I Offer These Ideas As A Business Website Owner Who Uses Them
Think of this article as a letter from a friend who maintains a website for his own business, and wants to share with you some time/cost-saving methods he employs – at zero cost – to get more value from his website.
The Following Tools/Methods Can Make Using Your Site Easier/Less Expensive
In considering the resources featured here, you should keep in mind the fact that your ability to use them on your website may be determined to some extent by the type of web hosting package/functions you have purchased from your host. For those whose web hosting packages do not permit the easy use of these tools, I describe the very useful alternative of Remotely Hosted CGI Scripts and Resources towards the end of this article.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that I provide descriptions of the resources featured in this article for your information only. I cannot guarantee they will meet your requirements in any way.
There are many other scripts that do similar work available on the net. I have only described these ones because they are the ones I use – or have used.
If you choose to download and use them on your website, you will be doing so at your own risk. I have however used them all at least once, and currently use most of them/have done so for over 2 years – which is why I can recommend them.
1. Automated Website Membership Subscription Management
Resource: Membership Manager LITE
Membership is a feature that allows visitors to your website become members by completing a simple registration web form. Registered visitors will subsequently be able log in to restricted areas of your website using login details they would have specificed when signing up. You can even have two or more levels of membership(for instance Free/Basic and Paid/Premium).
Using this feature, you can enable your website provide member specific content like special offers, articles, email newsletters, and other interactive content. Offering membership on your website will definitely set it apart from many others which do not.
One nifty CGI script I have found quite useful to easily and securely offer membership on my websites is called Membership Manager. This programs uses HTACESS browser based login authentication(regarded as the most secure form of password protection on the Internet) to protect your restricted members-only directories from unauthorised access.
Membership Manager, comes in two variants – LITE(Free) and PRO.
A. It allows the owner to use a control panel to administer user accounts of members (who will also be on their automated newsletter mailing list).
B. The members have login ID and Password of their choice automatically used in creating a website membership account for them when they signup.
C. Paid Subscription Management is possible. If someone has paid for one year access, you can setup a 1 year member account access to a password restricted members area on your website where some premium content may be accessed.
D. Also, the system at the expiration of the 1 year subscription period, automatically disables the appropriate member’s account – and notifies the member and the owner.
E. In the PRO version, members can automatically retrieve lost passwords using a link provided on the site.
You can download the 30kb zipped folder containing the LITE version of the script from [http://www.membership-manager.biz] and follow the very useful installation instructions provided in the accompanying “Setup Instructions” HTML file.
2. Dynamic Website Contact Forms
Resource: All Purpose Form Handler
This is an amazingly flexible/customisable script that allows a user to quickly implement HTML based forms on different parts of a website. It is configured by information you provide in the form itself, giving the user a unique advantage of making the script handle data submitted in the web forms in a variety of ways without changing knowing ANY Perl programming or having to change the code/script.
The following can be done in any combination using forms that call the SAME script:
A. Web form completed by the user submits an e-mail to a specified person(s) – say the website owner – and CC to say other employees(e.g. marketing manager), or even another email address used by the owner.
B. The EXACT text of the title that appears in the subject line of the email the script sends to the site owner, can be specified in the code for the web form. This makes it very easy for you to know which contact form on your website was used to send you EACH message you receive.
C. The script sends the data submitted via the web form to a file for easy import into a database program. You, the owner will be able to locate the file(s) on your server in the cgi-bin.
D. The script automatically sends a response to the person who submitted the form. The content of the response can be varied for each web form. This is made possible by creating a text file(given a unique filename extension) to contain your message whose name you then place in the form code, so it is used by the script.
E. The order in which the data submitted via the web form appears in the email received by the website owner can be specified in the code for EACH web form.
F. The completion of required fields can be enforced by specifying such fields in the code for individual forms.
G. To increase user-friendliness, code for each form can be modified to call a unique “Thank you” or an “Oops!” page after the form is submitted.
How I Use It: I have found this script extremely useful in determining quite accurately what people who visit my website are interested in. For instance, on my website, I created a separate contact form(all outwardly similar) for EACH of the different services I offer, providing links to each web form from the body of text/web copy where the service is described. This way, I am able to quickly establish, from the title of the email sent by the script, exactly which service the enquirer was considering when s/he decided to contact me.
3. Tell-A-Friend Automated Website Referral Form
Resource: BigNoseBird.com’s Birdcast Site Recommendation Script
This is a very simple, yet powerful script that you can use to help promote your site. Easy to install, and to customize. It has a number of very useful features including the following:
1. Name/Email Address fields that can be duplicated for an unlimited number of target recipients per recommended page.
2. A multi line text entry area for the user to send a personal note with the e-mail.
3. Automatic page recognition (i.e. the script inserts the full url of the page being recommended in the e-mail that is sent).
4. Automatic Return to sending page (i.e. the script returns the user to the recommended page when upon successful submission of the form’s contents.
