Monday, November 28, 2016 by Kevin WoodChoosing the right web hosting environment is a decision you’re going to face time and time again as a website owner. Even after you make an initial decision, your web hosting needs may change and evolve over time. Below we dive into the differences between cloud and dedicated hosting, so you can make the best choice for your website and your business.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016 by Kristen Hicks
You took a big step. You grabbed that domain name you wanted. It’s officially yours. Now what are you going to do with it?
To Start, What Are Your Goals?There are three main reasons to buy a domain name:
- You want to build a new website.
- You’re investing in domain names.
- You want this domain to point toward a website you already have.
To Launch a New Website at Your Domain NameFor most people reading this, chances are you fall into the category of people looking to build a new website to launch at your new domain. Here are the next steps for you to take.
1. Purchase website hosting.Owning the domain and owning the space a website lives on are two different things, but often hosting companies also sell domains. If you got your domain as part of a hosting purchase, then this step is already taken care of. If not, then finding the right hosting platform and plan is the next thing you need to do. Hosting packages usually come as monthly or annual subscriptions and often include some nice extras along with the hosting itself, like a website builder and tech support for those launching a website for the first time.
2. Load an “In Construction” page.If your website isn’t ready to launch yet, then the next thing to do is let people know what’s coming. An in construction page can provide a simple teaser to inform any visitors that happen upon your website that, while they’re a little bit early, they will find something great there if they come back later. If you already have a logo or a color scheme in mind for your website, then you can design the in construction page so that it matches the branding to come. If you know for sure what day you’ll be launching your website, you can let people know when to check back – but be careful not to oversell. If you end up launching late, you could lose people’s trust and interest.
3. Design your site.Before your site goes live at the domain you’ve registered, you want it to look just right. You can either build a website yourself, which you can expect to take some serious time, or you can hire people to help. Option A: Build It Yourself Many hosting companies (including HostGator) offer website builders as one of the features that comes with your hosting subscription. Even if you’re entirely new to website design, these make it possible to do it yourself, with some time and work. Your other option is to go the more old-fashioned route and design a website using html or a design software like Adobe Dreamweaver, but those options are best for people who already have extensive experience with website design (in which case, you know who you are). Option B: Hire Someone If you’d rather hand over this part to someone that’s an expert, you can outsource it to a web designer or web design firm. Do a little research to make sure you hire a web designer that can do what you need. If you have the money to spend, hiring a professional can save you a lot of time and effort and mean you end up with a website that looks closer to what you had in mind. HostGator offers design services for current HostGator customers. Click here to learn more and request a quote for your site. Don’t Forget the Copy! Writing copy is a different process than designing the website itself, but it’s an important step to making sure your finished website says what you need it to. You can whip up some copy yourself, but for words that are persuasive and do a good job of communicating what your website is and why it matters, hiring a professional copywriter or marketing agency is likely to pay off.
4. Launch!Once your website looks just how you want it to and all the copy is written, you’re ready to launch. You can upload your website to the hosting platform using an FTP client or the File Manager in cPanel. If you’re using HostGator as your hosting platform, follow the instructions here. Once everything’s loaded, go check out the new website at your domain!
To Treat Your New Domain as an InvestmentDomain investing is harder now that the internet’s been around for a while and a lot of the domains with the best keywords have been snatched, but if you manage to purchase a domain name that you know will generate interest, you can resell it at a profit. One of the first things you can do to advertise the availability of your name, if you’ve invested in a hosting plan, is put up a page at the domain that says it’s for sale. In addition, you can find a number of auction sites that help publicize domain names that are for sale, such as Sedo, Flippa, and Snapnames. Make sure you have a realistic idea of what the domain is worth. If the name is useful and the price is right, potential buyers will find you.
To Point it Toward A Finished SiteIf you bought a second domain that you’d like point to a website you already have, then you simply need to create a parked domain in your cPanel. If you’re a HostGator customer, the process of adding a parked domain is simple. A new domain name comes with exciting potential. Whatever your goal is snatching up that online real estate, now you have a chance to do something with it. Go and make the most of your little section of the web.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Every new business should have a website, whether it’s for lead generation, e-commerce, or just general branding. Having even the most bare-bones site puts your business ahead of more than half of US small businesses, which don’t have a website at all. However, your site may not be helping your business as much as it could, or should. In fact, marketing researchers have found many design problems that work against the business the site is supposed to promote. Here are some common web design mistakes that confuse visitors, erode their trust, or run them off, along with suggestions for design improvements.
