Posts Tagged "software"

Free and Low-Cost Web Design Options

Strapped for cash? You’re not alone. In fact, a low budget is the most universally familiar obstacle to small business owners. There are many ways to safely cut costs when setting up your web space, and finding less-costly web design options falls into this category. Here, we’ll take a look at the best ways to approach low-cost web design while maintaining a polished, professional appearance.

Free Options

There are two main free options available to you—an unpaid worker and a ready-made design built into a web space package you’re already purchasing. As with any budget option, there are disadvantages and advantages to both options.

Going with a ready-made design for your web space is a reliable option. Keep in mind, however, that a creativity-based business can suffer from an obviously-stock template. If, for example, you are a painter selling canvases online, customers will be a bit confused by a standard, boring web space design. Thankfully, there are many excellent bundled designs to be found via our top hosting picks. These designs are included in your purchase price, but still offer customizable and exciting visual options.

Your next free option is to find a skilled designer who’s just starting out. They are rather easy to find if you look in the right places—college campuses are a great place to begin. Place ads on the bulletin boards—real-world and online—of some local colleges and universities. You’ll probably receive more than a few offers, which gives you a nice selection. Just be sure to check the work over very carefully before it ‘goes live’ on your web space. Taking advantage of a fellow start-up is never good business, so be sure to use the barter system—offer a gift card, discount code or even profit-sharing potential in exchange for services.

Low-Cost Options

The most readily available low-cost web space design options are, essentially, enhanced versions of free options. You can find a great deal of customizable, yet ready-made, web space designs available through many different platforms. Many of these options can be customized to the point that they are unrecognizable as ready-made designs, lending your site that all-important air of creativity.

Another low-cost option involves seeking out a talented, yet undiscovered, individual or company. These individuals are in the same boat as you—just getting started. Services can often be obtained at a significantly reduced cost, or through bartering. Just be careful to pay fairly; after all, your business is worth a reasonable investment.

For a world of attractive, professional-looking templates which don’t require an IT degree to set up, visit sites such as ThemeForest. Even those brand-new to the world of web design can customize beautiful designs with just a few clicks!

Safety Comes First

Glitches can occur when utilizing the services of a less-than-professional individual or company. However, there’s no reason to get paranoid.

In order to keep costs down and stay sane, have your web space checked over by an internet safety professional before it goes live. This can usually be done at a very reasonable cost, and very quickly. This is a step best left to professionals backed by a well-regarded company. The money you spend is an investment in your and your customers’ safety—well worth every penny.

The Bottom Line

With so many low- and no-cost options out there, finding the right one for you should be an easy task. However, keep in mind that a professionally designed web space is your ultimate goal. These sites are easy to spot, and they immediately foster a sense of consumer trust. They cost more but, ultimately, that cost is neutralized by increased traffic and sales. Check out our best budget-friendly picks and start building your best site right away!

How to Avoid Website Crashes

Setting up your web space is a fun process. However, as you’re enjoying picking out lush pictures and setting up areas for personal visitor connections, remember to keep an eye on the technical side of things. Bandwidth is one of the most commonly-ignored aspects of a new web space. Unfortunately, a miscalculation or oversight in this area can leave your visitors facing a crash. Our top pick in hosting services, along with many other of our recommendations, have easy-to-use tools to help you avoid this scenario.

How Crashes Occur

The technicalities of a site crash aren’t very technical at all. Crashes have to do with two aspects—bandwidth and traffic. Bandwidth represents the amount of visitors—traffic—which your site can support at the same time. If traffic exceeds bandwidth allotment, your site will perform a NASCAR-style crash and burn. A crashed site can’t be visited, which translates into a great deal of lost visitors—and customers. Obviously, this is something which needs to be avoided at all costs.

Choosing the Right Package

If you’re not the most tech-savvy person in the world, there’s no need to worry. The majority of small business owners, bloggers, and other site owners are not—this is why the best site-hosting services offer customer support.

A well-trained customer support professional will work with you as you decide on a package, helping you to determine how many visitors your site is likely to attract. Once this is determined, you’ll have a better idea of how much bandwidth to purchase.

As always, read the fine print. You don’t want to be stuck with a small package when your web space begins to catch on and attract tons of business. This is where another very important piece of web space tech-knowledge comes into play.

Keeping Track of Your Site

Depending on which company and which package you choose, you’ll have several options when it comes to tracking your site’s performance. Most performance statistics packages will give you tons of useful information, including SEO performance and rankings. They’ll also give you the total amount of bandwidth your web space used up in a day, week or month. This is invaluable, because it lets you see how close you might be coming to a crash.

Watch these numbers very closely. If you don’t understand them at first, ask a tech-savvy friend or call up customer support. You need to stay on top of these numbers, as they reveal how well your web space is truly performing.

