Author Archives: Kathy Sweeney

Website Security

Website security is essential

It is just common sense.   In any serious business venture, you make sure that your business is secure, you lock the door when you leave, padlock the gates and take measures to keep your customer information, and company data safe and confidential. It is vital to take the security of your website just as seriously as you take the security of your bank accounts and customer lists.  It might sound somewhat dramatic, but website security is truly ignored at your own peril, and failure to implement security measures risks not only impacts your website, but also your company’s reputation and customer confidence level.

A website acts as a window into your organization for site visitors. The more secure visitors feel your site to be, the more likely they are to become customers, shop, participate, share, and use interactive features.  Some absolute musts are to Post Privacy Policies and Terms of Use for site visitors, invest in Security Badges and other “Trust” certifications, especially if you take credit cards. All of these steps are reassuring to customers and site visitors, some can even help fight both fraud and spam.

But,  your website is more than just a window for customers, it is also a window for hackers, spam bots, and other dangers such as credit card fraud.  Keeping your website secure requires a pro-active and comprehensive strategy, which should be documented in policies and procedures and reviewed periodically. Continue reading

Things to think about

Some questions to Ask Yourself before you go shopping for a website.  The answers will help you to understand important factors to determine which services, software, server and development options will fit your company website.

    1) What role will this website play in your business?

  • A point of contact and advertisement, similar to a yellow page listing
  • A storefront for products or services.
  • A portal for taking payments over the internet?
  • A blog, entertainment or informational site.

2)      How much time, staff, and energy do you have to not just to start, but to maintain your site.
4)      Do you want special features, such as a help chat or streaming video?
4)      How many pages and or products will need on your site? Who will write your copy?
5)      What are your targeted audiences?
6)      Do you already have branding, artwork for your logos and other graphics?
7)      What tone will you set?  Button down or Flashy?  Serious or fun?  Store front or Lounge?
8)      Do you want advertisements for products and services other than your own on your site?

Content Management Systems

Let’s just say everything on your website is content (pictures, videos, articles, links, products, etc.).  A “Content Management System” (often referred to by the acronym “CMS”) is software that helps manage content on your site.  You could just use static or custom-built pages to build your site, but for most companies, a uniform look and easily updated content is preferable to the expense, time and risk of having someone editing site code every time an update is needed.

There is an almost endless list of programs to choose from, some of my favorites to use are Drupal, WordPress, and for ecommerce Zen-Cart.  I use them because they deliver flexible, secure platforms.  All of these software solutions are open source projects, and provide the framework and tools for the social media interactions, articles, products, pictures, slideshows and videos on your website. “Open-source” refers to their licensing rights and generally means that they are free to use, even for commercial use. Those of you who have doubts about using open-source for your business might be surprised at the major enterprises who have embraced it.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the programs mentioned are established, well-documented open-source platforms, supported by communities of developer gurus. Each of these programs also represents different approaches to content management, and requires varying levels of technical expertise to use them.  All of these factors of support, reliability, technical expertise and functions that you need are important considerations whether you go with an open source or proprietary paid solution.

Technically speaking, Zen-Cart is actually an example of “Ecommerce” software (sometimes called a catalog or online store) rather than “CMS” software. There are also “message boards” or “bulletin boards” such as phpBB that are not technically considered a CMS.  Most major CMS’ also have ecommerce or message board plugins. If this is not confusing enough, any of these types of software can be used to make a website independently of each other, or with the use of plugins or some coding, be integrated with each. The right developer can help make one or more program appear seamless to your site visitors while maximizing the features from the different programs.

So, how do you decide what content management solution is best for your business?


First, you will need to do some brainstorming and try to create a list of everything you want your website to do for your business, now or in the future.  It is important  to  ask yourself, what you want your web site to actually do for your business or organization.  This will help to not only determine which functions or features you’ll need to use to  maximize your websites potential, but also what your budget might be.

 

To determine your CMS needs, start with the easy questions:

  • Are you selling a product or services online? Will you need to track inventory or assets?
  • How do you want to you engage with your visitors? Some examples might include:
    • Social media
    • Chat/Help Desk
    • Videos
    • Newsletters
    • Contact Forms
  • Do you want to offer subscription services or other pay wall publications?
  • How much do you have in the budget for maintaining the website?
  • How will you or your employees use information that is gathered or published on your site to improve sales and customer satisfaction?
  • Will you or staff be updating the content on a regular basis?
  • Will you want to track your traffic and / or develop online advertising campaigns?

