Posts Tagged ‘Small Business’

Are You SURE You’re Using the Right Web Hosting?

If you’re like most business owners, it’s the hundreds of little things that keep you up at night after the office has closed for the day. One of those “little things” we often hear about is the concern over web hosting.

“How do I know I’m using the right host for my website?”

web hosting

Unless you have spent time educating yourself on the latest technology (and it constantly changes), you are probably unaware of the best route to go with web hosting because you’re busy running your company. I’m a believer that we should be investing our time and energies into our strengths and let other professionals handle unfamiliar areas if those areas would suck up too much of our precious time to self educate. After all, would it cost you more time and money to pay an auto mechanic to install a new transmission on your vehicle than it would for you to research how to do it yourself?

Allow us to offer you 7 tips to ensure you’re with the best web hosting so you can check off one of those “little things” and get some shut eye:

First of all, What Is Web Hosting?

A website host is a company providing services to ensure your website is visible, operational and secure online. If your website is “down,” users can’t access it. There are many providers offering web hosting services ranging from free to hundreds of dollars each month. So how do you decide which is right for you?

1. Pricing Options

With all the expenses that come with running a business, this factor is important when choosing a host. We all want a great value, but you also get what you pay for.

  • Virtual Private Servers (VPS) are an option for those who know what they’re doing. For example, if your website ever goes down, you are solely responsible for fixing it. This service starts around $.08/hour and is the best choice for those of you wanting to build your own server for the purpose of having your site as sole user of resources. With a VPS, you set it up exactly as you want, controlling all settings and specifications.
  • Entry level shared hosting under $5/month is going to get you banner ads, slow load time on your website, and downtime. This option is typically for starter bloggers or simple, small websites with very little traffic. Mid level shared hosting on the other hand is similar, costing around $10/month, but will get you faster load time, no banner ads and guaranteed site up time with better security. Many small businesses fall into this category.
  • Mid level managed hosting usually costs under $100 and will ensure troubleshooting when bugs arise, speed of your website, security, and guarantees up time. This option is for those companies wanting a hands off approach, where everything is handled by your host.
  • Business class and professional hosting usually require a dedicated server typically running over $100/month. This option is particularly helpful when companies have a lot of traffic on their website. This also includes cloud based servers.

2. Bandwidth

Most web hosting services are moving toward unlimited monthly bandwidth these days, and that’s the best value for your website especially if you are a growing business. Some hosts still allocate how much bandwidth you get each month and if you exceed that, you are expected to pay for the overage. Compare options. It might save you money to start with an allocated amount, then when your website traffic picks up, switch to a hosting package that offers unlimited bandwidth so your website doesn’t lose visitors.

It might save you money to start with an allocated amount, then when your website traffic picks up, switch to a hosting package that offers unlimited bandwidth so your website doesn’t lose visitors

3. Speed

Did you know Google penalizes websites in SEO for slow loading time? Or that users will leave your website after just 3 seconds if your site takes too long to load?

Users leave your website after 3 sec of loading. Large website files could be slowing you down OR it’s your webhost

You can’t afford to lose customers because of something that can be so easily fixed. Some of the snail speed is due to poor programming and large file sizes on your website, but other times it’s your web hosting server.

Choosing a host with a locale of data centers close to you and your users is an important factor for website speed. The closer they are, the faster the speed. But also be careful of cheap hosting services because though they won’t tell you, one of the reasons they can get away with charging so little is because they don’t have up to date server hardware and their internet connection is low end.

Curious about your website load time? Check yours here (then call us if yours is over 3 seconds).

4. Number of Domains

Does your website have several landing pages? How about many domain names pointing to the same website? Consider this when choosing a web hosting package because some only allow for single domains whereas others support unlimited domains. Again, you get what you pay for.

5. Backup Services

Imagine your website going down or having a security breach that results in lost content and a mess of your website. Who should be able to restore your website to its last updated condition? Your web hosting service. If they can’t do this for you, they are not offering backup services. This one’s a must have service in your hosting package. A reputable host will backup daily, weekly or monthly depending on the price level you choose.

At the very least, you should be implementing a third party backup service like BackupBuddy (which runs about $80/year for services that cover your database, all site files, and gives you the ability to restore those backups to your same server or migrate your site to a new host. There are also free backup services like Backup WordPress that are nearly as good, but not as feature rich.

