Five reasons to hire an expert to build your website

After more than 10 years building websites, and over 5 years creating sites for clients, I have seen lots of weird and just plain awful decisions when it came to businesses building sites. The reasons are varied, but it all comes down to experience and time, so I thought I’d try to offer a little advice from someone who has had to fix mistakes that range from insignificant, to massive.

Here are five things that you should consider before you build your website:

1 – Not all website hosts or servers are created equal
Deciding what website host to go with is a major question for anyone, and to start out, it’s hard to discover the right choice without making mistakes. After years of changing hosts, I finally discovered that my own dedicated server was the right answer, but not everyone can afford that solution, which is why a website developer can be a huge help, even if you just consult with them first for options.

On top of that, shared hosting has a multitude of drawbacks, including security issues, and speed problems, since most shared servers are packed with users. Take a few minutes and ask around before you choose your website host. If in doubt, ask at least 3 experts and pick the best answer among them. As a word of warning, while a shared environment can be cheap, I personally deal with hacked websites on shared servers numerous times a year.

2 – Installing a content management system can be a complicated process
While there are lots of mistakes you can make when building a website, setting up a content management system, like WordPress, can be troublesome if you have never done it before. General problems can include not setting up the directories right, forgetting to finish setting up your theme, or maybe just not keeping WordPress up-to-date, but it can lead to a lot of issues. The most common issue is that your website just looks or acts weird, but beyond that, you could end up making your whole site less secure, which can lead to hackers taking over your website or injecting malicious code into it, which will infect anyone who visits the page.

3 – Website security is all-important
Every day, there are people out there trying to break into insecure websites and servers, and WordPress sites are a major target. Simple security mistakes can lead to hackers corrupting your website, which can mean serious down time. If you want to take care of your business, you should be serious about security too. Security mistakes include your decisions about passwords, keeping scripts and plugins up-to-date, and even where you host your website. By extension, your website is only as secure as the server it’s on, so an outdated web server can be a big problem too.

4 – You need the right tools for the right job
Just because you’re using a secure connection on your website doesn’t mean your website is totally secure–a secure connection is only as good as the system using it. As one example, I worked with a major organization who had been using a secure connection to receive credit card information through a normal web form on their site. Ultimately, it only took a couple of months for a hacker to find that insecure form and take the data, which meant a lot of work for that company to then build a proper solution for accepting credit card payments, and to rebuild trust with their customers. A website developer can select the best tool for the job you need.

5 – Website developers and designers can get the job done quicker
Every business is different, but it’s safe to say that all businesses need to make money, and wasting your time building a website is likely not in your best interests. That wasted time could be spent making sales or being productive, and a website developer can also complete the work far faster. Additionally, a website developer can help you design a site that works well, generates interest, and will look right in all the necessary browsers.

These are my top five things to think about when you consider building your own website. Unless your company is in the business of building websites itself, chances are good that it’s best to leave this work to someone who can make your life easier. If you need some help, even just for a consultation, contact Phoenix Gate Studio here.


What does SEO really mean for your website?

Content is King
There are two kinds of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), if you ask me.

One form of SEO is the necessary work that happens when you build a new website or update your website’s theme. This involves adding the proper elements to the site to help Google find your content easier, and it also includes basic plugins that help users adjust the SEO settings for each page–like the focus keyword–right from the page in the content management system.

The other form of SEO, however, is when you hire someone to stand on the digital street corner of the internet so they can try to attract attention from anyone who happens to be zipping past.

Comparing these two options, some could say that both are essential, but they offer vastly different results, and the price tag reflects how much effort goes into each as well.

For your average developer to set up your website properly with basic SEO options, you’re looking at work that can be completed in hours, whereas the promotional form of SEO could take hours each month, depending on how much you’re paying for (including back-links, blog articles, and so on).

As Smashing Magazine discusses in their latest article, The Inconvenient Truth About SEO, this is something more website owners need to think about. As writer Paul Boag says right away, “a lot of website owners see search engine optimization as the answer to their search ranking woes, when things are considerably more complex.”

“The inconvenient truth,” Boag goes on to say, “is that the best person to improve your ranking is you.”

As Boag explains, and as I can attest from my own experience running The GATE, the best way to increase your rank in Google is to create great content that is optimized for the readers and users, and in my opinion, for you to share it through social media to help build an audience.

Initially, especially for a new site, there is not usually much of an audience for most websites, so generating early traffic often means building it through social media and sending emails to existing clients. The catch right away, and what we come back to again, is that without great content, you really have nothing to share in the first place. Poorly written articles by SEO companies will rarely impress anyone, and they don’t provide any great details for readers, while interesting, thoughtful content will almost always generate sharing and user buzz.

