How Google is Changing Our Brains

Here’s a really interesting graphic on how Google is changing the way we think.  It goes over the good and bad consequences and provides some real food for thought.

I love that we live in a world where all the knowledge in the world is available to us on our computers and through our phones.  As I sit here on my computer, I have access to:

  1. The most comprehensive and arguably the best encyclopedia ever created: Wikipedia.org.
  2. 36,000 books in the public domain through Gutenberg.org for free and millions of titles through Amazon if I want to pay for them.
  3.  I can get almost any DVD or Blu-Ray I want through Netflix.com and I can get almost any movie or TV show I want through Netflix again or Hulu.  The rest can be found somewhere online if you know how to look.
  4. I recently found a great online tool called Spotify with a ton of free music available on their stream.  Another tool called Pandora plays music for me based on an algorithm that figures out what I like, even if I’ve never heard of the song or the artist.
  5. Art can be found online through museum websites, online galleries and artist websites.  Here’s a great list of them from the same group that developed the info-graphic.
  6. And then there’s Google,  which has become so omnipresent that the name of the company is a verb.
We’re living in a Golden Age of Information that our grandparents could never have dreamed of.  When people ask where their flying cars and moon bases went to, I direct them to look in their pockets.  The future is now and it went micro, not macro.

What do you think?


Research and Design by: Online Colleges Site

An Update and a New Office Number

It’s been an extremely busy few months for us over here at The Internet Adventure. In addition to my daily work creating citations, monitoring local search and working on websites, I picked up a large project that has left me no extra time for blogging. I’m close to finishing, so my blog schedule will resume then.

There are lots of things that I want to discuss, so I’m eager to get blogging again. Two things that I really want to get into are Google In-Page Analytics and making sure that there are Calls to Action on every page of a website.  You can click on the links to see what I’m talking about.

Lastly, I’ve added an office number for the business.  You can call me any time at: (813) 421-2751.

I’m super excited to announce the new project, I’ve picked up a lot of new skills working on it and I can’t wait to show it off.

Working From New York for a Week

Just a quick note.  I’m in New York for a week with my family for a wedding, but I will be working from here.  I’m in the mountains an hour north of the city and my cell phone reception is spotty.  The best way to contact me until next Wednesday, September 14, is email.

Exploring E-Commerce Options

I had a prospect come to me last week who wants to create an online store.  They want to start with 10 manufacturers, 10 product categories, around 1,000 products and the ability to send drop-ship orders from the manufacturers.  They wanted an easy to learn interface, the ability to interface with QuickBooks, and for orders to automatically send them an email for fulfillment.  From that point they want to be able to expand as the business grows.

I had not yet built an e-commerce site with the new company and my last experience, with Magento, had been really labor intensive.  I like what can be accomplished with Magento, I just don’t like the effort that it takes to get there.  With that in mind, I set out to re-acquaint myself with the e-commerce options that are out there.  After going through the myriad options available, I thoroughly investigated 3 hosted apps and 2 licensed software carts.  Here’s what I found.

Hosted Applications vs. Licensed Software

Most of us aren’t going to be building a shopping cart application from scratch, so the first decision you’ll make when building an e-commerce website is if you’re going to use licensed  shopping cart software or a hosted e-commerce platform.  The main differences are where the application is hosted and whether you’re on a monthly subscription or you pay (or not) up front.  With a hosted application you purchase a monthly subscription to someone else’s software and website, log in to your account and customize it with themes, plugins, or custom code to  fit your needs.  With licensed software, you download and/or purchase the software (there are many free/open source shopping carts out there), obtain your own hosting, install the software and then customize it the same way you would with licensed software.

Hosted E-Commerce Applications

The main benefit of using a hosted app is the speed.  You can literally have an e-commerce site up in hours if you’re willing to use one of their templates, you have your payment gateway(s) setup and your inventory is ready to go.  You can customize the look of your site to a great degree, but you still have to play by their rules.  Depending on the package you purchase, you are limited in regards to: the number of products in your store, on-site storage, monthly bandwidth and number of administrators.  Also, according to the package, you may have to pay setup fees, pay per transaction fees and pay for an SSL Certificate (necessary for secure transactions).

