As a website designer, there are several things I look for in web hosting for my clients’ sites and blogs. I work with small businesses and nonprofit organizations that usually have no previous experience with managing their own websites. It’s really important that they have quality web hosting for the future of their websites or blogs. I choose not to host client sites but rather empower people to manage their own digital assets, which is why it’s critical they have the best web hosting they can afford.
The first thing I look for is whether the host is WordPress (WP) friendly or not. By that, I mean not just that they mention WP as one of their options, but they also support WP with technology employees who understand the ins and outs of WordPress. These hosting companies usually state they have WP Managed hosting rather than simply WP hosting available. Many servers can host WordPress, but only those offering WP managed services will have people with the technical expertise you need for your WP blog or site.
The next thing I absolutely require is top notch customer service. There must be a way for customers to reach technical support. I look for a phone contact and live chat access, in addition to the usual support ticket mechanism. I actually no longer recommend any web hosting business that does not provide live chat or phone access for customers. When you have a challenge with your website, which is your livelihood, you cannot afford to wait a few days for someone to get back to you via a ticket.
I learned a lot of these things the hard way. I’ve had web hosts who took three months, yes, three months to answer a support ticket. This host had no other form of communicating with their customers. I was long gone by the time they answered the questions, but it was an expensive lesson as a year of VPS hosting had been paid for in advance and could not be recovered.
I hosted sites with one company whose service staff seemed to know very little about WordPress and who couldn’t answer the questions I asked via their support ticket. It was as if they didn’t really understand the question or else they had an answer script that didn’t fit my particular problem. They had a phone contact, but when I called them it was a similar experience. I would ask a question and they would give an answer that nothing to do with the problem I had. Although there was no real technical support, they did continue to ask if I would like to upgrade my services…
I think one challenge for customers is that many hosting companies are in it for the money and hire a lot more salespeople than technical staff. Getting the technical expertise and support you need, especially when you are not technically savvy yourself, is really time-consuming, frustrating and unlikely at many web hosting companies.
It’s important to do your homework when looking for the best web hosting. If you find a company you are thinking about using as a web host, be sure to do a Google search for “host name+customer service reviews” This should get you some real reviews on their customer service. Check to see that the site is not the company site (godaddy.com/customer-reviews) but a third-party site. Also look to see how many reviews there are, such as 1100 vs 15. The lower the number of reviews the more skewed the ranking. Yelp seems to draw a few really unhappy people, so I don’t use them as a resource for reviews anymore, but there are a lot of other sites that will give you an idea of the level of customer service a hosting company provides.
In today’s world where Google reigns as the top search engine and theirGoogle-bots determine page ranking for web searches, I work with clients to make sure they have SSL (Secure Socket Layer), a security layer on their website. The web hosting company I recommend provides SSL for free with every site they host giving you what’s called a secure site.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re probably not using the Chrome browser, but Google (via Chrome) is showing which sites are secure and which ones are not. This is a big deal because your readers may not get to your site with all the warnings given. They may hit that “Go Back to Safety” button when they see the message, “Your connection to this site is not secure.”
In addition, according to Neil Patel and other SEO experts, Google gives secure sites preferential treatment in the search rankings, which helps your website be found more easily in a Google search.
An SSL certificate can be added to most websites, but in many cases it can be a challenge to install unless you have some technical understanding. I tried this, too, on my own and finally gave it up. Ideally, you want a web hosting company that can provide this with just a couple of clicks on your part. Be sure to look at their SSL options as you research hosting companies. Many will charge extra for SSL and even more for installing it on your site, which is another reason I appreciate our web host’s free options. Their customer service will also help with the process. They even added SSL at no charge for many of my clients when they called the company to ask how to install it on their sites.
Speed & Uptime
Most web hosting companies provide great speed and uptime, so that is not a feature I look too hard at anymore. I do look to see if they mention it on their site and if any customer reviews mention it as a problem. I also look to see if they offer anything to customers if their sites go down.
But for me, great web hosting is highly dependent upon great customer service. I have to know that if my site goes down, I will be able to get someone knowledgeable and helpful on the phone and have any problem solved in a short amount of time.