1. Slow-loading, wordy landing pages
Web users wait no more than 250 milliseconds for a page to load before they give up and leave, according to the New York Times. The Nielsen Norman Group found that many site visitors spend 20 seconds or less on a page unless the content grabs their attention, and they only read about 25% of the text on a page.
That means your home page needs to load fast and explain your business quickly, in as few words as possible. Anything that negatively affects page load times, such as complex graphics or auto-play videos, should be removed (or at least moved off the home page). Long blocks of text are a waste because visitors almost never take the time to read them. Focus on clean graphics, a strong logo, a short explanation of your business, and an easy-to-navigate menu on your home page.
Speaking of your home page, make sure you're not making these mistakes, either.
2. Design without market research
Effective web designs factor in the target audience’s age, educational background, and purpose for visiting the site. For example, businesses catering to customers over age 60 should follow design guidelines from the National Institute on Aging. They include the best fonts and type sizes, color combinations to avoid, and recommendations on graphics and content. Businesses catering to working parents, busy professionals, and Millennials – many of whom who rely on their smartphones for product research and shopping – should make sure their site is optimized for mobile use.
3. Cluttered pages
Too many graphics, too much text, clashing colors, and confusing navigation tools are common problems. Visual clutter makes it hard for your audience to find the information they want. It also damages your credibility. In a study reported by Forbes, design elements including busy layouts and obnoxious ads were among the factors that created feelings of distrust in site visitors. Remove page elements that distract visitors from the main purpose of their visit.
4. Too-trendy design
Every year, there’s a fresh crop of web design trends to watch and another crop that’s declared dead. Just-because-we-can trends like tag clouds and photo carousels are dated for a reason: Almost no one finds them useful. Adopt trends only if they offer value to your visitors. For example, a custom illustration for your site builds authority better than a thousand cheap stock photos.
5. Stale content
Fresh content helps your site rank more highly in search results, and it also guides visitors through your sales funnel. Abandoned blogs, neglected Twitter feeds, and Instagrams with three old photos say your business is neglected, overwhelmed, or doesn’t finish what it starts. Your site should only feature a blog or social media feeds if you can regularly update them.
6. Poor-quality images
Even when you’re starting up on a shoestring, high-quality images are an important investment. Low-end and free stock photos don’t build credibility, and they often don’t do a good job of illustrating your business services. As marketing psychology expert Derek Halpern says, “If you pulled your image from Flickr or a popular stock photo website, you probably have the wrong image.” Use high-quality product images, include professional shots of you and your employees, and leave it at that.
7. Broken links
Broken links frustrate visitors, erode their confidence in your business, and hurt your site’s search engine performance. Review all the links on your site regularly to make sure they’re still good, and fix broken ones right away.
8. Bad logo design
Your logo is a central piece of your branding, and its design should involve the same level of care and research that you put into your business plan and site design. Consider your audience, your company’s “personality,” how the colors affect your message, and more. If you already have a homemade or cheaply done logo, work with a designer who specializes in logos to improve or replace it.
9. Hard-to-read or silly fonts
Remember, most users will only spend a few seconds glancing over your page while they decide to stick around or leave. Stick with fonts that are readable and professional-looking – and make them big enough for the average glasses-wearer to read them easily. When it comes to font size, “14 is the new size 12,” according to Halpern.
10. Hard-to-find contact information and calls to action
Your contact information and call to action should be above the fold on each page of your site, not buried on a “Contact Us” page. Speaking of contact pages, don’t offer a contact form as they only way customers can contact you. They probably won’t – especially if they can call the competitor with a phone number at the top of their site. Unless you’re willing to optimize your form carefully (and maybe even then) you’re better off listing a phone number and email address so customers can reach you in the moment.
Each of these design mistakes is fixable with the right combination of audience research, expert help, and effort. Each mistake you fix can increase your audience’s trust in your business, the amount of time they spend on your site, and the likelihood that you can earn their business. That’s when your site becomes a true asset to your business.
