Your Web Site, How Old is Too Old?

We’ve seen a lot of web sites over the years and have spoken to countless companies who had not touched their web site for years. They told us when they approached us for help with designing a new site. Probably not surprising to the average small business owner who barely has enough time in the day to run their company. Never the less, not having someone knowledgeable look at your web site code on a regular basis, at least every six months could spell big problems and unwanted surprises.

Here’s Why:

Aside from doing nothing to promote your web site and help it to help you do more business with regular updates and proper search engine optimization, not paying attention to the age of your web site’s code or keeping its code current can cause the significant problems:

  • Web Servers are continually updated in order to use the safest, most current and secure web hosting and database software, (to keep it simple). Older versions of the various software typically running on a current web server are kept around for a while but eventually, the older software and database versions are removed because the producers no longer provide security updates and patches for those older versions.And you guessed it. When your web hosting provider removes the versions your web site needs, it usually doesn’t survive.
  • Local or browser based web site code such as Java Script and others, are also updated regularly. Again, if your web site is trying to pass along instructions with out dated code to the browser, to make a drop down menu drop down, or a contact form collect and send an inquiry, that functionality is going to be broken.
  • And finally, browsers themselves like the four different “supported” versions of Internet Explorer (yes, 4!), Google Chrome, Firefox and others are updated and patched regularly. We are continually making minor and major adjustments to code and adding styles to correct what the latest browser update broke on our customer’s web sites.

Your web site is just like so many other things in our lives. If you have one, it needs to be maintained in order to keep it healthy and working the way it was designed to work.

If your web site was built more than 3 or 4 years ago and you have made no significant updates, it is time to let a professional take a look at what code it was built with, and browser test it to make sure it is working in all the current versions of the numerous different browsers that are being used.

A broken or improperly functioning web site can do more damage than not having one at all… Get a web site check up! Even if you don’t have time. And if you don’t have a web site guy, we’re be happy to help.

 

Responsive Web Design and why it’s better than having multiple web sites.

When our clients first approach us about creating a web site for small handheld devices and web enabled cellular phones, they often say they want a “Portable Web Site” or “Mobile Web Site”. But this is not necessarily the best way to go…

There are many companies out there that will create a portable web site (only). The way this works is pretty straight forward. Typically the client will contract with a company to create a separate portable web site. They also provide some code that is added to your current full sized web site. This code “sniffs” out what type of browser or device is attempting to view the web site, and if it is a portable device or cell phone, the code redirects the visitor to the portable web site, that is usually hosted under a different domain name.

The problem with this or downside is probably a better choice of words, are a couple of issues:

  • You have two separate web sites doubling the work whenever you need to update or add to your web site.
  • You have two different domain names (web sites), and neither benefit from the other with respect to SEO.
  • Google prefers one web site with one domain name.

So what’s the answer? A “Responsive Web Site”!

Web sites can be constructed in a way that allows them to dynamically resize, reorganize their content, and adjust text size to function properly on everything from a wide format computer monitor to a small cellular phone. This is called Responsive web design and it is the best way to create a web site that works well on all computer monitors and handheld devices.

Learn more about the benefits of Responsive Web Design

Why Email Marketing?

Just in the past year, I’ve been posed the questions “Why Email Marketing?” more times than I can count. My answer? Because email marketing works – if created and optimized properly.

So How Do I Know My Email Marketing Campaign is Optimized?

Simple. When you sit down to layout your email marketing blast, think about what you would want to read. Put yourself in the user’s place. I can tell you from personal experience, I get at least 15 to 20 email marketing promotions from various sites, per day, that I’ve signed up for and some that I haven’t signed up for. And very rarely do I find myself clicking on their email – unless I trust the source or the email subject line GRABS my attention (which can be hard to do, since I have a short attention span).

Email marketing subject lines like “SUPER DUPER AWESOME SAVINGS, CLICK NOW AND GET WACKY WITH US” rarely provoke me to open them. First of all, I LOATHE all caps (unless I’m making a point) because honestly, I feel like the email is yelling at me. Just like when I’m watching a nice quiet television show and then a very loud commercial with a screaming man invades my living room…that usually results in a channel turn.

Helpful Information and Providing a User-friendly Experience Goes a Long Way

I just recently sent out a company-wide email marketing newsletter and received an opt-out from an individual who was interested in our company, but had to wait for whatever reasons. I was a little upset at first when they opted out, but then I noticed, they actually read the newsletter! Among the company announcements and other things, I added a blog post about how to find out where you rank among your competitors…and low and behold, the individual who opted-out had clicked through to read this particular blog post.

