All Grown Up – Why Your Small Business Needs A Web Solution, Not A Website

Raise your hand if you have a website for your small business. Now keep it raised if it is generating a significant volume of prospects or sales. Not holding your hand up anymore? You are not alone.

Just a few years ago, small companies flocked to the web in droves, rushing to post their first website, anxious at the prospect of low-cost instant exposure. The web was going to be the great equalizer, putting small business on par with the big brand names, dangling the promise of visitors flocking to a company’s site to purchase its wares or partake in its services. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, for most small businesses and organizations, the promise fell short and company sales did not skyrocket from an unending march of site visitors.

So, what happened? For one, the web quickly became ultra competitive. Millions of sites sprang up in every business category making it virtually impossible to be found in the search engines. What little bit of traffic the businesses may have enjoyed when the site was first launched began to dry up. Also, as the web evolved to become a more interactive user experience, it became more technologically complex and many small business websites did not keep up. The other part of the problem was in the approach; not understanding that just putting together a website, even a pretty one, and finding some faceless company offering cheap web hosting services is not likely to make you the next great success story. A large hurdle that many small business owners and managers face is the tendency to compartmentalize the web into a few oversimplified tasks: grab a cheap domain name, find a budget small business website design and development person, look for some impossibly low-priced website hosting, and then expect their website to magically appear on page one of Google. Unfortunately, this ends up being a waste of time and money.

A Solutions-Based Approach with Professional Guidance

To create an effective web presence requires a solutions-based approach with clear ideas about what you want to accomplish and who the audience is you are targeting. The right elements have to be present; a well orchestrated website design with cohesive branding, solid technical acumen, clearly defined objectives for the organization, reliable small business web hosting services and some method of marketing your site and tracking the results. The web is constantly evolving and search engine competition is fierce. Being successful on the web requires consistently evaluating the site’s effectiveness based on your objectives, understanding the latest technologies and trends, having a dynamic website marketing plan and constantly fine tuning.

While you don’t have to spend a fortune to create real value on the web, you should also be realistic. Understand that being successful will require an investment that you should plan for and a clear vision of how your website fits into the goals and objectives of the organization. If you don’t have the experience and technical resources in-house, working with a professional web solutions provider, preferably one specializing in small business web design and development can provide great benefits. A good starting point in the process is to have an understanding of the core elements that are part of a successful website strategy and how they fit together.

The Elements of a Web Solution

1) Domain names – Choosing the right domain name is an important branding decision which impacts how your organization is perceived and also how it is found in the search engines. Purchasing from a cheap bulk registrar or choosing can spell trouble.

2) Website Design & Development Services – Find a provider that specializes in small business web design and development. An organization that offers a solutions-based approach can assist your company in doing thorough needs analysis and in designing all of the elements to work well together. First impressions count!

3) E-mail Management – E-mail is a key communication tool for your business. The right system will help you maximize communications within the company, on the road and with your customers.

4) Social Media – Social media such as blogging, Podcasting and other web 2.0 tools can greatly enhance customer communications. Your web services company should be able to help you evaluate how social media tools can best benefit your web presence and business objects.

5) Small Business Website Hosting Services – All web hosting is NOT created equal. There are many nuances and technical consideration involved with hosting solutions. It is best to stay away from budget hosting companies. Look for a managed hosting provider who can help you select the right plan for your web solution goals, get your website up and running and support you as it grows and evolves.

6) Website Maintenance – How will your site be maintained and updated? Having both small business web development and managed web site hosting as a package is immensely helpful for maximizing web server resources, identifying problems and keeping the site maintained and updated.

7) E-Commerce – Will you be actually selling on your site or using it for lead generation or information dissemination? If you are selling products, who will create and maintain your product database. How will transactions be handled? What about web server requirements? Working with a professional can help ensure you make the right choices for your e-commerce site.

8) Business Process Interaction (database development, customer relationship management, integration with your business management systems) – A website needs to be more than just an ad on the Internet to be effective as a business tool. There are many ways the web can be used to improve your business processes and integrate with your existing systems such as accounting or contact management.