After you’ve taken stock of your needs, talk to a developer or three, or even ten.  Ask them specifically what programs that they would use in building your site. Ask them how much they would charge to develop and or maintain your site. Ask them for bids. Ask them to show you examples of their work.  You will probably find that you will get a wide range of variance in prices, experience and expertise in your survey.

With careful review, you can narrow down the field considerably to find the right solution for you and your organization. The real trick is recognizing your needs are and which programs can fulfill them. Just because WordPress or any other program is a popular choice and has ecommerce plugins, doesn’t mean that you can manage stock levels, or generate the sales and tax reports you need to manage an online store. Asking and answering these questions not only helps to choose a CMS (or developer) for your site, they also help plan your budgets and marketing strategies.

Logo for manystrucking.com

Many’s Trucking

manystrucking.com

Website for a small trucking company.  Unofficially dubbed the “yellow pages site” because of the colors and well as the function requested. Initially started as a Xoops installation, site was migrated to wordpress in 2012. Themes and Graphics by Katdidit – Hosted and maintained 2009-2017.

Cheeseman Insurance Agency

Cheeseman Insurance

Part of the flexible heading for Cheeseman Insurance

WordPress  Custom responsive theme, logo, and graphics. Directory of companies represented with contact and payment information created with custom post types and meta-data. Social networking integration, SEO optimized content and Google Maps for geographical location and to boost visibility.

www.cheesemanagency.com/

Web-hosting Lesson Number Two Homework

Before you can choose a web-host, there are vital questions that you need to ask yourself to determine what server environment will best serve your needs.

Which web-hosting company or even package to choose, should be based on answers to questions that only you can answer about your business.   You will need to consider your budget, and your resources to promote your site once it is finished.  You should consider not only your present needs and goals but, also any long term goals that you have for your business that might require an expansion or other changes in your web presence.

Technically speaking, the first question you should ask,  is so obvious but it is surprising to me how often it is overlooked;  what function(s) or role will my website play in your business?  Perhaps you want an online store to sell your products.  Or maybe you just want a quick way for your customers to contact you find out information about your business.  Maybe you want an forum, calendar, newsletter or other  interactive social networking marketing tools to promote information and discussion about your business. Or maybe you want it all and more.

Are you planning on selling products with size, color or other options?  Do you want a help desk or chat to interact with your customers?  Do you need a secure connection for customer interactions?

Keep in mind that there are many pre-packaged “web-site in a box” solutions available by different web-hosts that you might be tempted to try, but these products are generally limited in their flexibility and functionality and before you choose one you should ask about any quirks or customizations you might need  or want to sell your products or interact with your customers.

The second question is equally as obvious, and is usually the first concern of small business owners and start-ups, what is your budget.  Web-hosting pricing varies substantially, and is only a small portion of the costs associated with starting and maintaining a web presence.  Other costs you will need to consider in your budget can include, but are not limited to,  security certificates, software, content development, graphics, and of course,  design.

Shared vs. Dedicated Servers and the Cloud

Unless you are moving an already established, high-traffic domain with a lot of content, or have the need for the added security, or you just happen to own your own server, the cost of dedicated servers is often an unnecessary drain on the company coffers.  A good alternative to a dedicated server for high traffic sites is “the cloud” which usually charges by the resources that are used over a period of time, and comes at a slightly higher price than shared servers but less than a dedicated server.

Most web start ups are fine using a less costly shared hosting environment.  If you are lucky enough to need it later,  it still can be more cost effective to use a cheaper alternative until you really need it and then pay a developer to move your site to a dedicated or even a cloud environment as you grow.

“Unlimited”  Space and Bandwidth

Space refers to the amount of files and data that is stored on the server.  Bandwidth is the resources used to display and transfer information between the server and the end user. Whether it is uploading or downloading, every page load, every submitted post uses bandwidth.Many companies will tell you that they offer “unlimited” of either or both.  They really do not, but most good hosts have high enough limits on both,  that you do not have to worry about unless your site goes viral, and offer options at an extra cost,  to manage the traffic if you do.

Research your web host.  (Google is your friend.)

Step one. Enter the name of your prospective webhost and words such as downtime, security, support and “status log”.  Step two, read the results with a grain of salt.

