Here's my little experience with HostGator service and support.
Well, let me say first that I moved to Hostgator after finding that someone's e-commerce site was totally flying in terms of speed of contents delivery and she was hosting it all off hostgator's lower end shared hosting plans. So I decided to move few of my domains to hostgator and even opened a reseller account with them to get a bit of boost in performance.
Everything was working but that piece - sending email. It was kinda annyoing to me to deliver software that works but no one get notified that it works. In other words sending email part of script didn't work. So I decided to blame Hostgator and send them email asking it to fix sending email from PHP. My perception was that their security settings was over elevated.
Just to let you know - Hostgator has phone and email support. Phone support may or may not take long time because of time of the day. Sometimes you're #17 in the line, sometimes you're #2 and it get quicker. Although their email support is quite impressively fast.
While 1and1 (my current hoster) tends to give you 24-48hrs ETAs for any meaningful email answer (and you still have a chance to get Paypal-ish type of email reply nonsense fluffed at you) - I was pleasantly surprised to get very fast and technically helpful and detailed responses from HostGator guys on pretty much every email. Bear in mind it often happens that they been very patient to describe detailed solution in email instead of RTFM-ing and FAQ-ing.
So back to my email issue - I sent email to support@hostgator and pretty soon asked by them to provide a source code that i use to send email. This was like 7pm.
I sent them code - they replied again within an hour asking me to clarify some issues. Apparently I setup redirection that confused everyone - so I fixed that part and send them updated script with the source code.
That was 9pm+
Something good happened overnight and early in the morning I received email from Hostgator's
Linux Systems Administrator Matt S. who actually found a bug in my code and found a problem in the way I setup DNS at my other provider's space.
He managed to do something good at Hostgator's backend to make sure that my emailing started to work (even though the way I setup DNS at 1and1 was still problematic) and pointed out on bug in my script that generated an errors.
Really, when was the last time *you* had helpful technical guys to spent nighttime fixing *your* problems, looking at *your* code, adjusting their backend to accomodate issues that *you* created, staying *polite and professional with you* and finally delivering complete working solution so that *your* business will kept running?
This tutorial is the result of my quest to find the best way to build fast, CMS-based, easy to manage, SEO friendly websites that would be well capable of generating money.
(I wanted to use the word "extra" but then why "extra"? It could very well be "main" money! The act of "generating money online" I envision as an act of easily delivering useful products or services to other people with the help of a website and being compensated for your work. The less problems or tractions that are happening during this process - the better)
The following features of WEB site building tool as well as features of final website were of the most importance:
- Ability to quickly build fully featured website. No painstaking struggles with web building software itself is acceptable.
- Ability to easily manage website from any internet-connected computer with any browser. In other words I want CMS (Contents Management System) based solution. No "create here and then copy there" solutions are acceptable any more.
- Ability to clone website - duplicate your success at will!
- Web site needs to load fast - Google spider wouldn't wait 30 seconds to read your sluggish pages and will move on.
- SEO: Web site needs to be highly optimized for search engines and SEO-important elements and structures needs to be highly customizable.
- Web site needs to be WEB2.0 ready. Meaning:
- Allowing your visitors/members to contribute and share contents right on your website.
- Having Social Media / Social Networking elements either built-in or easily added.
- Web site needs to be perfectly suitable for online e-commerce - in other words I want to be able to build online store to sell anything.
- Web site needs to be compatible with modern membership-based solutions (for the webmasters who wants to build membership sites)
- Web site needs to be able to be properly indexable by spiders and able to rank high on major search engines. This of course depends on skills of webmaster, but having these skills - the solution needs to be on par.
- Web site needs to have integrated backup facility - I had my share of defacings done by mentally challenged script kiddies and backups are a necessity of life.
What I don't care much about:
- Obsession with [X]HTML validation. Unfortunate reality is that Internet is full of ugly unvalidating pages that generate mind boggling amount of cash for their owners on an hourly basis. To prove my point - search for any popular moneymaking keywords on google and try to validate first 10 hits - you'll see what I mean. Again - the concept of validation has a large following - perfectionists are welcome.
At first I went Joomla way. Joomla is an open source Contents Management System. Joomla is packed with features but having said that Search Engine Optimization was not the first priority for Joomla developers. Default URL structures of Joomla looked just plain ugly and while some quick fix was available through admin panel - the need was to install a special add-on component to take care of redirects. Later on this component disappeared from the market to appear later on as part of commercial package of some sort. Joomla wants to be everything for everyone right from the beginning and hence it's admin panel is looking like a freshly decorated Christmas tree carrying tons of elements and features that you might not need, yet missing essentials that you likely want when building SEO optimized website. Additionally to that Joomla being pretty large and heavy CMS is not super high performing either. To customize Joomla look and feel you'd be quickly lured into paid membership sites selling $49 templates or custom consulting fees. Joomla has a huge community of faithful followers and excited community of commercial developers selling their products to faithful followers. I had my share of Joomla-related purchases and paid memberships and still ended up having my site look like 1000 of other similar looking sluggishly performing Joomla-based sites. On January 22, after long and painful pregnancy Joomla gave birth to the new major upgrade to their CMS - 1.5. By then I was heavily into WordPress-based solutions so I couldn't participate in the party. If you'd search "powered by joomla" - google will claim to find 11.3 million of pages carrying this message! This is a strong sign of huge online presence for Joomla. This also means that if someone wants to hack your Joomla-based website - you'll be easy to find. Although removing this message from your site is considered to be "not ethical" among conservative pussies.
