The Benefits of WordPress
Steve was annoyed!
Really, really annoyed.
He had been sitting on the fence about rebuilding his site for some months (prior to us getting involved).
His website was broken and full of errors. His ‘contact us’ form wasn’t working. And to top it off, he couldn’t reach the offshore host to get these issues addressed.
It used a proprietary software platform developed by the designer which was unique to them. Since then, the business had been sold to a couple of cowboy web designers based in America. These guys never answered emails, and were completely unreachable by phone. Steve was screwed.
This was costing him both time and money, neither of which he had much of.
A proprietary system that relies on just one supplier or agency is the issue here. Be sure to avoid it yourself. Having no other web designer using the same platform makes it very difficult to get help when your web designer is unreachable and unresponsive. Worse still, what if you have a falling out and don’t want to use the design agency again?
Had Steve been using software like WordPress it would have been easy to transition to another server and partner with another supplier who could fix the problem and keep the leads and enquiries flowing through to his business.
The right tool for the job
We are going focus on the software (content management system or CMS) that will drive your website. Before your eyes start to glaze over and you drift off to sleep, give me a moment. This stuff is important and the wrong decision here as demonstrated by Steve could be costly in both time and money. It’s worth getting up to speed on this.
Let’s just start out by defining what a ‘content management system’ (CMS) is. To put it simply it is a bit of software that allows you to publish, modify or edit content on your website. You can manage text, photos, graphics and videos, all from a secure administrator interface on your web browser. It is nice and simple for the average Joe (after a little bit of training) to maintain the content on their site. An example of an update you might want to do is a new blog post, changing a phone number or adding a new team member to your website – general day to day maintenance tasks that you don’t want to pay a supplier to do.
Getting it right, the first time
I am assuming you only want to pay once to have this website built? Makes sense huh?
With so many platforms and different opinions it can be difficult to source the best tool for the job. And here lies the big fork in the road.
The road to the left – a ‘CLOSED’ system
On your left is unique ‘closed’ system that your local web design company has built. They have built it from scratch and the software is unique to them. Only they know how to operate it. So why do some companies choose to use these systems?
There are advantages of this approach such as it can be simple to use and security tends to be tighter. They’re often suited to very large companies who bring the updating expertise in house and like the enhanced security aspects. The disadvantage is that you are tied to that website designer forever. Yes, you heard me, forever. If they go out of business or things just aren’t working out, it is very difficult to pack your bags and leave. You can’t just bundle up the site and move it. It is stuck on their server. The site needs to be rebuilt, from scratch. “Ouch,” I hear you say.
The road to the right – an ‘OPEN’ system
On your right is an ‘open source’ content management system. It is used by millions of businesses around the world. It is free to download and use and can be housed by most hosting companies. You can bolt in ‘plugins’ to extend the features of your website. All its files are free to use, customise and enhance. It can be packaged up and moved around with little hassle. This gives flexibility if a relationship with a web designer ever deteriorates.
There are many open source platforms available. The world’s most commonly used platform is called WordPress (http://www.wordpress.org).
WordPress content management system
WordPress started life as a blogging platform but has evolved to a full featured, fully customisable CMS. It is very common, driving about 22% of all websites on the internet. Everything from complex websites, simple blogs and online shops can be powered by WordPress.
There are hundreds of thousands of web designers who use it as their primary tool of choice. Finding a web designer and developer to help with the ongoing support for your website is very easy. If you are technically minded and like to get your hands dirty you can even do the majority of the setup and configuration yourself. Utilising templates allows the majority of the behind the scenes heavy lifting to be done for you, whilst still allowing exciting creative input from your design crew.
 http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all > Correct as of 20/04/2014
What is so great about WordPress?
Apart from the fact that it is the most widely used platform around world, WordPress has a raft of features to rave about. In fact, here goes.
So simple, your Mum can use it!
It is very easy to use. With a little training and hand holding, anyone familiar with operating a web browser will feel confident in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t require any technical programming knowledge. Just point, click, type and publish. Voila – go Mumsie!
Google absolutely loves WordPress – in fact they publicly recommend it. The head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts, said “WordPress takes care of 80-90% of (the mechanics of) Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)”. Out of the box it comes standard with most things your website needs to get results. A few handy plugins will further extend your reach in Google.
You can assign different levels of access and restrictions to your website. Administrators can manage your site, editors can focus on content, and authors and contributors can create the content. Just like your own little online newspaper!
