If you're finally building a website for your company then the chances are you're doing it on a budget, but there are hundreds of useful free resources out there to help.
From free images on Flickr to free analysis from Google, here are the best freebies to help you build your site, fill it with attractive content and climb the SERPs.
Flickr is currently owned by Yahoo! and is a good place to get graphics to add an eye-catching touch to your site. But be sure you understand the licensing requirements that apply to your chosen image. It varies from picture to picture.
Many images on Flickr are subject to a Creative Commons licence, an alternative to full copyright that often means they can be used elsewhere without needing special permission. However, some photographers ask that they receive attribution by name if the image is used.
Others prohibit commercial use of their images. And some state that their photographs must only be used for editorial purposes - that is, alongside news articles, rather than on marketing pages.
YouTube is Google's first entry on this list. It's often overlooked as a source of content for your website, but it's a useful place to start if you want to add some video and you're short on hosting resources.
Film and upload a short welcome message, and use YouTube's sharing tools to embed it into your homepage - you can make the video private so it won't show up in YouTube's own search results, and untick the relevant box to avoid linking your visitors to related videos at the end of your own clip.
Alternatively, you may be able to find videos from other users that support your message. Again, check on the copyright issues, but if the video is original content, doesn't have any copyrighted chart music in the background, and has sharing permissions enabled, there's usually no reason why you wouldn't be allowed to use it.
A surprisingly powerful tool in its own right, Google Search lets you check up on your competitors in ways you might not have realised. Prefix your search query with one of the following to get specific, useful results and an insight into where you rank alongside your main rivals:
- "Site:" - Search for site:domain.com where 'domain.com' is your own URL or that of a competitor's, and you get a complete list of all the pages Google has crawled on that site. Useful for checking how many pages a competitor site has visible to the search robots, and which are considered most important by Google.
- "InURL:" - Search for inurl:keyword site:domain.com and Google will list only pages from the specified site that have the keyword in their URL. Use this to explore competitors' site structures and figure out any untargeted keywords to use in your own main URLs, either in your folder structure or in pages' filenames.
- "Link:" - Don't use Google for this one though - it's not updated or accurate. MajesticSEO would be my choice to return a list of all the pages that link to a competitor site - you can specify the homepage of a site, or a specific page deeper in its folder structure. It also helps to give you some great content and linkbait ideas if you can order their pages by popularity of links.
These are just a snapshot of what's possible - there are plenty of search operators that work to a more or less useful extent on Google, infact probably far more than you knew existed!
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics is the platform of choice for webmasters everywhere, and is free to use. There are plenty of how-to guides to show you how to set up advanced filtering and custom reports, both from Google and elsewhere online. At its core, however, Analytics will show you how many people visit your site, what pages they view, and how they found you in the first place.
Google Webmaster Tools offers a large amount of crossover with Analytics - and there are ways to link the two together to enhance your reports - but in essence, Webmaster Tools is more about search, and Analytics is about your site's content in its own right.
As such, Webmaster Tools is the place to go to learn more about your search rankings and the most common keywords used to find your site in the SERPs.
And don't forget about Bing Webmaster Center either - it all helps! Like Google Analytics, Webmaster Center asks you to prove your ownership of your site by uploading a small file to your server, or adding a piece of code to your homepage.
Once in, you can expect similar data to that provided by Google's tools, from the way search spiders crawl your site, to how well it is linked from elsewhere online.
If you have a blog or news section on your site, FeedBurner can help you to use your RSS feed in ways you might not have thought of.
FeedBurner's social features allow you to automatically tweet or update your company's Facebook profile when a new blog post or news article is published. It's not quite as good as having a real person look after your social media for you, but it's a good first step towards a regular social networking presence.
You can choose to add advertisements to your feed items - and even earn revenue for doing so - but the service itself does not add any advertisements without your permission.
A particularly useful part of the service is FeedBurner Stats, which gives you subscriber numbers and other information about how your content is making an impact on the web. By its nature, RSS means your content isn't always viewed directly on your website, so it's good to know where people are reading your updates.
Any social networking presence is good for a company if you do it right, but Twitter's particularly easy to use. Simply sign up for an account and get tweeting - you can say whatever you want (within reason), but remember it's a public forum.
Follow and tweet at your colleagues, suppliers, rivals, employees and customers alike - it's a very open platform and, if they don't want to be followed, they can choose to block you with a single click.
Learn to use hashtags and other features of Twitter (there are plenty of tutorials out there dedicated to the subject) and you can soon build an audience for your direct marketing efforts, who may not even realise they are being marketed to.
This one's totally separate from your website, but is a useful research tool for new companies. It's a searchable database of information you'd normally have to pay to get from Companies House. You can sign in with a LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook login, so there's no need to sign up separately.
Registered addresses, company directors and shareholders, and financial reports. It's all here in one place, so get clicking and learn your main competitors' corporate secrets, for free.Image credit: inggmartinez via Flickr