Using WordPress? Is everything up-to-date?

Lately we have been having clients contact us about problems with their WordPress websites. They had various functions not working, or displaying incorrectly and asked that we look into the problem.

One for one, the problem traced back to WordPress, or one of the plugins, being out of date. WordPress is constantly being updated to add new functionality and make it more secure.

The plugins which supply additional functionality, such as calendars, contact forms, slideshows and image galleries, need to be constantly updated too. If they don’t then they might stop functioning altogether. Or worse, they might create conflicts which can bring the site down. In the worst case, the failure to update to current versions may allow a hacker to take over your website and deface it or serve up malware.

We are in no way trying to scare you away from using WordPress, in fact we recommend it to many of our clients. We are, however, strongly recommending that all aspects of the site are kept up-to-date. That being said, it has to be done carefully.

  • Check if your site needs updating: Simply go to the dashboard and click the updates menu. This will take you to the WordPress Updates page where you will see what needs to be updated.
    Wp Updates page
  • Check to be sure your host meets the minimum requirements for the update: the current requirements for WordPress are PHP 5.2.4 or greater, MySQL 5.0 or greater, and mod_rewrite Apache module. If not, you’ll need to ask them to make these upgrades.
  • Backup the entire site: Backups ensure that you have an immediate action plan should something go wrong. You need to backup both the database (there are several good plugins for this) and all the files. Especially if your site has been customized.
  • Turn off caching: If you are using a caching plugin be sure and turn it off while doing the changes. Then turn it back on when you are finished. That way you will be able to see any changes the updates make and spot problems faster.
  • Update themes and plugins: Be sure all your plugins and the active theme are up to date. It is also a good idea to update the latest WordPress default theme just in case. This can be done from the WordPress Dashboard Update menu
  • Update WordPress: Click the Automatic Update button and let it happen.
  • Reactivate caching.
  • Check your site: Take the time to look the site over and be sure everything is working right. Check a few pages, some posts, and any special functionality to be sure everything looks right.

While all this sounds like a lot of work it’s not that bad once you’ve done it a few times. Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable or don’t have the time, CityCenter Co. will be happy to do it for you.

Posted in CMS, Website improvement | Leave a comment

Survey for Effectiveness

Want to make your website more effective? It’s easy if you know what your visitors want. But how do you find out?

One of the best ways to find out what your clients want is to ask them to take a short online survey about your business, your products or whatever it is you want to know. There are several online survey companies which you can use to create a really professional looking survey. An example of these is SurveyMonkey.com.

It is also a good idea to offer some sort of incentive to intice people to take the survey. We at CityCenter Co. offer a small magnetic flashlight with our name on it and the chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

It can be very valuable to know what your clients want to find on your website. Online surveys are a great way to find out.

Want to find out more about online surveys? Try taking ours. We’ll even give you a free gift and a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Start here!

Posted in Online marketing, Website improvement | Leave a comment

Content Management System Tradeoffs

Content Management Systems (CMSs) are used in almost all of the websites CityCenter builds now. A CMS allows our clients to easily add and modify content on their website and therefore saves them time and expense.

CMSs have changed the way we approach web design projects. Rather than building everything from scratch, we can now plan out and research what resources are available online that will achieve the client’s goals. For instance, only a few years ago if a client wanted a password-protected section for their website we would have to write the programming code for that feature and fully customize it for their exact needs. Our strategy now is to look for a plugin that would provide that basic functionality. This can dramatically lower the initial costs of creating a website.

But there are tradeoffs in creating websites with a CMS.

