How to Build Your E-Commerce Budget

How to Build Your E-Commerce Budget

Bob started a website selling organic beard balm. The expenses to launch the site ended up 248% higher than expected – prompting him to pull funds from marketing efforts that could have made many more people aware of his offerings.

 

Ellen started a site focused on children’s apparel. Costs were 189% greater than she foresaw. At launch, the site was missing half of the features she wanted – and this lack of usefulness caused stickiness to suffer and sales to flounder.

 

Kelly and Jeremy partnered in a craft supplies e-commerce store. However, their planning was overly optimistic, and they quickly were 224% over budget. They had to cut corners on design and content, generating UX that did not pack the power to engage.

 

What do Bob, Ellen, and Kelly/Jeremy all have in common? Their e-commerce dreams all quickly became nightmares. That doesn’t have to happen, especially when you consider the rapid rate of online retail growth. Let’s look at how fast online retail is growing and how you can budget for success.

 

E-commerce growth: still turning heads after all these years

 

E-commerce may be big, but it is only getting bigger. In February, the National Retail Federation released its projection for retail growth during 2017. Leaving out the revenue from restaurants, gas stations, and automobiles, the forecast for total retail (brick and mortar combined with e-commerce) is 3.7-4.2%. That figure is similar to the 3.8% improvement in 2016, so the trajectory of this segment of the economy appears stable.

The projection for Internet sales growth is stronger, though, at 8-12% – in other words, as much as 3 times the general growth rate.

 

How can you benefit from the expanding web economy but still sleep easily and not be thrown into a real nightmare by virtual problems? Organize your business plan to smartly invest in tools that will facilitate your growth. That means creating a savvy, carefully cost-controlled budget. Let’s explore how to create a budget for your e-commerce shop so you can leverage strong technologies and services – without breaking the bank but also without simply grabbing the cheapest thing you see at the online flea market.

 

1.) Don’t splurge on your domain name.

 

The domain name can get absurdly expensive if you obsess too much over getting the exact domain you want. After all, domain brokers are always ready to sell you that one you really have to have for $1200 – nearly $1200 more expensive than one that has not yet been registered.

 

What can you do? You can still get a great .com domain by using a tagline or slogan instead of simply going with your website name, suggested seed-funding firm StartFire.

 

“[W]e helped an HR consulting service come up with the tagline and domain name: PlanPreventProtect.com,” explained the company.

 

2.) Get your own hosting, and don’t pay $5 a month.

 

Hosting is where your website sits. While it may seem that you have set aside online real estate by purchasing the domain, it is like you have the keys to the house. The building of the house is the development. The land is the hosting. You have to put the house somewhere; it can’t be floating in space. Put another way, your web hosting fee gives you access to servers, the computers that fuel your site with resources to run.

 

Whatever you do, don’t pay for bad land, or you’ll have to put your house on a truck and move it. Infrastructure just isn’t as exciting as the front end of the site, but the machinery running your system should not be low-end commodity computing. For reliable, consistent speed and security, you want to be demarcated from other users; that’s a virtual private server, or VPS. Also for speed, consider drives with no moving parts for your e-commerce site; that’s a server containing a solid state drive, or SSD.

 

You don’t have to take our word for it, though (after all, we are a hosting service). To StartFire, hosting is nothing less than a hinge on which your site can swing toward either success or failure. “Choosing the right host can produce faster page load speeds, improved search engine performance, and even support in critical situations,” noted the firm.

 

3.) Write up your specs.

 

You don’t want to get too stuck on how your site must be perhaps, but you do want to have general expectations:

 

  • Design – Think about whether you want to go with a standard WordPress theme or need some of your own code. Perhaps you want to go even farther in creating a unique experience by building the site from scratch, with no content management system such as WordPress. Think about imagery such as your logo, photos, and charts; if you don’t have them, you will need to produce them.
  • Content – Consider what you will want to do in terms of content and how quickly it will need to be added (since assumedly much of your content will be blogs consistently posted over time). Someone has to do all that writing, and you may need someone for editing and managing research, direction, and tone.
  • Functionality – Assess what you want the site to be able to do. You may want your contact form to have particular capabilities, or for customers and prospect to be able to download PDFs such as catalogs, case studies, or whitepapers. Think about your needs in terms of tracking leads from forms. Of course, you also need to look at your e-commerce platform and options for payment. You also want to be able to integrate with your own systems perhaps. Think about compliance if you are in a regulated industry. You may need a customer portal as well.

 

4.) Keep the site up and running.

 

Obviously, building an online business is about sustainability. Bob, Kelly, Ellen, and Jeremy may not have budgeted correctly prior to launch, but their overarching sin was not positioning themselves for long-term growth.

 

How can you do better? How can you budget practically to handle the ongoing maintenance costs for your e-commerce site?

 

A general range that is suggested by a 2012 Forrester report, based on survey and analysis of 150 established e-commerce companies, is 3% to 10% of your revenue. In other words, if your company makes $2 million per year, that would mean you want to put about $60K to $200K annually toward keeping everything maintained and working smoothly.

 

5.) Build in a cushion.

 

The other aspect of preparation is knowing that you will want to change direction as you go – and that requires financial padding. This truism applies to all the three basic categories listed in #3 above:

 

  • Design – High-quality images are timely, and hence costly, to create. People will often want to upgrade from low-grade to high-grade imagery, and the cost difference is substantial.
  • Content – Companies will often think that content can be simply produced by a staff member. However, like images, the types of content that will give your site competitive advantage needs money to come to life.
  • Functionality – When firms want their site to do certain things, they are often clueless as to how much those features or tools will cost. That is understandable given how complex lining up the dollars and cents for your site is; and because everything involves a range of possible prices. Don’t be sidelined by an extra $3000 or $10,000 expense.

 

Conclusion

 

As we discussed above, hosting is one of the most important decisions you can make for an e-commerce startup. And the fact is, it is not prohibitively expensive to get excellent hosting for your site. At KnownHost, with 24/7 fully managed support, you can start with a small SSD VPS and upgrade as needed with no IP change or data migration. See our cutting-edge, user-friendly plans.

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What Does Unix-Like Mean

What Does “Unix-Like” Mean?

There is so much tech terminology and so little time – so it helps quite a bit when we can think of things within categories. In the case of operating systems, there are essentially two. There are the ones from Microsoft, descendants of Windows NT (for “new technology”). On the other side are basically the remainder of options. These other systems – such as Chrome OS, Orbis OS, iOS, Mac OS X, Android, and Linux – all have a code structure that is loosely described as “Unix-like.”

 

UNIX & its many offspring

 

We can start to understand the term Unix-like by looking at Unix construction and the operating systems created with it as their basis. Coders at Bell Labs, an AT&T facility, created Unix in 1969; Ken Thompson is the specific person credited with its development by the Linux Information Project.

 

Many technologists and organizations have developed operating systems from Unix over the years. However, there are generally two branches of Unix’s “next of kin.”

 

One branch was within education. The chief example is the Unix-like, open source OS Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). This system is built into such further offshoots as FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. In fact, BSD was used to create NeXTStep, which was in turn used to design Mac OS X (from which iOS was developed). In fact, the operating system of the PlayStation 4, Orbis OS, was coded with BSD as its foundation.

 

The GNU project, an effort launched by Richard Stallman to aid in making licensing terms loose enough to facilitate free use of programs, was inspired by the tightening of language within AT&T’s Unix agreement. MINIX was a Unix-like system that was intended for use within academia, and Linux is a descendant of MINIX. When we use a Linux OX now, we are actually using GNU/Linux, notes Chris Hoffman in How-To Geek – because these systems combine a Linux kernel with numerous GNU utilities.

 

GNU/Linux (otherwise, and commonly known simple as Linux) is not a straight offshoot of BSD. However, it is similar because it uses Unix as its initial structure and also grew out of scholarly circles. Many different operating systems – notably Android, Steam OS, and Chrome OS but also ones used on many devices – are rooted in Linux.

 

The above systems were all a single side of development from the original code, the educational offshoots. The other side was commercial systems that were created, with many different companies wanting to promote their own version. These systems are now much less prevalent, but they have included AT&T UNIX, HP-UX, IBM-AIX, SCO UnixWare, SGI IRIX, and Solaris.

 

What do we mean by “Unix-like”?

 

What does the term Unix-like mean specifically, though? It is a blanket way to refer to many different operating systems that all share the same common structure – as opposed to the one used by Microsoft. Unix-like also grew from confusion and debate over what should be considered a Unix system.

 

When we call an OS “Unix-like,” that generally will mean that the source code of the OS (the version of the software as it was originally coded) is directly traceable to, has similar properties to, and is explicitly based on Unix. Examples are Compaq’s True64, Solaris, IRIX, HP-UX, and IBM’s AIX.

 

The umbrella-term Unix-like also refers to clones of Unix. A clone is software that performs in a similar way to other software but does not have the same source code.

 

The way that the prominent Unix clones act is so, well, er, Unix-like that often computer scientists and expert technicians simply refer to them as Unix. These systems should be understood as clones, though, and not Unix-based but certainly Unix-like. These clones include the BSDs (Darwin, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD) Linux (in all its distros), MINIX, Cygwin, and QNX.

 

For the most part, a Unlike-like OS will have most of the additions and elaborations that were appended to the original at the University of California – Berkeley. These features, often called the Berkeley extensions, contains the vi text editor, virtual memory (enabling simulations of extra memory by the hard disk drive), transmission control protocol / internet protocol (TCP/IP, the primary protocol for the internet and local networking), and C shell (csh). Since these capabilities from the Berkeley extensions are so core to the functioning of Unix-like systems, people have sometimes posited that modern systems of this type should be called “Unix/Berkeley” (or “Unix-Berkeley-like”?).

 

Now let’s look at BSD directly: this OS, short for Berkeley Software Distribution, is a Unix clone that was written at the University of California in the 70s and early 80s. Generally BSD and its offshoots are called Unix; actually, one version was even called BSD UNIX 4.0 (October 1980).

 

Controversy related to the UNIX name

 

UNIX is the initial name of the operating system that was created at Bell Labs – that part we know and is indisputable. The way that the term has been understood since that point has become much fuzzier. UNIX became a trademark, and an association created in 1996, called the Open Group, eventually acquired ownership of it. The Open Group states that operating systems should only be called UNIX if they agree with the body’s Single UNIX Specification and pay them a sizable fee. In this sense, it is possible that a system could be called UNIX legally even if were dissimilar to the original and did not contain any of its source code.

 

Apple has questioned the legitimacy of the UNIX trademark – claiming that the term is generic and should not be protected by the government. Apple actually has stated on its website, “Beneath the surface of Mac OS X lies an industrial-strength UNIX foundation.”

The Open Group and Apple have been sparring over usage in this manner.

 

A couple key UNIX or Unix-like characteristics

 

Key design characteristics of the original version of Unix are shared by today’s modern operating systems.

 

One of the basic centerpieces of the way Unix is constructed is that you have small utilities that are fine-tuned to perform single tasks. When you interact with the OS, you are able to leverage these tools in part by blending them, via pipes or otherwise, to carry out more sophisticated activities. By elaborating on modules in this manner and combining utilities, shell scripts also become simpler.

 

Another aspect of Unix that makes it special is that there is just one file system through which software is able to exchange data and interact. All components of the computing ecosystem become represented by files within this model – including special files with system details and even hardware. The contrast to this architecture is the drive letters of Windows (C, D, etc.), a format that Microsoft brought over from DOS. In contrast to breaking everything up into drives, there is one unified directory hierarchy on Unix.

 

What does it mean to have full root access?

 

You will sometimes hear coders and others discussing infrastructure talk about full root access. Full root access means that you have complete superuser privileges over your system – administrative-level control. The root user is unique to Linux and other Unix-like operating systems.

 

Do you want super-fast performance and root access? At KnownHost, our managed VPS hosting plans come with full root access for complete control. Compare plans.

