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Great Joomla Add-on Web Products

March 10, 2008

Among the many great benefits of using Content Management Systems (CMS), having the ability to add on compatible products (components and systems) to your CMS website is definitely one of the best. For those who missed my recent CMS Blog, CMS websites are the future and backbone of most professional websites today. They are database driven, and allow “non tech people” to thoroughly update and manage their website content. Open Source is one of the formats in which Content Management Systems are offered – meaning that programmers (like BeareWare) are allowed to customize the system for each client’s requirements. Compatibility between the CMS and Add-ons is a must and by selecting Open Source Add-ons, we can really keep the clients’ costs down while providing tremendous functionality to your website visitors.

Important – these systems must be completely integrated into your website’s CMS system!

A very important opening statement, before I review these systems, is to clarify that add-on systems should be seamlessly integrated into your website. Today it is still all too commonplace to click on a function appearing on a website – for instance, to buy a product or subscribe to an e-mail or even search for real estate – AND THEN BANG – a “new window” opens up and you are now on a new website – with a different look, different brand, and quite often different design features.

This is not a good practice – and the results of sending visitors off your website can range with website visitors worrying about whether the site is secure enough to enter their credit card information (since they are no longer on the site they were shopping on) – to folks sending an inquiry to the Real Estate MLS Search which ends up going to someone other than the realtor whose site you were on in the first place. It is tremendously important to keep your web visitors on your website, and to get them to produce an outcome (conversion) you are aiming for, such as a shop purchase, newsletter sign up, phone call, or e-mail inquiry.

Here are some of the products that can be added to your CMS website:

  • Online Shop – VirtueMart
  • E-News Marketing – PHPList
  • Events Calendar – JEvents
  • Photo Gallery – Gallery2
  • 3rd Party Framing Software

Online Shop – VirtueMart

VirtueMart online shops provide the marketing look and feel to attract customers, while combining the shop functionality to generate sales and secure customer payment transactions. The online shop comes with customer, inventory, order and shipping management modules that are directly managed through the website’s administration area. The VirtueMart system integrates into your CMS website to maintain your brand completely – providing the rich and full experience of same-site online shopping. Combined with secure server and payment gateways, VirtueMart also provides account capabilities that make it easy for repeat customers as well as first time buyers.

Online Shops & e-Commerce includes:

  • Online shops graphically designed to showcase and sell your products
  • Full inventory system including product detail & images, pricing & taxes
  • Shipping modules interface with USPS system (world wide shipping)
  • Secure server certificate to provide safe and secure online purchasing
  • Payment gateway direct from website to your bank account
  • Easy to use standard customer shop interface for product maintenance.
  • Online administration via CMS for managing orders and client database

e-NEWS Marketing – PHPList:

e-NEWS Marketing with PHPList provides you with the complete set of tools necessary to market your goods & services to your current client/community base while attracting potential clients. An e-NEWS is an electronic newsletter, but can also be a special announcement, a press release, or an invitation. Since the inception of the Internet, e-NEWS has been the most consistent formal marketing tool to help your customers and prospects connect with your website.

e-NEWS Marketing includes:

  • Creating a customer e-NEWS template using current website flavor
  • Creating an e-NEWS database list that is self-managed by subscribers
  • Subscription forms that are placed on your organization’s website
  • Client based or custom e-news blast-outs to subscribers
  • Automatic management of bounced or blocked e-mails
  • Custom design services to support marketing campaigns
  • Data conversion of existing e-mail/mailing list data to e-news list

Events Calendar – JEvents:

A great way to make your website more interactive is to add an events calendar (JEvents). This is particularly valuable for websites that have a community focus – and ones where the target demographic you are aiming at will have an interest in upcoming community events. And like all open source systems, JEvents not only allows the you, the site’s owner, to update these events directly online – but you can also provide the ability for community groups to update the calendar directly (from the “frontend” of the site), creating a great diversity of calendar events – and ultimately bringing greater traffic to your site.

Events Calendar includes:

  • Creating a custom integrated Calendar using current website flavor
  • Database driven calendar that allows ongoing annual reccurring events
  • Direct registration module for additional calendar contributors
  • Home Page integration that links to larger size calendar
  • Pop Up mouse-over features giving detail about specific event
  • Click-thru to full event detail including hyperlink and photo capabilities
  • User-defined color coded category system for events
  • Calendar is fully managed thru your CMS Administration Panel

Photo Gallery – Gallery2:

Never has there been such a visual time in the Internet’s history. What used to be promoted and clarified in words alone is now often done more effectively with images. As the saying goes, ”A picture is worth a thousand words” – and man oh man – has this become the case on the web. Photo Galleries are becoming the most visited pages on many websites today – and quite often they are being integrated into online shops (since good product images have a huge influence on ales results). A Photo Gallery is a collection of photo albums. You can have as many Galleries as you want on your web server, with each gallery containing as many photo albums as you want. Configuration of Gallery and administration of the photo albums is done entirely via an intuitive web interface.

Photo Gallery Includes:

  • Custom integrated Photo Galley using current website flavor
  • Dynamic photo editing and management tools for sizing and image quality
  • Slideshow capabilities that allow for sequenced image displays
  • Customized defaults for adding as many photo albums as you like
  • Multiple user capabilities with permissions & user setting capabilities
  • Album and image description boxes & captions to enhance viewing experience
  • Custom thumbnail image management for album and photo links
  • Fully managed thru your CMS Administration Panel (web browser)

3rd Party Framing Software

3RD Party Framing Software is a very fast growing area in website development & management. With companies and organizations now spending key advertising and marketing dollars on their own websites (and brands), the requirement to be able to offer state of the art functions and applications –without having the visitor leave the primary website – has opened the door for software that is developed with the premise of being “framed” into another website. Our big experience to date with this has been with real estate software – with the goal being to keep a prospect who is looking for a home on the Realtor’s website (not being led off to other locations by real estate search software that may potentially link to thousands of realtors). The key is maintaining the brand while providing the functionality.

