How to Make a Great Website – by Google

There’s millions of ‘experts’ in web design, marketing and SEO promoting their view of how to set up a website, make money and/or promote on the web.

But recently we stumbled across an excellent introduction and check-list for newcomers by Google themselves, as part of their SEO training and help forum. Note they don’t start with the website design or appearance, but with the business goals…Check it out.

googlehelp

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August Meetup – Selecting a theme

August Meetup – Selecting a theme.

logoThe next meetup will be an update of the original held in August 2013. Visit our meetup site to enrol

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WooCommerce Support for Web Designers

WooCommerce Support for Web Designers.

A listing of often-forgotten items needed in WooCommerce websites.

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Developers Night – Tech tips to finding new clients

Here’s some of the sites and tools we use to figure out stuff

Good place to start is those on openhost servers which tend to be on the slow site and have sites that don’t rank well. Look at large existing providers (e.g. Zeald) to find clients in need of an upgrade but can’t afford it, or have a site that isn’t ranking. The above tools will help your work this out and make a case from a technical perspective.

Later in the evening we also discussed compression and site speed. There’s certainly no single plugin or tool that fixes site speed. There’s multiple causes. But the host you use is usually the biggest single issue to test and eliminate first. However assuming that’s okay, here’s the plugins that were discussed to reduce image files and speed up sites..

Caching options are many and varied. W3cache the most popular, but also erratic in use. But rocketme premium plugin I’ve found the easiest to setup and support is good.

Finally, that plugin organizer..
https://wordpress.org/plugins/plugin-organizer/

The next session will examine the traditional marketing aspects

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WordPress Bloggers Plugins

Optimizing Your Posts

1. WordPress SEO by Yoast

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you why this plugin is so great and with the countless changes by google this year, keeping on top of on-site SEO is critical. For bloggers, this plugin ensures you’re not messing up any of the SEO dynamics while  you write. Yoast’s plugin makes it easy to stay focused on what’s important – your writing!

2. Add Widget After Content

Not everyone puts an ad at the end of their content, but if you want to, this is a great plugin that will help you do it. Of course it doesn’t have to be an ad. You could put anything you want there – like a consistent site-wide call to action, a bio, or an offer.

3. Pretty Link Lite or Pro

The way I generate revenue from my blog is thru affiliate links to products. These affiliate links can look monstrous at times, so it’s nice to have a little plugin that cloaks them and makes them really easy to remember.

4. Redirection

For 301 redirections and tracking 404 errors. Handy for lots of things, even generating a short link to another page or post.

Adding Features to your Post

I’m sure you know this by now, but your blog isn’t just all photos and text. Sometimes you need a bit more – whether it’s a form, a gallery, or enhancements to your comment feature.

5. Gravity Forms | Ninja Forms |

You’ll need a form to collect information from your readers. Gravity forms has been the default premium plugin, but ninja forms is a simpler option for most people. The basic ninja version is free and you only pay for the add-ons.

6Jetpack Comments by Automattic

This has a variety of features that you might like. The one I’ve used the most is Jetpack Comments. It gives your users a simple way to subscribe to your comments, get notified when people comment and more.

Take care though. Jetpack requires you to have a wordpress.com account too and for your site to be running WP v4 or later. Also, avoid the desire to turn on all the Jetpack modules. Some can slow your site to a crawl, annoying visitors. Not everything that works in the US market works well here…

7. Newsletter list building –  Optin Monster  &  Thrive Leads

tl_04Optin Monster is the most well known premium popup that there is, giving you lots of options. Thrive leads is another new, even more impressive alternative and better value too since at just US$59 it include features only available in optinmonsters $199 package. Incredible value really for what it does.

A nice simple free option is PopupAlly and she also has a premium version. Another free one I recommend as it’s unobtrusive and less annoying is Scroll Triggered Boxes

Others are Leadin   Icegram   Sumome  Optinform

8. Justified Image Grid

A neat gallery plugin that lays out multiple images in a page or post.

Sharing Your Posts

As we round out the plugins that help me make my blog look good, load quickly, and work well, there are two additional tools I use (both by the same company) that helps me get my content out into the world.

