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Getting your business online without developers, an IT department or a budget

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 Getting your business online without developers, an IT department or a budget

Components of online presence

• Multiple uses:
    • Start-ups
    • Non-profits
    • Clubs
    • Vanity domains

• Negligible technical skills needed:
    • Technical basics are minimal – fundamentals covered today
    • Many easy-to-use tools available
    • Just requires knowledge and time

• Low budget:
    • Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) e.g. Mozilla, Apache, Linux
    • Free proprietary resources e.g. Google, DNS services etc.
    • Community support

• Professional:
    • FOSS serves over two thirds of web sites globally
    • Many prominent sites use free software
    • Other examples: Firefox, Ubuntu,
    • No reliance on ‘security through obscurity’
    • Adoption of open source by governments and agencies

• Many ways to achieve the same end results
• Future-proof your online presence:
    don’t opt for ‘all-in-one’ basic solutions that tie you to one provider
• Today’s suggestions are relatively simple, yet powerful and scalable
• Using standard, popular FOSS packages also saves on hidden costs:
    • Solutions are designed for non-technical users and have
        comprehensive, clear documentation and extensive support
        from community forums
    • Open source means developers can get up to speed quickly
        and extend software for your precise needs easily

Your interests:

• Business analyst, project manager, enthusiast
• In e-Commerce before – and during – the dot-com bust
• IT and Development Manager for a banking consultancy
• Designed and implemented many web sites/apps for all purposes:
    • Personal
    • Non-profits
    • Clubs
    • E-commerce and fashion
    • Small businesses
    • International banks
• But I’m not a developer

• Domain names:

    • Leased, not bought

    • No domain squatting: must be for fair use

    • Parts: host name(s), secondary domain, top level domain (TLD)

    • Example format: hostname.domain.tld

    • Top level domains: .com, .net, .org etc.

    • Consider registering your domain name in multiple variants and

         TLDs to avoid squatters, but don’t worry about obscure TLDs

         like .biz, .me and so on

    • Don’t fall for email scams offering renewals or related domains for

         a fee: always check availability with your trusted registrar

• Domain registrars:

     • Each TLD has a principal registrar (e.g. Verisign for. com)

          appointed by ICANN, who then appoints retail registrars

     • Many, many registrars but they differ on ease of use, customer

          service and price: choose a good one

     • Good .com registrars:,,


     • Bad (overpriced) registrars:, Network Solutions

     • Consider opting for a private registration (free with some

          registrars) to hide your personal details from spammers

• Registering a domain:

     • Example:

          • Cheap and includes anonymous WhoIs registration

     • Search for domain(s) and add to your cart – consider other TLDs

     • At checkout, define four contacts (ICANN requirement):

          • Registrant

          • Administrative

          • Technical

          • Billing

     • Can all be the same; different contacts get different

          communications, e.g. DMCA complaints, renewal notices etc.

Registering a domain contd.:

    • You can turn on WhoisGuard at this point to protect your identity

         from spammers

    • Now define name servers (next topic) e.g.,
 and so on

    • Use external name servers for flexibility

    • Do not choose any URL or email forwarding options

    • Some registrars like GoDaddy will try to sell many additional

         services; ignore these with possible exception of web hosting

    • A good registrar may not be a good web host – check the web

         for unbiased reviews

Domain Name Servers:

    • Domain Name Servers translate a request from a domain

         name into the IP address of the relevant server

    • A domain name is easier to remember than

    • Each host name within your domain and your mail servers can

         be pointed to the same or differing servers as necessary

    • You can use a registrar/web host’s provided DNS servers

         or use an external service

    • Recommendation: a free, reliable service like

         which is affiliated with OpenDNS to ensure rapid propagation

         of DNS record changes through the internet (cached records)

DNS records:

    • Example:

    • Register an account then choose the Add New Domain (basic)

         option in the left menu (ignore the other options)

    • Enter your domain name in the format domain.tld e.g.

