Warning: What You Don’t Know About Web Hosting Can Hurt You

Warning: What You Don’t Know About Web Hosting Can Hurt You

Web Hosting: A Simple Definition

A website is a collection of files that resides on a computer. The entity, company or person that provides the computer on which a website resides is said to be “hosting” the website. Think of it this way. Your web hosting company is your landlord. You, or more specifically, your website, are the tenant. Does that make sense? Good. Let’s continue the analogy. When you rent a space from a landlord you want to know what comes with the rent. Are utilities included? heat, electricity, etc. How big is the space? How long is the lease? Here comes a universal truth. When it comes to web hosting, you get what you pay for. High rent, lots of amenities. Low rent, few amenities. Let’s look at one very common and very cheap (sorry, I meant inexpensive) hosting option.

Shared Hosting

Just what the name suggests … and also how web hosting companies make their money. Hosting providers keep the cost way down because they put hundreds of websites on the same machine enabling them to conserve server resources. Caution: You get what you paid for (I think I said that already). Here is what you need to know about shared hosting and why not knowing it can hurt you:

  • So many websites on one machine can and will effect the performance of your website. Your website will be slow and your visitors will be frustrated. Frustrated users won’t come back. Ouch!
  • If one of the websites on the server gets hacked or infected, all the sites on the server are in danger.
  • If one of the sites has questionable content and gets blacklisted by Google, other sites on the server may get blacklisted too – like yours!
  • If your site requires additional resources to deliver the intended user experience, those resources may not be available if the web server has hundreds of other sites on it. One result could be sites crashing – like yours!
  • If your site needs an extra layer of security (important when you’re accepting online payments, asking users for sensitive information via a web form, etc), a shared hosting environment won’t support the installation of an SSL certificate (a file with encryption code that will protect your site from being hacked).

The point is this. If your site is a simple collection of html files with no database back end, no user interactivity, very little traffic, static content and few graphics,* shared hosting might work for you.

*NoteIf I just described your website, hosting is the least of your problems.

A Cautionary Tale

I, or should I say, my clients, have had problems with a particular hosting provider. It’s probably not prudent to mention the company’s name so I’ll just give you a hint. It starts with Network and ends with Solutions. They’re not a bad company. I have all my domain names registered with them. But they are just not set up to provide the proper level of support for high performance websites, particularly those built on the WordPress platform. I always steer my clients in a different direction. But there are times when working with Network Solutions is unavoidable. During a recent plugin upgrade for one of my client sites the website encountered a fatal error related to insufficient memory. A fatal error is bad. The site’s functionality was compromised. After endless phone calls and conversations with support personnel I finally reached a technical supervisor.

“A technical supervisor,” I thought. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

I’m paraphrasing but here is the gist of what he told me: “Our shared hosting solution doesn’t support the needs of a typical WordPress website. With a WordPress site you’re better off hosting with someone else.” Huh!? I did some checking. The screen capture below reveals that there are a total of 304 websites on the same machine as my client’s site. No wonder there are problems.

Web Hosting

The Takeaway

Shared hosting is not  the only hosting plan available. There is VPS or Virtual Private Server, there is dedicated hosting, there is managed hosting. You’ll have to keep tuning in as I explore each of these separately. I wanted to concentrate first on shared hosting because it’s the most popular and least expensive option. And don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that it’s never the right solution.  Just be aware of the potential risks and dangers. Ask the right questions based on your understanding of the needs of your website. Better yet, consult with your web design company and make sure they ask the right questions.

And Now Back to You

Have you had problems with your website loading very slowly or taking too long linking from one page to another? Did you consider that the problem may have been related to your hosting plan? How did you resolve the issue?

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Marvin Kane, President of Kaneworks

Designing for Mobile Devices: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Designing for Mobile

Designing for Mobile is About Easy Access

According to Mary Meeker, Internet analyst and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, within the next five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.” For business owners looking to launch a new website, it is essential to consider how the site will render on mobile devices. For web designers, the rules have changed … again.

Responsive Design

Thanks to the work of cutting edge web designer Ethan Marcotte, we now have the tools and techniques to effectively design websites for mobile devices. And by effectively I mean not simply displaying a miniature version of the site that you see on a desktop computer. Responsive Design, the term coined by Marcotte, actually detects what type of mobile device is being used and then displays the site optimized for that specific device. Pretty neat!

Like The Old Days Only Different

In the early days of the web, there was no standardization. Websites rendered differently depending on the browser being used. Designers, a temperamental lot to begin with, had nightmares over not being able to control every aspect of the user experience.  That was then. This is now.