4. Domain validation. An editable line of code in the script allows the website owner specify whether this feature is enabled or disabled on installation. You would enable it to prevent it being used from any other website/domain other than yours i.e. protection against off-site abuse (Also available in the all purpose form handler script described above).
5. E-mail address and page capture log. Once the script is in use, you will be able to periodically check a log file of date/time, calling page and e-mail information automatically generated and updated by the script on your server. This can be quite useful if you want to know who is referring what page on your site and to whom.
4. Form For File Upload From Web page To Server
Resource: Upload Lite
This script works via a file upload form to allow anyone upload files to a folder on the website server. When this happens, the owner of the site automatically gets an “Upload Notification” email with a download link(s) which can be clicked to instantly download the file(s). The website visitor, who uploaded the document is in turn taken to an upload success confirmation page that you can customise. For instance, on my website the confirmation page displays a “Thank You – Your submission has been accepted” message.
Possible uses: The owner can invite job applicants to upload their applications and resumes using this form. A magazine publisher could have contributors/writers send in their write-ups(in various possible electronic formats(.pdf, .doc, .rtf etc) from any location in the world so long as Internet PCs are available.
How I Use It: On my Excel Heaven Custom Workbook Automation Mini-site, an upload form is provided to enable clients upload workbooks they want me to automate for them using Excel Visual Basic.
5. File Mailing (Alternative to direct downloading)
Original Source: http://www.command-o.com
Latest Version Available At: http://www.FreeScripts.com
MailFile lets you require visitors to submit their name and email address in order to retrieve a file(s) from your site. It is a CGI script that works via a form which allows visitors to choose(by clicking checkboxes) specific documents from your site to be sent to the email address they specify in the email address field of the form.
When the form is submitted, the visitor is taken to a “File(s) sent!” page while the selected file(s) is sent to the visitor via the email address s/he provided. Apart from the fact that this method prevents third-party linking of your files, you also get to use the retained names/email addresses to build a mailing list with which you can follow up visitors for possible sales.
The script can also be useful when you want to give your busy visitors a time saving alternative to downloading.
Corporate visitors to your site, whose mails are stored on the company mail servers will find this particularly useful.
Here’s why. Assume a busy executive – with only 5 minutes left to attend an important meeting – discovers your site’s offering of five interesting PDF reports totaling 13 MB in size.
S/he can easily choose to use the MailFile web form’s checkboxes to select the files and click the “Send File(s) To Me” button. All the selected files will be delivered to his/her mail box on the company’s servers, and s/he would be able to return to view them without going back online at a later time or date.
There is no limit to the number of files that can be sent using this form. Additional checkboxes only need to be added to the form, and the appropriate filenames included in the form code.
Similar Resource: File Mailer
Related Resource: Attachment Mailer
6. Get Your Target Audience Discussing On Your Site – Discussion Boards/WebLogs
You can install a discussion board(where people can register and discuss various topics in “discussion forums”) on your website. You can also use it to provide first level user support/problem solving services to customers.
For instance an IT/Telecoms company can invite customers to post questions or requests for help regarding problems they have with specific products/services supplied or supported. Answers will then be provided by the appropriate personnel online saving time/cost of going out – until it becomes absolutely necessary to visit the client physically to resolve the problem.
Some web hosts offer a discussion board as part of their hosting package. Most of the popular ones are however FREE to download/install, (being open source), two good examples being: PHPBB at http://www.phpbb.com and YaBB(Yet another Bulletin Board) at http://www.yabbforum.com . I have successfully installed and used phpbb in the past, and found it quite user-friendly.
Web Logs: My website host offers an easy-to-install phpbb board in my control panel, which I intend to install on my website in future. I however do not currently use a discussion board on my website, due to my decision earlier this year to discontinue its use, in line with a modified strategy. In its stead, what I use is a web log. I like to think of a Web LOG as a dynamic website which functions as an online diary allowing the owner make postings on any subject of interest, which her visitors can in turn read, and post comments on/responses to.
My personal web log facility is provided as part of my website hosting package. In hunting for a web host, you might look out for a similar feature, if you consider it relevant to your purpose. You can however get a more or less equally functional but FREE blog to use at http://www.blogger.com.
7. Automated Business Marketing CDROM Promos
CDROM promos are a one-time expense, and they cost a fraction of what a decent newspaper advert does, while offering more targeted impact to the “right” prospect for a longer period. They are less expensive and you can mass produce them. I personally recommend the use of auto-run business marketing CD ROMs as an offline complement to other business marketing efforts/resources.
You can get excellent software for creating auto run business marketing CDROM presentations from a variety of sources on the net. One that I have used, and can heartily recommend that you try is CRE:8 MULTIMEDIA. This software enables you to create very impressive auto-run business marketing CDROM presentations quickly and easily. It has a very user-friendly visual interface, and easy-to-understand HELP documentation that enables users begin producing professional looking presentations in minutes. You can download a FREE 21 day trial from http://www.presentware.com.