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10 Common WordPress Mistakes

10 Mistakes People Make When They First Start With WordPress

The incredible popularity of WordPress gives hackers an incentive to go after it. Once they find a way in, they can replicate the attack across thousands or even millions of sites. One of the most prominent ways that the CMS has been attacked most recently is through a content-injection weakness that was identified early this year and patched by WordPress 4.7.2. Regardless of the patch, 1.5 million sites were defaced by February 10, according to Threatpost. It is one of the worst points of WordPress compromise to ever develop, according to WP security plugin maker WordFence. The problem (an issue with a REST API endpoint that led to unauthenticated privilege escalation) was patched by WordPress 4.7.2 on January the 26th – although news of the patch didn’t emerge right away. One of the core developers noted that the CMS organization waited to let people know about the vulnerability until people were able to make the update and clear themselves from potential exploit.

 

Since hacking is devastating to businesses (with one report indicating that 3 in 5 hacked businesses go bankrupt within six months), it is important to focus on that particular element. However, we will not neglect various other ways that companies can, well, screw up with WordPress when they’re getting started. Let’s look at some of the most frequently occurring mistakes so that you can avoid them.

 

10 WordPress mistakes that you can avoid

 

How can you get the most out of WordPress? Well, one of the easiest methods is process of elimination. Here are 10 common mistakes to avoid:

 

#1 – Forgetting to update WordPress

 

To return to the above discussion, what can we learn? Takeaway: stay updated. It is often a good idea to set up the CMS to update automatically. One way or another, keep it at the latest version. As noted by Sue Anne Dunlevie of Successful Blogging, software used by attackers scans the Internet looking for installations that have not been properly updated – so don’t let that be you.

 

#2 – Failing to make a backup

 

You certainly need to know that your WordPress is being backed up regularly. Failure to create a backup may seem like a rookie mistake to those who perform those backups standardly – but it’s something easy not to prioritize. Plugins such as BackWPup, VaultPress, and BackupBuddy are recommended by WPBeginner. You can also use a managed WordPress hosting plan that comes with free backups (with both those options recommended for an additional layer of protection).

 

#3 – Retaining the default admin username

 

The username admin is created when you install WordPress. That account has administrative privileges. Hackers know that. It is straightforward for someone who wants unauthorized access to your site to run a brute-force attack targeting the admin username. To be clear, since this user’s privileges are so substantial, it’s especially important that it not continue to display the generic title that comes out-of-the-box.

 

Internet marketing thought leader Jeff Bullas notes that since it’s so easy to change this username when you are installing, it is nonsensical not to go ahead and change it right then. Bullas adds that it is important to make your username and password complex via inclusion of letters, numbers, and special characters. Let’s retire password123?

 

#4 – Going nuts with plugin overload

 

Do you get a new phone and immediately install 200 apps on it? That should not be your same process with WordPress.

 

You want to have as few plugins as possible on your site, advises developer Nathan Ello. “If you can run your entire WordPress website with zero plugins,” he says, “then congratulations, you’re officially a wizard.”

 

The key basis for Ello’s argument is that plugins sometimes are not completely compatible. Beware of plugin conflicts.

 

The risk presented by plugins is not just about conflict among plugins, of course. There are often security vulnerabilities – so vet carefully, and always make sure that your plugins are tested with the latest WordPress release.

 

#5 – Publishing without enough forethought

 

Given how obsessive the digital world has become with consistent posting of content through blogs and social media, it is interesting to see Dunlevie suggest slowing down. She notes that Google updates have increasingly prioritized how user-friendly and valuable your content is (and that is at a broader semantic level rather than just related to keywords).

 

Specifically, Dunlevie says that any posts should be carefully revised and edited prior to publishing them. Beyond your search engine results, it will also help you from a user experience perspective.

 

She suggests working with an editor. You can use an editor if you want to improve pieces you already have on your site or as part of the process to refine new ones as they’re created.

 

#6 – Skipping favicon customization

 

Ever look at the browser window, see those tiny icons adjacent to the title of the page, and wonder how you could have your own? It is easy not to pay enough attention to that element, the favicon. The problem with neglecting favicons is that they will get their information elsewhere. You don’t want your site to be advertising your theme company through its favicon.

 

Your favicon should be thought of as your identity, says WPbeginner. Here is the Code information on Creating a Favicon if you need help moving forward.