6. Security

A reputable web hosting service will provide you with malicious file scanning, intrusion detection, and a shared SSL certificate (or a private SSL and IP). But the responsibility of security doesn’t solely rest on your host’s shoulders. Your web agency should be assessing your site to ensure proper security measures are in place.

7. Web Hosting Support & Customer Service

I have been a customer of Verizon Wireless for years. Yes, they are undoubtedly the most expensive cell phone carrier out there, but they know their stuff. Every time I have called in for an issue, their customer service team is on it and my problems are fixed in 15 minutes or less. I joke that they are actually droids disguised as humans, programmed to know every answer involving cell phone service. It’s inhuman to know that much.

As unfamiliar as you might be with web hosting, don’t you want customer service like that? Do a little research before committing. How easy is it to get a hold of someone for tech support? Do they only offer forums or a FAQs page, or is email support an option? Personally, I prefer live chat because there’s no substitute for being able to talk with a human being.

So here are our top picks for web hosting services you might want to consider:

  • FlyWheel – Best Managed Host for speed, support and security for WordPress websites
  • Westhost – Best low budget value for the money with packages starting under $8/month and offering unlimited hosting space and a money back guarantee
  • Rackspace – Best customer service. Best for dedicated servers.
  • Amazon – Best VPS starting free for one year.

Do you have any warnings to share about a web hosting company you dealt with? How about words of praise for a reputable host? Let us know!

Before You Hire an Agency for Your Company Website

web developer

I really feel for those clients that come to us as their second or even third source, after getting burned by hiring previous agencies or web developers. Those clients usually present us with a half finished, semi-functional website and want to know if we can pick up where their last hire left off. As much as we want to say, “YES!” sometimes we’re forced to explain that they need to start over from scratch because their unfinished website is on lock down and therefore inaccessible. And this is AFTER they have invested money, only to realize they do not own their own website and they do not have access to change any content or make updates to their site. So, before you hire an agency for your company website, here’s a checklist of some important terms that need to be set in stone:

1. You Own Your Content

A reputable marketing agency will create a contract with you from the very beginning before any work is done protecting your rights to your deliverables. That way, once it’s complete the way you want, you own ALL content and have 100% access to it. Plus, you don’t ever have to worry about that agency going out of business because you can take your website anywhere and give them the log in credentials so they can make changes to it.

This is so important because your company’s website is your store front online. It represents your company and therefore you should be the one making changes and updates to reflect your business. If someone else owns the content, you will be paying each and every time you need to contact them to make a change. You’re also relying on them to do it promptly, and you probably won’t rank high on their priority list. So it’s best to outline who owns the content and accessibility to it from the beginning.

hire web developer

2. Use Open Source Software

Want to know a dirty little secret? A lot of web developers create job security for themselves by programming your small business website in their own custom coding, meaning they are the only ones who can make changes to it. You hate the idea of starting over and paying to hire a new agency to create a brand new website for you, so you keep coming back. But the truth is, a good agency will code your website using open source software that anyone can make changes to like WordPress (our favorite!), Joomla, Drupal, and Magento. If your developer isn’t willing to program in open source, that should be a red flag that you are being trapped into working solely with them with no option of moving your website to another agency if you become unhappy.

3. Budget for Growth

A $500 website can be tempting, especially after all the costs you have already invested in your company. But a lot of people don’t understand the difference in website costs and often get trapped into a low level cost that ends up costing more money in the long run to fix. For example, often times the upfront cost of a site is cheap because the developer offers no custom programming. You get whatever the preset theme is capable of, nothing more. Then unfortunately, when your company grows and you need to make changes and updates to your site, you can’t. Suddenly need blogging ability? Too bad. Need your company site to sell your products online? Oh well. You get what you pay for. Don’t let your website limit your company’s growth. Try and budget for an agency that can expand your company’s online marketing capabilities as you need them.

4. You Own Your Domain Name & Web Hosting

Do not allow any company to put themselves as owners of your domain name. This means you cannot take it with you and you cannot control it. It’s perfectly acceptable to pay the agency to acquire and set up the domain name for you, but be sure you are listed as the owner.

Likewise, it’s typical to have your agency set up web hosting on your behalf as they may better know what your site requires such as the hosting platform, memory requirements and storage capacity. But make sure that the hosting is done at a third party provider (we like Flywheel), it is purchased under your own name, using your own billing details and that you have full access to all of the account administration and files. The contract should be clear that you own your own hosting and all hosted files.

