Thursday, November 26, 2015

Preparing a Dark Website for Crisis Management

One of the most common and useful tools in any crisis or emergency communication management strategy is having a ‘dark website’.

Now don’t get confused with the nefarious ‘dark web’, nor the ‘dark side’ and popular Star Wars references. A dark website is a pre-made, non-visible web site that is activated when a crisis or emergency occurs for a company. The site stores written-in-advance information and then provides all the latest information concerning the crisis, along with news releases, company statements and contact information. In the event of an incident the dark site needs to be ready and seen by the public within hours.

Websites, microsites and social media sites are where most people will turn to get the latest information about an event or company. When a crisis hits, a company simply doesn't have time to have their IT team, web designer and marketing team to put a special website together, which could take days or even weeks. At that rate, the company could be out of business before the crisis response website is even launched. Once live, the company's dark site positions the company as the primary source of information about the crisis. It shows that the company is in control and taking responsibility, which generates trust and goodwill.

The advantages of using a dark site includes the ability to post quickly changing information, the availability of an alternate site when a standard site crashes due to too many hits or a malfunctioning server, and the ease with which users can quickly select and prepare documents for uploading.

In a crisis, due to the increasing number of simultaneous web traffic hits spiking in a short period of time, exceeding the capacity of the hosting environment, a website may become unresponsive or crash. If other operations within the business rely on the same website hosting environment this may have a flow on impact to other business functions. Understanding the current primary website hosting, redundancy, fail-over as well as what load testing has been previously performed to confirm maximum performance thresholds is important.

Having the dark site hosted on alternative servers to the current site is an option, so that when the existing site is not accessible, viewers can be easily re-directed to this other server. The process of 'redirecting' has to be looked at in regards to the management of the DNS (Domain Name Server) for the current site, if considering updating the DNS to reflect a new IP address (Time delays through DNS propagation may be a concern... as some DNS propagation can take 24hrs), so alternative domain name pointing methods/redirects may need to be considered. Hosting on redundant servers, can be beneficial in any emergency that damages infrastructure. If the client has internal self-hosting rather than a distributed cloud hosting solution, or a redundant data centre approach with fail overs in place - this should always be scoped and confirmed first, as part of the decision making process of which method to select. My own preferred solution involves a symlink on the hosting server, changed to instigate an immediate change to the dark site folder hosted in same environment, taking the current site offline and replacing it without delay to the dark site version. Hosting/IT and access will determine who/how this is performed.

Costs for maintaining a separate web site, domain name management, hosting, and website maintenance updating, need to also be considered as part of the ongoing operational costs when considering a dark site for businesses. Surveys show that for every $1 spent in crisis planning saves $7 during a real crisis. I always remember the quote: ‘Failing to Plan, is Planning to Fail!’

Determining what information, content or functions of the current website are required to still be available in the event of an incident and deployment of a dark site, need to be firstly determined, as this will affect the methodology employed, in either having a separate website, or having a cut down version of the current site in the same location/domain. So, the dark website can either be a separate website with its own URL, a page or pages linked to the company's homepage, or a special design that replaces the company's normal website. If the current website is fit-for-purpose with a clear and efficient CMS publishing process, then urgent content can take over relevant pages at the flick of a switch. This has the added benefit of not panicking customers in unaffected territories (different domain name or design elements), or breaking their user journey. As such, my initial research process would be to determine what web infrastructure is currently in place and if this is suitable to use.

From a brand appearance perspective be mindful to display and demonstrate a clear signal of intent. If the business agrees unanimously that this crisis situation is the only priority right now. The situation is so serious, the product so compromised or the service completely unavailable, then everyone needs to know you are taking this very seriously, and a separate dark site will help convey this properly. A conversational tone of voice, different to the typical corporate brand tone, can also be achieved with a separate dark site.

Dark sites are also useful to establish a distancing strategy. Then, when it’s time to move the conversation on, the dark site and how you refer to it can be a way to digitally compartmentalise.