 

#7 – Poor (faulty or off-point) choice of theme

 

WordPress is a standardized way to approach the web, so it’s important that you make the most of the elements that are most easily controllable – such as your theme. Think about it this way: the structure of your design will have a major impact on how well you do in search. Think usability, affordability, and credibility when selecting a theme, says Bullas – who suggests going straight to the WordPress Themes Directory to find one.

 

#8 – Lack of a staging environment

 

Staging is a concept that’s important to development. You have your production environment, which is your live site. The public can see that version of your site. You could even say that “is” your site. There should be another part of your site, though – so that you aren’t always playing around with the live site when you make changes.

 

Small changes? Sure: it makes sense to correct typos and make other minor adjustments to the live site. The production environment should generally not be something you modify, though – without first sending it through staging for boot camp.

 

Ello mentions examples of three typical WP changes you would want to introduce first in staging:

 

  • – Upgrading to a new release
  • – Installing and trying out a new plugin
  • – Changing or updating your theme

 

#9 – Keeping the default permalink

 

What link tends to stick around and mess with your search engine presence? That’s a permalink. The permalink is a static hyperlink referring to one of your blog posts. Default structure is www.thisisyoursite.com/?p=123. That structure could be much better both for engagement and to better feed Google – so you want to change it.

 

Making your permalinks friendlier to users and to the search engines will give you better visibility. It will also convey to your audience that your approach is professional, organized, logical, coherent, and systematic.

 

Overall, you can change your permalink structure through Settings > Permalinks. For each post, you can improve your SEO performance if you use strong keywords (and key concepts).

 

#10 – Disregarding the machinery

 

Let’s get back to that mention of staging – which points to the importance of preparation prior to launch of any new (and significant) modifications. “Staging” sounds like it’s on the stage, but it’s really about something going on backstage, in a way. While staging is about preparation, you also need to think about the behind-the-scenes aspects of your site in terms of infrastructure. Having a highly reliable site on enterprise-grade hardware is critical on numerous levels: it will not only deliver information faster to users (and to you!) but will also improve your SEO.

 

Want to avoid mistakes and accelerate your server for CMS peace of mind and success? Choose WordPress hosting with isolated resources, 99.996% proven uptime, and fully managed 24/7/365 support. Get started.

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Tips to Prevent Downtime

7 Tips to Prevent Downtime

The importance of getting your downtime as low as possible is almost impossible to overstate. Look at the perspective of organizational leadership. Incredibly, 9 out of every 10 data center professionals say that management at their company is more focused on downtime than they were 12 months ago, according to the 2017 Uptime Institute Annual Survey.

 

What can you do to keep all your systems up and running consistently, ensuring business continuity? Before we get into those downtime-prevention strategies, let’s first look at the general issue: statistics on how costly downtime is and common risky ways that sensitive data is shared (an activity that increases when systems are unavailable).

 

  • Why is downtime prevention so important?
  • 7 tips to minimize your downtime
  • Take action to keep downtime low

 

Why is downtime prevention so important?

 

The expenses related to downtime have been soaring in recent years. Findings from the Aberdeen Group show that the cost rose 60% from 2014 to 2016 – ascending from $164,000 per hour to hit an average figure of $260,000 per hour, across all industries. Keep in mind, this cost is purely a financial hemorrhage; for a loss more than $1 million, you get four hours without your systems, and (of course) no benefit.

 

These costs are so incredibly high that the risks of outages should now be considered an even higher priority than it already was (as if $164k per hour were not high enough). No matter how large your firm is, it is fundamental to your stability to have business continuity and disaster recovery documents prepared and understood by your staff. Keep this in mind: if you do not know the drill and do not know what steps to take when downtime does occur, the situation could spiral into a much greater crisis.

 

While you may understand that some small amount of downtime should not be considered devastating, you also do not want to become complacent about it. You really do not want to have to put your DR plan into action.

