How Technology Makes The Same Process Faster

Blur of light in fast driving car at night

Technology is not some trickery that somehow will change a process.  Technology just takes an existing process and makes it a lot faster.  Let me give you an example of sending photos of the grandkids to grandma, both in the 1980’s and today. Fundamentally, this requires 3 basic steps:

  1. Take pictures.
  2. Review the pictures and select the good ones.
  3. Get them to grandma.

Now lets compare the differences.

Take Pictures

In the 1980’s version you would need to have your camera with you, have it loaded with film then you could take pictures.  My recollection is that film was most often 24 shots so once you take 24 you had to re-load to continue.

The 2017 version, you get out your phone open the photo app and click away.

Review Pictures

The 1980’s version you have to take the film to get developed (once you finished the roll), then go pick it up when it was ready. Many of the shots you took would be bad, but you still paid to develop those.

The 2017 version, flip through the photos you just took and delete the bad ones.  You didn’t have to pay money to develop a bad picture.

Send Them To Grandma

In the 1980’s you would then have to take the good photos and mail them to grandma.  Depending upon the distance, it could take many days for them to get there.

The 2017 version, you text or email the photos. Grandma can see the photos within minutes of the time the photo was taken and comment back about how cute they are.

What Changed?

In this example, technology did not fundamentally change the process.  In both the early 80’s and today people would take pictures, select the good ones and send them to grandma. What technology accomplished was to make the process exponentially faster and more effective (no cost for developing bad pictures in 2017).

That is the power of technology, to take a process you already do as part of your life and make it much more efficient.

A Good Backup Plan Is Essential

One of an organizations most critical assets is their data.  It is like the DNA of the organization, nothing will work very well without it.  With so many ways for an organization to lose its data, you need a well implemented data backup and recovery plan.  If you fail to do this and then lose you data, you may well go out of business and you don’t want that to happen.

The backup plan consists of three phases:

  1. On-Site backups.
  2. Off-Site backups.
  3. Website backups.

However, with some many backup options available, I want to address the overall strategy.

On Site Backups

You need to have an on-site backup. On-site backups can be restored the easiest and you have complete control over them. The purpose of an on-site backup is two-fold.

  1. First it helps you when you accidentally deleted that file you need.  Well if you have an on-site backup, you can just open your backup and restore the file.
  2. The second purpose is for a full restore.  This could happen if a computer crashes, gets a virus, upgrading computers, etc.  You can just restore the entire backup to a new computer and you are set.

So should how the backup process work?  Well, you don’t really want to do this manually because you are likely to miss something (plus that would be a pain).  What you want to do is use some automated backup software.

Any good backup software will help you setup what needs to be backed up. Then it will begin by doing a full backup of everything you told it to backup.  Once that happens the software will detect changes and backup those files. One of the coolest features of this is if you need a copy of a file 3 versions ago, it will likely have it.

Depending upon the size of of your files the initial backup could take days, it really depends on the size of the files you have on your device, and how fast your device is.

One thing you should be aware of is that you should have a backup hard drive that is about 2x the storage space of the device’s hard drive. This is because of the way backups work they have to write a bunch of temporary files but if your backup drive doesn’t have the space it will fail (I speak from experience).

While I’m discussing hard drives, if you have the money, use a Solid State Drive (SSD) vs. a standard hard drive.  A solid state drive is faster and performs better, but they are more expensive.

Off-Site Backups

On-site backups are great for an easy restore but what happens when the backup gets destroyed at the same time as your computers?  If you have a flood, fire, robbery, etc. in your organization, this could happen.  That is why you need an off-site backup and for this, I recommend using the cloud.

Cloud based backup services are great because they don’t rely on you having to do much.  You essentially sign up, configure their software and it runs in the background.  Once it has done the initial full backup, it will backup incremental changes that it detects.

Some services will actually send you a hard drive through the mail to get the initial backup done quicker (vs uploading all your files through the internet, which is much slower).  To upload a large computer’s files to the cloud could take a few weeks, but once that is done it runs the incremental when it detects a change.

Also be aware that some service only do computers while others do computers, phones, tablets, etc.  When you are shopping for a backup service be sure of what type of devices they will actually backup.

