Keeping Your Website Current

Keeping your website up to date is obviously important. Most business people, me included, think first and foremost about updating the content. Equally important is the need to keep your website platform up to date. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting your site hacked, increased junk email, or worse.

The need to regularly update your site’s platform is particularly important if your site is built on a content management system (CMS). Most CMSs these days, including open source leaders Joomla and Drupal, are fairly complex systems built themselves on top of constantly-evolving technologies. A database management system, for example, is almost always used to store your content (HTML text) apart from the structure. Meanwhile, an active server language like PHP or Microsoft’s .NET is used to connect the front-end design with the content and images that together make up your website.

All of this happens behind the scenes, but it’s this very complexity that hackers love to exploit. Whenever a new version of a CMS platform comes out — or for that matter, the underlying databases or third party add-ons are updated — hackers go to work to find the weakest links to exploit. Once they do so, word spreads quickly, and websites that are using those technology versions become vulnerable.

Does that mean that you are always at risk? Not really. There are a few steps that anyone, no matter how technical they are, can take to prevent problems:

Back up everything frequently. There’s always a risk that no matter how frequently you update, your site may be compromised. In many cases it won’t be hackers that are the problem. Somebody may accidentally overwrite files, or your ISP may experience a server crash. If you regularly back up your site to a local computer (that is itself regularly backed up) no such accident will ever put your business at risk. Here at Radar, we recommend backing up sites at least once per week. HTML sites can be backed up simply by copying the files locally to your hard drive. A CMS site can also easily be backed up, typically using a backup add-on, or module. Our client sites all have this module installed, and clients can run it any time themselves.

Update your platform software often. A CMS makes backups a little more complicated, as the data is stored both in directories and in database tables. Here, too, add-on modules designed specifically for backing up can make this a one or two-step process. Often there’s more than one way to successfully back up a site. We recently described one reliable way to do so with the Joomla CMS. You can see the video on YouTube posted here:

Buy some cheap insurance. Before going on vacation when I was a kid, my father would always be sure to leave a few lights on. He said that was cheap insurance, and he was right. The best way to protect your website is to back up locally and then back up the backups. I recommend keeping a few inexpensive USB drives around for this purpose, including at least one stored off site with your latest web and other business-critical files safely filed away.

Enjoy what’s left of the summer. Until next time….

Is There a CMS in Your Future?

Hi everyone. My name is Don Reed and I’ve been a web producer at Radar Media since the company was formed in 2001. Needless to say, there have been a lot of changes in web design capabilities and standards since then! I want to talk about a major milestone in web development here, and how it’s influenced the path for the future on the Web–the Content Management System (CMS).

You may have heard of the major content management systems like Joomla or Drupal–large, open source projects supported by enormous networks of developers to provide a robust solution to managing online content creation. Even blogging platforms like WordPress are being used by many (myself included) as content management systems for small clients or personal websites.

Using a CMS is increasingly seen as a good choice when building a website, particularly if you know you’ll have more than just a few pages to regularly update, and you want control over this process yourself. They are a must for a blog unless you use a pre-hosted program like Blogger.

For starters, an open source CMS like Joomla is free (plenty of commercial CMSs are also on the market but we’ll save that for another day). When properly set up, the CMS gives you the capability of creating and managing content typically all in a browser without needing to build an HTML page every time you want to expand your website. In addition, there are a lot of different plugins and patches you can add to customize your site. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Unfortunately, content management systems are often advertised as a self-serve, do it yourself type of operation. This can leave many website owner hopefuls feeling discouraged. Downloading, installing and configuring an open source CMS for the first time isn’t easy for most people and there’s plenty that can go wrong in the process. A CMS shouldn’t be looked at as a way for the average ‘Consumer Joe’ to build a website, because sadly, that’s what it will end up looking like if it’s approached that way.

It’s easy to look at a CMS and say, “hey, everyone has done all of this work already to get this working. Why should we have to hire someone else to build our site for us when we can just use this?” but this is where it gets tricky. Unless you have some solid back-end web development know-how, you’ll still need someone to design, configure and test it for you. And if you want your site to look and feel unique and accurate to your brand, you’re not going to want to go with a commercial template, either. Altering or creating an aesthetic theme for a site built on a CMS is quite different from an HTML/CSS stylesheet website.

Generally speaking, it’s in your best interest to find a professional or a group of professionals to help you with branding and tying your website into your overall marketing program. Have you used a CMS on your website or are you considering using one? If so, what are your concerns or questions?

March, 2009

March 2009—It’s another busy month, but some of our news (including details about the most interesting of projects) we cannot release due to non-disclosure agreements. Suffice to say, our design team is being increasingly tapped by developers for its user interface design (UI) expertise. In these cases, we work with developers to understand their applications and review mock-ups. We then set to work designing the screens, buttons and navigation widgets that people will ultimately use on their PCs, mobile devices and Internet browsers.