Framable solutions that are “brand free” to maintain the current web brand

  • Customizable with colors, fonts and themes to match current website
  • Software designed specifically to be framed to – not a stand alone product
  • Provides extensive programmable features that enhance the visitor’s experience
  • Custom link capabilities to send visitors to a specific function or location
  • Has interactive subscribing capabilities so visitors can interact with application
  • Fully managed and supported in conjunction with your website

Alrighty then – I guess I am more of a geek that I really take credit for. I constantly claim I am not a normal computer person (more right brained than left brained), but reading this blog sure wouldn’t support that. I really am a fun guy!

Hopefully this is not too much information to digest. As with all aspects of your website, you – like me – are on a perpetual journey. And you’re running a marathon, not a 100 yard dash. Your website success is something that will grow with your business over time and over the years.

A key aspect of a great website is great functionality – and these products and systems provide that – all within your brand and on your website. Keep that in mind when you decide to select or upgrade your content management system. Ask questions (and then ask some more) but make sure your CMS website has all the applications you may need, not only now but in the future.

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

The Domain Game

The Domain Game – Location – Location – Location!

We have all heard the statement in Real Estate – Location, Location, Location. Well I have a new statement for you – Domain Name, Domain Name, Domain Name. The cyber real estate of the 21st century is domain names, and it is quite clear that the value of a domain name is at an all-time high, with expectations that it will continue to grow. A domain name today is either a direct brand (your company name) or it can be synonymous with search words – and the closer that name is to a key search word (an obvious word that someone would type into a search engine), the more traffic that website will receive, and thus the more value that website has.

Today a domain name is quite often the actual brand or the most visited and viewed location of that brand. It is interesting to think that has more visitors to its website than any one Walmart store could have (in actual fact, more than many Walmart stores combined). I think this is a good analogy because it really emphasizes that association between a store – a physical place you go visit and shop at – and a website – a virtual place you go visit and shop at. In ten years time, unless the physical store is rebuilt it will still have the same stocking capabilities that it has now. It might sell more product pending demographics and demand, and pricing may increase, but the overall store is bound by its physical structure and size. On the other hand, may have 10 million more visitors to its website 10 years from now, and it may sell millions of products directly from that website. The website has no physical boundaries and will most likely continue to grow annually simply by the growth and proliferation of the Internet. I think this example helps to clarify the long term value of a domain name and how important is to the Wal-mart company.

Great – but I am a small business – how relevant is my domain name?

Of course, many small businesses may say to themselves: We are not Wal-mart. No you’re not, but you probably have the same aims as major companies do. You want to attract more customers, you want to sell more products and services, and you want to grow your business annually. Your domain name and your website should be a key part of your business plan. The basics of choosing the right domain name is to match your actual business name if you can – e.g. BeareWare – – but this is not always possible. Then you have to become creative and come up with a domain name that fits into your marketing concept and is easily identified as yours. This could include slogans or identifiable phrases. If Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee owned the domain name, it could well be that their primary marketing would always include This is a good example of an identifiable phrase used for a domain. Recently (the domain name only) sold for over six million dollars. Can you believe it?! (Now, why didn’t I register THAT one…?!). The cost is based on the number of people who visit (or could potentially visit) the site, and the advertising revenue that might be generated from that site. But, let’s say neither nor is available – some remaining options might be,,… as I said, this is a great opportunity to get creative (while recognizing that you want, above all, a name that is memorable).

Are all the great domain names taken?

Not all the good names are taken. And sometimes a great domain manages to become available again. I am seeing a lot more slogans and action statements being incorporated into advertising campaigns that are designed to send a branding message (in the name itself) and drive traffic to the website. If you watch an hour of television you will see this being incorporated more and more – you will see an ad for a healthcare/drug asthma related product – and then the domain will be or similar which has been specifically registered for that marketing campaign – as well as the expectation of people searching for this term online.

If a domain name you are interested in is taken then you can also consider purchasing the domain name, pending the price and ownership status. And just like the analogy – if you consider the business 10-20 years down the track, the cost of that domain name may make a lot more sense (just like real estate).  Some domains sell for $100.00 – some sell for $1,000.00 – and some sell for $10,000.00. It does depend on the perceived value of the name, and of course the seller’s motivation. Quite often someone registers a domain name to run a business – or to start a new business plan. They do their research and realize that business is never going to happen, but they still decide to retain the domain name. They spot other companies with the same business plan and they ultimately sell the domain name to an interested buyer.

I think you will see domain finance companies appearing in the horizon as the value of these domains increase (and more to the point the knowledge of their value increases) – and the recognition that your domain starts to be seen as a long term investment.

Be creative – even slogans make great domains!

Based on my experience of managing over 400 domain names for our clients I have really got to see first hand the value of using domain names. The cost to register a domain name ranges from $8.00 (in bulk) – to around $35.00 for an individual name per annum. When you think about registering a domain name – and then making that domain active within your web environment – and then a year later you look at your website stats and you had an extra 1,000 visitors. (Rather they typed the domain directly or found it thru a search engine).

Can you possibly find a better advertising investment than that? That’s far less expensive than a mail-out or any other advertising you could do. And most likely it might be 1,500 visitors next year! Companies that spend big bucks on advertising campaigns really should consider incorporating domain techniques into their advertising plans. Imagine a strategy that comes up with 10 to 20 key domain names that drive traffic to your website – all of sudden with some very well thought out domain names you have an extra 20,000 visitors coming to your website annually – costing you a grand total of “EIGHTY BUCKS” – I can’t help but get excited about that!

And don’t discount mismanagement and plain domain neglect!