Then I went to Drupal. Drupal is another well-respected CMS enjoying huge following. It comes bare bones (although lately more and more features were included) and to make something useful out of it - you'll need to lurk around, read tons of documents, assemble a long list of things-to-do and things-to-get. I passed through these stages and ended up creating some sort of conglomerate of "recommended" add-ons and mods to make my new Drupal-based website perfectly SEO optimized. Along the way I actually wrote a tutorial on "How to make your Drupal site SEO friendly", describing step by step instructions. But performance of my website sucked! It was very slow. Slower than Joomla even. You may blame my cheap shared hosting account but WordPress works so fast at the same place - so I wouldn't bother argue.
Having said that I think Drupal is a great concept that makes for stable secure bare-boned system for building scalable web portals - but only for people who knows PHP and MySQL intimately. Last I checked - the consultant who knows Drupal and who knows what he is doing charges about $100/hr for the work. Unfortunately it takes too much time for an an average small business owner to create customized Drupal based website and make it do what you want.
Then I went to Yahoo stores. Let me say it upfront - if you are USA-based person and want to build 50,000 items high performing catalog-based no-frills online store - stop reading and go for Yahoo Stores. Yahoo have everything ready for that. Additional HUGE bonus comes in terms of trust and ranking friendliness from Google. Most Yahoo stores are apparently allocated within small group of IP addresses that Google is well aware of that. Yahoo have very strict policy on what you can sell from your store as well as what you cannot do from your hosting account. Lots of things you cannot do - hence Yahoo hosting is the last choice of hackers, spammers, lamers, script kiddies, black hatters and similar audience frowned upon by Google. What it means for you as potential Yahoo store owner - is that Google will grant you immediate trust in your intentions and content with ability to be ranked higher than your less-than fortunate competitors hosting at other hosting services. One of my test pet store was almost immediately listed on the first page of google for high volume 2 keyword target phrase.
Disadvantages of Yahoo Merchant account are including but not limited to the following:
- Cannot do a lot of things you could of if you'd own a dedicated server or 1and1 shared hosting account. SSH access? silly question! .htaccess editing? you gotta be kidding! Custom redirects? Stay away! - This list of limitations is likely much longer...
- Yahoo Store editor is Yahoo's proprietary way to create online store - very awkward but does the job. They also have other ways such as "Store Builder" or some extensions for Dreamweaver.
- Serious customizations of templates needs to be done via RTML - which is another Yahoo proprietary technology. The result of it is a limited number of people who knows it (including YOU) and it will cost you a fortune to satisfy your Yahoo Store customization urges.
- Canadian customers are loosely supported in terms of merchant accounts. Yahoo only supports some sort of Nashville-compatible merchant accounts platform. This term is widely recognized in USA but canadian bank's reps never heard about this term. In other words - Yahoo Merchant Solution does not properly support canadians. You can still make sales via PayPal of course.
- It's not designed to run multiple stores off single account. In other words if you want to open www.mysuperwidgets.com and your wife wants to open www.mysuperpets.com - you'll need to fork out $40/mo x number_of_stores_you_want_to_open to have them up and running. There are braintwisting ways to get around that but I didn't even wants to know it.
- Hard (impossible even?) to build multi-level hierarchy of web pages - all pages are created off root folder.
Having said all the bad things above - if you are in USA - most of that negatives does not apply to you. With yahoo stores you *will* enjoy rock solid secure space, lighting fast page loading, huge respect from Google search engine right up front and large community of free and commercial services available to help you launch successful online store. If you are looking for absolutely world's best help in setting up, configuring and customizing your yahoo store regardless of your level of experience - I could highly recommend Shauna Fennel's 1Choice4YourStore. I met her personally at business conference and highly admire her friendly personality, attention to details and quality of work she is doing. She offers her services commercially yet if you have a budget to start up your online business from 0 to 60 is shortest possible time - she's your one stop place for anything about Yahoo Stores.
