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.
For independent professionals (speakers, authors, executive coaches, consultants, trainers, etc), the actual design of your website could be as inexpensive as “free” if you’re a do-it-yourself-er who knows WordPress and wants to use a free template. Or, you could have a custom HTML template created with custom programming for integrating things like eCommerce and subscribe forms, styling sidebar widgets via CSS and other such techi-ness. You’ll likely pay $500-$1000 for a template website, and anywhere for $1500 to $3500 (or more, if you’re REALLY going bananas) for great design and programming (slicing a design into HTML code can be very time consuming, as can styling widgets and customizing the look-and-feel of forms).
Having your site hosted is another expense. Factors like if you’re using a shared server or dedicated one, and how much traffic you’re getting, and how many backups of your site you’re having created (and where those backups are being kept) can all influence your hosting costs. The average Joe can expect to spend $10 to $60 monthly on hosting.
The REAL upfront cost of building a great website is in creating great content. Content includes things like:
Overview of your offerings
Strong “About” page (bio, etc)
Blogs and articles
Podcasts, videos, and other multimedia
Media Room with useful media resources
Downloadables like one sheets, white papers, and other tools used to support different aspects of your marketing
Many other aspects of maintaining your online presence could potentially impact your budget, including:
Updating software & plugins, and integrating new technology into your website. On a pretty regular basis, your server and likely your software (like WordPress) is going to be issuing updates to hardware and software, respectively, that you will need to install. It’s not uncommon for these updates to break or conflict with other programs and plugins set up on your site and / or running on your server. This is not a good place for DIY-ers to be experimenting. You need a pro to help. You can often hire VAs for this kind of support if it’s simple. More complicated issues will need the support of a programmer. You really can’t get by without these ongoing expenses if you are actively marketing online and engaged in social media, so plan for it. I’d recommend putting at least an hour monthly into your budget.
Updating graphics. It seems that once or twice a year, both my and my client’s website graphics will need to be updated to accommodate some kind of change we want to implement on the site. These changes can cost as little as a couple hundred bucks, or as much as $1,000 to execute (or more). It doesn’t happen frequently, but you should expect to be reviewing things every six months and learning ways you can improve things.
Adding additional functionality to integrate with social media. It goes without saying that social media is evolving and changing at the speed of light. Sometimes we can anticipate the changes, but more often, we are a bit blindsided by the “new thing” that people want to do in the interest of sharing content. WordPress is awesome because it allows you to integrate new functionality via a plugin pretty easily. Most plugins are free, and with a little training, you might be able to add these plugins yourself. Be wary, though: it’s not uncommon for new plugins to need some tweaking so they “look good” on your website, or for new plugins to conflict with existing plugins on your website, requiring the assistance of a seasoned programmer to fix. It seems that several times a year, we need to bring in a programmer to help us manage upgrading our sites’ functionality (typically a couple hundred bucks each time), so plan on it.
Optimizing new content, managing Google adwords and Facebook ads campaigns. Obviously, step one is creating the content. But once the content is created, it needs to be proofed, optimized for search, uploaded to your site, and if you’re committed to getting more traffic for your site, submitted to other sites around the web (like Digg, article submission sites, guest blog posts, etc). And of course, you want to create tweets for the content, schedule them for facebook and twitter (and Google plus), and more.
Adding landing pages, creating new content and reconfiguring conversion paths. After you launched your website, you started getting feedback that your visitors were looking for something you didn’t position well (so they were unable to find it, sometimes leaving the site without doing anything). You were hoping people would come to the site to buy something, but what you realized after monitoring things for a few months was that people were looking around and leaving without so much as signing up for your newsletter.
Or consider that you started getting feedback from people that inspired you to create a new offering that you want to display front-and-center on your website. New copy needs to be generated, your menu might need to be changed up, you might want to tweak your home page or add a new page to your website, and update other copy to drive traffic to this new page. Sometimes, these tweaks only require an hour or two of support; other times, you’ve got a full-fledged project on your hands that might take 20 hours and several weeks to execute.
It is really important for you to consider the implications of these variables when you begin thinking about creating a new website. It is very common in my work for me to talk to professionals who’ve spent a huge wad of cash on making their website pretty, with little-to-no funds remaining to actually get results by levaraging social media and engaging in activities that drive traffic.
If you have a limited budget, go the site template route and budget for important money-making activities that directly affect the ROI you are going to experience by creating an ecosystem that attracts customers, builds your credibitility, stokes the fires of raving fans and inspires others to share your work with their friends. Spending all your budget on a pretty design with nothing left over for taking action predestins you to be one of those frustrated professionals who struggles to make their website work for them.
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:
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!
In my last blog, Read This Before You Design Your Website, I discussed what your website should do for your business and how your budget should look when building your website. In this blog, we’ll look at the value of trust and how your clients will be more likely to opt-in to your site when they trust you.
There is one variable that makes “selling” the services of an independent professional different from selling widgets: TRUST. Before people are going to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on your services, they are going to have to trust you significantly.
Here are three ways to earn trust from your prospects and clients:
Your prospects trust your clients, if they know them. Leverage your client list, client’s logos, and client testimonials; and you can obviously have your trusted clients and colleagues refer people to you, transfering the trust and goodwill they’ve built to you.
Your prospects trust your consistency. This one is huge, and I touched on it in the blog post about networking. When you are still around month after month, year after year, with good relationships and a solid reputation, people will obviously trust you more. It’s important to be consistent in your efforts, whether networking, blogging, or speaking.
They trust your expertise. That book you’ve written, or those blog posts you put up consistently, week after week, contain content that proves to your prospect that you know what you’re talking about. (This is precisely why I encourage my clients to GIVE IT ALL AWAY. Don’t hold back your “best stuff” because you want people to hire you to get it; it actually works the other way around.)
Your website is the perfect forum for connecting with people’s pain, frustration, hopes and dreams, and for showing them that you really know who they are, what they struggle with, and how to help them break through. Don’t expect to get people to sign up for your expensive programs as a result of visiting your website — their buying process likely doesn’t work that way. This one distinction can revolutionize your thought process in building your website and email marketing strategy. I hope you wrote this one down.