When I told a few colleagues the title of this blog post, I got big grins and dramatic nods without even telling them what the post was about. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve likely dealt with a hosting crisis that has fried your nerves and stressed you to the max. As a non-techie with over ten years’ experience hosting websites for clients, have I ever learned a thing or two about avoiding the potholes (because, *ahem*, I think I’ve hit them ALL)!
This is a topic that people write books about (I’ve mentioned it in another post, too), so without getting too deep, I want to share with you a few “secrets” I’ve learned along the way to avoid 95% of the issues that typically come with having a site live on the internet. Let’s start with the most important considerations, in my experience, to ensure you’ve got a good setup.
A great server configuration for your website will include:
Reliable server with good uptime that allows your site to load quickly, with minimal downtime. Not all services are created equal. You can test this by using Pingdom.com to evaluate the load speed of sites on different servers. (A great tool for analyzing the load speed of your website is Google Page Speed.)
Automated backup system that regularly backs up your site both on the server and on an alternate server (“backup” server) so that if your site crashes or is hacked, it can easily be reloaded and launched. (We have our sites backed up locally daily and offsite weekly).
If you use WordPress (and you should!) or any Content Management System (CMS), it should be updated regularly for security purposes (monthly seems to suffice). There are some ways you can have this automated, or you should have a qualified programmer that does this manually for you (it doesn’t take long, and you need someone with more expertise than a typical VA).
If you are doing a lot of media or special launches or campaigns that could drive a lot of traffic to your site, you’ll want to make sure your hosting setup will accommodate the traffic. I once had a client who was booked as a guest on a huge talk radio show, and the traffic he received during and after the interview crashed his site. Reeeeeally bad time for the site to crash. *Gulp*
Do not host your email on the same server. I repeat: Do not host your email on the same server as your website. I highly recommend using a dedicated email service to handle all your email. First of all, if you’re hosting on the cheap, you are most likely using a shared server that is also hosting hundreds, thousands, or tens-of-thousands of other sites … if any of these sites are engaged in shoddy spamming practices (and they are), the entire server will be blacklisted, affecting your email’s deliverability. Secondly, if anything at all happens to your site, your email will go down with it. A crash, hack, explosion, server outage, or any number of scenarios could bring down your site. It’s in your best interest to have your email hosted elsewhere so you still get your email while they’re figuring out what’s up with your site. (If you need a third reason, most local email hosting sucks … they have poor spam filters in addition to their poor deliverability.) My favorite solution for email is Google Apps, for about a dozen reasons I might go over in another post.
Common Misconceptions about the Cost of Hosting a Website
There are lots of misconceptions about hosting out there … the biggest one being that hosting is cheap. Renting square footage on the server is cheap, just like buying land is cheap compared to the cost of laying cable and plumbing and building the house (metaphors aplenty on this one). Here’s what is not cheap about hosting a website:
Moving your site to a new server,
Backing up your site regularly,
Testing to ensure it’s working properly,
Keeping the server up-to-date with the latest patches and software updates,
Keeping your site software updated (different from server software),
Making sure all the software and plugins on the server plays nice with your site and your CMS (like WordPress or Drupal),
Troubleshooting server-related glitches, and more
All of these things cost money. Choosing a service provider based on price alone is like picking up a puppy from the pound: you don’t know what you’re getting. What kind of diet has it been fed (translation: vet bills)? What kind of bad habits has it picked up (translation: chewed Manolo Blahniks, a bitten milk man, gnawed table leg, “spots” on the carpet)? What’s its temperament like? Has it been properly socialized? How much is it going to eat every day (translation: $$$)? How much exercise will it need? Puppies become dogs, and they’re the furthest thing from cheap.
When finding good hosting for your site, there is a LOT to consider, and most people are clueless until something goes wrong and they’re looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in emergency programming expenses to fix things (not to mention the time and energy–unplanned–that you expend resolving your issue[s]). And sometimes, God forbid, things can’t be fixed.
My friend, Laura Click (@lauraclick)just posted a great blog about a couple of new buttons you should add to your website or blog to support the sharing of your content via social media:
1) Twitter – Make it easy for site visitors to follow you on Twitter right from your website. Twitter has updated their API to allow for this functionality. This is a no-brainer – now, people can follow you on Twitter without leaving your website to do so. Zing! The snippet of code can be grabbed here: https://twitter.com/about/resources/followbutton
2) +1 – Google’s +1 button seems synonymous with the Google Plus social network, but Google is also showing +1 results in its search engine. This is significant, as the votes your content receives on your site are likely to show up in search results in the future. Here’s one you can download for WordPress.
We’re now getting to one of the most important and exciting steps in your marketing plan, and probably the one that people want to jump to most quickly before they’re ready: Creating Your Marketing Tools. If you start to develop your marketing tools without having gone through the first four steps of the process, you could be setting yourself up for a lot of expensive frustration. In this podcast, Toni and I continue our review of the Marketing Gameplan process and discuss why you should wait to Create Your Marketing Tools until step five.
I find that when my clients skip ahead to this step, they’ll usually end up wasting a lot of money and time because they just have not prepared thoroughly enough to develop the right tools. The risk you take if you don’t follow the right sequence in your marketing strategy, is that you won’t connect with your clients the way you should. You could end up having to rebuild your website (again), or rewrite your white papers, or start your Facebook page all over again. Take the time to execute your marketing strategy in the right order, and you’ll save money and time while creating more effective marketing tools — learn more about when and how to create your marketing tools in this week’s podcast:
Social Media is getting a lot of hype, and if you’re like my clients and me, understanding this medium and knowing how to leverage it can feel overwhelming. Social Media “experts” are a dime a dozen, and let me tell you: few people really know what they’re talking about. Leveraged properly, social media can be a fantastic way to grow your influence, your list, get more clients and accomplish all sorts of cool things. Toni (@tonibirdsong)and I have a few podcasts coming soon on this, but in the meantime, I want to offer a framework to help you understand social media as an important business-building medium.
