Posts Tagged ‘CMS’

What to look for in a web host, the basics

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Most people are somewhat at a loss when it comes to choosing a web host. It is generally believed that all hosts are created equal and the only real determining factor is price. Sadly this is not the case and if you let price alone drive your hosting decision you might end up with a big headache for the foreseeable future. Now don’t get me wrong, cost should be a factor, it just should not be the ONLY factor in making your decision. Besides, anymore a small business can get decent hosting for as little as $4/month so it is a lot easier to focus on what the host can do for you.


Server Software
The first stop on your hosting voyage should be about the functionality that the host offers. Now start back to your homework again. As I may have mentioned before making a plan is always the best any to start any web project. And if you have your plan handy, then you will know what you are looking for. At the most basic level you need to decide between Linux and Windows hosting. There are pros and cons to both, the key is knowing what your finished site will require (if anything) in order to function the most effectively. Linux is usually a safe bet if you are not sure and a basic static HTML site will work on either platform out of the box  but having a plan will take the guess-work out of it.

If your site is going to be built using PHP (whether it be a custom build or something like WordPress) you are best off with a Linux server. While with .ASP or .Net, a Windows server is a better option. There are components that will allow some things to run on either platform interchangeably but depending on your planned use, it is best to stick with the type of server it was initially designed to use.

Storage & Transfer
Other things to consider when choosing your hosting plan is the amount of storage space and data transfer you are allotted each month as part of your plan. Storage space is pretty straight forward – it is the amount of physical disk space you have available for storing your files on the web server but Data Transfer is a little trickier. Data Transfer is more about traffic. It is the amount of data that can be transferred from your site to your visitors each month. Now, I know what you are thinking, “that does not pertain to me because I don’t really have anything I want people to download”. Well, that is not exactly what it means. Data Transfer covers every page and every element of every page that is sent to a user when they come to your site. What that means is that if you have an HTML page that is 10K and you have 5 images on that page that are each 20K, you are transferring 110K of data each time that page is viewed.  Plans generally cover 2-5GB of data transfer each month and unless you actually have large downloadable files  or have mistakenly decided to host your own videos on the site, most small business will not have an issue with this. But be weary, If you do end up going over your allotment it might come back to bite you with up-charges. Video is usually the cause of data transfer up-charges and one of the best ways for small businesses to avoid this type of issue is to host your video on a sharing site like YouTube because you can still embed the video in your page but the data is being transferred directly from YouTube to your visitors so you get to see the benefits of having video on your site without the potential cost issues.

For most small businesses a basic plan will have all that you need.

Email is an often overlooked component of web hosting packages. Never discount the value of having an email address that is specifically associated with your domain. It presents a much more professional image and many times you get a great deal more functionality out of it that you would have with Gmail, Yahoo or your local cable provider. Most come with at least 10 email addresses and some come with hundreds. Make sure to pay attention to the available features for your email as well while deciding.

Depending on the type of site you are building you may also need a Database. And although PHP, ASP and .NET do not require the use of a database to be useful, their real power comes from the dynamic delivery of content. The most common type of database is MySQL which is generally offered with Linux plans (and required for WordPress) while Microsoft SQL server is the DB of choice for .NET.

A major differentiator between different web hosts is reliability. Most decent hosts offer a 99% + up-time guarantee. You need to make sure that the host you choose is not a fly by night operation that is going to cause more problems than it solves but bigger does not always equal better. Some of the big boys have had financial issues in recent years causing problems for their users when they had to sell out and the users had to jump through hoops to keep everything status quo.  Make sure you are comfortable with the host you chooses because the longer you are with them, the harder it is to leave. And if you do end up having to leave (no matter how little time you have spent with them) be prepared for the pains that can accompany it (propagating your domain to a new host can cause downtime with your website as well as wreak havoc on your email). The best option is to do your homework upfront so you don’t have to deal with the dentist over the issues caused by excessive teeth gnashing.

