Message automation audit

View of Cyborg hand holding Chatbot with binary code, message and data 3d rendering

If you have chatted online recently with a help desk, you may have already had the experience of getting messages that really don’t quite fit your question. Chatbots may be taking over the world, but those who are programming their responses might need a little help occasionally, and a regular review of their effectiveness.

The most common message mistake I see, in terms of automated messaging, is a canned reply from a mailbox saying that the recipient is away from the office for a winter holiday–and I get it in some month like, May or June. This can also happen in recorded messages that never get reviewed. On a related note, the fact that you have a “no-reply” return address is no excuse for not providing a valid e-mail address or phone number in the message body somewhere. I consider the act of sending information out without the expectation of a response “broadcasting” and a less effective way of creating customer relationships. The best thing social media teaches us is that communication is always a two-way street, even if you might not like the response.

Maybe I take messages too personally: I do know that when I get a marketing e-mail, that has a generic message, from a marketing guy, perhaps even a guy or a gal like me in some ways, I should understand it should cover a broad spectrum of potential recipients. But when the message makes no sense, or takes liberties with what I think or should think, I do get offended. Take for example some of the subject lines I am getting now from Alignable. Now don’t get me wrong, I kind of like Alignable. They serve a purpose and cater to a niche network marketing audience that needs a push to connect. But when I get a message that says “so-and-so” should be sending you referrals, and that person actually died a few years ago, I have to wonder whether the message hurts the brand. Telling me what I need to expect is also little boundary violation, but I’m willing to let it slide if there is a reasonable purpose.

A few months ago, I logged in to one of those sites that reunites classmates from high school or college. I wanted to see what my father’s high school pictures looked like. I was pleased to see that both he and my uncle were in the yearbooks, and kept copies of the photos. However, now I get messages telling me that my profile (really my deceased father’s profile) has been getting a lot of hits and “Danggg your profile has gotten some traction!!!” Apart from the flagrant grammatical issues in this attempt to get me to pay for a membership to their service, I am saddened by the idea that now my father’s classmates might think that he is still alive and just isn’t going to respond to them. I wish my father was still around, I have ever since I lost him when I was a child. But these assumptions about who I am and whether I am pleased to be getting traction or sad by not getting enough referrals from the departed are odd, if not painful. I encourage all business owners and their marketers to look at the automated messages in your organization and consider the possibility that the message is not working the way you might expect it to. Facebook has a whole section on automated replies in their business portals that can be customized. You might be deflecting customers with dated messages as opposed to encouraging them if the information is incorrect or misleading. (Mental note–check all messages after the pandemic to be sure that social distancing messages are updated…)

So while this may technically qualify as a rant, I hope that those of you who read it might consider a general review of the automated messages you have and think about whether they still make sense, have updated information, or need refreshing in some way.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

#QUARANTINECHALLENGE

One of the ways I keep myself entertained at night before I go to bed, is to look for a few hashtags that I follow and check the “latest” results on Twitter.  They are a broader cross-section of posts than the most popular tweets and often contain information that the mainstream media has ignored or deemed less newsworthy.  Some of them are quite interesting and I go prospecting to discover more about my chosen topics.  Some of the recent posts had to do with things that people are doing to fill their time while in quarantine.

I have my own ideas about things I like to do.  I could watch a series of movies like the Marx Brothers.  I have good memories of being in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the early 80s during my Junior Year Abroad and seeing some of them with my host family.  As an American in Paris, I was the US personal representative for all things American and while I had no special knowledge of les frères Marx, I had quasi-celebrity status just being from the land of Hollywood. 

While Marx brothers’ movies might not be your cup of tea, a phone call I got this morning from Think Local President Jeff Ball might be closer to what you had in mind: a physical fitness challenge.  Jeff is issuing a push-up challenge and wanted some Facebook advice.  I have seen a basement challenge, attic challenges, barn challenges and other such cleaning chores hit social media as first choice topics for the type-A personality, must-be-productive people.  There are infinite numbers of Netflix series challenges, diet challenges, and abstinence challenges (appropriate for lent), but it seems like there is still room for more.

