The Ultimate Hosting Site Overhaul

(Ping! Zine Issue 7) – There are more than 20,000 Web hosting companies worldwide, not to mention all the ‘consulting firms’ that offer hosting among their many services. With this kind of competition, every detail counts. And central to your success will be your hosting company’s web site.

We’ll cover some of the most effective ways to increase the traffic to your web hosting site – how to get more visitors, clients, and most importantly: how to gain recognition in the hosting industry!

We’ll look first at general elements that hosting companies should consider in improving their sites. We’ll then consider the type and depth of content a hosting site must display. Next, we’ll address the all-important support section and consider your options in terms of support functionality. And last, but by no means least, we’ll look at the composition of a good hosting sales page, and how you can tweak your pages to optimize sign-ups. Ok, let’s get started!

Web Site Improvement
There’s a variety of general elements that hosting companies, in particular, should consider as they develop or overhaul their site:
• design and loading speed
• promotion of special offers
• logo and color scheme
• speed of the site and the communication of technical details
• catering to different visitors’ tastes

Clean Design & Loading Speed
It is very important that the potential client sees that aside from being a professional host, you also know your way around web design. So, although you may provide solely web hosting services, the way you present your information, brand, and business is crucial.

Many companies spend thousands of dollars to employ web designers who work diligently to provide a lean, communicative and usable site. The provision of easy navigation, and the ability for the client to move to the order page from anywhere on the site in a single click, should be imperative.
 
Promote Special Offers
Your homepage is, of course, critical. Here, present special offers, or previews of your hosting plans – anything that may catch the eye of the new visitor, or potential buyer who’s having second thoughts. Both
Fastwebsites.com and Dialtone.com use their homepages to their advantage in this way — providing information on specials at the visitor’s first point of contact with the site.

Other than the regular quick and punchy introduction to your standard hosting plans, you may also want to provide obvious links from the home page to a dedicated ‘Specials’ section of your site, to encourage clickthrough and further browsing from interested users.

Logo and Color Scheme
Try to use a logo that’s easy to remember, and include the elements of the logo throughout the entire site. For example, let’s say that you’re using a red square near your company name. Try adding small red squares near the navigation, contact links, and other strategic, often-used elements of the design. This is very useful for branding, and it helps make your logo unique and easy to remember.

Be careful when you choose a color scheme.   Too often you see sites that are astonishing in terms of design, and yet don’t have the right look. It may take several reiterations of the original design concept before you’ll reach perfection, so keep working and don’t compromise. Make changes until it looks right.

Speed of Site and Communication of Technical Details
It’s critical that your site loads quickly, as the experienced webmaster understands that your site will be hosted on your server, and you basically need to demonstrate how fast your servers are through your own site. So whatever you do, don’t let your customer wait too long for your page to load.

Provide on the homepage quick “information bytes” about the speed of your servers, hardware specifications and anything else that will demonstrate to users the advanced technology your company uses. Once you’ve grabbed their attention on the homepage, link through to more detailed information on subsequent pages to sate the wise webmaster’s need for technical detail.
Make use, wherever possible, of any appropriate interactive tools to show the customers any information that may encourage them to sign up for your services.

If you decide to present comparison charts to indicate your company’s superiority of service quality, support, or other features, remember not to provide URLs to your competitors’ sites. Your service may indeed be better than theirs, but the customer can too easily follow the link to the competitor’s site, start reading, and get carried away; even signing up for their service!

Cater to All Tastes
If you have the resources, try to create two versions of the site for different Internet connections: one with a low resolution and fewer graphic and interactive elements, and another “full” version, which may include large Flash files and other interactive tools.

If you’re thinking about DHTML menus, JavaScript applets and such, the “full” version is the right place for these add-ons. Just don’t place all your eggs in one basket. Some of the largest companies in the business use these tools; so don’t just take them for amateur design tricks. Have a look at the menus of the following companies:
• Rackspace.com
• Hostway.com

Look good, don’t they?
But be sure to remember; some visitors still use old browsers and systems, so if you do decide to go for these advanced technologies, always provide an alternative for those who are in a hurry, or have slow connections.

A Prime Example
The company that I think best exemplifies the features I’ve mentioned so far is Pixelbrick.com, who designed these hosting sites:
• Rackfast.com
• Hostrocket.com
• Dialyourweb.com
• Dominet.net

I’m not affiliated with these guys in any way, nor am I familiar with their offerings. These are simply clean, fast-loading sites, and therefore provide a great example.