There is no greater way to keep your audience up to date than with a blog (more on content generation in Chapter 5). WordPress actually started life as a blogging platform. Commenting is inbuilt or enhanced, which means readers can interact by providing questions or feedback on your posts, thus promoting discussion and dialogue.
As your business grows, so can your website. From a simple five-page website right up to a 10,000-page site, WordPress doesn’t miss a beat. Companies such as CNN, General Electric and Time Magazine all have websites or blogs driven by WordPress.
WordPress is like the underlying engine of your site. The skin of your site can be completely customised so that the look and feel of the site is unique to your brand. Your site design can be one of a kind (as it should be!).
Out of the box,WordPress comes with lots of features. These can be extended even further through the use of ‘plugins’. You can add photo galleries, social media sharing, shopping carts, maps, forms and much more. If a plugin doesn’t exist,you can get one written, making custom functionality very easy.
WordPress is free to download, customise and use. There are no licensing fees and there are thousands of free plugins and themes. It is inexpensive to host your site and the best bit is that you own your website and data, meaning you can move it wherever you want. You are not tied to any web designer or host.
Because of its popularity lots of freelancers and web design agencies specialise in WordPress design and development. This is great for small business owners as this gives you options. If your web designer is unresponsive or slack, you can pack your bags and leave. You can transition away from your current provider in a way that is relatively easy, straightforward and pain free.
List of recommended plugins for WordPress
Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress. There are over 32,000 plugins available in the WordPress repository (http://wordpress.org/plugins/). With so many different ways to achieve the same result, here are a few popular ones (usually your web designer will take care of this for you):
Download the Love – This is the internet. Stuff changes fast. It is highly probable that this list will be out of date very quickly. For an updated list, please visit http://www.loveatfirstsite.net/download
Akismet – This protects against any automated spam via comments on your blog.
BackupBuddy – A paid plugin which makes it very easy to automatically backup your website, restore it and migrate it. Best of all, these backups can be stored in the cloud using services such as dropbox.com, Amazon S3 or other FTP server. You can never have too many backups!
Disqus – This plugin integrates with the native WordPress comments but provides a more feature rich commenting experience.
Google XML Sitemaps – A plugin which will create a structured file in XML format which can then be submitted to Google to aid in the crawling of your website.
Gravity Forms – Advanced form creation plugin that makes beautiful looking, powerful forms. It has a drag and drop interface making it very easy and quick to build simple, multipage forms and order forms.
Image Widget – Upload images to the widgets section within the WordPress administration panel.
iThemes Security – This plugin protects against hackers on your site. It improves the security on WordPress by modifying the configuration settings, hiding certain components and detecting brute force attempts (when your website gets flooded with traffic by a hacker).
Redirection – Manage 301 redirects (tells a search engine when a page moves from one location to another) and track any 404 errors (when a page is missing).
Share This – A way of adding social media sharing links such as Facebook, Twitter and Share via email to your blog posts.
Shortcode Exec PHP – A technical plugin for adding scripting code to posts and pages further expanding the functionality of WordPress.
WordPress SEO – A comprehensive SEO plugin for managing the on-site optimisation of your website. This includes a content analysis feature which gives you feedback on the optimisation of each page.
WooCommerce – E-commerce plugin which will transform your website into a fully functioning online store. With tons of features this plugin delivers an enterprise-level shop for free. Great for selling physical, virtual or downloadable products. There are hundreds of ‘extensions’ available which further increase its shipping, payment and configuration capabilities.
WP Smush.it – Automatically reduces the file size of images so they load much quicker.
WP Super Cache – Instead of running intensive scripts every time someone visits your website, a smaller more efficient HTML file is generated and sent. This smaller file reduces the load on your server and speeds up your site.
Types & Views – A WordPress development toolset allowing for the customisation of the WordPress backend by creating customised ‘posts’ containing unique predefined fields.
A mobile friendly website
Steve falls into the category of Generation Y. He is 33 years old and grew up with computers and the internet. For most of his life, he has been able to search the web and find the answer to any question he needs.
More recently Steve relies on one smart little phone in his pocket. He manages his whole life through this device. And a large part of that life is spent online. Steve works from his home office but is out on the road a lot. Visiting building sites, clients and manufacturers to ensure the plans he is drafting actually fit and match up with the real world.
Everything from ordering new supplies for his business, internet banking, making reservations for dinner with his girlfriend, and the occasional picture of his mates down at the pub posted to Facebook. When Steve is on the road he is running his business from his phone. This phone is as powerful as a computer right in the palm of his hand (and much more convenient). A lot of his work is done in between clients, on the couch and sometimes even on the toilet. Ewwww.
