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Back in the saddle again (or “What happens when your host is no longer fulfilling your needs”)

Back in the saddle again (or “What happens when your host is no longer fulfilling your needs”)

Okay, here we go.  I know, we broke our rule on blog writing… again.  We but we adhered to another cardinal rule in business: keep your clients happy.  And we did this over the last 2 months as we positioned all of our offerings to reinforce this core value at Chewie Media.  A pillar in our services ecosystem that this became most obvious was our hosting offering.

Chewie Media offers a completely managed hosting service for a nominal fee, or completely included in our monthly website plans.  This is part of our desire to take the headaches out of website building and design.  Being a completely managed hosting service, this can sometimes incur significant time investment from us during times of site migration, unexpected content loss by our clients (hey, mistakes happen!  That’s what we’re here for), or the occasional security breach (I’m looking at you, SSL).  We also have to make sure we are up on some of the latest requirements by governing bodies such as the new Canadian anti-spam laws which put some of the onus on the website hosts running email services, such as us.

 

Drupal has been a cornerstone of our development platform for years, and some of our developers, primarily myself, have been working with Drupal for almost a decade.

 

I mention all of this because we ran into an issue with our service provider – we lease out servers as a way to provide more value for what is paid, and to ensure that one singular point of failure would be unable to bring down any website.  This issue had been cropping up now for the previous few months – websites were responding slower than expected and large-scale websites were noticeably sluggish.  We were unhappy with this situation and had worked previously with techs at this service provider to remedy the situation.  All attempts to fix this sluggish response was met with responses such as “Drupal is known to be slow, this is a software issue.”

We knew this wasn’t the case; Drupal has been a cornerstone of our development platform for years, and some of our developers, primarily myself, have been working with Drupal for almost a decade.  Drupal can be slow if configured incorrectly, but in the right hands it can be snappy and powerful.

Eventually we had to look elsewhere.

 

if we are available to our clients at 3:00 am in the morning during an emergency, then our service provider should be right there as well if things get hairy (and not the good, four-legged kind).

 

We went with a company which has been known to work with Drupal and other CMS frameworks, and has had significantly good reviews.  Scratch that, we actually ran tests on multiple providers before settling on this one.  We decided to test out a different offering from MediaTemple, Bluehost Virtual Servers, and StormOnDemand Virtual Servers.  We decided number one had to be speed, but a close second had to be service; if we are available to our clients at 3:00 am in the morning during an emergency, then our service provider should be right there as well if things get hairy (and not the good, four-legged kind).  Our third option was customizability; how well would we be able to customize things to get precisely what we wanted out of the service provider.

Sparing the details, we were amazed with what we got out of the service and technologies provided by StormOnDemand.  They completely overshot what we had experienced from our other two test cases, and confirmed our suspicions that all of the websites we were hosting should be able to respond quicker.  For most of the websites we host, we encountered a 200% increase in speed.  This increased to 800% for large-scale websites, and over 1000% for e-commerce websites – the results were simply staggering.  As we began focusing on e-commerce websites and other large-scale sites with over 10,000 pages per site, this was an amazing development!

 

We believe in the long run, the payoff in performance and added client satisfaction should more than make up for the amount of time invested by us up-front.

 

Why this was exciting to us was that we were then able to provide this increase in service back to all of our clients without charging a dime.  However, the man-hours to make this change were significant, but this is one of the differences between self-serve hosting for your website and fully managed hosting by us.  We believe in the long run, the payoff in performance and added client satisfaction should more than make up for the amount of time invested by us up-front.

Making a change like this, while also providing our usual website development and design services to our clients has kept us busy, but we hope to not use this as an excuse with neglecting our blog in the future.  As always, I am here to answer any additional questions you may have; I’m watching the facebook and twitter feeds for all of your website questions.