People with plenty of time on their hands have made graphs, Venn Diagrams, and work-breakdown structures (WBS) worthy of a professional project manager to spur interest and compete.  There are flow charts detailing the different phases of quarantine assimilation:  fear, boredom, complacency, learning modes and acceptance.  Most of us go through many of these phases daily as we sort out the various current needs, future needs and limitations of living in social isolation and coping with the frightening news of the day.

So what things are important for a good #quarantinechallenge?  First, be willing to step out of your comfort zone.  If you’re not really challenged, then it’s pointless.  Second, recognize that others may not share your enthusiasm for the selected topic.  Third, include something reportable.

Here are ten suggestions for #quarantinechallenges:

  1.  #packratchallenge: Pick one drawer or box and divide it into two piles – one you keep, and one you give or throw away.  Post your results.
  2. #youstillmatterchallenge: Pick a friend you have not spoken to in a while and give them a call out of the blue.  I had this happen today and was grateful for it.  Before the end of the call, challenge them to do the same.
  3. #dreadedmaintenancechallenge: Do the one thing you hate to do most, whether its cleaning the gutters, “recycling” fertilizer from the dog area, or balancing your checkbook (do people still do that?).  Post your accomplishment and how long it took you.
  4. #challengechallenge: Come up with challenges that other people can do during a quarantine.  (Check mine off for today…)
  5. #deadparrotchallenge: Watch one randomly chosen episode of Monty Python a day and stop when you get to the skit about the dead parrot.  Post how many episodes it took you to get there.
  6. #icansingchallenge: Join the quarantine karaoke public group on Facebook and perform one song.
  7. #dressforsuccesschallenge: Put on your work clothes and post a photo before you head to the other room to start your day.  Kudos to Walter Reynolds and others in my group of friends who have provided the inspiration for this challenge.
  8. #ifixeditchallenge: Show a novel way to life hack or otherwise repair something that has been bothering you WITHOUT going to the store first.  Post the results, preferably with photos.
  9. #healthychoiceschallenge: Make one New Year’s-style resolution and make a public announcement that you plan to keep it through the quarantine—and longer if you choose.
  10. #itwasntbrokenuntilIfixeditchallenge: This goes with number 8 for those who did not actually manage to fix anything.  Consider it the consolation prize for this stay-at-home game.  Photos are required as well as the ability to accept some gentle ribbing from your friends. 

So keep calm and stay home.  This too shall pass.  If you enjoyed these suggestions, please let me know. – Henry.

What’s changed?

Henry Lyons, Owner / Developer

It’s been four years since I started Finestkind Web Design. I thought it might be time for a short retrospective. First, thank you to everyone who has remained a loyal client, as well as those who had to move on to other things and no longer needed a website. My greatest joys are always seeing the excitement from customers who are happy with the work I have done for them. I have been blessed with a great group of people I can call clients. I will not be singling anyone out today, but I may reference one or two of you in a way that will make you think it might be you (and it probably is). My “niche” has been to handle sites for people who are not satisfied with “out of the box” websites from hosting companies. I enjoy listening to customers and creating custom layouts that reflect the business and its owner. Recently I finished a rather large project that resulted in a custom portal for the owner to list items for sale on his own, as opposed to asking me to perform frequent updates. It brought me back to my roots as a Java developer and I was delighted to find updates to the development environment were very easy to learn. I had a similar experience finding a special server to put it on and updating the operating system to handle all the details for running the website in a way that could save the customer money as well as provide a full-featured host to handle all the additional requirements that my standard hosting did not.

