QR Codes and You

When QR Codes started showing up in magazines a year or so ago I thought they were a gimmick. I still think, for the most part, they are. After all, why not just have a URL that can be typed in to a browser either on your computer or mobile browser?

But the discussion of QR Codes has come up with a couple clients recently so I thought I’d take a closer look at what’s being done with them. Apparently, they are cropping up everywhere. And as the use of smartphones continues to grow, they may be around for quite some time – or at least some form of what this writer calls ‘Real World Hyperlinking’ will be.A phone

In case you don’t know, QR Codes are those ugly little squares with odd squiggles on them that, with a QR Code reader you can quickly scan and be taken to some resource on the web, read a message, get a phone number and have your phone call it and so on. They are easy to make and place in email, on the web, in print ads or business cards.

But what’s the real value proposition? There are a couple really basic ideas that make QR Codes worth implementing:

  1. With the increase use of smartphones and free QR Code reader apps, you can give mobile users a quick way to connect with you. Once you have the app on your phone, it’s so easy to point it at a QR Code instead of typing in a web address. Convenience and speed are the language of the mobile world.
  2. There is something fun about pointing your phone at a QR Code and finding out what lies behind it. And if a business or organization puts something special behind it it’s a great opportunity to engage with that potential client or customer. As the article linked above states:

“While it’s just as simple to look up information on the mobile web, savvy businesses are realizing that one of the main benefits of a QR code campaign is to provide their mobile customers with instantaneous access to something that is unique and can’t be accessed in another way.”

So don’t just point your QR Codes to your home page. Make something special, either a web landing page or a mobile mini-site and offer something special like unique information, a special video, discount codes, or a contest.

Want to get started with QR Codes? Here are some resources:

Are you using QR Codes in your marketing? Here’s one I created:

qrcode

 

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Hosting vs Development Services

One of the struggles we have within our company is drawing the line between our hosting services and our web site development services. This most often comes up when we come across sites we built 5-6 years ago and suddenly the technology behind them no longer works. For example, we built sites using our own custom systems. Granted they were based in open source technology like PHP and MySQL and they worked back then. But both PHP and MySQL have advanced. And server systems have advanced. But the original scripts have not kept up with those advances.

So, when a customer calls and says “My site is broken”, we have to make a decision. Do we fix the current site to comply with server systems, or do we draw the line and say we can no longer support those scripts (that we built) and the client will have to upgrade? It’s not a clear cut decision, but it’s one that eventually has to lean toward the latter. Most often, though, we band aid sites to keep them lumbering along until the organization can find the resources to bring their enterprise into the 21st century. Given that we started our hosting service because of all the bad practices we ran in to with large commercial hosts, I tend to bend over backwards to accommodate our clients.

I like to keep our hosting services available because we do a good job customizing our servers to make things run fast and smooth for the majority of our clients. And many of our development clients appreciate dealing with a single vendor for both hosting and site development. But sometimes I wonder if the hosting side is more of a drain on our small company and we should take advantage of all the great cloud services out there and let them deal with the hardware and underlying hosting software while we focus on delivering great web sites.

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How to Migrate Your Site to a Different Host

Nearly every week we get requests from organizations that want to move their web site to our service. For most people this is a mysterious process and we end up answering the same questions over and over. This post is an attempt to explain the process of site migration, not to our hosting necessarily, but from any system to any other.

Why move?

There are many reasons why you might wish to move your site from one hosting service to another. The primary reasons for moving are cost and level of service. Many hosts do a wonderful job on the front end luring you in with low prices and/or extraordinary claims such as 100% up time or unlimited bandwidth. But once they have you, sometimes service drops off and support requests go unanswered. These companies can get away with this because for many site owners moving from one host to another can be a confusing process so they are willing stay with an unsatisfactory hosting company rather than take on the task of migrating a site. The problem, of course, is finding a reliable host to begin with.  That’s subject for another post altogether.

The Steps Involved

Let’s say you have found another hosting company you believe you would like to work with. While for most sites moving hosts is not a difficult process, there are several steps involved. These steps should be taken in the following order to minimize any disruption of service:

  1. Confirm the new service supports your web site’s needs. For example, if your site is managed using Cold Fusion scripts or ASP or PHP, be sure your new host supports these services.
  2. If your site uses one or more databases be sure you understand the process for migrating your database. This can complicate the issue as an Access database will typically have a different structure than a SQL database. You should check with your web developer about this as he/she will probably need to support this migration if databases are involved.If you are simply moving a MySQL database to another MySQL database, then the process is pretty simple if you can use a tool like PHPMyadmin. With this web based interface to a MySQL database you can simply export all your data from your original host and then, once you have set up the database on your new host, import it. Many hosts now have this pre-installed as part of your hosting control panel.
  3. Gather information about your hosting account regarding what needs to be migrated besides standard web site files and databases. For example email accounts (including usernames and passwords), mailing lists, etc.
  4. Be sure you have full access to all files and data on your current host. This means File Transport Protocal (FTP) access and any database access if necessary. Download all files and data.
  5. Be sure you have control over your domain name and can access the account where your domain name is registered. If you’re not sure what this means you might want to review this previous post on domain name registration basics.
  6. Create the hosting account on the new host server. You should receive new hosting account access information once your account is created. Don’t lose this! In our case we send out a ton of information in our welcome email. You may not need it all, but most will come in handy when you have a question about the service.
  7. Upload your files to your new hosting account. If necessary create any databases and import any data to the new databases.
  8. If you have scripts that connect to databases these will have to be reconfigured to match the new databases access information.
  9. Once everything is uploaded and imported test your site at the new location to be sure everything works properly. You new host should give you a web address where you can test your site before your domain name gets transferred.
  10. Create any domain name based email accounts at your new hosting service. If you don’t have a record of the passwords from the original accounts you will need to make sure your mail clients (Outlook, Outlook Express, Mail, Thunderbird, etc.) are updated to match the new passwords. Hosting companies often have different requirements regarding how email is accessed. Be sure you understand how to configure your mail client or you will get frustrated once your domain name is transferred to the new host.
  11. Login to your domain name registrar account and change the Domain Name Servers (DNS) to point to the new hosting service. This transition can happen very quickly in most cases, but can also take 24-48 hours to propagate throughout the Internet. Because of this potential lag time it’s possible some people who send you email may have their messages routed to the old host while others will have their messages routed to your new host. It’s best to time the DNS switch when email traffic would be the lightest. You might also be able to retrieve any latent messages from your old host by accessing their webmail system. This depends on how their webmail is set up. You might want to check in to that before you start the migration process if missing even one email would be of concern.
  12. Wait until you are satisfied you have all data from the old host and only then cancel that hosting account.

If you are not clear about any of these steps, be sure and consult with your webmaster and/or new hosting service provider for assistance. For our part we often help small sites move at no cost. If your site is database driven, has an ecommerce component or other more complex issues are involved, the migration can become more complicated. While these steps may seem complicated, they are really not for an experienced host or web developer. Don’t let them discourage you from moving to a system that offers better service, support or value.

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