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Server Incident Report UK APR-22

23 Apr

Some users may have been aware that we suffered a network issue at one of our UK based data centers on April 22nd 2014. The issue caused connections to sites and services on our platform to timeout for a small subset of users from around 9:41am BST onwards.

Thankfully most Freewebstore users and website visitors were unaffected and there was no disruption of service for those users. The users who were affected seemed to be reporting that they were unable to view their own website nor the Freewebstore Control Panel. So we were forced to communicate with these users via our Twitter feed. This should be your first port of call if you are ever unable to reach any of our web installations. Here we were able to keep users fully informed of the progress and our continued efforts to resolve the problem. If you were not following us on Twitter before then now is a good time to start. Follow us at https://twitter.com/Freewebstore

As this issue only affected a small percentage of our users it took longer than usual to identify. Within a couple of hours we were able to pinpoint the issue to one UK hosting installation and a potential upstream networking issue within or close to the datacenter. Working further with our hosting partners, we managed to route around the problem for some of our users and a set of corrective measures were drawn up to correct the problem. The problem was down to some Cisco7600 routers. To correct the problem they had to be taken down and the firmware updated then rebooted with a new configuration. The work would cause 5 minutes of downtime but should resolve the issue for all users on all connections. These corrective measures were delayed until 1am BST to avoid any unnecessary disruption to users who were not being affected by this issue.

Meanwhile we kept our Twitter feed up to date and began work on creating a redundant installation in the cloud. We managed to get a second Freewebstore Control Panel online in the cloud at around 18:50pm BST on a new URL. The hope was that users having connectivity issues within the UK may be able to access the new site hosted in the cloud. This was largely successful for most users who were affected by the original issue. This at least gave users access to their store accounts and allowed them to process orders and communicate with their shoppers.

The corrective work at the data center was carried out on time and without any further issues. The down time occurred at around 1:28am BST and lasted for around 4 to 5 minutes. The new hardware was rebooted and all sites and services came back online shortly afterwards. The work corrected the connection issues as planned and normal service was resumed for all users across our platform.

We understand that any downtime is very frustrating to users and all precautions are taken to prevent these types of incidents from happening. Having said that – hardware failures do happen. It affects companies of all sizes. Not even the mighty Google have 100% uptime due to these type of problems. Due to the robust nature of our network architecture a problem as unforeseen as this still only affected a very small percentage of users. We are very proud of our uptime and we continue to strive to get as close to 100% uptime as humanly possible.

We appreciate your patience during scenarios like these and our dedicated network support team will continue to endeavour to make sure you are protected from future incidents.

Remember to follow us on Twitter to be kept fully up to date on all things Freewebstore. Trolls and keyboard warriors need not apply. You know who you are!

Introducing Product Groups

19 Nov

We have introduced a powerful new feature to the Freewebstore Control Panel…Product Groups.

Product Groups allow you to perform a single action on all the items in a particular group saving you time when editing lots of products. For example you could create a group of products called “Specials” and apply a discount to all these products with a single click.

To get started you need to create your own groups of products.  There are a few ways to create a group.  One way is via the Manage > Manage Groups section of the Freewebstore Control Panel.  Another quick way is to set a filter on the Manage > Products section and add those filtered products to a group.

Once you have created your group you can do bulk editing on those products via the “Action” button.  Some of the actions you can perform include changing the category, editing the stock level or even changing the price.

One exciting feature of Product Groups is the ability to create Group Specific Coupon Codes. Once you have created a group you can then create a coupon code and on the “Groups” tab of the coupon entry form select your new group as the only group allowed to use it.   You could have a group with only one product in it making it a unique coupon code to that particular product.  How good is that ?!

Got a suggestion for an action to perform on a group? Use the comments section below and we will happily add it to our road map.

Is Freewebstore really free? What’s the catch?

16 Nov

In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with special offers that seem too good to be true, it is easy to dismiss a free offer such as ours.  We frequently get asked “Is Freewebstore really free? or What’s the catch?”  Well the answer is Yes it is! And there aren’t any catches!

As a Free User of Freewebstore, you don’t have to pay a penny, ever, and you’ll have access to a fully functioning online store that would normally cost thousands to set up from scratch.

Business Users gain access to additional features such as Google Shopping and an increased Product Limit but there’s no reason at all why you couldn’t be a Free User for life and make a huge amount of money from your webstore.

And we never take a commission – All of your profits are your own and we will NEVER touch them.

View our Packages

Print Orders In Bulk

15 Nov

bulkprint

We know that many of you print your orders out.  If you have lots of orders to print (which many of you do as your stores are performing so well) this can be quite time consuming.

