Blog, News, Tips & Tricks

Design and Enhance Your Website for a More User Friendly Experience

User experience is about how easy or difficult it is for visitors to your website to interact with the website to achieve their goals (and your goals). A good web site user experience requires:

  • easy to find and access content and use the functionality on the site (ease of use)
  • visual impact of the site is engaging and consistent with the brand identity
  • suitable functionality and features which engage the user and make it easy to complete the tasks appropriate to the site (e.g. purchase products, book a room, interact with other site visitors)
  • the website contains compelling, up-to-date content, appropriate to the needs and goals of the visitor
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4 Steps to protect your website investment

Step 1: Backup your entire website

Make sure you have a worst case scenario backup plan. Sure any web hosting service worth it’s salt will keep backups of your website but don’t just rely on that. What if they went out of business and shut down operations suddenly, would you be able to get your website back online with another hosting provider? What if your website was hacked but you didn’t notice it for several weeks, would your hosting provider have a clean backup to restore? Take these matters into your own hands and have a backup plan in place. Read more »

Solution to WordPress adding br and p tags around shortcodes

The Problem:

Sometimes I find stray p or br tags appearing inside a block of content that I’ve enclosed in shortcodes and this can mess up the layout by adding extra spacing where I don’t want it. It occurs because of the default order in which WordPress processes your content – wpautop (the function which converts line breaks to p or br tags) is run before the shortcodes are processed. Read more »

Hack Attack

Flicking through Time Magazine on the plane back to NZ, I came accross an interesting read regarding website hacking. It is astonishing how organised these hacker organisations are, so much so that some of them even offer customer support! Read more »

An alternative to storing passwords in FileZilla or other FTP clients

One of my client’s websites got hacked recently but fortunately he was able to restore the website and tighten up security. He also discovered how the attack happened – his own computer got infected with malware which got access to a file created by the popular FTP client, FileZilla. That file contained his FTP connection details for his website, including password in plain text. Yes, FileZilla stores all the site connection details that you save in the site manager in a plain text XML file. This seems very unsecure. The FileZilla developers contend that it is the job of the Operating System to keep your information secure and that even if they encrypted it, malware authors would easily decipher it. However, I am of the opinion that encrypting the passwords would make it more difficult for the hackers and therefore would improve the security. Read more »

Which content management system? Why it’s important

I was recently having a beer and a chat with a fellow Nelson web developer and discovered that we shared the same favourite content management system. That got us on to talking about what CMSs the other local web design companies here in Nelson build their websites on. My mate told me of a job he turned down because it was an existing website that was built on a content management developed in-house by the original developer of the website and quick look at the structure of the code showed that it was a complicated mess that he didn’t want to get involved with. This reminded me of how important the choice of CMS platform is. Yet very few of my clients have ever asked me about what type of CMS I would use to build their website on. I guess most people are not aware that there is a choice to be made. Read more »

Mind Maps – A great approach for planning a website

The idea behind mind maps is that you start with a central concept, write it down in the middle of a page, then add nodes as you think of different ideas around that concept. You can further develop any of the ideas by branching out more nodes from these ideas and so on. On paper it might look something like this:

Example of a hand drawn mind map

This approach can be used for planning a website – structure, functionality, features, content, business model and what ever else you can think of. While it can be done with pen and paper, a good software tool offers much more flexibility as you can easily move things around, change them and you never run out of paper. Read more »

Getting video from a DVD onto your web site – easy if you know how!

Ok, so you’ve got some video on a DVD that you want to put on your web site – should be easy enough to do you would imagine, right? Well it can be easy if you know what tools to use but if you’re trying to search on Google to find out what you need to accomplish this task you can end up chasing your tail or chasing up on many bogus leads. Read more »

E-commerce credit card payment options for New Zealand online businesses

If you are setting up an e-commerce web site (shopping cart, online store, online shop), one of the decisions you will have to make is what system you are going to use for collecting payment. Payment can be handled off-line (by bank deposit, cheque, etc.) or automatically at the time of purchase by real-time credit card processing. In the case of off-line payment, the customer is provided with instructions for making a bank deposit or posting a cheque and the order is processed after payment is received. It is the simplest and least expensive system to set up but may present a barrier to some customers who are looking for the instant transaction that can be had using a credit card. When it comes to collecting credit card payments online in real time, there are two main types of systems:

  1. Third party payment gateways
  2. Your own business merchant account

Third party payment gateways

These do not require you to set up a special merchant bank account. As a result they are quicker and less expensive to set up. For these type of systems the checkout takes place on the 3rd party web site and the name of the third party provider will appear on your customer’s credit card statement. The funds go into the third party’s account and afterwards are transferred to your own bank account. Paypal is the most widely used 3rd party payment processor. Other examples are Worldpay, Paymate and 2checkout. Google also provides one called Google Checkout but it is not yet available for New Zealand businesses (currently only available in USA and UK).

Your own business merchant account

A merchant account is a special bank account that allows you to receive credit card payments. A regular shop that takes credit cards will have a merchant account. For internet payments, a special type of merchant account is required; it is called a ‘card not present’ merchant account. Usually the fees for this type of merchant account are higher since there is more risk of fraud. Most New Zealand banks can provide merchant accounts. In addition to having a merchant account you also need a payment gateway. The payment gateway acts as a ‘middle man’ between your merchant bank account and your web site to securely complete the transaction. With this type of system you usually pay fees to both the bank and the payment gateway and there are usually setup fees involved. You will also need to go through an application process and meet certain standards (e.g. business credit history) to qualify for a merchant account. For these types of systems the checkout can take place directly on your own web site (although the payment gateways typically also provide an option for doing the checkout on their web site). Examples of payment gateways that can be used with New Zealand merchant accounts include DPS, ANZ eGate, Paypro, Paystation and BNZ Buy-Line.

Not Sure Which To Choose?

Having your own merchant account will provide a smoother customer experience at the checkout because the customer does not have to get taken to a 3rd party web site. However, if your sales volume is on the low side, your costs are going to be significantly higher and you will have fixed costs regardless of whether or not you make any sales. This is why many new online businesses choose to go with a third party processor. Of the third party processors, Paypal is the most popular because they tend to be the most competative with their charges and they are widely known and understood by online shoppers. If you expect low sales volumes or are uncertain of the volume of what sales volumes you might expect Paypal is good option to go with. If you are more confident of of what you expect to turnover, you can do some maths and do a comparison of costs based on your expected sales.

I have put together a document containing a matrix of the different options (both 3rd party and payment gateway/merchant acct.) available in New Zealand:

Payment Gateway Options [Word Document]
NOTE: This was last updated in Feb ’09, so please check websites for up-to-date information

Our content management system of choice

A content management system (abbreviated CMS) allows non-technical people to update and manage a web site without requiring technical knowledge.

At Stellar Web Works we specialise in building web sites on content management systems. We have worked with a number of different content management systems and have come to favour using the popular WordPress platform as our CMS of choice. WordPress is well known as the most widely used blogging platform but what is less well known that it is also an excellent general purpose content management system that makes a great platform for building a wide variety of web sites. WordPress, built with the PHP programming language and MySQL database platform, is very extensible and can be customised to add any special functionality and features that a web site might require. Here are some of the reasons why we think WordPress is a great choice for a CMS:

  • Easy to use – the administration interface is logical and intuitive. Even a person with very limited computer skills will have no problem using WordPress to update and manage a web site.
  • Search engine friendly – WordPress provides the tools and features that can be used to build a web site that is well optimised for search engines
  • Powerful extendible platform – WordPress is designed to be customised and extended by means of building ‘plug-in’ components that can add functionality to cater for the specific needs of a particular web site
  • A mature stable platform – WordPress has undergone more than 5 years of active development with new and improved versions being released on a regular basis
  • Large active developer community – Many developers create and make available plugins that add new features to the platform so for many special web site requirements, chances are that a plugin has already been created to handle it
  • Full flexibility of design and layout of web site – WordPress has a very flexible templating system that allows the web developer complete freedom in designing the web site.
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