Monday, November 7, 2016 by Kristen HicksThe recent DDOS scare that affected a large number of websites brought to light how important it is to put whatever precautions we can into place to keep our websites secure. Anyone that owns a website right now should be thinking about security, but for those for whom your website is your business, you need to treat it as a priority. That’s doubly true if you accept payment through your website. Whenever someone provides you with their credit card information, they’re putting trust in you and your brand. If a hacker gets access to that information because you didn’t take the necessary steps to make your website secure, then you betray that trust. Cyber security is complicated stuff and you may not be able to ward off every threat – hackers are often savvy and always working to outsmart every new security update. Nonetheless, you can vastly reduce the risk of having your website be the next to be victimized by taking a few key precautions.
1. Keep all your software up to date.The first step is one of the easiest, but one that makes a big difference. A lot of software updates are designed specifically to reduce security vulnerabilities. Software designers and cyber security experts are in a constant battle with hackers to thwart every new effort they come up with. Most of those software updates you seem to get constant reminders for are part of that battle. Even if it feels like an annoyance, don’t dilly-dally on completing those updates. Regularly check for updates to your plug-ins, your CMS, your ecommerce software, and any other software related to how your website runs. Taking this simple step will immediately reduce your vulnerability.
2. Use secure passwords and update frequently.A surprising number of people still use basic passwords like “password” or “123456.” Don’t be one of those people. Make sure the password you use to access your website has a mix of numbers, letters, and special characters. Also avoid using something an acquaintance could guess at in your password – your kid’s name or year of birth is too easy for someone to figure out. Get creative, make sure you use something different for your website than you use for your other logins, and make sure anyone else in the company that has access to the website does the same. And then do it all over again in six months. Set a reminder on your calendar so you remember to update your password with some frequency. With HostGator's Password Generator tool, simply click and drag Snappy's head to generate a new password. Creating a secure password has never been so fun!
3. Backup regularly.In the case that anything does happen, you don’t want to be stuck building your website over again from scratch. Make sure you back it up regularly, just like you do your own computer (you do backup your computer regularly, right?). If you use HostGator for your web hosting, then setting up automatic backups for your website is as easy as adding CodeGuard to your subscription. It not only makes backing up completely effortless since everything is automated, but restoring your site if the need ever arises is a simple process as well.
4. Invest in a malware detector.Malware’s extremely common, and not just on the website’s you’d expect. Hackers have an interest in infecting any website that people are likely to visit. That means your website could be felled by malware, or (arguably) worse, it could be the means by which malware infects your customers’ computers. Your best move to avoid both scenarios is a strong malware detector. Anti-malware programs can spot malware fast and help you get rid of it before it has the chance to do much damage. They’re relatively inexpensive when you consider the risks malware poses, and they're not all that difficult to implement. Your web hosting platform might even offer one (like HostGator does), which makes adding it to your web hosting plan and activating it especially easy to do.
5. Be careful about your permissions.How many people have access to your website? Most businesses, even many on the smaller side, need to provide at least a couple of people with the means to access the website to make changes. Medium-sized and larger businesses will often have far more people accessing the website on a regular basis. The more people you have in there making changes to the website, the more vulnerabilities you have. Chances are, not every person using your website needs the same level of access. By using your permissions wisely, you can limit the potential damage a thoughtless or malicious act by one of your employees or contractors can have.
6. Set up SSL.If you have an ecommerce websites, purchasing an SSL certificate is not optional. Your customers need to know that your website is secure before they hand over sensitive information. An SSL certificate is the way you provide them that security. An SSL certificate isn’t terribly expensive and ensures your websites shows a green HTTPS in the browser bar, which is what consumers look for to see that a website can be trusted. It adds an extra level of protection to ensure the details customers share with you are properly encrypted and can’t be easily snatched up by cyber thieves.
7. Use AVS and CVV.When you add an address verification system (AVS) and credit card verification value (CVV) field for all credit card checkouts, fraud attempts are far less likely to slip through. You have a chance to check the information a customer provides against the information their credit card company knows so people that have stolen credit card numbers alone won’t get past your confirmation process.
8. Reduce XSS vulnerabilities.This step gets really technical and you may want to consult with your webmaster or a cyber security consultant rather than try to handle this one on your own. XSS (cross site scripting) vulnerabilities are weaknesses in the code you write that allow hackers to add code to your website that infects your visitors’ devices. To reduce XSS vulnerabilities, you need to validate and sanitize your data as described at the link above. You may also be able to insert this string onto your webpages to reduce your vulnerability: echo htmlentities($string, ENT_QUOTES | ENT_HTML5, 'UTF-8'); But that will only work for you if you’re not using HTML. If you are using HTML, running your code through the HTML purifier is your best alternative.
