Two Website Lessons from 2013

Free Website - not!If there are two lessons that everyone should come away from 2013 learning about websites, I would say it would have to be these:

  • 1. There is absolutely no such thing as a “free” website!
  • 2. A website should not cost over $600 million!

I will tackle the second point first because that is much easier to grasp. Of course, what I’m referring to is the “Obamacare” website Healthcare.gov, which amazingly did not work when it was launched on October 1st (it is now about 75 days later and the jury is still out on whether it actually works).

To be exact, it was reported by Digital Trends that the contractor CGI Federal received $634,320,919 to construct Healthcare.gov. Now to appreciate this amount, it is more money than Facebook spent in its first six years of existence (you know, the years went it went completely viral) and it is also more than the amount spent building two more recent services – Linkedin and Spotify – combined. All that money spent and it didn’t work for at the least its first two months of existence.

As a small business web developer, I’m sure I could have figured out a way to get competent developers to complete the site on time and working for, I don’t know, about 1/1000th of that cost! But they never asked me.

Now for the first point, the opposite end of the money spectrum. There is absolutely no such thing as a “free” website! Whenever you hear such a claim to “build a website for free”, what you are actually getting is a new example of an old trick that big companies do to try and squash small competitors (in this case, small business web developers like myself) by cleverly masking a false offer. You’ve surely seen or heard of these free website offers, many from three-letter companies that start with the letter ‘w’ and only disclose the fact that you have to pay a monthly fee in order to keep your “free” website in the cluttered disclaimer at the end.

For companies who are serious about starting and staying in business, such offers do not stand up in the long run for two primary reasons. First, you lose the ability to expand unless you pay the fixed price arbitrarily set by the company. This ties in well with the second reason, you ultimately do not own anything – neither content nor domain name. It is almost akin to those fake houses on a Hollywood set, nice enough to look at but totally impractical to live in.

So, if you’d like a website which is neither free nor $600 million, check out a quality website developer like 33 Dimensions and you will actually get what you pay for (if not more!)

Getting Started Online

Green Traffic LightOnce you make the decision to establish a strong Web presence for your business, there are several steps that should be taken in order to build this online foundation. The process may seem a bit cumbersome or even overwhelming at first, and getting used to new technologies and fully realizing their benefits takes a little discipline and patience. However, while each business may vary on their specific requirements, the following ten items are general enough to be utilized by most business start-ups.

The first three steps should be done in this order.

1. Create and Register Your Domain Name
Establishing a domain is where your online life begins. The trick is finding one which isn’t already being utilized. If you’re lucky (like we were) you can use the dot-com of the exact name of your business. In all likelihood, you may have to be a little creative. There are many online tools for checking if a domain name is available and registering a domain is still pretty inexpensive at about $15 per year.

2. Find the Right Hosting Plan
“Hosting” is the physical location where your website will reside. While it is certainly possible to host a site on your own computer, it is not optimal in most situations because your computer would have to available to international traffic 24/7 and, without advanced security, may be vulnerable to cyber attacks. For these reasons, most small business owners will enlist a professional hosting company to host their website(s) with costs that can range widely, depending on the type of hosting. When choosing the right hosting plan, you want to get enough storage, bandwidth, adaptability, security, and performance without going overboard and incurring unnecessary costs.

3. Building Your Website
This is, by far, the most important, complex, yes stress-inducing step in establishing your online presence. There are literally a million ways to go, from companies with big names which will offer you “free” business websites (of course, they’re not really “free”) to an assortment of web design firms and freelancers. Here are some of the vast subjects which may need to be considered and/or included with your website:

  • The Message – the most important information that you want conveyed about your business, from its location and hours of operation to what service it provides and need it fulfills.
  • Branding – the logo, colors, styles, and appropriate look/feel along with any trademarks or catch phrases.
  • User Experience (UX) – a simple, concise, and consistent design throughout the website which gives the user the ability to logically navigate and find vital information.
  • Content Management – a system which allows for easy updates and additions without “breaking” the original design or UX.
  • Responsive Design – designing your website to “respond” to any screen size on any Internet-ready device by presenting the most optimal display.
  • Website Maintenance – keeping your site fresh, relevant, and secure.

Steps 4-10 can be done in any order (or all at the same time), after the first three steps have been completed.

4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is an ongoing process of keeping your page relevant to search engines and achieving the best search results. Each year, this process gets more and more complex as major search engines like Google constantly change their algorithms in order to produce the most valid and natural results for any searched word or phrase. Optimizing a website involves several diligent practices:

  • Solid HTML Design – the foundation of good SEO is clean and professional design. Avoid “website builder” tools if at all possible.
  • Page Title and Descriptions – succinctly describing the page’s content.
  • Use of Relevant Keywords – when posting articles to align with the page’s title and description.
  • Non-duplicated Copy – the latest search engine algorithms penalize sites for duplicated articles and page titles.
  • A Constant Stream of Fresh Content – with a site map which is updated regularly.
  • Analytics – the art of monitoring a website’s performance and making adjustments accordingly.