9) Website Marketing – How will people find you on the web? Will you optimize your site for organic search or employ paid marketing techniques or a combination? What directories should you list your site in? Search engine marketing has evolved to be a complex specialty. It’s critical that you understand the tools available for driving traffic to your site and if needed, know how to evaluate and engage a web marketing specialist.

10) Website Analytics and Conversion – Having a great site isn’t enough if your visitors aren’t doing what you intended; buying something, contacting your company or using your site for an information source. Does your site have usability issues? What kind of reporting will you use to track site visitors? What do you need to know and do to convert your visitors into action-takers?

It’s a Process and a Work in Progress

While there is certainly a lot to think about, creating the best possible website solution for your business doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Your website can and should be a work in progress, evolving as your business grows. Because most small businesses do not have an internal IT staff to handle the technical elements of web development and planning, working with a web solutions provider that specializes in small business website hosting services and small business web design and development is a good start. Such an organization can help you identify your goals, manage the technical aspects of your site and guide you in your marketing efforts. They can also help you work within your budget to develop a plan that combines all the elements into a cohesive whole for creating and maintaining a successful web presence.

Conclusion

The web has grown up to be a terrific marketing medium for small businesses and organizations. Done right, it can be the most cost effective and powerful marketing and communication tool in your arsenal. The promise is still there. However, to truly leverage the power of the web, it is important to take a good, hard look at the website you currently have or the one you are thinking about creating. The elements of a successful web presence: small business web hosting, website design and development and web marketing are only the framework for a well thought-out web solution designed to reach your customers and truly benefit your business.

Do You Need to Know Everything About Hybrid App Development?

Hybrid mobile applications are like any other applications you will see on your mobile. They get easily installed on your mobile device. You can look for these apps in the App stores. By using these apps, you can engage your friends via social media, play games, track your health, take photos and much more.

Hybrid mobile applications are developed using a combination of web technologies like CSS, HTML, and JS as same as websites on the internet. The major difference is that hybrid applications are hosted inside a native app which further uses a mobile platform’s WebView. Here, WebView is a chromeless browser window which is typically configured to run fullscreen.

In fact, hybrid mobile apps enable you to access various device capabilities viz. camera, accelerometer, contacts, and much more. However, inside mobile browsers don’t allow you to access these capabilities from it. Furthermore, hybrid mobile applications include native UI elements in those situations where it is necessarily required, as proved by Basecamp’s approach towards hybrid mobile application development.

It is not easy to answer the question how a mobile app is built. Similarly, hybrid mobile apps are no different. A well-written hybrid application should not behave or look any different than its native equivalent. However, users don’t care about it as they only want an app that works well. It is what actually matters to them. If you are trying to figure out whether a mobile application is hybrid or native, it would be like you are trying to differentiate rare grape varieties of wine.

Unless you are the one who really cares about this, it is not terribly important. What all matters are how your hybrid mobile application development is going to work in the long run as no one will care about how it was built. A hybrid mobile application is said to be good if it performs well for its users.

How are hybrid mobile applications built?

Like other websites are built, hybrid mobile apps follow the same manner. Both are built with a combination of technologies like CSS, HTML, and JS. Generally, a hybrid app targets a Web View which is hosted inside a native container rather than targeting a mobile browser. This allows its users to access various hardware capabilities of the mobile device.

Many hybrid mobile apps today leverage Apache Cordova, a simple platform that consists of a set of JavaScript APIs for accessing mobile device capabilities through plug-ins that are built with native code. These plug-ins include APIs in order to access the device capabilities like contacts, accelerometer, camera, and more. In fact, a huge number of plugins are built and maintained by mobile app developers community-at-large which is can be found in the Apache Cordova Plugins Registry. A group of plugins that have been properly tested, documented, and extended can be found at the Telerik Verified Plugins Marketplace.

If we talk about Apache Cordova, it was actually started as a project named PhoneGap. But nowadays, PhoneGap is considered as a distribution of Apache Cordova which includes additional tools. To know more about its history, you can check out Cordova, PhoneGap and what’s in a name?

