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Your websites roommates are the worst

f1-bears

By Matt Adams on September 13th, 2016

What Goldilocks and the three bears can teach us about hosting

You know how the story goes. A little girl lost in the woods, stumbles into a world she doesn’t belong in, and tries all the options for herself. She learns from her mistakes along the way, but really doesn’t enjoy the process. Cold soup, broken chairs, beds too soft. Eventually she pisses off some bears and depending which version of the story you subscribe to, they either run her off and tell her never to come back, or they eat her.

Your website is the little lost Goldilocks here, and the cabin in the woods is the internet. You need a place for your precious site to live. You venture out there on your own, trying a few things, finding that different hosts have different levels of soup, I mean support. And their pricing is just as all over the place as the beds. Sure you can try them all, or even just a few, but like Goldilocks, you won’t like the results, and neither will your site visitors.

Cold soup, is like bad server support. 

It’s safe for me to assume you likely know little, or probably nothing about server administration. Is the DNS zone file right? What about the max script execution time? You need support to lean on when you get in over your head. Factor1 hosts most the sites we build. To date thats about 250 sites. While we feel pretty well equipped to handle the day to day, we still have an amazing support team to call up when things get strange.

Good questions to ask for server support

  • How fast is the average ticket response?
  • Can I chat, call and email for support?
  • Does the support cover installed tools like WordPress, or other content management systems that may need trouble shooting?
  • What about backups and recovery, are they onsite or off?
  • What won’t support cover?

What about the environment? Are you sharing your bed with bears?

The cheaper the hosting, the more likely you are to be sharing a server with hundreds if not thousands of other accounts. Think about your computer, the more apps you have open and running at one time, the harder your computer starts to work. I know when I get multi-tasking like a crazy person, things get toasty and the fans kick on. What about when you are streaming a movie and surfing the web at the same time, maybe while others in your house or office are doing the same. Things get slow fast.

Well the more accounts per server, the more load, the more demand, and the more issues. Think of it like wifi hogging roommates at your house, except you have no idea who they are, and you have no say in them being there. We have seen time and time again, servers crashing, crawling at peak times, all because the site you are on is sharing resources with other big resource sites. It’s not all bad, just be aware that these resources come at a cost. So the less you pay for hosting, the more people there are to share the bill. Servers aren’t cheap, and “unlimited disk space” is a marketing bullet with an asterisk, not a reality.

What to look out for in shared hosting.

  • What are the policies in place for resource hogs?
  • What preventative measures are in place for malware?
  • What about sites that host explicit content–Do they allow that? You may not want to be there if it contradicts your brand.
  • How many accounts share an average server?
  • Bonus tip, you can check your site now with this tool: http://www.yougetsignal.com/tools/web-sites-on-web-server/
    I just ran that on a clients site that I know is slow but they won’t leave their GoDaddy $5 hosting because its “too good of a price”. The result, 997 other sites. 32 of which were pornography or other graphic content related. Not good for this family based non-profit site.

SEO and Malware concerns on shared hosts

Too often we find sites that are hurting with SEO or flagged for malware, but the reality is that it’s not even their site, but another account on the server. This can be a disaster to deal with since it’s not an account you have any control over. Google Malware tools will flag the entire server for malware. Meaning that every site on the server will display a big, ugly, red warning screen to all visitors that the site is not safe to visit. 99.9% of visitors will close and not continue. Lost visitors = lost opportunities every time.

Heavy shared hosts, like the site above that has 997 sites on their server, are often slow. The server has a slow response time and each page is a bit sluggish to respond. What If I told you that users will not return to slow sites, and google negatively ranks slow sites. Scary right. What If I told you that “slow” is anything longer than 6 seconds to load. Crazy that we live in such a high tech, high speed world that 6 seconds is slow, when at the turn of the century more than half the internet access was 56k dialup.

So when I say ‘sharing your bed with bears’, I’m really not that far off. Some of these hosts can be flooded with bad sites. Usually cost is a key factor. $5 hosting vs $20 hosting is a big difference in the quality of accounts.

How much should good hosting cost? 