9. Reduce SQL injection vulnerabilities.As with step 8, this step is probably more the job of a webmaster than a business owner, so ask for help if you find the suggestions confusing. SQL injection vulnerabilities aren’t as common as XSS vulnerabilities, but they’re still cause for concern. They allow hackers to get ahold of the sensitive data stored in your database – which often includes information like your customers’ credit card numbers. All of the best methods for prevention here are pretty technical and you can check out the SQL Injection Cheat Sheet for more detail on what each defense means. The main five defenses against SQL injections are:
- Using parameterized queries to help your database distinguish the difference between code and data.
- Using stored procedures that are clearly defined within the database and provided to users, rather than letting them enter their own.
- Escaping user supplied input (which is only recommended in some cases), so the database knows to recognize any information users supply as different from SQL code written by the developer.
- Enacting least privilege – which relates back to step 5 – to make sure users only have as much permission as they need and no more.
- Employ white list input validation, which allows the database to detect any unauthorized input before processing it.
10. Use a DDoS mitigation service.Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks occur when a hacker sets a large number of compromised systems to flood the bandwidth of a website all at once. The server gets overwhelmed and starts to reject all visitors. Having a web hosting provider that’s put protective measures into place is the first line of defense, but with how common DDoS attacks have become, making an additional investment in a DDoS mitigation service can further reduce your risk. Hackers are constantly working to create new methods to get around these protections. In addition to putting these ten tips into effect, take some time throughout the year to read up on new security threats and best practices. The stakes here are high – you need your customers to trust you and your website to consistently do its job. Make sure you treat website security as the priority it should be.
Keep your site secure with regular maintenance.
Download our free Website Security Checklist.
Friday, November 4, 2016 by Kevin WoodTop-level domains are also referred to as domain name extensions. They are the .com’s and .net’s that you see following any domain name you type into that little browser bar. But, did you know there are literally hundreds of different top-level domains out there? Not all of them make sense for your business and your website, but you’d be surprised to see some of the strange one’s we’ve uncovered. If you’re looking for a guide on how to choose the right top-level domain for your business, then check out this post. But, if you’re looking for some surprising top-level domains that’ll make your quest for the perfect domain name a little more interesting, then check out what we’ve found below.
.horseEven horses need a domain name. If you’re looking for the perfect birthday present for your favorite horse, why not a domain name and a dedicated website?
.dadIn the same vein of the example above, every dad deserves his very own top-level domain. This could be the perfect gift for any tech-savvy dads.
.beerAre you a beer aficionado? Or maybe you’re creating a beer-related website, or looking for a fun domain name for your small batch brewery. Whatever the reason, this could be a great top-level domain for any beer-related brand.
.ingThe .ing top-level domain can turn your once static domain name into a verb. If you’re looking to transform your domain into an action, then give this one a go.
.kimIs your last name Kim or are you a Kardashian fan? Then this domain is for you. There isn’t a lot of use for it besides having a personal branded domain name, but it is cool.
.luxuryWhat’s the best way to communicate that you have a luxury brand? How about actually adding .luxury to the end of it.
.ninjaMost ninjas don’t want to be seen or heard? But, if you’re looking for a way to showcase your martial arts status, or run a martial arts studio this could be a fun top-level domain to try out.
.guruAre you beyond expert level in your field and want some way to communicate it? Well, how about the .guru domain name?
.pinkIs pink your favorite color? If so, then this domain might be right up your alley. This top level domain can be used for a variety of purposes, but mostly for letting the world know which color you proudly wear day in and day out.
.xyzWe’re not sure of a situation where this last top-level domain can be used effectively, but it is a fun one. Maybe if you’re an author of children’s books? (Of course, this is the domain Google's Alphabet company famously bought last year.)
A note about uncommon top-level domainsIf you’re interested in buying any clever or unique top-level domains, then you’ll usually be purchasing them from an individual reseller, or a smaller company. These top-level domains usually don’t have the same benefits and ease of setup as purchasing from a widely used domain name provider. Plus, they’ll usually be much more expensive. But, if you have your heart set on it, then it might be something worth looking into. When choosing a domain name and extension remember to spend some time on the decision. Your domain name is something that you’ll be building your entire online business around. Plus, your top-level domain has the power to either add or subtract from your online authority. Any strange top-level domains you’ve come across? Share your favorites in the comments below.