It’s About Usability

With all the variables in play like screen resolution, browser vendor and version, installed system fonts, monitor size, color variation and user preference, web designers finally get it. (At least the good ones do). It is not absolutely necessary that websites look exactly the same across all devices. (I know. This is a tough one for designers to swallow).  It’s about usability – making sure users can quickly and easily find the information they are looking for … which brings us back to designing for mobile devices.

A well designed mobile site:

  • is not just a miniature version of a desktop site
    it accounts for the fact that mobile users are close to taking some action and clearly presents the information needed to simplify that action
  • is not accessed by a separate url or web address
    a user going to the site on an iPhone and a user going to the site on a desktop computer both use the same url.
  • will adjust the layout of the site responsively
    When properly coded, the design will “know” what type of device is being used and will respond by displaying the site optimized for that device.

And Now Back To You

Business owners, was your site designed for mobile? What do you see when you view it on an iPhone, Blackberry or Droid? Is it what you thought it would be? If you are still in the planning stages, is mobile part of your thought process? Thanks for your comments on this one.

Photo credit: Yodel Anectodal

8 Sure Fire Indicators It’s Time to Overhaul Your Website

Is Your Website as Stylish as a Leisure Suit?

Is Your Website as Stylish as a Leisure Suit?

Back in 1995 I wondered how I would make a living once every business had a website. I hadn’t yet fully grasped the real potential of the web. Few people did. Over the years, of course, it has become obvious that websites, like gardens, need tending. Sometimes they need more than tending. They need to be …. well they need to be overhauled, gutted and replaced like a condemned building. There, I’ve said it. So here are my top 8 indicators that its time to overhaul your website.  Any one of these should cause you to lose sleep. If more than one is true about your website then …. well you get the idea.

1. Your Website is About as “In Style” as a 1970’s Leisure Suit

Looks aren’t everything. I get it. But you only have 5 seconds to capture your visitors’ attention. If your website is the equivalent of an outdated leisure suit, your visitors will run away screaming and won’t come back. Take a good look at your website. Better yet, have someone you trust who isn’t emotionally invested take a look at it. If it looks like a leisure suit it’s time for an overhaul

2. You’ve Never Updated Your Website

Shame on you! You simply cannot publish a website and never update the content. Do you think there is nothing new to say about your business? Really? Do you sell nuts and bolts? Then tell us what’s new in the world of nuts and bolts. Do you sell concrete? Tell us who you’re selling it to and why they’re thrilled with you. This is not so much about overhauling your website as it is about overhauling the way you think about your website. Think there is nothing new to say? Think again.

3. Important Information is Hard to Find

The information on your site needs to be categorized and presented to the user in some logical way. That  means links to information must be clearly visible and not buried where users can’t find them. If your site’s navigation is confusing, it may be time for an overhaul.

Information architecture

Make Sure All Links Are Clearly Visible and Well Organized

4. You Can’t Update Your Site Yourself

Today, the majority of new websites being launched are built on a content management system or CMS. The great benefit of a CMS is that it makes updating content very simple and requires no knowledge of HTML or programming. Now companies can take full control of the day to day management of their websites. There goes your excuse. If your website was not built on a CMS platform, it is definitely time  for an overhaul.

5. Your Site Doesn’t Show Up Until Page 10 on a Google Search

Achieving high page position on a SRP (Search Results Page) is the stated goal of every business website. But I often see a disconnect between the goal and the execution. It’s about relevant content. If your site is not ranking well for a particular keyword phrase, chances are that phrase doesn’t appear anywhere in your content. Or if it does, the context in which it appears is misleading. If this is the case with your website, it’s time for an overhaul.

6. You’re Embarrassed to Tell People About Your Website

You guessed it. Time for an overhaul.

7. Your Site Was Designed Entirely in Flash

Ouch! That’s so 2008. I’ve talked about this before but it bears repeating. Flash is a very compelling technology that can, when used properly, add some great visual “pop” to your website. But a site built entirely in Flash is virtually impossible to maintain, scores very poorly in search engines, isn’t universally supported on mobile devices (like the iPhone for example) and can distract people from the most important aspect of your website – its content. If your site is built entirely in Flash, it’s time for an overhaul.

8. Your Site Isn’t Bringing You Any Business

Isn’t that the the goal? To get business from your website? If you aren’t, chances are that several of the points mentioned above are at play. That’s why I’ve saved this one for last. If this is the case for you then your website needs to be thoroughly reviewed …and probably overhauled.

And Now Back to You

In almost every case my clients’ websites suffered from at least two or more of these maladies before we worked together to fix them. As a business owner, can you look at your website with an unbiased eye and determine which, if any, of the above problems applies? If you’ve already overhauled your website has it made a difference in your business? I’d like to get your point of view.