So let’s say you found a host that has great answers to the above key questions, and has great support. What would that cost. I can tell you, it’s not $5. It’s not $10 either. on average, a good host with all the right levels of support, security and accounts per server is probably in the $20 – $50 a month range. I can hear your groans, yes that’s a lot of money when you used to pay $10. But think of this like your businesses location. There are shanty offices and shady strip malls, and there are newer, well balanced, well maintained buildings. They don’t cost the same thing.

What makes a good host.

  • 30 minute or less support response. They may not have it fixed, but they responded to the ticket and begin investigating.
  • Support you can call, email, or chat with. Thats critical.
  • Support that is willing to dive into other issues besides hardware only.
  • They have daily backups, onsite AND off
  • They have daily malware and security scans.
  • They have a firewall.
  • They offer VPS (Virtual Private Servers) with dedicated IP addresses (Protects against the bad bear roommates).
  • They limit the number of accounts per server (We run our dedicated servers under 150 accounts per server, compared to go daddy with the 997)
  • They have transparency with uptime. We have a portal to check at anytime with history of any outages.

Hosting recommendations

So we normally host many of our own sites on our dedicated servers. These servers are not in our closet at the Factor1 office, they are hosted and managed by LiquidWeb. They have been amazing for support, and we have been with them for 8 – 9 years at this point.

Other server companies we like, respect, and have a good track record with.

  • Cloudways
  • Flywheel (WordPress only)
  • WPengine (WordPress only)
  • Digital Ocean  (A little more tech oriented)
  • RackSpace

Domain scams to watch out for

domainscam

By Matt Adams on September 10th, 2016

I own a lot of domain names. Not just for Factor1 projects, but for some client work as well. So basically my name is the public owner of more domains than I care to admit. Daily, i get 25+ emails and about 2x a week I get physical mail spam (is that still spam?) about my domain names, but rarely legit.

First off, I only have domains registered 2 places, GoDaddy and NameCheap. I have reasons for the 2 but that’s not what this post is about. I share that I only have domains 2 places, because I know and expect communication from them, but anything else I know is a scam.

Domain Scam #1: Early renewal. 

I just got this the other day. A physical mailing about my domain name needing renewed from IDNS for the low low price of $45 a year.

2016-09-08-11-14-05

They demanded I act fast. I looked more, and what’s odd, is they wanted me to renew my URL by mid October. I know this domain well (factor1studios.com) and I KNOW it renews in January.  I follow a pro tip from our last post and set domains on my calendar as birthdays. Also that price. Sheesh thats about 3x the cost I actually pay for a .com.

Pro tip: Domains usually only cost $10 – $20 a year. Yes, some vanity domains, like .io or .ninja (never buy this unless you are actually a ninja) can cost $50 – $99 a year.

Domain Scam #2: Verifying country codes on behalf of a potential buyer.

This is a little trickier to explain. Basically, you will get a call or email from a domain verification company (Not a real thing) telling you that someone in their country (usually China, but sometimes Canada, or Australia) is trying to buy global rights to YOUR domain name in 15 – 20 other country codes (.ca, .cn. .aus, etc). They are following the “law” (There is no such law) and verifying with you that you release them to this other company.

Don’t worry, you can “protest” the purchase, by simply buying all these domains conveniently through the person contacting you. So you can spend hundreds of dollars “securing” these country codes. The scam is that they have no other buyer, there is no due diligence required, and they are only selling you domains you don’t need. Personally, I say they can have factor1studios.cn in China if someone wants it.

Domain Scam #3: SEO submission service renewal. 

This is usually mailed, but sometimes emailed. It’s an invoice for “Search Engine Listing” service. And without this $69 – $99 a year service, your domain won’t be in hundreds of search engine directories. Fun game–name more than 3 search engines (no Lycos and Altavista no longer count). Search engines rank on content, and index the web constantly. They don’t want or need you to submit your site to them, and if they did, it would be free.


The trick with all these, is that they look legit, have a real internet sounding name, Under $99 and have an urgent call to action. Their goal, is that your business will have some accounts payable person just pay it and never question it. There are similar scams for all kids of business related things like copier toner.

