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Keeping Your Small Business Website Up to Date

Websites are often the ugly child in a small businesses marketing budget.  They are expensive and often require experts to maintain your website.  Once it is up and running many small business owners don't look at it until it becomes painstakingly obvious it is past time for an upgrade, or when something catastrophic happens.  This can lead to expensive cost overruns because fixing a broken system or updating an outdated system can be significantly higher than taking a proactive approach.  

Most websites built on CMS platforms like wordpress or joomla have a number of plugins to install to add functionality, however this added functionality can also lead to increased vulnerability to exploits as some plugins are either not built to the same standard as the CMS platform, or become abandoned and no longer maintained.  part of the website maintenance is to review the plugins being used, and updating them as well or replacing them with more secure, actively maintained plugins.  

Most of the time a few hours of website maintenance every quarter can save thousands of dollars in expenses down the road.  not updating your site is rolling the dice in an increasingly chaotic security environment.  Attacks on site vulnerabilities have increased over the last several years leading to widespread outages, and while cryptography and security measures have grown, adoption, many cases, has not become widespread.  

The reasons behind attacks on websites range from disgruntled former employees, to people trying to find data that is sellable on the black market, to industrial espionage, to someone trying to gain notoriety.  hackers can raid a site and destroy valuable data, that, if not backed up properly, can cause financial ruin or huge losses.  Stolen data can ruin the reputation of the company as it deals with customers that had their information stolen.  for sites that carry sensitive data from financial information, to passwords, and health information, keeping the gates shut, and information secure is paramount. 

The basis for cryptography can be very complicated, and hard to understand even for technology experts,  because of it's complicated nature it's easy to overlook and ignore. many standards are hard to decipher, and making sense of what is necessary, and secure, and what has proven to be vulnerable takes valuable time that many small business owners don't have.

At CHS Tech Solutions we offer managed solutions for your website. We are not the only provider for this type of service, and there are many types of solutions available.  Software is prone to exploits by hackers, and as software ages it becomes more vulnerable.  actively maintained platforms release updates and security patches on a regular schedule to fix many of these vulnerabilities.  As a managed service provider we go into the website and update the website as new patches and updates become available, making sure that the site doesn't break in the process.  

Data Collection for Small Businesses

Data is everywhere you look.  Every action generates large quantities of data.  It's important to make the distinction between data and information.  Data is the unprocessed, raw facts and figures, and information is the organized data displayed in a systematic way. Collecting and organizing data into information helps companies capitalize on opportunities.  

Data collection is easily obtainable in modern business, and many tools and software the average small business user has at their fingertips are geared towards collecting and analyzing. 

small-business-analytic-dashboard

As a web developer, much of what I do involves data collection, analyzing and organizing.  when I create a website I tend to think about the user flow, and that can be all visualized using data points.  Websites are all built on data, organized in a way to present a cohesive display to the world. in creating use cases or testing existing websites we read and organize the data from the tests.  free tools like google analytics, and webmaster tools are data analysis services that can tell us about visitor behavior and provide insights into how to direct our website efforts

Websites is just one area that data is used in business.  Many other areas of the business can be augmented with data analysis like accounting, purchasing, sales, manufacturing, supply chain management, logistics.  Companies like UPS invest millions of dollars into improving their street routing and turns they make to reduce fuel consumption, and costs.  Companies can turn each stage of the manufacturing process into a data collection point.  Microsoft and IBM have pushed for years to increase the computerization of these processes to capture data.  In the last decade predictive analytics and machine learning have emerged as a career field to optimize business processes.   

data-mining-flow

Data mining has become a huge business. companies invest billions of dollars into creating computer algorithms to mine data from social media, order tables, search queries, email communications, and more in order to gain insights.  The goals of these complex programs are to find patterns in mountains of data.  this can generate interesting conclusions.  many times data mining finds up on places like amazon or netflix that suggest products or shows that you might be interested in.  on the warehouse side, amazon has many products grouped by items most likely to be purchased together,  they are not organized in a way that seems to make logical sense sometimes, but actually makes sense based on buying patterns.  this way amazon can shave precious minutes each time an order is made, and in a low margin business minutes added up over time, by hundreds or thousands of workers or machines makes a huge difference.  