Don’t Forget Your Website

One of the key elements for an organization is your website.  Remember, the website is open 24/7/365 never calls in sick, and can make sales for you at 3 AM when you are sleeping.  Make sure that you have a backup of it’s current state and a couple versions back.  Don’t rely on the host’s backup that you can get.  You need a copy as well (just in case).  You should have the content files, code files and database (this is a file called a .sql file). And remember, most websites these days, the lion’s share of the content is in the database.

Why go though this effort?  Because if you have an issue and need to make a change and you already have these, it will go much smoother. For example, if you developer is unexpectedly unavailable and you don’t have the technical knowledge to go retrieve the files from the host, that is a big problem. Part of the deliverable from your developer should be the website files.

I have had the unfortunate situation of helping organizations that have been hacked and didn’t have a recent backup to restore.  Lots of hours were spent re-typing the content from screenshots of the hacked website.

So if you have not yet implemented a backup plan for your organization (or your family) go make an investment in the proper equipment or services today.


Resources

Time Machine – part of the Mac OS.  If you own a Mac you have this already.

Windows backup and restore. Part of the Windows OS.  If you have Windows you have this already.

Carbonite – Coud backup service.

Mozy – Cloud backup service.

Please note, these are not affiliate links.  I don’t make any money if you click these links.  They are just services I am aware of.  I personally have used Mac Time Machine and Carbonite and have been pleased with both.

 

Give Users A Great User Experience

User Experience or UX is a term tossed around in the web development world.  In this post, I will explain what I feel that User Experience is and what it is not.

What User Experience Is Not

User Experience is not the design.  You can have a great design and a lousy user experience.  Conversely, you can have a very simple design and a great user experience.  This is because the user experience is not the design.  Now, the design is part of it, but the design is only one aspect of it.  Unfortunately, I see way too many websites where it is very obvious that the developers where very concerned about how it looked (the design) but not much else because it is really pretty but it was really hard to find what I wanted.

What User Experience Is

If you want a good example of a great user experience look at the Disney Parks.  There are many entertainment options that cost way less, so why to people still pay big bucks and flock from all over the world to go to Disney?  Because they provide a great experience from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave.

I define user experience as the ability of the user to interact with the product in an easy and enjoyable way.  The following items are key to a good user experience:

  1. Relevant Content.  If the content is relevant users will love the experience.  If it is really out of date your site won’t do so well.  I’ve seen business that have blogs where the latest post is from 2 years ago.  That makes for a bad experience.  Conversely, Amazon.com is a great user experience.  Their products are easy to find, its easy to check out and you get the item really quickly (and you can see the order stats at any time).
  2. Clear Navigation. If it is really hard for users to find what they are looking for they leave and go elsewhere.  It is that simple.  My rule of thumb is this: if it takes more than 3 clicks from the homepage to find the page they are looking for, then it is not a good user experience.  Move those items into a menu item accessible from the home page.
  3. Mobile Friendly. Way too many sites aren’t mobile at all.  If you want to stand out make yours mobile.  I have found that only about 20% of website I view are mobile.  Also, on the mobile site don’t try to load everything you would on the desktop site.  You wouldn’t try to fit all the furniture from a 5 bedroom house into a 2 bedroom condo, so don’t try to load everything from a desktop site on a mobile site.
  4. Security.  People want to feel safe.  If they go to your site and it is not secured correctly, they will leave (especially if they are buying). It is really easy to run a secure site using SSL Certificates and running over https.  Read this post to learn more.  Make sure your site is secure and it will help people feel safe and comfortable on you site.

 

So put yourself in the user’s shoes.  If you went to your own website, would it be a good experience or would you leave?  If you would leave, then go change it so people don’t want to leave.  If you wouldn’t leave, keep doing what you are doing…your are the right track.

Why You Should Use A Pro Developer

You have a website why not do it yourself? This now famous used by one of the many DIY website companies out there makes it sound so easy and you’ll be able to build amazon.com in 20 minutes.

Well I have a question of my own.  This is your business, do you want your most visible marketing piece that is available 24/7/365 to be built by an amateur?  If you do go ahead and do it yourself.  But if you want a website that will make your business successful, hire a pro.  In the rest of this article, I explain why.

