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Avoid Web Hosting Problems

Image I’ve been creating websites for over 10 years now, and have had experience with a lot of web hosting companies. Often I get a client who thinks they are saving money by registering a domain and securing a hosting account themselves, before they contact me. Inevitably their hosting company is horrible, and we end up switching hosts at their expense, or I have to charge them a lot more to work around the inadequacies of the host they selected.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about web hosting companies over the years that may save you some pain and suffering:

Selecting a web hosting company:  Review sites are biased. Try to use a search engine to find a good web hosting company and you’ll get a bunch of review sites which rate web hosts and present you with a list of “the best.” The problem is that “the best” just happen to be the companies with affiliate programs the site owner belongs to. They get a cut of each customer who purchases hosting from the affiliated site.

If you want to narrow down your choice of web hosts, just search “[web host name here] sucks” or similar negative phrase. You’ll get a lot of interesting information.

Bundled Web Design / Web Hosting Packages: “Web solution” companies with cheap web design but significant monthly fees for hosting prey on people without a lot of knowledge of websites or the Internet. The cheap website will NOT be customized sufficiently for the business, and will look cheap. By the time the customer has figured that out, they have wasted a good deal of time and money. They are stuck with an ugly, user-hostile website and an overpriced monthly fee, or call it a complete loss and try again.

Hidden Web Hosting Nightmares: These are the things you only find out after you plunk down your money and upload your website.

  • Super slow servers/network. 
  • Buggy software
  • Missing features
  • Undisclosed limitations
  • Incompetent, non-existent or slow customer support

Tips to Avoid Web Hosting Problems:

  • Ask for recommendations. If you don’t have friends or business associates with relevant experience, go to a webmaster board and ask for recommendations. This may have to be offline if posting recommendations is against the board’s policy. Or just ask your web designer.
  • Don’t base your decision on price and feature comparisons alone. That won’t  tell you anything. Sure the hosting package must include required features and be within your budget, but reliability and quality of support are the key differences between a horrible web host and a great web host.
  • Search for negative comments on blogs or review sites. Keep in mind that people are more likely to complain than praise. There are a good number of people who are technically challenged and will blame a company for something that was caused by their own ignorance or unreasonable expectations. But once you start looking through the comments, you’ll get a pretty good idea about which companies are really rotten, and just out to rip off as many people as they can.

Google Toolbar PageRank Updated

Towards the end of October 2009 Google again updated what is know as “Toolbar PageRank.” If you have the Google Toolbar installed on your browser, and you opt in to sending Google information about your internet activity, you can have Toolbar PageRank displayed. It appears as a little green bar that can vary from “0” which is white, to 10, which is all green, and the other nine integer values in between.

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Toolbar PR = 3

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Toolbar PR = 6

Google PageRank is a complex algorithm that attempts to quantify the authority of a Webpage, based on the number and various qualities of links pointing to that Webpage. Google considers the authority of a Webpage extremely important for the purposes of ranking that Webpage in search results. Toolbar PageRank is supposed to be a snapshot of actual working PageRank, taken at irregular and semi-annual intervals.

Problems with Toolbar PageRank.

Although Toolbar PageRank appears to be a quick and easy way to measure link authority, those who work with search engine optimization on a daily basis know better.

  1. Toolbar PageRank is updated too infrequently to be useful. A lot can change in 4 to 6 months, and when you are trying to compare pages, keep in mind, when your are looking at Toolbar PageRank you are generally looking at old data. Actual working PageRank is continuously updated.
  2. Toolbar PageRank doesn’t correlate with changes in organic search results. There are problems with translating a complex non-linear algorithm into a 10 point scale. On the lower end, often a drop in Toolbar PageRank reflects a recalibration of that 10 point scale rather than a drop in a Website’s link authority.
  3. Google says their Toolbar PageRank measures are misleading and removed the Webmaster Tools version of Toolbar PageRank from the Webmaster Tools interface for that reason. Why did they keep it on the Google Toolbar? My guess is so they could continue to mine date from your browser.
  4. Toolbar PageRank can be spoofed by a well known method called 302 hijacking. With this method a Webmaster can give a page an apparently high PageRank. This method does not effect the actual PageRank. This method can be used to scam other Webmaster into purchasing what appears to be a valuable link from the spoofed page.
  5. Google Toolbar PageRank display is very prone to errors. The Google homepage is shown below with its normal PR of 10, and erroneously with no PR.

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In short, Toolbar PageRank is not accurate enough to be relied upon for any important decision-making. Although there is some correlation between it and actual PageRank and therefore a pages link authority, a better measure is a Webpage’s position in the targeted search results. After all, isn’t good search engine position your primary objective?

Adwords Conversion for Dummies

Convert or Fail!

Using Google Adwords to drive traffic to your website is expensive. I suspect that Google gets most of it's money from Adwords advertisers who have no idea what they are doing. These advertisers quickly set up a campaign and pump a bunch of money into it, but see few to no leads. They then pour increasing money in until it starts to hurt, thinking that is the answer. They finally give up, wondering why other people are successful with Adwords, and they are not.

The problem is that setting up an Adwords campaign is very easy. Getting your ads to show on the first page of Google is very easy. Converting those clicks into dollars is NOT easy. That's where people get confused, frustrated, and too often defeated.

How do you convert a click into a sale? The schematic below shows a basic Adwords setup:

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The secret to converting Adwords clicks to sales? Design your site for Adwords conversion! 

Pay Per Click (PPC) Adwords Campaign Management

Link Building is Not Optional

Link BuildingBecause many non-web professionals do not understand how the complex network of computers called the Internet works, they fail to see the importance of link building to the success of their website. The truth is that link building is not optional to the success of a website.

The black art of obtaining traffic from search engines in often called SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO activities are aimed at two sets of factors:

  1. On-page factors
  2. Off-page factors

On-page factors are those that can be easily adjusted by the webmaster or content editor of the website. When the web first started, these were the factors that were primarily used by the search engines to rank webpages. They include the visible text of the page, the page title that shows in the browser, and those enigmatic "meta tags."

On-page factors are still very important, but not as singularly important as they once were. Google revolutionalized the use of off-page factors to determine the importance of webpages with its PageRank formula. In a nutshell, Google assigns a PageRank to each webpage in it's index, based on how many other pages are linked to that webpage. Each incoming link is seen as a "vote" for the webpage that the link is pointing at. It also takes into account the PageRank of the linking pages, and the number of outgoing links on the linking pages. This means that the most valuable links you can get are links from high PageRank pages, where your link is one of only a few on that page. Links from low PageRank pages are of lesser value, as are links from higher PageRank pages with many outgoing links.

The activity of obtaining these valuable incoming links is called Link Building. Link building can be time-consuming, difficult, and is a long term investment whose effects may not be immediately apparent. Once the site is mature, assuming that it is a quality site, it will gain incoming links naturally, as other sites link to its useful and interesting information. At the beginning however, it is critical that a link building program be budgeted and properly executed, otherwise, no one will ever find out about the website, and it will fail to meet its business goals.

Ecommerce - 5 Tips For Selling Products Online

ImageSelling products online may seem like a simple and easy business to some, but it is actually very competitive and requires a significant amount of knowledge in order to make a significant amount of money.

Here are some tips that will help make your online business a success.

1. Do Your Research. Like any business, your online business should start with a good business plan, and that business plan should be based on solid market research. Throwing up an ecommerce website that offers products for sale is not enough. You need to know how you are going to get traffic to the website, and how you are going to convert that traffic to sales.

2. Build a Quality Website. Although you don’t need your own Website to sell your products online, for businesses that want to succeed in the long term, establishing your own domain and branding as early as possible is key. You don’t want to be at the mercy of eBay or Amazon forever, and the sooner you establish your web presence, the sooner your brand will be established and your site will start gaining authority in the competitive searches.

3. Get Traffic. Traffic is the currency of the internet, and don’t expect it to get it for free. Whether you are promoting your site via search engines, or some other method, it will take significant effort and budget to drive targeted traffic to your website in sufficient volume to meet your sales goals.

4. Use Other Websites. Since you did your homework and your ecommerce website has feeds, you can easily post your products to established websites through services such as:

Many businesses sell via this method alone, but as a website owner,  you can also leverage your existing product database to take advantage of this method.

5. Persist. If you start your ecommerce venture thinking it will be easy money, you are going to be disappointed. Success IS possible though, and if you plan for the long term, learn from your mistakes, and continue to build your business over months and years, that success can be yours.

Three Major Web Copy Mistakes

Having high quality web content is the most important factor in the success of a website. Here are some ways people commonly shoot their website in the foot:

  1. Not taking the web copy seriously. Content is King on the Internet. If you want your website to be successful, you must have quality content. Copying text from other websites, writing poor quality content quickly "just to have something," or putting "under construction" in place of content are the 3 most common examples if this mistake. 
  2. Not knowing the difference between effective web copy and effective print copy. For the most part, people don't read websites, they scan them. For that reason effective web copy is significantly different than effective print copy. The most common example of this mistake that I see is writing too much text in the mistaken assumption that people will read it as they would a passage from a book. Although it may be a very convincing argument as to why someone should buy the product, or use the service, if it is too long, people just aren't going to read it at all. Above all, web copy needs to be concise.

  3. Waiting until the last minute to provide the web copy to your web designer. I'd say most small business people that I work with start off their first real web design project with a mistaken idea of how a successful project is executed. Even if the process is laid out clearly and specifically, most people cling to the notion that a website is built first, and the content is written and added to the website last. Proceeding in this fashion can have only two outcomes. Either the website will be very expensive, or it will be poorly designed.

    When a website is built without the content, the designer must guess what he/she is trying to present to the visitor. Once the content arrives, it is ALWAYS different in some respect to what he/she had planned for. The website must then be redesigned  in order to properly present the actual content, once it arrives. This is very expensive for the buyer, because they are not only paying for the site to be designed once, but twice.

    The other option is just to force the content into the existing design, and kludge where necessary. When you run across a poorly designed user-hostile website, there is a good chance that this factor played into that poor design.

The purpose of a website is to present content or functionality to the visitor. Content should be given first priority in any web project. Step One: Create quality content - use a copy writer if necessary. Step Two: Build a quality website that best presents that quality content. Follow that simple formula, and your next web project is likely to be a success!

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