Photo credit: reynolds.james.e

 

SEO Revisited

Search Engine OptimizationLast June I posted an entry called SEO – Sorting it Out, in which I talked about some general terms relating to search engine optimization,  i.e. the difference between sponsored and organic search, submitting your site to search engines, etc. I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the topic and offer some more information that you will find useful.

The Keyword Meta Tag – Does it Still Count?

The keyword meta tag, after years of abuse, has lost its significance. In fact, according to Matt Cutts, Google’s own search quality specialist, Google disregards it completely.

While less rigid than Google regarding the use of the keyword meta tag, Bing still acknowledges that it’s not as important as it used to be. According to Bing’s Webmaster Center blog:

The <meta> tag’s keyword attribute is not the page rank panacea it once was back in the prehistoric days of Internet search. It was abused far too much and lost most of its cachet. But there’s no need to ignore the tag. Take advantage of all legitimate opportunities to score keyword credit, even when the payoff is relatively low. Fill in this tag’s text with relevant keywords and phrases that describe that page’s content.

So what’s the verdict? While there is certainly no harm in using the keyword meta tag, my advice is focus on keyword rich content and don’t worry about the keyword meta tag. But remember, your content should make sense to humans first. Context matters.

Use the Tools

Yes, the big players in the search universe make all the rules. But they don’t keep them a secret. In fact, both Google and Bing make their suggestions and protocols very public. So if you’re a hands on type and want to know more about search engine best practices, here are a few musts:

  • use google analytics – this is a bit of code inserted into the pages of your website that allows google to track user interaction with your site. The data generated is pretty detailed and can help you tweak your site to increase traffic… and it’s free. Find out more here: http://www.google.com/analytics/
  • use webmaster tools – both Google (http://www.google.com/webmasters/) and Bing (http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster/) offer these tools. These tips come straight from the horse’s mouth. Doesn’t it make sense to use them?
  • understand the <title> and <description> meta tags– each page of your site should have its own unique title and description. These two elements combined make up the snippet you usually see in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). This is not the place to be verbose. The title tag should be limited to 70 characters and the description tag to 150, give or take.

    The google snippet

    The way the snippet appears in the search results page

  • use an xml sitemap – most people are familiar with the html site map. That’s the page on a website usually found by clicking the Sitemap link. It presents the user with a visual representation of the site’s page structure.  The xml version is not visible to users. It is uploaded to the root directory of the web server. It gives the search spiders a quick snapshot view of the site’s structure thus making it easier for the search robots to crawl and index your site. Both Google and Bing recommend using an xml sitemap.

What if This is All Too Technical for Me?

Fair question. Especially given that these recommendations are only a small part of good optimization. If you are not the hands on type then make sure the individual or company you are hiring to build your website thoroughly understands and is planning to implement all of the above.

Are all of these recommendations in place on your website? Was it discussed before development began?

What’s a Domain Name Registrar and What’s an ISP?

One of the issues that we find our clients most often confused about is the difference between a domain name registrar and an internet service provider (ISP). The truth is that you may never need to know the difference. Indeed the only time this becomes important is when you are making changes to your website – especially when those changes involve moving your website to a new provider. And since we at Kaneworks are in the business of designing new websites or re-designing existing ones, we often need to move sites from their current provider to a new one. So let’s start with the technical definition according to Wikipedia.

A domain name registrar is an organization or commercial entity, accredited by a generic top-level domain registry (gTLD) and/or by a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry, to manage the reservation of Internet domain names in accordance with the guidelines of the designated domain name registries and offer such services to the public.

Did you get that? Let me simplify.

The first step in purchasing the rights to a domain name for either personal or business use is to determine whether that name is available. For now let’s skip the step of finding out if it is or isn’t and just assume it is. The next step is to secure the name. The company or entity with whom you conduct that transaction is the domain name registrar. (Some of the better know entities are Network Solutions and GoDaddy). You buy the domain name from one of these entities for a fee. It’s important to understand that in technical terms you don’ actually own the domain name – you just own the rights to use it (okay, that may be a distinction without a difference). Typically you purchase the rights to the name for a year or for multiple years. Whatever the case, at some point the domain name will come up for renewal. The domain name registrar will let you know well in advance that your name will be expiring. You can either renew or not. If you do not, the name becomes available for use by someone else.

So Who/What is my Service Provider?

Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say.

An Internet service provider (ISP) is a company that provides access to the Internet.

Wow! That was easy. Put another way, your ISP rents or leases space on it’s computer to “host” your website. In many instances the company that you purchased your domain name from also offers web hosting services as part of a bundled package. The important thing to know is that these two services are different services, and although you CAN use the same company for both services, you don’t have to. We have clients who use the same company for both and clients who do not.