9. Click to Tweet by Todaymade

One way to get folks to engage your content is to create tweet-able content that they can share. Click to Tweet makes it really easy to do it – without a lot of work.

10. CoSchedule by Todaymade

A premium content scheduler to push content to Facebook, Twitter (and sometimes LinkedIn). It’s not only a plugin but a SaaS solution hence has a monthly fee.

11. Jetpack social sharing

Jetpack has some good, simple free tools for social sharing. The latest version of Jetpack (3.5) running on latest WordPress (4.2) especially so. The Jetpack tools just keep improving. Take care to only activate the modules you need. If you discover Jetpack slows your site down, then checkout social media feather.

12 Postmatic

Although still in beta and limited release, this new tool has promise for serious bloggers providing a new, innovative means to alert readers to new posts or comments. We will be testing it on various sites and let you know it if lives up to expectations.

13 Related posts

Handy plugin that adds a list of related posts to the bottom of each post. Jetpack also has a module for this, which includes a thumbnail image.

Infrastructure for your Blog

Plumbing isn’t sexy. They hide in the background, and aren’t tons of fun to talk about all the time.

13. Akismet by Automattic

Thankfully, you get Akismet installed with every installation of WordPress. Even if you don’t know how to pronounce this plugin, you can use it. It protects your site from spam.

14. Jetpack Analytics by Automattic

People like Google Analytics. But if you’ve already installed Jetpack because you’re using it for one of its other features, you should activate its Analytics module. It makes it easy to see who is referring traffic to your blog, which articles are popular and more.

15. WordPress Vault Backup

For bloggers WordPress offers a great plugin and service for just a few dollars per month. There are free alternatives, but they’re not as good or as bulletproof.

SEO for bloggers. Here’s some tips from MOZ

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Woocommerce, Photography and more

woophoto-300x300The February meetup looked at Woocommerce, in particular it’s use as a tool to display and sell photographs. Below is a summary of what was discussed. Woothemes kindly provided a copy of their photography plugin and will add this to a demo site shortly and provide logins for those that want to get a feel of how it works. Here’s an intro on the photography addon to woocommerce

Image management and display tools

The built-in media manager and gallery feature is great, but special plugins make it even better. WordPress extensions include NextGEN gallery which has been around for years, but my favorites are Justified Image Grid bundled with the little-known Social Gallery.  All for around US$50. (Configuring them correctly is the key though). We can’t add these tools to this wordpress.com site, but you can see how it displays on my wordhost blogsite.

Photographers love sliders. Some are good, some bad. Avoid the popular revolution slider which is slow and buggy. Too many features I believe have made it a bad choice today.  SliderPro is better or even Soliloquy. But take care using sliders, since research tells us these ever-popular visual tools actually annoy most visitors, reducing engagement… However two specific market areas that sliders appear to be tolerated is photography and realty sites where people are specifically engaged with the imagery itself. It’s where sliders are used on business websites and often seen as an advertising tool, that they fail.

p.s. SEO for Photographers

photography-seoThis is typically forgotten about in the drive for visual perfection. Most photographers I think hate SEO simply because it has less to do with photography and all to do with text content, good coding and hosting performance.

It’s not helped by the desire to run large, non-compressed images everywhere too. This usually means home-built and design agency-built sites are often incredibly slow, especially when viewed on mobile devices – Not good for visitors or Google ranking.

If part of the reason for your website is to be found online by new customers, then an SEO strategy and/or budget is critical. You must ensure that Google ‘likes’ the site structure, the content, load times and will therefore rank it highly. Yoast recently wrote and special article on SEO for Photographers that covered the special tricks and work needed. If all this seems difficult, since it often means getting into the site coding, we are happy to assist.

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The Honest Truth About Hosting

Updated Sept 2015 – Hosting is a complex, contentious topic. Even the self-proclaimed ‘professionals’ disagree. Web designers, even developers are often surprisingly ignorant upon what makes a good or bad host. The worst advice often comes from traditional IT people. It’s often a case of a little knowledge being dangerous.