         (don’t include www or anything else at this stage)

    • Now click on your domain name in the left menu

DNS records contd.:

    • Types of DNS record:

         • A record

              • Master record for each server, must exist

              • Points to the server’s IP address

         • CNAME record

              • Alias pointing to an A record’s name (not IP address)

         • Simple example:

              • A: 

              • CNAME: 

              • MX:  with MX value 1

DNS records contd.:

    • Types of DNS record contd.:

         • CNAME records are used for hosts within the domain

                      e.g. www, mail, anderson(

         • CNAMEs can point to other servers when relevant, e.g.

             for Google mail/calendar hosting

         • MX records point to mail servers; as many as you have,

                      in order (MX values, lowest number for main server)

         • Ignore AAAA (IPv6) and NS (name server) record types

         • For a new domain, add an A record for domain.tld, a CNAME

                      for www.domain.tld and an MX for the mail server

DNS records contd.:

    • Adding DNS records:

         • For an A record:

              • Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN): domain.tld

              • Record Type: A

              • Record Value: IP address of server

              • Leave MX Value blank

         • For a CNAME record:

              • FQDN: hostname.domain.tld (e.g. www.hostname.tld)

              • Record Type: CNAME

              • Record Value: hostname.tld

DNS records contd.:

    • Adding DNS records contd.:

         • For an MX record:

              •FQDN: domain.tld

              • Record Type: MX

              • Record Value: domain.tld OR IP address

              • MX Value: any numbers, in ascending order for each

                      server (lowest number for main mail server, other

                      records for failover mail servers)

DNS records contd.:

    • DNS record examples: – points of note:

         • There is a CNAME record for – do not

                      confuse with the MX record – this CNAME is for

                      a webmail application (Google Apps in this case)

                      at the URL

         • There are several MX records which all point to Google Apps

                      mail servers (Google hosts mail for this domain, but

                      not the main web site – hosted elsewhere)

         • is a dummy record

              used by Google Apps to ensure domain ownership

Web hosting:

    • You need a server with a constant internet connection to host

         your files, web pages and web applications

    • While you can use any computer and use a home/office

         broadband connection, upload speeds may not be good

         and you need a static IP address (not usually given to

         home/office users)

    • Simplest option: buy an all-in-one package when you buy

         your domain name

    • Potential downside: just a form of shared hosting; performance,

         capabilities and email accounts/features may be limited

Shared hosting:

    • The most common option for small sites with no great

         demands on server resources (memory and processor)

    • Look for latest unbiased reviews before choosing e.g. at

    • Can start here and upgrade later

    • Reputable hosting companies:

         • (+ free domain name)

         • (+ free domain name)


    • Look for a cloud-based/automatic failover service

Shared hosting contd.:

    • Two options: Windows and Linux hosting

    • Linux is the default and is usually best:

         • Cheaper

         • More flexible (more software available)

         • Don’t be put off: no scary command lines to tackle

         • Everything is done through a web-based control panel

         • Windows is only needed for Microsoft-specific services

    • Shared hosting will include use of the host’s mail server and

         will probably include webmail, virus scanning, spam filter

    • Control panel will have built-in analytics, one-click installs etc.

Shared hosting contd.:

    • Take backups of your data

         • At least daily if you have a dynamic (database) site

         • Control panel will have a backup management option –

         USE IT!

    • Quick look at a typical control panel at my host: iWeb

         • File Manager

         • One-click installs (Fantastico) – great if no customizations

         • Web usage stats

         • Backups

         • Database creation and administration

More robust hosting options:

    • Virtual servers

         • Quarter or half of resources of a physical server

         • Command line access, full control over parameters

         • Use control panel to get performance without hassle

    • Dedicated servers

         • Managed option: connectivity included, hardware

                    monitored, full access, remote management etc.

    • Colocation

         • Rent rack space, install and manage own servers

         • Negotiate contracts with ISPs


    • Generally, tools used widely across a group or that aid

         information exchange within a group

    • Includes email (shared address books), calendaring (free/busy,

         shared resource calendaring), CRM, knowledge databases

    • Why groupware and not standalone?