Typically in these projects, our job is to deliver finished artwork, often in the form of polished Photoshop files, for incorporation into these applications. One custom application we are working on now will soon be released as a new feature for Facebook, the popular social media site.

Our core web design and content development business continues to represent the bulk of Radar’s work. And we are proud to say that two new Radar websites are now live. One is for NewRiver, Inc., a financial services company based in Andover, MA with a powerful electronic prospectus delivery service. The other live site is for Osage Partners, a Delaware venture capital company which discovered Radar through a recommendation from one its portfolio companies.

Finally this month, a growing number of Radar web clients are beginning to experiment with e-commerce. We provide clients with a number of options here, and always recommend the best fit for each customer. We are currently putting the finishing touches on a new shopping cart capability for Radar client Covaris, Inc., a fast-growing biotech/life science based in Woburn, MA. The e-commerce capability should be live by the end of this month.

Why I Love the Mac (and You May Not)

Hi everybody. I’m Len Massiglia, Creative Director here at Radar Media. Paul was talking to me about our new blog and you’ll be reading a bit from me here and there. Something I wanted to talk about today is cross platform compatibility, and how this impacts businesses (Radar included!).

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit partial to…okay, exclusively loyal to the Mac.

You know those Mac vs. PC commercials? Couldn’t be more accurate for me. As a designer, it’s always been the platform that I find the most intuitive and the most useful. Even with programs that are available on both Mac and PC platforms, I find that Macs provide you with a much cleaner interface, better usability and they make excellent use of keyboard commands. I’ve gotten so used to as little mouse use as possible, if you sat me in front of a PC to use Photoshop it would definitely be frustrating. I have to admit PCs are getting more Mac like with each generation, maybe in another 15 years they’ll catch-up to the simple elegance of a Mac.

Now before you PC buffs out there get too heated with me, rest assured I understand that some people are PC people, and this is why I’m writing this very post today. Much of the business world is PC-driven. Even Radar is a mix. I have my Mac. Paul, Andy and Lesley have their PCs. And both Don and John have one of each (at least).

You might think that this would cause a lot of problems when it comes time to send files back and forth or collaborate on projects, but it’s actually been an advantage to us in our business.

When you work with a diverse group of clients, you never know what platform(s) your clients are running on, or just how computer savvy they are when they seek your services. I use programs like Photoshop, Quark, Dreamweaver and InDesign for my projects, but sometimes clients want to be able to implement something themselves or make a change and need an easy way to do it. I often find myself putting some projects in Word or PowerPoint format, so that it can be accessible to everyone. It may not be the original format I’ve created something in, but it gives me a learning experience and helps me better serve the customer.

There used to be a lot more debate about cross platform compatibility, and cross-browser compatibility as well. While there remain some incompatibilities in terms of file readability or browser webpage display, these problems are becoming fewer and farther between, and I think they’re definitely going to continue to be less and less of a concern.

If you’re a business that only functions on one platform, it can actually put you at a disadvantage. It’s sort of like learning a second language. You don’t have to be fluent, but if you can get around well enough, it can open previously impossible opportunities for you. I’m not saying every computer user needs to purchase a computer opposite to what they’re used to using, but it can’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the options out there. Meanwhile, I’m going to stick with my Mac, and I’m going to keep working on PC Paul…

Until next time,

Three More Reasons to Pay Per Click

Most search engine mavens like to point that pay per click (PPC) advertising does nothing in and of itself to increase the organic search engine results on your site. True enough. You could easily blow through $500 in pay per click advertising over the course of a month by creating all kinds of simple keyword combinations to drive boatloads your way. If you do nothing else but sit back and watch the traffic — and then shut down the PPC ads in month two — you’ll no doubt watch traffic levels return to their previous sub-optimal levels.

By the way, unless you get lucky, all those new visitors that you paid Google for probably won’t result in much new busines.

So is PPC advertising a waste of time? Not at all. Here are three reasons why your company should be running a PPC campaign no matter what your budget.

Reason #1 — It forces you to enhance your content. While Google will not elevate your organic search standings as a result of visitor traffic generated by PPC, you now have a strong financial motive to enhance the quality and relevancy of your content. And that certainly will increase your organic search engine results. If you take the time to improve your content for whatever reason, readers and Google will both be sure to notice. Site pages that serve double duty as landing pages from your PPC campaigns are a natural first place to start. Focus your energies here and you’ll be rewarded with better business results on both the organic and paid sides of the house.