Various application assets like CSS, HTML, JS are packaged via tooling through Apache Cordova for targeting platform SDKs. Once a hybrid app is built, it can be run just like any other app on the mobile device. Apache Cordova provides the tooling that is highly driven by a command line interface. However, mobile app developers can still leverage IDEs such as Visual Studio and effective solutions like the Telerik Platform to further increase productivity.

Since mobile app developers don’t want to be getting locked into proprietary platforms, so hybrid mobile apps give a way to mobile app developers for re-using their existing skills in web development. This mainly includes SDKs provided by platform vendors and the programming languages.

Hybrid mobile app development somehow looks appealing to a company’s bottom line such as Why hire a developer for each platform when you can hire one developer and target all of them through CSS, HTML, and JavaScript? But, the reality is actually a bit more complicated to accept.

Obviously, it’s true that mobile app developers become able to target multiple platforms with hybrid mobile app development. But when it comes to WebView or web runtime, each platform comes with a set of caveats. This is more true for Android and not consistent between OS versions.

Furthermore, there must be some unique capabilities of platforms to which a mobile app developer may wish to target. In such cases, a combination of platform-specific code and plugins must be utilized which will take advantages of those capabilities. Optionally, mobile app developers can take advantage of 3rd party web runtimes such as Crosswalk which can be further embedded into your hybrid applications.

When should you build a hybrid mobile application?

It is the foremost concern of every mobile app developer who wants to build a hybrid mobile app. The first thing you should do is to check your mobile application’s requirements. Before committing to a platform strategy must evaluate the technical merits as well as non-technical merits of hybrid mobile apps over the web and native mobile apps. You should first consider the following questions before developing a hybrid app:

– What are the technical abilities of your mobile development team?
– Which mobile app platforms do you wish to target?
– Are you looking to use the multiple capabilities of the mobile device?
– Do you want to distribute your apps through the app stores?
– Does the hybrid approach really live up to its promise in the coming years?

The above questions are needed to be answered properly before the development of mobile apps. You may further evaluate more questions in detail.

WHICH MOBILE APP PLATFORMS DO YOU WISH TO TARGET?

You may have a number of choices if you want to target more than one platform. This is because the web offers a highly interactive solution for this purpose. However, the mobile browser is your target. HYbrid apps lend itself to this due to its reliance upon the WebView.

On the other hand, Native apps find a unique space among this. In fact, you are essentially coupled to this platform if you rely upon platform-specific programming languages and vendor SDKs. For this case, Objective-C or Swift is used for iOS, Java is used for Android and C# is used for Windows phone.

DO YOU WANT TO DISTRIBUTE YOUR MOBILE APP VIA APP STORES?

If you want to distribute your app via an app store, you must build a native or hybrid app. You can not distribute sites through app stores. Hence, browser’s address bar is provided for this. Despite this limitation, whether you build a hybrid or native app, it is strongly recommended that you must have a website available for your mobile app. You need to create this because this will be the first place your app users might expect to go in case if they stuck with any problem.

ARE YOU LOOKING TO USE THE CAPABILITIES OF THE MOBILE DEVICE?

As compared to native and hybrid apps, websites have a limited set of abilities. These limitations are put up by a browser that effectively sandboxing it from mobile OS. A lot more device capabilities are exposed through HTML5 with the help recent developments with mobile browsers which include geolocation, camera, and others.

In spite of these advancements, support for advanced functionality is still limited. For an instance, streaming and media capture are still unsupported in various mobile browsers. Due to these limitations with mobile browsers, there are many mobile app developers who are compelled to evaluate native and hybrid apps as alternatives. These platforms enable mobile app developers to access device APIs. While in case of hybrid apps, plugins support this capability.

It is often said that native app development is best suited for apps where graphics performance is paramount. The best example is the mobile games which completely rely on complex visual interactions on the screen. No matter, how wonderful game app you have developed for your users and how flawlessly it operates from a functional perspective, you can expect this game app to have a very low app store rating if it is lacking energy. Due to these reasons, mobile app developers have long argued for using a hybrid approach to build their game applications.

However, there exist a number of solutions for hybrid mobile apps. This includes WebGL and HTML5 Canvas that are well-suited to build game applications. In fact, these technologies are most preferred and approachable for mobile app developers due to the presence of libraries like EaselJS, Paper.js, and others. This is not limited to game development only. Developers build more traditional, line-of-business apps by using frameworks like Kendo UI and Famo.us.