Having control of your company’s website is key in saving money in the long run. By ensuring these points are hammered out in a contract from the beginning, it will protect you from the cost of having to start over if you become unhappy with your web developer. It will also protect you from the anxiety of paying for a new website once your small business grows, as well as the fear of losing control of your site if your developer goes out of business.

Have any questions for us on how to move forward after a bad web developer experience? Shoot us an email or comment below. We would love to hear your story.

Branding Your Business To Stand Out

By now, we all should recognize our company needs it’s own unique image and personality in order to market with success. People are drawn to originality and will remember a company’s logo, mission phrase, or design theme (if it’s a good one). Modern marketing has wrapped this process up into a term called branding. Branding your business should include everything from your logo, your promise to your customer, the image of who you are, what your business is about, your website, your voice, etc. So how do you use these qualities to brand your business so that it stands out?

branding your business

Be Consistent

Consistency is probably the single most important tip for creating a strong branding strategy. Place your logo on everything from your website to your packaging, the sign on your store, company letterheads and email signatures. A uniform font and design theme should also be consistent. Steady branding develops a strong sense of value in a customer’s mind, allowing you to charge more for your products than the competitor without a branding strategy. Consistent branding builds trust and credibility by adding a perceived level of value that people will pay more for.

There’s also an intangible side of branding that many businesses miss. Once the company’s logo is slapped on every box and whitepaper, many businesses fail to back up their branding because the voice they portray doesn’t flow with who they are claiming to be. For example, could you imagine if McDonald’s, with their family-friendly branding strategy, posted an article on Twitter in support of China’s one child law? That would create a bit of distrust in their brand, being that McDonald’s prides itself on helping children, yet they would tweet a child bearing restriction article. So make sure your voice is consistent with your perceived brand through all intangible avenues such as social media, customer service calls and even what you wear to business meetings. It all speaks to others about who you are.

Ask Yourself Questions

As a business, ask yourself questions that your customers are going to ask such as, “What’s your purpose? Why did you create this business? What do you support? How can you help your customers?” By defining your purpose, knowing how to brand will become easier. Decide what you want your customers to know about you and be aware of any misconceptions they might already have about your field. Try to offer something different, and through clear description of the benefits you have to offer, invite customers to give your product or service a try. If you don’t have anything different to offer, try offering it in a unique way to gain that extra edge over your competitor.

Take our agency, Vegas Website Designs, for example. When we first started branding, we began as just another “website design and development” company with a good cause. There was nothing special or unique that made us stand out from our competitors. As time progressed, we settled into our niche of who we wanted to be and what we truly wanted to represent. We now brand ourselves as a digital marketing agency movement that helps launch organizations into 21st century web marketing and maximizes their online presence. We understand new customers can be found online by the boatload and business marketing has moved in that direction. It’s our passion to lead business owners to see the same and take advantage.

Branding by Association

It’s your job to get others to see what you see. If you are having trouble with that, joining a network of other businesses that support similar values and products might help. Becoming part of a network helps brand your business by referral. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing avenues and being associated with a highly referred business ups your credibility. Remember this works in reverse, too. The organization in which you choose to sponsor and support adds to your branding strategy, so choose the ones you would be proud to be associated with and that accurately portray what your business is interested in.

So, from a customer’s point of view, what does your image say about doing business with you? Is it clear? Do you offer something unique or in a unique way? Perhaps it’s time to stop thinking of your business as a product or service provider and start thinking of it as a means to educate, inform and engage people. Often times when you lead your branding strategy with the “Why?”, customers will naturally be interested in the “What”.

Tips For Launching Your Business On Social Media

Why Does My Business Need To Market on Social Media?

Social Media Tips

As an agency eager to support professional organizations, one of the first places we look to connect with them is through social media. Too often, we’re surprised to discover so many businesses either don’t have a presence on any social media platform, or their content has not been updated for months (sometimes years!). If you are a business planning for success beyond 2015, marketing on social media needs to become a priority. Already, marketing analysis is revealing 50% of marketers see improved sales from social media, and that number increases as the hours spent marketing on social media platforms increases. Take for example, the 74% of reported marketers that gained new business by spending over 40 hours each week promoting on social media, all according to this year’s social media tips report from the Social Media Examiner.

Encouragingly, it only takes as little as 6 hours per week of engagement to begin seeing lead generation benefits from social media. But if you’re not one of the businesses interacting and advertising on social media, you’re in the drowning minority. 83% of marketers report they have integrated social media into traditional marketing, with 94% of them using Facebook.

