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Build It Right

Is your Web site embarrassingly simple? Here's how to spiff up your Internet image in as little as half an hour.

Confession time: My first Web page, put up in 1996, was awful-a jumble of colors, fonts, and pilfered and pointless animated GIFs. And before I could even manage to create it, I had to stumble through half a dozen Web-authoring tools in search of one I could sort of use. But there's good news for newcomers: Today's authoring tools are superbly user-friendly. Nowadays, you'd really have to work hard to erect a terrible page, while good pages can be concocted in literally minutes.

Why do you need a spiffy Web site? Simple: A Web presence has become as necessary as a business card. Having one gives you credibility, a critical element for any homebased business owner. And once you have a handsome site, it saves you time and money. When prospects ask me about my business, instead of launching into a lengthy song and dance, followed by the promise of a thick packet of mailed information, I now point them to my site for the basics about who I am, what I've done and what I do. This costs me nothing and it lets prospects find the info they want.

Convinced you need a Web site, or a better site than you have now? Try Microsoft's FrontPage 2000. (It comes bundled in the Office 2000 Premium edition, which costs $450 for upgraders or $799 for new users; or it can be purchased as a stand-alone program-$149 for new users, $59.95 to upgrade). The reason FrontPage is top dog: Usability coupled with many cool tools and features. Built into FrontPage are dozen of themes (Click Format . . . Theme), from Arcs to Zero, each featuring a well-coordinated background, banners, buttons and fonts. That's in addition to three dozen templates providing the basics of page layout. Just follow the steps-pick a template, then a theme-start filling in the blanks and, inside 30 minutes, you'll have a credible Web page. It's really that simple.

Want other choices? While HTML authoring programs used to be plentiful, a kind of marketplace Darwinism has sharply narrowed the field. Few other programs are suited to beginning Web authors, but there are options:

  • Adobe PageMill 3.0, about $99, is a full-featured Web-authoring tool that comes with a big bonus-a freebie version of Adobe's classic PhotoShop for professional-level image editing. If I have any grumbles about PageMill, it's that the program isn't very easy to use-the learning curve is steeper than FrontPage's-and its assortment of templates and Web-ready images isn't as tasty. But PageMill is a sturdy program and, once mastered, produces top-flight pages.
  • Easier to use is Home Page 3.0, also about $99. Developed by Apple and now sold through its FileMaker group, Home Page is an idiot-proof program, with a lot of usable templates and clip art. For a few fast but handsome pages, Home Page is hard to beat.
  • Want really low-budget authoring? Still free is AOLPress, a reliable but dated program-there hasn't been a major update in a few years. But even this program provides a small collection of themes for quick authoring. Don't miss the "professional" sets, which are actually well-designed. When authoring needs are minimal, AOLPress (free to non-AOL users as well as members) just may do the job.

What's stopping you now? In as much time as it took to read this article, you can have a credible Web site up and running. So get to it!

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