XSite Pro is a great product created by Paul Smithson. I purchased it and used it. I was pretty impressed by many features. Paul put SEO features of his product on high priority and that earned him well deserved appreciation from many customers. Did I mention that XSitePro has a strong set of SEO features and options? XSite Pro is not an online CMS though - all development has to happen on single machine and results of website development work need to be uploaded to the hosting server every time. The disadvantage of XSite Pro - is that it creates pure static portals and you need to have access to your development system to change/update/delete anything from your site. This of course carrying the advantage of these web pages being fast. In fact super fast. The added advantage of your website pages being fast is that Google will give you more ranking juice - it is well known fact that faster loading pages are favored more by Google and other search engines, spidered more often and rank higher than slower ones. Obviously google wouldn't want to put slow loading web sites high in ranks, but with static sets generated by XSitePro your site will likely fly fast even at cheap shared hosting accounts.
So if you are hosting your site on shared hosting space and do not need dynamic database driven backend - this is the great software, probably the best one available out there.
It also has great active community and excellent set of up to the point video tutorials.
For more complicated social media ready dynamic portals look for dynamic CMS-type solutions, like Semiologic's XSitePro.
A bit about WEB hosting places/spaces.
I use Hostgator for their very fast and SEO friendly hosting space with lighting fast tech support. I haven't considered them until recently where I came across super fast loading affiliate marketing website carrying many products and images on the front page. Yet it was so fast that I asked owner where does she host it - and the answer was HostGator. I was sure she had a dedicated server - but she really surprised me saying that she only has shared hosting "baby" account with them. I signed up with them next day. Being slightly geeky - I requested and received SSH access. They have SVN installed by default (my preferred way to install/upgrade wordpress). I have to admit their support is very good. Contrary to other services it takes them only 15-30 minutes to answer/resolve your problems by email. With other hosters you're lucky to get ticket opened within 24 hrs of submission. Phone tech support, while takes some time on hold during peak hours is handled completely by local American people. No offense to my old 1AND1 service where young guy from india recently managed to resolve/answer all my questions pretty nicely. Hostgator also offers a less advertised dedicated IP address for mere $2/mo extra on any account. I think this is just amazing. All above sold me out and I closed accounts at other places in favor of hostgator. In fact I looking to move there all my domains and spaces. So if you are looking for fast and reliable service - look no further, I give them 2 thumbs up.
...and back to SEO WEB Development solutions
So what is WordPress? WordPress is an open source (read - "free") blogging software with an excellent set of features. Additionally to that it is simple, written on PHP language, it is "lightweight" and very well performing even when installed on cheap shared hosting accounts. As a blogging software it has large set of features + zillions of plugins, widgets and themes created by other people. WordPress has large following and large number of developers creating free and commercial add-ons to it.
I came across wordpress in my quest to create a simple CMS-based website where I could concentrate on quickly building my online presence and business instead of struggling with mutually incompatible WEB technologies and overcomplicated lackluster solutions.
Semiologic Pro is an excellellent "umbrella" of the latest WordPress software packaged with most useful plugins, widgets and add-ons to help you create, customize and manage full-blown CMS based website highly optimized for Search Engines and well suitable for Social Media Marketing (WEB 2.0).
This page will contain more details about my experience, tips and suggestions about Semiologic Pro for WordPress.
Semiologic Pro is good not only to build general static websites - but also fully featured online stores. Here is one of my online stores built with Semiologic and selling very specialized hardware devices -> VGA Frame Grabbers
Here's a good example of how well optimized is Semiologic Pro - based website:
- I registered domain on November 25-th
- At the end of December I put a first cut of the website (with many pages were still empty)
- On January 25th, 2 month anniversary of domain name I made a first $300 sale! The customer reported that he went on Google looking for specific device, found my site on the first page and proceeded with his purchase. This made me really feel excited about the powers of WordPress + extra work that was put into Semiologic Pro "umbrella" to come up with a good package suitable for money making websites.
Self hosted, self-themed WordPress sites.
Semiologic Pro theme offers you "everything at almost click of a button", but if you'd like to get a bit more customized look and feel for your blog/site then you might need to check other available themes. There are plenty of resources, free and commercial.
If you looking to create SEO friendly online magazine, sports reporting blog, business looking portal, real estate website or news portal - then Revolution Themes is the first class option to consider. Product of Brian Gardener, Revolution Themes gives you excellent quality design and top notch polished look and feel portal at a click of a button.
Additionally to large selection of high quality themes he also offer free support forum that has active and knowledgeable community of webmasters and developers. While software itself is not free - it is one of the best available collection of modern WordPress themes available.
I strongly suggest considering Revolution Themes by Brian Gardener. I use and will continue to use them on multiple portals with great success. I purchased his all-inclusive developer's option and was pleased to discover how easily they could be modified and customized for different needs.
Next Upcoming Article: Building SEO Optimized Membership sites with WordPress.
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Disclaimer: I've purchased and using all above products myself on more than one site with significant success. I actually purchased many more tools, software packages and services to evaluates but this article dedicated to the collection of the best tools that I could personally recommend.