Posts Tagged ‘Website’

Maximizing your website’s mobile audience

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Recent data suggests that 50% of website page views are now being made on mobile devices. I know what you are thinking, “So what, most people doing these searches have smart phones and aren’t they designed to see everything as If you were on your home computer?”. Unfortunately the simple answer is both yes and no. Not so simple, right. Let me ‘splain’… No it’s too much, let me sum up. Yes, smart phones are designed to have most of the internet functionality as your desktop computer. But at the same time, the functionality of your smart phone is more limited in general and more importantly the screen size is significantly smaller than your desktop.

These limitations coupled with the fact that your site is decked out with a brilliant layout, graphics and possibly animation means that when a potential client attempts to view your site from their phone, after hearing from a friend how amazing your product/service actually is, they might not be able to make any sense of what they are seeing.

With all of that in mind you can begin to see why it is important to make sure your customer facing pages are as mobile friendly as possible. So the obvious question becomes, “How do I do this?”. Well, I am glad you asked because otherwise this post would be nothing more than just another self-indulgent rant.

To answer your so brilliantly posed question, as with everything else, there are many ways of doing this but for the purposes of this brain dump we will boil it down to its simplest terms and cover the main two:

  1. Separate Mobile Site
    A separate mobile site is pretty self-explanatory. You create a completely different version of your site specifically for mobile devices. This can be done as simply as a text only HTML version of the site, a more complex version that also includes some graphics or as elaborately as fully customized version of the site design that is modified for a smaller screen. The first two ways can potentially be done without a great deal of technical knowledge (even by those hanging on to old school Static HTML sites) but the latter will almost certainly require the skills of a professional for either the graphics modification and/or specialized coding.
  2. Specialized CSS
    A Specialized CSS or Cascading Style Sheet — which is just a fancy name for a list of instructions for how things are to be displayed on your pages — is usually the weapon of choice for most entrepreneurs because depending on how your site was created, it can be the simplest to implement and for more daring site owners, something that they can handle themselves. The best part of doing things this way is that it is scalable with your site. Meaning no matter what content updates or changes you make to the main site, the same changes will automatically be available on your mobile site. This is because rather than redirecting users to a totally different version of your site, you are simply modifying the instructions for how things are displayed. Rather than an animation, you show a static image and rather than crazy layout art and special effects you simply show the content.

Once you have decided which way to go on your site (and possibly built it)  the next step is to do the Tim Gunn and “Make it Work”. Implementation of your mobile site is a little more daunting in general for those non-technical folks out there but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as adding a JavaScript to the header of your pages or as complex as setting up a special dynamic page (.php or .asp) that is used to determine what type of device is viewing the site. But fear not, either way you decide to go there are many examples available across the net for you to download and integrate in relatively short order. And for those of you lucky enough to be using platforms like WordPress, there are plugins available to take all of the guesswork out of either option. Some more advanced plugins allow you to create specialized templates that effectively create a totally separate site while others will  simply serve up a Jenny Craig version of your content with the click of a button.

As with most things the simplest option is usually the best but simplicity is relative. If you have a really complex site, it might make sense to create a custom mobile version of your site but for most entrepreneurs the simple modification of the way existing content is displayed is all that is needed to serve the purpose.

No matter which way you decide to go the needs of your audience should trump anything that you think or heard you should be doing. I know, I know, you are thinking, “Well that is kind of cryptic, so what exactly does that mean?”. It just means that you should  make sure to always include a link to the full version of your site in any mobile version because there is nothing more irritating than being redirected to a stripped down version of the info you are looking for when you have the desire and capability to view things in all of their glory.

So why are you still hanging around on my blog? Get to it. Get started making your site more mobile friendly and make sure you keep your share of that 50%.