So what has changed? The first thing that has changed is the way in which clients are coming and going. At first, I was working with people who generally had a bad experience with a “package deal”. Small businesses are easy prey for the bundle deals where someone shows up, offers you a website and marketing package for several hundred dollars a month, and then sends you reports that seem to make sense, but the results are very hard to prove. Some people have either “outgrown” their need for a website on a particular topic (like a film) or were unable to launch a business for reasons other than whether they had a website. Both of these kinds of clients are hard to see go, because they are great people to work with and I have empathy for the fact that the website was no longer worthwhile. However, not every idea or website is good enough to continue to pay for, and realizing that is important–not just for one’s own ethical equanimity, but to realize that the Internet is not a solution in and of itself. There must be content and hard work that makes it produce. Knowing when to say “it’s over” is just as important as knowing when to say “let’s do this!”

Another thing that has changed is the way in which customers find me. Some have seen my sign on the road in front of the house for years, and finally decide to call. Others have heard of a site that I created and want to know if I have any ideas that would help them.

Social media such as Facebook has learned how to monetize its business model. Technology on smartphones and tablets continues to step backward from the limelight in a way that makes most people in the web design business question where we are going. In my own life, I have returned to school to study some of these aspects of new media and technology initiatives and how to remain innovative. I earned a Master’s of Information Technology in 2017 with a specialization in software application development from SNHU, and am currently taking Ph.D. courses at Capella University toward a doctorate in information technology, in addition to my responsibilities at Finestkind Web Design. This means that I have honed my research and writing skills, and continue to do so daily.

If you have questions about what I might be able to do for you, or are just interested in sharing opinions, let me know, and we can set up a time to meet. I continue to believe that our community is the real magic, and that technology just helps us share it. Let me know if I can be of assistance for your next endeavor.

The Player Piano


When you listen to a recording, you are hearing the artist performing in the past, in a format that will remain for many years to come, given proper archival treatment.  Recently, I finished watching two seasons of HBO’s Westworld, a fantastic rendition of the Michael Crichton story and remake of the original film starring Yul Brenner.  There were many plot twists and liberties taken with the script, but I want to talk about the player piano.

The piano itself is a central theme from the beginning, and appears in the introduction to each episode.  It is worth noting that the robots who play them aren’t necessarily playing at all, as the piano knows the program from the holes punched in the scroll.  It is an early form of the “magic” used by programmers to emulate life.

In a scene that fans of the series will remember, there is an old Edison Cylinder player outside on a porch while people are dancing.  I was unable to determine the song, but most agreed that it was preceded by a piece called “Reverie” by Debussy.  I inherited a fairly large collection of Edison Cylinders a while back and so I was intrigued to find out whether I actually had the music they were playing.  As it turns out, the piece in question does not appear in any blue Ambersol or other cylinder collection recorded for sale at the turn of the century through the twenties when this format first became popular and lasted until the phonograph made them obsolete.

So I went on YouTube to search more for the music.  What I found there struck a chord.  Here was a video entitled “Debussy plays the Sunken Cathedral.”  It is a beautiful, haunting piece of music.  But, of course, it was not an original audio recording, it was a paper piano roll recorded from a player piano that Debussy had played.  Even more eloquently than words, the touch of the keys were recorded with fidelity to match Debussy’s every stroke, if not the forcefulness of his style.  In this way, his performance, more than just the sheet music, still lives on.

Late in the series, there is a library where people’s lives have been recorded, their personalities more precisely.  One character says that they discovered emulating a human being was a relatively short ten-thousand lines of code.  And when the books in this library were opened to reveal the codes, there were no printed letters or numbers.  They were all pages, punched like the rolls of a player piano, our performances of a lifetime, recorded with fidelity in a book for future reference.

Here is where I depart from the story to observe that in a similar way, our lives are being recorded now to the Internet in a way that may one day read like the lines of the player piano, not simply reproducing what our interests and actions are, but who we are in a far deeper and more sacred way.  The story of Westworld poses the general question of where automation ends and life begins.  How do our daily routines, programmed or not, differ from those of the characters in a play or movie, scripted, repeating on demand, and preserved for posterity?