If the crisis is likely to be long-running, then this is also a determining factor into the method of site deployed. Particularly where the business has a regular wider customer base that expects to find routine business information quickly.

Impact to Search Engines, and 404 error handling (page not found), or redirects (302 Temporary Redirect), need to be considered for the long term implication of brand impact, and organic search results. As taking a website fully offline, and presenting 404 errors will cause degrading results in Search Engines.

Caveats: If a website is taken offline, all online/offline marketing campaigns (Adwords, Social Media, EDMs, Landing Pages, QR codes, Apps, Shortened URLs etc. will no longer work for the period that the site is down.) If a 'Business As Usual' or partial BAU is required during this phase, then consider a home page take-over of the current site, where the home page is replaced with the Dark Site content and internal web page templates are updated with the top header section replaced out with the Dark Site information, and a pointer back to the home page to reference all updates during this time. This means that the remaining body section/content/functions in the site are still available to consumers and won't impact Search Engines, or campaigns. This is an option for discussion and consideration during the scoping phase. Content that is created for the dark site needs to be considered with SEO in mind, to ensure no long term impact to brand terms and what pages should/shouldn't get crawled or indexed by Search Engines.

Design Considerations:

A minimal design helps users find emergency information, since they were not distracted by the wealth of different topics, navigation channels and other visuals present on the day-to-day public web site. The site should contain:
- Available facts about the crisis
- What happened and what specific steps the company is taking to respond.
- Special instructions telling those affected by the crisis what they must or must not do.
- Company background and FAQ.
- Relevant information that promotes a better understanding of what the company does and how the crisis occurred.
- Contact information and email addresses for the news media.
- Statements from the top company officials.
- Contact information for members of the public affected by the crisis (a 24-hour toll-free line is best, along with the company support Twitter feed and the #hashtag for the event so that the conversation can be followed).
- Regular and timely updates. Always engage your community in an authentic manner. Being deceptive in a crisis management situation will get you nowhere.

Clearly one of the most crucial things is to get the social media presence right. Concerned customers or shareholders will probably turn to their own newsfeed of choice, from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram. This is where the company also needs to be, telling their side of a story and providing updates in text, images and short films. Have the channels ready for when you need and linked to each clearly from the dark site.

Recruit an external team like Vorian Agency, or form an internal working team that will manage content on the dark site. Responsibilities for this team should include determining policies for developing and updating content on the dark site and choosing criteria for when the site will be activated and made visible to the public. Training of how to perform updates to this selected team should be given, along with a CMS Manual for reference.

Recruiting a technical team that will manage the networks between the dark site and the company's standard site should be considered. Responsibilities for this team should include determining sharing controls (e.g., which staff are allowed access to manage the dark site) and choosing domain names.

Will Multiple Languages be required?

For global multinationals, confirm if the dark site needs to be translated into languages other than English. Using Google Translate with a built-in automatic machine based translator can translate text into 52 languages. Caveat: MBT is not 100% perfect, but it is a reasonable alternative for quick information under extenuating circumstances.

How can Vorian Agency assist you?

- We offer simple template WordPress websites that can be used for the purpose of a separately hosted, different domain name, managed and maintained solution starting from $79+gst per month. This format is reliant on client supplying logo, images, content, and selecting from our range of website template choices.

- For larger clients, custom dark site website solutions are built after consultation which address all of the points noted in the above article. Social Media policy, management, monitoring and support during a crisis event is also available. Contact Vorian Agency on 1300 100 333 or email to arrange a no obligation consultation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Which Shopping Cart eCommerce Platform Should You Use?

Although there are literally hundreds of different shopping platforms for online ecommerce, Shopify and BigCommerce are typically considered the two most popular Shopping Carts currently. When a business has a WordPress CMS (Content Management System) we would consider WooCommerce as the preferred solution for the Shopping Cart. This post will focus on the differences between Shopify and WooCommerce specifically.