With this handy addition to your Freewebstore Control Panel you can now save time printing each order out individually by printing selected orders in bulk.

To print in bulk :

1.  Select your orders using the tick box on the left hand side.
2.  Click the “Print Invoice(s)” button
3.  A PDF file will open containing all your selected invoices.  Simply print this file out.

SEO 101 – Common Mistakes

23 Sep

seo101

Ok, so you have your shiny new web store set up on the epically good Freewebstore platform. You have added your categories and products with consummate ease. You have chosen your store colors, uploaded your company logo, created your glossy product headers, added a shiny new slideshow and you are ready to make your fortune. So what’s next?

If you have yet to settle on your design or you have not yet finished adding your product inventory then I want you to stop reading right now.  Stop. Full stop. Have you stopped? Please stop! Go back and finish setting up your store.

Let Us Begin – Hungry Anyone?

For those of you still reading this then I am going to assume your store is at an acceptable level and you are ready to start promoting. The biggest mistake our users make is trying to force the store onto Google before it is even finished. This is the worst of all bad ideas. “Put your best foot forward” is a saying for a reason. You do not want Google to start rating your store and deciding what it is about whilst you are still building it. That could be bad. Really bad. Get your store up to a level you are happy and proud of then start thinking about promoting it.

Knives and Forks

In order to be successful at anything, you need the right tools and the right prep work. For this recipe, you will need the following ingredients.

  • 1 x Epic Freewebstore Store
  • 1 x Domain Name
  • 1 x Google Webmaster Tools Account
  • 1 x Google Analytics Account
  • 1 x Chocolate Biscuit

So the most important tool is your Freewebstore store and more accurately the Freewebstore Control Panel. This is the hub of everything you do and controls every aspect of your visible (and invisible!) store. When you first create your store we give you a temporary domain name such as (Freewebstore.org/MyNewShop). This will work fine but if you are serious about getting a lot of shoppers and sales then you are going to need your own domain name. This helps you stand out from the crowd and makes your store much easier to see and find both for shoppers and search engine spiders/bots. It is the single most important thing you can do for your store (beyond choosing Freewebstore as your eCommerce provider!). Domains are cheap as chips and you can pick one up for a few dollars or pounds. If you do not have a domain name yet then click here to go and buy one. It is worth mentioning that you get a free domain name from us with the Professional/Power Seller packages.

The two other tools you will need are both Google related and also happily free. You should set up your free Google Webmaster Tools account as soon as possible.  We submitted a sitemap to Google for you when you created your store, but we recommend you have your own free account to access all the relevant keyword data.   The sitemap is basically a guidebook or index for Google that lets it find every nook and cranny (page, product, and category) in your store. Google will use this to instruct its spiders to crawl your entire store. This, as you can imagine, is very important. The plucky little sitemap, that we submitted on your behalf, absolutely free, is clever enough to keep up with all your latest changes and additions made via the Freewebstore Control Panel. So you set it up once and forget about it. Safe in the knowledge that it will always keep Google in the loop. The last tool you need is the fabulous (and free) Google Analytics product. This is basically the statistics package to end all statistics packages. It gives you every possible bit of visitor information you could ever possibly wish for regarding your store.  Again, if you have not yet installed Google Analytics (don’t worry it is easy!) then do it now by clicking here.

So now you have your store on your own domain name, the Freewebstore Control Panel to make changes, the Google Sitemap to keep Google informed and the Google Analytics account to view your visitor statistics that will help us make decisions later. The chocolate biscuit is for you. We will wait here if you wanna go grab a brew?

Now that you are refreshed, let’s continue.

Eat Your Vegetables!

You are not going to like this but stay with me here. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation (hereafter referred to with the much more sexy acronym”SEO”). There are no secrets and no (self-confessed) gurus who have secret knowledge and skills that no mere mortal could ever dream of achieving. If anyone approaches you claiming any different (for a fee!) then they are misleading you. Think about it. It is such an easy sell. No store owner no matter how large and successful thinks they are making enough money. So if some SEO wizard like creature approaches you and says they can magically “fix” your SEO if you cross their palm with enough silver then buyer beware. You have been warned.

The second vegetable I need you to mentally consume ( i will drop this metaphor soon I promise) is that your store is a tool. Brace yourself for another saying. “A poor workman blames his tools”. If you think your store is somehow holding you back then you are mistaken. You have full control over all your SEO from within the Freewebstore Control Panel. Blaming your store for poor SEO performance is like a hapless writer blaming his typewriter because his latest steamy novel flopped. (New metaphor see!). Conversely, it is not the store’s job to do this work for you. It can help – in a huge way but it will need you to do your bit.

