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Easter at StudioRav!

Just a quick update to anyone looking for cheap website design in Birmingham or the Black Country! I’m working hard on a few projects, hoping to complete them soon so if you are interested in getting a website for your business or personal project then get in touch today! I’m happy to discuss the project with you and offer my free, impartial advice. I’m also happy to go over things like what sort of pages you need, aim and direction of the website, SEO advice and functionality.

Sometimes making the transition online can be difficult but if you are serious about getting a website designed for your business then all you need to do is pick up the phone and talk to me. I like to think that I can help you out in simple, non-technical English and at the same time offer good advice concerning your website. Some other things I can help you out with are:

  • Artwork and designs for flyers, invoices, brochures
  • Other graphics such as logos, banners and ads
  • Setting up Analytics and Webmaster accounts for SEO/SEM purposes
  • Help with webhosting and emails
  • Hardware / tech support
  • Video, promotional items, email marketing and Adwords

So if you want website design with the bells and whistles OR just no-nonsense website design then get in touch with me and let’s see how I can help you!

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StudioRav Go’s Cardless!

After listening to feedback from some clients StudioRav now offer direct debits as a new way to take payments. It’s fast, easy and saves time for the client and developer.

I know how busy you are, and I am the same. So after careful consideration I’ve finally taken the plunge and signed up with GoCardless who are a London based company offering easy set up of direct debits. It means that I can now set up either monthly or annual payment cycles with clients and the rest is automatic.

So why do I want to use direct debits?

  • No more time wasted chasing outstanding payments
  • You don’t have to listen to me constantly asking for money owed
  • Payment is automatic so you don’t have to waste time transferring money into my account
  • You can now spread the cost of your website through the year

What can you pay for using direct debit?

I’m primarily focusing on hosting and domains for the direct debits as it’s quite common to have a monthly or annual fee for this service. However, I will also be rolling out website design on monthly contracts and marketing and newsletter services.

If you’d like to discuss your options and whether paying by direct debit is suitable for you then please give me a call on 07807 997 010 or send me an email.

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Open your online shop in 2014!

Internet shopping continues to grow in strength each year. Christmas has proven that people are just as likely to order presents for their loved ones from Amazon, eBay and Firebox as from Marks and Spencers and John Lewis. Even the big supermarket brands are fighting for dominance in the online world. So how do you get onto the online stage and starting selling?

It’s actually not as difficult as you may think. The most important thing is having a desire to do well and being realistic about what you have to do. eCommerce is the name commonly given to selling goods online. The great thing about the internet is you can sell anything from physical goods, music, files and even information.

What are you selling?

Ok first question is to be sure about what you’re selling. Once you know this you can do some research and look at who else is selling it and how (trust me, there will always be someone else doing it). Try to look at what they are doing and their strengths/weaknesses. Next think about who you are selling to and what they would want from your shop and products.

Think about your brand

Shoppers prefer to buy online from a trusted brand. So think of a strong brand which people will be able to identify and tell their friends and family about. Think about who it will appeal to (young / old, men / women etc).

How will you sell?

The simple example is people will find your goods on your website, add them to a shopping cart, pay for it and then you ship out. If you sell other things such as music or files then obviously they will download them instead of post. You could also ask people to collect from your shop if the items are bulky.

How will your customers pay?

Your customers can pay cash on delivery such as in the case of a food business. The most popular way is by debit / credit card – in which case you will need an account with a payment provider such as SagePay or PaymentSense. There are usually fees involved with this. Another popular method is via PayPal so you’ll need to set this up, but be aware there may still be some fees to pay.

Any additional charges for your customers?

It’s important to remember things like postage and packaging, VAT, shipping costs or anything else which you will need to pass on to your customer. If you fail to take these into account then you may end up paying for them in the long term.

Dealing with orders

An important aspect of selling online is you can get an order at any time of day. So you need to have a plan as to how you deal with incoming orders. For example, it is most likely you will get an email when someone orders. What then? If you’re selling a physical item you will need to get it, package it, prepare it for posting and then actually post it. This takes time and money. Think about if you had to do this every hour.

What about faulty goods / returns?

It’s very important to consider how you deal with faulty goods and returns. Many people feel comfortable buying from sites where there are money back guarantees and free returns available. This helps build trust with your customer. Making the whole process easy for them (and you) is always a good idea. Buying goods online automatically gives your customers protection under distance selling regulations.