There are lots of web hosting companies that are inexpensive. Cheap. Really, really cheap. In the beginning, I thought it would be simple to use the least expensive host while I got up and running, but I quickly realized that if I couldn’t get help, I was not able to run anything very long.
Back in the day, I bought cheap service from one company that then held my website and domain hostage, while they spent a couple of months trying to convince me not to move the sites but to buy more service with them. With another company, as I mentioned earlier, I lost a large amount of hosting fees by not being able to get any help at all. I’ve also moved clients’ websites onto cheap hosting accounts they had already purchased, only to find certain aspects of the website became non-functional.This required purchasing other hosting along with moving and setting up the website all over again.So really, in the long run, cheap hosting can cost a lot more in both dollars and time if it doesn’t work right.
One of the important things to do, before you purchase hosting, is to find out who owns the company. My experience is that once a company goes public, it begins to focus more on quarterly profits and less on customer experience. As a web designer, I now have the advantage of being connected to a network of website developers, which I wasn’t in the beginning of my design journey.
I now belong to a couple of groups with thousands of members from all over the world. From these folks, and my own sad experiences, I learned what makes the best website hosting company. Some of these developers have been creating websites since the 1990s, so they have seen it all and tried an awful lot of it. One of the warnings that came from the group was regarding a publicly traded company called Endurance International Group (EIG). Evidently, EIG has been purchasing hosting companies for years as a way to grow their business. There is nothing particularly wrong with this business model unless it impacts current and future customers in a negative way. What I’ve heard, and experienced myself, is that once they own a company, the quality of customer service declines immensely. Remember the company that took three months to reply to our support ticket? Right, they were owned by EIG. In researching EIG, I found they own over 80 hosting companies, as well as a few other internet service providers. Companies like Bluehost, Hostgator, iPage, Homestead, HostMonster and Constant Contact have become properties of EIG in recent years. Some other publicly owned companies include GoDaddy and 1and1 internet.
Best Web Hosting in 2018
The privately held companies I like include WP Engine, SiteGround and A2 Hosting. For the price, value and customer service, I only recommend SiteGround. I am an affiliate, (full disclosure) but was recommending them long before I knew about their affiliate program. (I could become an affiliate for both WP Engine and A2 Hosting, but their customer service ratings are not high enough for me to be comfortable recommending their services to others.) I’m not saying you can’t get good hosting without SiteGround, I’m only saying that for the things I think are important for websites in 2018 and for a price most of us can afford, SiteGround is the best web hosting company. Whichever company you choose, make sure you do your research because it can be a bear if all that work you do on your website or blog goes missing and you can’t get any help. I know all about that and hope this helps you miss those experiences!
Here’s the free checklist we promised so you can research web and blog hosting companies. Just print out as many companies as you plan on reviewing and follow the directions to help you make the decision that works for you. Choosing a Web Host for Your Blog Download Checklist
So many people are using social networks that it simply boggles the mind. At the most recent count, 1.49 billion people are active users on Facebook. That is more than the population of China or India. Are you boggled yet? The latest Pew Research data shows that 28% of online adults use Pinterest, 26% use Instagram and 23% use Twitter. And the numbers just keep growing. Truly the world is changing. So why should you care? Well, it could mean a lot more sales if you set goals, create a strategy and do the hard task of being social.
Post, Pin or Tweet?
Should you be posting, pinning or tweeting? Well, that depends on where your potential customer is socializing. You need to know the demographic of your perfect customer so you know where to put your effort. If you sell mostly to the over 60 crowd you probably won’t spend time on Instagram, but if your best customers are twenty-something that may be just the place for your business. Not every platform fits every business, but once you know where your customers are gathering, begin there.
Over 30% of your customers 65 and older use Facebook. Many of you already know about posting on Facebook because I see you there! Marketing on FB is all about sharing photos, posting quotes, linking to your blog or other articles that are relevant to your customers.
Women with higher levels of disposable income dominate Pinterest. This is a place where people ‘pin’ pictures they find on other people’s (or their own) websites. Mostly products, crafts, rooms, houses, art and landscapes. Anything that is creative, pretty or can be a do-it-yourself (DIY) project is found on Pinterest. You want to see a particular Sherwin Williams color on the walls of a real room, ideas for a quilt pattern, a kid’s project, or a new collection of jewelry…it is all there with images.