Content
Your site has to be loaded with content. It doesn’t have to be like CNN.com, but the more information you provide, the better. The main idea is to catch the visitor’s eye and get them to sign up, or at least make a good first impression. Ideally, you’d like first-time visitors to bookmark your site for a return visit next time they decide to move to a new host.

The addition of a few extra resources and links is ok, but don’t make a portal out of your site. If you really feel the need to add some special scripts or directories, register a separate domain and start working on a new site. But try not to include these unnecessary add-ons to your hosting site.  You’ll run the risk of appearing unprofessional.

Let’s now look at each section of your content, and what it should contain.

About Us
This should probably be the most advanced section of your site, and might include:

Corporate Overview
Show your ambitions, ideas, and future plan. It’s not only attractive to possible investors and reassuring for customers, but writing a corporate overview allows you to set goals and check the progress you’ve made over time. Consider including:
• Introduction
• Goals and Milestones
• Virtual Tour
• Investor Relations

Media Section
This is the most important marketing tool, as it displays the achievements and activities of the company, as well as any awards or recognition the company has received for its services. In this sub-section, you might want to include:
• Press releases
• A list of job openings
• Awards
• Reviews and testimonials

Support
This area reassures potential customers by showing them that they can reach you by a number of means. Be sure to list:
• Phone numbers
• Email addresses
• Contact forms
• Instant Message contact details (optional but recommended)

Partners
The partners page is also important in reinforcing the stability and reliability of your business. Show potential clients that you’re not on your own — you’ve got major companies who are using their best tools to back you up. Don’t hesitate to provide links to your:
• Technology partners
• Strategic partners

Legal Info
This section really is essential. It’s very important that you clarify all the legal issues up-front, making them readily available to your customers so as to avoid problems arising in the future. Be sure to display:
• Privacy policy
• Copyright notice
• Service agreement

Multi-Purpose Content
Each of these elements is extremely important to your About Us section. Potential clients, as well as potential investors, will really want to know that you’re a reliable, capable and growing business. If you can show activity and innovation through content such as press releases and an active job openings listing, this may make it easier to convince customers to sign up with your company.

But this kind of content isn’t just appropriate for your site. Later on, you might submit those press releases to special search engines and the press; the jobs listings to recruitment sites like monster.com; and any support tutorials to community websites, forums, and newsletters. This kind of activity is invaluable to your future promotions efforts and the development of a strong reputation.

A note on virtual tours.  The addition of a virtual tour may be a good idea if you have something to show, but if not, just post photos of your servers and machinery, and if possible yourselves, to the site.

Support is Critical
Try using the most advanced support tools you can, as this will:
• reassure would-be clients that they have at their fingertips a number of ways to contact you should anything go wrong with their hosting
• attest to your company’s commitment to technological developments and innovation, and help foster the perception that your business is on the ‘cutting edge’
• put you in direct contact with your customers, opening up the floor for valuable dialogue, through which you can ensure that each service development or enhancement is built to meet customer needs

Here are a few examples of the kinds of support tools you might consider:
How-To’s — Short explanations of the solutions to commonly asked questions
This section may end up saving you quite a lot of time, as more customers will read the How-To’s rather than email you with every little question they have. I’d recommend that you wait a little after the site launch to see what questions are the most popular. Once you’ve compiled these into a list, create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), containing links to short How-To’s that briefly explain the solution to the user’s problem.

Tutorials — More advanced descriptions of complex solutions
Tutorials provide more advanced explanations than HowTo’s, and are often used for marketing rather than actually teaching customers. So what are the benefits of writing a tutorial?

1. Tutorials look great in the support section, as they illustrate to the customer just how much you invest in support, and that you provide all the tools required for the successful use of the servers by your customers.
 
2. They’re a great marketing tool. You’ll be able to publish your tutorials in newsletters and on sites with a short advertisement in the credits section. This works better than any CPM or sponsorship campaign, as any traffic you’ll generate is free and unlimited.

Glossaries — Like How to’s, a glossary can save you considerable time answering emails

For example, you might answer dozens of emails asking what a CPM campaign is. Add a short note explaining what a CPM is in the glossary of your Media Kit, and the problem’s solved — no more emails with this kind of question.
Live Support — Technical support and sales representatives.