         • Access Control Lists (ACL)

         • Delegation

         • Centralized administration (IT support)

         • Share information geographically

         • Improve coordination, ensure business continuity


    • Several free/open source options (no Microsoft Exchange)

    • Google Apps Standard Edition is a great, free starting point:

         50 users, no admin/hardware, but limits control

    • Advanced Commercial Open Source solutions: Zimbra, Scalix

         • Free (limited, community supported) and paid versions

         • Hosted or self-installed

         • Zimbra is owned by VMWare (previously by Yahoo!)

         • See and



Email contd.:

     • Why is Google Apps a good choice?

          • Free for 50 users, 7GB mail storage each

          • Hosted solution: no hardware or software maintenance

          • Cheap upgrade to Premier Edition for more storage

          • Google high availability and quality of software

          • Industry-leading spam filtering

          • Includes options that cost extra with Zimbra & Scalix:

                     attachment previews, mobile synchronization etc.

          • Intuitive administration through control panel

     • Limitation: data access control for sites, but not for email yet

Email contd.:

     • Read more and sign up for Google Apps Standard Edition at

     • Google partners with GoDaddy for domain registration

     • If using an existing domain name, set up DNS records like

          we saw earlier

     • Quick example: managing settings and accounts for

     • Users can download installer to put shortcuts on desktop (using

     Google’s fast Chrome browser)


    • Quick meeting time arranger:

    • Google Apps uses the familiar Google Calendar

    • Combine multiple calendars in one view (resources,

         colleagues, business and private calendars)

    • Standard Edition does not allow resource calendaring

         (rooms, projectors etc.) but can be worked around with

         regular accounts or public viewable calendars controlled

         by administrators

Using Mozilla Thunderbird and Lightning as Google Apps clients:

    • Mozilla Thunderbird is a free, open source desktop mail client

         similar in features to Microsoft Outlook

    • Install Mozilla Lightning for an integrated calendar

    • Convenience and speed of desktop apps, offline access

         (e.g. while traveling), avoid Google’s contextual advertising

    • Performance (particularly search) is better than Outlook

    • Downloads at


    • Full setup instructions at

Offline Google Apps access:

    • See the Offline links in Mail and Calendar to copy data to

         your hard disk using Google Gears

Synchronize/access Google Apps on your mobile device:

    • Click the Sync links in Mail and Calendar for options to use

         on Windows Mobile, iPhone, Nokia and Blackberry devices

    • See for details


    • More Google: Google Docs (as part of Google Apps)

    • Intranet: Google Sites, Wikis (see Fantastico options)

    • is a free, cross-platform, compatible alternative

         to Microsoft Office made by Sun (aka StarOffice)

         • Familiar interface and tasks:

              • Writer = Word

              • Calc = Excel

              • Impress = PowerPoint

              • Draw = Visio

              • Base = Access

Customer Relationship Management:

    • Essential business tool: sales, marketing, knowledge transfer

    • Central repository of information; retain when staff leave

    • Access anywhere: no office-bound rolodexes or spreadsheets

    • Aids/imposes workflow: teams, pipelines, targets, reporting

    • Great as an email marketing campaign tool with tracking

    • Integrate with web site for prospect registration

    • is the best-known option and has no up-front

         costs but can get expensive ($65/user/month)

    • Open source contender:

         • Commercial and self-install (free) options

Customer Relationship Management contd.:

    • See

         community.html for details of free self-install option

    • Many community-contributed extensions at

    • Installation follows typical pattern (similar to CMS – see later)

    • Integrate with mail clients for instant archiving of client emails

    • Example: installation used for e-commerce email marketing

Online backup services:

    • Great way to handle offsite backups without inconvenience

         of discs, tapes, rotation & replacement etc.