With domain names being such a new business entity I have seen many companies loose or struggle to maintain domain names due to mismanagement or neglect. The worst offender is usually the companies old webmaster (you know the type – the dude who decided to get out of the web game and go back to college!) – and simply dropped the responsibility of the client’s domain name without any notification or instructions to the client).

I would love to know how many companies have lost primary domain names over the past thru years. But as much as this is a loss to one company on the internet it is a gain to another. If you have done any amount of domain name purchasing you will see there is a host of services being offered such as  backordering a domain name or snapping up a domain name – and they are based on the owner of the domain name deciding not to re-register the domain name – or as I see so often – the webmaster simply forgets to or the owner simply doesn’t understand the process – and bang the domain name becomes available for someone else to register it. This is an industry unto itself right now – and in a future Blog I will be talking in more detail about domain management – but for right now my main point is for you to keep in mind some of these services for acquiring a domain name.

Domain names are the key asset of your website – no matter which way you cut it. You can always replace a webmaster or build a new website – but your domain name will be with you (forever!). And building a domain portfolio is a great way to bring additional traffic to your website.

And don’t ever forget – its all about…”Domain Name – Domain Name – Domain Name”!

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

Visited Your Website Lately

Visited Your Website Lately?

Recently I was selecting business prospects from a mailing list of local companies. I was specifically looking for small businesses that either did not have a website or that had a website which needed improvement. I must admit, I was very surprised at the results of my research. For each business I was selecting, I would Google them to find their domain name (and also to get an idea of how high their search engine ranking is). I’d then go to the site itself for a few minutes and look around. My research really made me wonder when the website was last visited with objective eyes and analysis from a company officer. On each site I visited, I would ask myself the same question I would pose to the website owner if I were meeting with him or her:

  • Did I like the site’s graphical look?
  • Was my immediate reaction “Wow!” or “OK to adequate” or something even less?
  • Was it obvious from the home page what the organization’s primary business is?
  • Were the menus and action links obvious and easy to navigate?
  • Was the “About” menu option easy to find, and was it well-written?
  • Was the website content clear, concise, and up-to-date?
  • Were the website functions specific to that company, and were they well-developed?

And most importantly, did the website seem to reflect the organization’s business & marketing models?

I notice the first two points listed are about the first impression of the site. How important is that?

It is everything to your target demographic. Most visitors will have made their judgment on your website within 3-5 seconds. That is it – if the website is not graphically attractive (in many ways like a good TV or print advertisement) then you may just have lost that prospective client there and then. In the first generation of the Internet, the name of the game was to get a website. It was almost magical in some ways: “Oh yes, we have a website – and you can find that information on our website.” (Many times the statement should have included “Good luck finding it, though!”). Now it’s not just about having a website, but about having a great one. Your website is a permanent, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week advertisement and is your company’s most accessible, cost-effective, and important advertisement.  No doubt about it, your website has to look great.

Part of having a terrific home page – which runs along the same lines as good advertising – is that the visitor sees very quickly what you do. What is your primary line of business? Whether it’s “We Sell Coffee” or “We Sell More Than Coffee” or “We’re the Best Coffee Brew in Kalamazoo” – the website should succinctly describe the company in its title line (the top line of your website browser) and then primarily your page header (the wide band of graphics & info at the top of the web page) will describe in more detail what your services and products are, as reinforced by your images and branding throughout the site. Today, authentic images, versus stock photos, are an important aspect to identifying you to your demographic. If your visitor spots recognized landmarks on a realtor’s website, that recognition will reinforce the message that the realtor knows his or her area.

All right, we get it – the look is everything – but what about what’s under the bonnet?

(The “bonnet” in Australia is the car hood – or it was back in the last century when I was growing up!) Once we have judged the website’s general look and feel, the next key to analyzing a website is to look at the design and functionality, with a focus on discerning what the site is attempting to accomplish with regard to its visitors. In other words, if the purpose of the site seems to be to direct visitors to its online shop, are the links to the shop presented in an attractive way, and are there enough graphical and/or text “enticements” featured throughout the site to make a visitor want to visit the shop? Or is the link to the shop just a small, easy-to-miss word off in the corner of the home page? Even if you visit your business’s website every single day or week, try to look at it with fresh eyes, as though it’s your first time there. Better yet, sit down at a computer with a friend or colleague who’s never been to your site and have them look around and offer you some objective comments.

Are menus and action links obvious and easy to navigate?

OK – let’s say I like its look and so I decide to continue my visit to your website. Let’s say you’re selling real estate, and I am searching for homes – so I had better find the search options REAL QUICK. Of course, each website and each industry is different. At a real estate site I am going to search for homes, and then I will probably look at the “About” section to get a feel for the realtor and his or her team – and if everything looks good, I will submit an online inquiry or place a phone call to actually set up some appointments.  I like to think that each website has two types of visitors – those who are already somewhat familiar with the business, and those who aren’t. Effective menu design is the key to allowing both of these types of visitors to quickly access whatever they might be looking for on the site. Make sure your navigational menus and links on the site are easy to find, easy to use, and absolutely relevant in getting the visitor to where he/she needs to go QUICKLY.

Was the “About” menu option easy to find and was it well written?

When I go to a website – if I don’t know the organization – I look for the “About” menu option. If you don’t have this option, you have probably lost me. I am most likely not going to take the time to go elsewhere to find out about you. I am simply going to visit the next website choice. The “About” page is a critical part of your website. It should include some pertinent details, such as: How long have you been in business? When was the business founded? Whom does your company service? What are your primary and secondary lines of business? In 10-15 seconds, I should have a good feel for your company. I hate to keep referring to time in seconds – but that is the name of the game on the web. People don’t have time (or are not willing) to search, so good content is key.

Was the website content clear, well-written and up-to-date?