If in doubt, google it, you will find tons of scam alerts on that that company name. They change names often, so always know who you actually do business with for this stuff. If you are big enough for an accounts payable department, have a policy that no new vendors get paid without approval, no matter what the cost.

Be safe out there, too many people are trying to make a buck anyway they can.


Choosing that perfect domain name

DomainName

By Matt Adams on August 30th, 2016

Choosing a domain name is almost as hard as naming your business or child. I have honestly had easier times naming pets. Nobody really cares about branding, memorability or if it’s a dot com or not. Pet names are easy. Kid names aren’t too hard either. So what makes a good domain name? Let’s cover a few points and I’ll dive into what they mean.

Top tips for a good domain name.

  1. It’s as short as possible.
  2. Easy to say and remember.
  3. Accounts for your organizations brand or product
  4. Localized when logical
  5. Has SEO keywords
  6. Is available in a .com, .org

 

So what do these translate to?

Short is good. But not at the cost of being usable. Google works, but it’s based on real word. So the shorter the better, but not at the expense of the next point, easy to say and remember. I can’t tell you how many times people share a new product or service with me in passing, and for the life of me, can’t recall what it was or how to spell it when I’m back at a computer.

How important is the branding for your organization? Sometimes having the company name is less important, and a product or service is of higher priority. It comes down to knowing those priorities.

Pro tip: You can have more than one domain name. TempeCreative.com and Factor1studios.com are very different. One is localized and service based, the other is the brand name. Using both can help you meet your objectives.

Localized search terms really come into play for what I consider urgent needs oriented businesses. Plumbers, Garage door repair, Dentists, etc. These are often industries you want near by you, and usually ASAP. City specific domains with matching content can be a huge benefit to these as they play into an SEO strategy.

Finally getting your domain in a .com or .org is important. A few years ago Overstock tried their hand with the dot co vanity domain extension. They marketed heavily their new O.co domain. The main problem here was the consumer muscle memory. People simply finished the .co with an m. O.com had record traffic, and it cost Overstock millions in lost traffic, and later more millions in trying to buy the o.com from its current owner.

With any domain name, try to secure as many of the variations as you can. .com, .net, .org, .us; including misspellings or spelling variations. They all simply forward to the main. This does two things, secures that user who mis-typed the domain, and prevents anyone from grabbing the alternate to use for themselves, or worse, against you. Plenty of political sites come to mind over the years.

Bonus level!

Where should you buy your domain ? 

Good question, 100 points. Always use a reputable domain registrar, not a reseller. I’m personally a big fan of NameCheap.com and Godaddy.com but ONLY for domains. Domain Registrars are not good hosts. More on that in a future post. Other good registrars are Enom.com and NetworkSolutions.com

How long should I buy the domain for? 

This is tricky. Yes you can buy it for 5 years and basically forget about it. But that’s the issue. You forget about it. Next thing you know it’s up for renewal, and you forget, you moved, you changed emails, etc. And recovering access to a 5 year old account is a nightmare. Most likely you forgot the security question, the email they have on record is invalid, and you moved, breaking any and all ties to the account.

Domain Registrars rarely give you any discounts for multiple years. So you can part with your money $10 at a time, or $50 all at once. I know interest rates are terribly low, but my cash on hand still has more value to me in my hand than with a domain registrar. There are no refunds, so really no point.

Pro tip: Set that domain up for yearly, auto-renew on, and add it to your calendar like a birthday!

 

 


WordPress and SSL images in WPv4.4

By Matt Adams on March 29th, 2016

Responsive images became the new standard in WordPress 4.4, released in December 2015. One major issue is sites that run SSL full time. Having that green secure lock in the browser bar is important. It’s good for security, required for online transactions, and adds a great deal of credibility to the site.

With WP 4.4 out of the box, you may find your site looking like it has a lot of broken images. Turns out that featured images in WP 4.4 still load as HTTP. With out the https, the users browser will block any resource that is unsecured.

So we have a small patch for this.