You may have had the eerie experience of visiting a friend or relative’s Facebook page or other social media page, after they have passed away.  It is an unscripted chapter and verse of a person’s selective interactions with their friends and community.  These friends appear in our timelines, unbeckoned, sometimes jarringly because of the deep feelings they evoke, as memories, or as Debussy and the French would put it, as Reveries.  The story of HBO’s Westworld begins with the creator adding Reveries to the programmed “robots” that inhabit the world.  For the first time, these beings experience memories, sometimes clouded and incomplete, from previous experiences, even previous lives where they had a different role to play.  This “dream” element of their story, more than any other factor, ironically serves to wake these beings into consciousness in a way that is more human than automated.

We may have other instances of the player piano where part of a person’s life is recorded in a way that brings them back, momentarily, to our present, and we again long for their company.  It is worth noting that as with the player piano, it is the hole in the paper and in our lives that brings the experience to life.  Sometimes that which is missing defines us more than what we have kept or what we are allowed to keep.  In remembering what we used to have and what we cherish, our present becomes more precious and real.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.
 

Draggy Voice

Making your customers feel valuable is important.  If you have an employee who is on the phone and they sound like they have been there far too long, it might be time to have a chat with them.  I cannot say how many times, just this week, I have been on the phone with someone who makes me feel as though I have interrupted them, or that they would rather be sleeping.  The attitude is clear when they answer the phone:

“Hellllllloooooo.   Thiiiiss issssss Sheeeeeeila.  May I have your _____________  (fill in the blank: member number, phone number, problem, case number, etc., etc.)”

Many times this is an indicator of whether they are in a position of power over you as well.  If you call a utility company where you a customer, you have an excellent chance of encountering draggy voice.  This is a passive aggressive technique to show people you are unhappy with your job.  When a supervisor tries to improve draggy voice it becomes a subjective kind of review because if you are simply looking at the words, nothing is wrong.  They have followed the script and are being polite in terms of the words they are using.

Trying to combat this phenomenon might require an outside third party to review your company’s current customer service performance.  Simply having people score their call according to a set of recorded questions may not be enough unless you are asking about whether the customer feels valued.  Simply asking “was your issue resolved” only prolongs the problem, as you may be losing customers who are simply unwilling to continue to feel verbally neglected on the phone.

My congratulations go out to those who have managed to remain in good form, cheery, helpful, interested and concerned on customer support calls.  Anyone who has none of the above and continues to take customer service calls, should consider another line of work, or at least a less public position in the company.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

Isn’t That Funny?

Some people have a knack for humor.  There is an old joke about a man who walks in to a bar and asks…  (uh oh, here it comes)  Mostly what you hear after that opening line is some kind of off-color humor about race, gender, or nationality.  The problem with using mirth in the public marketplace is that much of what you might think is funny, is actually offensive to someone else.  Therefore, it is important to be a good judge of what content you should censor from your website if found, and abstain from using in your own promotional materials.  Here are some good guidelines for determining whether your potentially funny post is in fact “over the top.”

  1. Does your joke make fun of a kind of person, occupation, or community role? That in and of itself should be a warning sign.
  2. Is the humor something that passes the “family hour” test? In other words, is it adult humor that should really be kept offline?
  3. Have you crash-tested the humor? Is there someone in your office or your entourage who could give you a bit of friendly advice that might avoid a large public embarrassment?
  4. Does the use of humor in this case really add something worthwhile? Because humor is such an obvious opportunity for misfire, challenge yourself on whether you really need it.
  5. Is the humor an inside joke? If so, then maybe it might be best left inside, among friends.
  6. Does your business really lend itself well to humor? Even if the joke is really funny, it will play out against the backdrop of your business which may or may not be something that people are willing to laugh about.  If in doubt, leave it out.