  1. Lower initial cost, but less flexibility. The plugin or module selected to give a desired functionality may not be exactly what is needed. Sometimes the plugin can be modified to meet the exact needs, but often it is necessary to custom write a plugin if the needed functionality is critical.
  2. Staff can make many of the website changes but they need to learn how to do it. There is a learning curve to be able to make the changes, and if there is staff turnover then this training time will need to be repeated with the new personnel.
  3. Upgrade, backup and maintenance time is greater with a CMS. All CMSs receive regular code and security updates and those must be installed in order to protect the integrity of the website. Since all changes to a CMS-driven website are recorded in a database, that must be backed up regularly to make sure that the most recent copy is available in case of server failure. The same applies for all of the plugins or modules installed on the website – they must be upgraded whenever a new version comes out to ensure the greatest functionality and security.

Overall the benefits of using a CMS for a website far outweigh the additional work necessary. But it is always good to know what you’re getting into.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What about free build-it-yourself websites?

We have recently been asked by a couple of people what we think of the free, build-your-own website solutions which are being promoted on TV and by spam. Two which were mentioned were Weebly.com and 1and1.com. So we decided to do some research.

Both sites offer proprietary content management systems (CMS) with which someone can build a website. They each offer a number of templates which you can work with and a variety of functionality you can add, either for free or at a nominal charge. Once you have created your site, it is hosted at the company you used.

The advantages are, of course, it is cheap and easy. Weebly.com even offers a limited free version. Any of the systems we looked at will create a simple website.

There are, however disadvantages which, in our opinion, outweigh the advantages.

  1. The systems are proprietary. That means you are stuck with the company forever. You cannot move the site to another host if the host decides to change the pricing structure.
  2. Your site will disappear if the company discontinues its service, or goes under. We have a current client who used a proprietary CMS and the company has since disappeared. We have kept the site going but it has several glitches which we cannot fix as we do not have access to the underlying code and there is no one to ask.
  3. You are limited to the design and functionality offered by the host. If you want to do something which they do not offer, you are out of luck.
  4. Although it may look easy, putting a website together will definitely take a considerable amount of time. And you will most likely want some modifications or features that simply are not possible.

We, at CityCenter, prefer using an open source CMS like WordPress, or Joomla!, or Drupal, which can be moved to another host without the loss of data or design. As they are open source, there are developers working on new design templates and functionality which are then available to you. WordPress, for instance, has literally thousands of design templates and functionality plugins available at little or no extra cost.

There are also a plethora of books and on-line tutorials available to assist you with creating and maintaining the site. And with open source solutions there is professional help (like we provide at CityCenter)  to assist you in creating a professional looking site which you can then maintain without further assistance.

Posted in CMS, Website improvement | Leave a comment

Which CMS is right for you?

There are many different CMSs available. Many are proprietary to a certain firm or webhost and many are open to anyone. We recommend the latter as it does not tie you down to one company with your website under their control. The three most popular (and free!) CMSs available to anyone across the web are WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal. Which system is best for you depends on your specific needs.

If you are interested in using a content management system for your website your first step (after hiring CityCenter Co. to do the conversion) is to determine which CMS is right for you.

WordPress: It has available, an excellent system which provides, through third party developers, a large variety of easy to add functionality such as photo galleries, contact forms, slideshows, calendars, banner ads and much more. Examples of WordPress sites we have created are www.fedde.com, www.rosebowl-renovations.com, and www.melindalee.com.

Joomla!: This is a more robust CMS for larger, more complex sites. It has a great deal of functionality built in or available through third party developers and can grow handle almost any sized website. Examples of Joomla sites CityCenter Co. has worked on are www.skatepasadena.com and www.descansogardens.org.

Drupal: Another powerful CMS, Drupal is an excellent choice for websites that rely heavily on a database for dynamic content. Many government (such as WhiteHouse.gov) and entertainment sites are built with Drupal. An example of a Drupal site we designed is www.uppcolleges.com.

If you are interested in discussing which solution is right for your website, feel free to contact CityCenter Co. at 626.449.0100.

Posted in CMS, Website improvement | Leave a comment

Is a CMS right for you?

A CMS, or content management system, is an online system for publishing and modifying the content of a website without having to always use a website designer.

