Platform Design 101: C is for Content (Part 4)

C is for Content

<- Read Part 3, “B is for Brand” here.

Okay, this is the part you’ve probably been waiting for. And it is a doozie!

There are three parts to the content pie:

  1. Format: The way you deliver content to your audience
  2. Creation: How you create, produce and distribute your content
  3. Business: Distributing products, getting paid, and business systems

We’re going to talk about the essentials of content creation, including the specific type of platform you will use, how to produce and publish your content. Then we’ll discuss different ways to serve your audience with your content and products. Finally we’ll touch on setting up business systems for long term growth and scalability.

First, though, I want to explain the perspective from which I’m writing. Because in order to provide a viable solution for you, there are a few assumptions I’m going to have to make.

The first assumption is that you want to get the most bang for your buck. In fact, I will even go so far as to say you’d love to spend no money at all, if that were possible. (It isn’t, by the way.) So, we’re going on “frugal mode” with these recommendations.

Wherever possible, I will also mention the higher cost alternatives, but for the most part we’re going to keep things affordable.

This also means that I have to explain a general rule that comes up with regards to the expenses related to online platform creation: the less you pay, the more you do.

This means that, for the most part, if you go for the cheaper option, you’ll probably have to put in some more elbow grease. I suppose that is true of a lot of things in life, but it is definitely true online.

So, instead of telling you to pay a service to set up your online platform for which you would pay a pretty penny, I’m telling you how I would do it for way less money, but a bit more effort.

The next thing I should mention is that the world of online business is a constantly changing landscape. Some of the services or solutions I mention here may or may not still be viable when you read it. Or a new service might pop up between now and when you read this.

Of course, I will make every effort to keep things updated here and I will post any updates here on the post, but just keep this in mind as you move forward. We’re not talking Compuserve and Intellevision out-of-date, but maybe more like Google Plus or Google Reader out-of-date. 😉

Okay, so with those caveats out of the way, let’s get going on the first piece of the content puzzle.

Format

The format of your content refers to the method of delivery that you are using to provide useful and valuable information to your audience. Specifically we’ll discuss blogs (words), podcasts (audio) and webcasts (video), since those are the main ways most people communicate online. And naturally the way you select to communicate depends on who your audience is (as we discussed at length above).

Blogs

These days a blog is pretty much synonymous with a website, since most websites have blogs and most blogs are websites. The subtle distinction is that a blog (originally short for “web log”) is a (more or less) recurring feed of articles and posts, whereas a website is an online home for specific types of files that house content and are able to link between that content on the web.

So, a website might have a blog, but it doesn’t have to. And a blog, for 99.9% of cases, is a part of a website (or the entire website). Clear as mud? Don’t worry about it because basically it’s all the same thing.

When you have a website it basically consists of two parts. One is the domain name (or URL, which stands for Universal Record Locator) and the other is your web server (which is usually provided by a web host service). If we use the metaphor of a house, then the domain name is your street address, and the web server is your plot of land upon which your house resides. Of course, the actual house you build on that land represents the website itself.

Step 1: Secure your web hosting service

So, the first step is to secure a web hosting service. There are a LOT of them out there. (No, seriously … like thousands and thousands), and you’ll receive a lot of recommendations from various people on which ones to use and which one is best. But for me there is basically just 2 things you need to really consider when figuring out which one you will go with:

  1. How much does it cost?
  2. Can they host the type of platform you want to build?

For your web host, the main thing I recommend is to make sure that your web host bills you monthly (NOT annually) with no cancellation penalty, and has good customer and technical support. There are a LOT of web host review sites out there so if you run a Google search for reviews on the hosts you are considering you should be able to find them.

The reason I recommend a monthly billing plan is based on the assumption I stated earlier — that you’re starting from scratch. And if you are stuck with a web host for a year when you haven’t even built a first version of your site yet, then that is jumping the gun. Also, I mentioned that we’re going for the most affordable options, and if you get locked in to an annual contract with a big up-front cost, then that is a pretty big investment.

There are some really good second tier services that I can recommend for those with pre-established audiences and websites, but if you’re just starting out just go with the simplest and cheapest option first and then scale up as your needs demand it.