I find most people tend to just follow the crowd, relying upon others or simply taken in by the slick sales pitch provided. The biggest issue is you often don’t know what it is you’ve signed up for until you’ve had the site running a few weeks. Even finding honest reviews is difficult. Everyone’s needs and budgets differ. Even the theme and/or plugins you use may mean you need a different provider or package!

Hosting too is a tough, competitive business. Even from the providers perspective, it’s hard to get the right balance between a hosts business objectives (making money), technology investment, security issues, providing good value and good customer service – Few get it right and when they do, is often temporary. Host companies are good cash cows, bought and sold regularly with new owners setting new priorities.

hosting-datacenterI’ve provided a summary below of the main types used today to help you understand what it is your are buying.

Shared Hosting

fronttrainThis is where computing resources are shared amongst multiple domains and users. This can range from 100 to 1,000, with 500 commonplace. Think of shared hosting as riding on an old, overcrowded Indian commuter train, except you’ve no idea how may others have boarded the same train. Generally the cheaper the monthly [host] cost, the more commuters you’re sharing the ride with, the more delays, the slower it runs, the less secure it is.

The Unlimited everything hosting scam

unlimited-home-bannerThe selling of shared hosting doesn’t help. ‘Unlimited’ this and that is a common sales pitch and to me, a scam. Most WordPress sites only need 2GB max disk and finite number of email, ftp accounts, databases etc. Processing resources and RAM provided is more important and yet never mentioned. Never. A lack of available CPU resource and RAM is what slows things to a crawl or a crashed site, seldom a lack of disk space. With more ‘strangers’ using the same hardware and resources, shared hosting is also far more likely to suffer from nasty bot attacks too, that can disable servers as well as infect multiple sites.

Shared hosting means extremely LIMITED processing resources

CL_cpanel_usage_resourceThe lack of CPU/processing resources in shared hosting can be dramatic. There’s often a resource link or icon in their control panel that even shows you when and how often you go over your very limited allocation. It doesn’t fix anything, but can tell you why you site has gone down recently.

They often include ‘resource limiting’ technology too, meaning that if you have too many website visitors, or run complex applications like WooCommerce, backups or security plugins, it may overload their pre-allocated resources and will go offline, sometimes for hours. Still  if you’re only paying $10-15/month, you can’t really complain.

When can shared work?

If you’ve low traffic or just starting out, then shared hosting may well do the job for 6-12 months. Clubs, startups and non-profits with limited funds may have little choice.

Ssitegrounditeground is a good US provider that rates well for those starting out, or on a tight budget. And unlike NZ hosts, have 24/7 support. Site5.com was good for many years, but new owners in 2016 caused a drop off in reliability and support. These business changes happen a lot in the hosting world where buyups are commonplace. Most NZ hosts were sold off to the Auzzies years ago, causing a decline in support and value. New owners naturally want to extract more profits, which affects the quality of service they provide. What may be a good provider one year can turn nasty very quickly.

But don’t expect 100% reliability or highest speed with shared hosting. Cheap shared hosting always incorporates CPU-limiting technology and is somewhat risky if you run a busy eCommerce site or blog and want it to rank well in Google. These are all shared-resource, general purpose plans after all… Regardless of the provider, for something decent, you’ll need to sign up for a plan over US$10 per month.

If you must use a NZ host for company policy reasons and think the locals are safer or do a better job (they don’t), then the best I’ve found is Freeparking. with their $199/yr linux plan. They run a modern cloud system with users telling me their support is good and speed is average.

The trick with these low cost shared plans is to always ensure the images and content is properly optimised, plus add in some good caching, security and backup tools to the site. Call me for details.

Reseller Hosting

resellerBasically, it is just shared hosting, but with some additional software tools. WHM/cPanel combination is the most common. Budget hosts (e.g. openhost) have the inferior Plesk control panel. Plesk generally takes twice as long to setup, migrate or fix a site – And for clients, time is money. Host companies like it as the software licensing costs are lower, meaning better margins for them.