A CMS enables almost anyone to make website updates with a simple online interface from almost any computer. Users can create new pages, add-edit-delete content, upload new pictures and more. All without the need for outside assistance or having to learn HTML or another programming language.

But they are not for everyone. If you don’t have the time, or desire, to learn a new, albeit simple program, or don’t have someone in your office you trust with your site, then it is probably not for you.

But if it sounds interesting, call us at CityCenter and keep an eye on our blog for further postings.

Posted in CMS, Website improvement | Leave a comment

Can you over SEO a webpage?

CityCenter Co. works hard to make sure your website is visible to the search engines. It is vital that your site be found by the search engines so that it can be found by the searchers. We do however caution not to over do it, not to over optimize the site.

What do we mean by over optimizing? This is when the use of keywords supersedes the message of the website. The key is purpose. The purpose of a website, like any other marketing media, is to invite the reader to communicate. It is very important that the site present the message you want to your prospects to hear and to solicit some action from them in the form of an e-mail, a phone call or some reach for your services.

Over optimization can take several forms:

  1. Keywords are used so many times that the text reads like it was written for a ten year old. The site becomes stultified, it no longer delivers your message or guides the reader to action.
  2. The headline for the site does not attract the reader’s attention. Readers scan your webpage to see if this is the information they are looking for. They read the headline or the first paragraph and on that basis they decide whether to keep on reading. If the headline is more focused on impressing the search engines than on securing the reader’s attention then you’ve wasted the visit.
  3. A keyword can be overused to such an extent that the search engines adjudicate the site is spamming that word and ignore it.

Write for the person reading the website, not the search engines. You sell to people not search engines. Make sure your message stays intact and on target.

Optimization is necessary, you have to be able to be found, but we urge caution when doing it. Keep your message in mind and be sure not to lose it. Use keywords but use them to deliver your message not obliterate it.

Posted in SEO, Website improvement | Leave a comment

Google’s Local Business Center

Any edge you can get to make your business stand out online – and in particular in Google – is a good thing. We recently set up a client to appear more prominently in Google Local Business Center and wanted to show you how easy it can be.

screen captureThis image shows the results of searching for “employment law pasadena” on maps.google.com. Note the one that has a photo – that’s our client!

The first step of the procedure is to get a Google account. Like (almost) all things Google it is free. Once you have that and are logged in to Google you can go to www.google.com/lbc – this is the starting point for Local Business Center.

You can then find your business and add information, photos, hours of operation, etc. This additional content is what will set your business apart from others.

At that point it is only necessary to “claim” your business – Google will verify that you have the authority to enter information on that listing and then your updates will be visible to all.

See our short video here of some of the additional things you can enter in to LBC:

Posted in Online marketing, SEO | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Does your site need a talking to?

How do you motivate your employees? How do you keep them up to date with new technology?

Say you have an employee who is “just doing their job,” making you some money, doesn’t embarrass you but isn’t putting forth that extra effort to create new business or learn anything new to better service to your clients. What would you do?

You could fire them, but that means all the time and energy you’ve already put into them goes with them.

You could try to motivate them. Get them to see how much more their fellow employees are doing and try and get them to “get on board”.

Or you could just let them be.

Now what if that “employee” was your website? It looks good, brings in some business and presents your company in a good light. But is it doing all that it could? How do you find out? It’s not a flesh and blood person you can sit down and give a pep talk to. You can’t ask it to look at what the other employees are doing, or to “try a little harder”. Or can you?

True, the website can’t look at what other websites are doing, but you can. When was the last time you checked out your competitors’ websites? Are they doing something on their sites that you should be doing on yours? Does their homepage explain their services better than yours does? Are their product pictures clearer, or presented in a more attractive or eye-catching way? Is it easier to find their contact information?

We suggest you occasionally search for competitors. Go to Google and search your keywords and see what comes up. Now look at their websites. Take a good look. Not just at their design, but at their functionality. Take good notes. Any time you find a feature you think would make your site “a better employee,” write it down with the URL of the page you found it on. Then keep going. Find something else on the site you like, or go on to the next site and see what’s special about it. This doesn’t have to take long, but even if it takes an hour or two it will be time well spent.