Using the following code in your functions file.

add_filter('wp_get_attachment_image_attributes', function($attr) {
    if (isset($attr['sizes'])) unset($attr['sizes']);
    if (isset($attr['srcset'])) unset($attr['srcset']);
    return $attr;
}, PHP_INT_MAX);
add_filter('wp_calculate_image_sizes', '__return_false', PHP_INT_MAX);
add_filter('wp_calculate_image_srcset', '__return_false', PHP_INT_MAX);
remove_filter('the_content', 'wp_make_content_images_responsive');

Okay so the code above actually disables WP 4.4 responsive images feature from running. So while yes you wont have that new 4.4 feature, a site built to be responsive will still load fine.

This should be fixed in WP 4.4.2, but we are still seeing a few sites with the issue, so for now this is the best fix to keep your WordPress site running in full SSL mode.


Trusting your site to WordPress

By Matt Adams on February 22nd, 2016

We often get asked about how secure WordPress is. I can tell you hands down, at the core, it is as secure as anything can be. We recently found a site we made a custom theme for 8 years ago. It was still running WP version 2.5. It has never been updated. This site had zero plugins, and since the theme was custom, there were no un-needed javascript files.

So for 7 – 8 years, this site sat there, getting traffic, doing it’s job, and zero issues. Zero. Now this is a pretty unique case. It’s on a dedicated server with strict security, no plugins, no e-commerce, etc. Granted as soon as we found this relic we updated it ASAP. But I honestly think it could have gone on longer, barring any server changes like PHP upgrades that would have conflicted with the core.

Whats the big take away here?

WordPress powers 50% of all sites (2015 stats for world wide usage), this means it can be a huge target for hackers. The thing is, these hackers get in through known exploits. Most of the site compromises we see, are plugin or do-it-all premium themes. These are full of fancy little bells and whistles, that get hacked.

Doesn’t Factor1 use plugins?

Yes, we do. But we try to keep them to the bare minimum, and only use trusted plugins. We know the plugins we use well, and we build our sites in such a way that we are not dependent on a plugin to function. If tomorrow a plugin needed to be removed, we could drop it in a heart beat and the site would be fine 98% of the time.

The moral of the story.

You get what you pay for. If you spend $50 on a theme, even $100, and load it up with a few plugins, security needs to be the highest risk in your mind. I’d run daily backups, security scans, and tight settings on Wordfence or similar plugin. I’d also run all theme and plugin updates weekly at a minimum.

 


What is a WordPress strategic partner and why you need one

By Matt Adams on January 26th, 2016

So it’s the new year, and you are working on a new site. Maybe it’s for your company, or maybe it’s something you are working on for a client and you are shaping the content and creative for them. We all know WordPress is amazing, powers 50% of the websites out there today, and offers a very deep resource pool of free or low cost add ons.

Fast forward a few months, and you are all done. But it’s not the dream project you had envisioned. The journey to this point was long, and had a lot of bumps in the road. The theme needed more work to customize than you thought,. You now have a ton of plugins, widgets, and options to round out the gaps in the theme. The comments to the developers support forum took 2 weeks to get a sub par reply. Now moving the site from staging to production is a daunting task.

We hear stories like this almost daily. That $59 theme is now all the sudden getting more expensive with the hours you put into it, and the lost ROI with launch delays. All those bells and whistles from the feature list now look more like a long list of things to manage instead of great benefits.

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Enter the WordPress strategic partner.

 

Let’s tell a different story here. You have an idea for a new site, and even some great examples of the end goal. Working closely with the admin team, designers, and project managers, together we craft the needs, features, user experiences, timeline and budget. As the designs go through the wireframe process, and later full design comps, our development team is reviewing & discussing options. Options and ideas to achieve the designed goal, outlining potential hurdles that may arise with the feature, timeline, budget, or end administration of content.

Together we go through several rounds of this. Finally landing on an amazing stack of designs that work across multiple devices sizes, with clarity on expected functions, content management, and performance. Our team dives into the code. Using our 11+ years of experience with CMS tools, we craft a custom WordPress theme that meets the goals and objectives planned, with a very specific task of making the design and the administration work together with unity and grace. No goofy plugins, widgets, short codes, or worse, code in the editor panel.