Over half of online young adults, ages 18-29, are using Instagram. Instagram, as I see it, is simply a giant photo collage that the whole world is creating. It is separated into topics that are identified by a hashtag name (#). I am sure if you go on Instagram and search for anything, you will find it. The other thing unique to Instagram is that photos can only be uploaded from your phone. What a wonderful mobile world!
Twitter followers are of all races and ages, have higher than average incomes and are more likely to follow your brand than Facebook users. Twitter has always been a mystery to me. As a writer, 140 characters (about 20-25 words) does not seem like enough letters and spaces to carry on a meaningful conversation. I also cannot get used to talking in acronyms. I guess I should think of lol, btw, b/c and b4 as part of a new language and become inspired to Tweet. Maybe I am just afraid I will forget how to spell or begin Tweeting out loud.
Social media is, well, social. It is way more than simply pushing pictures of your business and products. There is a rule of social engagement that says for every one business post you make, you must create five other posts that help, entertain or educate your customers.
Your goal is to engage people. Start a conversation. Ask questions. Answer questions. Make them like you, trust you and want to buy from you. If you are restaurant owner ask your audience what their favorite dessert is–then go make it and invite them over. A gift store can ask who is the hardest family member to buy a gift for and then create a helper’s guide to shopping for ‘that person.’ Let them know you care about what they want.
Make your content valuable to your customers. If you sell flowers assume you are talking to people who love flowers and share the best tips on growing, cutting, saving or decorating with flowers. Create a strategy that makes you the go-to person in your market, so you can gather an audience that trusts you and wants to do business with you.
There is a bit to learn if you want to effectively market your business with social media. You can find free social media training links on our Resources page when you are ready to jump into the social fray.
Let’s talk about what it means to connect with your customers. Every time someone comes to your store or restaurant, visits your website or Facebook page, and every time they buy from you, they have a customer experience. (This applies to nonprofit organizations and municipalities, too where the customer is a donor, volunteer, client, community resident or vendor.) You have a lot of influence on whether they have a good experience or not. When customers have a good experience you have a great opportunity to encourage them to continue engaging with your business and building a long term relationship.
CX = Customer Experience
There’s a new acronym–CX. Have you seen it? Like we need more acronyms, right? This one stands for ‘Customer Experience’. When you are in business, customers make ALL the choices that determine your success. They choose whether or not to shop at your store or call your service; whether or not to buy from you; whether to recommend you to their friends or not; and they decide if or when they will return for more. The good news is that as a business owner, YOU make all the choices that determine your customers’ experience.
“Customers make ALL the final choices that determine your success.”
The kind of experience your customers have with your business or brand goes a long way in determining whether they will be loyal or connect with your business. Of course we all know that if they have a bad experience they will engage as our biggest anti-fans ever. That’s where those bad reviews on Yelp and Facebook come from–that one person we ignored. Yikes.
The Easiest Way to Lose
I had this dreadful customer experience the other day at a book store far, far away. I get annoyed every time I think about it and, of course, I will not engage with the store ever again (at least that is how I feel today). There were signs ‘buy one get one free’. What a great sale for a reader! I happily shopped for several books and spent a bit of time in the store. At check out, the books did not ring up on sale. The cashier asked for my money. I reminded her the books were on sale. She showed me that they did not ring up on sale. I reminded her the books were on sale…and on it went. Not once did she try to solve the problem, such as call a manager or ask another cashier to help fix it. Not once did she even sound like she cared. My choice as a customer was to pay full price or not. I chose not. Yes, I guess I am THAT customer, but she lost her company a $50 sale and a lot of future business.
So, as you can see, customer experience can lead to keeping or losing customers and customer retention is a very big deal. Harvard Business claims that increasing customer retention by just 5% will increase your sales 25%-95% a year. That is a lot of money to let walk out the door. According to a recent Gallup Poll, customers are 9 times more likely to engage with a brand whose service they rate as ‘courteous, willing and helpful’ than those who are not.
What About Your Customers?