There’s nothing more important than live on-site technical support and good sales representatives. You need to assign knowledgeable people to work with your future customers.  There are some people who need guidance and immediate assistance, and sometimes your sales and support staff will mean the difference between a potential customer and a real sign-up.

Offer any kind of support you can, including ICQ, emails, forms, advanced help desks, etc. The users must be able to reach you from anywhere in the world at any given moment.

Add forums — Allow customer discussion
Allow your customers to discuss the pros and cons of your service among themselves. You may be surprised at the amount of information you can glean from your current customers.

Testimonials
Now, a controversial question: when you show customer testimonials on your site (and you must), should you link to web hosting directories so that your users can rate your service there? On one hand, you drive users to sites with links to a large number of other hosting companies, but on the other hand, you also improve your rating on those sites. So, if your service is good and your customers are happy, go for it.  And if you aren’t rated as highly as you’d have liked, stop trying to get more customers, and instead, improve the level of service you provide to the current ones.

There are many marketing companies who are willing to write and publish press releases and other announcements you may have across the different PR Engines. Here are a few links to get you started:
• Webhostmkt.com
• Google.com Press Release Services
Try to provide the customer with all the tools they’ll need on your site.   Aim to answer all the questions they may have without making them leave the site to get answers.

The Sales Page
Now that you’ve set up your site’s design, structure, and content, the toughest question of all arises: how will you move your visitors from the home page, through the information they want, and ultimately, to the sales page — where they’ll finally click on the all-important ‘order’ button?

First of all, let’s clarify one point that is important to remember as you plan your promotional campaigns and view their results: just because a customer might not buy what you offer, doesn’t mean they won’t come back in the future, or refer their friends to your site. Similarly, just because you may have processed an order, doesn’t mean it’s valid. Remember not just to look at sales you make through the site, but also at your other traffic statistics, feedback from customers and potential customers, and the nature of any referrals.
Now, let’s look at the sales page elements.

Page Layout
Your sales pages should sell. Making the sale is the sole purpose of the page, and the single reason you place it on your site. This is why it is important to avoid the hype, extraneous detail, and lengthy copy that you might include elsewhere on the site.

Publish only facts on the sales page — and don’t offer anything you can’t stand behind 100 percent, otherwise you may be involved in some serious legal problems in the future. Try to present the hosting plans alone, so that they may be easily reviewed and digested by your visitors. However, it’s a good idea to offer a link to a comparison table in order to illustrate to your potential clients just how well your services stack up.

Plan Information
Divide the sales information on your hosting plans into logical sections. For instance, if you offer reseller hosting, dedicate an entire page to it. In the same vein, try to present all the hosting plans for the same platform together. This logical separation of information will make it easier for the users to find what they’re looking for, while providing the impression that your business has a lot to offer, and is not just a small-time, fly-by-night operator.

Avoid the trap of offering ‘unlimited’ inclusions in your hosting plans. Unlimited bandwidth, for example, is logically impossible, and so many webmasters are opposed to this kind of deception that there are now whole communities banding together to act against hosts who promote ‘unlimited’ plans.
At the bottom of the page try to display the logos of the companies you’re in partnership with or whose products you use. This can help bolster the visitor’s perception of your reliability and trustworthiness. You can effectively leverage the good names of those with whom you are associated.
 
Consider also inserting links from appropriate technical terms (such as CGI, ASP, transfer, etc.) on your sales pages to a glossary. The glossary is accessed every time a user clicks on a highlight term on the sales page, providing extra information as required, but without distracting the user from completing the purchase.

Remember that some webmasters are just starting out, and they’ll need you to hold their hand at every decision. You might even consider adding a hosting ‘wizard’ for that exact purpose.  It’ll help reassure the user, and can be very effective in streaming visitors to the point of sale.

The Final Review
Once you’ve finished all the steps mentioned above, and you have the site ready, the real work begins! Go to the following forums and ask the members to review your site. You’ll find their feedback invaluable, and the ideas you gather could change your entire business approach (hopefully for the better).

Try:
• SitePointForums.com
• WebHostingTalk.com
• TutorialForums.com
• Forums.WebHostDir.com

Good luck!

Lonny has been working on the Internet since 1996, and now has his own network of technology-related Websites, among them The Web Hosting Portal (http://www.findsp.com/Hosting/).

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