To make it easy, here are web hosts I’ve used a lot and recommend. It fulfills both of my requirements:

In the future, when you are ready to commit to your website and go with an annual plan, then I totally recommend Siteground as a great WordPress-focused web host.  They are my current go-to for new websites.

  • SiteGround ($3.95 / month with annual plan signup)

And if you’re really deciding to go Pro-level, then you can’t beat WPEngine as a premium web host.  But this is only for those who are really playing at a high level.

I also mentioned that you want to make sure that they can host the type of platform you want to build. For 99.9% of the people out there, that is going to be a self-hosted WordPress site (we’ll get in to more details in a moment), and both of these hosting providers can take care of that. For the other 00.1% of you, I will share some specific recommendations with you on other platforms in a moment. For now, let’s just assume you’re going with a WordPress site.

Step 2: Get a domain name (i.e. a web address)

This is your home on the web and the name should reflect a bit about who you are and what you stand for. There are basically three main things to keep in mind when you are picking a domain name:

  1. Is it easy to remember?
  2. Is it easy to spell?
  3. Does it say something about you? (optional)

Being easy to remember is important because you want people to (eventually) share the address with others. Word of mouth is important in marketing what you’re creating online, so if the name of your website is hard to remember, then you can pretty much guarantee that it won’t be said.

Spelling is another tricky one because If I told you my web address was “Two To Tutu Tuesdays Too.com” would you immediately know how to spell it? Make sure to select words that don’t have multiple spellings and are generally easy to spell for most people (unlike “entrepreneur” or “parallel”, which can be tricky).

The third one is optional, but its great if the URL says something about your or your topic. This is optional because the relevance of keywords in your URL is no longer as important as it used to be. Back in the stone ages (about 2 years ago) everyone and their uncle would put their main keyword (the word they wanted to be ranked for in Google) in their URL. That’s why you would get addresses like “RealEstateCheapHouse.com” or “AustinHouseBuyers.com”. But recent changes in Google’s algorithm (another word not to use in your domain name) make this less important.

So, if you have a name like ScrunchyStuff.com or BamBamBam.com, it won’t hurt your Google ranking. But to be honest, you really shouldn’t focus too much on Google ranking. I’ll get in to that whole issue in a future post. 🙂

You’ll need to check to make sure your domain name isn’t already taken, which you can do with a domain registrar (a company with which you register your domain). They all have search fields where you can check to see if the domain name you want is taken.

One thing I used to strongly recommend to new platform designers is not to have your web host and domain registrar be the same company. So, if you sign up with Host Gator, for example, don’t register your domain name with them.  The reason I used to recommend this is because it can cause problems down the line if you need to transfer either the name or the site to another service.

However, if you are just starting out, this isn’t as much of an issue.  The other thing worth noting is that a lot of hosting providers provide your domain name for free when you sign up, so keeping the domain name registered with your hosting provider should be okay for your first 6 months (the minimum amount of time before you can transfer to a new registrar) and when your business is trucking along and you have multiple domain names and sites, you can keep them separate.  It will bring future headaches to a minimum.

Again, this is a recommendation with long term implications because, as an online business builder, you will probably end up with more than one domain name, and keeping them tied to a specific web host can be problematic when you want to move them around or transfer them to someone else. If you’re just starting out, it isn’t totally necessary, but if you’re a year down the road with your online platform, I would see about moving your domain name to a separate registrar.

So, which domain registrars should you go with? Myself I use hover.com, which has a slightly higher cost per domain ($12 – 15 as it’s starting cost per year for “.com” names), but keeps the process super simple and easy to use. Another option is a service like GoDaddy, which I’ve also used, but don’t prefer because, while their prices are slightly lower, their up sells and constant attempts to milk you for every penny are a major turn off. I prefer to pay an extra few bucks a year to know that my domain registrar isn’t the technology equivalent of a pushy used car salesman. (No offense to all you used car sales folk out there.)

When you sign up don’t worry about getting any add ons. You don’t need them yet. Just get the basic 1 year of domain registration and once your site is kicking butt you can concern yourself with things like Privacy Protection, etc.

Okay, so now you have your web host and a domain name. What is the next step?

Step 3: The Platform

As I said before, my basic assumption is that most of you are going to go with a self-hosted WordPress site. WordPress (for the three of you living in a cave who don’t know) is the most popular website Content Management System (CMS) in the world. It powers over 20% of the world’s websites and that number is only going up each year.

