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Building Successful Web Sites On The Cheap

When it comes to building and running a successful Web site, it might surprise you to learn that you can do a whole lot with very little. In fact there are a host of absolutely free tools that enable you to create, promote and -- should you so desire -- profit from a Web site of your own.

If you absolutely must have a whiz-bang Web site featuring hot new Flash animations and impressive technical gee-gaws on every page, then start cracking those thousand-page books right now and skip this article. But if a cleanly designed, well crafted and executed, ultimately successful Web site is your goal, you can do it own your own, without breaking the bank. If you're especially frugal, you can do it without spending a dime.

Phase I: Launching Your Site

First you'll need a place to put your site. There are dozens of free hosting services eager to serve you. At a minimum they'll provide you with space on their servers and a unique Web address. Often they offer more, such as free access to site building tools, site traffic statistics, and promotional tools.

Where to Learn More

book cover

Cheap Web Tricks: Build and Promote a Successful Web Site Without Spending A Dime by Anne Martinez

What's the catch? Often the free host will insert a banner at the top of your pages. For most frugal Webmasters, this is no big deal. If it bothers you, you can usually have it removed for a few dollars a month. Some free Web hosts have other means of recouping their expenses, such as sending Webmasters a newsletter containing advertising. Take a look at doteasy or Yahoo!'s GeoCities. If you pay for Internet access, your provider probably already has some free space allotted for you. Check the member support area of your ISP's Web site.

Next, you'll need a way to create your Web pages. You could run out and purchase Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia's DreamWeaver. But that wouldn't be frugal at all. Especially when you could pick up AceHTML, Araneae or EvrSoft's 1st Page 2000 absolutely free. These are fully functional HTML editors with many powerful features. If you don't know HTML yet, visit internet.com's HTMLGoodies for a quick primer.

Once your pages are ready for the cyber surfing public, upload them to your free host using a free FTP (file transfer protocol) tool. Try LeechFTP for Windows users or FTPWizard if you're a Mac user.

Phase II: Promotion

The above steps enable you to build and publish your site without spending a dime, but as any successful Webmaster can tell you, that's only the first half of the job. Unless you promote your new Web presence, no one will know it is there.

There are too many promotional techniques to mention in a single article, but one of the most powerful ways to get the word out is through search engines and directories like Yahoo!, Google, Excite, and AltaVista. You can hire an expert to get your site listed, or do it yourself, for free (commercial sites may have to pay for inclusion in some directories). Before you begin submitting your site to search engines, it will need a tune-up to make it more search engine friendly. One of the most basic ways to prepare is to add meta tags.

Meta tags are HTML tags that search engines read, but site visitors don't see. Many search engines use them to create a listing for your site, or to control when and how it will appear in search results. They go in the section of Web pages.

The two meta tags you should be most certain to include are the keywords and description tags. The keywords tag contains a list of words and phrases that closely identify the content of the page they appear on. The words are separated by commas, and when place inside the proper HTML tag, would look like this:

<META name = "keywords" content = "word1, word2, word3">

The description tag should contain a brief description of the Web page. It will often appear in search engine results exactly as you write it, so make it succinct, accurate, and interesting. For example:

<META name = "description" content = "This is what this page is about.">

Although creating these tags and others is fairly straightforward, you can also use a free online tool to further simplify the process. For example, CheapWebTricks.com's free meta tag tool will do it for you.

Once your site is prepped and ready for search engines to visit, it's time to submit it to the slew of search sites out there. A few, such as Yahoo!, are worth individual visits, but the rest can be handled by free site submission services. There are plenty of these freebies to choose from. Give Submit Plus! or Submit4Free.com a try.

These are just a few of the free tools and techniques available to anyone who wants to build a Web site. Use them to create and promote a successful Web site without spending a dime, or simply to stretch your Web budget a bit farther.

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