Once you notice that your bandwidth use is coming close to your total allotted bandwidth, it’s time to upgrade. This is not a place to cut corners. Upgrading before you absolutely need to will help to ensure that visitors to your web space are not greeted by a disappointing service-error message.

What a Crash Tells Visitors

While creating the impression that your site is crazy-busy isn’t a bad thing, doing it via a crash message is a very, very bad thing indeed. Crashes send the message that your site is unreliable, untrustworthy and, essentially, a place to steer clear of. Not exactly a pleasant impression, is it? Thankfully, it’s easily avoided. Our recommended hosts feature easy-to-understand stats for easy maintenance. By keeping on top of your performance numbers and upgrading when necessary, you can easily avoid a crash and the unfavorable visitor impression it creates. Whether your site is in the building phase or has already gone live, now is the time to start watching those numbers!

Do You Really Need E-Commerce?

E-Commerce, for many online sellers, is somewhat like the last frontier. You want to offer the service, you think you’re ready, but something keeps holding you back. What if you make a mistake? What if something goes wrong? What if…what if…?

This type of thinking, although common, is ultimately bad for business. Your web space deserves all the time and attention you can give it, and your customers deserve the utmost in convenience. In short, if you’re selling products, you do need e-commerce. Here, we’ll review the best ways to get started and the benefits your customers will enjoy.

Start with Existing Marketplaces

For the truly commerce-phobic, sites which incorporate e-commerce are an excellent way to become familiar with selling online. Etsy, which is dedicated to handmade and vintage products, is a great example. Through these sites, you can become familiar with the process of handling credit card and PayPal orders. After a while, once you feel more confident, you can move up to offering e-commerce in your own personal web space.

Choose a Trusted Platform or Software

There are several reliable and trustworthy selling platforms out there, each backed by a reputable security guarantee. These are your choices—don’t be tempted to cut costs by choosing an unknown provider. When dealing with customers’ money, safety is key. Your web space needs to be a safe place for customers to shop, and a cut-rate e-commerce provider is a very dangerous way to save a few bucks.

Make It Convenient

In the past, you’ve probably found a product or service online, only to find that you can’t purchase it. Frustrating, right? Don’t let your customers go through this—they’re likely to end up becoming somebody else’s customers.

Convenience is huge when it comes to online shopping, and a checkout right on your web space is the most convenient option. While some online sellers start by offering products through a larger site such as Amazon, keep in mind that this also automatically places other products in front of your customers. Start small if you must, but keep your own e-commerce web space as your ultimate goal. In today’s society, where we’ve all been conditioned to expect service at a single click, your customers will appreciate the effort.

Show Your Accepted Payment Methods

Whether it’s actually true or not, seeing a verified, familiar e-commerce checkout logo on a web space automatically instills a level of trust in customers. Seeing that your web space will accept their credit card or PayPal lets them know that you’re serious about your business, and have taken the steps to ensure a speedy, convenient checkout experience. This speaks volumes about your reliability as a seller, and nearly always leads to increased sales.

If you’re on an extremely tight budget, you may want to begin by accepting only PayPal. This is low-cost in nearly every scenario, and is quickly becoming one of the most trusted forms of e-commerce. Once the increased sales start rolling in, you’ll have enough extra cash to advance your e-commerce into having your own credit card merchant account. In the meantime, however, your customers will still feel an increased level of trust at seeing an e-commerce name they know related to your web space.

Look Professional

There are a few major, nationally-known sites which simply do not offer e-commerce. This is common in the worlds of haute couture, for example. However, these sites can afford to avoid e-commerce because they are so well known. For most small businesses, this level of name recognition is still years into the future.

In order to appear as professional as possible, e-commerce is a must. Regardless of how detailed your product or service descriptions, or how beautiful your photographs, customers will feel they’re dealing with an amateur if they can’t purchase via your own web space.

Conclusion

Although it can be daunting at first, e-commerce is a true must for any serious business-related web space. Not only will it make purchasing more convenient for your customers, but it will lend your site an air of professionalism and consumer trust which can’t be found through any other site component. Want to get started today? Check out these hosts, all of which let you install an e-commerce system with a few clicks!

Top 10 WordPress Plugins

WordPress’s basic feature set makes it a top-notch blogging platform, but the software isn’t limited to that. There are all sorts of plugins that can enhance and extend its functionality. Let’s look into ten of those.

Jetpack

While it’s generally an inferior option to hosting a WordPress site on your own web space, the hosted solution provided by WordPress.com does include a number of interesting social features. Additional stats, email subscriptions, and social networking integration are just three of these features; there’s a huge list of everything included at the link. Jetpack is a massive upgrade to WordPress’s ability to build and retain community, and can be useful for almost anyone.