Now, just to be fair and to give some guidance to anyone who hasn’t already fled the scene, terrified of some potential gaffe, here are some guidelines for humor that works:

  1. A gentle or clever play on words that makes you and others giggle: a “manwich” is a good example of such a word.
  2. An example of the “wrong way to do something” that promotes your product or service. One example of this technique was used successfully in a job board advertisement where they call the lazy workers “Dave” but then offer an apology to anyone named Dave.
  3. A personal story that humbly admits a wrong on your part, as in “I really felt stupid when I yelled at customer support and it turns out my computer wasn’t even plugged in.”
  4. Personifying animals or objects. For some reason, this is a common theme in many ads, and some animals are stereotyped in a way that becomes very humorous.  Consider for example, an owl who is very concerned about getting his overdue library books back.  Or the car who thinks it isn’t really shiny enough to meet the Cadillac next door.  The humor might be subtle, but it portrays your business as being personable, open to criticism, and welcoming.
  5. Trying to hide an obvious flaw, such as the emperor has no clothes or this car goes from zero to sixty in five seconds, so long as you drop it from a tall enough building.
  6. Finally, the use of overstatement or understatement can be a goldmine for humor seekers. Consider this headline: “We offer the best car wash in the universe!”  It might not be side-splitting funny, but it does let you know in a gentle way that this business is not only proud, but friendly.

What have you discovered about advertising that uses humor?  Are there any rules you would add to these?  Please comment.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

More Duct Tape and Bondo Than Car

Don’t let this be your website…

In the auto repair business, there is a saying: at some point you have more duct tape and bondo than car.  It’s meant as a joke, and describes many “winter beaters” that are on the road here in Maine.  What it means in the Internet age is that some websites need to be given such a complete make-over that it really doesn’t make sense to keep adding onto what is already there.  The fact of the matter is, that if your website is over five years old, it is obsolete.  There are many ways to tell, including the responsive design issues I mentioned in my last blog, but to be sure, it really requires a professional to do a website audit.

What’s in an audit?

Everyone has a different set of criteria they look for, but some elements of an audit are universal.  The length of time it takes for your pages to load, the proper formatting of script, whether images are customized to be efficient at multiple screen sizes, and what a website might have for referring pages, otherwise known as “backlinks”.  The bigger issue however becomes “how easy is this site to manage?”  If the site requires 25 edits to change one thing that spans across all pages, then it is definitely too much of an antique to be considered “easy to manage”.  Does the page show up correctly in different browsers?  Do your letters overlap in places you don’t want them to?  Can you find what you need to on your site or is it an Easter egg hunt?

Results of an Audit

By getting an audit of your existing website you are taking a look at whether your website is performing correctly for you, or whether it needs a tune-up.  To extend the car metaphor one more level, you are looking to see if you have enough tread on your tires to weather another season, or if you might experience some kind of a blow-out.  The kinds of blow-out that might happen may have to do with whether you need to update content on your website and it turns into a nightmare because no one has properly maintained the site.  It may be that the person who is in charge of website monitoring has left the company and no one has taken time to handle the issue because it is too complicated or the information has been lost.  I have had clients who tell me they do not know where their website is hosted.  Do you know?

Making an emergency plan

Sometimes the best thing you can do today, is plan for the problem that might crop up tomorrow.  Do you have a backup of your website?  Do you have someone who is the designated alternate for handling issues that come up with social media and your website?  Can you incorporate cross-training that might handle this eventuality?  At Finestkind Web Design, we help you accomplish that kind of plan in whatever fashion you might choose.  If you want us to keep a copy of credentials and website backup, we can do that for you.  All of my hosting clients have a website that includes a regular backup.  Does yours?

Is your website showing signs that it might be time to overhaul?  Please let us know.  We are here to help.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

Five Reasons to Make Your Website Responsive

The first thing that most clients ask me when they want to know about responsive design, is what advantage it has over traditional “boilerplate” designs.  Here are some of the best reasons:

SEO

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is important to everyone who competes for position in search results.  The keywords you use have a unique result in every search engine.   If you are a photographer and someone searches for “photographers in Maine” that will yield a different result than say “local photographers”.  Every search engine has its own criteria for what raises or lowers your site in the search results.  Responsive web design is a characteristic of your site that means your web pages automatically adapt to different screen sizes.  By incorporating responsive design, Google has stated that as of 2015 their algorithm ranks sites with responsive design higher.  Why?  Well, one reason is that the majority of web searches are taking place on mobile devices.