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Nothing worth doing… or Mistakes business owners make with their website and how it may be costing you money

We all know the sayings.  Time is money, nothing worth doing is easy, let the experts be the experts.  As a business owner, you may have romanticized about the idea of spending all of your time doing what you love.  Spending coffee-filled mornings on the laptop answering emails.  The truth is that there is very little time for coffee or emails; you must wear many different hats in a day, especially when you are running a small business – and unfortunately, none of these hats can be silly.  You are your own marketing, accountant, PR, secretary, account manager, project manager, etc.  This leaves very little time to actually do the thing that got you into starting your own business in the first place!  As business owners, we become obsessed with the need to do everything ourselves, to be able to wear all of those hats proudly and with confidence.  We strive to save money and do a great job all at the same time.

This also becomes a cycle that begins taking more and more time away from the actual “business” part of the business.  It eats into hours of potential productive time while we learn that new role, or try and accomplish a task that someone who is an expert in their field would take a fraction of the time doing.

Sometimes, it’s better to hire someone to wear that hat for us.

We’ve been bombarded with services that offer the “do it yourself website.”  It costs next to nothing and you get a website.  I already talk about treating your website as the biggest marketing tool you have, but beyond this, not hiring a professional website builder to build your business’ website may be costing you some serious money.  Here are some costly mistakes, and how easy it is to make them.

 

1. No Call to Action

It’s simply incredible the amount of websites out there that serve to get potential customers to purchase a product or service without actually asking that potential customer to purchase the product or service.  Not telling a visitor of your website what you would like them to do can leave a customer looking elsewhere when they were ready to make a decision.  On top of this, a large portion of small businesses do not even list their contact information on the front page.  These businesses are turning people away at the door.

 

2.  No Ongoing Support

The best way to avoid costly security breaches is to make sure the website is protected in the first place

Chewie Media has changed our preferred method of building sites to a monthly plan instead of a lump sum in large part because it keeps the websites updated and maintained.  Have you ever visited a site and had the link go to a completely different page or domain?  This is the result of that website being hijacked – and with no trained professional to prevent it, that website is down and inflicting damage on the company’s brand and credibility.  If this hijacked website gets too out of hand, Google may even choose to “de-list” the website, making it difficult to get that website back on search engines without costly emergency support.  The best way to avoid costly security breaches is to make sure the website is protected in the first place.  Preventative care costs a mere fraction of what it would cost to fix once it has happened.

 

3.  Set it and Forget it

Similar to number 2, most businesses have a “set it” and “forget it” mentality to their website.  They get it online, breathe a sigh of relief, and then let it sit for a year.  A stagnant website is a dead website and if visitors never see activity, they are quick to move to the next site which does have activity.  With so much to choose from, they can be as picky as they want.  Which brings us to…

 

4.  Poorly Designed and Developed Websites

A properly designed website can give you the confidence to bite off more than you thought you could chew… and that’s really what we’re about here.

This is a big one.  There are so many websites out there now that it is imperative to at the very least look as good as your competitors, and ideally set yourself apart from competitors.  Website design influences the first feelings a person will ever have about your company *cue warm and fuzzy music*.

This is your storefront.

This is what will inspire confidence in your future customers.

This will set the tone for your entire relationship with them.

Yes it sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.  A properly built and designed website can have you handing out business cards and dropping your domain name with confidence.  A properly designed website can give you the confidence to bite off more than you thought you could chew… and that’s really what we’re about here.

Have some honest friends and colleagues look at your existing site through the lens of a first time customer.  What does your site say about your business?  Does it say what you want it to say?

 

5.  Doing it yourself

Cheap website solutions and do it yourself options are attractive to the checkbook at first, but spending evenings and weekends figuring out how to use whichever special form of “drag and drop” the website service is using and then getting everything to sit just the way you like it can add up quickly.  Time that could have been better spent on the business.  On top of this, every update further adds to this tally.  Unfortunately, all of that hard work still doesn’t hold a candle to websites designed and developed by professional website builders – and if your competition is using one, they are going to be the ones that stand out, not you.

 

6.  No Analytics/No Metrics

How many people visited your site yesterday?  How did they find you?  Where did they find you?  What did they do on your site?

These are import questions that you should be armed with when making changes to your website.  Activity on your site can tell you what pages are popular and effective, as well as what pages may be causing people to leave and why.  Finding out where your customers are coming from can inform your marketing decisions by focusing on certain areas, or even keywords.  This can also help inform if you should run a sale on a specific product.  Say 50% of your customers are coming to your site in search of widgets, you would know that a sale on your most popular widget might increase sales.