5. Social Networking
In today’s world, it is important for businesses to establish a presence on social media. While some dismiss social media as a fad which will soon run it’s course, there is little doubt of the advertising and awareness value of a social media presence. While Facebook and Twitter are the most popular and have the most users (so they are usually the first social media channels utilized), there are a few other technologies and techniques businesses should consider.

  • LinkedIn – many experts say LinkedIn is critical for businesses, as it connects you with other businesses. Along with your personal page on LinkedIn page, you should also establish a LinkedIn company page.
  • Google + – Google has been increasingly tying some of its SEO with its own social media channel (more on this in step #10).
  • YouTube – a free and easy way to promote your business with short (often homemade) videos. YouTube also allows most videos to easily be embedded in your website and many other social channels.
  • Local Citations – claim your physical address by registering with Yelp, Google Places, and other local search sites. Be sure to be consistent and use the same format, spelling, and syntax for your physical address (without abbreviations) wherever it is listed.

6. Email and Marketing
Recent studies have shown that, despite the meteoric rise of social media, Email marketing far surpasses any social media medium when it comes to return on investment. While this is one of the more highly regulated areas of the online experience, there are several fine services which help you manage and gather contacts and construct professional Email newsletters while keeping your company compliant with spam laws.

7. Cloud Storage
This is a relatively new but fast growing requirement for an online presence. It is important to be able to quickly and effectively share files, documents, and media using a business-oriented storage service. This is also often used as a safeguard for disaster recovery. Being so new, there are many (relatively untested) options to choose from, but some of the emerging leaders in this market include; Dropbox, Google Cloud Storage, and Carbonite.

8. Ecommerce
We’re all in business to get paid and it has become increasingly easier to accept payments online. With Ecommerce, there is a wide range of possibilities, from simple PayPal transactions to complex online shopping carts which require huge databases to function. Further, recent years have brought us great online invoicing services like Fresh Books and cool mobile credit card scanners like Square.

9. Security
This is probably the most gut-wrenching subject to think about, but also the most important. Truth is, there are less than honorable people out there who think it is good sport to prey on honest services, businesses, and consumers. While the dynamic nature of technology makes it hard to pinpoint exact measures (books have been written and will be re-written), a balanced, common sense approach should prevail.

10. Your Toolbox
This is an ever-expanding, catch-all of “other” online tools which may be beneficial to your business:

  • Surveys – attractive ways to spark interest, there are several free and low-cost services available.
  • Virtual Phone Numbers – it is getting hard to justify a traditional land line and many of us do not want to use our cell phones as official business lines. An emerging service is “virtual” phone numbers, which route customers domestically and internationally and can provide a 1-800 number.
  • CRM – A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool is like an electronic “Rolodex” which not only stores your contacts, but is also interactive with many other of the online tools and channels mentioned above.

Google
One more thing. While I tried to stay as general as possible with these ten items, the truth in mid-2013 is that you’ll find Google involved in most of these steps (probably all seven of the bottom steps). If you have a Gmail account, that account is now your login for Google +, Google Places, Google Maps, Google Drive, AdWords, Analytics, Webmaster Tools, YouTube, and scores of other related services (including the good ole search engine itself). While there is no doubt that this can be a great convenience (not to mention virtually free), we can only hope that competition will spread these services out in the future while maintaining the incredible technical advances of recent years.

 
~ Ric Albano

Winter 2013

 

33 Dimensions Newsletter
January 31, 2013

Dollars for Diane compilation CDHappy Birthday to Diane!

My wife’s sister Diane turned 36 years old yesterday. When Diane was 30 she had a massive stroke which left her fighting for her life. In fact, doctors said it was unlikely she would survive a week. But Diane fought back and, although she continues to struggle with health issues daily, Diane continues to be in good spirits.

Three years ago, on Diane’s 33rd birthday, we held a fundraiser concert in her honor. We also collaborated with some of Pennsylvania’s finest musicians for a unique compilation album of original music. Since the beginning, we’ve sold this album for $5.00 with all proceeds benefiting brain injury research and a scholarship fund for Diane’s young daughter.

We still have plenty of copies of this CD which you can order at the link below for $5 plus $2.50 shipping and handling. More Info on Dollars for Diane Compilation CD

Ric Albano
Owner and Creative Director
33 Dimensions LLC


New Website, New Design

We are working on a whole new website with a new design (note the new logo on top) in time for our 4th anniversary in March. The new 33 Dimensions website will include regular articles with valuable information for our customers as well as many more features on small businesses and news concerning the web design industry.

Many thanks to Julie of Get Epic Creative for the new logo design.