In the small business many organization don't have huge funds or time to develop their own customized data collection tools, and analytical software.  many entrepreneurs can't afford experts to analyze the data either,  so it becomes essential for small business owners to be aware of many tools they have at their disposal, and how to effectively use them.  

Excel is a great example of a software that many business have, that is not used to it's full potential.  excel has far more power than a simple spreadsheet application. excel has a great set of business intelligence tools that can help you analyze, and manipulate data.  Pivot charts, when used properly, can be used to visualize and manipulate data to create insights.     The formulas and macro tools can be used to filter and sort through large volumes of information.  

Accounting software today generally have good analytical tools built into them.  they have the ability to see accounts that are past due, and see past payment behaviors.  they also have the ability to track trends and financial positions overtime.  by keeping an eye on the financial flow a business owner can better adapt quickly to new information, and make smart decisions in how and when to allocate funds.

CRM Systems have been around for a long time, but they have over time evolved in much more complex systems that few people use to there full advantage.  Tracking important sales metrics and touch points of customers have never been easier.  seeing that information presented in an easy to understand way is usually baked right into the software.  in addition it's generally pretty easy to export information from crm systems to be manipulated in excel to generate reports.  by keeping a close eye on information from a sales standpoint we can tracking the benchmarks that are important and figure out what causes leads to convert to customers.  we can better forecast our sales, and train our sales staff better.  

Lumped together ERP systems are systems of interconnected software that have been designed to capture data from every area of a company.  from sales, to manufacturing to purchasing, to accounting.  everything is connected and can talk to each other.  increasingly it has become easier to interconnect these systems.  surprisingly sometimes data that is collected in one department can lead to insights to another department. 

Adoption and use of data collection is critical to the success of using information effectively.  maintaining consistent pattern of data collection and analysis can be hard to achieve at times. I remember working at a medium sized company with an extremely powerful erp system tied into all aspects of the business, many areas of the company were slow to adopt the software, and understand, or use to software to its full potential.  Because the software had a steep learning learning curve, many non power users were reluctant to dive into it.  However once in the software was used more consistently, patterns started emerging in customer data that lead to more effective marketing campaigns. 

 

 

 

Shared Hosting for Small Businesses

There are three main types of web servers that you can can choose when deciding where to put your website.  They are Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers (VPS), and Dedicated Servers.  Dedicated Servers are by far the most expensive and resource intensive option.  Not only does it contain the software, but it also involves the actual hardware the website is using.  the maintenance and support required is extremely expensive.  This all but rules it out for most places except the largest businesses, with high traffic loads, and a large it staff.  

VPS's offer many of the performance advantages for a fraction of the cost of a dedicated server, it creates a virtual server, with virtualized resources.  it sits on a dedicated server, and uses a portion of the resources to dedicate to running the webserver.  the benefit of VPS's over shared hosting is the resources are always available and reserved for the VPS.  Shared hosting only guarantees storage space, not cpu or memory.  with VPS's it opens to door to customized infrastructure and scaling architectures.  Service providers like aws and digital ocean provide support to create pretty amazing environments for large complex websites, and web applications.

The drawback to using a VPS is that it still is more time consuming and more complex than shared hosting.  if you aren't comfortable with using command line in linux, and playing with things like apache or nginx setting up your own VPS can be daunting.  If you simply have a small website and don't want to spend a few hundred dollars a month in support, shared hosting is for you.  shared hosting is typically done through cpanel or similar platform like Plesk.  At CHS Tech Solutions we have a dedicated server running cpanel.  

Cpanel simplifies management of a website, while having some limitations; if your website has less than a thousand visitors a day and uses a platform like wordpress or joomla that isn't a resource hog, cpanel is more than adequate for the task.  Cpanel handles dns, email, websites, and even web storage options.  it has a robust toolset that keeps infrastructure expenditure to a minimum.  it's rare that you would spend more than an hour a month on infrastructure, most of the monthly website budget can be spent on updating your  website, making improvements that will drive customers to your door.  
 

To find out more about our hosting options check it out here

Don't Use Sliders

Just about every website seems to have sliders anymore.  Even large well known websites have sliders.  They seem to have a tremendous potential for drawing in customers and displaying more information on a web page.  However, there are pitfalls with using sliders. 

