out of Drupal you’ll definitely want to hire an experienced designer with a solid track record if you want to go the Drupal route.
The next aspect to consider, asuming you didn’t already go the Weebly route, is where to host your content management system. There are a lot of great hosting options out there, just be sure to pick one that offers Cpanel as that will give you a management interface for installation that will make your life significantly more simple. I personally like hosting on a web hosting plan rather than Weebly because nearly any application that runs on a LAMP stack will run on my hosting provider so I don’t feel like I can ever really outgrow it; for example if I needed a robust wiki, webmail client, or groupware I can just install it.
I like Bluehost, I’ve been paying 7 dollars a month for a few years now to host multiple websites. It has all the usual bells and whistles as well as one click installs of all the major content management systems to keep things simple for the owner. New sign ups are as low as $5 a month for the first year and it includes unlimited email accounts if you don’t have organization email addresses already.
HostGator has been around for quite some time and regularly makes the best web hosting list alongside Bluehost. It also offers one click installation via Cpanel and offers unlimited email as well. New sign ups can be had for around $4 a month for a single domain.
Westhost is not among the best known hosts; however, I’ve seen several organizations use their hosting services successfully. They are pretty competitive as far as costs and features are concerned and have generally offered good support. They did once have a major outage when a datacenter they were leasing from had a contractor set off the fire suppression system by accident, but that was no fault of their own and they recovered my client’s data quickly (they also moved to another datacenter). Like the other hosts they now use Cpanel so one click installs are the norm. Their basic hosting is $4 a month but only supports one database which realistically means you can only install a single content management software instance and no other applications.
If you are one of those organizations that is being charged outlandish sums for a basic website with limited functionality or you know of an organization who is in such a situation. I recommend the following:
- Not much content: Try out Weebly or if you are looking to expand consider WordPress on Bluehost or HostGator.
- Substantial amount of content that needs to be organized: You may want to consider Joomla hosted on Bluehost or HostGator.
- Massive amounts of content: It is probably time to consider Drupal and may even be time to host on Amazon or Rackspace.
Hopefully this will help those organizations that are being actively ripped off. While GeekOut Technologies isn’t really a web design firm, we feel for those organization who have been paying far too much for their websites and can certainly help steer you in the right direction or set up software and install pre-existing themes if need be. Contact us today!