So why would I be excited about this? Because even if they decide not to do business with us, that person will always remember the advice we gave them and they will view us as providing knowledgeable and helpful expertise.

Benefits of Email Marketing Go Beyond Reaching Your Clients

Email marketing campaigns are a great way to reach out to your current clients or potential clients. Here are some handy tips for a good email marketing campaign:

1. Announce flash Deals/Specials/Giveaways
2. Announce new employees or services that your client may benefit from
3. Announce open houses, mixers and events with free giveaways (everyone loves freebies)
4. Review services. For ex, if you own a bookstore, read and review a book once a month, compose a blog or page on your web site and in the newsletter, provide a brief synopsis of your review and then link over to your blog or web site.
5. Product spotlight – offer reviews and special savings for the product

Learn about BoomClient’s email marketing experience!

You clients love to feel special or to get noticed, so take care of them!

Also, email marketing solutions, such as Constant Contact provide amazing online tools, customer support and marketing seminars that allow you to maximize your usage from the tool.

I recently attended a Constant Contact seminar in where I learned so much about setting up a newsletter it’s ridiculous. Not only was the host friendly and knowledgeable, but she answered every question that anyone in the audience had.  She offered a helpful experience…just how like I like my emails!

How Can I Find My Search Engine Ranking?

 

One of the most important aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) is how you can find your search engine ranking and most importantly, where do you fall amongst competitors?

Through my experience, there are several ways to see where you rank in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) – with and without tools.

 

Manual Search Engine Ranking Results

Find your search engine ranking results by manually searching.If you have a relatively small site, it’s going to be much easier to find your search engine ranking manually. Simply identify your top-level keywords and enter them into the search engine of your choice. Since Google takes the lead in search engine market share, with Yahoo and Bing trailing closely behind – according to comScore.  You can bet that if your rankings are optimal in Google, they will be in other engines. But just to be sure, it can’t hurt to check the others, especially since Bing requires meta tags and optimization that may not be required by Google.

 

Search Engine Rankings with Online Tools

Larger sites that require more keywords and optimization are a bit more cumbersome to manually search. Not only is it cumbersome, but some search engines may respond a bit slower or stop completely if you constantly enter different searches. They may view you as a spammer or some sort of automation software.

Tools such as WebPosition have proven to be the easiest way to find your search engine ranking. The advantage of using this type of tool is to provide the user with a quicker way to find out where you land in the SERPs against competitors. The downfall is that some search engines don’t appreciate the constant inquiries and can block you for an extended period of time. Yahoo has been known to put a kibosh on WebPosition inquiries for an extended period of time. 

 

More on Browsers and Search Engine Rankings

Your browser can also have an affect on a manual search. In my experience, Firefox is a wonderful browser and even offers some of the best SEO tools through Firefox, but they also are keen on providing an exceptional user experience. And there have been times where Firefox has stopped me from performing manual searches if I did too many.
 

Most Search Engines Offer Tools That Help You Identify Rankings

Most search engines provide you with all the tools you need when you want to find your search engine ranking. Subscribing to their analytics and webmaster tools can make a huge difference in how you optimize because they provide you with everything you need to know when it comes to that particular engine.

I suggest joining groups and forums sponsored by a particular search engine (since they monitor what their users are saying, doing, etc). I’ve learned a great deal about my own site’s analytics just by speaking with other professionals through these forums.

Google Forums

 

So, What’s the Best Way to Find My Search Engine Ranking You Ask?

Discover the best solution to finding your search engine rankings by trying what works best for you! I recommend trying out each way. Discover what works best for you and what you have available in your budget. Smaller companies may not be able to afford robust online marketing tools. But what most people don’t realize, you can perform most any task these online marketing tools do, it just takes a little more time. Because when it comes to SEO, there is no one perfect way to do it for everyone – SEO is just as unique as your business.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Large firms

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.


Larger firms with depth in staff and that seem to have a cost effective price

This is the scenario where you meet with a “custom” web design company or marketing agency at their office, and everything feels pretty good about your meeting. They have designers and programmers. They may even have writers and SEO people. You cover what you are looking for and they come back with a quote that sounds reasonable and a promise that they can get it done. What could be wrong with this picture?

Maybe nothing. But just to be sure here is what you should do to avoid potential landmines:

– As I’ve mentioned earlier, insist on a detailed site plan and statement of work that outlines the project, has milestones and covers each step of the design and development project. And understand that you are making a commitment to this plan also.