I read a tweet the other day (wish I could remember who so I could give credit) that said “Social Media success is based on knowing how to relate.” Yes, yes, ding ding! The simplicity of that flipped me out — knowing how to relate. In life and relationships, we connect with others through the things we have in common, through empathizing, encouraging, sharing resources and generally being supportive. Twitter and Facebook success, in particular, is driven by this premise.
Social Media success is guided by the basic principles of relationships:
Show interest in others (engage with others around their conversations)
Be courteous and show gratitude (Thanks for RT [retweet], responding kindly to engagement from others)
Support the successes of others (RT, congratulate, engage)
Provide advice, content, perspective that is genuinely supportive and useful (blog content, tweets, quotes, opine on relevant news, etc)
Curb the hard-selling (social media is based on pull marketing – you “win” by being attractive, not forcing your message down throats)
Content marketing (leveraging your expertise into content like articles and blog posts) is an integral part of a successful social media strategy. Creating great content requires effort, both intellectually and creatively, and it requires some savvy that for many of us, isn’t intuitive – we’re gonna have to do a little brain stretch to learn this stuff.
The biggest challenge I have personally is I want things to be perfect – but perfect is the enemy of consistency when it comes to pretty much all social media efforts. We are all flying by the seat of our pants, trying to make time for social media while serving our clients, improving our offerings, creating new offerings, networking, speaking, putting out fires, and so much more. Perfection comes with time. As you make progress, you make things more and more perfect. Like training for a race, you don’t expect to be able to run a well-conditioned 5K the first time you train. You start where you are with the goal of getting moving.
The deeper we get into the social media, the more we learn and we’re seeing some nice results for our clients. I promise to share our nuggets with you as we go! If you want help executing your plan, I’d love to talk to you. If you want to do it yourself, I hope this information serves you.
And please: tell me what headline-creating strategies work for you in the comments!
How to Write Magnetic Headlines – This statistic POWERFULLY drives home the importance of headlines in this post: On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of your blog post, and determines whether your content gets read. This post sets up a fantastic 11-part series on creating great headlines – love it!
5) On your archive pages (depending upon how you format them).
“In each of these occassions the title can be the only thing that people see and the sole thing that people make the decision to visit your post on. Write a boring, complicated or confusing title and it doesn’t matter what you’ve written in the post – very few people will ever read it.”
How to Craft Kick-Ass Titles & Headlines – My favorite part of this post was the distinctions to help you understand what type of title you’re creating: 1) Self-Interest: The best headlines are those that appeal to self interest. They offer the reader benefits that they want, and they can get from you, 2) News: Humans are pre-disposed to seek out what is new and different in their environment, eg. NEW, CHEAPER IPHONE CALL PLANS RELEASED, 3) Curiosity: Appeals to our curious nature, eg. LOST: $1 BILLION DOLLARS
25 Action Words for Creating a Newsworthy Headline – I often hear myself telling my clients to switch up their copywriting so that their writing in active voice (rather than passive voice) with strong verbs to inspire action. This is a great list of strong, ACTIVE verbs to use in your headlines.
I’d love to hear your best headline strategies in the comments!
In my last two blogs, I talked about the importance of building trust through your website and the real value of quality content. In this blog, I’m going to discuss a distinction that might sound counter-intuitive at first, but which is absolutely crucial to designing an effective website: The primary purpose of your website is not to tell people about you and what you do; the primary purpose of your website is to connect with people who are searching to solve specific problems that you are uniquely-qualified to help them resolve.
Design your website to address the needs of your potential clients, and to connect their needs with what you offer by:
Finding tactical solutions (step-by-step)
Finding and booking the right speaker
Learning and Growing (by reading high-quality content)
Hiring a coach or consultant
In their search to resolve their issues, your prospects need to come across content that connects with their problems, frustrations, needs. Your website should focus on THEM and their reality, and strategically connect them back to you and what you offer. If your existing homepage greets prospects and describes who you are and what you do, then it’s time to crumple it up and start again.
When designing your website, keep your focus on your clients
I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but no one cares who you are. They don’t care who I am, either. That is, they don’t care until I’ve built considerable rapport with them; that’s when they’ll want to know more — and I should have a page on my site that educates them.
One final website design tip: strategic menus
I’ve established a new “protocol” or “best practice” as it relates to building sites for my clients. We use the main menu to focus on what my client’s prospects are looking for: it might identify the title(s) they organize themselves by, or it might call out the action items they are going for when visiting the site.
For example, for one client, we have a main menu with three options aimed at identifying the three main distinctions of the client’s target market: Leaders | Leadership Teams | Leadership Bench
For another client who’s a practitioner, our menu items are: Can Dr. Andrew help me? | How does a treatment work? | Book an Appointment
We put this main menu just underneath the header in the traditional place you expect menus to appear. Then, we have a secondary menu that starts in the upper right corner that includes links to content that’s more “ego-driven,” so to speak. In this second menu, you’ll have links like “About,” “Contact Us,” “Meeting Planners & Media,” etc. If someone is specifically looking for this content, they’ll be able to locate it easily, and by putting it in the secondary menu, you’re leaving the main menu more visitor-focused and useful for your clients and prospects.
With time, intention, and great content, you can build a website that will really support the growth of your platform. It likely will cost you more than $1,500, but it’s worth the investment if it’s built right.
Hit me up with your questions in the comments below . . . I’m happy to help!