OK, So Which Platform Is Right For My Company?

So how do you know which platform on which to promote? That depends on whether your business targets business-to-business or business-to-consumer. The survey found Facebook as the most important platform for B2C, whereas LinkedIn is the most important for B2B. To gain any significant visibility on Facebook, your business needs a healthy advertising budget. The main goal here is to interact within your community, display your products and services in unique, appealing ways, and post content that interests your buyer. Twitter however, is more of a free-for-all. The more people you connect with, the better. Try to follow other experts in your field as well as prospective clients. Listening to others’ concerns and problems, then offering a solution is the key to marketing on Twitter. When marketing B2B, LinkedIn provides that professional, credible approach for networking.

How Do I Build Connections?

But most importantly, be sure to connect, follow, friend, like, comment, share and re-tweet other individual’s content to establish a natural relationship. Get to know them through their social media persona then from there, offer a solution to a problem of theirs once you have connected instead of immediately pitching a sale their way. Building relationships on social media outweighs generating leads.

Also be sure you’re not being self-serving. When you post, try to give your clients an idea of what it’s like doing business with you. Exclusively posting about your products or services turns clients away. It’s all about personal relationships on social media. In order to build on those relationships, it’s important for businesses to listen to feedback. Make your clients feel as though their voice is valued by responding to their comments and incorporating their ideas. Another way to remain generous and build relationships is by becoming an expert in your field. Offer free tips online to help your clients and build your credibility as the go-to source.

So, whatever social media platform you choose to promote your business, the important factor is to adopt a unique voice and approach that reflects your brand and keep it consistent across all platforms. And if you’re new to social media, just dive in! Create a profile, upload some images from your business and begin to post content. With over a billion users on social media, it’s proven to be simple.

Go Responsive or Go Broke

It’s time to go mobile, business owners. In 2013, we started to see companies encroaching on the mobile market and developing a new kind of website – not just a mobile version that spelled out your company’s URL with an “m” before the web address, but a responsive website. As more varieties of mobile devices are invented (tablets, laptops, smartphones), there is a growing need for a single website that will function and respond flawlessly on all devices, hence, a responsive site. Those quick to catch on soon realized if they wanted to beat out the competition, investing in a responsive website for their business early on would give them a leg-up that would last. And they were right!

Will Consumers find your business or your competitors’?

responsive design

In May 2014, Google discovered that local searches led 50% of mobile users to actually visit stores. In fact, 1 in 3 searches on a smartphone occur just before consumers visit a store and half of consumers who performed a local search on their smartphone will visit a store within 1 day. Google already knows that businesses that list local content are favored in mobile searches, so it’s important your company’s website can be uniformly viewed on whatever device your customers are using. What’s more is that 4 out of 5 consumers perform local searches on search engines, with 88% using smartphones and 84% searching on tablets and laptops. Specifically, these mobile searchers want to know when your local business is open, where you are located, how to get there, and the availability of products. If this information is not quickly found on your company’s mobile website, it’s time to upgrade to a responsive design that clearly reflects these basics. Otherwise, you might be left out of the competition as this trend will only grow in 2015.

While rooting out which website trends are most popular for 2014, the movement toward a mobile responsive website nears the top of the list yet again and is expected to grow in the years to come. Currently, there are over a billion smartphone users worldwide and counting, so companies that fail to tap into this marketing mecca are declining into a serious disadvantage. Google Analytics is a great way to gauge how urgent your need is for a responsive design by helping you track how much of your site’s traffic is currently coming from mobile sources.

Don’t substitute social media as your company’s website

Think posting all your business info on Facebook is enough? Sadly, what companies don’t realize is mobile users are searching for you by name, product or service, and if you don’t show up in local search results, then you have missed out on sales. That’s why it’s so crucial for your company to have its own space online, especially one that is responsive. This rule is especially true for companies that are in the retail or food business. Because many decisions about where to eat or where to shop are made impulsively and based upon a consumer’s mobile search result, you want to be certain your business website shows up as a mini virtual version of your store.

mobile responsive design

Social media has gone mobile. More than half of social media usage is through a mobile device. So, if you’re posting business content on a social media platform to lead customers back to you, be sure to have a responsive website so all the content will be viewed nicely and function properly on a mobile device. Otherwise, users will leave unhappy and your conversion will suffer. Having a responsive website will also give customers an easier way to contact you for comments or complaints, making it less likely they will plaster it all over social media.