For the most part, customer service with your web host will be pretty transparent and you won’t really care, that is until you have an issue. And although they do not happen with great frequency, problems do occur and they seem to always happen at the most inopportune times. And at times like those it is good to know there is someone you can contact to get it resolved quickly. Check to see how they handle customer service. Is it email only or do they have a number you can call and do they have hours that will work for your needs? I know I have had to contact support in the middle of the night a few times for different clients and the fact that I was able to get a response from someone at 2AM and avoid the potential unpleasantness from eager site goers inability to do what they wanted was more than worth it. Make sure their availability will suite your needs (and a phone number as an option is always a huge plus).

There are a number of companies out there that can get you what you need, when you need it, with reliability and  service to back up the sale. Some of my top picks are below:


Now that you know what you are looking for (at least on a basic level), get out there and find the host that can help make your online dreams a reality.

Awesome! I have a website, now how do I update it?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

So you are finally online. You have a great new custom designed website but now you want to make some content changes, so what’s next? It can be easy or it can be hard, it is entirely dependent on how your site was developed. Keep in mind I am only talking about content here, changing the design of a site can be much more involved.

If your website was built to be dynamic (your website content is stored in a database and served up as it is requested – usually done using ASP, PHP, Cold Fusion or some other type of interactive programing language coupled with CSS or standard HTML), you may be in luck. Most of the time when web developers put together this type of site, they also usually build a content management system (CMS) as an easy way to input, edit or delete information on your web pages. This is great for you because that usually means that no coding knowledge is required to make simple updates to your website. If you can use a word processor, you will likely be able to update your website. But keep in mind that not all CMS’s are created equal. They can range from a simple web based form that allows you to enter raw HTML to a full on system of forms to handle all aspects of your site (up to and including uploading images and changing menu items). It is important to discuss this with your developer during the construction process to ensure that what is being built has all of the functionality you need for your (or your designees) skill level. This level is usually pretty low (that is why you hired a professional) so you will want to make sure it is as easy as possible to update without the need for the developers help on an ongoing basis. These types of sites are more expensive to build but save you money in the long run if you plan to update the content on your site as often as you should.

If you are like the majority of site owners out there, your site is static (using basic HTML and/or CSS to build everything). In this case it can be a bit more involved to make your changes but fear not, YOU CAN DO IT!

So what do you need to make a go of it? For starters you will need an HTML editor but don’t be afraid, you don’t need to have the fanciest WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor, you can get by with little more than your basic text editor (like notepad).

Next you will need a way to download the files from your server so you can edit them and re-upload them when you are done. This sounds complicated but FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is far from it. In many ways it is no different from moving files around on your own computer and the interface is very similar to how things work in Windows Explorer or the Finder (for you Mac people out there). On a budget, no worries, there is a free tool out there just waiting to be downloaded. Filezilla ( is a free download for both Mac and PC and it is very simple to use once you figure it out.

Now that you have your tools, it is time to get to work. The first thing you need is the FTP information for your site. This can usually be found in the control panel for your sites web hosting. What you need are the URL, ID and Password for your hosting. In general your URL will follow this structure (you need to check with your web host to be sure). That along with your ID and PW is generally emailed to you when you set up your hosting initially.

Once you are confident that you have the correct information, the next step is to launch Filezilla (or the FTP client of your choice) and add a new site. By default most FTP sites use port 21 for this protocol so don’t freak out if you see that it is required in your client. After the info is in, click connect and what you will see is kind of a split screen. On the left you will see the files on your local hard drive and on the right you will see the files on your server. You may have to drill down into a “www”, “public” or “” folder to fine the files you are looking for.

So now you are connected to your site, you have found your files, now what? Well, it is all down hill from here. You can simply drag and drop the files you want from the server (the right side of the screen) into the folder you have chosen on your local hard drive (the left site of the screen) and watch the magic happen then rinse and repeat for each file (or if you want to be tricky you can highlight a group and move them all at once).

