On Building and Maintaining a Free Website

(I originally wrote this for young artists/musicians who didn't have websites, but most of it applies to activist organizations too... made a few changes to fit this site better).

When I was first starting out, I thought that in order to have a "good" website, I had to hire a professional, spend lots of money and create something flashy. But now I just use Blogger (www.guante.info), because it's super user-friendly and free. There are certainly prettier websites than mine out there, but for pure functionality, I really like and would recommend Blogger (lots of people also use Wordpress). You can have a decent website after just an hour or two of messing around yourself. No more linking to your damn MySpace page. A few steps:

1. Go to www.blogger.com and set up an account. You'll be able to pick a name, a base template and other stuff. The "dashboard" area is where you'll find everything I'm talking about below.

2. In terms of overall layout, the "design" page (with "add and arrange page elements") is pretty easy to mess around with. I like to have updates/news in the middle, and then in the other column, this stuff:

~Twitter Feed: Go to your Twitter, go into SETTINGS, then PROFILE, then there's a link that says "you can also add Twitter to your site here," then click on "MY WEBSITE," then "PROFILE WIDGET," then set up how you want it to look/work, then finally "FINISH AND GRAB CODE." When you click that, there'll be a button for "add to blogger." Just click that and do what it says.

~Upcoming Events: in the DESIGN tab, click on "add a gadget" in whatever column you want this to go in, and then find the "TEXT" gadget. It's just a box you can write whatever you want in. I use it to list upcoming shows.  You could also have a separate "page" for this (see below).

~Links to friends, crew, allies: in the DESIGN tab, click on "add a gadget" in whatever column you want this to go in, and then find the "LINK LIST" gadget. Then you can add the websites to any crew there.

~Facebook link: there's a way to get a "Facebook Fan Box" if you have a Facebook music page, somewhere in the edit settings area or whatever. Another option is just to include a link to your Facebook in the links to crew.

3. It might also be worth having separate "pages" ("new post" --> "edit pages" --> "new page") for this stuff:

~ABOUT page with basic organizational information. (I deleted the "about me" tab that's automatically there in favor of a separate page).  Make sure that contact information, meeting times and ANY relevant information for a new visitor is here.

~EVENTS page can list both upcoming events and past events, to show people what your organization does.  Make it easy for people to find you and get involved.

~GET INVOLVED could also be a separate page.  It's good to have a go-to spot on your site for someone who is down.  List meeting times, upcoming campaigns or actions, or actions that a person can take from home.

~MEDIA with all your videos (when setting up this page, go into "HTML mode," grab the embed code from youtube or vimeo, and paste it in there), music, photos, flyers or whatever.

~LIT/INFO tab could have relevant articles, essays or information about your cause for new people who may not have much background information.

~STORE that can link to Itunes or Paypal or Bandcamp or whatever (this idea was for artists-- for activist organizations, maybe this takes the form of a donation button or a merchandise (stickers, t-shirts, etc.) area.

Once you set up the page, it'll have its own URL and you can link to it by either getting a "pages" gadget or doing another "link list" gadget. Either way works. Pages can also go across the top of the website, like at this website.

4. Arrange the gadgets in a logical way-- I like to have the "pages" list and twitter feed as close to the top as possible-- whatever is most important to new viewers. The "Subscribe" box and "blog archive" can be at the bottom.

5. You can get a real URL/domain name for like $10 a year through Google. It's worth it to have a cleaner web address that doesn't include the ".blogspot." Just go to the dashboard, then SETTINGS, then PUBLISHING and then follow the directions for buying your own domain name.



Hope that helps. There are a million other options, but you can explore and experiment.

Most importantly, remember that your website isn't just your website-- it's your business card.  It should contain all the vital information that someone could want to know about your organization.  Even if you don't update the news/middle section of the site every single day, or week, or even month,  the BASICS should be there-- what you do, when you meet, how people can get involved.

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