Hosted e-commerce shopping carts are really great for small businesses who are just starting out with limited time and capital.  They’re also the perfect way for an existing business to dip their toe into online retailing to see if it’s worth their time.  Based on my top-level research, I found the following:

ShopifyLink to Shopify

Used by well-known companies and groups such as Angry Birds, Amnesty International and the Foo Fighters, Shopify was founded in 2004 as an online store for snowboarding equipment.  Since then, they’ve grown to host over 10,000 online retailers.  They have a robust community, support, and dozens of themes and apps available to customize your site.  Shopify was designed with a crisp clean easy to use interface.  The consensus is that it is great for a new business that’s getting started, but experienced online retailers may want something more extensive.

They have 4 plans to choose from and offer a 30-day free trial.

Plan Shopify Basic Shopify Professional Shopify Business Shopify Unlimited
Monthly Fee $29 $59 $99 $179
Setup Fee $0 $0 $0 $0
# of Products 100 2,500 10,000 Unlimited
Transaction Fees  2% 1% 1% none
Admin Accounts  Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Storage 100 MB 500 MB 1,000 MB Unlimited
Bandwith  Unlimited Unlimited  Unlimited  Unlimited
SSL Certificate  Included Included Included Included

Magento Go

The new kid on the block, Magento Go is the hosted version of the popular licensed software Magento, which I’ll cover in a little bit.  Magento Go went live in February 2011 with an aggressive pricing structure, a 30-day free trial and a “$1 million Stimulus” program which amounts to a $15/month discount for all users until the total amount reaches $1 million.

As a new product, however, there are still kinks to work out.  They only have a few dozen themes and plug-ins (collectively called add-ons) available.  They do not currently allow access to the html source codes, so you have to work around this by editing and uploading css files.  Currently, you can’t ftp directly into your store to upload or download files.  Uploading products by csv files is reportedly buggy.  Lastly, and a deal breaker for my prospect, they do not yet have an option for enabling drop shipping.

As it currently stands, I would only recommend Magento Go to new businesses who want to dabble in e-commerce.  However,Magento was recently purchased by eBay.  With that kind of backing, I expect Magento Go to get through these hiccups.  It’ll be interesting to see where they are in a year.

They also offer 4 different plans:

Plan Get Going Going Places Go Beyond Go Anywhere
Monthly Fee $15 $25 $65 $125
Setup Fee $0 $0 $0 $0
# of Products 100 500 1,000 10,000
Transaction Fees none none none none
Admin Accounts  3 10 20 30
Storage 200 MB 500 MB 800 MB 5 GB
Bandwith  4 GB 8 GB 16 GB 32 GB
SSL Certificate  Shared Custom Custom Custom

BigCommerce

Big Commerce is one of the big players in hosted e-commerce.  Like me, you’ve probably been seeing their ads all over the place, which makes sense since the interface was put together by marketing people.  This carries through to the product management and reporting aspects, which get high marks online against Shopify’s superior aesthetics and simple (some say too simple) interface.  Although comparable to Shopify, Big Commerce is considered to be more “heavy-duty” than Shopify.

They currently have the #1 ranking on toptenreviews.com, attractive templates to get your shop up quickly and do not charge a transaction fee.  Big Commerce is a good solution for everyone from newcomers to experienced retailers that need more features for their online launch.

Big Commerce offers 5 different options to get started with.

Plan Bronze Silver Gold Platinum Diamond
Monthly Fee $24.95 $39.95 $79.95 $149.95 $299.95
Setup Fee $0 $0 $0 $0  $0
# of Products 100 500 1,000 Unlimited Unlimited
Transaction Fees none none none none  none
Admin Accounts  3 10 20 50 100
Storage 200 MB 300 MB 500 MB 1 GB 3 GB
Bandwith  2 GB 3 GB 5 GB 15 GB 45 GB
SSL Certificate $79 – $449 per year

Licensed Shopping Cart Software

Unlike Hosted Apps, Licensed Shopping Cart Software have no monthly or setup fees (beyond the cost of acquiring the license) and no limit on products, admins or transactions.  You install the software on your own hosting, so you manage your own storage and bandwidth.  You are also responsible for obtaining and installing your own SSL Certificate (annual cost of under $100 to thousands of dollars depending on your options).  Along with the license, you usually get access to the source code and the ability to control the look and feel of most aspects of your online store, that you don’t get with hosted applications.  However, it will take considerably longer to get your online store running as you customize your store.

In exchange for a considerable upfront expenditure of time and capital licensed software will give you exactly what you want.  This is the solution for businesses that are serious about online retailing and have a few thousand dollars to spend.  It’s not unusual to see quotes of $100K plus for Magento deployments.