Show great customer service

Selling online is all about building trust with the customer without having a chance to talk to them or sit with them. So show them – customer feedback, reviews, money back guarantees and promises all give your customers more reason to trust your site and brand.

Join the information age!

Finally, if you haven’t already – get a smartphone with access to email! If you have email wherever you go, then you can view your orders, and also customer queries quickly and easily. Reacting quickly to orders and emails shows great customer service and will keep people coming back for more.

Have a great looking website!

Finally, if you’re going to sell online then obviously you need a great website to do it from. At StudioRav we can set up your site for you including things like making it responsive (so it can be viewed on tablets and mobile phones) and having all kinds of functionality such as sorting, galleries, feedback forms, shopping carts etc. All you need to do is have good images and product descriptions which can add on. These last two things are very important so if you do have any problems with this then let us know right from the start!

So if you are serious about selling online and want to take a share of the online shopping pie then contact StudioRav.

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StudioRav 5% cheaper than NC Design & Print!

If you’re looking around for the best website deal around West Bromwich and Birmingham area then bear in mind that StudioRav are offering a 5% discount against any like for like webdesign quote from NC Design & Print. We believe we offer a webdesign service which rivals them in terms of quality, price and longevity.

When you work with StudioRav we can offer you a service which is tailored to suit you:

  • Custom payment terms to help you
  • A working demo before you spend any money
  • We can meet you at your home / office to discuss
  • FREE lifetime technical support
  • You can contact us any time of day
  • FREE honest, impartial feedback and website guidance

So if you’ve got a quote from NC Design and Print and want to shop around then speak to us too on 07807 997 010! We agree to beat their quote by at least 5% and we’re confident you’ll be saving more than just money.

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15% Discounts for Referrals

If you’re looking to work with StudioRav we’re now offering discounts for referrals. A great way to get an even bigger saving on your new website!

Please note this offer is open to all new customers: we are now offering a 15% discount off your website if you can provide a referral at the time of your order. Simply refer a friend or someone you know who is also looking for a website and if they work with StudioRav too you will receive a 15% discount off your quote! Just get in touch to take advantage of this offer.

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Non-payment of your invoice

If you’ve just tried to access a website and been redirected here then it’s because the client has decided not to pay. Otherwise if you’re just browsing on StudioRav don’t worry, it’s just a normal post :0)

At StudioRav we understand that there will sometimes be times when you find it hard to settle an invoice on time. That’s why we offer custom payment terms which are designed to help you and your business. Even then however there are some people who think that it’s ok not to pay what they owe or expect to get something for free.

If you’re someone who is having difficulty paying up then the best thing to do is get in touch with me. Speak to me and I am certain we can arrange something which will be beneficial to both of us. I am interested in maintaining long term business relations so I will do my utmost to keep your website live.

On the other hand, if you don’t get in touch or let me down too many times I will have no option other than to take your website down. Please be aware this is a last resort and I am always open to speaking with you and sorting things out. Ultimately it will be your customers who suffer if they visit your website only to be hit by a message like this. The choice is yours.

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Secure your WordPress website

The recent botnet attacks on WordPress-based websites is a good reminder that we should always take security seriously. Being lazy and unprepared can undo the hard work you put into your websites so here is a quick guide on how to secure them. If you require custom advice for your own WordPress website we can help you.

Many of the tips listed here are also in the very good ‘official’ WordPress guide called Hardening WordPress.

Wp-config

Update password

Ok if you have no idea what this file is then it may be better you get someone else to do this for you. Wp-config is the configuration file all WordPress installations use. It contains information such as your database name and password. The first thing I’d check is that your database password is secure. You can change this from your hosting cPanel or admin area.

Update unique keys and salts

By changing your unique keys and salts in the wp-config file you will invalidate all cookies and force users to have to log in to their accounts again. This can be a good step in bolstering your defences before you update all admin user passwords. You can generate the required keys really easy by going to this link and then copy and paste it into your wp-config file.

.htaccess and robots.txt

.htaccess

.htaccess is a special file which controls access to the directories on your webserver. A properly-written file can help minimise access to areas of your website you don’t want anyone snooping around.