– Do your homework and know what you want your web site to look like and consist of before you enter an agreement and make sure your agreement contains language that covers your desires so that the firm you are working with clearly understands what you want and prices is accordingly. – On your side you must understand that building a web site is very similar to building a custom home. You cannot expect your builder to add another bathroom or five more electric outlets in the living room without adjusting the cost.

– There are no materials involved in building a web site but there are hours and that is how your design firm earns their living. Don’t expect them to give additional hours away when you realize you would like to make an adjustment to your plan.

Next you should consider the firms capabilities. There are many, many ways to cause what looks like a web page to display in a web browser, and there a many web browsers out there that people use to view them. What is important here is that you are dealing with experienced designers and programmers that understand the importance of building your web site in a way that allows it to adjusted and added to without a lot of financial pain.

– Ask them to explain how they will support your web site and explain how they will be able to make modifications like adding additional buttons to the main navigation for you in the future easily. It’s easy to create an HTML component and then copy it twenty times to create twenty new pages, but imagine how long it will take to go back later and change the same thing on twenty pages.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Small firms or freelancers

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.

Small firms or freelancers who don’t have the overhead or depth of a full service firm can be economical and risky at the same time.

I’ve covered this option in a number of articles and I’m always careful not to discredit the small design firm or freelance professional. Back in the beginning we were a small design firm too and without the trust of our clients we would have never grown to the firm we are today. Doing business with a small design firm or freelance design professional is like doing business with any small company. Just do your homework. Look at their portfolio, check at least three references and require a detailed quote and contract that spells out exactly what your web site is to include and who is responsible to do it or provide it.

It’s not a bad idea to have milestones in your agreement with due dates that are tied to payment. Chances are you’ll be fine with a small firm that can prove to you that they are capable of completing your site by showing you other sites they have created (recently), who can provide you with references, and who can demonstrate that their web sites achieve reasonably good rankings in Google.

Things to watch out for would be a very vague or design and development agreement. This is a business deal so insist on a detailed contract. Write your own if you need to. Sometimes designers and programmers are great at what they do but a little weak at the formal side of business. It’s even a good idea to give your attorney a few hundred dollars to look it over an agreement.

Make sure the project is scheduled to be completed in a reasonable period of time. It should not take more than 60 to 90 days to complete a 10 to 15 page brochure web site or 120 to 150 days to complete a reasonable data driven, interactive web site. Firms taking longer are more than likely short on internal talent and resources or they are not managing their production load properly and taking on too much work.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Low cost, high contract firms

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.

Web site companies who will build your web site for a low cost up front and charge but require a contract term for monthly hosting and support at a considerably higher price monthly rate than normal.

Here’s a solution that sounds good, and it can be, for the right situation. If you are in need of a web site or a simple brochure site that you are not planning on changing or updating very much and you would rather put out as little as possible up front (usually $100 to $300 to get started) then make larger monthly payments for hosting and possibly some updates later as you need them but not often (usually $200 to $300 per month for up to 3 years), then this approach might be a solution for you.

Firms that offer this type of solution are operating at a volume and usually specialize in a particular industry such as chiropractors or plastic surgeons. Just remember that like most everything, you are going to get what you pay for. Don’t expect lots of attention during your project. Their goal will be to complete you website fast without asking for a lot of content (Images and text) from you. They will most likely use a template and then dress it out with stock images and content they have on file and alter slightly for each new site they build.

This is where you need to watch out. Ask this solution provider to show you examples of their work. And I don’t mean 1 or 2 examples. Ask for 15 to 20 sites. Assure they have many designs that they use so there is little chance there is another site out there that will look just like yours.

Also look through their examples for duplicate text content. In their rush to build out your site, these firms often reuse text content over and over. This is really bad but we’ve seen it first hand a number of times. In the end you can have a site built with a small investment up front. Just don’t expect it to be highly original or unique. And be prepared to keep it for a few years unless you pay the penalty to get out of your agreement.

The Cost of Good Web Design – Template Firms

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

Link to the first article.

“Template” web design solutions

You can find them all over the Internet and a lot of “web design” firms like to use templates to cut the cost of design time in order to offer you a lower overall price. Templates can be used as a shortcut that will give you a nice look and feel. But look close at your quote for “Additional” costs. The problem with templates is that “the house is already there” to use an analogy.

These firms will want you to stick to the floor plan that is already there so you are sort of hand cuffed into sticking to the layout of the template and insert text and images where the template allows you to. It is likely that you are going to want to make an adjustment, but beware; this is where what started as a low cost option begins to increase in price.

This is where the “Template” design firm may run into issues and your original quote goes out the window. It’s a template! The whole idea with a template is that it is quick and cheap. All you are supposed to do is fill in the spaces with text and images and insert your logo.