Because Pros Know What They Are Doing

When you have a business, do you try do put up the building, run wiring, plumbing, etc?  No, probably not.  That is because you know it is not what you know how to do.  Well the same is true of building a website for your business.  Unless you are in the business of building websites, you are an amateur and as an amateur you will miss something that pros won’t, because they’ve done this a ton of times and you haven’t.  Here is a list of things I have actually seen on businesses websites that were clearly done by amateurs using DIY templates:

  1. On a website for a handyman one of the pages where the logo was supposed to go said “your logo here”.  They forgot to add their logo.
  2. I was recently checking out some fitness classes and on one of the pages it had a button that said “Button Text”.  I was curious so I clicked it.  It did nothing.
  3. In that same search for fitness classes on a different site in the footer it said “Copyright 2023, Your name here”.  This was in 2017, I don’t even know how they came up with 2023.  When I do this I add the date dynamically so it gets the year from the server’s clock and is always current.

 

It takes amateurs 10x Longer Than You Think

I remember a few years back when I was running my own business and I decided to build my own website.  This is before I was a pro developer, I was doing analytics at the time.  I thought it would take me a couple of hours.  Well about 2 days later, I had it finished and it still didn’t look like I had envisioned it in my head.  These days I am still surprised about how long it actually takes to build a website and I build them for a living.

While you are building your own website, all that stuff that you normally do, isn’t getting done.  So remember this quick calculation.  Take about 2 days of your time (let’s say 16 hours) and multiply that by however valuable your time is to you.  Well if you value your time at $100 / hour that website you built would be $1600 and you will probably have missed something and not gotten anything else done for 2 days.  Why not just hire a pro to do it rights for about $4000?  That’s actually, a good deal. Many developers would charge a bunch more.

Amateurs Don’t Do Enough Testing

An amateur will most likely test a website on their preferred browser on their computer.  A pro will test across many platforms and all major browsers.  As an example an amateur might test on Windows version of Chrome.  A pro will test on Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari on Mac and Windows as wall as mobile platforms.  Why do this?  Because different browsers on different platforms render sites differently.  So that site that looked good on Chrome running on Windows might look really bad on Safari on an iPhone.


As an amateur you will miss something that pros won’t, because they’ve done this a ton of times and you haven’t


So if you want your business to actually benefit from a website, do yourself a favor and go hire a pro.  It will save you a bunch of time and headaches (and be a better end product).  These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg.  Pro developers will be highly valuable in other areas I haven’t even touched on like e-commerce, SEO, security and maintenance. Remember, a good pro will make you more than they cost you. So go find a pro you like and start working with them today.

Device Purchasing Tips

These days, most organizations have many devices.  What I have found is that in many cases people who are not computer geeks don’t fully understand what they are paying for.  In this article in this article I will discuss the various kinds of computers including their benefits and drawbacks so you can get the most bang for your bucks.

Budget and Needs

You must consider your budget and needs.  How much can your organization afford?  What are you wanting to do? Do you want to go Mac, PC or both? Do you need desktop or notebook? You need the answers to these questions. You also need a line item of your organization’s budget to be constantly funding technology upgrades.

I also highly recommend buying more than you need today.  That will help you future proof your investment.  Event with the latest stuff it seems it will be out of date by the time you get back from the store and open it.  If you only buy what will barely get the job done today, it means you will need to upgrade more often.

Mac or PC

Should you go Mac or PC? That is the age old question.  Well, just for full transparency, I prefer Mac but I also use Windows all the time too.  Just want to let you know I am biased.

Let’s start with Mac.  Where Macs excel is in the digital media (audio, video, photo) area.  They actually come bundled with applications to this this.  These are iTunes, Garage Band, Photos, iMovie (oh they also come with applications for Mail, Contact and Calendar too).  They also tend to use high end components, which is why they are more expensive.  However, a similarly outfitted Mac will cost about the same as a PC with similar components and software. Finally, they really only sell 5 models (all built by Apple).  These are the Mini (closest thing Apple does to entry level), iMac (all-in-one), MacBook (notebook), MacBook Pro (higher end notebook) and MacPro (high performance desktop).