For getting a store online fast and easy, Shopify delivers. It’s easy to use and you don’t have to worry about maintenance. However there are down sides to consider, as you don’t own the site and the cost of hosting and apps can get expensive over time. Although you can do a lot with Shopify you’re more limited than you are with WooCommerce which scales for more advanced functionality.

Which ecommerce shopping cart is better?

Which would be better for you depends on what you want from your site. Do you want a store only? Do you want to have a powerful blogging platform? Do you want to own your site and have more control? Do you want to not have to worry about site maintenance? It is beneficial having an informed conversation so that you are aware of the options and restrictions each solution offers.

If you want an online store that’s easy to deal with and you’re willing to pay whatever it costs, Shopify is a recommended choice. It’s simple to use, looks great, has excellent e-commerce features, and hosting and maintenance are taken care of. Support is easy to get if you need it and you can expand your store’s features and functions with a large selection of add-ons. The blogging platform has very basic functionality. You can blog there, but it really is weak at best. It can’t be expanded like a WordPress site can and if you decide you want to move it, you will have to copy and paste or use a plugin that requires lots of work setting up every single post. It’s a good choice for just a store, but it’s not a good choice for a website, or a blog that includes a store. For advanced SEO purposes, Shopify has its limitations. It can be pricey, but the cost is clear and up front.

If you want to choose your own hosting company, have full control over your website, and importantly own the site — and you don’t mind the extra work of running a WordPress site, then WooCommerce the ecommerce plugin on WordPress, is the clear choice. A WordPress site powered by WooCommerce will be cheaper and give you more control. The WooCommerce plugin is free and you can choose from literally thousands of themes, both free and premium, that integrate nicely with WooCommerce. It can be added seamlessly to your current WordPress site. Support for your site is not always that easy because it’s an integration of several systems. If you want blogging to be a big part of your site, then WordPress again is the clear winner. Even though the plugin is free, extensions can cost money and you still have the expense of building, running and maintaining a WordPress site, and the total cost is not so clear.

Considering Shopify

The Shopify dashboard is straightforward. There are ways to see information about existing orders, product inventory, and customers.

If you think you will need a lot of third-party extensions, check out competitor BigCommerce, instead. It has a higher price tag, but it comes with more features out of the box and we have a lot of clients who have been using this product successfully, so you may wind up saving money if you plan to use a lot of advanced features in the long run with your online store.

Shopify offers free, attractive, and modern-looking themes in eight different categories. If you want something more sophisticated, you can visit the Shopify Theme Store, which has more than 100 free and premium templates. Some premium templates are pretty expensive, so keep an eye on your total monthly bill, and of course it is more if you were to have a custom theme created.

Google Analytics

Both Shopify and WooCommerce integrates with Google Analytics.

When it comes to performing shopping cart SEO (Search Engine Optimisation); Magento, WooCommerce and Shopify are considered the best shopping cart platforms:

SEO product tags

Optimise your product pages for search engines with product specific meta tags, titles, and URL handles.

The nice part about Shopify is the ability to do POS (Point of Sale) terminal on the iPad, as well as Facebook Shop. You can extend the store with a range of third party apps.

Mobile commerce ready

Your online Shopify store includes a built-in mobile commerce shopping cart. Your customers can browse and buy from your store using any mobile phone or tablet.

Your own domain name

You can use your own domain name, or purchase one through Shopify.

eCommerce Facebook Stores

A particular benefit of Shopify, is their Facebook store which turns your Facebook for business page into an ecommerce platform. Easily display products, promote them on Facebook, and sell them to all your fans.

Note that WooCommerce on WordPress can be used via a Facebook Canvas page with custom design and development integrating your WooCommerce store into the Facebook Business page.

Social Media integration

All Shopify websites include social media integration, such as Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Similarly this can be achieved with WordPress and WooCommerce.

Marketing your Shopify store on Google Adwords - Google Product Listings

Businesses can sync their Shopify Store with the Google Merchant Center, simply and easily using a direct, automatic API feed to keep their product listings up-to-date.

