Own vs Rent: Why Hosting Your Web Site On Someone Else’s Platform Is A Great Idea

rentvsbuy Since I wrote the “Own vs Rent: Why Hosting Your Blog or Web Site on Someone Else’s Platform is a Bad Idea” it bugged me that I must talk about the positive side to having someone else take care of your web site needs. I’ve recently joined Medium in addition to being a member on a few other sites and I love the collaborative features on Medium. These days when everyone is creating their very own and unique yet-another-instagram or yet-another-youtube or yet-another-facebook it was nice to see something refreshing and useful.

So why, even considering all the points from previous post, it may still make sense to have your web site on someone else’s ground?

1. A Large Community. If your product is, ultimately, a text (reviews, blog posts, rants, whatever) – you are writing for other people to read and respond. Having a community around helps a great deal – people are more likely to respond when they are a part of the same network. That’s how Tumblr, Medium operate and that’s why Livejournal is still twitching although it should have died painful and miserable death years before MySpace. Having a community is probably the heaviest argument towards having your blog on a network vs. hosting on your own. You can (and probably should) crosspost back to your own blog for the reasons stated in previous post (network may shut down or make your posts invisible), but ultimately the easier people can interact with you and your blog the better. Same can be said about the likes of Etsy or eBay – it’s a marketplace where people come to buy things, so you may just as well participate. The more channels you sell through the better.

2. Performance Considerations. If you are on your own and haven’t made it big time yet – chances are your site hosting resources aren’t anywhere near the capacities of big players. Sudden spike in visits or (let’s think positive) a steady surge may send your web site into a crawl or make it unavailable. Big networks almost always can handle high loads better. Additionally, there are services that are tailored for supporting specific platforms (like WP-Engine for WordPress blogs). Their costs are usually slightly higher than ordinary hosting’s but they will take care of the shining the bells and cleaning the whistles of your platform.

3. A Piece Of Mind. Knowing that a dedicated team of developers whose (hopefully) full time jobs are keeping your site up and running makes it easier to concentrate on other matters of your business. Of course, you can always get a case of LiveJournal, that has been steadily progressing from bad to worse to completely unreliable, but it’s rather an exception. Picking a right resource may just be good enough to do the job you want it to do. Compared to finding a developer or a team that is capable of steady performance given the intermittent task structure you inevitably will have is a deed of it’s own.

4. Price Considerations. If the hardest technical challenge you ever overcame was changing background on your iPhone to your selfie, taking care of technical matters may end up being too costly – with finding and paying the right person to support your site and all. Paying for service that does just the right amount of work for you may turn out to be less expensive while providing enough features for your needs. On top of that hosting and maintenance of well known popular platforms is almost a commodity now, so large companies can give a better price compared to small time shops.

5. Features That Otherwise Would Be Hard To Get. If you don’t know what “PCI compliance” really is – you have never really done e-commerce. Additionally, certain providers may allow you to accept payments in different currencies, add marketing features or sell goods that otherwise would be impossible or too complicated to set up on your own. Some (like Amazon) will even warehouse your inventory to shorten the trip to the consumer. Such features are hard to beat especially when they come as a part of a package.

6. Security Considerations. In these days where even big names like Target and Home Depot become victims of hacker attacks it’s easy to imagine that breaking into a small time shop on a small time server wouldn’t be a big deal for a determined hacker. By sticking with a larger provider you reducing the risk of being brought offline and in case it happens – reducing the downtime itself. Large companies have the capacity, knowledge and resources to employ security solutions that are way over the head any small or medium businesses. There is, of course, no silver bullet, but decreasing chances of downtime is worth paying extra if it comes to that.

7. Scalability. You are building your business to grow. So what if your site starts getting ten times more visitors, or even hundred times more. The platform you used before may not be enough – either your server is too weak or the platform you chose isn’t optimized. This could be a pretty scary race against time when you scramble to find people and make decisions on how to upgrade or where to move without full understanding of what you really need. Having a (supposedly) highly qualified team that could answer these questions in an instant – just because they’ve been down that road before multiple times – is invaluable, especially when your web site is crawling under heavy load of new clients.