Reason #2 — Some visitors will bookmark and return. Remember that $500 you spent so ineffectively on PPC advertising? Maybe it wasn’t a complete waste of money after all. It’s likely that at least a few people found your site through PPC, liked what they saw, and bookmarked you for later return. Those visitors may someday convert into buyers, and they might not have ever found you without PPC.

Reason #3 — You learned your $500 lesson well, young Padawan. Those new to PPC often use simple and obvious word combinations to attract large numbers of visitors. Trouble is, PPC ads cost money, and large numbers of visitors (as you found out) don’t always translate into large numbers of buyers. Too many business folks get discouraged at this point, never to return to PPC again.

Don’t let that happen to you. SEO experts like to talk about the valuable “long tail” of search engine marketing. Basically what they’re saying is this: The most obvious keyword combinations using the search terms most likely already sprinkled on your site rarely make the most effective PPC ads. While they may serve to increase traffic, sometimes in great numbers, they rarely convert tire kickers into real buyers.

Rather, rely on good old-fashioned organic search for the easy and obvious stuff. Take the time to craft keyword ads that are less obvious and more “out there” but still highly relevant to your business. Fewer people will find those ads. But those that do will be more likely stay longer, come back later, and eventually buy. What’s more, your monthly payments to Google will be a whole lot less.

‘Til next time. . .

January, 2009

January 2009—It’s shaping up to be another busy year for the Radar Media team. As the New Year begins, several significant web projects are in development; more clients are leveraging our marketing copywriting services in addition to design for print and electronic materials; and Radar’s own website continues to draw more traffic (thanks to superb tracking by Google Analytics) with more hits than anticipated going to our blog.

On the website development front, two websites in particular are now well underway: NewRiver, Inc., a financial services company based in Andover, MA with a powerful electronic prospectus delivery service; and Osage Partners, a Delaware venture capital company that also happens to be an early investor in SevOne, another Radar client with a new website we launched for them last year.

Meanwhile, we’ve noted an uptick in the number of HTML e-mails and Flash banner ads we are designing and building for clients. With the economy in questionable condition to say the least, the potential ROI of Internet advertising is too strong to ignore.

As for the Radar blog, we attribute to the increasing traffic to several factors. Chief among them is our new staff writer, Lesley Anderson, who brings to the Radar team a fresh perspective on the power of good Internet writing. Second, readers seem to sense, correctly, that a company’s blog often houses its most up-to-date content. And third — blogs offer readers the opportunity to provide feedback directly and to begin to create a community that’s more than just a company’s publishing platform.

New Year’s Resolution for CEOs: “Go More Virtual”

The New Year gives opportunity for a fresh start or a burst of motivation to change something for the better in the coming year. One resolution that you might not think of is the aspect of “going virtual” in your workplace. We all want to make resolutions that will bring a positive change in our lives — saving more money, being healthier, helping the environment, being happier, etc. and believe it or not, incorporating a virtual element to your workplace can help accomplish all of those things.

So what exactly does going virtual mean? It’s different for different companies. Some companies are run solely in a virtual environment, with every employee telecommuting at his or her remote location. Other companies have a main “headquarters” location with satellite offices peppered throughout an area, even the world. Other companies utilize a combination of in-house and virtual employees, or have a flexible environment where employees are in the office some of the time and at home at others.

Regardless of the way that it’s implemented, a virtual working environment can provide a host of benefits to your business, and hiring companies who support virtual environments can also save you money due to lower overhead costs. Here are just some of the benefits that a partially or completely virtual workplace can provide:

Top talent. You are able to find an ideal employee match for each role since you are not restricted geographically.

Lower overhead costs. With many or all employees working out of their home base, you don?t need to pay the ongoing expenses of a physical office and are able to offer more competitive prices to clients as a result.

Happy, loyal employees. Providing flexibility so employees feel in control of their schedules allows for a healthy work-life balance, making them more likely to stay with your company long-term.

A healthier environment. Work-from-home or telework employees require little to no commute, thereby reducing pollution, traffic, and stress.

While a virtual working environment may not work for everyone, and is certainly not possible for everyone (restaurants, for example), if your company is able to offer this flexibility, it just may be worth a try! Managers may feel concerned with forfeiting the control and supervision that physical presence in an office provides, but there are many ways to ensure employees are on task and productive.

Paying per project versus per hour can be a great solution for both employer and employee. You can also videoconference, schedule regular phone meetings with everyone, or adjust other company policies as necessary.

We support virtual teams at Radar and we’ve enjoyed success with it. Having flexible, happy employees lets us do our best for our clients while being able to charge competitively for big results. Marketing and design are industries where virtual environments can work wonderfully when prepared for well and carefully implemented.

So which direction will you be taking this year? Will you be moving toward the future of online business or staying behind? Face to face is certainly effective, but you never know who or what you might miss out on for the sake of face time. Happy New Year!