Duplicate content

Did you know that Google actually penalizes you for “duplicate content” if you have a separate set of web pages for mobile devices?  If your website uses .mobile or .mob to define some of your pages, then you do have this double coverage, and Google is ranking you lower for it.

Forward thinking.

The decision to incorporate responsive design is one way to plan ahead for what the web brings next.  Most people ten years ago would not have predicted that tablets would be popular, or that desktop computers would rank below mobile devices in terms of user preference for conducting their online browsing and shopping.  Who knows that size screen the next device will have, but with responsive design you are in a far better position to adapt to it.

Competitive advantage.

If your site shows up with fonts that are readable on the smartphone without having to go through seven layers of hell to reposition the screen in a way that might give you the information you are looking for without skipping to another page or disappearing completely, that is an advantage.  User frustration with your site will usually go unnoticed until someone is actually having a full-blown meltdown.  Don’t wait for it to get that far!  If you have noticed that your website frustrates you on a mobile device (or anywhere for that matter) then it’s time to make a change.

Choice.

Did you know that with responsive design you can actually create content (photos, text, anything) that only shows up in certain screen sizes?  It’s not only about changing the size of things.  I have one client who has a different slide show depending on which browser you might be using (Safari or Explorer, or Chome, etc.).  Another client has a images that only show up in larger versions of her calendar to save space on small screens where the photo is not as important as the events.

You can get what I call “cookie-cutter” style websites like those offered in basic WordPress packages, and if you design them correctly they can use a theme that has responsive design.  If you have such a site that is not responsive, I can help.  You can opt to either have the entire site recrafted in a personalized way that is not dependent upon the styles WordPress offers, or if you like the page layouts you already have in WordPress, it may be possible to adopt a responsive theme for far less than it would cost to redesign the whole site.  Please call if you have any questions about any of my responsive design advice.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

First Things First

Making decisions about how to grow your company is difficult.  It can feel as though you are being asked all the questions at once, especially once vendors begin to call or drop by because you have made it onto their radar.  Unfortunately the arrival of these solicitors does not often coincide with the growth of your business and indeed can increase the tension you already feel about what to do next.  I have a couple of ground rules I try to live by and which I offer as advice to my clients.  They may seem obvious at first, but really using them and living by them is much harder than just understanding what the rule means.

One thing at a time.

Your attention is valuable.  Everything you do requires some of it, and there will always be interruptions.  So do not begin a second short-term project when you still have the ability to continue one you have already started.  If the phone rings or someone stops by, do what you need to for them, then get back to this short-term project and finish it.  By opening up new projects and adding to the list of items on your immediate to-do list, you are diminishing your attention.  Once that attention dwindles below 50%, you will start to feel overwhelmed.  This is normal, but just like keeping a sailboat upright, you must pay attention to how far over the mast is leaning so you do not lose your ability to maintain course or end up capsized.  Why is this difficult?  Because some people have bought into the strategy that they need to drop everything every time an opportunity to make money comes up.  This is a recipe for losing your mind slowly.  You might be able to keep up this strategy for a matter of weeks or months, but it will eventually drain you entirely of your forward momentum as more and more basic responsibilities slip by and create longer term problems that snowball.  Just take one thing at a time to the extent possible.

First things first. 

The title of this post, this is about priorities, but more than that about keeping your mind clear enough to handle the rest of your life.  Read this next part carefully, because it is key to keeping your business flowing in the right direction: you may not already know what the next most important priority is.  Your experience is limited to the subject matter you specialize in.  To think that because you are good at building houses also makes you a computer genius is absurd.  The reverse is also true, as I can attest.  If I need help with anything outside of my specialty I make sure to ask questions.  Many questions are quickly answered now in Google and other search engine results, but to get broader advice, tailored to your current situation, you may need to engage an expert if you are not lucky enough to have a friend in that field.  Once you know the right direction, go back to rule one and handle it one thing at a time.

Asking for advice is the first stop on the road to something greater than yourself.