It’s rather obvious that no single tool is good for all jobs. Picking whether to get your own piece of internet real estate or get into a community with shared parking lot and garbage collection is an important decision that directly affects the future of the business.

Own vs Rent: Why Hosting Your Blog or Web Site on Someone Else’s Platform is a Bad Idea

You’ve watched that amazing commercial from Wix or SquareSpace or Weebly or what-not-else-is-out-three and decided that you want to blog about fashion or your own brand or your own skin care line and you need a web site. Because internet and because it so simple they actually show it in 15 second spot on TV, between cereal and shampoo commercials. Great, you think, I’ll get myself one of those and start a web site. Sometimes even for free or for a price of cup of coffee per month. Because we all want instant gratification and we want to post our first Facebook update “Yo, I’ve got a fashion blog and here’s my first post about fashion”.

Despite this having been out for a few years people still go and make the same mistake. Here’s why it’s a bad idea to start your own brand (or blog) on someone else’s platform.

1. You don’t own anything. Plain and simple. You are leasing the spot on the web. If the platform of your choice will shut down – you’re out of luck. You’ll have to move your content, but what you cannot move is links TO your content. All those shares and cross-posts that created your online reputation – gone for good. So the moment when you commit to starting your own web site (whether it’s a blog, e-commerce, portfolio or anything else) – think about future. What would happen if you become popular? What would happen if the service you’re starting this on will shut down. Even Google shuts down things that are popular, so smaller guys can always do the same even faster.

2. You don’t control anything. Most platforms allow you to change a few things here and there, maybe throw in a banner or two, switch between a few free templates that were beaten to death even before you have joined. But in most cases you cannot work a completely custom design or add specific features. Even with WordPress.com (hosted WordPress platform) – one of the most flexible platforms out there – there are severe limitations on features and plugins allowed for the use. When you decide you want to start a blog and, maybe, sell a thing or two later on – think ahead and choose the platform that will allow you to branch out into other ways of making money.

3. You don’t know what is going on behind the scene. Service may change certain features or policies – and what was totally fine just a week ago is now thrown to the outskirts of the service. Case in point – adult themed blogs on Tumblr. For years they have existed in their own niche, people had reviewed products and services and everyone was playing nice. “Once upon a time” (a few months after Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo) any blog with anything remotely related to adult products or services had fallen out of search results, effectively becoming invisible on Tumblr network. Tumblr has partially restored these blogs in search, but the situation still isn’t back to what it was before. It’s necessarily going to be like that, but things may change, the service that was free may get severely limited or stop being free altogether. This especially hurts when you have a community of people that are forced to change place or habits.

4. You’re perceived as “cheap” brand. And rightfully so. A domain name and a hosting for a blog or a simple web site at a maximum will cost about $20 – 30 dollars a month. If you can’t generate that much from the business you are promoting in most likeliness you either not very serious about it or you’re in the wrong business. The only exclusions of this rule are portfolio or e-commerce sites such as Behance or Etsy. And even then it’s advisable to have a standalone web site – for the reasons above and below.

5. There’s a problem with feature scaling. As your brand, web site or blog grows you may decide to add certain features – link up and feed from other resources, add functionality to web site or blog. Unless you own the platform you may not be able to do that. Some platforms even impose restrictions on what and how you can advertise on your site. In order to have enough freedom to run your business your way you may want to consider your own thing.

6. It’s a security problem. Large network sites present a tasty target for cyber criminals. Chances that they will target an individual site vs network of sites are slim to none. Besides, securing your web site isn’t even available to you when you are renting the spot. With your own platform you can go crazy on security any way you want it. And when it comes to actual sell and customers – you don’t want to save on security, trust me.