Shopify directs customers away from the existing domain to its own payment page ( to process actual payments, which may result in abandoned shopping carts if customers get confused about getting redirected to an unknown site and don't want to proceed.

Shopify by default uses its own payment gateway 'Shopify Payments', as well as PayPal Express Checkout. It can also integrate with 70 other payment gateways. Remember that PayPal also charges its own credit card-transaction fees. If you use Shopify Payments, Shopify waives the transaction fees.

SSL Secure shopping cart

All Shopify credit card and transaction information is protected by the same level of security used by banks: a 256-bit SSL certificate.

Shopify also supports Google Wallet, alternative payment systems such as Dwolla, BitPay, Coinbase, and GoCoin, as well as offline payments such as check, money order, and bank deposits.

You can also set up the store to just authorise payments and manually charge the card when ready.

Abandoned checkout recovery

Recover lost sales on Shopify by automatically sending an email to prospective customers with a link to their abandoned shopping carts, encouraging them to complete their purchase. WooCommerce has a variety of plugins that provide this same functionality on WordPress.

Offer free shipping

Improve your average order size by offering free shipping to your customers. You can choose the price point at which free shipping applies.

Gift cards

Your customers are able to purchase a gift card for someone from your store, or you can use gift cards as store credit.

Inventory management

Manage your entire inventory with Shopify. Track stock counts, and automatically stop selling products when inventory runs out.

There is also integration of Shopify into a site, but really they are stand-alone separate entities:

Accounting/CRM integration

Integration can be done via OneSaas for both Shopify and WooCommerce

In Summary

Shopify and WooCommerce are both great choices that serve different purposes and audiences. Shopify is easy to use and maintenance is taken care of, but it is more limited and gets expensive. WooCommerce is free and flexible, and integrates easily into your WordPress site, which you are completely responsible for. The best choice will depend on the needs of your business.

Please note that Vorian Agency does not provide custom development for Shopify, but will perform Shopify setup and configuration for client projects. Vorian Agency provides full ecommerce integration and custom development for WooCommerce solutions on WordPress.

Perth website design and development company Star 3 Media, part of Vorian Agency, an integrated marketing agency located in Perth, Western Australia. Provides a quick and cheap marketing solution for start-ups, home-based, as well as small to medium businesses, to enable them to get online fast with a new website at the fraction of the cost of traditional custom website packages.

Our cost-effective budget website plans, with a low-cost monthly price, enables your business to focus their marketing budget into the online marketing activities that actually drive the Return On Investment necessary to build your business, through creating brand awareness and targeted marketing with SEO, PPC, eMarketing and Social Marketing options.

Get online right now with Perth website design company Star3 Media - Phone 1300 100 333 or email  

2015 Shopping Cart Review References:

Friday, November 13, 2015

WordPress CMS Training YouTube Video Series by Perth Website Design Company Star 3 Media

Perth website design and development company Star 3 Media, part of Vorian Agency, an integrated marketing agency located in Perth, Western Australia. Provides a quick and cheap marketing solution for start-ups, home-based, as well as small to medium businesses, to enable them to get online fast with a new website at the fraction of the cost of traditional custom website packages.

Our cost-effective budget website plans, with a low-cost monthly price, enables your business to focus their marketing budget into the online marketing activities that actually drive the Return On Investment necessary to build your business, through creating brand awareness and targeted marketing with SEO, PPC, eMarketing and Social Marketing options.

Are you ready to save some money in your marketing budget?

Do you want to turn on the traffic and start sending business your way today?

Our budget website packages include:
- domain name registration and management
- website hosting
- choice of mobile responsive website templates
- features that include Google Maps, forms to collect user information, image sliders, blogs, social media icons , shopping carts and more...
- monthly website CMS patching and maintenance to keep it up-to-date and secure
- a realiable scalable CMS that will grow with your business and provides the ability to add additional functionality as required.

We take the work out of your hands and load your selected website with your company logo, images, contact details and content, then take it live and active.