Quick Reveiw:

  • Domain Name Registrar -the entity from which you purchase the rights to use your domain name
  • Internet Service Provider (ISP) – the entity that leases space on its computer to “host” your website

These are often the same company but don’t have to be.

So Why is Any of This Important?

Every computer on the internet has its own unique identifier called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. This is a sequence of numbers that looks something like this 74.201.12.111 – pretty dull. The domain name system (DNS) was developed strictly for convenience. It’s a lot easier to remember mygreatcompany.com than 74.201.12.111 and a lot better for marketing purposes as well, don’t you think? So when you put mygreatcompany.com into your browser’s address window, the magic of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (that’s the http part of the address) sends a request across the internet, finds the IP address of your website and matches it to your domain name – amazing stuff. Stay with me, we’re almost at the end. So if the process of designing your new website, or re-designing your existing one requires us to move your site to a new ISP, your new site will now have a new IP address. To make sure there is no interruption in service, your domain name – which has NOT changed – will have to be pointed to your new IP address. That’s why we ask you for the login credentials for your account with your domain name registrar. With that login information we will be able to access the management console for your domain account and make sure that your domain name is pointing to the correct IP address.

And that’s why it’s important.

Did this post clear anything up for you or did it make you more confused?

 

SEO – Sorting It Out

Google, Yahoo, BingIf there is a “Holy Grail” in the web world it’s search engine optimization or page rank. Everyone who builds, designs, owns or has a stake in a website entertains the fantasy of occupying the exalted number one spot in a results set of a Google search. But despite dizzying advances in technology there is still no way to absolutely guarantee search engine placement. And that’s not a bad thing. In the old days the axiom “build it and they will come” was all web designers needed to know. Not anymore! There are just too many websites and too many new ones popping up daily. While search giant Google may be justifiably criticized for some things, it has actually had a beneficial effect on web design and web based business in general. How so? Google has changed the landscape by rejecting tricks like spamming, ghosting, link farms and all the other dark arts that used to work. So what works now and what do you need to know?

Organic or Natural Search Engine Optimization

Natural search is searching that is not sponsored or paid for but is the result of keyword selection and placement. The theory is simple. Users type keywords they believe to be relevant to the type of business they are looking for into the search field of their favorite search engine and the spiders (software the search engines use) scan the internet looking for matches to the words the user typed in. Keyword placement and density tend to increases the chances for a match but this can be tricky as Google is very wary of scams and tricks.

Sponsored Search

Pay per click advertising (PPC) is a search engine marketing technique that requires you to pay a fee every time someone clicks to your website from an ad you’ve placed in a search engine’s results ( Google Adwords, Yahoo Pay Per Click, etc). The more you agree to pay per click (or bid) for a specific keyword and the more effective your ad, the higher your site will rank in the paid search results. According to Jupiter Research online marketers will spend $7 billion dollars on PPC advertising by 2010. This is a good way for a new website to achieve instant visibility but like anything else, there are tradeoffs. It can be expensive and there is no guarantee that a user landing on your site will become a customer.

Submission

Don’t waste your time and money on companies that promise to submit your website to hundreds of search engines. The truth is that only three or four matter. Google has not only changed the search marketing landscape, it has reinvented it. Yahoo and Bing are the other significant players in the search engine universe. Once your site has been properly optimized, there is no substitute for manually submitting it to the major search engines.

Patience

There are millions of websites out there in cyberspace with hundreds of thousands of new ones every day. Don’t expect your website to show up in the first ten results of a Google search the morning after it is launched. Understand that it can take between two and six months for even the most highly optimized site to be indexed with the major search engines. Be patient. If your search results are still poor after a few months, it may be time to reevaluate your search marketing strategy.

Here are a few important points to consider regarding search engine standing:

  • Content, content, content…SEO may have become very sophisticated but good relevant content is still the best strategy for achieving high search engine placement. Concise and well-written copy that clearly details what you do will dramatically increase your page rank and placement.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to include keywords in your site. i.e. page titles, image alt text, meta-data like keywords and descriptions, link text titles…these can be different for every page. If you have a page you are calling About Us, for example, don’t insert About Us into the title tags. What is the likelihood that someone searching for your business will type “About Us” into the search field? Zero!

The SEO strategy you choose depends on the nature of your business, your overall marketing budget, your revenue goals, etc. Your business may simply require that your site be built using best practice natural search techniques or a more comprehensive program of regular monitoring and fine-tuning.

Did this post help you understand SEO a little better? If it didn’t, let me know what you’re still confused about.