 

Actually, there is another primary reason that you need to worry about downtime that is related to, yet separate from, the money: data loss. Over three-quarters of senior executives have experienced critical data loss caused by downtime, according to a poll from 2016. Also, a disturbing element of these scenarios is that your employees may transition to consumer platforms when the system goes down — creating security and compliance vulnerabilities. Use of these tools should actually be a concern regardless, as indicated by the extent to which information is shared in risky ways (from a 2014 poll):

 

  • Almost one-third of office workers had used a personal email account for work purposes.
  • Dropbox, Box.com, and other file storage software was used by 45% of employees.
  • Storage via USBs or other remote devices was conducted by 63% of workers.

 

As expressed by the above evidence, and regardless of the specific nature of your business, it is reasonable to conclude that downtime matters. Now, what can you do about it?

 

7 tips to minimize your downtime

 

So… what can you do about this? Here are a few trusted and relatively straightforward ways that can improve your ability to keep “all systems go” throughout the day, month, and year:

 

#1 – Review the service level agreements (SLAs) of your providers.

 

Before you get into what is actually happening, you want to know how much availability is guaranteed within the fine print of your business relationships. You will not be able to achieve the availability that you want if your software and hardware vendors offer 90% uptime SLAs. Demand high uptime, and check that those goals are met (compare our 99.9% uptime guarantee with an award we received for our actual 99.989% uptime).

 

#2 – Use highly scalable hardware architectures, along with load-balancing.

 

If you want to be speedy and productive online, it’s necessary to be able to properly scale your data processing and distribute it evenly throughout a group of servers. By using load-balancing, an alternative node will start handling requests whenever the primary node is performing various tasks on a file or is otherwise unavailable. Why is it so central to your business that you be able to quickly and seamlessly scale your infrastructure? You will be a step out in advance of your development – so that the demand for computing from your users is not exceeding your resources. It is also worth noting that downtime is negative even if it is planned because it gets in the way of your productivity. For these reasons, balancing your loads and making your backend as scalable as possible are key to avoiding downtime.

 

#3 – Deploy active-active clusters.

 

To keep downtime levels as low as possible, a typical strategy is the use of active-active or active-passive clusters. The former tactic is particularly effective: one study shows that IT departments using the latter technique lost 34% more critical messages and data than those that implemented active-active clustering.

 

#4 – Do not think that system audits have you covered.

 

Periodic system audits are standard operating procedure for IT departments — and those will help with uptime. You also want to get rid of unhelpful redundancies and to make the practices of your business more intelligent through process audits. Think about the processes that are the most pivotal if your system were to go down; safeguard those systems. Beyond boosting uptime of your mission-critical systems, you will get a better sense of how to spend money on bolstering your infrastructure when you complete your process audit.

 

#5 – Adopt systems that are strong and dynamic.

 

A key concern when you want to limit your downtime is to optimize for scalability. At the level of the hardware, you want to have load-balancing solutions in place so that you do not have a lot of problems related to downtime. What does that mean in practice? If you have to remove a machine from service to make an upgrade or replacement (as with routine maintenance), another server can take its place with no loss of key information or slowdown of your workflow.

 

#6 – Develop and refine a disaster recovery plan.

 

As indicated above, you need a DR plan if you don’t have one. Remember that the scope of disaster is broad, far beyond the notion of a weather disaster such as a flood or earthquake. In the majority of cases, human error – mistakes made by people – lead to disasters; in these situations, unplanned downtime is caused by problems with the process. It is important to know what the DR plan of your vendor is, what would take place if the data center failed, and the extent to which multiple redundancies exist.

 

#7 – Ensure that your providers use enterprise-grade monitoring tools.

 

If the service you choose, such as a managed VPS hosting company, uses the most advanced and effective monitoring tools, they are able to know when a component is going to fail before it happens. If the monitoring systems and processes that are used by the service are sound, software sends messages whenever risks exist that could hurt the business’s speed or reliability. The hosting engineers should resolve the issue immediately so that users are unaware – with all adjustments performed behind the scenes.

 

Take action to keep downtime low

 

Downtime must be avoided – whether you are looking at your own data center or an external one. Achieve excellent uptime that benefits from economies of scale with a strong infrastructure partner. At KnownHost, we have the best uptime in the industry. See our fully managed VPS hosting.

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