Part four in an ongoing series about a small business start-up trying to succeed on the web without relying on traffic from the major search engines.
Once Abigail had decided to pair up with me to offer bento sets for sale on my bento blog, we needed to move into development mode. One of the biggest challenges facing Bento Yum in this regard was the fact that Abigail does not have a web development background. That meant that if we didn't want to rely on me to post absolutely everything, we'd have to put a system in place that let her do WYSIWYG editing.
Back when I first decided to launch Bento Yum (but before I partnered with Abigail) I had decided to set things up through WordPress. I hadn't yet used their blogging platform and thought it might be a good chance to try it out and perhaps write a few articles on the topic.
As I spent more time looking through information about WordPress I became convinced that this was actually the perfect system for our little business. WordPress had features like "Page Management" that would allow us to create our navigational structure while still relying on a WYSIWYG editing platform. In fact, Abigail wouldn't need to learn anything beyond very basic HTML and we could use WordPress as our own little content management system. The fact that WordPress is free didn't hurt either.
When we sat down and looked at the situation, we saw four key benefits to using WordPress to launch Bento Yum.
WordPress with the Click of a Mouse
I knew that WordPress was offered as a free option with many hosting packages these days, and when I did a bit of searching, BlueHost.com popped up as favorite (and cheap) hosting option. In fact, by pre-paying for a year's service, I was able to get hosting for under $8 a month that included our domain registration, unlimited email addresses, 300GB of storage 3000GB of bandwidth a month, cPanel and pretty much everything else I could want.
BlueHost's cPanel featured Fantastico, a simple option for installing a wide variety of scripts to your web site. While I have no doubt I could have figured out how to install WordPress on my own, using Fantastico to install it took a matter of minutes.
In fact, all I needed to do was to fill out that little form at the left and then click "Install WordPress" and it was done. (Ok, ok, so I had to confirm on the next page and click "Finish Installation" and THEN it was done...still...it was easy.)
Once I'd completed the setup, it was as simple as logging in to the WordPress Dashboard and making my first post. Of course a generic WordPress blog isn't much to look at, so my next task was coming up with a site design. Thankfully, WordPress makes that task pretty darn simple as well.
The Site Must Be as Attractive as the Food
WordPress site designs are based off an idea called "themes." Themes are basically design templates that can be uploaded to your server and then assigned from within the WordPress control panel. The beautiful thing about a template or a theme is the ability to alter them. WordPress and other blog platforms tend to use a lot of proprietary code that can be difficult to get "just right" when you're putting together a design template. By relying on a pre-designed template, you can focus on editing the graphics and moving snippets of code around to get the design that you want.
This was what I'd done for The Lactivist and I figured it would be the fastest way to get a nice design together for Bento Yum. There are tons of already designed WordPress themes available, so I headed off to see if I could find a design that would fit our needs.
I decided that our best bet was a three column fluid design. That would allow us to use the center column for our blog posts while using the left and right columns for categories, blog rolls, promotional text and other goodies. We'd use a top navigation bar to help people get around and we'd rely on a graphical header that spoke to the creativity and color of bento box lunches.
Once I'd narrowed down my choices I began looking for a design that I could easily alter. I decided the most potential lay in a design called "Tulip Time."
The design had built in bread crumb navigation, a standard style horizontal navigation bar, a graphical header, a site search, and side bar placements for things like a blog roll, categories, archives and RSS feeds. I downloaded the template and then used Photoshop to open up each individual graphics file so that I could start introducing my own design to the theme.
After about an hour of work, I had managed to replace most of the graphics with slightly altered colors and designs that fit well with our colorful Bento Yum logo. You can see the before and after of the design in the image to the right. You'll note that the template is still easily identifiable, but the site also now has a flavor all of it's own. Chances are small that someone will visit the site and think "I've seen this design before."
Manage My Content Please!
While Bento Yum was going to be primarily a bento blog, we knew that we'd need to build traditional navigation in as well. We planned to create static content about bento boxes and bento style lunch packing so that new visitors would be able to quickly learn more about the topic. We also needed quick access to the standard "home" and "about" style links.
Another reason that we needed WordPress to act more powerfully than a simple blog was because any bento box set that Abigail posted for sale would show only until it got buried by other posts. That meant we needed a place to keep all of those sets permanently displayed. We started off by creating a single page in the nav bar titled "Bento Box Sets for Sale" and then manually added preview pictures, basic details, prices, a buy now button and a link for additional information for each set. Down the road, we would take the time to setup a permanent page for each set so that they would all be easily accessible through the navigational drop-down menu as well.
To that end, WordPress has a handy little feature called "Page Management" that allows you to create static web pages. You can create top level pages that show in the navigation bar of your web site or you can create lower level pages that live underneath your main navigation topics. These secondary pages will appear as drop-down navigation under the main links in your navigation bar.
The combination of WYSIWYG blog posting and built-in static page management made WordPress the perfect choice for Bento Yum's needs.
As Many Goodies as a Bento Box!
Beyond those first three reasons, I kept finding more and more reasons WordPress was a perfect fit for our needs at Bento Yum.
WordPress has built in blog roll management making things as simple as filling out a small form to add a new listing. No HTML required for this, which meant Abigail could add sites to the blog roll too.
The WordPress panel also allows site owners to quickly change from one theme to another. Basically, you just select the theme you want and WordPress does the rest. While I'm not sure we'll make use of this feature, it would give us the option of building out some more edited designs so that we could display special themes during certain holiday seasons or marketing promotions.
Plug-in management is fairly seamless in WordPress and there's no shortage of plug-ins available. From Akismet to help limit comment spam to AdSense management, a wide range of plug-ins are available to help site owners further customize their blog. In fact, it was talk of the wide range of search friendly plug-ins that first made me check out WordPress. (As it turns out, WordPress is pretty search friendly by default.)
Adding multiple user accounts and specifying who had made each blog post was a pretty simple task and was a handy way of helping people to know which one of us was making any particular post.
One of my favorite "bonus" options of WordPress is the fact that it logs incoming links from Technorati on the home page of the admin panel. That meant that each time Abigail or I logged in, we could spot the latest incoming links from other bloggers, take a moment to visit them and then to add our two cents to the conversation. You might remember from my 30 Day series how important it is to acknowledge incoming links and to build relationships with other bloggers. This feature makes it easy for site owners to do just that without having to take the time to open a stats program or head off to conduct an incoming link search.
Wrapping it Up
Nearly six weeks after launching the site, I'm surprised at how much I like WordPress. I'd heard great things about it and knew a lot of bloggers that preferred it to options like Blogger and TypePad, but I really didn't expect to like it as much as I do. In fact, I'm amazed at how much potential there is to using WordPress as a content management system for a small site.
In the next article in the Hide and Speak series, I'll start looking at the various bento communities that I had stumbled upon in my early days of bento madness and will explore the different nuances of communicating and posting in each of them.
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Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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