Great Websites in a Box

Great Websites in a Box

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With all the broohaha surrounding the development costs for South Arica’s most expensive website, I thought it would be appropriate to put together a quick guide for those of you looking to engage a vendor to build your website or modify your existing site, as well as some tips for those of you who are already using WordPress as your chosen web site platform.

Let’s begin with things you should be considering when engaging with a potential vendor, starting with the most important point: Credibility.

Credibility

Choosing a vendor is like shopping online, except instead of looking for a SSL certification or a guarantee of some description, you should look out for:

  • Seals of accreditation
  • Membership to recognised organisations
  • Links out to verifiable publications and or other media outlets
  • References and LinkedIn profiles
  • I always look at a member of a company’s Linkedin profile. If you can see a direct connection between the person and their stated clients, it almost always validates the claim that they have serviced those clients.

Request for proposal

If time is not an issue for you, it’s always a good idea to formulise the piece of work that needs to be done via a Request for Proposal styled process.

When in doubt ask

As simple as this may sound, asking a vendor to provide you with information that you require is an easy way to verify their claims. Sometimes vendors might be afraid to list clients or references. This is especially true within the SEO space where, in some rare cases, sites that have been linked to SEOs (as tin foil hat as this might sound) have been penalised for being associated with the site.

WordPress

I use WordPress. A lot. In fact, it’s probably been my platform of choice for some years now, after having played around with the majority of other open source content management systems.

 

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The reasons that I work off WordPress are simple:

  • It’s open source – which doesn’t only mean that it’s free
  • It’s simple to install on your server
  • Easy for users and website owners to get around the installation
  • Is search engine friendly straight out of the box
  • Infinitely configurable with the plethora of plugins available.

Over the years I have also picked up a number of shortcuts and DIY-styled security improvements around the platform that can help you secure your site, as well as make it quicker. Below are a handful of top tips and tricks I’ve emassed.

Security

Websites are vulnerable to being attacked and no-one is immune; even the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple. Of course ‘the highest branches catch the most breeze, and they would naturally be a target, but you’d be surprised how many script kiddies (unsophisticated hacking programmes) are out there and will take down your site just for fun. Make sure you have proper security in place.

Some of the things you can get your development department to do are:

  • Secure the “wp-admin” folder as well as the “wp-config.php” file – via the .htaccess file
  • Make sure you have secure password for your database connection.
  • If possible use SSH (Secure SHell) to transfer files between servers and configure it so that the servers only accept connections from your IP address.
  • Regularly update the core: Periodically the core of WordPress is updated, it’s always a good idea to have the latest version of the software running on your site. This is also true for any plugins you might have installed on the site

Search Engine Optimisation

As already stated, WordPress does a great job straight out of the box on the SEO front, however there are a couple things you can do make it that much better:

  • Ensure that your ‘permalink’ structures are setup so that the URLs that WordPress generate are clean and search engine friendly
  • You are able to manipulate the titles and other meta tags on individual pages or posts
  • You are able to control the search engines robots / or crawlers via the ‘noindex’ or ‘nofollow’ directives.

Web analytics

As already covered in my previous article, it’s essential that your web analytics account is already primed and ready to accept the best possible data. With that in mind, you can now configure the actual site to deliver more data via things such as:

  • onClick event tracking
  • custom variables
  • cross domain tracking to carry sessions from one site to another.

Speed

Speed is something that a webmaster or owner should be striving for – not having a very quick site that is great for user experience is increasingly being seen as a quality signal by search engines. And let’s face it: Your customers probably spend a lot of time online.

A slow site will just annoy them. They’ll leave and not come back. There are many ways to ensure your site is speedy. Chat to your webmaster and make sure they’re ticking all the boxes, including:

  • Avoiding code bloat. If building a theme from scratch, try to reuse code as much as possible.
  • Minify your javascript and CSS. Fancy is not always better.
  • Cache the site. Having a caching system for the site means that instead of the site having to go to the database every time for a page’s information, it goes to a locally stored copy of the page.
  • Make use of CDN or Content Distribution Network.

Hosting

Finding a suitable host can be tricky, especially when even large hosting companies have troubles with their data centres. It really comes down to what level of service and support you’re willing to pay for. If price point is your sole drive in this regard, chances are your site will be slow. If there’s one thing you can’t really afford to skimp on, it’s hosting.

Some of the things to look out for are:

  • Decent support
  • Guaranteed uptime of 99.9%
  • Backup services
  • Scalability (can they grow with your business needs?)

If you have any questions please drop them in the comments below.

Michael Wissekerke
Michael Wissekerke runs a results orientated search marketing company, Conversionomics.net, where he tries to make “the web a better place” through better user experiences and a more holistic approach to search and conversion rate optimisation. Having cut his teeth as an SEO and online marketer in the hyper competitive industry of online gaming, Michael (a self-confessed web geek) recently returned from Australia where he was the in-house search and analytics manager for multinational pharmaceutical giant Sanofi.
  • Ashwin Chotoo

    I have been using wordpress for a while and i am very happy with it, i am struggling with Permalinks and SEO a bit though and although wordpress is impressive, you have to know how to use the system. I am still looking for somebody to help with advanced WordPress training but seems nobody seems to do training in Johannesburg

    • HI Ashwin thanks for the reply! 🙂

      i think the most important thing about an organic campaign is actually formulating a battle plane before hand.

      what i mean is if you’re able to plan your content in conjunction with your information architecture it’s makes building the site that much more easier – because retrofitting a site can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare.

      on the training front i actually don’t know of anyone that specialises in wordpress training personally. i wish i could point you in the right direction and be more of assistance on that front.