How would your customers rate their experience with your business, your products, your employees? Would they say you are courteous, willing and helpful? People will love your business if you take care of them. It is really simple. Just smile, like you are glad they dropped by, act like you care that they enjoy their time with you and be sure to help them spend their money on whatever it is they want. So many businesses do not make people feel special that it is pretty easy to beat your competitors simply by teaching your employees how to smile and say, “hi” to everyone who comes through the door. Beyond that, perhaps you can work to make sure every employee knows how to help solve customers’ problems or at least look like they are trying.
Do you know why your business story is so important? Yes, you have a story. Every business does. It includes why you are in business and how that is important to your customer (or donor if you are a nonprofit organization.)
Studies have shown that people think in stories. Stories are communication tools that have been used throughout history to pass on knowledge and values. They are key to how we relate to one another.
People also make up their own stories. When issues get complex or we don’t see all the details, we just make up our own story. You do not want your customers making up stories about your business, organization or products. You want to lead them along the path that shows them how YOU are the best solution to their problem.
In this business story, we start with your customers’ point of view. They are the main characters in this adventure. What is it that they want and what is keeping them from getting it: that is a big important question you must answer to be an effective business storyteller. To capture your audience (and sales) you will need to think about what your product or service gives to your customer that makes their life better, easier, more fulfilling…you get the idea.
You can start your story really well once you understand a customer profile. Now it’s time for you to get your imagination out and put it to work. Who is your ideal customer? Is she female, working or retired, how much disposable income does she have, what does she need from you? If you don’t know who your audience is–that ideal person (persona) who benefits from your business–then you don’t know how to tell her the story. For example, if your audience is sixteen years old, you tell a story very differently than if she is twenty-six or forty-six years old.
So now you get to go think about how you can help your customers achieve their goals so you can achieve yours, which makes you both heroes.
Where’s the Pie?
No, unfortunately, we aren’t talking about our family’s favorite recipe, but instead the market for your products or services that marketers compare to a pie. In marketing language the pie represents all those customers buying your product from somewhere. The size of the pie includes consumers who could reasonably be willing to buy from you. Ok, ok, it’s true I liked economics. My professor thought I was really strange because it made sense to me…now I just have to see if the important bits can make sense to you, too.
How Big is the Pie?
What are the boundaries of your market? Your pie can include everyone in the local city, or even wider, in a county and beyond. If you sell online, it includes people looking for your product or service on the internet. If, like me, you can provide your service to anyone anywhere, then your pie is a really big national or even international one. But for most brick and mortar stores, it is people who live here, live nearby, who are visiting or even driving through on their way to the beach.
The tricky thing about the market pie is that it changes size. It is not always the same. Your 65 year-old customers may stop buying products they loved ten years ago. The local 18 year-old folks, who just started working, are now potential customers with money to spend, hopefully in your store. People moving into the area get added to the market. So while some parts shrink, others expand.
Why should you care about this pie? Because it might be bigger than you know, which means you may have access to more customers (and sales) than your current marketing plan includes. How big your piece of this pie is, your market share, depends on how big the total pie is. So, if you expand your market to reach out to customers in other places, in other age groups, the pie gets bigger (more total customers) and now your share in this bigger market is also larger. That, of course, means more customers and sales for your goods or services!
Getting Your Share
Now we are back to the dreaded work of marketing. If your market does not know you exist, then you don’t exist–for them anyway. If they can’t find you in the places they frequent, whether that is the newspaper, radio, internet, local hotels, their email inbox or the community bulletin board, then they won’t know about your great products, sales events or loyalty program. And I hate to be the one to bring bad news, but that means someone else is getting your piece of the pie.
The process of trying to increase your market share is constant. You can never stop trying to win new customers. And everything in business comes back to your customers. Who are they? Where are they? Are you reaching them?
So now you get to think about where your potential customers hang out looking for local products or services. When they are new in town who do they call or what do they read to find out how who to do business with? When they are visiting and staying in a hotel how do they know you are here? What search terms are they using in Google for local shopping and does your name come up in the list?
Isn’t it exciting thinking about all those new customers?
Sally Shopper is the customer who loves your business. She really likes everything about your business that you like. She is the one who keeps scheduling the oil changes for the entire family at your shop. She comes running every time she hears you have a new jewelry collection. She dines out at your restaurant at least twice a month and always brings a friend to introduce to your great food. But do you really know who she is?