# BEGIN WordPress

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

# END WordPress

# STRONG HTACCESS PROTECTION
satisfy all

# protect from sql injection
Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} (<|%3C).*script.*(>|%3E) [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} GLOBALS(=|[|%[0-9A-Z]{0,2}) [OR]
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} _REQUEST(=|[|%[0-9A-Z]{0,2})
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php [F,L]

Save this .htaccess file in your root directory.

Robots.txt

Robots.txt file on the other hand is a special file which gives instructions to search engines on how to search and index your site. Bear in mind that it’s up to the search engine spiders to honour this request or not, but at least you can give them some guidelines. By disallowing the indexing of certain sensitive directories you minimise the chance of them being compromised.


#
User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /wp-admin
Disallow: /wp-includes
Disallow: /wp-content/plugins/
Disallow: /wp-content/cache/
Disallow: /wp-content/themes/
Disallow: */trackback/
Disallow: */feed/
Disallow: /*/feed/rss/$
Disallow: /category/*

Place this file in the same directory as .htaccess.

WordPress

Upgrade WordPress

The next step is upgrade your WordPress installation. WordPress is constantly being updated and bugs / security holes are always being patched so make sure you take advantage of this and keep your version up to date. The simplest way to do this is log in and if there is a newer version of WordPress available you will see a message at the top of your admin screen.

Choose a strong password

Another quickfix but so often overlooked is to choose a strong password. Don’t go for the obvious

pa55w0rd

but pick something which has uppercase and lowercase characters, numbers and special characters too. You could think of a word or maybe two random words which you put together such as

b0AT!fl&g

. One of the ways botnets and hackers use to get into your system is brute-strength password attacks which means they try many different words and combinations one after the other. If you choose something really strong and complex then they have much less chance of cracking it.

Plugins

WordPress is blessed with countless plugins and security is also very well represented. There are some pretty good ones out there but there are a few other steps to think about.

Delete unused plugins

It’s easy to end up with loads of downloaded plugins with many which you don’t actually use. A good tip is to delete any unused plugins, even if they are de-activated. Older plugins could contain vulnerabilities which newer plugins have fixed so if you don’t use them just remove from your system.

Upgrade plugins

Same as with your WordPress installation, make sure you upgrade your WordPress plugins. It’s easy to do and WordPress actually tells you when new plugins are available. As mentioned above new plugins sometimes contain fixes to vulnerabilities and security flaws, as well as additional features.

Wordfence Security

Wordfence is a described as an anti-virus and firewall plugin for WordPress. One of its best features is a scan which will check your themes, plugins and settings to uncover any flaws. Another handy feature is the ability to track visitors to your site, such as who has tried to login and logout, any humans and crawlers who have accessed it and other stats.

Better WP Security

In addition to Wordfence, this plugin provides a more proactive layer of securing your site to prevent unauthorised access. The dashboard presents a list of important points to strengthen your WordPress installation such as changing your username from admin to something else, or enforcing strong passwords for all users. Many of the features can be automatically set and you can also manually override them. Another feature I like is this will lockout any IP which tries to login and fails more than 3 times. (I should point out that some botnets have thousands of IPs so it’s not great against those, but it’s useful against humans from fixed IPs and also you get a handy email advising of their lockout).

Using the above 2 plugins together is definitely a very good strategy and greatly reduces security holes in your WordPress installation.

Backups

There will always be some type of flaw in your security and if the worst does ever happen then a recent backup can prove to be the most useful thing you have. I use the WordPress Backup 2 Dropbox plugin which is very useful. As well as being able to download a backup of your website, you can also automatically have it uploaded to your Dropbox account and even tell it how often to do this eg. every Sunday night.

If you require tailored help for your own WordPress-based website then get in touch with StudioRav and we can help you out.

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Promoting the High Street

More and more shops on the High Street seem to be closing down, only to be replaced with charity shops and pound stores. Independent stores and businesses run by local, young people seem to be drying up. I have an idea.

I’m a supporter of local business. I think local stores run by local people make the community. Local markets, shops and business places help the economy, provide jobs and give pride to an area. So it makes me sad to walk up and down local High Streets (such as West Brom, Dudley, Perry Barr) to see so many boarded up shops. Why is that?

I have to say it does seem that there are fewer people on the High Streets these days. Maybe I’m just going out on the wrong days, but the only stores which seem busy are the supermarkets and pound stores. Again, why is that? At this rate, soon they’ll suck the business from all the other independent stores and take over, promising us deals whilst taking away our right to shop elsewhere.