Drawbacks of Using a Slider

One of the drawbacks of using sliders are that they are resource intensive.  Usually sliders have multiple large images that need to load on a site, and each of those images are 1-2 mb.  That is a lot of bandwidth especially with site visitors with slower website speeds.  Speed is essential for a website slow loading speeds can lose a visitors interest without even reading content.  The flashiest most amazing website means nothing if it takes 15 seconds to load. Designing a sticky website that keeps the customer's interest is essential to making the final sale.  good clean minimalistic designs are starting to become more standard than the flashy days of web 1.0.

The main drawback however is that it is a waste of resources to use sliders.  often custom artwork is done, and time is spent reviewing and developing slides to put on your home page slider.  the hope is to advertise products or services so the customer will click through to a new page.  However, in practice there is steep drop off rate on average for the slides following the first.  almost all customers click on the first call to action slide if they click at all. 

Sliders, especially automatic sliders, tend to distract customers, and make it difficult for visitors to orient themselves at t new websites.  Visitors like to feel like they are in control of navigating a website and automatic sliders confuses and irritates them.  In several studies it has been shown that sliders confuse customers and causes them to complete ignore the content on the sliders.  Also, customers see sliders as an advertisement and have a tendency to ignore advertisements on web pages more than authoritative content. 

Simplifying the design can result in a rewarding experience for visitors and increase conversions.  by understanding visitor behavior, we can tailor our energy to maximize revenue. 

What should you do instead?

The best alternative to sliders is build your homepage in a way that is easy for the customer to get the information they need to get to the next step.  Visitors don't like reading on sites.  So minimizing the amount of reading and getting visitors to see vital information first is a must.  A good way to gauge where the customers are looking for that information is by using a heat map.  There are several services out there that provide that capability. 

Cleaning the clutter and adopting a minimalistic web design concept. simplifying it to a simple call to action on the home page, and allowing for quick access to things like navigation links, and search bars that easily visible allow the visitor to move down the sales funnel eventually leading to a higher chance of converting as a sale. 

Creating a minimalistic design doesn’t mean losing the uniqueness of a site, or keeping the design from demonstrating the personality of the company.  It can be challenging sometimes to incorporate that flair in a way that doesn’t overshadow the visitor’s attempt to find the information they want.   A Homepage should have enough content to provide the customer with a company’s unique selling proposition, and where to find out more information.   Things like navigation menus, call to action and search bar should have a prominent appearance.  

 

What are you Talking About?

Inevitably web designers and developers start talking about things that don't have much relavance to the average person.  so here are some common things that the average person might want to know.

 

Responsive Design

This phrase means that the website resizes it appearance based on the screen size of the visitor.  from smartphones, to tablets, to ultra wide monitors, the website will automatically scale and look good doing it.

 

Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

Web 1.0 was launched when internet was launched in the early part of the 1990's.  after several important innovations, most importantly the mobile revolution, web 2.0 became the to the forefront.  it took a fresh look at internet services and looked at how to integrate web services as a holistic approach to everyday life.  It look at how to improve and augment the human experience. 

 

Copy and Copy Writers

Copy in the digital world refers to the written words on a page. And the people that create this content are call copy writers.

Setting up Outlook for Cpanel Hosted Email Accounts

This is a quick instructional guide to setting up your client for emails that are hosted on CHS Tech's cpanel server.  I am using Outlook 2016 so there may be some slight changes depending on your client or Outlook version.

1. Under file (in my case on outlook 2016) there is a button for add account.  select that button

1. Under file there is a button for add account.  Select that button.

2. this will take you to the email account set up dialog box.  towards the bottom there is a radio button for manual setup.  select that button and click next.

2. This will take you to the email account set up dialog box.  Towards the bottom there is a radio button for manual setup. Select that button and click next.

pop-imap-setup-email

Select "POP or IMAP radio button and click next.  We will be setting up an IMAP account.

outlook-email-settings-screen

4. This will take you to your settings options.

Enter in all the fields.  The user name of the email account is your full email.  the income and outgoing mailserver's are mail.<yourdomain.com> (e.g. mail.chstechsolutions.com, mail.google.com, or mail.domain.net)

 

 

5. Select more settings and that will open up a new dialog box.

6. go to the outgoing server tab and select the check box "My outgoing server (SMTP) requires authentication.  make sure the radio button for "Use the same settings as my incoming server" is selected, and click ok.