One simple fact of business life is marketing and boy do we know it, especially when it is not working for us. We really need to discover some things about Sally if we are going to get our marketing right. Businesses need to know who their ideal customer is. I know, you want to tell me that everyone is your ideal customer, right? Or anyone with more than $20 in their wallet. It’s just not true.
Only people who are looking for what you have and who have the money to buy it are in your market. Even if you are selling specialty gifts, there is a specific kind of person looking for your products. Are your products good gifts for grandmothers, babies, hunters, people who like to fish, gardeners, bikers, moms, dads or teenagers? Would a middle-aged, Gardener Sally or fifteen year-old, Skater Sally both get excited about the items in your shop?
Imagine your favorite customer. You know, the one who buys from you over and over again. Do you know why they like your store or business? Do you know how they found out about you? Do you know why they keep coming back? You should find out, because it is people like them who will grow your business. It is people exactly like them who should be receiving your marketing messages.
Your customer ‘persona’ is a fictitious character that represents your ideal customer. Sally is the ‘profile’ you target with all your media. You may have more than one customer persona. You may find that there are two main customer personas who consistently spend money in your business. Maybe one is the twenty-something college student and another is the over-50 entrepreneur. If you are a restaurant, who comes to eat? Is it mostly families, business customers or stay-at-home moms? Is it because the portions are large, the service is fast or the food is consistently good?
These are important things to know because you cannot create an effective marketing strategy without knowing who your audience is. Your website, Facebook posts and advertisements in any form of media all need to be targeted to the right audience. What they like, what words grab their attention, as well as what media they use to search for products are all aspects of your marketing strategy. Even if you are a very small lawn maintenance company just passing out flyers, you won’t be handing them out to people in apartments who have no yard. You will be looking for Career Sally with a big yard. She is a woman who has more money than she has time to do yard work.
Exploring the traits and behaviors of your current shoppers is one way of identifying your ideal customer and creating the right persona to target. To find out about them just start asking questions. Create an online survey at SurveyMonkey.com (there is a free option.) Put the survey link on the home page of your website. Make a Facebook post of the survey link and pin it to the top of your page. Hand out cards at your place of business with the survey link on it. Or send them an email with a link to the survey. You can use your free MailChimp.com account, because I am sure by now you are collecting their email addresses to stay in touch, right? Finding out who Sally is will get you on the road to creating a marketing strategy that reaches more ideal customers and this will build your business. For a free worksheet on how to identify your ideal customer, check out our Resources page.
Please note that we are not biased toward women, but simply chose Sally to represent customers because women now hold 51% of the personal wealth in the US, make 85% of all consumer purchases and actually buy 50% of all products that are marketed to men. In your business you may find that Sally spends as much or more than Sam, so you want to be nice to Sally.
Have you heard of Pinterest? You thought it was just for arts & crafts, right? Wrong. You thought all those photos were just pretty pictures, right? Wrong again. Almost all those pictures are attached to a website. Many are from websites that sell products to people who find them by clicking on a pretty ‘pin’.
Pinterest is still growing at a rapid clip and the users spend a lot more money on average due to Pins than from other social media sites. Predominantly women (still over 80%), but then who either owns the wealth (51%) or influences how nearly 80% of the wealth is spent? Right! Women. In addition, Pew Research showed that in 2016, 45% of Women online in the United States use Pinterest.
If you have a product or service targeted to women or that women typically influence when the family purchases (such as travel, hotel, motel, dining, gifts, jewelry, household services) then you should think about creating a Pinterest business account.
Think about it, all those users with higher than average household incomes, spending time perusing photos looking for something to buy. They look at categories that appeal to them, so the viewers of your posts are already interested in your products. Do it right and the next step is a sale.
Although Pinterest can be time-consuming, you may want to look into it as a marketing channel, especially if your products look good in photos. Another thing I forgot to mention, Pinterest is not actually a social media where people connect with other people, but rather a search engine, where people go to search for something, much like they do on Google or YouTube. It is also very good for longterm results. If people like your pin and re-pin it, your pin can have a long, long shelf life. Popular pins, which link back to your website and products or services, can continue to bring your website traffic for a year or more. I like that return-on-investment!