But the problem can’t just be blamed on the supermarkets and discount shops. Maybe locals need to be more smart and inventive. If they can’t compete on price, what else is there? Maybe on exceptional customer service, or real expertise in their field, or free delivery or whatever. Even the supermarkets were once the little guys.

But even with Asda and Tesco on the High Street there is still plenty of room for smaller, independent shops. So where are they? Anyone who travels will tell you that it’s great finding hidden gems, shops and stores which make a break from the generic High Street names, offering something that little different and special. It’s those sorts of places which really make up the High Street.

Maybe the ball is in the court of the Council people. Maybe they need to be the ones who have to make it really easy for people with a plan to get started. How about allowing people to set up shop with a months free rent or help in paying some of the costs? Personally I think financial barriers in getting funding seems to be one of the biggest barriers to setting up a new business.

But my own idea is something even simpler than that and today I’ve emailed Paul Muntford, Business Engagement Officer at Sandwell Council about it. What I was thinking is that we need to start promoting and advertising our local services more too. Right now there isn’t much in the way of promotion and advertising for SMEs. You could do a flyer campaign or pay to advertise on TV / radio but you still need some investment.

So what I suggested to Paul is using empty shops and plots around the High Street as advertising spaces? These places would be great to put up banners showcasing new and local businesses. As well as covering up eyesores and empty windows, they would more importantly help let people know about new shops and services available to them run by locals.

The important thing about this is:

  • It needs to available to local businesses either for free or very low cost. After all, it’s the Council getting money for what would otherwise be an empty place.
  • It needs to be actively managed so every month or so there is the opportunity for a new business to advertise their services.
  • It needs to be tracked properly so people can judge how effective it is and in turn this could help for future sites.

I hope someone does something about this. The idea is to use what we already have in terms of space and use it in a positive way. It won’t solve every problem there is but it will certainly be a step in the right direction and hopefully give a few new businesses the jumpstart they deserve.

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Tablet sales soaring in 2013

Figures suggested more tablets were shipped from January to March 2013 than in the entire first half of 2012.

As more and more people use the internet on their smartphones it’s also interesting to see that tablet sales are also booming. Tablets sit between smartphones and laptops, combining ease of use, user interface and features of both. They’re great for when you’re on the go, and with screens larger than smartphones they provide a better visual experience.

If you’re looking at getting a new website designed then consider how many people will be viewing your website on a tablet. Here are a few things you need to remember:

Your website needs to look good on different screens

Any good designer will already make sure your website looks good in different browsers. But these days they all need to think about what the site will look like if it’s viewed on the latest smartphone or tablet. And it’s not just about resizing the website but providing an equally good user experience on different platforms.

Tablets offer different user interface features

The main one being you can scroll, pinch and slide. This opens up a whole new world of how you’re website can be accessed and how users can interact with it.

Tablets can be used anywhere

Tablets are less bulky than laptops and they have bigger screens than mobiles. You can hold them like you hold a book – that’s why you see presenters on TV with tablets not smartphones. So if you want to design a website for the tablet market then think about where your user will access it, eg. Behind the counter in their shop, on the factory floor?

Tablets are about ease of use

The reason Apple’s iPad was so successful is because (apart from excellent marketing and design) it was very sleek and simple to use. The idea of apps is very neat and easy to use. This is what people expect when using tablets.

Be accessible

If you want to reach the entire tablet market then you either have to design apps for use with iPad and Android, or just go for one website which both can access and display. It’s a lot cheaper, the results can be just as good and development time is vastly reduced.

So if you’re looking at tapping into the tablets market with a new project then get in touch with StudioRav to discuss further.

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About the new StudioRav website!

For the new StudioRav website I’ve gone for a simple design and looked to focus on content over design. It’s great to have a flashy, graphics-intensive website but it can get overwhelming to keep updating it. So the new design is clean and easy to maintain. I wouldn’t say it’s definitely complete but it’s a step in the right direction.

Another thing I’ve done is use a responsive design which means this site will look good on phone or tablet. It’s another nod to the changing way we use and access the internet. A greater proportion of people are viewing sites first on their mobile devices, so it makes sense to cater to this market.

Finally the site has been streamlined so every page has a specific call to action to funnel customers towards the contact page. It’s important to have a final goal for the website and obviously what I’m looking for is to interact with my visitors and hopefully convert them into customers.

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