5 Ways to Make Business Blogging Work for you

Friday, January 27th, 2012

So you have a business blog but can’t quite manage to add content on a regular basis, welcome to the club. More and more companies are jumping into the blogosphere to aid their online marketing efforts but as with most things, just creating a blog is not enough to see any real benefit to your company. To really make your blog work for you, you need to update it on a regular basis. So then the $64,000 question becomes, “How do I do that?”. It can actually be simpler than you think. Here are 5 easy ways to keep those cards and letters coming:

  1. Write what you know
    I know it sounds like a simple statement but think about it. When dealing with clients and potential clients, how often do you find answering the same questions over and over again? If you are like me, that answer would be “quite”. So if you are answering things on a regular basis, there must be some value to what you are saying so why not write it down for posterity? Whenever you find yourself repeating an answer that you have given to other clients time and time again, make a note and VIOLA!, you have a topic to write about. Talk to a few customers in a week and you might find yourself with a whole treasure trove of untapped brilliance just waiting to be shared with an unsuspecting world.

  2. Editorial Calendar
    An editorial calendar is a simple concept used in marketing departments worldwide but somewhat of a foreign concept to most small business owners. What is it you ask? It is nothing more than an outline to follow for communications each year. It usually refers to content being developed for e-Newsletters, websites and other publications to help plan how to roll out content for products, services and events throughout the year. Once such publication is a blog so why not take advantage of this useful tool and create an outline for yourself for the postings you want to generate? You can sit down and think through anything you have planned for the upcoming year (or even just quarter if you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself) and simply jot down topics that relate to your products, services or events that you want to promote at each time. And then as things evolve, you can evolve with it and simply adjust the calendar to work with any new pressing topics that may be more important that your original. The important thing is to make a plan because once you have that done, you are half way there.
  3. Contributing Authors
    Platforms like WordPress allow you to provide limited access to colleagues, employees, partners, customers or friends  so that they can become contributing authors on your blog. If they have something to say on your topic, why not make use of their expertise to help expand your reach. They can login, add their post to the system, then you can approve the content before it goes live. It is a win, win for everyone involved. You give them a voice and they help you by providing different perspectives on things that are important to your clients and potential clients. And if your existing clients are willing to contribute, you can expand the reach of your most effective (and unpaid) sales tool, word of mouth advertising.
  4. Media Content
    Can’t think of anything to say (or you spell like I do)? No problem, why not just give your audience what they really want? Turn on that webcam that came built in to your new laptop and serenade them with the dulcet tones of your industry acumen. Let them get to know the real you (and if you are like me you can share your impeccable comedic timing while you are at it). It is not only an easier way for you to communicate complex thoughts – because lets face it, you are amazing at what you do and sometimes text is just not your medium – it is also the perfect vehicle for potential clients to get to know you before they decide to do business with you.
  5. Scheduling Posts
    The biggest problem entrepreneurs face when it comes to blogging is the time to do it on a regular basis but that kind of commitment is not entirely necessary especially when it comes to platforms like WordPress. One of the most amazing and overlooked features of WordPress is the ability to schedule posts. Now I know what you are thinking, “Great, but what exactly does that mean”, well hold your horses I am getting there (if you haven’t noticed from previous posts, my wisdom is something that trickles out slowly amidst bursts of comedic brilliance). By default any new post is added “immediately”. This just means that at the time you decide to publish, it captures the date and time of that moment and uses it as the time stamp for your posting. What most people do not realize is that they can edit the post time and even set it for a future date so that your post can go live whenever you want. So, “big deal, what does that mean to me and my time, right?”. Well, what it means is you can sit down for an hour or so when you have the time and bang out any number of postings from your list of questions you have jotted down or the editorial calendar you have painstakingly setup and set them to go live over whatever period of time you see fit. Ideally you should be posting at least twice a week but that is a pipe dream for most. But you can make the most of what you have by staggering the release. You can sit down for a few hours at a time and have blog postings that will automatically post to your site over the course of a month or more. Going on vacation? No problem. Schedule postings to go while you are gone and let your site continue to communicate with the search engines and do your marketing for you while you are away. Have a conference coming up or a really big project, no problem just set that crock pot of inspiration to slow and get to work.

So now that you have some ways to get the content out there, you have no more excuses. Share your secret cache of knowledge with the world and build your thought leadership, website influence and customer relationships all at the same time.


