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Fully Hosted vs Self Hosted Ecommerce Solutions, Which One is Right for Your Company?

Fully Hosted vs Self Hosted Ecommerce Solutions, Which One is Right for Your Company?

If you are considering starting a business or choosing a new ecommerce platform, you should fundamentally understand how ecommerce platforms work.

If you are considering starting a business or choosing a new ecommerce platform, you should fundamentally understand how ecommerce platforms work. At the highest level all ecommerce solutions fall into two camps: self hosted solutions and fully hosted platforms. Each platform has pros and cons to consider and it’s important you understand the differences for your online business.

What Does it Mean When an Ecommerce Platform is Self Hosted?

A self hosted ecommerce solution is one where your company is responsible for the hosting. That means you would need to setup a server (in the cloud typically) and your store’s files and data would be maintained on that online server.

What Does it Mean When an Ecommerce Platform is Fully Hosted?

Fully hosted ecommerce solutions maintain your store’s files and data in the cloud. You would not need to setup your own server, the ecommerce platform is storing your data for you.

Examples of Both Types of Ecommerce Platforms

Fully hosted solutions are also commonly referred to as SaaS products (software as a service). Here are some common examples of fully hosted ecommerce solutions:

There are many self hosted platforms, but the two most popular are:

As you think through the correct platform for your store there are a number of features you must consider. For each of these features you will need to understand how they work on self hosted platforms compared to fully hosted platforms.

  • Design
  • Functionality
  • Server Maintenance and Backups
  • Credit Card Security and PCI Compliance
  • Site Uptime & Content Delivery Networks (CDN)

Getting Started with Design

On the major platforms listed above if you want to get started with your new store you will have a myriad of options for “themes” or ready made designs to get you rolling. If you want to customize the design of your store you can do that on a fully hosted solution just as easily as you can on a self hosted platform. If you want to do customization to the design of your store you are going to need to know front end programming: CSS, HTML and some JavaScript. Day to day maintenance of your products in your store can be accomplished with either a self or fully hosted platform no problem assuming everything was initially setup correctly.

Site Functionality

Self hosted solutions are a blank slate so you can customize them 100% to what you want.

Fully hosted solutions are hosted in the cloud and you don’t always get full access to everything you might be accustomed to if you are coming from a self hosted platform. However even with self hosted solutions there are often workarounds that will get you what you need. For example on Shopify there is a robust app store with over 1,500 public apps that will extend the functionality of your store. You can create a loyalty program, collect customer reviews, integrate email marketing and much more through a variety of free and paid apps. If you can’t find the perfect public app you need on Shopify you can always create your own custom app to give you the exact functionality your store needs.

Server Maintenance and Backups

If you go the self hosted route you will be responsible for managing your own server and backup process. You can choose to use a server hosted in the cloud, but you will need to perform regular server maintenance and upgrades to make sure your site stays up and is loading fast for your customers (to check your Google page speed score go here) . This work can be outsourced, but if you go the fully hosted route you won’t need to worry about server maintenance and backups.

There is no need to perform server maintenance for fully hosted solutions as your provider will take care of that for you. Many fully hosted solutions will also take backups, but even on a fully hosted solution you will want to consider setting up your backup process to make sure you cover the following: your theme, customers, products and order data.

Credit Card Security & PCI Compliance

If you choose a self hosted solution like Magento or WooCommerce you are going to have to make sure any credit card data you store is completely protected. Even if you choose a self hosted platform you will want to do everything you can to avoid storing credit card data, one common solution we see for this problem is to use something like Stripe Checkout. Stripe checkout allows your customers to store their data in Stripe’s servers and if you return to the store you can reenter your phone number to validate your information and quickly checkout. If you don’t use Stripe Checkout (or a similar service) it’s necessary to know the PCI Compliance rules to make sure your store is in compliance with storing financial data.

Fully hosted solutions will take care of your credit card security and PCI Compliance automatically so unless you do some unique and extensive customizations to your site you won’t want have to worry about this.

Site Uptime and Content Delivery Networks

Ensuring your site stays online is the #1 priority for self hosted sites. If your site goes offline you could lose out on a lot of sales and create a negative perception for your brand. Your server needs to be able to scale with traffic so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed with the volume of people making purchases all at once. The biggest peak days are often Black Friday and Cyber Monday and they are the last days you want your store to go offline. With a self hosted store you need to make sure your site stays online and you have contracted with a content delivery network (CDN) so your site loads quickly all around the world.

If you choose to build your store on a fully hosted solution your site goes down only if the entire SaaS platform goes down. There are ~500,000 stores on Shopify and if they all go offline Shopify is strongly incentivized to get them all back online quickly. Major SaaS ecommerce solutions often have built in CDN’s, Shopify uses Fastly to make sure your site is fast all over the glove.

Do you Already Have a Store?

If you are looking to migrate your business from one ecommerce platform to another it’s important you know what type of platform you are getting into. Ambaum has migrated stores from fully hosted to self hosted solutions, but the biggest trend we are seeing recently is companies moving from self hosted to fully hosted platforms. If you have any questions about ecommerce platforms, don’t hesitate to reach out!