You are now left with a site custom built to meet the exact specifications, features and planned outcome of the site, and a design that matches up perfectly to an administration experience. This eliminates the need for manuals, training sessions, or guesswork. Our quality assurance process has checked the site on a wide array of physical tablets, smart phones and laptops for the ultimate test in compatibility, as well as optimized the site for speed and SEO. Fast forward 3 years, and the site is still running great. Maybe a few plugin updates here and there, but nothing that risks crashing the site, since we coded in the critical functions, leaving a few plugins to handle auxiliary things less critical to the site.

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What to look for in a strategic WordPress partner?

 

With any long term project, relationship is key. We have had some of our clients over 10 years with many sites together because relationships win. When you have a partner, you have someone to call when things aren’t working right. You learn to get comfortable with details like finances and project risks. It’s a 2 way street. Our partners pay our invoices in a timely fashion, know what is critical versus important, they know that good work takes a little time, and they know to listen to our advice. Not in negative, don’t challenge our opinion, but in a respectful, purposeful, intentional way. The best partners are on a journey, together.

Look for agencies that have credibility, i.e. have they been actively developing for WordPress for a few years, and know how to make custom themes. Look to chat with long term clients. We are always more than happy to have a potential client call up a partner for a reference. Finally notice what they ask about you. Do they care about your bigger business goals and how they fit in, are they happy to share resources and ideas to help you get there?

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What about the costs?

 

Can’t beat around this bush. You get what you pay for and good works costs time and money. But if you are looking for a partner to go to the next level in your business, know that it’s going to take some time, effort, and funding. We do our best to always be upfront, and clear with how much something costs. If that’s too high, say so, and share what you can work within. A good partner will help find solutions.

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How does a strategic WordPress partner work with agencies?

 

Working with an agency who finds and manages the client relationship is tricky. We know that these relationships can go two ways. The first way, the developers are behind the scenes, white labeled, and never talking to the client. These are tricky, there ends up being a “telephone game” of communication, where the developer and client never talk, leaving designers and project managers in the middle to translate. Sometimes this leads to a mess when it comes to technical discussions. Additionally, this can leave clients feeling a lack of trust if (more like when) they figure out the developers are not staff, damaging all relationships along the way.

On the opposite end, sits the strategic partner. With transparency, we work together to craft a proposal, project features, and it’s well known that Factor1 is your WordPress strategic partner for this project. Shaping the conversation from the beginning that you are the branding and design experts, and we are the WordPress experts needed to launch this critical project. We work mainly behind the scenes, but when things get hard, or ready to launch, the client, your team, and our teams can comfortable jump on a call with no concerns about who is who.


Down with the rockstars and ninjas

By Matt Adams on April 23rd, 2015

Every day I see or hear companies touting they are design rockstars, or only hire WordPress ninjas. Can we stop with that as a work culture in general. I know I for one do not want to hire a rockstar accountant, or a plumbing ninja. It’s just not the kind of people I like to do business with.

Think about it with me.

When you think rockstar, do you think of dependable, in the office before 8am, quick to follow up, and someone who is eager to solve your problems? I know I don’t. I’m sure there are some really great rockstars out there that are super nice stable people, but that’s not my first expectation by any means.

What about ninjas? They are often well trained with years of experience, so far so good. But next thing you know they are stealthy, rarely seen or heard from. Not what I want from my web designer or developer thats for sure.

So maybe we just don’t have catchy names? Maybe we just embrace honesty and humility. Factor1 is a staff of real people, no ninjas, rockstars, or vikings (what, that’s not a thing?). We have our strengths and weaknesses like you. We enjoy being creative, building solutions and pop-tarts. Sometimes we get distracted by shiny things or ramble on a little too long about our weekend. At the end of the day we care. We want what’s best for the client.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ll take that any day over a rockstar or ninja.


Mobile friendly for better SEO

By Matt Adams on February 17th, 2015

While we have been long pushing mobile responsive sites for our projects over the last few years, google is making much bolder moves. We here at factor1 think the user experience on all devices adds up to a positive interaction with your brand. We see the reports that more and more people every month use their mobile devices to surf the web.