Enhancing client interactions through social media promotions

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Most every business these days have finally broken down and entered the social media arena in one way or another but just setting up an account is not enough to truly make the medium work for you. Sure, setting up the accounts alone can help you with SEO initially because every footprint you make in the name of your company can have a positive impact in that area but that is a short-lived benefit at best of you don’t commit. The only way to really engage clients and potential clients in this brave new world is through regular updates. These updates can take a great many forms from syndicated blog postings for outlets like Facebook or simple re-tweeting of relevant information on Twitter but one of the most effective ways of interacting is through the old school use of a simple promotion.

This Ain’t Your Mama’s Promotion

Historically promotions were done in the form of a drawing. Clients and potential clients would need to go to a physical location in order to put in their entry and this was a great way to not only bring in new potential clients and reconnect with existing clients but it offered the opportunity to actually speak with the people involved. Unfortunately as things evolved into direct mail and then to email, this interactive component was lost for the most part and participation waned. Enter Social Media. The use of social media in business is working to bring some of the interactivity of yore back to the silicone landscape of today’s hermit rich environment. True, you still may not physically see the client or potential client (at least initially) but it is allowing an actual conversation to begin rather than the unidirectional neediness that businesses were directing into the cyberspace ether.

Make it Work!

I can see some nodding heads. You are seeing the potential but you are not sure how to do the Tim Gunn and Make it Work. Well, that can be a little more tricky because what works for one type of business might not work for another but in general contests are pretty universal. Contests are the oldest marketing trick in the book because they work. You set up a scenario, ask people to enter and they can potentially win a prize. It is as simple as that. And they work because the only thing you want to get out of it is the interaction with the people who participate.

A Shamelessly Self-Serving Example

As an example of how I interact with my clients each year, I give you the 12 Days of Mas Chris. This is a contest that was born out of a friend of mine wanting me to post a picture of myself on Facebook wearing a Santa hat. Seems like a rather innocuous request but as with everything else in my life, I took it to the extreme and posted multiple. They were so well received by friends and clients that I began the 12 Days of Mas Chris in which I would post a new photo of myself in a different Santa/Holiday hat each day for twelve days (And from there it evolved to be me also being inserted into different TV or Movie scenes wearing a holiday hat).

After all 12 days have been posted, people are able to vote on their favorite photo once a day for 5-7 days. I do a first, second and third place drawing from the entries and award prizes to the lucky few. In this case I give first place $50 toward any upcoming work, second place $25 toward upcoming work and third place a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Along the way clients comment on the photos and it allows me the opportunity to interact even if I am not currently doing any work for them.

The contest is so successful that I have clients asking when it is going to start because they enjoy my ridiculous photos almost as much as driving around their local neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights and have incorporated the 12 Days of Mas Chris into their annual Christmas traditions.

I enjoy creating the photos almost as much as clients and friends seem to enjoy seeing them each year and I get the added benefit of the additional interaction so it is a Win/Win/Win.

The Moral

The moral of the story is that no matter what you decide to do whether it is a simple concept or a very complex one, running promotions through your social media outlets can have a very positive impact on your customer relationships and you might just have a little fun along the way.


Crock Pot Marketing: A fix to and forget it appraoch to online marketing

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Marketing is the bane of most entrepreneurs existence. On one hand it is necessary to communicate with your potential customer base while on the other hand it can be an incredible time suck taking you away from the business of running your business. It needs to be done and as the business owner you are the ideal person to get potential customers the info they need, so what is the answer? I can name that tune in one note…Automation.

Marketing, Marketing, Will Robinson

Ok, so maybe Robbie the robot is not exactly the type of automation we are talking about here but a factory analogy is not too far off. Think about it, the key to marketing (once you have figured out your message and the best way to present it of course) is messaging consistently over time to your potential customer base. The problem that most entrepreneurs face is the same issue that plagued the manufacturing industry in years past, volume. And how did manufacturers resolve the issue? Automation. So why not apply a similar principle to your marketing efforts? I know I am not making an apples-to-apples comparison here but you get the idea. It is all about having the time to generate the appropriate volume whether it be physical product or marketing content. We have established that the key to marketing is the number of touches (and no, not bad touches) you make with a potential client over time but just because you want to connect with them on an ongoing basis does not mean that you have to come back next week at the same bat-time and same bat-channel to bang out more brilliant insights. It is hard enough for entrepreneurs to get into a marketing frame of mind for their own business (even if that is what they do for others) so why not maximize that time when lightning strikes and begin filling a crock pot with marketing gems so you can set it to cook slowly, releasing your brilliance as it heats over the course of an automated campaign?