Your content on the site is critical and sends loud messages to your visitors. I am constantly stunned when I browse through a website and I see the big “COMING SOON” notification on key linked menu pages. Once a visitor likes the look of your website, then content is king. Many of these pages that have “Coming Soon”, or simply no information, are pages of content that may just require one paragraph to actually make the page work. You tend to wonder who would go to the trouble of having a website – but not actually add any content or information to it. In particular with Content Management Systems (CMS), you don’t have to rely on ‘Alvin the computer geek’ to update your site. You can do it directly yourself, from any computer with Internet access. But when you don’t update your site or fill in its content, you’re sending a strong message – “We obviously couldn’t be bothered putting basic information on the site — and since it is our primary advertising tool, that means that we are probably not a company you will want to do business with!”

Remember, looks get them in – but content keeps them there!

Were the website functions specific to that organization, and were they well developed?

Many websites today have third party or additional operating software on their website (or link to sites or pages using such software). MLS (Multiple Listing Service) software in Real Estate is a good example. An online shop is another. These functions are quite often why the visitor has come to the website in the first place, so this is a good area to focus on. Is your 3rd party software integrated into your website (versus it being on a completely different website that you are sending your visitor to)? Do the graphics and layout fit into and “match” your website? If a visitor likes your website and likes the look and feel of it, and its ease of use – and then goes to the online shop to make a purchase and BANG – he is suddenly on a completely different website which has a totally different design and feel – there’s a chance the visitor might rethink his decision to make a purchase. Part of what a business’s website (or any good advertising) should do is to help win a customer’s trust and loyalty. In the area of online credit card transactions this is especially important. If your website gives visitors the impression that your company is rock solid and reputable, and one that seems to know what it’s doing, then sends you to yet another website to buy from, that first impression is likely to be diminished. All sorts of questions arise – “The company’s site said it guarantees its customers satisfaction, but I don’t see anything about that on this shopping website!” On the other hand, if the visitor can move through the entire shopping process seamlessly (or through a property search on a real estate site), while remaining on YOUR website, the impression is that this company has REALLY got its act together! Integrating 3rd party software into your website can come with a slight additional expense in setup – but it will deliver great returns if done properly.

And most importantly – did the website reflect the organization’s business & marketing models?

Putting all the different aspects of the website together, you really end up with the key question: Does your website reflect your organization? Keep in mind that when I visit your website, it is like I am visiting your organization – I am walking into your office foyer, and I am being greeted by your friendly receptionist. Is that experience translating when I visit your website? Or is there an arrow on the door to your foyer saying “Door Broken, please use other door”. Then, a sign on the OTHER door reading, “Hard Hat Required – some areas still Under Construction”?! And instead of a friendly receptionist, you’re greeted by one of those visitor counters (this one displaying a negative number)… or a calendar that says it was last updated in 1998! You get the picture!

You might think I’m exaggerating, but there are plenty of websites out there sending just these kinds of messages to their visitors and potential customers and clients. Would you still open the door and go inside this foyer? No, of course not! If your pleasant sales staff and comfortable showroom environment are the key to your company’s bricks-and-mortar success, then that experience should translate to your website.  And don’t be mistaken, your website should be (and will become) your Number One Salesman – one that doesn’t get a commission, doesn’t take breaks, and can send the same consistent & professional message any hour of the day, day in and day out.

So once again I ask you – Have You Visited Your Website Lately? Maybe it’s time to swing on by and ask yourself some tough questions about your website. It may be the most important thing you’ve done for your company in quite a while!

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here

Peter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

e-NEWS – A Website’s Best Friend

Since the early days of the Internet, one of the great challenges has been to keep repeat visitors coming back to your website, and coming back in a timely fashion. You may hope their visit will coincide with news on your site about an upcoming sale, the introduction of new products or services, or the announcement of an exciting upcoming event.

Of course, a visitor may choose to go to your website at any time, but there is one great tool for bringing repeat vistors back to your website when it is strategically the most advantageous – and that tool is e-NEWS. E-NEWS has been around since the early days – primarily because it was originally text based (like the web) which made it very easy for anyone to create, as long as they could type and tell a reasonably good story.

So What Exactly is e-NEWS?

e-NEWS is an electronic newsletter. The newsletter is generally based on one key topic (for example BeareWare’s e-news is about Web Design and Development). A newsletter is focused on a group that is interested in that key topic, such as clients, associates and prospects. I don’t actually know where the newsletter originated from (I’d love to know if someone knows the history of a newsletter) – but I have vivid memories of going with my mother in the mid 1970’s to watch her produce a newsletter for the local tennis club for which she was the secretary. She used to use an actual printing plate and ink – no room for typos back then. And I remember thinking how magic it was when she rattled off all the copies. Maybe I caught the e-NEWS bug all the way back then.

I created my first e-NEWS in the late 1990’s. It was an extension of a local sports club’s printed newsletter, which I had written for several years. Over the course of two years, the electronic newsletter completely replaced the printed version – primarily from the cost savings (and the time that went into getting the newsletter printed, collated and mailed). From my very first e-NEWS, I was amazed at the immediate website results. I would send out an e-NEWS – and bang – within that next 24-48 hour period the website stats jumped. In other words – we would send out a newsletter for the club – folks would read the newsletter and rather by links or just by generating general interest, the readers would end up on the club website. And to this day that same behaviour holds true – e-NEWS is great at driving repeat visitors back to your website. This behaviour highlights the value in converting a web visitor to an e-NEWS subscriber.

So Does The Content of the e-NEWS Matter?

e-NEWS is a soft selling tool – just like a newsletter. It should contain information that is of value and interest to the subscribers, and I think it should be informative and personable. This means that developing an e-NEWS takes some time and thought. The content should be relevant, professional, well written, and edited. It should be broken into short stories or introductory paragraphs with links to longer stories, allowing the reader to read more of the story if interested, or to move on to the next story. It can contain graphics that reinforce a story or advertisements, pending the line of business you are in. Online retailers have really started using e-NEWS well over the last few years – and its helping consumers see when specials are available so they can save money.