Windows on the other hand excels on business applications, especially enterprise level.  But don’t expect a lot of default applications on Windows, you’ll have to buy those separately.  If you want an entry level ($300) computer Windows is you ticket.  But don’t expect that to do much more than internet and email.  And basically everybody and their brother that makes computers (other than Apple of course), makes PCs (with a wide range of computing power and price as well).  Now lets move on to computing power.

Computing Power

By computing power I mean is how effectively will the computer handle the task you are asking it to do.  This is a combination of mostly two components the CPU (brains of the computer, means Central Processing Unit) and RAM (Random Access Memory).  However, the graphics card and hard drive space also play a key role.

Remember, the CPU is part of the mother board (the green circuit board that everything else plugs into) so while everything else can be upgraded, if you want a better CPU you essentially need to buy another computer.  I look at 3 details of the CPU: its speed, cores and cache.  The speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), the cores are essentially its sections and the cache speeds up operations (by pre-processing repeated tasks).  For all three variables, the higher the number the better.

RAM will help your computer perform better. It handles the amount of tasks your computer can do at any one time.  With more RAM you have better performance on running many applications at once.  Like the CPU the higher the number the better.

Also consider hard drive space.  This is highly dependent upon what you are doing.  If you are doing a lot with video you will need a lot more space because video is really big.  I highly recommend using solid state drives, they are much more efficient and will give you better performance.  They cost a bit more but are worth it.

Finally, don’t forget about software.  Much of what you want to do isn’t done by the computer itself but the software to run on it, so plan for that as well.  And remember, not all software is cross platform (both Mac and PC).  Some is but some isn’t.  Always make sure the software you get runs on your device’s operating system.

Desktops

Desktop computers is where you will get the most computing power for your money.  If you are just after the most speed and computing power, go for the desktop.  You can get the most computing power with a desktop because it has the most space for components and inputs.  Small components generally mean that aren’t quite as fast.  Clearly the drawback of desktops is mobility but if you don’t care about that then a desktop could work for you. However, a great benefit from desktops (especially towers) is that they have lots of inputs for external devices and monitors and more monitors will make you more productive.

All-In-Ones

These are becoming more and more popular in the last couple of years.  If you don’t know what I mean an all-in-one is a desktop computer where the computer and monitor are a single unit.  An popular example of this is an iMac.  You don’t have to connect a ton of cables between the computer and monitor.  You just plug it in, connect the internet and you are set.

The clear advantage of the all-in-one is easy setup.  But know what you are paying for.  With the case of an iMac a bunch of what you pay for is a really good screen, not computing power.  Also, just like a notebook which I shall discuss next, an all-in-one has limited space, so it cannot offer the same computing power as a tower.

Notebooks and Notebook / Tablet Hybrids

For years the notebook computer was the gold standard of mobility but in the last many years the tablet industry has been introducing what I call tablet hybrids.  These are the devices that can be a tablet or if you attach a keyboard they can become a notebook.  This is really great for the consumer.  I know a few people that have these and they really like them.  Their drawback is you cannot run everything like a traditional computer would.

Even the traditional notebook computers still offer great mobility.  I have been personally using a notebook for about 15 years.  The mobility factor is just too good for me.  However, I do realize that I am giving up some computing power by getting a notebook.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  I don’t do enough tasks that require that much computing power.

Recap

So which is right for you and your organization?  It depend on what your budget is and what you intend to do with it.  It’s also a preference.  Some people like Mac, some Windows.  If you want to cut video and live stream your church’s worship service your best bet is probably a desktop.  If you need a computer for your office and all-in-one is a good bet.  If you are a sales person that is constantly on the road, a notebook / tablet hybrid is probably your best deal.

So what do you think? Leave your comments below.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to get more content, please follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page.

Foundations in Search Engine Optimization

If you are reading this, I am assuming you have a website and you want people to actually find it.  That is why you put it up after all.  In this article I will give an overview of how to do just that, get found by your target audience.  This process is called search engine optimization or SEO for short.