Recipes for Success

Ok, now you are sold. You know you can count on one or two good days each quarter when you can not only concentrate on marketing your company but you are actually interested in doing it. You have the ingredients, now all that is left is to find the right appliance to turn your marketing recipe into the culinary masterpiece you know it to be. So what are the Consumer Reports best buys for automated marketing:

One of the easiest ways to automate your marketing efforts is through Scheduled blog posting.  Blog platforms often allow you to set a date and time for your postings to go live. WordPress is especially good at this. You can hack out 10 blog draft blog postings and then schedule them to go live at the date and time of your choosing. This allows you to sit down on that one day a quarter and get it all out, all of the industry innovations, customer epiphanies and other nuggets of brilliance related to your business that have been building up but you had not been able to release to the wild. Then once you have extracted every last drop of insight, you can go through and set your wisdom to a slow drip so its magic fingers will touch your clients as regularly as possible. So then you can get back to the business of running your business secure in the knowledge that even though you are not even thinking about marketing anymore, your clients are receiving the benefit of your experience. And once your marketing build up reaches a critical level again you can just rinse and repeat to reset the circle of life.

Email can work in much the same way with the added benefit of your appliance restarting itself for each new subscription so each individual feels the magic fingers at the exact same rate and in the exact same order no matter when they turned on the heat. How does this miracle appliance work you ask? The simple answer is “AutoResponder”. Now I know what you are thinking, “hey, wait a minute, that is what I set when I go on vacation, how can that possible fulfill the promise that you have laid out?” But worry not, the name might be the same but the function is drastically different. Email providers like MailChimp, aWeber or even a more involved service like 1ShoppingCart allow you to set up serialized  autoresponders that run as a result of a subscription to a given email list. These autoresponders generally allow you to set up multiple emails as well as a time delay from the initial subscription so that they can be sent in the order you want them received and with the appropriate time delay between each so your touches can trickle out at the proper rate.

Social Media
Social Media content distribution can also be automated  as an additional prong in your email and/or blogging efforts. Most blogging platforms and email providers offer options for direct social media integration so as soon as your blast of radiance hits your blog or email system, the same information can be immediately distributed to your different social media outlets like Facebook, and Twitter allowing you to magnify your audience all while you are focusing your time on servicing existing customer and business needs.

The bottom line is that through small time commitments and simple automation, entrepreneurs can effectively market themselves without sacrificing the business they are trying to build in the process.

Whats the deal with QR Codes?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

By now you have probably been exposed to the latest in marketing technology although you might not have been aware of what you were seeing. What am I talking about, you ask? Well, have you seen this strange black and white squares that have been popping up at the grocery store, on cutting edge marketing materials and sometimes even on TV recently? I thought so.

What are they you ask? They are known as QR Codes or Quick Response Codes. And those seemingly innocuous squares carry hidden meaning to those in-the-know and anyone with a smart phone can become part of the “in” crowd with the click of a camera shutter.

********* Warning useless digression approaching **********

To the uninitiated they are simply the next generation of bar code but to really understand how they developed and how they can help you, we need to get Mr. Peabody to fire up the Way-back Machine (and leave Sherman behind this time).

The concept behind the QR Code actually originated back in the 90’s and at that time special information was being encoded using a somewhat standard product bar codes but it required a special device called a CueCat to access the special information. This was problematic because the CueCat had to be attached to your computer to work and at that time your average home computer was somewhat less than mobile. So what did you have to do? You had to buy products (sometimes they were even used in magazine ads), bring them to your computer and make a concerted effort to find the Easter egg (if it eggisted at all). The devices were even given away in some places in order to promote the use of this new marketing technology. Needless to say, I am probably the only one left that remembers them because they were such a dismal failure. Another product of technology not being able to keep up with itself.