You want to know if you really need a Facebook page for your business. With all the changes they have made does it still pay to spend your time on Facebook? First let’s talk about the difference in social media and a website. A Facebook page is different than a website in that people are talking about whatever you post on Facebook, while a website is usually more static. Your website is somewhat like a brochure where the main information about your company may not change that often. On your website you tell your basic business story with photos, an ‘about us’ page, contact information and some product or pricing information. And like a brochure, it gets handed out to whoever passes by or shows up on your website.
Facebook, on the other hand is social, people are talking all day long on this site. Little blurbs about what they are doing, photos of what they have seen or done, links to things they think are cool. When your business has a presence on Facebook it is a more like telling your friends in the coffee shop what you are up to and inviting them to come on over and see your new products. Maybe you would pass out coupons or tell them about your current specials in hopes they would pass it along to their friends…you get the idea. The point of Facebook for your business is to build ongoing relationships with your customers. Keep them thinking about you. If you do it right, they will even be talking about your business to their friends.
Many FB changes decreased the organic (natural) reach of your business page so you have to work harder to keep in touch with your customers. Facebook can be an important marketing strategy, but it can also be time consuming if you don’t create a method and plan. You can develop a method so your posts on Facebook can be done weekly, or even monthly, and then are automatically posted for you. Simple. Give us a call to get a Facebook business page along with cover and profile photos. We can even help you create a strategy to increase your customer engagement.
Some marketing efforts are like that. Instead of taking careful aim with a well-planned marketing effort, we just throw feathers in the air and hope they land profitably. It was one of my clients who said that last week when we were talking about marketing. He gave me permission to tell you about it. As fun as it sounds, throwing feathers is really not effective.
Marketing is a strategic activity. I know that sounds serious, but if you are trying to make a living from your business it is critical. It can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Doing a few key things can produce a big impact on customer engagement and ultimately increase sales. There are four things you need to know to get your marketing right.
You need to know your marketing goal. Of course we all want more sales, but it takes incremental, small goals to get them. If you don’t know what you are aiming at, it will be hard to hit. For an email campaign, your marketing goal could be to get your recipients to click on a link to your website or to print a coupon and bring it to the store. If you have Facebook followers, you may want your ad to bring people to your website where they sign up for your newsletter. If you are using newspaper ads, you may want people to bring in a promotion code for a discount on ‘Wednesday Only’. You get the idea. Every marketing message has a specific, measurable goal or you really are just throwing feathers.
The second thing you need to know is who is your ideal customer. Marketing begins as a single message targeted to a specific person, but your real objective is to build a long term relationship. If you figure out what kind of person wants, needs and loves your products, then you can create a customer profile which helps you talk directly to them with your advertising content. Talking to people who just turned twenty is a different thing than talking to a sixty-five year old consumer. Their wants are different. Their language is different. The places they search for information are different, too. Which brings me to the next thing you need to know.
Your Media Channels
Once you identify your ideal customer, you need to find out where they look for product information. We already know that a lot of people go to the internet to find local businesses, to find reviews and to read about products. In 2014, Adweek reported that 81% of consumers look online first, but there are still people who read the newspaper from cover to cover.
You want to be found wherever your ideal customer is looking for information. Will you post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Will you create an advertisement for the news paper? Will you make a postcard for a direct mail campaign? Should you use TV or radio to put your message out there? These are media channel decisions you need to make based on who buys your products or services.
The last thing you must know is what makes you different than all the other folks running a similar business. Brand is the perception people have of your business, charity, organization or even city. You know what you want people to think of your business or organization, but to get them thinking in that direction you will need to tell them. Tell them your brand story. This is the arrow you let fly toward the target–the message you will consistently share with your ideal customers on all your chosen media channels.
For example, if the essence of your business is to save customers’ time by fixing their flat tires in 10 minutes or delivering flowers, then make that a part of the marketing content. If you make them feel special or pampered, then tell them that. Just remember any promises you make do need to be kept because shoppers remember the bad right along with the good. And they tell your brand stories, too.
To learn how to build your strategy we recommend Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch. Check him out on YouTube.