When I create an e-NEWS for BeareWare, I write 3 to 4 stories and then have an opening “G’Day” that is personable and friendly. The stories I create are reinforced by research and fact checking, and include our knowledge and experiences. I try to keep the e-NEWS light and informative, and estimate that most readers will give me around  1-3 minutes to decide if there is anything of interest they wish to read. I don’t want to waste my clients’ and associates’ time, so the e-NEWS has to have good information that will be of value to them and will show our expertise – which in essence sells our company. An article may talk about a product or service, which also opens up the opportunity for increased sales.

Let’s Define the Target Audience!

I am sure it is tempting for some people who are sending out e-NEWS to think, “If I could get my hands on a big e-mail list, then this will really increase my chances of getting good results from e-NEWS.” To that premise I have to say – I DON’T THINK SO! Your target audience for an e-NEWS is a subscriber (that means they have either subscribed through your website, filled out a form at a trade show or other event, or otherwise expressed interest in belonging to your mailing list) – or they must be a valid client prospect or close associate. I don’t think e-NEWS is a great (or even an acceptable) “cold call” tool. I believe a lot of folks misunderstand this – and also try to take the easy way out on developing a strong e-NEWS list – which ultimately is produced over time with good solid e-NEWS editions. Your target audience is the absolute bottom line of your e-NEWS. A great deal of “spam” on the Internet can be attributed to folks believing that mass e-mails to millions of people results in great profits. My suspicion is that if money is made at this level, it is primarily by the company selling the lists or sending out the spam – but not by the content owner. The demographics on large lists can be very questionable and when you get an e-NEWS or e-mail from someone you don’t know, the common practice (today more than ever) is to just DELETE IT!

e-NEWS is a Formal Communication and Privilege

Another key aspect of e-NEWS is its frequency. Part of the hesitancy of people signing up for e-NEWS is the fear of their e-mail address being sold, shared, or otherwise abused. People may genuinely want to receive a weekly, monthly or quarterly e-NEWS from your company or organization, but whatever your planned frequency, this and your other policies should be made clear to the person subscribing. And you should NEVER, EVER sell or share a subscriber’s e-mail address! Also keep in mind that if subscribers begin receiving e-NEWS from you daily or randomly, they will most likely unsubscribe quickly. There is a distinct privilege to be able to communicate to folks about your services and products. This privilege should never be taken lightly. Sending out e-NEWS on a planned formal schedule is the best way to go. Try diligently to meet your deadlines every single time. It again shows a great level of professionalism when an organization sends out its e-NEWS on schedule every single time.

What’s Involved Technically? 

Your e-NEWS system should be database-driven, and simply using MS Outlook or other popular e-mail programs definitely won’t cut it. You want a system that manages your e-mail lists – including subscribing, updating preferences, and unsubscribing. The subscription page should blend aesthetically into your website (i.e., should “match” your website, so that subscribers remain confident that they are subscribing to e-NEWS from you and you alone). And you want an e-NEWS system that will manage these lists electronically and automatically, so that you can devote your valuable time to writing great content for your website and e-NEWS. The system should be set up with a graphically designed template that can be used for each new edition, and it should definitely be designed with your website flavor – maintaining your brand.

Most e-NEWS systems come with an MS Word-style WYSIWYG editor, which really helps in the learning curve, making it simple and intuitive to type out the content of an e-NEWS. BeareWare uses a system called PHPList, which we integrate into our CMS system websites – so our clients have all their management tasks, including e-NEWS, accessible from their website’s control panel. It is quite remarkable what e-NEWS systems such as PHPList can do these days: they send the e-NEWS to the subscriber individually; their graphical and professional HTML presentation is wonderful; and they come with statistics such as number of e-NEWS e-mails viewed and opened. The system makes sure that each subscriber only receives an e-NEWS once, and allows the sender to batch or set timers for sending out an e-NEWS. There is a learning curve when using e-NEWS – learning how to use the system and learning how to write good newsletters – but with all things being equal, producing a great e-NEWS with great content can produce immense rewards. And just like your website, your e-NEWS lists will continue to grow annually.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of e-NEWS systems vary. Some companies do everything for you and will charge you a set fee per e-NEWS edition. Other companies charge a transaction fee (which is a cost per e-NEWS sent out – this pricing method can get overwhelmingly expensive as your subscriber list grows). PHPList, which is used by BeareWare, is an Open Source system, with in effect means that the program itself is free and open, with the only costs coming from BeareWare’s initial work in setting up the system, designing a customized e-NEWS template, and client training. There can also be additional hosting costs pending how large your subscriber lists are. PHPList can manage up to 100,000 subscribers and beyond – and your target numbers should be considered when you are setting up e-NEWS. Generally, you will spend a one-time fee of $300 – $500 having your e-NEWS system set up, converting existing e-mails lists, and customizing your graphical templates. When compared to the price of printing, postage, labor, and the use of our planet’s forestry resources involved in sending newsletters the old-fashioned way, there is little wonder why e-NEWS has become such a popular way of communicating.

In closing, an e-NEWS is a great way to formally keep in touch with your website visitors and subscribers. It is relatively inexpensive to set up and only requires a little creativity and marketing prowess from you to ensure lasting success!

HIT or MISS – Do you know your statistics

If you were asked today how is your website doing, could you give an informed, statistical answer (or even just a broad, general statement)? Most websites come with lots of statistics and you could actually easily spend hours (daily) analyzing these stats. But what are the important statistics and what should you focus on?

One of the largest misnomers that exists today with webmasters, owners and advertisers is the classic “hits” statistic, which is used to very misleadingly describe website visitation. 