Fast forward to present day where everyone you meet has a smart phone that is 10x more powerful than the Gargoyle you were attaching your CueCat to back in the day (which was a Wednesday as I recall). Not only that but you would be hard pressed to find a regular cell phone that did not have a built-in camera now. Finally technology has caught up to the brilliant idea.

Digression complete, you may now return to your regularly scheduled posting

So how can you make the most of this technology that has finally come into its own? Well, as is usual with most really broad questions, it all depends. Everyone can make use of these lovely little squares of wonder, you just have to decide what you want to do. Unlike the CueCat enabled codes of the past, QR codes can reveal much more than just a URL. With a QR Code you can encode:

  1. A URL. This is the most common use. Whether for a website proper, a product micro site or a social media page you can get users looking at what you have to offer right from their phone anywhere and anytime they encounter your square of destiny.
  2. A secret message. Yep, the next generation of invisible ink is here and there are no special pens required. Send a special message for people “In the Know”, provide a special offer for those with the ability to find it or maybe pass on a special code to accessing special content about your products or services.
  3. An SMS. Yes, you heard me right. you can encode a phone number and message into your magic block so that you no longer have to say “Text 2323 to 900-555-1212” to get your special prize. People can just point and click their way to entering your contest.
  4. A Phone Number. Most smart phones are designed to turn any number that even remotely resembles a phone number into a link that can be dialed with the single click. This type of QR Code take it one step further and does not require that you even have the number. Just scan to get the number and click to connect. Now THAT is Quick Response.
  5. Your Contact Info. The easiest way to get your contact info to a prospect. They scan the code and a new contact is automatically setup with your Name, Address, Phone and Email. What could be easier. These are great for business cards. Who needs a special card scanner when a quick click with your phone does it all and allows you to call NOW, not in 3 days when you get around to scanning the card back at the office.
  6. An Email. Depending on how their phone functions, you can even queue up an email with a click that will populate the email address it is going to, the subject line and the body. The best email based contest entry vehicle even. People walking by your both at a trade show and click to enter rather than stopping to fill out a form that you might not be able to read anyway.
  7. Your Geographical Information. Map it, Baby! Can you imagine having your office location encoded so that with a click it opens up a smart phone mapping program and plants a flag at your location so that it is quick and easy for people to get to you?

So, I guess now the question becomes not “How can I use it?”, but “How Can I get my own code?”. Well, that is easy too. There are a number of places online that will allow you generate your own codes for FREE. You just put in the info you want encoded, click a button and presto your code appears ready for download in a format that can be used in print or on the web. In fact you can even find one right here. Just look at the resources menu above and click the “QR Code Generator” link – or anywhere it is linked (like here) in the body if you are super lazy.

So what are you waiting for an engraved invitation? The only limitation for using QR Codes is your own imagination. So get out there and get your own magic square now!


Building your business without getting lost in the minutia

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Every entrepreneur wants to build their business but most new businesses have to be very lean in order to get off the ground. Unfortunately for most businesses that means doing without key things that can help their business thrive but that does not have to be the case. Just because you do not have the specific skills needed for a task and you cannot afford to have a full or even part-time employee around to get the things done that you need does not mean that you have to do without. There are inexpensive options available to give you the help you need so you can focus more on the business of building your business.

Picture it, your office, now. You, focusing on meeting your clients needs while your daily office/business needs are effortlessly handled by an unseen force? It is an amazing feeling right? You, focusing on the stuff that made you want to start your own business in the first place, not a care in the world. Sound too good to be true? What could this amazing unseen force be? It is none other than your Virtual Assistant. That’s right, your heard me…Virtual. And I am not talking about The H.A.L 9000 or some scary SkyNet kind of thing that will take your data in a desperate plot to take over the world. I am talking about highly skilled professionals working from home that can remotely help your back office run at peak efficiency.

