What on earth is The Cloud when it’s at home?

Cloud computing… it sounds fuzzy but is anything but. There has been a proliferation of services that allow you to store your computer data remotely “in the cloud”. Examples of cloud data storage are Google Disk, Dropbox, Microsoft’s Skydrive. Most of these are free to use as long as you stay under their storage limit, and it’s pretty cheap to buy more storage if you need it.

The biggest advantage to having your essential files stored remotely is that you can access them from anywhere, without needing your own computer, quite often even via your smartphone.

Similarly, you can use remote applications like Google Docs or the business software suite Zoho on any computer anywhere in the world, giving you the ability to edit and save any of your personal files such as documents and spreadsheets.

Another huge advantage is that these cloud storage services allow you to share your files and folders. So if you have a file that is just too large to send as an email attachment, you can share it with 1 or more people which allows them to download it to their computer.

Cloud storage is a great way of backing up all your important data. Should your computer or harddrive fail, you can easily download and restore your backed up data. Better still, you won’t have to think about it. If you set it up right your cloud application will automatically sync and backup the files and folders you have allocated.

As far as security goes, most cloud services are run from servers in large data centres which have their own backup servers. And because the last thing cloud companies want is to be hacked, your data will be pretty safe. Certainly safer than on the average punter’s computer.

Mmmm… nice, big fluffy clouds!

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, consists of a variety of methods aimed at getting your site to the top of search results, usually Google as that is by far the most popular search engine. It is not a science but a process of trial and error. But there are a few things that are vital in order for Google to take a blind bit of notice:

Meta tags

Meta tags are tags in a webage’s code that contain specific information about the site. They can’t be seen in normal webpage view, but Google spots them.
The Description meta tag is the most important one. Here you enter a short paragraph describing what the page is about, lightly sprinkled with keywords which are words or combinations of words that you think people might use to search for a site such as yours. The text must make sense though! This is also the short blurb that will show in Google’s search results.

The Keywords meta tag is actually the least important nowadays, here you can enter keywords seperated by a comma. Search engines do take notice of this but only give it low priority.

Web page content

Your page content should be relevant, clear, and plentiful, with keywords sprinkled throughout. Too many of the same keyword and Google will ignore it, search engines will weed out pages that are overloaded with SEO methods, they want to show sites that are relevant, not sites that desperately try to come at the top.
It’s good practice to use header tags (heading 1,2,3) to highlight the most important sentences, a search engine will take these as guides to what’s important on the page. Keywords should definitely be used there. For example, the title of this paragraph “Web page content” in a header 1 tag (<h1>). It won’t help much because there’s zillios of websites out there that use these keywords but one can live in hope.

Page title

The page title is the name of the page and can be seen at the top of your browser when you’re viewing a webpage. It s very important to have a descriptive title, with relevant keywords.

It is important that all the above is different on each page, Google loves variety, and the more content in your site, the better.

Off-site methods

One of the major things that will help your site come on top of search results are inbound links, other websites that have a link to yours. Too many is not enough! Also, try to minimise links in your site that go to other websites.

A blog, social media such as Facebook and Google+ that link to your site, participating in forums where you can display a link to your site all help to spread the word that your site is IMPORTANT.

Beware of using Black methods. These are methods designed to get your site to the top and will work for a short period after which Google will ditch you. These are used by SEO companies that want your dollar and want to show quick results.

Consistently getting to the top of search results can take a while and requires careful monitoring and adjustment of your content. Google Analytics is a very useful tool for this. Ask your web developer to set up Google Analytics for you.

CSS, HTML, PHP, Jquery, SQL, WTF?

Those are just some abbreviations well known in the web developers world, and most likely you will have heard of at least one of them. But what do they mean, and what’s their role in making up your website?

A modern website such as produced by allBW is composed using a variety of languages, which can be divided into three sections: formatting and layout, programming, and database queries. Each does their own specific job but is often used in conjunction with one or more other languages or scripts.

Formatting

HTML

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and has been used since websites came into being. It consists of tags that are not seen by the end user but are interpreted by browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer to show text and images in the format and place that the webdesigner intends. For example this word would read as <b>word</b> in the code that makes up a web page, b for bold.
An image would be placed like <img src=”folder-of-the-image/image.jpg” />, which tells the browser where the image is located on the server.

There are many tags, and with the advent of HTML5 things have taken another leap again which I won’t go into now.

CSS

HTML is often used in conjunction with CSS which stands for Cascading Style Sheets. In fact a lot of the formatting properties of HTML are now performed by CSS which is much more powerful in its ability to display a web page exactly as you want it, and HTML in a modern website is only used to provide a very basic framework.

Your browser interpretes CSS like it does with HTML to decide what the web page should look like, and will render it accordingly. Most up to date browsers do this pretty well uniformly, but there are always exceptions and these drive web developers NUTS (not an abbreviation). A webpage can look as intended in Firefox but because of a different interpretation of the CSS might look out of whack in IE. Countless hours are spent making web pages appear the same in all browsers.

This word looks like this in the code that makes up this web page:
<span style=”font-weight: bold;”>word</span>
More lengthy than the html code but trust me, CSS is The Right Stuff.