Evidently this has really struck a chord – What exactly is a HIT?

A “hit” is a retrieval of any item, like a page or a graphic, from a Web server. For example, when a visitor looks at one web page with six graphics (photos, logos, graphical buttons, even a tiny arrow or other icon – these are all examples of graphics), that’s seven hits, one for the page itself and six for the graphics. For this reason, hits are never a clear indication of Web traffic. In other words – hits are based on the number of times a graphic is viewed (or another file, such as audio, video, or a document, is accessed). For instance, a website owner may have noticed, or been told, that the new photo gallery added to his/her site had increased the site’s “hits” tenfold. “Wow,” he or she thinks. “That must mean I’m getting 10 times more web traffic now!” Unfortunately, this is NOT SO. It simply means that the pages viewed are more graphic (or photo) heavy, thereby driving up that misleading “hits” statistic.

In a nutshell, a hit has no meaningful correlation with your website’s results.

But I have been quoted hits by my webmaster, by the radio station that sells advertising, and even by some very large and reputable business. Don’t lots of hits mean a very busy website?

A great analogy was given to me by my hairdresser (“Bubba”) when discussing this exact topic. He stated that hits would be equivalent to how many hairs he cut in a day (not how many heads). If he wanted to impress an associate he could claim to have cut 10,000 hairs on a given day – but in reality it would be the number of heads (people) that paid for a hair cut that would produce his bottom line results. I have to say to this very day I cringe when someone tells me how great their website is doing and uses hits as their statistic! Sadly, I know immediately they don’t actually understand their website.

So enough with HITS – lets get some real statistics on the table…

Here are some key statistics that can help you better analyze your website:

  • Website Session 
  • Unique Visitors
  • Number of Visits
  • Number of Viewed Pages
  • Website Conversions
  • Visits Duration
  • Frequently Viewed Pages
  • Referring Search Engines
  • Referring Web Sites
  • Key Phrases & Words

Here is a brief summary of these statistics:

Website Session:

A website session is the period of time between a visitor coming to your website and then leaving your website. The website session parameters are set by your website statistics package – so you can find variance in different packages – but generally, a session is a person coming to your website, browsing around, and then leaving your website.

Unique Visitor:

A “Unique Visitor” is the primary measuring unit you will want to focus on. Website owners care about visitors, because having lots of visitors is the target of nearly all websites. A visitor can buy a product, review a service, become a prospect, follow up with a call to your organization, or even simply view an advertisement. Most stats packages give you hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly unique visitors stats. This is your bottom line – no matter what outcomes you want from your website. 

Number of Visits:

The number of visits is the actual recording of each time ANY visitor comes to the site for a session – he or she may be a new visitor or a repeat visitor. You should pay attention to the difference between the number of visits and unique visits. If you are getting lots of new, unique visitors but only slightly higher numbers in overall visits, that means your visitors aren’t finding much on your site to bring them back. The overall number of visits is a great indication of levels of interest or progressions to an outcome on your site.

Number of Pages Viewed: 

Another very valuable stat is pages viewed. A page – any page that is browsed to on your website -records a page view (for that particular page). When people go to websites, they view pages, and this is always one of the most meaningful statistics on your website. Pages viewed always reminds me to make sure that a site’s content is kept up to date and accurate across the entire website.

Website Conversions:

The term “conversion” does not mean a recorded statistics as such, but it is the bottom line outcome you desire fom your website. When you develop your website these desired outcomes should be clearly identified. If you have a retail shop – your conversion is the actual sale of a product. If you are a realtor, your conversion may be an inquiry form being filled out, a house tracking account being opened up, or an e-mail inquiry being sent. For BeareWare, our conversions result in either a new web design inquiry or e-news subscriber. If the website has led a visitor to take some action according to the actual purpose of the site, then a conversion has been created.

Visits Duration:

Visit duration tells you how long a visitor actually stayed on your website. Time measurements are 0-30 seconds, 2-5 minutes, 5-15 minutes, 15-30 minutes, 30 minutes-1 hour, and then 1 hour plus. This statistic is an absolute eye-opener about the general behavior of visitors to your site. If your website’s current information (its “content”) is not up-to-date, or it is difficult for a visitor to find that information on your site, chances are the visits will be in the 0-30 second range. Good sites with rich information should experience 2-5 minutes or above. Either way, understanding visitation duration can really help you make adjustments and enhancements to your site.

Frequently Viewed Pages:

This statistic tells you what specific pages are being viewed by visitors to your website. It also tells you the amount of times a particular page is visited, so you can establish what your key pages are on your  site, as well as what pages you have that people are not visiting (and appropriately analyze why.). Obviously, you want your conversion pages (ones that lead to conversion-specific actions) to be way up there on visitation. Viewed pages also includes entry page statistics (the first page a visitor goes to – which is quite often not your home page if they are taken there via a search engine), and also the page on which they exited your Web site (which can sometimes hint at a page that is out of date or lacks any key information).

Referring Search Engines:

Search engines are a great opportunity for getting new visitors to your website. There are many things that can be done to ensure that you have a prominent listing on a search engine – but knowing which search engines are producing the most referrals can help with your search engine strategy. Of course, there are lots of other methods to get visitors to your site (word of mouth, general advertising, links,) but this stat really is about people not knowing you and finding you by key words on a search engine. Search engines have robots that search the Internet continuously and establish key phrases and words that describe your site. This is how the search engine establishes an index on your website. You can also submit these phrases and words directly to the search engine to improve your chances of appearing on a search (this is one aspect of what is known as SEO – Search Engine Optimization). Google Word ads and search engine advertising will also help increase search engine traffic, but at a price. 