Think about it like hiring a temp from an agency but rather than getting basic computer skills and the task for providing office space and equipment, you get someone with experience doing exactly what you need done who provides their own equipment and can help you at just about any hour of the day (within reason of course). You can find VA’s with skills that run the gamut from very broad skill sets to help you take care of stuff that piles up and keeps you from getting to more important things to very narrow specializations to help you with more of a surgical focus and everything in-between.

Need someone to answer the phones so you can get out for a few hours a day unencumbered?
No problem. There are many ways in which your local business calls can be routed to a VA so they make appointments, take messages or anything else you require.

Perhaps you have great marketing ideas and have no clue hoe to implement them?
That’s not a problem either. You can find marketing writers to help with your website and other marketing content.

Does Social Networking completely elude you?
You are covered there too with social media experts who can not only get you setup with the likes of Facebook and Twitter but will also keep it updated for you to keep your presence fresh.

Bookkeeping not really your bag, baby?
You can find a VA to handle your payables and receivables to ensure that you are always in good standing with your vendors while making sure that your clients are in good standing with you.

Web Guys getting you down?
You can even find someone to make your website updates for you so you don’t have to pay outrageous maintenance costs to unscrupulous web developers.

And instead of paying for someone 25-40 hours a week, you only pay for the time you use and the rates are very reasonable. So what all can you get? The sky’s the limit. If there is a need, chances are the is a VA out the that is specializing in easing that pain.

And the list goes on. If you need it done, chances are there is someone out there with the expertise you need, ready to help.

So what are you waiting for? You can get exactly the help you need without the unnecessary overhead so have a seat at the table, tuck in and help your business grow.

Zen and the Art of Email List Maintenance

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Many business owners new and old ponder the age-old question of how to build and expand an email list for their online marketing efforts. While the question of building a list is important, the more important thing to consider out of the box is how to maintain it once it inevitably reaches critical mass (what can I say, I am more of glass is too big kind of guy).

Now some people like to stick with the old capture an email one at a time and maintain the list offline is something high-tech like a spreadsheet way of doing things. This is very time-consuming and leaves you open to all sorts of human error issues from forgetting to add a name to the list all the way to forgetting to unsubscribe someone. Others may  have a custom application that captures the information in a database to try to keep the issues at a minimum and lessen the time it takes each month to maintain their list but this way still requires you to handle subscribes and unsubscribes somewhat manually.

All this time spent maintaining your email list can defeat the purpose of having one in the first place because rather than being able to concentrate on your business and making your clients aware of the latest and greatest, you are spending all of that quality marketing time (that could be spent on developing your promotion or enhancing your product) on making sure that the little old lady in Pasadena (who may not even get to her email for days at a time) is receiving your less than well thought out message. So what is the answer? When in doubt go to the professionals!

As I have stated in previous posts, a veritable gaggle of reasonable priced companies have popped up to fill this void. Now I know what you are thinking,”Why would I have a company do nothing but maintain my list?” and the simple answer is that you wouldn’t. The companies I am talking about specialize in email delivery but they offer this business saving service FREE as a part of using their service. And small businesses can easily find FREE Trials (like AWeber, VerticalResponse, and GetResponse for example) and depending on your list size and mailing requirements FREE forever (like my personal favorite MailChimp).

So seriously, how can they help?

  1. Well, to start they will allow you to import your existing list so you breathe a little easier.
  2. Then they provide you with a form you can place on your website to use for capturing email information. This is key because information submitted here goes right to your list and if you have more than one, that can be delineated as well to make sure that people who wanted to hear more about your great Green Bean Casserole recipe can be separated from those interested in your 14 ways to deal with household insect incursions.
  3. Once people are subscribed they can be sent a verification email so you can be doubly sure that they wanted to receive email from you and are not just the innocent victim of a vindictive co-worker who knows they have an irrational fear of overcooked legumes and singed them up for your casserole recipe list as a way to get back at them for not sharing their Shamrock shake…but I digress.
  4. And in the event that they intended to subscribe but your recipes somehow remind them too much of their dearly departed aunt Flo (the Green Bean Casserole Queen of Tallulah Falls), they can use a link provided to unsubscribe from your list.

