How Web Hosting is Like a Free Puppy

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:

  1. 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 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.)
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. 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*
  5. 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.

Learn about SMS’ web hosting support for WordPress sites.

Question:  What are your server nightmares, and what have you learned? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Tips & tricks for more clicks on your blog

Social Media is getting a lot of hype, and if you’re like my clients and me, understanding this medium and knowing how to leverage it can feel overwhelming.  Social Media “experts” are a dime a dozen, and let me tell you: few people really know what they’re talking about.  Leveraged properly, social media can be a fantastic way to grow your influence, your list, get more clients and accomplish all sorts of cool things.  Toni (@tonibirdsong)and I have a few podcasts coming soon on this, but in the meantime, I want to offer a framework to help you understand social media as an important business-building medium.

I read a tweet the other day (wish I could remember who so I could give credit) that said “Social Media success is based on knowing how to relate.”  Yes, yes, ding ding!  The simplicity of that flipped me out — knowing how to relate. In life and relationships, we connect with others through the things we have in common, through empathizing, encouraging, sharing resources and generally being supportive.  Twitter and Facebook success, in particular, is driven by this premise.
Social Media success is guided by the basic principles of relationships:
  1. Show interest in others (engage with others around their conversations)
  2. Be courteous and show gratitude (Thanks for RT [retweet], responding kindly to engagement from others)
  3. Support the successes of others (RT, congratulate, engage)
  4. Provide advice, content, perspective that is genuinely supportive and useful (blog content, tweets, quotes, opine on relevant news, etc)
  5. Curb the hard-selling (social media is based on pull marketing – you “win” by being attractive, not forcing your message down throats)

Content marketing (leveraging your expertise into content like articles and blog posts) is an integral part of a successful social media strategy.  Creating great content requires effort, both intellectually and creatively, and it requires some savvy that for many of us, isn’t intuitive – we’re gonna have to do a little brain stretch to learn this stuff.

The biggest challenge I have personally is I want things to be perfect – but perfect is the enemy of consistency when it comes to pretty much all social media efforts.  We are all flying by the seat of our pants, trying to make time for social media while serving our clients, improving our offerings, creating new offerings, networking, speaking, putting out fires, and so much more.  Perfection comes with time. As you make progress, you make things more and more perfect.  Like training for a race, you don’t expect to be able to run a well-conditioned 5K the first time you train.  You start where you are with the goal of getting moving.

The deeper we get into the social media, the more we learn and we’re seeing some nice results for our clients.  I promise to share our nuggets with you as we go!  If you want help executing your plan, I’d love to talk to you.  If you want to do it yourself, I hope this information serves you.

And please: tell me what headline-creating strategies work for you in the comments!

How to Write Magnetic Headlines – This statistic POWERFULLY drives home the importance of headlines in this post: On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of your blog post, and determines whether your content gets read. This post sets up a fantastic 11-part series on creating great headlines – love it!

15 Ways to Rework Your Next Blog Post Title – This is a really, REALLY fantastic post with some easy tips for helping you get “in the zone” to create a powerful blog title:

  • Communicate a Benefit
  • Create Controversy or Debate
  • Ask a Compelling Question
  • and more! Plus good examples.

Read.this.FIRST! All gems.

How to Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers into Your Blog – It’s really important to understand the very versatile way that your blog titles will appear across the net.  This post points out that your title will appear in:

1) Search engine results,

2) RSS feeds,

3) Links from other bloggers,

4) Social media sites, and

5) On your archive pages (depending upon how you format them).

“In each of these occassions the title can be the only thing that people see and the sole thing that people make the decision to visit your post on. Write a boring, complicated or confusing title and it doesn’t matter what you’ve written in the post – very few people will ever read it.”

10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas that Work – This post really delivers on its promise of giving you great formulas for your titles.  A couple examples:

1) “Who Else Wants [blank]?”

2) “Here’s a Quick Way to [solve a problem]” and

3) “What Everybody Ought to Know About [blank]”

How to Craft Kick-Ass Titles & Headlines – My favorite part of this post was the distinctions to help you understand what type of title you’re creating: 1) Self-Interest: The best headlines are those that appeal to self interest. They offer the reader benefits that they want, and they can get from you, 2) News: Humans are pre-disposed to seek out what is new and different in their environment, eg. NEW, CHEAPER IPHONE CALL PLANS RELEASED, 3) Curiosity: Appeals to our curious nature, eg. LOST: $1 BILLION DOLLARS

25 Action Words for Creating a Newsworthy Headline – I often hear myself telling my clients to switch up their copywriting so that their writing in active voice (rather than passive voice) with strong verbs to inspire action. This is a great list of strong, ACTIVE verbs to use in your headlines.

I’d love to hear your best headline strategies in the comments!

Why your website doesn’t generate more leads

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:

  • Resolving frustrations
  • 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!

The secret ingredient for getting more leads from your website

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.

Want to know if your website is a good trust-builder? Sign up for a strategy session!

Read this before you design your website

Read this before you design your website

Spend your money wisely when building your website

Building a website seems like a really important thing to do to grow your business . . . and boy, do I hear the stories of buyer’s remorse and other frustration from colleagues, clients, and prospects who spend gobs of money on their websites (oftentimes, their entire marketing budget), only to realize later that their websites just sit there, don’t really get them business, aren’t flexible to keep up with the ever-changing web and social media landscape, are expensive to maintain, don’t attract new leads or sales, etc.