8. Article Syndication
Article syndication is an excellent way to attract new visitors to your website, while at the same time boosting your credibility as an authority in your area(s) of expertise.
One place you can post your articles and be reasonably sure(if they offer useful real-world relevant information and are well written) of widespread syndication is http://www.ezinearticles.com.
Other options you can pursue of course exist, such as visiting and manually posting articles to different websites offering related content to yours or using automated article submission services – some of which are FREE.
You can also contact publishers of e-zines and online newsletters, who deal with target audiences similar to yours, offering your FREE articles for publication in their media or on their websites, in exchange for exposure.
9. Website RSS Feeds
RSS, stands for “Really Simple Syndication” or “Rich Site Summary”. It is an XML standard that is used by content owners(e.g. newsletter/website publishers) to distribute content to their target audience. Many companies today have RSS feeds that announce latest content updates made to their websites.
Visitors to your site can use either the content aggregator built into their My Yahoo! Page, or other RSS news reader software to retrieve and read the feeds.
Important Notes About CGI/Perl Scripts
Some of the tools I have described in this article are third party CGI/Perl scripts(files with .cgi and .pl filename extensions), which you may need to clear with your web host before using on their servers. The installation of these scripts requires some basic familiarity with server types, setting of file permissions(via CHMOD’ING), Perl scripting among others.
CGI Scripts Installation : Usually, to run CGI/Perl scripts, all you need is any executable folder ( cgi-bin ). Some of the scripts can even run in any folder. I suggest however, for ease of management, that you use a cgi-bin.
CGI Scripts Configuration : All the scripts require you to configure them before uploading to your server, though some have additional settings that will have to be specified AFTER uploading usually via a control/admin interface or panel. You can re-configure, re-upload and overwrite the scripts as may be necessary.
Typically you would open the script in a text editor(I use notepad, and sometimes wordpad, when text wrapping is a problem in the former). If an edit facility is provided in your web host’s control panel/file manager interface, you can also use this to make /save changes you want online post-installation. This latter option makes it unnecessary to re-upload the modified script.
CGI Scripts Upload: If your host has provided you a file manager interface in your control panel, you will be able to use that to upload the scripts. Alternatively there are a good number of nifty FTP – File Transfer Protocol – tools like CuteFTP(http://www.cuteftp.com), and SmartFTP (http://www.smartftp.com)
These FTP clients work in “auto” mode by default, making it unnecessary for you to have to set them to upload your scripts in ASCII mode, and your images or pre-complied programs in Binary mode. I suggest you refrain from changing their default settings except you know what you are doing.
Keep in mind however that whatever manner of upload you employ, you will still need to set file permissions(via CHMOD’ING) for the scripts and the files/folders they will be located in or working with.
Find Someone To Do It – If Necessary
Even if you cannot spare the time to learn to do it yourself, you can easily find someone appropriately skilled to do it for you. Also, your website host should be willing to provide you any information you may be required to verify/obtain in order to successfully install the scripts.
Can’t Run CGI/Perl Scripts On Your Site? Here’s An Alternative That Works!
Remotely hosted CGI scripts/resources(some of which are FREE) are available for those who may find they cannot use some of the tools described here directly on their websites. One very good service, that I used for over a year prior to purchasing a complete hosting package, is offered by Black Fire Networks at http://www.bfndevelopment.com.
Not only do they provide you access to free, customisable, remotely hosted scripts, but they actually do so with ZERO advertising. So, if you have designed you website, but lack access to a cgi-bin via your web hosting package, this service might just be for you. Among other things, you will be able to make your website dynamic, so it has a more professional”feel” to it, without spending any additional money.
Summary – Use A Combination Of Methods On Your New Or Existing Website
The best part of all the tools, features and strategies/methods described here is that you can have them integrated – at ZERO cost – into an existing site or added to a new site from the start. Either way, you get to maximise the potential value you expect from the website.
To get the best results in today’s marketing, one will often need to use a combination of methods. Using your business website in conjunction with a well thought out marketing strategy, facilitated in implementation by custom, value adding automation/features will increase your chances of marketing success, while ensuring you do not spend more than you need to.
This article’s recommendations can be summarised in form of the points outlined below.
a. Ensure “action-inducing”/”response-generating” web copy is written on your website, to effectively communicate the unique benefits you offer.
b. Develop and implement a web marketing strategy to ensure you maximize returns on your investment, by (i) making more of the right kinds of people visit your site (ii) seamlessly integrating your offline and online marketing efforts in such a way that they complement one another.
c. Make it easy to implement your web strategy for the long term, by incorporating zero/low cost automation tools on your website, and adopting value-adding features/methods. Examples include email marketing, article syndication, and information product publishing(ebooks etc).
Do the above, by adopting a suitable mix of the specific tools, methods and strategies featured in this article, and you should be able to clearly achieve one or more of the following: INCREASED sales and/or REDUCED expenses on marketing/advertising – which in turn will help you record reasonably stable or INCREASING profits.