Technology - The Foundation on Which Your Success is Built
You should have one overriding goal when sorting out the technology for your website.
EASE OF USE
You must be able to focus on producing content and looking after your members, not worrying about the technology.
For this reason, it is worth ensuring that the technology solution is able to do exactly what you want from the outset.
In this article, we will describe what your requirements should be. This will enable you to either brief a developer, evaluate software packages or look at managed solutions such as SubHub (www.subhub.com ).
Don’t let the technology requirements put you off. The opportunity is too big for you to stumble at this hurdle.
I’ll run through the functionality that you will need to run a successful website.
There are a few fundamental and important differences between setting up a straightforward website and a subscription website.
There must be a secure password-protected area of the site that only members can reach
You must be able to take payments and issue passwords
The password protection must be linked to the content area to allow an individual password to be enabled and disabled automatically
There must be a database for securely keeping member details
Adding new content must be very easy, as this will need to be done on a daily basis
Adding new functionality must be easy, so the website can continually be upgraded
Now we will go through the requirements in more detail. This is a short checklist you can use if you decide to get a developer to help build your website.
The requirements can be broken down into six headings:
1) The Basic Infrastructure
a. Hosting – usually a third party facility where your website will be loaded onto a server that is connected to the internet
b. Security – You need both physical security and software security
i) Physical security will mean that only authorised people can get access to your server
ii) Software security means that all payment information input into your site should be encrypted before transmission and be stored on a secure server
c. Monitoring - Your server and internet connection should be monitored 24 hours a day
d. Bandwidth – The more people who access your website, the more bandwidth you will require. Many people accessing at the same time can create additional peak bandwidth demands. You need a facility that can provide flexible bandwidth at a low price
e. Maintenance – You need to be able to sort out server or bandwidth problems very quickly
2) Content Management Solution
a. Content Management Solution – This controls the adding, archiving and display of information. If you have no technical knowledge, you must be able to cut articles from Microsoft Word and paste them into your site.
b. Simple website navigation that is easy to change – You should be able to add and remove menus, categories and other links without a developer.
c. Management of content submitted by other journalists – Third party contributors should be able to submit articles for your approval through the content management solution. After they are approved, you should be able to immediately publish them with a click of a button.
d. Ability to easily add images to articles
e. Publication controls – This enables you to publish and remove articles automatically. You should be able to load 10 articles today and program the platform to publish one article everyday for the next 10 days. This is essential for when you go on holiday.
f. Automatic archiving of content – You should be able to program the platform to remove and archive articles after a certain period of time. If it does not have this facility, this becomes a tedious manual job.
g. Website content search – It is important that you and your members can quickly search across all the content.
3) Member Management Database
a. Automated member sign-up – The sign-up process for new members should be fully automated. Members should enter their details on the website and click ‘submit’. This should send the details to the payment gateway for authorisation. Once the member is approved, a password should be generated and sent to the member for immediate access to the site. This process should take no more than a minute. If there is a problem with the payment, both the site owner and the applying member should be notified.
b. Password allocation – The creation of passwords and the programming of the platform to allow access should be automated.
c. Email responder to acknowledge membership – A new member should receive a series of emails to welcome them to the site, confirm payment and provide their password details. All these should be automated.
d. Password abuse detection – The platform should be able to detect whether a password is being abused. There are several ways that this can be detected, such as noticing two people trying to log in at the same time with the same password, or people trying to login from different parts of the world within hours of each other.
e. Member activity reporting – Being able to easily access information about website and member activity is vital to being able to change the site and content to meet your member’s needs.
Important Note: Some payment process providers direct customers off your site to sign up. In some instances, they take all of the customer's details and do not transfer a copy to the site owner. Never use one of these services. The most valuable asset in your business is your customers. You need 100% control over your member database.
4) Payment Processing
a. Automated payment processing – Payment processing should be fully integrated into the site so that it requires no manual information to process credit card orders.
b. Multiple Payment Plans – You will need the flexibility to have a choice of payment plans, e.g., monthly, weekly or annually, and possibly different membership levels, e.g., platinum, gold and silver. It is also useful to have the ability to create trial periods and promotion codes.
c. Recurring billing – The payment solution should be enabled to take monthly, quarterly or annual subscription payments automatically. Where necessary, it should send emails to members notifying them of the payments being taken.
d. International currencies – You should be able to take payments in any currency.
e. Security and fraud detection – The payment solution should have a fraud detection service integrated into the process.
f. Capture and manage personal data - You should be able to capture all the details of members and store them in your member database.
5) Additional Functionality to Improve the Customer Experience
a. Management reports – The platform should generate management reports so that at anytime, you can get a snapshot of the number of members you have, how much money you’ve made and the amount of activity that is going on in your site.
b. Discussion forum – A forum is a must to create community and loyalty in the membership area of the website. We recommend buying in third-party software to give you this functionality.
c. Email newsletter – An email newsletter can be used both for marketing to new customers or keeping your existing members informed about new content being added to the website. We recommend using a third-party provider for this functionality. Covered later in the book.
d. Opinion polls and surveys – By no means is this functionality essential, but running surveys and polls on your site will both give you good insight into your customers thinking and provide great content for the site.
e. Events calendar – For some sites, having an events calendar will be essential, for others it will not be relevant. Use third party software or the software that may be included as part of a discussion forum application.
f. Affiliate Program – An affiliate program allows other site owners to promote your website in exchange for a commission. An affiliate program validates where leads are coming from and how much commission you owe to whom. We cover this in greater detail in the marketing section.
g. Content Downloads – Ability for clients to download files from the website. These could be audio, video, software or PDFs.
h. Video and Audio Content – Ability to play video or audio content via the website.
6) Website Design
a. A flexible and simple template for adding your own design. You must have flexibility in being able to design your site as you want it, not as the vendor wants you to have it.
All of the above functionality should be administered through a simple control panel.
If putting together your website was to be compared to building a house then:
The ‘Basic Infrastructure’ would be the foundations. They need to be solid and robust so once in place, you can forget about them.
The ‘Content Management Solution, Member Management Database and Payment Processing’ would form the walls. They need to be well built and secure so you can allow in the people who are welcome, and keep out the people who are not!
The ‘Additional Functionality’ would be added to create the roof. The roof on a house makes it warm and cosy. It turns the house into a place people want to stay. The additional functionality does the same.
The ‘Website Design’ is the paint, plants and furnishings that make it appealing to look at and inviting to guests.
As with building a house, your website needs all the key components in place and working to be a success.
Choose your technology partner carefully!