Client News

Kids Theatre NewsKids Theatre News Central PA will be officially launching in the Spring, we currently have a sneak preview at KidsTheatreNews.com. Started by a theatre mom, the site will be a resource for busy theatre families, providing information about upcoming performances, auditions, local theatre companies, instructors, classes and camps, as well as resources and news pertinent to the industry.

 
The Cornerstone CoffeehouseThere is lots going on at The Cornerstone Coffeehouse in February. There will be several salon gatherings, fund raisers, and great culinary cooking classes. In fact, we will soon be designing a website specifically for the Cornerstone Culinary Kitchen.

The Cornerstone regularly features an incredible selection of coffee and tea, and a grat lunch menu includes salads, hearty sandwiches, and savory soups.

We strive for the growth and success of all our customers!

 
33 Dimensions
P.O. Box 126
Highspire, PA 17034
info@33dimensions.com

 


Thanksgiving 2012

 

33 Dimensions Newsletter
November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving 2012Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

I have much to be thankful for this year, beginning with the privilege to run a creative and rewarding business like 33 Dimensions. It has been a year of great growth for my company and I’ve gotten to work with and know so many great clients and associates, which has been fantastic.

Of course, on the other side of Thanksgiving comes the retail blitz which kicks off the holiday shopping season. “Black Friday” has become an institution, almost to the point of becoming a national holiday in of itself. Over the past decade or so, “Cyber Monday” has become a huge day for online sales. But the latest and greatest of these specialized shopping days is Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010, this November 24th will be the 3rd Small Business Saturday and I encourage you all to participate. As a small business owner who provides the bulk of my services to other small businesses, promoting and supporting such initiatives is a year-round endeavor because these businesses face multiple challenges (as I wrote about in this blog on Sunday). Please support some of our affiliated initiatives listed below as well as small business in general.

Ric Albano
Owner and Creative Director
33 Dimensions LLC


Small Business Initiatives

Strella Social MediaSmall business owners wear many hats, which often leaves them short on the time, money, and resources it takes to properly execute a social media plan. If you’ve been struggling to find your foothold, it’s time to turn the tables by ordering A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Social Media. In coordination with Strella Social Media, We’re offering a special 50% off, Thanksgiving / Black Friday / Small Business / Cyber Monday sale of this.

 
The Cornerstone CoffeehouseLocated in the heart of Camp Hill, Pa., The Cornerstone Coffeehouse offers the absolute best of what a small business can be. With a relaxed and inviting atmosphere, the Cornerstone offers an incredible selection of coffee, tea, and creative drink specials and top-quality lunch selections ranging from salads to hearty sandwiches to savory soups. They have cold treats during the summer, a warm atmosphere during the winter and year-round offers live music, special art displays by local artists, and a top-notch gourmet cooking school. The Cornerstone also has a private room which is a great place to hold meetings, private parties, and fundraisers. Visit the Cornerstone Coffeehouse website

 
The BadleesYou may not think of a rock band as a “small business”, but for nearly 23 years The Badlees have been run as just that. In their early years, they started their own record label to sell their albums, which sold so well that the big labels took notice. In 1995, they signed with one of those labels, toured the world with top-notch acts, and scored a couple of top 40 hits along the way. Now they own their own studio and once again produce their own music right here in Pennsylvania. In 2013, the band will do something they have never done before – release a double album – and they currently have an extensive program where fans can get involved in supporting this ambitious endeavor. Please check out the band’s website to get involved with this exciting project. The Badlees 2013 Double Album Campaign


Coming Soon

In December we will be launching three new websites, all of which offer exciting prospects.

Ron the Bagman is the owner of R. Davis Enterprises near Elizabethtown, PA. and is truly a unique client to say the least. On the technical side, Ron offers a range of services including logistics, distribution, wholesaling, warehousing, importing, exporting, LTL trucking with “white glove” service and, of course, top quality custom plastic bags made in the U.S.A. On the personal side, Bagman is an unforgettable personality who has done business around the world and is known by name at markets in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, Harrisburg, and many places in-between. 33 Dimensions is proud to be a new member of the “Bagman family”.

EMR Strategies and Kids Theatre News are both initiatives of a central Pennsylvania entrepreneur who has set her focus on expanding to other regions on the Northeast. EMR Strategies was established in 2008 to offer services for business executives, entrepreneurs, politicians and government officials with problem solving, strategic planning and organization. Kids Theatre News is a brand new initiative which will provide a central hub for students and parents involved in theatre shows and other stage events. This website will focus on medium-sized markets with a strong theatre community, starting with the Harrisburg, PA area and Albany, NY area and expanding to other locales in the future.

We strive for the continued growth and success of all our customers. Please support small business this weekend!

 
33 Dimensions
P.O. Box 126
Highspire, PA 17034
info@33dimensions.com

 


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