It is amazing how many businesses do not have this information.  A properly built website can provide this information and more – making your website begin working for you.

 

7.  No Mobile Optimization

More and more traffic is now being delivered by mobile devices.  38% of our visitors are using smart phones to find us.  Despite this trend, a very large portion of websites, and especially small business websites, do not have the capability to display properly on a phone or tablet.

There are more pitfalls than this for a business looking to build their website, but this is a great start and a good starting point.  As with most things in life, you get back what you put in – put in the effort with your website and it will become your best marketing tool and amazing storefront.

I genuinely care about your web presence and about making it the best it can be.  Leave a message in the comments below if you have any questions, or contact us with your exiting project or questions if you would like to know more about what we can do to make your website exactly what you want it to be

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Expectations VS Reality – The “Client’s Dog” rule and giving your website a chance

We develop and design websites every day that we are excited about.  This isn’t fan-service or corporate speak for “we take your project seriously, so hire us.”  This is the truth.  Sure, we work on projects that have parts of the project that we aren’t crazy about.  I’ll admit that too.  Sometimes a design or development requirement occurs that makes our concern level rise about the project.  The joke in the website design industry and around the office which I will now refer to as the “Client’s Dog” rule is that every client wants something on their design that can be seen as inappropriate or out of place for the design.  Sometimes this is a mascot.  Sometimes it is the owner.  Sometimes this is a picture of the owner’s boat, favorite sport’s team, or other interest.

Usually it is a pet.

 

We realized as we reflected on our role in facilitating that rule, that we have also embraced this rule for a couple of other clients with strong success

 

We realized a while into referring to this rule that this is in fact a rule that we have broken to the nth degree with our business.  Chewie is a pet, and the business does not only have her on the site, but is also actually named after her.  In this case, she is my pet. We realized as we reflected on our role in facilitating that rule, that we have also embraced this rule for a couple of other clients with strong success.

And we also realized something important that day.

Despite the state of any project we are involved in at any given time, and despite the level of “Client’s Dog” that is taking place within a project – we are universally excited about the project that goes out into the world.  Every. Single. Time.  We get attached, we work programming magic to make things better or more robust than the project calls for.  We make lists capable of handling hundreds of items, when there will only ever be 4 items.

 

We build websites that we want to see on the internet.  And because of this, our excitement usually mirrors that of our clients’ excitement.

 

We make images that expand and contract automatically when these images will hardly ever change.  We build websites that we want to see on the internet.  And because of this, our excitement usually mirrors that of our clients’ excitement.
And this is where the thrust of this entry is found.

Websites need to be given a chance.  We’ve been conditioned that since everything is so quick with technology, that our amazing website that has everything and the kitchen sink will also be able to climb the ranks of google in one day and sit atop that lofty throne like the champion that it is.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  The case is that the brand new site that just got created is now competing with all of the other existing websites out there of its kind.  And those have been around for a lot longer and have a lot more content and a lot more money spent into crafting how content has been created to show up when someone looks up anything to do with their site.

 

This helps organic listings.  We make sure meta-tags, descriptions, relevant content, location tags, and structure all fall in line with what google likes.

 

Google is not instant.  It will crawl a site, but it will take time to decide on how your site should be ranked.  Age has something to do with it, frequent, relevant content has something to do with it.  And sometimes it just takes a while to see how the site will be situated in the rankings.  Having a properly built website is the first step; we make sure that is taken care of.  This helps organic listings.  We make sure meta-tags, descriptions, relevant content, location tags, and structure all fall in line with what google likes.  The second step is of course your content: updates are important.  The third step is SEO and advertising.  This can be done with google adwords and campaigns.  This also can be done with advertising – the more people that hear about your site, the more visitors you get, and the more Google ranks your site.

 

Rome wasn’t built in a day and unfortunately, Google rankings can’t be as well.