Now take your list and email it to your web designer. (You can use sales@citycent.com if you can’t remember their email.) We’ll look at the sites and the various features to determine how best to incorporate them into your site. Then we’ll put together our recommendations and a proposal for implementation.

Get the most out of every employee you have, flesh and blood or cyber. Look them all over and start those pep talks.

Posted in Website improvement | Leave a comment

Search Engine Optimization: Naming Your Pages

How you name each of your pages is very important. It helps the search engines determine what your web page is all about. If done right, it can improve how your site is found and ranked. If done wrong, it can hide your site from your prospects.

First let’s define some terms to avoid confusion:

Page Title: This HTML element shows the search engines and the searcher what your page is about. It is displayed in the topbar of the browser. (More on page titles )

Page Name: The file name of your page. It appears in the address bar of the browser. It, combined with the domain name, constitutes the URL (Uniform Resource Locator.)

Domain Name: The identification label which defines your entire site. It is the first part of any of your pages web address.
Page Title

Your homepage, depending on how your site is created, will normally be named index or default. This is set and is not variable. However each subsequent page needs to be a name that reflects its role but does so using keywords.

There are a great many pages online now with page names like services, about-us or contact. While these do reflect the pages role on the site, they do nothing to assist the search engines understanding of your site. Getting keywords in your page names is an often overlooked technique for SEOing a website.

If, for instance, we were creating a site for “Universal Widget” a company which manufactures and sells “Widgets”, we would want the following pages:

  1. Homepage – introduces the company and sets the tone of the website
  2. About Us – covers the history/experience of the company and its principals
  3. Services – outlines the various services offered (ie, creation, repair, classes…)
  4. Products – lists the various types of widgets produced
  5. Contact Us – contains all contact information including physical address, phone numbers, fax numbers and email address.

First we pick a domain name. Universal-Widget.com is better than UniversalWidget.com as the keyword “widget” is separate and not just part of another word. If Universal specializes in mahogany widgets then a domain name like Mahogany-Widget.com would be a good choice as it contains two important keywords, mahogany and widget.

When naming these pages we would keep in mind that the names not only have to reflect what the pages are about but also assist the search engines by using keywords.

Here are several guidelines which are used in creating the page names:

  • Keep them short, no more than 3 or 4 words
  • Use keywords
  • Use dashes between the words, not underlines and never spaces
  • Make them understandable to both humans and search engines
  • Don’t use anything extraneous such as dates, part numbers, etc which are meaningless to anyone but the company
  • Do not use special characters (&, %, ‘, *, etc.) except for dashes

So, using these rules let’s name the pages:

  1. Homepage – index.html (this is the default)
  2. About Us – about-universal-widget.htm
  3. Services – widget-manufacture-repair.htm
  4. Products – custom-mahogany-widgets.htm
  5. Contact Us – contact-mahogany-widgets.htm

Each contains keywords and describes what the pages are about, are no more than 3 words, are easily understandable and don’t contain any special characters. They will help the search engines find Universal Widget and rank it high for the keywords mahogany and widget.

Changing page names which have been used for a length of time is not recommended as the pages have already been indexed in the search engines and you do not want to lose there ranking. There is a way to make the change to a new page name (it is called a 301 redirect) but it needs to be done by someone with technical expertise.

One important thing to note is that you can over-SEO a URL. The trick is not to use too many words in the domain name or the file name. This will keep the importance of your keywords from diminishing since they won’t have to share significance with other, less important keywords.

Summary:

Using your keywords in creating your domain name and page names is extremely important in making your website search engine friendly. It helps the search engines and the searchers determine what your web pages are all about. If done correctly proper page names can improve how your site is found and ranked.

Posted in SEO | Leave a comment