No Quick Solutions

Let me give you an example of good SEO strategy.  If you want want some really good food, are you able to cook it in 90 seconds?  No, really high quality food takes time to effectively prep and cook.  The quick solution may fill your belly but is will never taste as good as some slow cooked bar-b-que.

Quality SEO works the same way, it takes time, but done correctly will work better.  I say this because some people offering SEO services promise the world (we will make your brand new site #1 on Google in 24 hours).  Don’t hire them.  If you do hire an outside consultant or do it yourself know that for it to be effective it will take some time and effort.

Do Your Homework

This is the first step.  You need to know your ideal audience and the terms that you think they may be searching for to find you.   The better you know them, the better you can utilize target keywords.  Many ways exist to find the right keywords including customer surveys, names of products or services you offer, and keyword research tools.  So how do you use the keywords?  There are two ways, which I shall discuss in the next sections.

Keywords In Meta Tags

The first strategy is to use the keyword meta tags.  Meta tags are loaded by the web browser but are not seen be the end user unless they view the page’s code.  These tags include descriptive information about the page.  One of these is a keyword tag.  If your website runs on WordPress or some other CMS, chances are that you can use a plugin to add the required keywords.

But only use a few keywords and only keywords that are actually relevant.  That is because in the past some people tried to improve their ranking by using keyword spam where they would put dozens of keywords onto their webpage’s meta tag.  This is rarely done anymore because the search engines became aware of the tactic and now penalize websites that do this.

As an example if you have a website for a hot dog stand you might have keywords such as: hot dog, corn dog, ketchup, mustard and relish.  But notice all of these are relevant to a hot dog stand.

Keywords In Your Content

The second method for using the keywords is to work them into the content of the website.  That is a best practice and is one of the recommended strategies by Google’s SEO guide.  To demonstrate this using our hot dog stand example, the website for our hot dog stand may have pages where they talk about serving hot dogs and corn dogs as well as their condiments of ketchup, mustard and relish.  All of the keywords they want people to use to find them are included in the content of the website.

One quick note about content.  I am a big believer that creating fresh content helps your website.  If you have quality content, it gives your users reasons to come back.  The search engines really like fresh content too.  So fresh content is good for both existing users and the users that have not yet discover you.

Recap

To recap we discussed why SEO takes some time, how to use keywords in meta tags and how to use keywords in your content will all help your SEO rankings.  There is a lot more to your SEO strategy but this should get you started.

So what do you think?  Leave your comments below.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to get more content, please follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page.


Resources

Google SEO Starter Guide

Keyword Research Tool

The Power of Quality Communication

Communication is key for success.  If you want to have a quality experience as a parent, teacher, leader or team member good communication is essentially. I am convinced that many of our problems is because we fail to communicate with each other effectively.  In this post I will outline 3 strategies which I have observed that quality communicators do.

People Talking

Quality Communicators Are Repetitive

A quality communicator does not say something one time and assume that their audience gets it.  A quality communicator takes the message they want to communicate and they are constantly repeating it.  In business this is essentially.  If you are adding new team members they may not be as familiar with the vision, this will help them get on board.  If you are trying to sell to your customers you cannot just state your marketing message once.  What if they were away the 1 time you did it?  Well, if you are highly repetitive, they will get it over time and can see the value of what you are selling.

Quality Communicators Tell Stories

People love to hear stories. A quality communicator takes the message and uses a story to apply it so that the audience gets it. A great story helps people to understand the point of the message. A leader that is sharing a vision for a team should always be telling stories about how the organization is using that vision to serve their customers.  That will help the team to get it.

Quality Communicators Appeal To The Audience

A quality communicator does not take the exact same message regardless of who they are talking to. They adapt the message to the audience so the audience understands.  I do this with my kids.  They are small so we build towers with shapes and I explain the difference between a circle, square and triangle and at the end we build the tower just so they can knock it down, what fun!  What I don’t do is to try to explain how to use the pythagorean theorem to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle.  We will get to that eventually, but they are not their yet.

Recap

To summarize quality communicators repeat the message, use stories to tell the message and adapt the message to the level of the audience.  I hope that this article has benefited you and given you some quality strategies for communicating.

So what do you think? What strategies have you seen quality communicators use?  Leave your comments below.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to get more content, please follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page.