Is Responsive Design Really Worth The Cost?

The truth is, making a website responsive is about as costly as making a conventional site, but in doing so, there are many costs you are eliminating. Once a site becomes responsive, the development, marketing and maintenance costs significantly decrease. Responsive design has acknowledged the open future of new devices and will automatically conform to whatever new device your customers use. So, developmentally, you will not have to duplicate your website for mobile, tablet, desktop, etc., saving you on future costs. Responsive design also offers a single code base, so your developers are no longer managing and testing multiple code bases.

Value through responsive design is also received through your company’s marketing costs. By eliminating different versions of your website, the cost of ownership maintenance and effort decreases. Not to mention, there becomes only one website to SEO (which makes Google happy). Google stated it prefers responsive design as the “recommended mobile configuration” because it makes it easier for them to index content online. And we all know if there is anything we can do to please Google, it will boost our search engine ranking.

Google favors user experience and shared with us that 48% of users stated when a website does not function on their mobile device, it makes them feel the company doesn’t care for their business. Business owners need to come to realize more and more of their customer base is coming from the mobile pool and if their website isn’t fully functioning on those devices, they’re missing out on a growing market (but their competitors will thank them!)

So, how much will going responsive cost? It depends, but a better question to ask is how much value will a responsive design bring to your business? There is a unique value that responsive design brings, especially through content driven websites. Going responsive is a great choice especially when you consider they’re no extra cost compared to most other mobile approaches. A few things are certain: you will notice a reduced demand on your time for site maintenance and content management. You will also notice an increase in marketing efficiency and greater opportunities in the mobile channel. And after you’ve made responsive design work for you, you can spend your extra time and money investing in SEO, keeping customer relations, or on family.

3 Reasons Your Company Needs an Online Presence

online presence

A recent study conducted by Verisign discovered a sad majority of companies don’t realize the benefits of having a great online presence. Many times the business lacks the technical know-how to develop a web presence, while others fear that it’s just not affordable. But the truth, backed by this research, is that those implementing it are experiencing formidable profits.

It was also discovered the companies that do take advantage of online resources elect for social media instead of their own internet space. And those with e-commerce ability choose to establish themselves on sites such as eBay and Etsy. Though these avenues are tempting because of ease of use, companies are missing out on the value of possessing their own website.

1. Great Online Business Presence Builds Trust

A Weebly survey found 56% of consumers would not trust a business without a website. Developing a great online presence goes beyond purchasing a domain name and posting a picture of your business with contact information. It should reflect a digital version of your company. Establishing your business online heightens credibility. Those potential customers who check you out online and find a well maintained website will see you as an expert instead of an amateur mom-and-pop shop. Giving potential customers a positive impression of your business makes future sales more likely. Also, having branded email that advertises your company’s domain name boosts customer trust and business credibility, making you appear as a legitimate business.

2. Online Presence Builds a Greater Clientele.

With web-influenced predicted sales reaching $1.409 trillion in 2014, those without an online presence are at a clear disadvantage. Avoiding this crucial marketing avenue is like saying, “I don’t need any new business.” Even if you are already a well-established business, coupling that with an awesome online presence will set you apart. Your company’s website is not limited to the address at which your business stands. Your online presence stretches to the ends of the earth, reaching potential customers that word-of-mouth and newspaper ads never could.

3. Great Online Business Presence Makes Marketing Easier

No matter what your message is, why you are communicating it, or what it may look like, you will be unable to engage with customers without relevant technology. If you allow your website to work for you, potential buyers won’t feel pressured by a salesman. Posting great descriptions of your products or services online lets the customer make relaxed decisions. Online marketing is also faster than conventional printing and mailing, as it reaches a wider audience in less time. Remember that online, special preference is given to local business so take advantage of the opportunity to out-do big business competitors.

Verisign also found that prior to the creation of websites, the greatest perceived inhibitor of businesses was lack of technical knowledge and cost to develop the site. However, after developing a website, only 8% of company’s respondents found the investment to develop their website as a real barrier and technical know-how concern decreased from 45% to just 22%. Even though businesses  expressed several perceived and actual barriers to developing their own space online, more than three-fourths said they would recommend investment in a website to other businesses, concluding that the value of having one’s own website outweighs all feared or actual barriers. Some other obstacles included investment of time, security and ongoing website maintenance. Finding a digital marketing agency you can trust will ease those concerns.