 

But this all comes back to expectations.  We expect this to be instant.  The doors open and suddenly the internet basks in the glory of that new website.  New website smell bursts through the google ranks and into the homes of the entire population of planet earth.  This doesn’t happen though, Rome wasn’t built in a day and unfortunately, Google rankings can’t be as well.

However, this isn’t a bad thing – this is a great thing.  This means that you can appear at the top as well.  Just continue doing the right things: building a quality website, doing quality work as a business, and being good to your clients.  And much like your company, your website status will grow.  Spend some money on SEO, but get the word out there too.  You will see monthly visitors grow.  And this is the important metric – not total visitors, but comparison from previous months.

Because even if 200 people see your site in a month sometimes, that is 200 more people who know about your business than a month before.  And the next month those are 200 or more people again.  Your website is an amazingly powerful marketing tool that can be used to get your message out to everybody that can possibly get to your site.  But it’s still a tool.

So give it a chance. 

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The three most important questions

The three most important questions to ask yourself when hiring website designers and developers:

Most of the times when we are asked about building a website, the first three questions we receive are: When can it be done?  Do I need to do anything?  How much will it cost?

These questions pop out within the first five minutes, and are unfortunately anything but easy to determine.  Whether we like to admit it or not, a project like this does not usually have quick answers to number 1 or number 3.  The short answers are usually “when do you need it by” and another answer telling you “typically between ‘x’ and ‘y’, depending on how large of a project it is”.  This brings me to the three important questions you must know the answer to in order to make any meeting with a developer/designer as beneficial as possible.

What kind of website do I want?

The most important thing to ask yourself when looking to build a website is what kind of website do you want?  By kind of website, I am referring more towards what you hope to get out of the website than what type of business or setup it may be.  Are you looking for:

  1. A quick method to get your presence online
  2. An extension of your branding with little to no added features
  3. A platform that you can use to direct your online strategy for years to come

The average designers and developers are automatically assuming it will be part way between the second and third option, or solely the third option.  When you ask any of your other questions about price and time, the answers you receive will be based on this assumption.

How much do I want to spend?

The second most important thing to ask yourself is “how much am I willing to spend to get what I want?”  This is a difficult question to ask, because there is usually someone out there who knows “a guy” who can do it for a fraction of a cost.

 

you can get an idea of the quality of work they do from looking at their website

 

This dynamic influences what the end cost is expected to be when going elsewhere.  I am here to tell you that much like anything else in life, not all websites are created equal; nine times out of ten you really do get when you pay for.

It’s up to you to define your budget, but if you go into it with a budget clear from the get-go, you can even meet with developers/designers that look to be within your target price range; the easy thing about hiring a designer/developer is that you can get an idea of the quality of work they do from looking at their website (and portfolio).  Once you end up meeting with them, don’t be afraid to mention what you’re looking to spend; it will lead to a more informed proposal from them and let you know how far your money will go from company to company.

When does it need to be done? (We are flexible)

Most website designers and developers are flexible.  We have a sometimes frightening ability to create time where there seems to be no time.

 

The next question is when this really needs to be done by.  I know everybody would like it “as soon as possible”, but specifically find out when you want the site to launch.  Is there a grand opening, anniversary, or launch party planned?  Let the designer/developer know what the specific deadline is, as this will both prevent a project from dragging, but it will also allow for them to keep you on track for when they need content.

Most website designers and developers are flexible.  We have a sometimes frightening ability to create time where there seems to be no time.  If a project really needs to be done in three weeks, we can recite the phrase “we shall double our efforts” and a forty hour work week turns into a sixty or eighty hour work week.  Because we can seemingly hit most deadlines if they are viewed important enough though, it does not mean that it is any less work to finish a project because we found a way to shave 2 weeks off the project timeline.  If anything, it was more work.

What does a website mean to you? (Bonus Question)

In a time where your website will ultimately be seen by more potential customers and clients than any other form of marketing, it can easily be said that it is the most important aspect of your brand behind the logo itself.  Former first-tier tools such as business cards, flyers, decals, stickers, swag, and commercials are now used as a method to direct people to your website; your website tells someone everything they need to know about you.

And you control what they see when they get there.  As website designers/developers, we try to make it memorable.

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