Referring Website:

Referring websites are what I consider “word of mouth” online.  This is the stat that shows you which specific website the visitor found out about you on (and actually took the link on that site to get to you). Online advertising is the primary method that sends visitors to other websites, but key links are also a good way to get additional traffic. Usually there will have to be a key relationship or benefit to have your organization linked on another site, but there is no doubt that getting your website’s link on other sites can help grow your business and also increase your positioning on search engines. This is a great statistic to use to monitor how well your outside advertising or link exchanges are working, for instance, and may help in your future marketing decisions.  

Key Phrases & Words:

Being listed on a search engine is not enough to ensure that people will find you through key phrases and word searches. Your website will also need “meta tags” which are tags that the web robots will look for that describe your site for search engine indexing. Adding these phrases and key words to the search engine directly, and also in your title line on each page, will also help in searching. This statistic tells you which are the primary key phrases and words visitors used to search for your website. They are the words people type into a search engine to find you when they don’t know your company’s name. If your website is missing obvious key words or phrases, then you should make sure your webmaster adds them to your meta tags and search engines submissions to optimize your results.

As can be seen by statistics explanations I have listed here, developing your statistical understanding of your website will take some dedicated time and effort. If you have a good web company that works with you on hosting, support and management – they should be your key contact in terms of reviewing these statistics periodically. Besides your hosting statistics package there are also statistical packages known as “web analytics” which are offered by leading search engines. Statistics reinforce your investment in your website, identify results, and give you a clear path to adjustments for future results. They also are extremely valuable when developing a new website – by knowing what the results are from your existing site, you will be much more in tune with the changes and improvements you will need in a new site.

Take the time to understand your website statistics. It will be time well-invested!

Open Source Content Management Systems

Open Source Content Management Systems (CMS) have become the new standard of websites on the Internet and are clearly the way of the future for website owners.  When the Internet first came into being, computer people and then graphic design people stated developing websites.

If they were like BeareWare, most likely their first development was for a friend or a club, and the initial tools used to develop the website were wide and varied. Besides coding in HTML directly (which was the preference of many programmers), a group of tools were developed by companies that helped in the development process. Some of the most common tools were Microsoft products such as Publisher or Frontpage. More sophisticated products were found with Dreamweaver and Flash (which really became specilized for great graphic effects), as well as other development tools.

With these first generation website development tools, the webmaster would install the development tool on their PC and then would use the tool to help develop the website. This would usually be done “off-line” – and then when the website was finished, it would be FTP’d (published) to the Internet.  Of course, this was fine for the webmaster, who would make the changes and then re-publish the updated site. For the “non-webmaster” – which in essence became a website owner (client) – it meant that all website content was bound to go through a webmaster to get online. This really was the first generation of websites: a website owner (client) would use a product like Microsoft Word to type out his/her new content or changes, then would e-mail the information off to the webmaster (and pray that it would actually get online quickly). A few more adventurous web owners learned to use publishing and editing tools in order to manage their site directly, but most would have found that the task required a lot more than just having the new content ready to go.

Apparently a lot of website owners are still sending content to their Webmasters for updates. So what came along to give Website Owners an opportunity to manage content independent of a webmaster ?

What actually came along was the second generation of website development tools in the form of Opensource Systems, Website Builders and Custom Application Websites. These are actually systems that allow website owners to update their content directly through a web browser, with no extra software tools needed. Let’s have a quick look at each system:

Custom Application Websites are usually created for very large website projects that have unique business requirements within their business model. This is the most expensive way to develop a website – starting from scratch and developing each piece of the application. Of course, any change to the site may require additional custom work – and support and upgrades are a key consideration. Many smaller companies in the early 2000’s period chose to develop websites this way, but sadly many did not have a specific unique business model and did not truly need a custom application. These companies ended up spending thousands of dollars on a site that become obsolete within several years. Ultimately, the company invested heavily in a program that had no long term future. Custom Applications are now geared towards major business applications and have ongoing development aims.

Website Builders are websites that actually allow a website owner to build his/her own website through the online builder. Once the site is built, the website owner can then update their own content and ultimately elminate the need for a webmaster. Today there are many web builders out there – but the biggest issue with the web builder is their limitation to customizations that a client may need. The builder uses pre-existing theme templates and therefore does not directly design the site based on the client’s business & marketing models. Website builders are less expensive than custom websites, and if you have a very limited budget, are fairly proficient with computers, and are simply looking for a starter website, this is a reasonable option to consider.

Open Source – which was a form of system development that had been around since the 1970’s really caught wind in the Internet world with Content Management Systems (CMS) in the late 1990’s. In early 2000, several world class CMS systems started to emerge. These systems are database driven and come as a base application which is installed on a web server. The source code of these systems is “open”, meaning that programmers (like BeareWare) are allowed to customize the system for each client’s requirements. At the same time, these systems allow for direct content management through a web browser, giving website owners (clients) the full ability to manage and update their content.

You’ve no doubt come across hundreds of sites driven by CMS without even realizing it. Take blogs, for instance, or those news sites that allow you to add your comments to a story. These are very powerful systems that are developed by some of the leading programmers around the world, with the development of new versions being an on going process. Open Source CMS systems also have a very large user base who all contribute to feature requests and future enhancements. The beauty of Open Source CMS is that the application you are using is state-of-the-art (and would cost thousands of dollars if written from scratch) – but actually comes royalty free, with the client cost being spent in customization and implementation of the website itself.

So, Open Source Content Management Systems are the future?

Absolutely!  BeareWare has been using OpenSource CMS Systems with our clients for over two years. The system we use is called Joomla! (with an exclamation point enthusiastically included in the name). It has an estimated 5 million users around the world, and we believe it is the best content management system in existence, not only delivering our clients the latest technology today, but also ensuring them the lastest technology of the future. The system comes with a custom administration area that is simply superb and very user friendly. CMS puts the web owners in the driver seat while reducing their webmaster management fees long term.