The benefit of WordPress is that it is a free open-source software (yay!) that anyone can download, install and use for whatever purpose they like. The other main benefit is that it is well-established and has a TON of extensions, plugins, widgets, themes and other add-ons (many for free) that you can use to enhance your website. Basically, it is the bee’s knees, and everyone who is anyone is using it.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other players out there. And while they don’t have the same market share as WordPress, they are worth sharing so that you are familiar with them.

Squarespace (squarespace.com)

This is an all-in-one website solution meant to help you get a beautiful looking website with Ecommerse functionality, blogging and some nice features, without needing to know any technical mumbo-jumbo. The downside of Squarespace is that it doesn’t have as many solutions/options as WordPress. And it also costs money to use. For the equivalent that you would get with a cheap $7/month web host, you will be paying at least $20 / month, and that doesn’t include unlimited email addresses either.

So, who is Squarespace good for? If you are looking to create a super quick online store to sell some products, or a “brochure” type site without much consistent blogging, then Squarespace might be a good option. Given the price I don’t recommend it for anyone who doesn’t already have a viable business system up and running, but if you already have a product or service and an audience wanting to buy from you, then this might be your solution.

Since you’re just starting out and on a budget, I don’t recommend it.

Joomla (joomla.org) and Drupal (drupal.org)

Joomla and Drupal are two other free CMS that have found relative popularity among some folks. In general though, they aren’t nearly as robust or well-supported as WordPress. These two tend to be more popular with developers — especially Drupal — and are not nearly as user-friendly as WordPress.

Unless you love mucking around with code and programming (and hey, if you do, all the power to you) I don’t recommend this route.

Rainmaker Platform (rainmakerplatform.com)

The Rainmaker platform, by the folks over at CopyBlogger.com, is gaining popularity. It is a very simple to learn and use blogging and content marketing system that is set up specifically for folks who want to distribute content online and develop a relationship with their audience.

That sounds like you, right? Well, not so fast buddy. As a person starting from scratch and on a budget the Rainmaker Platform is definitely not what I’d recommend.

Who would I recommend it to? Someone who already has a successful online platform with a large audience and some serious revenue generation. The cost of the Rainmaker Platform makes it prohibitive for anyone who doesn’t already have some major skin in the game and/or isn’t making some decent money online.

The system currently costs $285 per quarter (3 months), or $950 if you pay annually. And the price goes up if you get the “Pro” version.  Again, not for the feint of heart (or the beginner online platform builder).

Is it a great system? For sure. But it’s not a great system for you, right now.

The Grid (thegrid.io)

The Grid officially hasn’t launched yet, but it’s being touted as the next best thing. It’s launch date is set for the end of 2015 and it’s supposed to be the next evolution in website design and building. Whether or not it is appropriate for designing your online platform as yet to be seen, but I’ll be sure to do a thorough review of it and let you all know as soon as it is available. For now, we’ll just put it on the back burner and file it under “has potential”.

Wix (wix.com)

Wix has become popular because of it’s super easy drag-and-drop method for creating a website. But the problem is the simplicity of the system and lack of features that you will eventually need.

If you’re making a quick website for your high school glee club’s bake sale, then this could work just fine. But if you want to create a viable online platform to connect with and communicate with an audience, this probably isn’t for you.

Weebly (weebly.com)

Weebly is similar to Wix. A drag-and-drop interface for creating a website. You can pay for additional features such as a domain name, or E-Commerce functionality, but I think you’ll get better mileage out of a WordPress site in the long run so this service is better for a quick, one-off website for a specific one-time event. Not so good for a long term online business.

So, there you have it. The main players in the platform game. Like I said, my focus is on WordPress, and it is what the majority of you should probably go with. In terms of cost, ease of use and scalability it really can’t be beat.

If you’ve been following along you have purchased some web hosting ($5.00 / month at FatCow.com) and got yourself a domain name ($15.00 / year at hover.com), and you are going to be installing WordPress as your CMS and blogging platform. (I’ll talk more about how to do that in future posts.)

Now that we have a website up and running, we need to put some actual content on it. Again, this could be words (blog), audio (podcast) or video (webcast), and I’ll talk about each one in turn next.

Read Part 5: Content Creation – Pre-Production ->

 

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