This whole idea, however, also depends on social media integration with your website. Even the best content will not always ensure that users are going to take the extra step and copy your URL down to then paste it into another window where they have Twitter or Facebook ready to go. The best strategy, therefore, is to write intelligent content, and have social media sharing tools available on the major content pages of your website. This applies whether you are selling a product or a service, or blogging about the latest fashion news.

Back to Boag’s original point though, SEO techniques employed by third parties can work–there’s no question that they can increase traffic, but they’re built on the idea of manipulating Google’s system to make it believe that your website is relevant for a given topic, even if it’s not. To retain that position, it’s rare that you can then just sit back and stop paying the SEO company for their work. Without ongoing steps, when Google’s algorithm changes, it’s common for website positioning to fluctuate, and that means your paid-for position could suddenly crumble to nothing.

In the case of Black Hat SEO, the far worse implication is that your website could be penalized by Google and demoted entirely from a given keyword or search term.

As Boag says though, it does not have to be complicated. “Google’s aim is simple: connect its searchers with the most relevant content,” Boag writes. “If you are more worried about a good ranking than providing relevant content, then you are going to be fighting a losing battle.”

If you read Google’s webmaster guidelines, Boag points out what will work for you over the longer term: “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines” by creating “a useful, information-rich website, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.”

In other words, have a website that is filled with real information that will satisfy readers and interest potential buyers or advertisers. This is a vicious circle, since you may be starting with no traffic to begin with, but if you’re going to start anywhere, it should be with your content.

From my perspective, that’s why I encourage companies to start a blog on their website, have regular news items posted at least once a month, and find ways to build a reader base of interested people.

This all leads back to the most important thing I tell new customers: if you can’t produce content of your own and promote it over social media, then hire someone who can. A smaller investment in content and social media is a lot cheaper than SEO work, and it can produce far more worthwhile results.

My sales pitch here is that I can help you and your company produce great content, and I can help you build a social media presence with hundreds–or maybe even thousands–of engaged readers and customers. The benefit to this approach is that you can actually take control of your own social media channels and your content at any time. You don’t even need to learn anything about SEO–you just need to approach your topic honestly, and offer information that people want to read.

Read the rest of Boag’s article for the rest of his tips on creating content and the hazards of SEO, and otherwise feel free to have your say in the comments or contact me here.


Perigee moon

Perigee moon
My closeup of the perigee “super” moon from Saturday, May 5 in Toronto.

The photo has been cropped to give a nice zoom effect since I was only using a 200mm lens.


Google: A comedy of errors

Google’s Engage program, and more specifically their Google Engage for Agencies, is an incredibly useful tool for businesses starting out in the SEM industry. I’ve been working through their materials for a while now, and it comes with some great benefits, including local training events, webinars, and a few useful tips.

During a recent promotion though, which really had little to do with Google Engage, I found out where things just don’t connect when it comes to Google.

The whole thing started when Google Engage sent me a kit for a promotion they’re doing. While I don’t consider the promotion incredibly compelling, since it’s geared exclusively for new customers and has little benefit to me (pulling in a thousand dollars from the promotion only earns you a chance to win a Chrome laptop, while twenty thousand only gets you a chance to win a trip to Google head office), my real issue was with the execution of the whole thing.

When the box arrived for me, with a nice glass water bottle, twenty promotional flyers for clients, and a (missing) Google pin, I was a little surprised when I had to pay a COD fee, especially when I didn’t even know what was in the box. That’s when things started to get silly.

Apparently, Google did not intend for Canadian residents to have to pay this fee, which was effectively customs fees, so after writing to them to complain, they apologized and offered me a $50 code for Google goodies from their online store. They also then said they were sending me a refund for what I paid.

I looked around the Google store, but decided to wait a little while to pick something out, and then a couple of weeks later that “refund” came in the mail. Some genius decided to send out a domestic United States Postal Service money order, and the key word there is domestic. Since Canada has no USPS, I basically have a money order I can maybe some day use when I go back to the U.S.

Jump ahead another week or two and along comes a letter apologizing for the mistake, plus a Visa gift card. On the bright side, I was obviously able to finally use that gift card (although it said it was for $5 more than it was actually good for), but then came the final stupid little last kick in the teeth.

As it turns out, that Google code for $50 works fine, but guess what? Shipping on a $50 item to Canada, the cheapest rate available I might add, is $77.80 by ground. Shipping by air, you ask? That would be $210.79. What’s funny is that this is just to ship me a backpack that maybe weighs, what, a pound at most?

While I still appreciate what Google tried to do, and the effort of the contest overall, it just makes me wonder how a company could get a few simple things so incredibly wrong. When Google works, it works incredibly well, but this is an example of how the behemoth company may need to get just a little more organized if they’re going to work with those of us in Canada–which frankly is a lesson any company should consider if they want to make the most of their business in a new marketplace.

Google Water Bottle