Now that you are concerned enough – what can you do and what should you do if you already have a blog on someone else’s network? For example, if you have a blog on Wix or Blogger or something else?

1. Get a domain name and connect it with your web site. The cheapest domain names can be had for under $10 – not even an investment, unless you deduct your morning Starbucks trips as business expenses (as I do). If your domain name is Example.com make sure that’s how everyone will access your web site from now on. Most of hosted platforms (such as WordPress.com or Wix or SquareSpaces) allow you to connect your own domain name to their web site. If you can change any old links to new name – do it ASAP.

2. Migrate to an independent platform. Get your own WordPress installation or Joomla or whatever else works for you. Either learn it yourself or find someone who can help you with migration. It may be intimidating and time consuming and complicated and totally not your cup of tea, so it’s perfectly fine to seek help. You don’t have to know the technical side of things, but as a business owner you must control this part of your business. Imagine if you were a plumber and all your wrenches were loaned to you by someone else.

3. Learn how to manage your site. If it’s a blog or a content site – learn how to post and connect properly. A lot of things could be automated, like finding relevant or similar post links, cross-posting to other social and blog networks, even rotation and placement of ads. There are tools and multiple ways of doing things, so take your time and figure it out. It’s an investment that will pay back later. It’s your business, right?

4. Link forward. Once your new site is up and all contents is transferred – link from your old blog to new, article to article, post to post – if possible. This way search engines will find duplicate content faster and since you will be updating the standalone platform they will prioritize it higher. You can also use Web Master Tools from Google and Bing in order to prioritize your content.

5. Use more than one stats package. There are multiple packages available, so there is no reason why you couldn’t use more than one. They almost never match in direct numbers, but it’s a good way to do “checks and balances” – especially if you are doing pay-per-click campaigns. Discrepancies between different stats systems can save you a lot of money – for example, you may be able to prove fraudulent clicks on your ads and as a result – not pay for them.

6. Take responsibility for running your web site. If you have the knowledge – keep up with updates, security fixes and so on. If you asked someone else to help – don’t automatically assume they will do everything immediately and on time. Follow up (politely!), make schedules or ask them to proactively communicate patching, updates or any other work they decide to do. Nothing pisses the business owner more than a botched launch – imagine you’ve paid for different media campaigns to launch on Tuesday morning and find out at noon that your web site has been down since midnight because your web dev team decided to patch and reboot the server and something went wrong. You don’t put your car in the shop if you are due for an important business meeting – same goes for your web site.

7. Don’t be afraid to be paranoid. This one’s a little different from the rest, but given all the revelations on cyber security (or, mostly, lack of thereof) it’s always a good idea to check the noise. If you see an unexpected spike in visits to your web site when nothing was scheduled – check it out. It could be a good thing (something from your web site went viral), but it could also be a bad thing (your web site got compromised and it sees a spike in fraudulent traffic). In either case the sooner you know about it – the better. If something went viral – you can capitalize on that. If something went wrong – you need to put a stop to it immediately.

Taking care of your web site – especially if it’s a business matter – isn’t something you want to leave to the “after party” mood. It’s an essential part of running almost any business, so you should take it just as seriously as doing your taxes or talking to customers. In fact, your web site IS how you talk to your customers. You don’t want to be messy in that department.

O Customer, Where Art Thou?

KolejkaI really really REALLY don’t think there will be only one post about customers. Really. But I had to start somewhere, so here goes.

The way this laser hair removal place started acquiring customers was rather funny. The owner worked on the fifth floor of the same building in the similar laser hair removal place (only smaller and less clean) when suddenly the owner decided to call it a day. His customers were left out in the cold, many of them in the middle of their voucher deals or packages. The guy pretty much just packed and went home. Given that technicians (there were two) were in charge of their schedules, it was only natural that most of the customers had their personal cell phone numbers. So when the business closed they started ringing up the technicians. Instead of brushing off they decided to explain the situation and offer these customers an option to wait until this new business is up. Since all of this was happening during summer – not the best time for laser skin treatments – a lot of customers agreed to wait it out. There were some misunderstandings and a lot of angry words exchanged, but at the end of the day most of it got resolved.