Why You Need Professional Email

I was recently talking with someone about what I do and we were discussing email.  This person wondered aloud why an organization would not just use a bunch of gmail accounts for their organization’s email.  This post will explain why you should use a professional email in the format of email@yourdomain.com.

Professionalism

I am fully aware that plenty of people, especially those one man / one woman shop types, use Gmail (or Yahoo or Microsoft, etc.) for both their personal and professional email using the same account.  However, you should think again if you are doing that.  That is because while this shouldn’t be the case, people do make discernments about us based on how we present ourselves and you want to present a professional image.

Think about it, do you really want to put somegoofyemail@gmail.com (see note below) or email@yourdoamin.com on your business card?  If that’s the way you do things then why is it you show up in a business suit (ok maybe not a suit but perhaps slacks and a polo) to work instead of a dirty tank top and bare feet.  The answer is you want to give the appearance of being a professional.

Consistency

When your organization gets to be more than 1 or two people this starts to matter more.  So what happens when the owner communicates to the client with a Gmail account and then the admin communicates with that client with Yahoo?  Can you say inconsistent branding?  Also when everyone in the organization is using email@yourdomain.com it re-enforces your web presence.  I know I have gone to websites that I only heard of via the domain following the @ in an email address.

Better Features

Did you know that the email hosting services offer better features than the personal accounts?  They can do cool stuff like create groups, assign privileges and a bunch more.  So if you continue to use a bunch of personal email accounts for your organization you are missing out on some features that will make your workflows better.

Recap

So in summary, using an email@yourdomain.com email address will be more professional, give a consistent branding for your organization and give you better features that will improve your workflows.

Note:  FYI, I checked and no one actually has this email when I wrote this article. If you are reading this later and that’s your email, I apologize.

So what do you think? Leave your comments below.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to get more content, please follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page.

 

Security Fundamentals

The bad news is that your organization’s website is at risk, because they all are. There are plenty of people out there with devious intentions whose aim is to embarrass you and steal you and your users information.  I have seen many variations of this in my time as a developer, some of them due to my lack of experience at the time.  In this article I will give you an overview of the most common ways you can protect yourself from threats.  I will expand on all of these topics in later posts but I wanted to start with an overview.  So lets begin.

Threat #1: Passwords

You have passwords for your website (if you are using a CMS like WordPress), email accounts, computers, FTP, social media accounts and more.  The easiest way to protect yourself is to have strong passwords.  An example of a weak password is something like: password123.  Now I have not personally seen a password this week, but in my time I have seen passwords almost as week.  What you are aiming for is a strong combination of Uppercase, lowercase, digits and special characters.  The longer the better.  As an example our week password from above, password123 could be made much more secure if it were pa$sWord123.  However, I still wouldn’t use that.  It’s still too obvious.

Threat #2: Insecure Sites

The second threat is an insecure site, specifically yours.  What you need to do is to never enter any sensitive date into a website that is not running on HTTPS with a  valid security certificate.  And by sensitive date I mean passwords, credit card numbers, driver license number, social security number or anything you don’t want to be made public.  Your should be running your site over HTTPS vs HTTP because HTTPS encrypts the data between the client (your device) and the server, which makes it much more difficult to steal.  Fortunety, running over HTTPS is not hard too do and I’ll show you how in a later post.

Threat #3: External Threat

The external threat are those individuals with malicious intent, that intend to cause harm on your website and to your organization.  There are too many varieties of this to mention but the best things I recommend are related to your website setup. The first is to purchase and run anti-malware software on your web host.  This is essentially the hosting equivalent of anti-virus software for your computer.  The second is to run security plugins on your website that are finely tuned to detect threats such a brute force attack.

Threat #4: Internal Threat

The internal threat are those individuals in your organization that can harm your site but do so unintentionally and not out of malicious intent.  Typically these people accidentally break something they should not have been given access to in the first place.  This is an easy one to prevent.  Your administrator should limit user permissions so that users can edit what is necessary for them to perform their role and nothing more.  For example, if someone in your organization is only responsibility is for posting articles they should not have the ability to add and remove plugins, update themes, etc.