I have experience with developing for Magento and it’s never been easy to work with, even over time.  Honestly, I began my survey of e-commerce solutions looking for a way not to do another Magento install.  However, all the research I did always led back to them and one newcomer that I found.  With that being said, let’s begin with Magento.

Magento

Magento is the industry leader for a reason.  Their users include names such as Ford Motors, Samsung, Dockers and The North Face.  They offer an open source version of their product, Magento Community, with no formal support.  However, there is a huge community of users along with thousands of themes, plugins, and sources for source code to do pretty much anything you want.  They also offer two versions with extra options turned on and paid support.  Magento Professional starts at $2,995 per year and is a solution for small and medium business.  Magento Enterprise, as the name says, is made for enterprise-level businesses and can support the largest possible online stores.  The price tag for the enterprise solution starts at $12,990 per year.

Magento is actually a relative newcomer, released in March 2008.  Since then a cottage industry of Magento theme and plugin developers has sprung up with some web developers devoting their entire business to supporting Magento.  Developers love its power and  flexibility, but it exchanges that for ease of use.  That may be a personal thing, many people love it and claim it’s easy to use.  I suspect that my dislike comes from the fact that I’m not a programmer at heart.

In my opinion, Magento is great as a “final solution” for e-commerce.  It’s where you want to end up if you ever become Ford Motors or Samsung.  But what about the rest of us?

LemonStand

In my research, I kept on coming across a software solution called LemonStand.  Launched in July of 2010, LemonStand is known for ease of use and excellent customer support, the founder of the company commonly answers questions in the forum!  The license for the software is $299.98 (Canadian Dollars) and it never expires.  As a relative newcomer, there are only a handful of themes and plug-ins available.

The buzz on LemonStand is that it’s a great middle point between a hosted app and the complexities of a complex “do-everything” shopping cart.  LemonStand combines ease of use, flexibility and the ability to design your store to look exactly like you want it to.

I actually installed a test version of LemonStand and I had a vanilla test store up in a few hours.  I dug around and I agree that it’s a much easier interface to deal with than Magento.  I would highly recommend it to a small or medium business that doesn’t want to give control of their site to a third-party and doesn’t mind spending the time and money on development.

Conclusion

There are many options available for e-commerce and the answer depends on your business.  Are you just starting out or are you an established business?  Do you want to try out online retailing or is it going to be your main source of revenue?  How quickly do you need the site up and how much can you spend on it?  How much control do you want to have over your site?

If you need help determining the answers to any of those questions, I’d love to help you out.

Announcement: We’re Google Certified Partners!

I’m proud to announce that The Internet Adventure, is now enrolled in “Google Engage for Agencies.”  We had to go through Google’s verification process and complete their certification process to establish our qualifications to enter the program.

For me, it means that I get to brag a little bit and add “Google Certified Partner” to my emails and to my website.  It’s a bit of validation for me of the experience that I’ve accumulated over the past years.  For you, it means that you get first crack at whatever goodies Google sends my way.  The first thing they’ve provided me with is a coupon code for $100 in free Google AdWords.  This is for new AdWords accounts only, so if you’ve already been using Google AdWords the code won’t work for you.  I have a limited number of these available, so please get in touch with me as soon as you can if you want one.

As always, I’m here to serve you.  If you have any questions or concerns or if you just want to say “Hi” please feel free to call me.

Chris Lontok

Head Navigator
Google Certified Partner

New Site Live: Evolution Martial Arts

Evolution Martial Arts Website Screenshot

Evolution Martial Arts Website

I just completed a website project with my customer: Evolution Martial Arts.  They’re a martial arts school here in Tampa, Florida specializing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Kids Classes, and Kardio Kickboxing.

It’s an intensive re-design of their original site.  I moved it into WordPress to take advantage of the innate SEO benefits as well as giving the customer the ability to work on the site himself with his own login.  I re-used some of the original design elements, but did a ton of custom graphic design work to distress the images, use them as backgrounds, create buttons, and crop them for the various display banners and videos.

The customer and I spent a lot of time going back and forth, but we’re both really proud of the result.  I think it’s my best site to date.

If you need any help with a website of your own, or have any questions on how I built it, please feel free to contact me.

It’s an Adventure For a Reason!