This is also why the firms that use them often do so; because they have limitations with high-end design. And as soon as you ask them to crack open the template and start tweaking it more to your liking, you are now asking for custom web design you will find yourself paying what you would have paid a custom design firm.

Back to the analogy; if the house is too small or not quite what you want, and you’re not sure about the floor plan, would you buy it an pay to change it, or would you just find one you like better or build exactly what you want to begin with.

If you do go this route with your new web site, choose your template and gain an agreement of what you want done with it to make it your company web site before signing a contract. You’ll avoid surprises this way.

Trust me on this. You are going to want to make adjustments to your web site as it is being built. Absolutely every project we have completed over the last ten years included some level of adjusting during design and development. And your project will too.

The Cost of Good Web Design

This is a series of articles about the web design options available and the cost of good web design.

So you’re out there trying to sift through a handful of quotes you’ve received along with some surfing you’ve done to try and identify the best web design company to help you build your new web site. And like most things you’ve never had to do, you’re learning how complicated a decision like this can be. Of course you want the best site you can get for the money but there is one thing that’s driving you nuts; there is a huge difference between the lowest quote you’ve been given and the highest.

So now you’re perplexed. Are these guys the least expensive because they don’t know what their doing? And the other guys; are they the most expensive because they have a big ego? Exactly what is a fair price for a well built web site that will work for me? Hopefully, what I’m about to tell you will help…

First, understand this. Anyone in business knows that businesses have to make a profit to stay in business. Thus every web design firm or web site solution provider has to make a profit. Now, there are different business models in the web design industry just like any other industry. Some are models of scale (high volume) while other firms focus more on the details of quality web design such as careful attention to SEO, clean code, original detailed text content and so on. Either way you go will have its upsides and downsides. Your decision needs to rest with what is most important to you.

That being said, there are solutions of scale and a variety of strategies. Below are a few more common models:

  • Web design companies who use web site templates.
  • Web site companies who will build your web site for a low cost up front but charge a considerably higher price monthly for support and hosting, (and require contracts).
  • Small firms or freelancers who don’t have the overhead or resources of a full service firm can be economical but may not have the depth for your project.
  • Larger firms with depth in staff that seems to have a reasonable price
  • Larger firms with extensive experience that fall into the high priced solution category

And there are different pricing models as I alluded to above:

  • Just plain cheap, quick and easy web site design
  • Low up front investment with a term contract of inflated hosting and support costs
  • Web design and development by the hour

So what is best for you? This series help you organize your decision making on all this. There is a market out there for each of the above, which is why they exist. But where do you fit in?

Peak 10 Internet Data Center was there when we needed them.

These days when you find a service oriented company, its worth mentioning. So here goes. Peak 10 has been our colo provider now for about 6 years. And in that time I can’t think of one bad experience. From the technicians on the floor, to the folks in the NOC in Charlotte, to senior management. Everyone has always demonstrated a very high level of professionalism.

Here’s the home run and why anyone who is operating important web servers should strongly consider Peak 10. A couple of years ago, our primary web hosting platform including all of our customer’s web sites suddenly went down. Nothing was responding. We we’re at our cabinet at Peak 10 in minutes, logged in at the console and the server is fine? Everything checked out. By this time the Peak 10 tech on duty is offering assistance, (very cool). After some basic checking on their end of the all the obvious possible connectivity issues and some packet sniffing, we identify the problem. Our gateway was being pounded with failed login requests from some IP address in the Pacific rim.

So here we are. Some real nice guy in the Orient has decided to completely shut us down with a DOS attack. I mean gigs of data. We were being pounded. Who knows why, but it was happening to our gateway IP. Talk about feeling helpless. We couldn’t even block the originating IP’s in our firewalls because of the sheer amount of traffic they were hammering us with. We even pulled our main drop to see if they would automatically stop if our platform stopped responding, but as soon as we went back online, we were slammed again. Nothing worked.

So in desperation I called my representative at the time (who already knew what was going on) and asked if they could help. Within a few minutes the answer I needed was back. It took a few minutes but they actually blocked the IP addresses that were originating the traffic in their Cisco 12000 core routers. This immediately stopped the assault on our hosting platform. I swear I heard angels singing.

Just so everyone knows, this is not typical. To my knowledge, it is not the carrier or datacenter’s problem or responsibility to protect anyone’s hosting platform from such an attach unless they offer such a service and or you pay for it. Peak 10 stepped up when we needed them and for that I am eternally grateful. We will be their customer for a very long time. Thanks guys!