You should especially look for a status log by the web host.  It will not only give you an idea of how often they experience outages or other problems, but it also shows whether the company is responsive to problems.

The fact of the matter is that downtime can and does happen in any hosting environment.  Server downtime can be caused by any number of factors,  human error, hardware malfunctions, and of course, hacking vulnerabilities.  Complaints made by posters on sites that rate web-hosts  could just be a rival web host trying to redirect you their own service.  Look for articles about it on Wired or other tech sites, about problems, or from websites that developers frequent, or multiple un-resloved complaints across the internet probably means that you want to avoid that host.

Talk to a web developer before you decide, and then take their advice.  Its what we do for a living and often we have questions insights as to what is needed to accomplish your goals that you might overlook.  We also have probably dealt with different hosts and have our own preferences as to which ones we would prefer to use.

Try Managed Webhosting

I can help you avoid headaches and heartaches by hosting your site.
Advantages are your site will be monitored always up to date.
Basic WordPress Managed hosting plans starting at $150 per year!

    Let's get started and explore your options!



    Web Hosting Lesson Number One No Go Daddy

    Before I spend any words or time on the more viable web hosting companies, or even the technicalities of web hosting,  please,  on the behalf of web developers everywhere, please,  do not use Go Daddy as your web host.  If you want to buy one, or a dozen of their “cheap” domains, fine.  But quite frankly in my experience, and many others, their web hosting services have some pretty big drawbacks.  For me the biggest ones were the (lack of) support, and that GoDaddy imposes limitations of some very common and vital software functions necessary to secure and optimize sites.   But in a major tribute to their level of commitment to making my job harder, and if possible, even more annoying than these major shortcomings,  is the complicated layout and constant “up sell” of their control panel.

    The most problematic  of the above complaints, is that the support sucks.  There is just no other way to say it.  Not only do they not fix the problems, they seem incapable of even understanding the problems are. It seems their support is geared towards “damage control” and “it’s not our fault” rather than “problem fixed”.  On the several occasions that I’ve had the displeasure of working on a GoDaddy hosted site, 100% of the  support responses that I received from them did not even address the issues mentioned in the original trouble tickets in the first round of emails, and  the initial response took around 3-7 days to get. And if you call them, best have your wallet out, and two or three hours to spare.  In every case, Google provided more support than did GoDaddy’s support.

    The last, and I mean, the very last time, I worked on a site that was hosted by GoDaddy, I told the client that if he did not switch hosts, he could find another developer.  This was a series of emails which contained the details of a very basic, specific, and common WordPress vulnerability problem that required a simple fix on their end.  All I wanted was to know if they could provide the solution, which other hosts that I used at the time had already provided.  At no time over the course of over two weeks, two phone calls and five emails, did they ever address the problem, provide an alternative solution or even directly say yes we can do it, or no we can’t.

    Maybe their “Website tonight” cookie cutter products are better supported, or easier to use, I personally have never used them, mainly because my clients usually want more bells, whistles and other customizations than they provided at the times I looked at it.

    But honestly, the best advice that I can give you on web hosts is not to use GoDaddy.

    Of course, GoDaddy isn’t the only less than perfect webhost.  There are many others out there that are even worse!  Even companies that seem to be O.K. at first can, over time, either start to get behind in technology or worse, over crowd their servers resulting in those servers lagging or crashing.

    At this moment, I could tell you go to HostGator, or IXWebhosting, who are my choices for their excellent services, technical support that actually give you answers and fixes.   But the internet, the technologies and the companies that provide them can change quickly, and often do.  Before you sign up for any web host you should really do your homework.

    Hello world!

    Welcome to Kat did it, this is my first post and design has commenced on katdidit.com version 2.0.  First version being a Drupal, done just for fun in red (my favorite color).  But after the fun was done, I knew that for my needs for this site, Drupal was a bit cumbersome and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Drupal is a powerful tool, with many built in features that allow you to customize almost any feature or application that you can think of, the coding is elegant and it is well documented with robust development.  But unless you are have a need for customized rss feeds, unlimited content types, and other specialized functions that only Drupal allows, WordPress will work just as well, with about half of the programming time for most websites.

    I chose WordPress for the new site because it is flexible and low maintenance, SEO savvy code. And well, this is, after all, just another blog.