But these reseller accounts seldom include additional performance, CPU resources or security. It’s just another Indian train variation, suffering the same limitations as shared hosting – Just packaged differently to suit those that want to self-manage more domains.

Providers to avoid

In our view shared and reseller hosting providers to be wary of include: openhost, net24, 1stdomains, godaddy, crazy domains, umbrellar, Hostpapa or local internet service provider offerings from Spark, Orcon, Vodafone etc. They each tend to run old and/or heavily overloaded servers to maximise profit margins.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

For web designers and most businesses, running a VPS is the ideal option. A VPS provides pre-set resources that are only for you and your domains. You know exactly what it is you are purchasing, with more control and security. However the trap is that VPS offerings vary a lot too with you having to select disk space, CPUs, RAM, software and more. Some of these require a high level of expertise to configure, others easy.

logo-imhThe best value VPS host provider we’ve found is inmotion in the US. You get multiple 2.5 GHZ cpus, 4GB RAM, 60GB (SSD) disk space and WHM/cpanel software included for US$30/mth. And this is a managed VPS, meaning unlike most VPS packages, you don’t need to add or configure complex software to run it. The equivalent VPS1000 configuration setup locally in NZ starts from $200/mth and seldom includes any WordPress-specific support or forums.

Cloud Web Hosting – Highly Variable

The sales pitch is that cloud hosting offers the best performance, is more reliable and expandable, plus some allow the ability to only buy the resources you need. Yet cloud hosts are not inherently fast and require extra work to get good speed using caching and CDN options.

Large public distributed clouds like Amazons, when used for web hosting, reveal performance bottlenecks that don’t occur with more traditional host options. This is the negative side they don’t tell you about (or want you to know). Those with a computer engineering degree and understand PC/Network architecture, will know what I’m talking about.

Cloud hosts – Let the buyer beware…

To me, much about cloud website hosting is just smoke and mirrors. The benefits really tend to favour the hosting company or reseller, not the user. Some are good, some nasty.

chart1There may be a higher business risk too, especially if considering Amazon or Rackspace. Both entice customers in with entry 1-CPU plans, that soon need upgrading, with monthly costs then spiraling.  The response is discounted long term contracts to lock users in. And after any contract ends, migrating away to another provider is often difficult and costly.

From my own and third party analysis my conclusion is that most public ‘cloud hosting’ options end up at least twice the cost of a good VPS of similar size, performance and reliability. And you get some WordPress support, which isn’t included with the big cloud services.

Dedicated Physical Server Hosting

Dedicated hosting, where one domain using it’s own computer setup, not shared with any other can offer incredible performance needed for high traffic sites. Setting up dedicated host servers in single or multi-tier hardware configurations takes considerable expertise, beyond what any amateur could do. As with any computer, the range of options around hardware and software are endless and beyond the scope of this article. The extended version video of the above above gives an idea of how quick good dedicated servers can be against the new cloud offerings….

Who owns and maintains the technology?

Selecting a host is not at all like buying a car or a home appliance where the brand is important, providing a rough guide as to the quality of the product  or support. It’s common that competing host companies may have a common owner, each providing different options. Often, the host servers used is owned, housed and maintained by a separate third party company altogether, all from the same building. 

p.s. Local or Oversea Hosting – does it matter?

There are inherent advantages to using local NZ hosting. Once upon a time it was because your ranking may be improved hosting in the same market you sell to. However Google advise that this is no longer the case. Of the 200+ parameters Google use to decide your ranking, where you host is located isn’t one of them now.

Secondly, performance. The internet is a big busy network that gets overloaded at certain points, which can vary from minute to minute depending where you are and where the host is located. Certainly I do see more variation is speed, viewed from NZ when using a US or Auzzie host, compared to a fast local NZ host.  The theory says the differences should be minimal, but practically I’ve seen up to a second or more gained. But often a good local caching setup can more than overcome this. For example, our www.wordhost.co.nz website was on a NZ host for years and we recently moved to Inmotion in the US. I see no difference in speed or load times.

Questions? Contact us using the form below….

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