    • Microsoft Skydrive gives 25GB of storage for free (drag/drop)

    • Unlimited storage and automated backup options:

         • Mozy: (2GB storage free or $5/month)

         • Asus Web Storage: ($40/year,

         backup 3 computers on one account)

    • Backup web servers, or send local backups to a file server/

         network disk (NAS) using a file synchronization tool like

         PureSync (free) so only one backup account is needed

Other tools and resources:

    • Graphics: Inkscape (Illustrator), Paint.NET (Photoshop)

    • PDF tools: CutePDF Writer, Foxit PDF Editor & Creator

    • Open source ERP: Compiere, Openbravo

    • Reporting: Jasper Reports and front-ends/derivatives

         like iReport (desktop) and OpenReports (web-based)

    • Chat/communications: Skype, Google Talk etc., Asterisk PBX

    • Web conferencing: VNC (multi-OS remote desktop app),

         Skype, Mikogo, DimDim and VMukti (WebEx alternatives)

    • Operating systems: Ubuntu and other Linux variations

    • Almost anything! See SourceForge, HotScripts, etc.

Content Management Systems:

    • Engines for creating web sites easily with no coding

    • Framework providing many common reusable functions like

         templates, menus, contacts, user registration, permissions

    • The most popular CMSs have hundreds of extensions

         for every conceivable purpose: e-commerce,

         classifieds, forums, customer service, chat, real estate

         listings, videos, photo galleries….

    • Popular CMSs include WordPress, Drupal and Joomla

    • Joomla is simpler and does a lot; Drupal is the ‘pro’ option

    • Joomla examples:,

Content Management Systems contd.:

    • Potential disadvantages of CMSs:

         • CMSs can be very large and hard to locate/fix bugs for


         • They impose a narrow range of ways of doing things:

                   sites can look ‘samey’ (design, interface)

         • Can be hard to find/develop original, distinct designs

              to wrap around content

         • ‘Jack of all trades’: consider your requirements first,

                   then decide if a CMS is a good fit for them or

                   if custom development would be better

Content Management Systems contd.:

    • Installing Joomla:

         • Use Fantastico for automated install/upgrade (note:

                    custom alterations can cause upgrades to break)

         • Download latest package from in a zip, upload

                    to web host, unzip and visit site to run automated

                    installation/configuration wizard

         • Play with templates and content in admin back end

         • Test drive basic Joomla features at

                    create an account and try the public front end

                    and administrator back end

Content Management Systems contd.:

    • Adding content is simple using the three-tiered structure

         in the administration back-end: section  category  item

    • Joomla extensions directory:

         • Currently has 4206 add-ons and an active support forum

    • Community Builder extends Joomla’s basic user accounts to

         add extra user profile fields, links between users, avatar

         images etc. and acts as a framework for other extensions

         such as newsletters, blogs, forums and others –

         • Example:

Content Management Systems contd.:

    • Forum software:

         • Standalone (can usually ‘bridge’ to CMS):

              • phpBB: – advanced, most popular

              • Vanilla: – lightweight, simple

         • For Joomla: several; try the powerful and stable Agora

                   or install a standalone forum and use a ‘bridge’

                   extension to link them

         • Drupal: built-in forum module

Content Management Systems contd.:

    • Mobile clients (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry):

         • Template systems can be used to reformat content

                   for mobile devices (single column, low graphics)

         • 2 approaches: multi-site or multi-client

         • Multi-site: direct users to a different URL with mobile

              template on same back-end, e.g.

         • Multi-client: site has code which determines the client

                   and delivers the content in appropriate template

         • Look for mobile templates for common CMSs/apps e.g.

                   PDA-plugin + template for Joomla (multi-client)

E-commerce packages:

    • A complicated field with many different requirements

    • Make a list of features you need in advance, e.g. physical

         goods vs digital download, internationalization etc.

