business technology web

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

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.


Your Home Page – In 15 Minutes

Free Home Page Recently, on some community web site I noticed couple of discussions that were directly related to the topics of this blog. First was telling a story about some good looking girl sitting in the mall in the booth that stated “Your Home Page in 15 Minutes” (hence the name of the post). Another discussion’s focus was on coming changes to web site builders’ pricing in view of global economy crisis. As you can see, the two are very interrelated (and many participants had it noted).

So what’s the story with Home Page in 15 Minutes? Will this fast-food web design prosper in times when every single company is looking to cut costs and therefore subject itself to services of much lower niche of web design studios? How would the whole market look like in a year or two?

Well, yes – and now. Obviously, if you can pay less for some service you don’t particularly understand – most likely you will. After all, the old adage of sergeant reminding his soldiers that their weapons were made by the lowest bidder hasn’t gone anywhere yet and is still around. Even more so, it’s much easier to convince a small business owner to shed off $99.95 (or whatever small amount you can think of) for basic web site then to make him pay anywhere near what the job might cost if done on a scale large enough. In fact, Zealus has web sites that ultimately cost from less then $2,000 to over $50,000 – both extremes being small business operations.

The “no” part is a little trickier to understand. Once you reach certain level of revenue as well as certain level of community recognition – you just can’t afford to have that free purple on pink template on your web site anymore. More so, your demands for web site grow with your business. You want different flash presentations for different products. You want to add some interactivity. You want to be able to adjust prices when you want to, not when your web design company has time for it. So you go for CMS-driven web site, or some e-commerce solution. Costs rise, and one day you realize your web site isn’t done as “McDonalds”, but more like a restaurant in downtown. You might even end up with several web sites for each branch of your products, so think “Olive Garden” or “Uno”.

I am not making a prediction here, but I want to digress a little. Once I’ve learned how easy it is to set up and populate a store on Yahoo or eBay or any other “free” platform, I stopped making my purchases there. The rationale is simple – this could be a fly-by-night shop I don’t know anything about. It’s not like I haven’t seen my share of nicely designed credit card traps on their own domains, it’s just that the risk is so much higher that I prefer to pay a few dollars more at then to risk the entire amount beign charged off.


Small business survival – 5 DON’Ts

During the course of creating e-Commerce web sites we get a lot of similar questions. This post contains five major DON’Ts for starting E-commerce entrepreneur. This is not, by any means, a concise guide, just answers to most commonly asked questions.

Don’t be afraid of Google, Yahoo and anyone else. It has been said numerous times – don’t think about search engines, think of your target audience. If you are in the business of selling widgets – write couple of good reviews on latest widgets, provide decent photos, build a reputation of a vendor who knows its widgets and not just sells stuff. Google likes good content as do your customers. One reason why I prefer to shop at Amazon and NewEgg – is because I can read reviews (including those of customers) and see lots of pictures.

Don’t be afraid of competition. Whatever you do (or decide to do) – there always will be a competition. Think of the ways you can do better then competition. Target niches, provide more information, stand out. If you sell what everyone else sells (like knock-offs, replicas and such) – be one step ahead, write a review, describe why people buy knock-offs, why yours are better then a shop next door.

Don’t forget to follow-up. This way your customer will know that you are serious seller, even if you sell one dollar widgets. Sending e-mail is as inexpensive as it could be. Even follow-up e-mails can be automated (schedule sending of an e-mail in your e-commerce system to your customers, 7 days upon successful finalizing of the order).

Don’t force your customer to register in order to check-out. Always offer a no-registration check-out option. You still be able to collect all the information about a customer you need, but you will save them a minute or two during checkout process and (this is more important) save them a hassle of remembering their password next time they are at your virtual door. They will register once they realize they return often enough.

Don’t overwhelm  your customers with all the current promotions and e-mails. Maintain a database of how many times you have e-mailed each customer. Try this trick: if you have sent out around seven promotions and a certain customer never visited any links from those e-mails – generate another e-mail that will ask the customer if he/she wants to unsubscribe from future e-mails. Unsubscribe automatically if no responce is given. Chances are hight that all your promotional correspondence ends up in Spam bin, so there is no reason to overload your servers or pay for e-mail delivery for this customer. On the other hand – it may alert customer and enact him/her to actually confirm subscription and look closer to your deals.