WHAT ARE THE TECHNICAL ABILITIES OF YOUR APP DEVELOPMENT TEAM?

The team’s technical abilities is another major factor when it is about to evaluate development options for mobile. To build native applications, you need to hire developers who are proficient and experienced with the programming languages of every platform that you wish to target and platform SDKs. But for building web and hybrid apps, you need to hire developers who use web technologies like CSS, HTML, and JS. You may also have a team that can target more than one platform with a single set of technologies. So, this is a worth considering when you have to evaluate your opinions.

DOES THE HYBRID APPROACH REALLY LIVE UP TO ITS PROMISE?

Lastly, it is important to know that hybrid is not the be-all and end-all approach for mobile app development. At the initiation of this article, I have thrown light upon the challenges of overcoming the inconsistencies between WebViews. While other challenges still remain. With hybrid app development, you can target the various features of a mobile platform in order to discover if they are inaccessible. This is because plugins used for them can be unreliable, out-dated or missing altogether. This takes you to the dilemma whether to remove an application feature or to write the plug-in by yourself.

You may find hybrid app development model restricted when you have to develop an app that requires numerous native features or an app where performance is critically required for the success of the app. With this situation, you may found yourself to forcefully choose native development technologies. However, these are considered as alternative approaches which let you build performant native apps without having core knowledge of tools like Android Studio and Xcode.

Furthermore, the JavaScript-based NativeScript framework allows developers to build Android and iOS apps that forego the WebView for interactive and enhanced performance. NativeScript provides 100% access to Android APIs and iOS, removing the reliance on plugins which prove limitations while developing hybrid apps. But it is also not the be-all-end-all approach for developing native applications. However, this approach to application development is powerful which become more powerful with a higher learning curve. With NativeScript, you would not be using HTML to build UI. So, NativeScript is seriously considered by app developers if they have to develop an application with non-trivial performance requirements

Figuring the Cost of Custom Website Development for Business

Web application development and website design are serious and expensive business. You’ve got the talent. You’ve got the passion. You’ve got the tools. But where does the money to start a business come from? One word: Grants.

The popularity and rise of web application development has spawned many start-up businesses and entrepreneurs looking to get a piece of the lucrative application development pie. With prime-time players like the Apple App Store and Google’s Android Market eating up the majority of the pie in terms of web application dissemination, it is difficult for aspiring web application developers to get noticed or even be seen from a distance. Like the old saying goes, no money, no funny. How can these developers continue to develop their talents (no pun intended) if the money just doesn’t add up? The well will dry soon enough if demand is not supplemented with return on investment. Help is out there, you just need to find it.

But there are some things you need to keep in mind when you’re looking for help:

– Keep good documentation: So you’ve got an app. It works and you’re happy with it. When applying for a grant, you need to keep good documentation. From the processes and problems to the challenges and successes, put it on paper and hold onto it.

- Issues? What issues? A Website Design & Development project is tedious, hard work. You and your team (assuming you worked with one) are bound to run into some issues. Make sure you document these. From variable issues to design, they want to know how you discovered the issue and how you went about fixing it.

– Time: Sure, this could also fall under keeping good documentation, but when developing a web application, time is crucial. Grants are time sensitive too, there are deadlines for applying, so be sure you’re well prepared.

Web application development continues to grow and evolve. Grants make the little guys gain access into an industry where only elite company with big sacks of money can participate. There are even grants which help to improve the technical prowess of your team. Who wouldn’t want to learn how to build and design better? There’s a grant for that.

Staying in the Web sphere, let’s take a look at the pioneer of web application development: website design. It has long been a committed partner to the Internet. The two go together like Marge and Homer Simpson – a marriage of two things that would not work if one of them was missing. But just like how web development is exploding, so too is the queue for companies. Nothing is original anymore. Everything is borrowed from something – including website design and web application development design trends. But not to worry, there are grants for Custom design too. We can’t all play in the big sandbox right away, as website designers or web application developers, we all need a helping hand. Grants help, so if you need one, apply!