Your Website’s Most Important Feature:  Quality Content

The real bummer comes when people realize the most expensive part of building a website, if it’s done right, isn’t the cool design (though good design is important)–it’s creating great content that’s optimized well and structured to compel visitors to take some sort of action. Before you hire your next web developer or commission the design of your next website, consider what you want your website to “do” for your business.

Here are a few ideas about what your website should do for your business:

  • Generate new leads
  • Nurture your relationship with fans/prospects
  • Support offline efforts (like booking speaking engagements, supporting PR efforts, etc)
  • Sell products
  • Support strategic alliances and affiliates

Make sure your website educates, informs, and is helpful to your visitors

Often, your website is targeting many different “buyers” at once: meeting planners, program chairs, media editors, strategic partners, and prospects for your offerings. Consider the needs and expectations of each of these buyers to ensure you’re making it easy for them to find the exact information they’re seeking with as few clicks as possible. Understand the buying process of your intended audience. People seek “help” with their problems when they hit key “thresholds” personally or professionally. It’s important that you know what those thresholds are, what kind of “help” they are looking for (do they want tips, to buy a book, to hire a consultant/coach, to buy into a program or seminar, etc), and what kind of trust you’ll need to inspire for them to choose you over other options in the marketplace.

This is a great opportunity to talk about your social media and blogging plan. In the How Should I Market Myself? program, these strategies fall under “Grassroots Marketing,” the foundational strategy in the marketing triad. It’s really important that your website serves as a platform that integrates your showcasing and networking efforts, giving visitors who are wanting to learn about your expertise and to educate themselves the opportunity to connect with all your social touch points. Toni and I will be doing some podcasts on social media soon . . . this is Toni’s genius and I’m excited to share her in-the-trenches expertise with you!

Because the online landscape is changing so much, so fast, I highly recommend using WordPress to build your website. It’s very, very user-friendly and has a huge open-source community of programmers who create mostly-free plugins to integrate cutting-edge functionality to your site’s design. Pretty much every VA (virtual assistant) I’ve ever talked to is familiar with WP, so you can easily get support in the form of trained admins –at this stage of the game, you can’t go wrong with WordPress. I also recommend building your custom templates with a framework like Thesis or Genesis –they really optimize your sites well for search, all built-in (they also employ lots of best-practice programming).bu

The truth about internet marketing – and how to make it work for you

Internet Marketing alone won't fill your piggy bank. While listening to the chatter about how independent professionals like us grow our businesses, I always hear lots of talk about “internet marketing.”  I’ve even heard people call themselves “Internet Marketers” as a vocational title — as if to say that they’ve spent time figuring out how to market things on the internet and they made gobs of money (or not), and they’ll teach you how, too.

Now, being a bit of a marketing snob, I almost find it offensive that people who don’t have a lick of academic training in marketing, business ethics and best practices would call themselves “experts” in anything marketing-related.  I think it’s bad for our industry and bad for your business.  Frankly, a lot of these “Internet Marketers” are touting crappy strategies and tactics that can quickly diminish the value and credibility of your expertise.  As an independent professional, I think you should be very wary of any “marketing” person who talks only about websites and sales letters and squeeze pages, with no real attention given to your platform,  your offerings and the messaging that is going to be leveraged by those websites, sales letters and squeeze pages.

There are two cornerstones to a great strategic marketing plan:

1)  A strong offering that solves real problems in the marketplace

2)  A solid understanding of your customers, their “flocking” habits, and their needs, frustrations and goals.

When you understand who your customers are, how they’re organizing themselves in the marketplace, and what messages connect and resonate with them, you can better-evaluate which marketing channels are right for you, and what messages are right for those channels.

Now, let’s talk internet marketing again.  Internet marketing is a CHANNEL. It’s one avenue by which you can connect with your customers.  The snob in me can always tell when someone *really* gets marketing because they refer to Internet marketing within the context of an overall strategy.  A solid marketing strategy is going to include both offline AND online efforts.  Good marketing is also  going to be based on “deep drilling” that has profiled well both what you offer and who your customers are, with effort and intention devoted to getting the messaging right.

With the right strategy, Internet marketing is priceless.  It can help catapult your business to a whole new level when the right conditions are in place to leverage the impact of your Internet marketing channel (including the two cornerstones mentioned above).

The moral of the story: Approach Internet Marketing wisely

1)  If you’re looking for in-the-trenches help with your marketing, you need a partner that’s going to understand both the messaging and the channels.  Choose wisely.  In your preliminary talks with them, you should feel like they “get” you, and they should challenge you with good questions that compel you to dig deep.

2)  If you’ve nailed the messaging and have some momentum in your business, testing out some strategies from “Internet Marketers” might be useful.  I subscribe to the Walgreen’s philosophy on these things:  crawl, walk, run.  Don’t bet the farm on a single strategy or tactic.  Test it, figure out how to get the channel to work for you, then scale your efforts to reap big rewards.

3) Use “Internet marketing” wisely and don’t let it become a snake oil that keeps you from doing the deep work required to really grow your business.  Without the proper context, Internet marketing will rob you of a lot of time, a lot of money, and possibly a lot of credibility with your audience.