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Web campaigning on a shoestring

Right, you want to get a campaign website up and running in no time. You have a little bit of tech knowledge and very little cash. What do you do? Here’s my personal guide to web campaigning on a shoestring. All of the tech mentioned is free unless otherwise stated. You’re most welcome to quibble with any of this in the comments!

1) Start with WordPress, self-installed version
Blogspot, Tumblr, WordPress.com and others may be simpler at the start, but you’ll hit a brick wall with either the design or the tech sooner or later. So head over to WordPress.org and download the latest version. If you’re feeling keen you can get WordPress running on your local machine (guides for Mac and PC), but I am assuming you don’t have time for those niceties, and want to get WP running online as soon as you can – also easier if you’re collaborating in a team.

2) Sort out a domain name and website hosting
Take your pick of a company for domain name registration. I’ve always had excellent service from EuroDNS (for EU-wide choice) and Easyspace (for .uk domains). Domains are about €15-€30/year. Make sure you host with another firm – gives you the most flexibility if you encounter tech headaches later, or your hosting firm goes bust (it’s happened to me). At the moment I’m using EZPZ Hosting in the UK and I’m very happy with them – their Junior package (£2.99/month) is enough to run WordPress very smoothly and easily. You then need to redirect your domain name from registrar to host by making changes to the Name Servers. Your host will tell you what their nameservers are, and these will need to be entered in the web based control panel of your domain name registrar.

3) Get WordPress up and running
Either use a FTP client to get the WordPress files onto your server (I swear by Transmit for Mac, although it’s $34. Free for Mac or PC: Cyberduck.), or use a one-click installer for WordPress provided by your host (normally available in cPanel). Even if you don’t use FTP to upload WordPress itself then you’re almost certainly going to need it for other files later. The WordPress installation guide should be easy enough to follow.

4) Keep away prying eyes
While you’re working on your site make sure others can’t peek at what you’re doing. In WP go to ‘Plugins’ > ‘Add New’ and search for Maintenance Mode. Enable it, and configure it in ‘Settings’. The plugin puts an Under Construction page in place for casual visitors, while any user logged in as admin in WordPress can continue to observe site development.

5) Get a theme
You can of course code a theme from scratch, but chances are you want to get moving fast. You could amend one of the two themes that come with WordPress (TwentyTen or TwentyEleven) but neither is especially inspiring and configuring TwentyEleven can be a real headache. Of course here you can Google for your own options, but here are a few favourites, all of them free. Arras is an excellent and flexible theme for magazine style sites. Design Disease has a whole bunch of excellent and visually interesting themes. For free business style themes have a look at this WPLift list. If you have no coding skills at all try Atahualpa. Also worth a look: Sight, Mimbo. You’ll then need to do some work configuring the logos, colours etc. of your theme, although in recent versions of WordPress, adding menus and sidebar widgets is now a drag and drop process.

6) Get the right plugins
These are plugins that I have experience with. Not sure these are definitely the right options, but they have always worked OK for me! For social share buttons: Social Sharing Toolkit. For Google Analytics: Google Analyticator. For XML sitemaps to boost your search engine rankings: Google XML Sitemaps. For e-mail for notification of new posts: Post Notification. For comment notifications by e-mail: Subscribe To Comments. For petitions: FreeCharity Petition Plugin. For e-mail contact forms: Contact Form 7. For polls: WP Polls. For tweets in a sidebarTwitter Widget Pro. To customise sidebars: Widget Context. For an iPhone version of your site: WPTouch. To backup your database: WP-DB-Backup. For a mailing list: Mailing List (bit of a nightmare to configure, but persevere!). For multilingual sites: WPML (but you have to pay at least $29 for it).

7) Put in some content
Get some filler text from Lipsum, and add some images… and away you go!


2 Comments

  • Hugh @ MMO Melting Pot |

    You don’t mention a caching plugin – if you get any serious traffic on your WordPress site, some kind of caching will rapidly become essential unless you’re OK with multi-minute (not second) load times.

    My recommendation would be Hypercache – it’s very simple to install and performs nearly as well as the industry-standard (but brutally hard to configure correctly) WP-Total Cache.

    You probably also want a social media plugin to help the message spread – I use Digg Digg, but there are a variety of good ones out there.

    Great guide!

  • Jon |

    @Hugh – thanks for the comment.

    Sorry for the omission on caches! I have used WP Super Cache – generally works fine. I’ll have a look at Hypercache.

    Social Sharing Toolkit (mentioned) does the same job as Digg Digg, albeit with horizontal display by default.

So, what do you think ?