4 Content Marketing Tips for your Seattle Small Business

4 Content Marketing Tips for your Seattle Small Business

You know that you need to start marketing your company, but where do you start? Follow these 4 tips and you will become a savvy content marketer in no time.

You know that you need to start marketing your company, but where do you start? Follow these 4 tips and you will become a savvy content marketer in no time.

Create a Content Strategy

As a small business it’s important you take time to craft a content marketing strategy. For example, what type of content do you want to create? I was talking to an orthodontist in Tacoma the other day and he was in the process of formulating his content strategy. He decided that he needed informational guides about the types of dental procedures he performs and in addition he wants to start blogging regularly.

What can you write about that will set you apart from the competition? What is special about your business that you want the world to know? Think about your secret sauce and what you are passionate about in your company. Why did you start the business in the first place? If you can start answering these questions, you can write about your journey. After some introspection, your content strategy will start to fall in place as you write about what you know.

Set a Budget for your Writing

If you want to do all the writing in-house your incremental hard costs will be minimal. However you do need to consider your time and think about when you plan to do your writing. You want to create a report that describes a new product you launched, when will you schedule time to write that? Set aside hours each week (or even 30 minutes each day) and you will start seeing immediate results.

Too busy with your day to day work to spend time writing? You can outsource your writing projects to a 3rd party company, use a writing marketplace or look on Craigslist for a writer. Set a budget each month and use that money to create blog posts, rewrite product descriptions, craft white papers or whatever content makes the most sense for your Washington state business.

Track Your Content

What content is generating the most visitors? Which articles got you the most leads? It’s important that you setup the correct tracking to get the best results. The very first step is to make sure that Google Analytics is installed on your site. Google Analytics is free and will track all the visitors that come to your site so you can see where they are coming from, how long they stay on your site and the specific pages they visit. To learn more about Google Analytics, check out this write up we did.

When you have Google Analytics installed you can set up goals to track certain events that happen on your site. Do you want to know how many people filled out your contact us form? If you are a lawyer in King County and are starting your content marketing program, it would be useful to know how many people are reaching out and emailing you to find out more about your services. With a goal on your contact us page you will know where that person came from and if your new content brought in that new potential customer.

Don’t Forget to Share Your Content

When you roll out a new blog post on your site, your work is not done! It’s important that other people find out about what you have written. Do you have social media accounts? Are you active on Facebook? If so you should share your latest blog post there or even better, do you have a LinkedIn Account? You can write your articles and post them on LinkedIn. You want to get publicity for your content so other people can start sharing it. The ultimate goal is to get other web sites to link to your content. For Google a link is a vote for your content and the more votes you get, the higher your content ranks in Google. The higher your content ranks, the more traffic your site will get!

Bakery Web Design

Bakery Web Design

When we received the call from a local bakery that they were interested in revamping their site

When we received the call from a local bakery that they were interested in revamping their site, we were excited to discuss their project and find out if Ambaum could help. I set up a call with Kim, the main website contact at Seattle’s Favorite and we discussed a plan to design an eCommerce site so they could sell to both retail and bakery wholesale customers at the same time.

During the initial planning and scoping meetings, Kim and I determined that before we could get started on the new design, we needed awesome product pictures. Kim volunteered to take those pictures and they turned out great!

Once we had the pictures we set out to create a very simple design that uses a lot of white space to really show off the great product images. You can see the bagel product images, gourmet cookies and muffin top pictures (see image below) all turned out great and fit in nicely with the new design.

 

WordPress for Bakeries

Now that the design was nailed, it was time to turn our attention to the platform we were going to use for the site. We love WordPress as it allows our customers to update bakery items and product descriptions within the text editor, rather than having to get in there update html, css, php and all of the programming languages we use to create sites. WordPress was very easy for us to apply a custom design and it was the logical choice for us to build this new bakery website.

WooCommerce for Bakeries

WordPress was our answer for the core platform, now we needed an eCommerce platform! The obvious choice was to use WooCommerce as it integrates nicely into WordPress and allows us to do a number of customizations to the site. The plan was always to allow wholesale bakery customers to log in to the site, review products and purchase orders. There was also the need to have potential wholesale customers apply to become a wholesaler and then we needed a form (we use gravity forms for all our forms, and we love it) called the wholesale application form for their final approval. There was going to be a lot of customization and the way to do that was with WooCommerce Plugins.

Bakery eCommerce for Retail Customers

For retail customers, the goal was to show them an overview of all the different baked good categories when a user first entered the store. At the highest level these category pages need to show customers a large beautiful image of the product and also show the customer how many individual products were located in each cookie category (for example).

shop

Once the customer clicks on a category they can see all the products listed (an example image is the first one used in this post). After you click on a product, you land on the product detail page, in the example below this is the product listing page for 10 grain honey bagels:

product-bagel

Wholesale Experience for Bakery Customers

Retail customers get to see the full price of each item, but when a wholesale customer logs in they needed to see a $0 price for all items. Seattle’s Favorite wanted to keep their billing process intact and apply the wholesale customer’s unique pricing when they sent the invoice via Quickbooks. In addition, wholesale customers have multiple locations so we created a location field to go along with each order. When Seattle’s Favorite receives the order they can now see the physical location of the wholesale customers, this was very valuable especially for customers that had 10+ stores.