Tumblr Importer

Not every worthwhile plugin is as feature-packed as Jetpack; some are more utilitarian. Tumblr Importer does just that: it imports posts from a Tumblr blog to your new WordPress installation. If you were using Tumblr before setting up your own web space, this means that you can effortlessly carry content over. Your users will never know that this plugin is there—but it does its job, and that’s what matters.

Hotfix

If everything is going well, Hotfix does nothing. Literally, nothing. That’s okay, because this plugin is intended for when things don’t go well—it patches known bugs in the installed version of WordPress that have yet to be fixed in a core release. It’s not a substitute for a WordPress update, but it can help immensely with security while you’re waiting on that update.

Akismet

Spam is ubiquitous in comment threads and email inboxes the world over; that doesn’t mean you can’t combat it, though. Akismet is a web service that identifies comments as spam via a sophisticated pattern recognition algorithm, pulled from its data on every site using the service. It’ll go a long way to making your site’s comments worth using.

Google Analytics for WordPress

If you want advanced data on your site’s visitors, Google Analytics provides some of the best tools available. This plugin ties that functionality into WordPress, allowing you to customize and target your content or advertising for its viewers.

bbPress

If you want to foster community among your users, a message board is a great way to do that—but most of the existing forum software is hard to use and set up on your own web space. bbPress ties that functionality into WordPress, giving it a fully functional message board.

Google XML Sitemaps

Your content is only worth as much as its viewers, and most of those viewers will be encountering it through a search engine. XML sitemaps allow search engines to better explore and catalog your site, increasing its visibility. This plugin generates a sitemap automatically, in real time. All of your pages are included and made available to search engines, without any effort on your part.

Ultimate TinyMCE

WordPress has a basic WYSIWYG text editor for your posts, but by default you’ll have to use HTML to do anything really impressive with the formatting. Ultimate TinyMCE beefs up the options of that text editor, and enables you to do far more entirely from within the graphical interface. It’s great for non-technical users.

NextGEN Gallery

If your site uses a lot of images, a properly organized image gallery can be a good way to make those available to users. NextGEN Gallery integrates a powerful, easy-to-use image gallery solution into WordPress, and makes presentation of visual content much easier on you.

WP Super Cache

By default, WordPress runs resource-intensive PHP scripts to generate every page served to your users. WP Super Cache stores the HTML results of those scripts, and—unless the page has been updated—will serve these static HTML versions to users if possible. It’s the same result on the user’s end, but it conserves your web server’s resources.

How to Upload Files to Your Web Space

Without content, your web space is useless. But how do you upload that content?

File Managers

The most common solution provided for uploading files to your web space is an online file manager, integrated into a control panel such as cPanel. Using this couldn’t be simpler. You just enter the file manager from your web browser and navigate the on-screen directory tree to your desired location, before you use the point-and-click graphical interface to upload your files.

Unfortunately, there are still web hosts that don’t provide online file managers—and even if you have access to one, they’re not the fastest way to upload heavier amounts of data. As a matter of fact, many have fairly small file size limits.

FTP Clients

So you need to use FTP, the standardized File Transfer Protocol, a facet of the Internet’s fundamental technological layer that was created for exactly this purpose. You have several options here.

Most modern web browsers can connect to an FTP server, as long as you identify the FTP protocol in the URL bar by replacing the standard http: string with an ftp: string. For example, ftp://www.google.com tells your browser to connect to the server associated with the domain name google.com using the FTP protocol.

However, relatively few browsers actually support uploading files out of the box. Most of the major web browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, only support viewing and downloading files. Even among the few that include upload functionality—for instance, Internet Explorer—it’s still relatively simple, and not suited for tasks more complex than uploading one or two files at a time. For heavier work, you’ll need to use a standalone FTP client.

FTP clients are software built exclusively for handling the uploading and downloading of files from FTP servers. There’s no shortage of quality options for you to choose from. Every major operating system has a variety of perfectly good FTP clients. So don’t worry about the machine you’re using—whether it’s Windows-based, Linux-based, a Mac, or running something more obscure, you’re going to be fine. You can even find and download FTP clients that will run on iOS or Android.

GUI-based tools like FileZilla are generally the easiest to learn. Command-line FTP clients can be incredibly powerful, but they’re also confusing for anyone who’s not used to working with command-line tools; they’re only recommended for experts.

You start out by logging into the FTP server using the username, password, and FTP host name you’ve been given by your host. User interface varies from client to client—but most modern ones take after the operating system GUIs, and you can get used to them in minutes. Navigation works in much the same way as in your file browser; many clients even support drag and drop or cut and paste directly from that. It’s quick, easy, and painless.

To close, here’s a quick list of some of the better free graphical FTP clients available on Windows and Mac OS X. This should help you to get started. Any of these will support all the features you technically need; which one you use depends on the graphical interface you prefer or additional features you want.