With all of this functionality at your finger tips, you are now no longer a slave to the innumerable changes to your list each month. Now you can focus on the business of marketing your products/services secure in the knowledge that the list you use to disseminate your pearls of business brilliance is the best list it can be each and every time you setup a new campaign. And who knows, with all this extra time you may want to start another list or two with which to dazzle the masses with your new-found love for croquet mallets.


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.

How can I do an Email Newsletter, let me count the ways…

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

One of the most popular methods of building an email marketing database is through subscriptions to an email newsletter. They are a great way to connect with new potential customers but how do you get started with one? Once the decision is made, you can get things going in pretty short order, but as with most things you need a good recipe to get things just right. And the best way to ensure a tasty dish, as I may have mentioned in previous posts, is to think it through before you start. So whats to think about, right? You want to increase your email database and what you have to say is definitely monumentally important to anyone with half a brain so you should just make it happen, right? Well, not necessarily. If you take a little time to think it through before you start, you can make your first endeavor into the world of email marketing a much more successful one.

So let’s think it through a bit:

I know you want ti increase your email database, but is that the only purpose behind your need to shower unsuspecting readers with your thought-provoking prose? Think about your ultimate goal in adding to your email database. Is it to drive traffic to your website, increase sales for specific products, interest potential attendees in upcoming events or to simply a way to stay connected with your client base by informing them of what is new and happening with your company?

What type of content do you want to present? Just because you have a good idea for an article or two in the inaugural issue does not mean your newsletter will have legs. Make sure that the concept behind the newsletter is scalable enough to include as yet undetermined topics for your concept. You don’t want to develop a newsletter entirely around the “pitfalls of baking 3″ diameter apple tarts during the winter solstice” when a slightly broader topic like “3” tarts” will allow you the fluidity needed to keep your readers interested with a broader range of topics throughout the year.

How do you want your newsletter to be read? It seems like a simple enough questions but it is one that can have a great impact on how your particular brand of literary brilliance is received. There are a number of ways to format a newsletter, all of which are good, but what works best for you is entirely dependent on the content you plan to provide. The two most common types are the All-in-one and the click-through.

The all-in-one type brings all of the content of the newsletter right to your subscribers inbox. They allow the subscriber to easily digest the information for quick action.These work very well for company announcements, affiliate sales and newsletters with fewer articles or shorter content. The advantage of these is they are entirely encapsulated so they are easy to read on the go with various wireless devices.

Click through
The click-through type of newsletter is one that provides a summary of each article with a link to continue reading. This type of newsletter generally has both an email and website component It is more suited to newsletters with a great deal of technical content, a large numbers of topics or longer more in-depth articles. Although it can be more time-consuming to maintain, this type of newsletter allows for additional benefits outside of simply bolstering your email database. With this type of newsletter you are driving traffic to your website with each click and once they are finished reading your newsletter, they might decide to stick around and see what else you have to offer at that moment in time. It also allows for the possibility of both broad and targeted advertising based on topic rather than just the broad type of advertising that the all-in-one might deliver.

Now that you have done your due diligence: you know your purpose, you have a scalable idea for ongoing content and your format is set, it is time to get busy. Your next steps are to come up with a catchy title, some awesome design and a way to make it go.

Catchy title – Check! Forget the marketing angle, the brilliant name you came up with is probably the whole reason you decided to do the newsletter in the first place, right? 🙂

Awesome design – Check! You know a kick’n designer that can make that brilliant title sing. All you have to do is give him the name and the next great content vehicle is as good as done! And if you don’t think you need the next great design, that is not a problem either because there are ways of making your newsletter talk even if it in NOT one of the pretty people.

Way to make it go – Uh, oh! How do I do that? Well lucky for you this ain’t your mama’s content distribution method. There are a great many ways to give your vehicle wings and none of them require jet fuel. If you don’t have a bunch of technology black belts lying around just waiting for you to come in with your next flash to brilliance then you will want to consider using a third-party email provider to deliver your newsletter and more importantly maintain your email database.