Once you have your files, it is editing time. Open up your spiffy new HTML editor (or Notepad/Text Edit for those of you on a budget) and find your way to the memorable location where you downloaded your site files. Once you find it, simple open the file you want (you may have to change the files of type to “all files” to ensure everything shows up in the window) and start editing. Now, I know what you are thinking, why oh why did my word processor choose to throw up in this file? Well, that is not all just bits and pieces of undigested parts of speech, that is the code that makes your site a living breathing thing. Embrace it! Roll around in it, but whatever you do, don’t change it (unless of course you have an idea of what you are doing). Just look through or even search it to find the content you want to change and change away. And if you need to make some basic formatting changes there are a number of simple primers available to tech you the basics of bold, italic, line breaks and more (although if you site was done using CSS, you may need to understand what each style does before you decide to make changes).

Once you finish changing your file, it is good to test what you have done before uploading it back to your site. And remember that since you do not have all of the files on your local machine, things may not look exactly right over all but your chief concern to reviewing the changes you have made. If you want to make sure that what you see locally is exactly like your site, you will have to download all of your files (including and scripts, style sheets and graphics) exactly as they are online to ensure that the site will work offline. This is not a guarantee that it will be exact, differences in the ways pages are coded can result in things not looking right offline.

Now you can then go back to your FTP client and reverse the process to upload your files. Make sure you drill down to the proper folder then Drag from the left, drop on the right.

Once your new files are uploaded you can take a look at your handiwork and marvel at your own brilliance! Then email all of your friends and business associates and tell them about the awesome new update to your site.

Whether you are dealing with a custom dynamic site, or a simple home grown static HTML site you should be able to make the changes you need to keep your content fresh. If you are not comfortable making the changes yourself, there are many qualified individuals out there who would be happy to help but it is always good to try so you know how you want to proceed with ongoing changes.

I don’t need a blog so why would I use WordPress

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

WordPress is a blogging platform that has been around since 2003 but has really seen an explosion of use recently. A lot of the explosion is due to the proliferation of blogs that have popped up over the last few years but that is not all of it. WordPress was originally developed for blogging but it has evolved into much more over the years and is now what I would consider to be a full fledged CMS or Content Management System.

So you can use it to manage your blog, big deal!

Well, it is a Big Deal because it is not JUST for blogging anymore. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is one of the easiest and best bloging platforms out there but its real power lies behind the scenes. WordPress allows you to create static pages, upload and manage media (graphic, audio and video files) and is one of the most extensible systems I have ever seen with thousands of free Plug-ins to help it do pretty much anything you want from enhancing your SEO to having an online sotre.

So what do I care? Why is WordPress so special?

It has a lot going for it here are three solid reasons to use it:

  1. WordPress is Free to install (even to host if you don’t mind having a domain on your site) and easy to implement as an add-on application through many Web Hosting Control Panels.
  2. WordPress is supported by a huge community of Open Source developers that are constantly adding and improving the already impressive and modular system.
  3. WordPress is focussed on usability and user testing (something that is not often found in an open source application)

The most recent explosion of use is not by bloggers (although they may have a blog on their site as well) but by businesses looking for an inexpensive way to get the most out of their website. And you really can’t beat WordPress for that. There are hundreds of Free “Themes” that allow you to essentially Skin your installation of Wrodpress any way you want. And if you are looking for something more customized to your business, WordPress can handle that too. Many web developers can develop a WordPress theme as easily as coding any other type of website but the beauty of WordPress is that once the design is done and set, you don’t have to depend on a third party to update your site, you just dive right into the password protected admin area of your site and update pages as easily as using a word processor. No coding knowledge required.

More and more WordPress is becoming the most economical way to either join the internet age or to enhance the online properties you already have and no matter what it is you are doing on the web, WordPress is a great place to start.