Now For Dessert (good news!)

It may not sound like it but the good news is that there is no quick fix. So it is not magic and it is not predicated on the store software. So what now? Simple. Just start doing the right things and be patient. If there is an SEO secret then that is it.

You need to set the store up correctly to give yourself the best possible chance. You then need to leave it well alone for at least a month – preferably two. Only then when the store has matured and the listings have settled can you possibly try to assess the relative success of your store. If you try to do that before 60-90 days then it is useless. Completely useless. Any knee-jerk changes will reset the clock and you will have to wait another 60-90 days to see what the effect of your knee-jerk changes have been. Unless of course you only wait a few days, get frustrated that nothing has changed and made more knee-jerk changes that reset the clock yet again! This is the frustration/SEO cycle that a lot of our customers find themselves in. They blame the software, the store, the domain, our wonderful support team, Google, anything that can explain their lack of assumed ranking success. They are of course wrong and just grasping at straws. They are usually the people who did not stop reading at the end of the first paragraph (you know who you are!).

The Internet Buffet

Another common mistake is that store owners get greedy. They do not target specific keywords or search traffic. They just want as much traffic as they can get. So unless they are very good or very lucky they just get lost in the noise.

You need to pick your battles wisely. If you are a bookstore owner you are not going to compete with Amazon on the keyword “Book”. Good luck to you if you want to try but it is not a battle you are likely to win. So you need to target keywords and searches that are more specific or more niche. Perhaps you sell a certain kind of book? So it would be a much better bet to target “Second world war books” as the traffic here is more specific and the competition will be less. In this case, you would rename your product categories accordingly, so change “WWII” to “World War Two (II) Books”. You could also append “WWII” to the product names of the books contained within the category. Add a long category description to that category, one that mentioned “World War”, “World War Two”, “World War II” etc. Use the SEO title and description features of the products (and the category) to add more references to these terms. Then leave it a month or so and then use your Google Analytics account to see if you have had a marked improvement in hits of those (and related) search terms. That is SEO work in a nutshell. Also, start with only targeting one or a couple of different terms. This will help you hone your skills and keep you focused. Once you have mastered these search terms you can start getting cocky and add more terms to your hit list.

Repeat Until Rich…

You cannot force or rush SEO and traffic. Traffic builds gradually over time. Put a little bit of effort in at the beginning and perhaps, more importantly, be patient and wait to see what the results are. Then make considered decisions based on actual data (from Google Analytics) to see what improvements can be made. Then iteratively improve the SEO of your store over time. Each time giving the changes enough time to mature – look at the stats then re-assess and make the next change. Repeat until successful. That is how to do it properly. Not sexy and not quick but the truth. Of course, some of you may be better than others. Some may just get lucky. What is important to remember is that it is not impossible and anyone can do it. Each store is different, the market you operate in behaves in a unique way to others and the products you sell need to be promoted to that unique group. So SEO is a very personal thing. That is why there is no quick fix or magic plug and play solution. Nobody knows your business and products like you so who better to be in charge of the SEO?

Happiness Comes With Age

How old is your store? If anything less than 12 months then it is brand new in the eyes of Google. Google is understandably wary of new sites as they are subject to wild knee-jerk changes as the ones already discussed. So if you make the small iterative SEO changes as we have suggested Google will certainly like you. If you are patient and the store is online with the same provider for a long enough time then Google will start to trust you. They will be more comfortable ranking you higher for certain search terms. All common sense really. You are a better bet than the people (who are still reading?!?!) who want instant results and get themselves stuck in the frustration/SEO/blame cycle and who are constantly changing the store and jumping from host to host in the vain attempt that the next provider will have that secret SEO wizard chap/product/fix they so desperately crave.

Cheat Sheet

  1. Do not start worrying about traffic until the store is finished
  2. You need your own domain name. SEO without it is going to be difficult
  3. Get your Google Webmaster Tools account set up early.
  4. Get your free Google Analytics Account and attach it to your store. You need stats and lots of them.
  5. Give your store time. Do not assess SEO performance without giving your store at least 60-90 days to mature.
  6. Target specific keywords and search terms and concentrate on them first. Once achieved add more targets.
  7. Never think you are done. SEO is a constant process and the rules change often.
  8. Be patient and don’t blame your tools

That is all for now folks. We will post more blog posts in the near future which will be shorter and have specific advice and how-tos for you to improve your SEO. This was just a cathartic ramble about SEO, users expectations and the pitfalls of wanting too much too soon.

Given the metaphors above I think I must be hungry. So I am off to find a dark corner to eat my pie and give that steamy novel another go. Happy SEO’ing.