The surge in popularity of the "freemium" business model, in which companies offer a basic product for free in the hope of enticing users to upgrade, has been a boon for web entrepreneurs. By utilizing these offerings, you can now launch, analyze and even market a new website without paying a dime. Here are 10 services that help make this possible.
Designing and Prototyping
Before you build a website, it's useful to create a barebones model with a prototyping tool. Good tools let you build interactive versions of your site to give you an idea of the user experience, as well as providing the opportunity to show your prototypes to potential customers for feedback.
One online prototyping tool, Moqups, offers a free subscription that lets you build, edit and share a prototype at no cost. It's a great way to try out different concepts for your site before committing to its full development.
Launching Your Site
It used to be that, in order to launch a website, you'd have to lease a server from a hosting company, install all the appropriate software yourself and configure everything to be functional, efficient and secure. These days, a new generation of hosting services that go by the moniker PaaS (Platform as a Service) offer all this in one simple solution.
There are many PaaS providers out there, but one of the pioneers (and also one of the biggest) is called Heroku. Heroku lets you create a web application and host it on their servers. And the best part is that, at low traffic levels, the entire service is free.
Once your site is active, you'll want to monitor it regularly to make sure it's up. There are many services to do that, and one of the most popular ones is Pingdom. And they also offer -- you guessed it -- a free subscription for a single site.
As every entrepreneur knows, an idea is only valuable if people know about it. Marketing your site is a critical part of your business strategy. Fortunately, two great services offer free solutions to help.
Mailchimp is a wonderful tool for sending newsletters to your customers. Keeping your early users engaged is crucial to gaining traction, and using Mailchimp to send out news and updates is a great way to accomplish this.
The content you put in newsletters can be re-purposed to create a blog, which can be useful in getting traffic from search engines. One free blogging tool is WordPress. It's also the most popular blogging platform, and WordPress will host your blog on their servers at no cost.
Analyzing and Improving
Once your site starts getting traffic, it's important to understand what your users are doing and continually improve their experience. There's an entire army of free tools that make this a fun and engaging process.
Google Analytics provides free analysis of your website traffic, allowing you to get good statistical data on what your users are doing and where they're coming from.
To dig more into particular actions, check out Clicktale, a tool that tracks user behavior and lets you view heatmaps and funnels to provide more insight. Clicktale even follows users' mouse movements and clicks, giving you the ability to replay their actions and learn about how people are navigating your site.
All this insight will surely inspire ideas for new features, and as you roll those out, it's important to test them to make sure they're accomplishing what you intend -- whether that's increasing revenue, improving engagement, or changing some other metric. One popular tool for helping with this is Visual Website Optimizer, which lets you test changes to your site with a segment of your audience, then compare metrics to a control group.
Another good option for learning about your users is to let them give you feedback directly. Uservoice displays a feedback tab on your site, letting visitors make suggestions in a feedback window. Uservoice offers free subscriptions for small sites.
You can also ask your customers for their feedback by using a survey tool. One excellent option for this is SurveyMonkey, which lets you send questionnaires to your users and compile the answers.
With this variety of great freemium offerings, it's easier than ever to take your website idea from dream to reality, with minimal expense.
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