This is his primary way of accessing the internet. Why is this so?
One word. Convenience.
Mobile is booming
Half of all Australia’s adults now own a smartphone (and this is still growing). The take-up of this technology is phenomenal. The Australian Communication and Media Authority found that 9.2 million Australians went online via their mobile phone and 4.4 million accessed the internet using a tablet in the six months to May 2012. That means about half of Australia has a smartphone in their pocket. This number is only going to get bigger.
When business owners first picture a website, they usually think of it displayed on a computer sitting on a desk. In the next few years, mobile web usage is going to overtake desktop browsing. The web can now be accessed on so many different mobile hardware devices. With the growing number of mobile users it makes business sense to ensure your website looks great on a smartphone.
A mobile website is crucial
Have you ever tried accessing a website that isn’t mobile optimised? You have to pinch and zoom and generally the usability suffers. Small fonts and frustrating navigation bars infuriate visitors. When people are on the go, they want to find what they want quickly and easily.
A recent Google survey found that, “…96% of consumers had encountered a site that wasn’t designed for mobile. Yet the rewards for building a mobile site can be great: 67% of mobile users say that when they visit a mobile friendly site, they’re more likely to buy a site’s product or service.”
The writing is on the wall for business owners – mobile browsing is set to outpace desktop browsing. If you don’t do it, you can be sure your competition is. If you are not providing a mobile friendly website, the visitor will leave and move on to your competitor.
So what exactly is a mobile site?
A mobile site is a better way of catering to the needs of the online audience. You are giving your audience a greater chance of finding your services and enquiring or purchasing with you. The best way of doing this is through a web design approach called ‘responsive design’.
Responsive design reformats your website ‘on the fly’ to give the best viewing experience. Common characteristics of a website built in this manner are large fonts, easy to use navigation and not having to pinch and zoom.
The website adapts or ‘responds’ to the type of device which is accessing it. This means you only build one website that looks great and adapts gracefully to every type of device. From a large desktop monitor, through to a medium tablet-sized screen and then down to a small smartphone screen.
In technical terms, the website uses a script on your site to figure out the size of the screen. It then resizes the interface to correctly fit on the screen. The beauty of this is you build and maintain one great looking website that looks fantastic on thousands of different devices. There is no need for a separate mobile website.
This approach isn’t just for small business. Big business is embracing responsive design with websites such as microsoft.com, sony.com, and disney.com building websites using this approach.
There are literally thousands of tablets and phones on the market. Their market share is only going to grow. The best thing is that you are future proofing your website for any device, ensuring your website looks and displays perfectly now and in the future.
Google will also love you
Google is very clever and knows whether your website is mobile friendly. When a customer is using Google on a mobile phone, it will favour websites that have a mobile friendly site. Conversely it demotes websites that are not mobile friendly.
In fact, Google officially recommends ‘responsive design’ as the best approach to mobile search engine optimisation. Businesses that don’t embrace this will suffer in Google mobile search results rankings. Think of the growing number of mobile devices. You certainly don’t want to miss out on that traffic.
Oi! Take Note – Google Webmaster tools (a free analytical tool provided by Google) can give you a score out of 100 on how mobile friendly your website is. Visit www.google.com/webmasters/tools
What if I already have a website?
In some instances your current website can be converted to a mobile site. This will depend on the current design layout and platform. A web designer will be able to advise here. If your website is more than a few years old it may be a case of having to start from scratch.
Tips on designing for mobile
The ultimate goal of a mobile site is to provide a better user experience and have a fast loading site while your visitors are out and about.
Here are some best practice tips to ensure your mobile website works well for your visitors:
- Ensure the visual look and feel is consistent across all platforms. Users want a similar experience and there should be visual continuity from both the desktop version through to the mobile and tablet version.
- Your web designer will cover off on the technical build and should have a thorough testing process to ensure the site looks great on all devices. Your site will use ‘breakpoints’ which define when the interface should resize depending on resolution of the device. It is advisable to test on a wide variety of devices such as:
- iPhone / Android smartphone
- iPad / Android tablet
- Very large monitor, for example 27-inch cinema display.
- Remove content that isn’t relevant and doesn’t need to be displayed on a mobile. Elements in the sidebar which aren’t crucial to the page can be hidden in the mobile version of the site.
- Keep important elements above the fold of the screen (the top portion of the screen that is visible without the user having to scroll down). Elements such as phone number, address and site navigation should be visible at the top of the page without having to scroll.