Mobile friendly is getting a lot more critical. In a recent update with google’s search algorithms, SEO experts are seeing either positive search ranking changes for their mobile friendly sites, and very negative results on non mobile sites. Google even sent out a warning to its webmaster tools users that they may see a decrease in their rankings. While google has not commented on the algorithm change, the results are pretty clear.

Mobile matters.

Google search results now show a small green label next to search results indicating a site is mobile friendly when you search from a touch device. To earn a mobile-friendly label your site needs to pass a set of criteria. You can find out if your site meet’s Google’s standards or not by using the mobile-friendly site testing tool.

What now?

So your site is not mobile responsive, and maybe failed the test above. Making a site mobile responsive after the initial build can be difficult. We have done it a few times, and the costs may be higher than building a new site with mobile in mind. It’s best to talk to your web designer and developer about your options and go from there. We’re happy to chat with you about it. Fill out our contact form and one of us will get back to you asap.


Our take on site speed metrics

By Matt Adams on January 26th, 2015

So there is a large focus on sites being fast. Google rewards sites that load quickly and meet their speed criteria. Go ahead, run your site through googles page insight tool.

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

What grade did you get? Was it under 50/100 on desktop? You won’t be alone. That’s actually pretty normal.

We have had this issue pop up many times in the last few months. So we spend a few hours tweaking the site. We minify it(compressed HTML, CSS & JS), cache it, and gzip it for the browser. This will usually bring up the speeds and scoring a bit. So thats the good news here.

This leaves us with images. We are almost always getting terrible scores because we are serving users retina images. This means the pixel density is tight, resulting in crisp, sharp images on all devices, and especially on retina screens. Unfortunately the fix for this is to basically stop serving retina images. These scoring tools are usually based on old tech. The ONLY way to serve the high res image is to compress it to the containing box. So a 400 x 400 image inside a 200 x 200 box = 2x the pixel density. But this method is a giant red F on site scoring tools because in the olden days, this was considered “wrong”.

In comparison we ran big sites like CNN, CharityWater, Vox.com, IGN.com, Mic.com, etc. And in our quick research, any nice, modern, retina ready site got about the same score as us. We used a few tools to check it. Want to know one site that ranked well? Google, yes google ranked great. See by offering few to no images, text only, and very little style, you should achieve an A rating.

So this brings me to our goals with any site. We want to serve your visitors a robust site that highlights great information, infographics and photographs that tell a story. Can we do that with low res images, sure, but thats not the direction of technology. All iPads, iPhones, most laptops over $1000 and many android phones and tablets are retina / HD displays. This means that a low res image would look worse than normal. they tend to look blurry or fuzzy.

So my two cents: We take our D+ speed rating and know that we have razor sharp images, graphics and are meeting current technology trends with ease.

 


10 years

By Matt Adams on August 26th, 2014

If feels like just yesterday I convinced my very supportive wife I should quit a well paying easy job to start something new. Feels like yesterday, but it was actually 10 years ago. Oh I should also mention what a leap of faith factor1 was. At the time she had been laid off from a downsizing retailer and was not having a ton of luck with finding a new job, and we had little saved being so young. Yeah, we were that crazy.

The last 10 years have been amazing. We have grown a lot, both in size, great clients, partnerships, knowledge and experience. We have had a many of our current clients almost as long as we have been a company, and that’s saying something I think.

We stayed small, nimble, bold, courageous. We know the more people on the elevator the more work it takes to go up, so we kept our staff to a handful. We embraced the slow cooker model, and have grown slowly  year after year by word of mouth from great relationships and hard work. I am super thankful we haven’t lost any of these traits that made us who we are. I am also very proud of the work we get to produce here, and the work our employees produce on a daily basis.

I want to say thanks. Thanks to all our awesome friends, clients, partners, staff — past and and present. So much of where we have been and where we are going is because of our relationships with you and I thank you.

So what does the future hold? Not sure to be perfectly honest. We are going to keep doing many of the same things. The technology may change, the tools will get updates. We all know adobe acrobat will update 3x a week. But we are going to keep doing the best work we possibly can. We are going to ask the hard questions, provide bold strategies that push our clients and ourselves. We are going to keep the pace that finishes the long race with passion and character.