Once the place was up and running the owner got on the phone again reaching out to old customers. Of course, it wasn’t overly smart to offer them to complete the treatment for which they paid someone else. However, the thinking was that a couple of sessions wouldn’t be that big of a price if the owner would be able to sell them a package of her own. It didn’t always work, but the place got their schedule up and running pretty quick and people were coming in every day.

customer_queueWe started ringing up deal sites. It was a bit unexpected (although understandable) when some of the sites refused to deal with a new business because it was new business. Other sites couldn’t care less. Groupon was the first to take us on, their only focus was pricing – they low balled us to something almost totally outrageous. We haven’t had much experience with any deal sites from the merchant perspective, so it was sort of a revelation to find out how these sites treat both merchants and customers. Words like “customer loyalty” and “quality customer base” started making a whole new world of sense.

One of the sites (I think it was LivingSocial) flat out told us to go and buy likes on Facebook (either through FB’s own ad campaign or otherwise), because they will only deal with us if we have at least 100 or so likes on Facebook. Not a big deal, but if you had your company opened a week ago a hundred likes might seem like a problem. Amazon Local demanded a certain rating on Yelp in order to run our deal. When I flat out asked “So you’re Yelp’s bitch now?” they really had nothing to say except “effectively – yes”. One of the largest deal sites on the market being subject to restrictions of another company, well known for their shady practices of falsifying a businesses’ ratings and reviews – that was just too funny.

Still we managed to get some of our deals up on Groupon, Lifebooker, KGB Deals and, eventually, Amazon and LivingSocial – some time later. That’s when the “customer quality”, “customer loyalty” (or “customer retention”) started making all kinds of different sense.

Let me get this out of the way. 90% of coupon customers aren’t worth the time you spend with them on the phone to schedule an appointment. It’s the other 10% that are the reason for doing the coupon site deals. Each category, obviously, deserves a separate post – which I will probably have to do, eventually.

customer_serviceStrange as it seems there actually is a difference between clients coming different coupon sites. The deep dive probably deserve a separate post altogether, but in a nutshell – we’ve seen the worst coming from Groupon and Lifebooker, the rest are marginally better. One thing where you may regret having loyal coupon customers is when they like you so much they keep buying vouchers all over the place – whatever it takes as long as they keep getting treatments at your place at coupon price. They will never convert and they keep bringing more loyal coupon users, so we decided to force “New customers only” rule on most of our deal contracts after the first wave. It may not sound nice to customers, but it’s a way to cut losses. If they like our services so much they should definitely try to negotiate a deal (and it’s always a possibility with the business like this), instead of trying to cheat your way through.

Here’s a little story to explain.

We had one customer who absolutely loved our service. At least that’s what she said during first five sessions of her coupon treatment. She went and bought four more vouchers (from the same deal site – we didn’t have any other deals running at that moment) – using friends’ credit card with option to “gift” a voucher to someone else. When we pointed out she was effectively cheating the coupon site and gaming the system and that we refuse to honor more than two vouchers out of all five she owned (a perfectly legal move based on our contract with coupon site which stated “one voucher per client plus one as a gift” – or something like that) she decided that we have the worst place ever. She complained to deal site – and they confirmed we did the right thing and warned to ban her AND her friends from the site for cheating. She demanded that we provide her with free session for this occurrence of horrible customer service. She promised she will write a negative review on Yelp – which she did, calling us liars for not honoring a single voucher. Not that we care much about Yelp (we’re not paying them to remove bad reviews, so there’s that), but we took note and responded to review, of course, explaining what exactly happened and how the customer was in the wrong. Given that you can’t really inject any brains or conscience into such customers we decided to implement “new customers only” rule. At least it saves us from drama at the office.

Running your own small business is a challenge.