- Ensure large images that look great on a desktop version of the website are optimised for mobile display. The website developer will use a bit of code that detects the screen size, resizes the image and then sends a smaller version when loading the page. This reduces load time when accessing the site via a cellular network.
Use a good quality hosting provider. It doesn’t matter how optimised and efficient your site is, the most important factor is the speed of the host.
What is a domain name?
Your domain name is your address on the web used in the same way someone finds your house on your street. This address is used to access your website and email, for example www.yourwebsite.com / firstname.lastname@example.org. By registering a domain name, you are purchasing a license to have the address of your choice for a set period of time.
There are many different types of domain names such as the top level domains, for example .com, .net. and .org. Second level domain names have an additional suffix and are usually country specific, for example .com.au (Australia).
What is the best type of domain for my business?
It really comes down to how you want your business represented online. If you are a commercial Australian entity, it would make sense to register a .com.au domain. If you are an international organisation then the .com variant would be better suited.
Domain names are relatively cheap so it is a good idea to protect your brand and intellectual property by registering the different domain extensions. The last thing you want to see is your competitors sitting on your domain names in the Google search results.
Other domain tips
Domain names are an important part of your online presence. To ensure business continuity, always ensure:
- you use a trusted domain registrar (a lot of the low cost providers lack in customer service)
- your domain name is registered in your business’s name (not your web designer’s)
- you have access to the domain control panel which you can login to at any time
- you keep it as short as possible (ideally under 10 characters).
Website hosting is like your bit of ‘real estate’ on the internet. It works by storing the files (such as code, images, PDFs and scripts) that make up your website on a fast server that is connected to the internet. When a visitor types your domain name into their browser’s address bar, your server is located, and files are sent back to the browser’s computer. The server space where everything is stored is referred to as ‘website hosting’.
Different types of hosting
Hosting ranges dramatically in terms of cost and service. Generally the cost of hosting has come down significantly over the years. It is very easy to purchase a ‘shared hosting account’ (meaning you share a server with a few hundred other users) for a few dollars per month. Stay away from these! Like anything in life, you get what you pay for and hosting is no different. These shared hosting plans tend to crash often and are notoriously slow and customer service poor. Your website load speed is measured by Google and is important to ranking so you want to ensure your site loads fast.
An important part of hosting a WordPress website is ensuring that the underlying core software and plugins are always up to date and secure. Due to the fact that WordPress is open source it is easy for hackers to look for vulnerabilities and exploit these. Their motivation is typically to inject malicious code and links into your website to gain advantage in Google. The last thing you want is a bunch of Viagra links on your website!
WordPress is always working on new security patches and features. It is imperative that this maintenance happens otherwise you are leaving your site exposed. A good quality host or web designer will ensure that your WordPress is kept up to date and secure as part of their service.
Dedicated WordPress hosting
Due to the popularity of WordPress as a platform, there are hosting companies that specialise purely in hosting just WordPress websites. They are typically very proactive about security and by default they take care of all WordPress software upgrades. Their speed and reliability tend to be a lot better as they look after all the technical aspects that enable delivery of your website as fast as possible. For added peace of mind, these services take daily backups of your website so you can roll back and restore with one click at any point in time. If your website is ever hacked, they will fix it as part of the service.
In addition, a feature called a CDN (Content Delivery Network) will be built into the platform. This means that a copy of your website exists on hundreds of servers around the world. The website that is geographically closest to the visitor accessing your site will load automatically, speeding up load time. The end result is your site loads super fast!
Typically a service like this does cost more but when you factor in the added value of security, maintenance, backups and support it is the logical choice.
A faster website is not only better for your ranking in Google, it is great for your users. Studies have shown that a delay of even one second can affect the user’s flow and train of thought. After three seconds the user will abandon your website all together.
Download the Love – For an updated list of premium WordPress ‘managed hosting’ providers please visit http://www.loveatfirstsite.net/download
Using WordPress as the software which powers your website ensures you:
- are in the driver’s seat allowing you to easily make changes whenever you like
- have a search engine friendly site and will get found by Google
- are not being locked to any one provider
- have a website that will grow with your business
- have a website CMS that is easy, customisable and … free
- are using a CMS that has over 32,000 plugins available for every conceivable use
- have a website that is mobile and Google-friendly.
Rocking! Next up is making this site look awesome. Not only will it look awesome but it will get conversions (meaning prospects will get in touch).