What better way to better yourself than adding to your own knowledge base?  Making mistakes is all part of life, but avoiding mistakes is far preferable.  Furthermore, asking someone for their opinion is usually a compliment and a way to show respect.  Instead of trying to outwit people who are selling you something, find out what they might have to bring you in the way of knowledge, new technology, advice, or even a good deal.  This blog post has no shortage of aphorisms, but I will add one more: everything happens for a reason.  While this is a matter of personal belief, I think that it is also good solid philosophy to improve one’s quality of life.  Take advantage of the people and the ideas that come to you.

If you ever need someone to ask questions about small business, websites, hosting, or anything related to computing, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

What Is Hosting?

While many people are familiar with the Internet, some are not familiar with hosting.  I would like to address some of the concerns and questions about hosting, hopefully without being too obvious for those of you who are already familiar with the concept.

So first, what is hosting? 

  • It is the place where you keep your website pages, settings and files.
  • It is a company that provides maintenance of servers where your website lives
  • It is a plan of services you pay for in case you need technical support
  • It is has many different levels of quality and service

Here are a few things that technically aren’t hosting:

  • The IP address that directs people on the Internet to your site.
  • Your domain name.
  • Your social media account.
  • Most of your e-mail.

Second, what kinds of hosting are available?

Some website developers (such as myself) offer hosting through a national company and pay the overhead themselves.  Other companies, including developers, have their own private servers (like the one Hillary Clinton is now famous for having had at her house).  This means that the hosting is physically located somewhere in their office or on their property.  This can be risky, as the protection for such equipment cannot match the larger “server farm” installations.  If you have a website you need to prepare for disaster—which not surprisingly is called disaster recovery.  Some of the potential disasters that these places plan for are fire, electrical outages, hackers, computer hardware failure, vandalism, theft, and loss of Internet connectivity.

There is a middle ground as well which is called “co-location”.  This is where I might own a server but keep it at a server farm or other Internet service provider with the understanding that they do not touch it unless I authorize it.  This means that I am responsible for hardware failures, software updates, and the rest of the things that server companies handle for you normally.  Some companies use co-location as a way to reduce some of the physical risks and save money on the maintenance plan fees.

If I need a shopping cart, is the hosting plan different?

In a word, yes.  Companies that offer e-commerce solutions must be able to provide secure (SSL) connectivity to the financial institutions that process payments.  An e-commerce hosting solution is different because:

  1. It requires a certificate authority that is used to verify your identity to the credit card processor (and similar organizations).  This certificate has an annual fee and can be purchased through a third party or through your hosting company in many cases.  When you see a “set-up” charge for e-commerce hosting, this is one of the reasons why.  Installing a certificate can be easy or time-consuming, depending on the server and the shopping cart software.
  2. There is a higher level of liability for the hosting company if lost sales were to occur due to any hosting failure, even short lapses in website uptime.
  3. In the case of a security breach, the risk is greater because of the personal data stored online.

What about bandwidth?

Most of my clients are not large enough to warrant a surcharge for bandwidth.  If you shop around, you will find many companies that are quite concerned with how many visitors you might have and how much data you might be transferring (for example, are you a video-oriented site?).  If you are a startup, you may have no idea how much bandwidth you need.  It is a simple matter of talking to your hosting provider to get an estimate of what the limits are and what fees would be if your needs were to grow.

Final thoughts

When you choose your hosting provider, make sure to ask the questions you might ask when you are leasing a car: When can I have it?  How safe is it?  What is the monthly payment?  Can I trade it in?  What happens if I miss a payment?  Can you repair it if I get into a crash?  What would that cost?  Do you have a loaner vehicle?  What happens if I go over my mileage limit?  There are many other such questions, but you get the idea.  Consider something you are familiar with, and then apply your experience in that area to the decision of where to get hosting.  I am always interested in speaking with potential new clients, regardless of whether they already have hosting.  Feel free to leave any interesting experiences you have had with hosting or questions in the comments section below.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.