To support our budget website packages we have developed an online Wordpress training video series to teach business owners and their staff, how to manage their own WordPress website after it has been built and we also provide a PDF WordPress Manual as a reference resource.

View the WordPress training videos here.

So it really couldn't be easier or quicker, to get a professional online presence for your business up and running today, then apply all that left over marketing budget to effective targeted marketing solutions that drive targeted traffic ready to buy your products and services, by using Google Adwords, Search Engine Optimisation or social media advertising.

Ready to get online now? Phone 1300 100 333 or email

Looking at robots.txt for SEO optimisation

What is robots.txt?

Robots.txt is a text file that contains rules to control the behaviour of search engines as they crawl your site, known as the 'robots directive'. You can create using any text editor software such as Notepad.

Each website created may include a robot.txt file located at the root level of the server. It may also be located at This file is what search engines initially look for when they start to identify and crawl your website. As a robot directive, it explains to the search engine what it can and cannot do on the website. The file can either communicate to all search engines or selectively isolate and put independent requirements on individual search engines.

What should you exclude in your robots.txt file?

The robot.txt file may exclude areas in the site that you don’t want the search engine to discover, crawl, or particularly index. Without the robot.txt file, the results will be published in the search engine results page, allowing the general public to identify and access sections of the site that may not be appropriate. These sections may be directories of programming elements, a secure or admin section on the site, or components of your content management systems, depending on what you’re using, that can be blocked from the robots so they don’t crawl and index those elements.

Robots.txt Example:

It is important to be aware that some useful sections of the site could be inappropriately blocked. A common example is the /images directory. On average, five to seven percent of search results may be initiated through an image-based search with a user clicking through to the actual website. When the images directory is blocked, search engines may not be able to discover, identify, and list within their own directories of image search capabilities those images that are related to your business. For many businesses, this could benefit and support Search Engine Optimisation activities.

Sitemaps Location

Another thing you can see in a robot.txt file is a pointer to the location of your Sitemap. A Sitemap is a digital directory written in extensible mark-up language (XML) format which lists all the pages of your website that you wish to have indexed by the search engine. Putting a pointer within your robot.txt file to this location allows search engines to automatically discover your Sitemap and additional Sitemap files you have included, such as a geo Sitemap, and an images Sitemap. Supporting search engines in discovering these is beneficial for your site. For this reason, consider having a pointer to either a master Sitemap file or individual Sitemap files for your website.

The robots directive not only blocks certain robots’ actions as well as the pages to be crawled and indexed. It also determines speed. If the site has any particular issues in hosting, for example, where a crawl may slow down the actual site’s performance and affect the users’ experience, you can actually put speed controls to determine how fast the robot approaches and works its way through your website.

Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) and Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT) allows you to remove individual page files through single requests. The crawling speed may also be supported and addressed within GWT and BWT apart from being listed in the robot.txt file. You can even monitor the traffic, speed, and the amount of data used by the search engines over a period of time to determine if the performance relates to any issues or concerns for your website.

HTML Meta Directives

If you want to specify rules per HTML page, you can do this using HTML meta directives. This informs the search engines a specific action for a certain page.

Google, Bing, and Yahoo have implemented a number of HTML Meta directives including the following:
  • NOINDEX META Tag – This tells a crawler not to index a certain page.
  • NOFOLLOW META Tag – This tells a crawler not to follow a link going to another content on a certain page.
  • NOSNIPPET META Tag – This tells a crawler not to display snippets in the search results for a certain page.
  • NOARCHIVE META Tag – This tells a crawler not to show a cached link for a certain page.
  • NOODP META Tag – This tells a crawler not to use a title and snippet from ODP (Open Directory Project) for a certain page.
Having your content indexed by major search engines can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience, but it can be done. By executing the techniques mentioned above, you can get confidential content removed quickly and prevent it from showing on search results pages. 

Search Group, a local Perth SEO company helps keep your business visible online through effective SEO and Internet marketing strategies. Visit for details about our services.