    • Evaluate software on several criteria: simplicity, scalability,

         design flexibility, payment options, tax rules engine,

         promotions and coupons, shipping options and price

         calculations, documentation and support

    • Very simplest option: a basic hosted (but paid) package like

         Shopify ( or Yahoo! Store

    • Free, simple Joomla extension: VirtueMart,

E-commerce packages contd.:

    • Advanced extension for Drupal: Ubercart –

    • Newer standalone packages challenging commercial engines:

         • PrestaShop: – free, advanced

                  features, impressive AJAX interface, templating

                  system based on popular Smarty standard

         • Magento: – heavyweight

                  option used by many high-profile companies but

                  can be downloaded and used for free; complex,

                  requires developers and powerful server (not

                  shared hosting); an emerging standard

E-commerce packages contd.:

    • Obviously there is a lot more to starting an e-commerce

         business than just the web site/technology

    • I have a checklist of many of the other aspects that also need

         to be considered; it is UK-specific but I can share it with

         anybody who is interested

    • Considerations include: merchant accounts, fraud rules,

         accounting, customer service, returns processing, logistics,

         company administration etc.

Search Engine Optimization:

    • SEO boosts organic search results; tricky, but very cost

         effective compared to paid placement/advertising and

         not subject to click fraud – in your control

    • The goal: higher ranking  more clicks  higher ranking

    • Achieve by keeping control of SEO to focus on readable

         content, or select an ‘ethical’ SEO company

    • Main concepts: content should be fresh, relevant and

         trusted by others – aim for domain expertise/thought


Search Engine Optimization contd.:

    • Things to do:

         • Update content regularly, e.g. with a blog or white papers

         • Consider allowing (spam-moderated) user comments

                      to get feedback and add user-generated content

         • Divide content into short pages covering discrete topics

         • Put your keywords in the page title/HTML title tag and use

                      accurate meta-tags (description and keywords)

         • Use relevant text for links, not just ‘click here’

         • Use a clean design template and cut down on JavaScript

                      to keep keywords high up on page/in HTML

Search Engine Optimization contd.:

    • Things to do contd.:

         • Repeat key phrases regularly without overdoing it

                   (keyword density)

         • Use search-engine friendly (SEF) URLs like

          instead of

          (CMS function)

         • Use a robots.txt file on the server to tell spiders how to

                   crawl your site; see

         • Help others link to you with social bookmarking e.g. Digg,

                   Twitter, Facebook etc. – can use a CMS module

Search Engine Optimization contd.:

    • Things to avoid:

         • Do not ‘hide’ content from search engines:

              • Behind login functions, unless necessary

              • In graphics (use ‘alt’ text to describe images)

              • In Flash content

              • In frames or iframes

         • No keyword spamming, hidden text (e.g. white on white)

              or ‘cloaked’ landing pages only for search engines

         • Do not use link exchanges or paid links

         • In short, keep it readable and honest

Search Engine Optimization contd.:

    • Tools and resources:

         • Web log analysis to see how people attempt to/find you

                   using reports like AWStats, Webalizer, Analog

         • Google Analytics visit stats –

         • For popular sites and comparisons, use Alexa (

                   to check rank, trends, and keywords

         • Install Google Toolbar to check PageRank (0-10): a

                   measure of site importance – links as ‘votes’

Search Engine Optimization contd.:

    • Tools and resources contd.:

         • Submit to the Open Directory Project, –

                    human editors; used by Google and others

         • Google Webmaster Tools:

         • Sitemaps: a standard used by MSN, Yahoo, Google

              • See, Google Webmaster Tools

                   and generators at and

                   various tools for CMS sitemap generation

                   and submission e.g. JCrawler for Joomla

Search Engine Optimization contd.:

    • Further reading:

         • Google’s SEO guidelines:


         • Google SEO starter guide:



         • Yahoo’s SEO guidelines:


Online advertising:

     • Top providers in descending order of reach:

          • Google AdWords and AdSense (inc. AOL,,


          • DoubleClick (now owned by Google) –

          • Yahoo (formerly Overture) –

          • Microsoft/MSN –

     • Benefits: targetable, trackable, broad reach

     • Pitfalls: click fraud (10-20%?), trademark infringement

Online advertising contd.:

     • Most common option is Pay Per Click (usually auctioned)

     • Response rates can vary hugely: constant monitoring and

          adjustment is crucial; altering just one or two words can

          make a huge difference to both costs and results

     • Target extremely carefully to avoid wasted clicks: by sites

          visited (interests, behavior), geography (by IP or zip) etc.

     • Set clear objectives and use tools to predict response, and tie

          budget to goals in order not to let expenditure run away

     • Landing pages must engage and ‘sell’ as much as the adverts:

          don’t link to a standard home page and hope for sales

Online advertising contd.:

     • Consider both reach and frequency (over- and under-exposure)

     • Users should respond after a few exposures (<10); try not to

          hit the same people over and over again e.g. by limiting

          impressions per site in AdSense or by using cookie tracking

     • Spread advert placement over many sites and content

          categories to improve reach, not just one site

     • Multimedia adverts capture attention/clicks better than static

Online advertising contd.:

     • A closer look at Google AdWords and AdSense:

          • Short, text-based (and more recently graphical)

          • AdWords – shows adverts alongside search results

          • AdSense – places adverts on relevant web sites

          • Access both programs through

          • Sign up safely without fear of being charged – you have

                    full control and can estimate campaign expenses

                    and set budget limits in advance

          • Starter Edition: a single product or business; text only

          • Standard Edition has more targeting and tracking options

Online advertising contd.:

     • Create advert groups (based on keyword groups) and

          campaigns (based on target locations and languages)

     • Define a budget per campaign (daily/monthly)

     • Set cost-per-click per advert based on Google’s placement


     • Higher relevancy quality can reduce cost per click: pay

          close attention; small adjustments can slash costs

          as well as affecting advert placement

     • Define advert placement to display in AdSense, select

          or exclude specific web sites etc.

Online advertising contd.:

     • Useful tools:

          • AdWords has a built-in keyword suggestion tool that

                       predicts impressions, clicks, and suggests bids

          • Google’s Search-Based Keyword Tool scans your site

                       for suggested keywords and gives more data:


     • Further reading:

          • Perry Marshall, AdWords guru:

          • – reports on

                       click fraud, campaign optimization and more


    • Where to find outsourced developers/workers:

         • – huge site but charges both sides

         • – better vetting/visibility of experience &

               project management tools to track progress and cost

         • Others:,

    • Think quality: requirements, contracts, communication, results

    • Problem: difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff

    • A few precautions can aid success (common sense but easier

         said than done)

Outsourcing contd.:

    • Specify requirements very clearly in contract; consider hiring a

         business analyst/project manager to define and oversee

    • Inspect code for good comments: even the original

         developer will have trouble maintaining or extending his

         code later without this, and you are unlikely to get the same

         developer anyway

    • Beware of scope creep: get version 1 finished and in use; avoid

         detail overload; understand the product you’re paying for

    • Allow extra budget for scope creep/unanticipated hitches

         anyway: they won’t be in the original quote

Outsourcing contd.:

    • Select developers based on experience, references, cover

         letter and understanding of project, not just cost:

         don’t underestimate the cost of wasted time (esp. yours)

    • Make sure you can communicate well, particularly with a

         language barrier: no ‘lost in translation’

    • Consider hiring a trusted expert to review code: cheaper than

         employing them to do the whole job, and can save money

         overall; don’t need perfection, just avoid a mess

    • Beware of licensing restrictions: copyright theft, contravention

         of open source licenses (return to community if required)

Questions for offline follow-up:

     • Virtualization technologies: outside my expertise, although I can talk in general

          terms about hardware and software virtualization and available solutions

     • Software (and platform) as a service:

          • Salesforce’s Force platform, Google Apps, SAP Business ByDesign

          • Many more at

     • Web and user interface design:

          • Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

                     (Steve Krug, New Riders, 2000) + his website

          • Designing Web Usability (Jakob Nielsen, Peachpit Press, 1999)

                     + his website/newsletter

Contact: Andrew Wright