It’s 11:38 pm on a Monday night and the rest of the house: the kids and the wife, have drifted off to sleep one-by-one.  Meanwhile, I’m online tweaking 3 or 4 different websites and trolling for plugins to improve my websites.  I had just installed an exciting one called Jetpack that bundles together 8 great tools in one package, including a Twitter Feed widget, site stats, shortcode embeds, shortlinks, Gravatar Hovercards, and a few others.  I was excited to find more, so I did the obvious: a Google search for “best WordPress plugins.”

The top result for my search was a very well-written article with the supremely catchy title: “The 15 Best WordPress Plugins to Use in 2011.”  That title alone is worth the price of admission: keyword rich, relevant and in-the-moment. Of course I clicked it and, as advertised, I discovered some gems that I immediately downloaded and installed: W3 Total Cache, HeadSpace2 SEO, SEO Smart Links and others.  The site that I had found was: Nicholas Cardot’s Site Sketch 101, a well designed, attractive blog about website design and blogging.  I browsed through the site and was attracted to one article in particular: “How to be a Credible Online Authority.”

I’ve been building websites in one way or another since the late 1990’s and I’ve been a professional internet marketer since 2008.  Despite those two facts I’m still shocked by what I don’t know about the internet.  I focus so hard on Local Search, Web Development and Social Media, I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t know everything about Affiliate Marketing or Pay-Per-Click or non-Local SEO.  The article, and this quote in particular, really reassured me:

“What’s wrong with taking on an attitude that expresses that you’re learning while you’re teaching?”

That’s the attitude with which I started my business and the attitude I have every day.  I’m learning more and more every day, and I want to share what I’ve learned as my knowledge grows.  I’ll never claim to be an all-knowing guru.  I’ll always be a student looking for the best answer.

I gave myself the title “Head Navigator” when I started the company to poke fun at myself.  It’s really hard to navigate when the online landscape is always changing.  I’ll never know “everything”, all I can do is take Nick’s advice:

“The right answer is to study, practice, improve and grow. Do this and your authority will grow with you.”

My Favorite WordPress Themes

I’ve been developing websites for customers for 3 years now and actually building them myself for the past 6 months. After years of trying out different web development platforms; everything from raw html, to FrontPage, to DreamWeaver, and various PHP and online development programs, I’ve decided on WordPress as my platform of choice. With it’s wide range of templates and plugins and the active community of WordPress developers who’ve created code and tutorials, WordPress can do almost everything that I need to do in a website.

With that in mind, here are the tools that I use everyday when building websites.

The Builder Theme from iThemes

iThemes Builder WordPress theme I literally use Builder for 90% of the websites that I create.  Builder offers:

  • Completely customizable layouts
  • The Style Manager, which allows you to edit CSS on the fly
  • 38 child themes on which to base the look of your site.
  • Built-in SEO options

Some of my favorites child themes are:

Among the non-Builder theme, I really like Magazine Basic from Themes by Bavotasan.  I use a no-frills basic install for an article website that I put together.  I was looking for something simple that would allow me to display my most recent posts in an article/magazine format.  It actually has a fairly powerful back-end editor that allows you to control things like page width, headers, footers, sidebars and SEO options.  This version doesn’t have the versatility of Builder, but you don’t always need that much complexity.  If you’re looking for more options, they offer upgraded versions: Magazine Flow and Magazine Premium.

I’m now on Google+

I just got an invite to Google+ from a friend of mine this morning. I’m playing around with it, adding people to Circles, checking out Sparks, and setting everything up. If you want an invite from me, just ask and I’ll add you for as long as I have them.

Google’s New User Interface – Maps, Places, & Home Page

Working in Google yesterday, I noticed that their interface had changed.  A quick search online brought me to Google’s official announcement that they’re “refocusing” the map.  I like the new, refined look with a lot more whitespace and the functionality.  The most noticeable change for me is that my name, and various Google products, are in a new black bar.  For those with Google+ beta accounts, their Google+ account information is highlighted.  Mike Blumenthal believes that the new look is there to get users ready for the rollout of Google +.

Here are some screenshots that I took to show how the new interface looks when I’m logged in:

Google Home Page

The new user interface when logged into Google's home page.

Google Maps Page

Google's New Interface - Maps Page

Google Places Page

Google's New Interface - Places Page

I just applied for my own Google+ beta account and I’m eager to try out Google’s next attempt at incorporating social media into it’s products.