Custom Web Design for Cupcake and Bakery Websites

Are you looking to take your cupcake business online and create an eCommerce store? How about your bakery, is it time you started shipping your cakes throughout the country? If you want to learn more, send us an email or give us a call, Ambaum would love to help!

WordPress: Using the Types and Options Framework plugins as building blocks for your website

WordPress: Using the Types and Options Framework plugins as building blocks for your website

Plugins are an essential part of creating ease-of-use through the WordPress dashboard.

Plugins are an essential part of creating ease-of-use through the WordPress dashboard. There are thousands of plugins available with more created every day. While we could create plugins ourselves (and have!), we like to show our appreciation for other developers by using the plugins they have already created. Here are a couple of the core plugins that we like to use on almost all of our sites that we build.

Types

The Types plugin is great for clients who need content to be styled and displayed a certain way, but also need to be able to add, edit, and delete that content easily. We are able to create a custom post type which is displayed as a menu item in the dashboard. Let’s say, for example, that the client is a realtor who has several properties for sale. They need to be able to add/edit/delete properties easily, however, they don’t want to just add all of the information for the property in a text block. They want it to be styled in a certain way that is not practical through the standard WordPress WYSIWYG editor. We are able to give them field inputs using the custom post type and then call that information into the code and manipulate it to display however we want it to.

types-dash-2
Here is an example of how you input the content in the dashboard.

types-sc
This is how the content is output on the website. This would be nearly impossible to do through the standard WSIWYG editor in WordPress

 

Options Framework

Options Framework is another plugin that we use to simplify process of adding and editing of content to a website. With the Options Framework, you can edit much more specific content than the Types plugin allows. For instance, we have used it to allow clients to easily edit the footer information on their website. After installing the plugin, we have to go into the options.php file and create the field, then we add a snippet of code to the footer.php file:

of_get_option('footer-text');

This provides the client with a simple text input in the dashboard where they can add copyright information, a link to their privacy policy, or anything they want to appear in the footer. The uses for this plugin are practically limitless.

options-fw
The Options Framework allows you to edit your Theme Options in the dashboard. Here you can add specific content without having to go into the .php files.

With thousands of plugins available, there is a good chance that you can find the one you need for your feature or function. Whether it is integrating Google Analytics or adding a slideshow, we use plugins not only to make our jobs easier, but to make it easier for the client to manage their website.

What is Responsive Design and Why Do We Need It?

What is Responsive Design and Why Do We Need It?

Responsive is a term that is thrown around the web world a lot these days and it is generally associated with creating a mobile-friendly website.

What is Responsive Design?

Responsive is a term that is thrown around the web world a lot these days and it is generally associated with creating a mobile-friendly website. While mobile is a part of responsive, responsive design is much more. A fully responsive website means that the website is responding to its environment. This means that the site will adapt to all screen sizes to maximize the user experience.

Why Responsive?

The biggest reason to incorporate responsive design is because more and more devices are being used to browse the web. Whether it is a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, there are many different screen sizes that users are viewing your website through. If you have a responsive website, then your site will look amazing regardless of the device.

How to Make Your Site Responsive

While it seems obvious that all websites should look just as good on a smartphone as it does on a 24″ monitor, it is easier said than done. Responsive design means that a single website adjusts itself based on screen size, using the same content and same code base. To accomplish this, the developer needs an understanding of varying screen sizes as well as how content will appear based on screen size.

crunner-home

How We Make a Site Responsive

Our site, Content Runner, is a complex site with many intricacies that made the responsive work very complicated. Our goal was to make the site just as functional on a phone as it is on a desktop.

The initial launch of the Content Runner site was just a desktop version that would appear the same on a phone as it would on a desktop monitor. The biggest issue with this approach from a usability standpoint is that it generally forces the mobile user to zoom to click on links or select form inputs such as a search bar or button.

Due to the complexity of the site, we knew making the site mobile friendly would essentially be an entirely separate project so we decided to launch just the desktop version to at least make the site accessible to writers and people in need of writing. As we began the responsive work on the site, we also began to understand how difficult the responsive work would be. We had created a site with many different page layouts that each needed to be shaped and molded to fit on all devices. While there are general styles that can be applied across each page layout, it is the attention to detail that makes a site truly responsive.

crunner-mobile

The home page of the site is a great example of that attention to detail. There are many different sections of information on the page. From the Call-To-Action buttons at the top of the page, to the list of writers, and further down to the list of jobs, there is a lot of information that is styled to look a certain way on a larger screen which we had to manipulate and rearrange to make it look equally as good on a tablet or a phone.

Ultimately we were able to successfully convert Content Runner from a site that was designed to be viewed on a desktop, to a site that can be viewed on any device regardless of screen size. We were also able to use Content Runner as a launch pad to showcase our proficiency in responsive design. We are very proud of the usability that Content Runner provides and our responsive design work is a big part of that usability.