There are an ever-increasing number of providers out there to suite this need and the one you go with depends a lot on you. Most have tools and templates for creating simple HTML newsletters (in case you do not feel the need for design ecstasy in your template) but all will help you manage your list. You can find solutions to fit anything from a large enterprise implementations that service lists in the hundreds of thousands (like YesMail, Silverpop and ExactTarget) all the way down to lists of less than a hundred. The trick is to read the features available for the cost and decide what works best for your list and mailing needs. Small businesses can easily find FREE Trials (like AWeber, VerticalResponse, and GetResponse for example) and depending on your list size and mailing requirements FREE forever (like my personal favorite MailChimp). Functionality varies from service to service but they all do a good job of helping you get your word out.

The best part of hosted services is the list maintenance. They allow you to set up your list with boning or preloaded with an existing database. From there they provide you with ways to create subscribe forms that can be used in your online marketing efforts, auto responders that can be used to carry a link to a free gift and all the while they handle any unsubscribes that come through to make sure that you stay CAN-SPAM compliant.

After the due diligence for your new newsletter us done, make sure to check out some of these email providers to see what works best for you needs:

5 more great WordPress Plugins

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

In a continuing effort to improve both user and usee experience with WordPress sites, I offer a few more handy plugins to help make life on both ends of the site a little easier.

WP-Spam Free
Those of you who have comments enabled for blog postings on your WordPress site know just how annoying comment SPAM can be. Yes, you heard correctly, SPAM (it’s not just for email anymore). But fear not, as with most things WordPress…there’s an app for that. Just like the filter on your inbox, WP-Spam Free will weed out the Viagra and Mortgage company ads (along with any other comments that don’t pass the smell test) that bots try to post to your site as soon as they get wind that there is a form to be submitted. It is great for you because it keeps unwanted content from showing up without your knowledge or in the case of having moderation setup, it will keep your inbox free of most of those blog born irritants. And it is great for your clients and potential clients because they do not have wade through drug and porn ads to find that diamond in the rough comment that they are looking for to make sense of everything they are reading.

Ever wonder about those “Tweet” buttons that appear on some blog posts (like the one to the right), well that is a great little plugin called TweetMeMe. What it does is add that nifty button to each of your postings and then it is kind enough to track the number of times other people thought enough of your latest rant to share it with their friends. All your visitors have to do to spread your wisdom is click the button and login to their Twitter account (assuming they are not already logged in) and there, like a virus, your knowledge finds its way to more willing hosts.

CForms II
OK, so how many of you are frightened by the prospect of adding a form to your site and even more troubled by the spew of nasty that is returned to you in email when your brilliance is rewarded with an inquiry? Worry no more. Contact Forms II was designed with you in mind. Now all you have to do is select from a list of field types, decide the order in which you would like them to display and you are off to the races. There is even an easy interface for setting up the email that comes back to you with those awesome results!

Looking to jazz up your posts to include a photo of the author or maybe want to look really awesome when responding to your blog comments? Well, if you answered “Amen, Brother” or some other type of affirmative response, UserPhoto is the plugin for you. Simply install it and you will find additional fields at the bottom of your account editing screen. All you have to do then is browse for that photo that just screams You and you are set. Let it upload and BAM (to borrow an expression) you are looking more sharp and professional than anyone has the right to be.

After the Deadline
For those of you bemoaning the fact that Spell Check is missing from the WordPress bag of tricks, cry no more. After the Deadline not only finds all of those textual faux pa’s but it also will school you on improper word usage to help you make the most of the brilliance that is leaking from that overstuffed brain. Just tell WordPress you want to publish your post and After the Deadline, like the Gentlemen’s Gentleman that it is, will scan your prose for things it finds to be naughty in its sight and allows you the opportunity to snuff it before your error is seen by the masses waiting for the next installment of the cool that is you.

Now that is what I call putting the Fun in Functionality. So don’t just sit there, strut on over to (or start your search right from your own sites admin interface) and take the first step toward enjoying making your site more enjoyable to use.