I cannot emphasize how important it is to look forward 3-5 years and think about where your website will be. If you have to start from scratch every few years – you will be perpetually questioning your website investment. But if you have an Open Source CMS website, the latest technology will always be right at your fingertips. And while you may decide to change the look of your website in the future, you can rest assured that your Open Source CMS site can undergo a graphical makeover in a very short period of time, and for just a fraction of the cost of a completely new website.  

If you have used Mircosoft Word or Publisher, you will find similiar content tools for updating both text and images with your CMS systems. These systems also have add-on modules such as Online Shops, e-NEWS, Photo Galleries and Events Calendars (just to name a few). They all intergrate beautifully into the Joomla! CMS system. We at BeareWare anticipate that all of our clients will be using the CMS system by the middle of 2008, and we will be dedicating resouces in the area of client training and documentation as our clients become content managers and take charge of their website. It is definitely an exciting time to be a website owner with the new Open Source CMS Systems…

Selecting a Web Design Company

What are the key factors to consider when selecting a web design company?

This seems like a very broad question. I don’t think it needs to be. Here are some things I would recommend looking for:

1. Does the company have a good website itself? Does their website provide easy access to their portfolio and websites they have developed? Is there plenty of information that is easy to find about their services, their expertise and what they specialize in. As dumb as this seems if the web design company doesn’t have a great website you have to question their ability to produce a great website for you.

2. Does the company provide a strong design portfolio on their website? The best way to really see how good a website design and development company is – is to look at their work. Do they have a good portfolio – do they explain the different industries they develop for and do they identify the features involved with their portfolio. And…. do you like the websites in their portfolio?

3. Does the company offer expertise in multiple disciplines? This should include graphic & web design, web marketing, web development & computer programming, web hosting & management and business development. You should be looking for a company that will collaborate with you from the start of the project thru to web hosting & support.

Does that mean hiring a large company that has a lot of different people who have these skills sets?

Not at all – but you want to make sure you have a full understanding of the team that is going to develop your website and that they have the necessary skills sets.  It generally takes at least two people in my opinion to ensure a great website. You should have a dedicated designer and developer and then at least one other person managing the entire process (Project Manager and Customer Relations). When you take into account how subjective graphic design can be it is always a good idea to have the client, the web designer and the project manager all working together during the design process.

The designer and developers primary job is to produce the best possible design and then successfully develop and implement that website. Their focus should be very specific. A project manager helps keep the development on track – and also looks at areas such as hosting, management, support, training and domain names. You also want this process to be mean and lean – and within your budget and time frames – so look specifically at the team that is going to build your website and make sure they can deliver.

Other key points to consider are:

4. Does the company offer Web Hosting and Management? Beware of companies that sell you on the best website designs – and then look you in the eye and state – “You can host your website anywhere….”. This is a sure sign that this company does not see a role with your company once the website is launched. They don’t see you as a long term relationship – and they are there to basically design and run.

5. Will the company meet or conference call to discuss your business in detail? You really want a web design company that has a collaborative approach to your website – teaming up with you to produce a successful outcome. It is unlikely that filling out a quick application form online and a “we will be back to you shortly with your quote” is going to cut it. Your website is an extension of your business and marketing models and collaboration is required to successfully incorporate that into a website.

6. Will the company provide client referrals for design, development, hosting and management? Speak to the web design company’s new client(s) and discuss the design and development experience. Then contact an existing client to discuss hosting and support experiences. This should give you a good feel for whether the company is right for you.

7. Will the company provide you with a detailed proposal/quote? This should include hourly billing rates, specific breakdowns of the project, timelines for tasks to be completed, and should include domain setup and registration and hosting. The proposal should cover from the start of the project all the way to annual hosting, support and training. 

You seem pretty passionate about this. Care to elaborate?

BeareWare provides fixed pricing on all our proposals and quotes. We are passionate about delivering a client’s website on budget and on time.

I think a web development project can go south before it even gets started pending the proposal and quotes that you have in place. I cannot imagine how many businesses have entered into a web development project and not got fixed costs and guaranteed timelines. Months later and thousands of dollars spent the client still hasn’t actually got the website they want – and worse – the web design  company doesn’t host websites – so now the website’s full responsibility falls back to client.

The proposals and quotes don’t have to be pages of agreements to be effective. They must cover all aspects of the web project – hourly billing rate, specific development tasks and the time involved, hosting and domain name setup and training. You want to cover everything and you want have a guaranteed cost on that these tasks. And if things need changing – if the first sample designs don’t meet your expectations – what happens – who pays for extra project work. All these items must be clear before you commence you new website.

8. Do you feel you can communication effectively with the company? This should be established in your inquiry calls, meetings, and proposal/quote process. Your website is such an important part of your business and in many cases it will be part of your daily business operations. In these cases do you feel confident you can pick up the phone for support or for analysis discussions with this company?

9. Can the company identify clear units of measure to track the success of your website? This is an area that is often overlooked. What are the parameters that are most important to the website – is it overall traffic (unique visitors) or is it specifically the e-commerce dollars generated or prospects established. It may be a combination of each – but the measurement of your website should not be based purely on “it looks nice” – it should be based on statistics – so make sure the design company has a strong knowledge of webstats.

10. Does the development include training for your CMS Website? I have seen several web design companies stating “how easy” it is to update you own website content with a CMS system. Of course this statement is generally written by an industry based professional – and although the CMS systems are reasonably straight forward to use – always ask about training – does the design company provide users manuals. Establish whether the web design company has a heart of a teacher in their approach to working with you.

In summary there are some good questions that you can ask when researching a web design and development company. Look for a company that has a long term view to your relationship as this will help guarantee your long term success and satisfaction. Stay clear of the design and run companies and make sure your development has a fixed budget. Ask plenty of questions and make sure you find a company that you feel comfortable communicating with…

Goodluck with your new website!