When it comes to web marketing, most of us find ourselves “over-missioned” and under-resourced. We all want snazzy, interactive web sites, but who has the time, expertise, or money?

Not surprisingly, the answer in this increasingly connected world of ours may be just a few clicks away. The web is packed with freebies and low-cost goodies that can boost your online image without breaking your budget—or your webmaster’s back.

Here are a few favorites. If you have some great resources you’d like to share with fellow web aficionados, please eMail me at n.carr@cms.k12.nc.us.

Free check-ups

Give your web site a free or low-cost tune-up with the following sites. Most of these sites check for broken links, spelling errors, browser compatibility problems, slow-loading pages, and HTML code errors, and most also contain tools to move your site to the top of the search engine rankings.

NetMechanic: Includes Server Check, a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week monitoring service to make sure your servers are running, and GifBot, which compresses images and speeds up page load times.

http://www.netmechanic.com

Web Site Garage: The Tune Up service includes the ability to find out how many sites link to yours, and Hitometer analyzes your web site traffic with a customizable tracking tool.

http://www.websitegarage.com

SmartAge.com: Targets small businesses, but contains a wealth of advice for boosting traffic to your site.

http://www.smartage.com

WebSideStory: The site’s HitBox.com contains free tools for evaluating and promoting your site, shrinking image sizes, and adding search and polling capabilities.

http://www.websidestory.com

Useit.com: Jakob Nielsen’s web site on web usability.

http://www.useit.com

Graphics

Custom logos, buttons, banners, and graphics can be downloaded from these sites:

CoolText.com: A totally free online service which provides real-time generation of graphics customized exactly the way you want them.

http://www.cooltext.com

NetStudio: With this software, you can create web graphics instantly, customize them for professional results, and publish them easily to Microsoft FrontPage and other web editors.

http://www.netstudio.com

MediaBuilder: Use these free online tools to instantly make 3D banners and buttons online and to optimize your images so they will download faster.

http://www.mediabuilder.com

WebFX: A graphics manipulation tool that you use right over the web (no downloads, plug-ins, or Java required).

http://www.nbswebfx.com

Love posting school photos, but hate the lengthy download times such graphic-intensive art creates? Compress those images to a manageable size with one of these sites:

GIF Wizard: Reduces GIFs, JPEGs, and BMPs up to 90 percent without sacrificing quality. You can crop, resize, rotate, adjust colors, and compress images in one integrated online editor.

http://www.gifwizard.com

Spinwave: Contains free and fee-based tools for compressing and optimizing GIF and JPEG images.

http://www.spinwave.com

eMail management

For about $100, ListBot will manage your growing eMail database and make electronic broadcasts a snap.

http://www.listbot.com

Teacher tools

Giving parents 24-hour access to their children’s grades and homework assignments improves home-school communication and is one of the hottest services schools can provide right now. Dozens of companies are jumping on this trend, so options abound. Some low-cost, teacher-friendly packages include the following sites:

mygradebook.com

http://www.mygradebook.com

Teacher’s Toolkit

http://www.teacherstoolkit.com

bigchalk.com

http://www.bigchalk.com

Classroll.com

http://www.classroll.com

iSolute.com

http://www.isolute.com

Yourhomework.com

http://www.yourhomework.com

Web site development and management

FamilyEducation Network (http:// www.familyeducation.com), American School Directory (http://www.asd.com), Lightspan (http://www.lightspan.com), wwwrrr Inc. (http://www.wwwrrr.net), School Center (http://www.schoo lcenter.com), Timecruiser Computing Corp.(http://www.schoolcruiser.com), and other companies offer a nice suite of services—some free, some low-cost, some expensive—designed to make it easy for schools and districts to have a professional web presence.

While these offers seem tempting, before you sign on the dotted line, just make sure you know what you’re getting into and what you’re giving away. Companies want access to something we have an abundance of: teachers, children, and—most importantly—cash-rich teenagers.

Free sites for schools typically are paid for with corporate advertising dollars. Keep in mind that your “good news” messages about teaching and learning, or a new curriculum initiative, are going to have a hard time competing with a four-color corporate logo or banner ad.

Too many schools spend all their time launching their sites and too little time maintaining or improving them. If you’re suffering from the “If we build it, they will come” web marketing fantasy, get over it. Even Hollywood had a hard time pulling this one off.

Your school or district web site—especially your home page—serves as your organization’s front door to the world. Make sure it says “Welcome,” and make sure it communicates the image you really want to convey.