7. click next and finish the setup process

Common computer support mistakes that small businesses make

Common computer support mistakes that small businesses make

One of the biggest drawbacks in the management of small businesses is that they are run by an individual or members of the same family. Although the arrangement ensures fast decisions, it can be a hindrance to growth if the business acumen of the proprietor is limited. If the management does not appreciate the value of technology in the growth of the firm, they are likely to make decisions that will have negative consequences. 

5 ridiculous ways a lack of computer support is wasting your money

5 ridiculous ways a lack of computer support is wasting your money

If you’ve been running your business without proper computer support, you’re almost certainly hemorrhaging money from any number of areas. When you add up the improvements you can gain by minimizing downtime, automating repetitive tasks, streamlining operations, and enhancing communications, there’s simply no reason any business should attempt to succeed without technical assistance. This list may be far from exhaustive, but it should help you understand just what a top end technical team could do for your company: 

4 tech tips to boost your small business

4 tech tips to boost your small business

For small businesses to grow, it takes hard work, just like in any business. But when compared to a bigger company, small businesses need to work smarter and more efficiently since there are fewer resources available. But with today’s technology and media, the playing field is more even than ever. So when it comes to working smarter, here are the top four tech tips to help your small business boom.

Does HIPAA require encryption? Yes... No... Kinda?

Hipaa is about as confusing as things can get.  Things you must do. Things you should do but are not explicitly required to do.  Things you really want to do but don't really need to...  Encryption falls into a gray area between these things.  You must decide if it is required.

Lets get some definitions out of the way

Data at rest: Data at rest is all the data/PHI you have sitting on your computers, servers, or mobile devices.
Data in motion/transit: this is data that is actively being transmitted over the internet, moved on thumb drives, or copied to CD. 
Encryption: Encryption is the process of hiding this information behind a key or password.

OK, so encryption is not strictly required(http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/securityrule/2001.html) but it does fall into the area of something that must be dealt with.  it is an addressable implementation specifications.  AWESOME, everyone knows what that is right? Well basically it is something that you must decide wether or not to implement it(http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/securityrule/2020.html).

There are guide lines to follow...  You the business entity must decide if encryption is a reasonable and appropriate security measure. Then document your choice and the reasons why you chose that way. Then if you decided to encrypt everything, or some stuff, you must implement it or perform an equivalent security practice.

Give us a call if you ned more information.

 

5 Effective Technology Secrets For Growing Your Small Business

5 Effective Technology Secrets For Growing Your Small Business

When it comes to competing with big corporations and franchises, technology plays a vital role in the growth of your small business. There are dozens of new and affordable tools available that can help you save time, money and stress. Using these tools in the right way can help you increase profits and not get shoved off the playing field by the big guys. Start by implementing these five trade secrets and see what they do for your business. 

Why your small business needs computer support

Why your small business needs computer support

You’ve made the decision to open a small business in Lancaster, and you’re proud of how much the business has grown. Up until this point, you haven’t had any issues managing operations without the need for computer support. It may be because you or one of your employees are tech-savvy and getting by throughout the first few years with your infrastructure has been seamless.

This reality isn’t uncommon but, servers are heavily dependent on new technology and updates. Not only is it necessary to use your desktop software to email clients and vendors, but you must also view databases, run accounting, develop spreadsheets, create documentation, and work on other tasks for your small business. Because you’ve been working without computer support, the underlying question is when is the right time to bring in support?

5 reasons your small business needs custom tech solutions

5 reasons your small business needs custom tech solutions

With each passing year, the technology gap between savvy companies and rigid traditionalists grows vaster and more oppressive. Falling behind in the rapid technology arms race means your competitors will possess huge advantages in all aspects of business. Of course, off-the-shelf solutions can keep you on competitive ground in most cases, but if you want to surpass the competition and seize the advantage for yourself, you need custom solutions, tailored to the unique challenges of your business. If you’re not convinced, just consider these five simple reasons to invest in custom business technology solutions: