WP Engine: The Best Value For Your Money in Web Hosting Services

This may sound weird, but I adore my web hosting provider.

I  mean, no one adores a hosting provider. Hosting providers are thick, boring entities full of automatons that fix half your problem while ridiculing you behind your back.

But I really LIKE mine, and it’s actually fun to work out problems with them through Live Chat. Their customer support personnel (whom I often recognize from one call to the next, who smile and ask how I’m doing, who give full and complete answers and who never turn me away and make it “my problem…”).

Even though the service costs me double what I could pay at a [lousy] shared hosting provider, I’ve been moving all clients to WP Engine for the last three years and haven’t looked back.

I used shared hosting providers for several years before making this switch – LunarPages, Go Daddy, BlueHost, etc.). The troubles I had with these shared hosting providers were:

  • Long waits on the phone. Sometimes to terrible and never-ending muzak.
  • Disinterested support personnel who just want me out of their life
  • International support personnel with poor English
  • Incomplete problem resolution because our communication was never in real time.
  • Uneducated support personnel who were reading from irrelevant script
  • Website hacks with little to no support
  • Server slow down, or throttling, on some client websites for shadowy reasons we couldn’t control without better support.
  • Server slow downs resulting from provider putting too many clients on one server.
  • Server slow downs resulting from provider throttling an entire server because another website was getting a jolt of traffic.

At times, I moved up to “Managed Shared Hosting” to get the support I needed to get through a few throttling issues, but I felt like I was paying a lot but still forced to deal half-ass in a fuzzy world.

WP Engine, however, is run by trained WordPress specialists, so they know the ins and outs of WordPress and never suggest a solution that isn’t tailor-made for the platform.

While they don’t troubleshoot custom programming issues or plugins, they DO provide server support, installation support, and other troubleshooting support along the way and there’s only been one problem they couldn’t help me solve. This was a cacheing problem that resided in my theme –  a custom issue they may be willing to fix if I paid extra, but instead I worked with my programmer to resolve.

Their user portal is feature rich and easy to use. I have all my installations available from one portal where I can:

  • make backups with the click of a button, and restore from backup with another click
  • make a full copy of any installation
  • track visits
  • measure bandwith
  • access phpmyadmin
  • create a STAGING area, which serves as a playground or sandbox for testing new design and features before transferring to my live site.
  • I can also test new WordPress or plugin updates in the STAGING are before going live, as we all know updates can sometimes muck up the works.
  • enable a CDN, or content delivery network, to speed up the site
  • manage redirects
  • start LIVE CHAT – a total life saver
  • add other users to the account so my contract programmers can work on sites with me
  • access tutorials, and more.

WP Engine is full of fun, happy people who always work with me to find a resolution. They feel more like a web partner, than an annoying company I have to send money to for the privilege of owning a site. We even laugh with each other. Now that’s customer service and a company I’m willing to invest in!

I am confident in WP Engine and as a WP Specialist I don’t use any other hosting service.


Recent Work: Website Renovation

About four years ago, my team had the privilege of designing the website for Tropical Birding. The result was sharp and appealing. But as the site aged and back-end software evolved, so did the client’s priorities and business needs. So they asked us to take another crack at it, and we were glad to work once more on this classy site. The goal was to simplify the business home page to show only products: Birding Tours; Photo Tours; and Custom Tours while showcasing the rich wildlife photos the client had accumulated since our first project.

Once again, we were able to apply the custom technology we developed for showcasing tour detail pages (example here). This custom technology has made us proficient in finding solutions for displaying complex variables (information) on web pages in an aesthetically pleasing manner and specialists in tour company websites.

We also placed this in a totally responsive framework. Now that more than 50% of web surfing is done from mobile devices and “52% of users said they would be less likely to engage with a company if the mobile experience on their site was bad,” (according to marketing engine Hubspot), responsiveness is mandatory for all our web projects.

Visit and see what you think!

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 2.58.35 PM


Recent Work: Redesign of Drupal News Page

My designer and I put our noggins together on this one then gave it to the client’s development company to code. The goal was to take a boring news page that was nothing more than blog links and index the growing information in a way that would make it easy to browse.

Using two parts content strategy and one part design we came up with a scheme that highlights the latest news while indexing important news topics and the newsletter archive to the right.

By the way, my designer is proficient in Drupal design and I am proficient with its content management system. We do work in both WordPress and Drupal.


Recent Work: Email Newsletter Template

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 2.22.21 PMBranding. At one point, I felt this was a vague construct of overpaid marketers. But over the last many years, I’ve learned that in the digital world, the importance of maintaining a branding standard across all your digital tools (website, PDFs, email templates) can’t be overstated or ignored.

This is because the information superhighway is infinite and cluttered; your customers minds are interested only in a tiny sliver of what flashes before them in a day. So if they come across one of your branded web properties that triggers a positive association, they are more likely to stop and pause the next time one of your other branded properties come before them. That’s may sound like neuro-digital mumbo-jumbo; the other reason is very simple. If all your digital web pieces (again, website, PDFs, email templates, ebooks, etc) a acheive a similar level of branding, you come across looking like a sound, professional company worth doing business with; one that is worth their investment.

One of my clients understands this, at least begrudgingly, and has over the last two years gradually upgraded his web properties to really nice effect.

First, we started with a logo, then we developed a website, then upgraded the design of his internal PDFs, and most recently, developed an email template that showcases and complements these other power materials. At every stage, my team built on what was designed before and now, my client sleeps better at night now that nary a digital speck has been left behind in his online branding.

We look forward to building more email templates in the future.

Three Ways to Help Your Website Project Go Faster

1. Have all your digital media and statement of new content needs ready. 

Whenever I am ready to sign the dotted line for a new project, I advise my clients to start collating their best photographs and content and make it accessible to me on a Dropbox or other cloud-based server. It is not wise to delay your materials preparation until after your consultant has delivered the project, because it can take MONTHS for you and your staff to prepare it for entry.

MDN_Header_rec_723My Digital Nature places strong emphasis on building a solid content strategy, so if we work together, we’re likely to have a preliminary site map within a few weeks after project initiation, and a plan for collating your materials. Oftentimes, these materials provide me with the juice I need to think holistically about your project and take it to the next level. It gives me ideas on how your website can best communicate WHO you are, WHAT you do, what your values are, and importantly, how your website will improve your business not only by earning NEW members or customers, but by supporting or simplifying your work flow using digital tools. If there’s a way to make your life easier, you’ll know about it from me.

2. Slow down! Commit the time necessary to go through content strategy.

In a hurried business life, it may be tempting to let your consultant just go away and do their job of building a website, without providing much detailed input about your needs, goals, and workflow. I encourage you to slow down and let yourself be walked step by step through the process, and provide supporting materials to the process, as this will save you time and money in the long run.

Many people can build a website. But not everyone has a sense about how to make the website work for you as a communications tool, marketing tool, sales tool, and as a workflow simplifier. Content strategy planning is where we hone in how to make all those things work better for you on your site.

3. Provide timely feedback, and make sure all stakeholders are on board with it.

You will be given opportunities to provide website feedback during your project, usually after the completion of every major phase. The number of times you are invited to comment and receive work revisions is often limited by the scope-of-work contract. This puts a realistic cap on the number of revisions your consultant is required to make relative to the budget of your project; larger projects normally allow more reviews and revision cycles.

There is a huge element of subjectivity in web design, at least in the graphic and visual display arena, and smaller budgets have a harder time achieving that perfection. But no matter the budget, your consultant should do his or her best to:

    1. understand your desired visual directions and how that will impact the success of your website.
    2. have the skills to achieve that standard, or be willing to subcontract the work to get them.
    3. budget appropriately to make your web dreams come true.
    4. communicate well with you throughout the process.

At some point, you may find yourselves at an uncomfortable impasse. You want something “more” out of the design, but you’ve expended your allowed revisions and change requests. How could that have been avoided?

Assuming your contractor followed the due diligence required in A – D, above, you will probably have to accept some level of compromise.

There are a few things you can do to support your contractor in nailing a spot-on design for you:

    1. Provide examples of other websites you like.
    2. Provide favorite photographs that represents your business.
    3. Take time to communicate, orally and in writing, about your needs and expectations.
    4. Get staff input for every phase of design. Don’t assume that if it’s okay with you it’s okay for everyone else. It’s important to bring stakeholders along with you on the process.
    5. Review the contractors previous work to see if they’ve done the kind of work that you want. If they haven’t, maybe there’s a reason. I have an emphasis on nature, birding, and tourism sites because I have a sense for helping them come to life, and can pick the right subcontractors to deliver the visual goods.

And remember, with WordPress and most open source systems, the design you have today is not locked in forever. The DESIGN code is kept separate from the CONTENT code, so you can change design without affecting site structure or existing content.

Many of my clients come back every 2-3 years looking for a little website primping. As the years roll by, their business focus changes, and so must the look and feel of the website.

That’s why I always say: A website is a living, breathing organism. 

Roll with it!

Recent Work: Digital Communications for Conservation

IWJV For the past two-plus years, one of my favorite projects has been working with a conservation organization in the Intermountain West, helping them to build from the ground up, and then manage, their entire digital portfolio of communications tools.

Several top-notch communications professionals are working on the project, and this has been a true team effort.

So far, we built an entirely new website on the Drupal framework (working with DJCase.com), created a new enewsletter in Campaign Monitor, produced new content strategy and copy for the website, and started an organizational Facebook page.

Following a well-researched communications strategic plan, we defined goals and audiences, crafted messages that would influence desired behaviors, and then developed content and tools that would best serve these goals.

The impetus for this well-crafted strategy is this: that conservation can only happen when people are on the same page, working from the same data, with a shared vision that takes into account all the needs of the stakeholders. The goal of our communications work is to bring together the community of stakeholders and help people get on that same page so solutions can be attained.

Communications can be a fascinatingly precise science. And the tools we have developed are equally interesting. Check out iwjv.org and let me know what you think.

Recent Work: NatureTravelNetwork.com Media Site

NTN homehttp://naturetravelnetwork.com/

Nature, birding, and travel have been my inspiration for as long as I can remember. So have communications and digital media. The NatureTravelNetwork.com website brings these interests together into one platform that promotes birding and nature travel on a fresh, continually updated platform. This is a place where birders can dream about, and plan, future trips.

This project is my own, and it’s a true labor of love. Not only does it help connect the dots for nature travelers, but it satisfies my itch for making a mountain of information about world birding travel accessible and appealing in a digital format. Now that it is launched, I am also in the business of promoting travel tourism–travel writing, selling ads, and helping make connections between travelers and destinations.

I used the WordPress framework to create the site, launching with a “starter” content strategy that I knew would grow rapidly with the content. I invited more than a dozen authors with keen travel and nature experience to write, so the site is continually updated with new articles.

As usual, I credit my brilliant subcontractors for the initial customization work. More design and indexing will come with time and budget.  I also thank the fun and engaging writers who help make it an interesting site to visit.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Websites Are Like Babies

"You know you can't follow me forever, Mom."     "As long as you're still interesting, I will."

Websites are like babies. I carry them around for months on end and, like any mother, when it’s time to send them off into the world on their own, I can’t totally let go. I want to be there to watch the website grow, see it make friends, and be there to pick up the pieces if it runs into any trouble. And sometimes I just like to gaze at it and think – did I make you?

Weird, right?

So that’s why I keep tabs on all the websites my team has built or contributed to, whether I’m on a maintenance contract or not (I do highly recommend a maintenance contract for many reasons).

One thing I like to do once a site takes flight is to monitor visitor traffic to the site using Google Analytics. I also like to do Google searches on a related topic to see how well the organization stands up to its competitors for related searches.

So you can imagine how cool it is to do a search for “birding tours” and see TWO of my clients show up on Page 1 of the search results – both High Lonesome BirdTours and Tropical Birding.

If you’re a developer, try this with one of your latest websites. Seeing your web baby stand proudly among its peers lets you know you ‘raised it right.’ Maybe you and the client chose the right platform (WordPress, in both my examples), developed the right content strategy, or you applied all the best SEO practices to help the site rise above the rest. Whatever you did, it worked. So you can breathe a sigh of relief and work on birthing the next big project.

This digital parenthood thing can be pretty rough sometimes, but it’s your destiny and worth every minute. Except when it steals the keys and won’t let you back in…that’s why you keep all passwords locked in an iron vault!