Programming

PHP

PHP is one of the most popular so-called Server Side programming languages, and helps to turn your website into a changeable dynamic structure. It is especially handy to retrieve data from a database, and display that on a webpage.

A server side language is called that because all the processing happens on the hosting server where the website lives, before the page is sent to a user’s browser.

Jquery and Javascript

Javascript is a so-called client side language, and is executed on your own computer when you view a web page. It’s often used to add visual gadgets to a page, as well as form data checking. Whenever you see things happening, shaking and moving when you hover over a section of a web page, it’s usually Javascript that is used to create the effect.

Jquery is one of 3 or 4 popular Javascript “libraries”, a simplified way of using Javascript to quickly achieve results.

Database Queries

SQL

A lot of sites that are produced nowadays use an online database program, often MySql. To retrieve content from the database, the SQL language is used, most often in conjunction with a server side language such as PHP or ASP.
A typical SQL query reads something like: “SELECT name FROM members WHERE member_id = 25″. It’s all plain language really, it says: out of the database table members,  gimme the name of the dude that has a member ID  of 25.

SQL queries can be immensely complex as well, if you want to really filter down in a database which has a lot of tables and records.

Domain name registration, hosting, websites, servers. What’s what?

A lot of times people understandably confuse domain names with hosting and vice versa. While they are both needed to make your website accessible via the internet, they are quite different.
Registering a domain name is a bit like registering your car, the domain name is the unique number plate. Your website is the actual car, and website hosting is like renting a garage to put your car in.

Domain Names

Domain name registration is done via an accredited domain registrar. Only domain names that not yet exist can be registered. In order to get a .com.au domain name (www.yourdomain.com.au) you will need to provide an ABN or Company Registration Number. If you are a not for profit organisation you can get a .org.au domain extension.

It’s usually best to have a domain name that somehow also describes your business, for search engine friendly purposes. Often websites use more than 1 domain, so people can remember the ones that are easiest for them. For example this site can be reached by using the allbusinesswebsites.com.au OR the allbw.com.au domain name.

Website Hosting and hosting servers

You need hosting so people can see your website. Renting hosting space allows you to upload your website files to a server. A server is a computer that can be located anywhere in the world, which runs a special program which allows anyone to view the files which make up your website.

When you have purchased a domain name you have to point that domain name to the name servers of your hosting space, usually something your web developer will do for you. That way your domain name is connected with the hosting server, and people will see your site when they type in your domain name.

Prices of hosting vary greatly. There are perfectly acceptable hosting plans available for $10 per month. But like anything else, you get what you pay for. The cheaper Australian hosting plans usually live on servers that are located in the USA. They often try to cram as many websites on 1 server as they can, which generally means that the sites will be slow to load because of distance, as well as slower computer memory access.
Beware of the plans that have unlimited everything, it usually means that they’re overselling their capacity which will make their servers overloaded and slow.

More expensive Australian hosting plans use servers that are based in Australia, with servers that are less crowded and therefore will make your site load faster. Support is usually quick to respond, and knowledgeable. A reasonable price for Australian hosting is $20 – $40 per month, depending on your space and bandwidth requirements.

Your website developer should be able to advise you on the right hosting. If your developer provides hosting services, even better, he or she will be able to quickly sort out any problems that might arise, without you having to deal with technical support geeks, bless their cotton socks.

 

Do you need a website, or do you need a solution?

Solutions, the buzz word that is used by just about any business that provides services to other businesses (B2B). The word itself assumes that there is a problem, the problem being that your business is not functioning properly. But what if your business is doing just fine thank you very much and you just want a website to give you a presence on the internet, as a service to your clients and additional point of contact?

A lot of website design studio’s will try to convince you that you have to change your ways, create an integrated solution (there it is again) to streamline your marketing. And in some situations this is not a bad idea and just what the doctor ordered. I have worked for design studio’s that are very good at this.
The problem is that too many small businesses get bamboozled by the opportunities that are projected, and the sometimes unrealistic promises. Paying through the nose in the meantime.

Then there is the other side, the cheap alternatives that create a website for you or even let you create one yourself but then leave you to your own devices. Not a problem if you have time on your hands and a bit of knowledge about the internet and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), but most small business owners do not have that.

The real solution is to find someone who can make a website that is optimised for search engines, gives you support in managing your site, and is forthcoming with sensible advice about what you may or may not need. With realistic and transparent pricing.

No matter what, in order to get what you need for a decent price, you have to have a fair idea of what you want. This might involve doing some research before you contact a web designer, so you can be clear about your needs. It makes it easier for the developer too.
I have been involved in many conversations and planning sessions with clients where we ended up with quite a sophisticated website system, and where the client midway through the site’s develpment process realised that the site was actually way too complicated for his/her needs. No worries, things can be changed. BUT the client of course ends up paying for the extra work involved.

So like any other product you purchase: do some research and compare, be clear about what you need, and don’t dream that a website will magically change your world. If you are a tradie and need a new vehicle, would you buy a limousine or a ute?

In the end a website is just another useful business tool.