Two web hosts I'd recommend: Catalyst2 and Vidahost

Two Web Hosts I’d Happily Recommend

Choosing who to host your website with is always a tricky problem – there are so many web hosts out there, that selecting a reliable company can be very hit and miss.

Web hosting itself is not a difficult job and pretty much anyone can provide a decent reliable package. Although the cheap price you see advertised can be appealing, the service you receive is much more important. The problem is that because hosting is easy, often the only times you can really judge the quality of the company is when something goes wrong. That is why a personal recommendation is often very important.

When selecting your own web hosting company you will probably use Google or look at the ads in the computer magazines to help you select. Unfortunately, the better web hosts tend not to advertise simply because they don’t need to – they get a good deal of their business through personal recommendations, and this is kind of the point of this post.

When I decided to write this post, I started thinking why I really wanted to recommend these two companies, and why others are so passionate about doing the same. The answer that came to me was “variation”. Web hosting, more than many other services, is very variable in the quality and value you get. The services are either really good, or really bad. And the really good ones tend to be very expensive too. Add to that the fact that so many of us have received such bad service from so many web hosts that when you do find a good one, you’re pleased – very pleased!

And so to the point. I’ve dealt with loads of web hosts over the years – many of them have come and thankfully, gone, but the better ones have stayed the distance and grown. I’ve dealt with single site shared cPanel hosting and fully redundant and load balanced bespoke hosting systems, but the two hosts I’m recommending are ideal if you want to host a few affiliate sites, or a medium sized site.

Vidahost

I was first told about Vidahost back in 2007. I wanted to diversify my hosting, and was quite surprised at the prices – they were, and still are, some of the best I’ve come across. However, it is the level of service that always astounds me. The first time I had cause to contact them was to enquire about a package upgrade – this was at 9pm one evening and I naturally expected a reply the next day. But five minutes later and the email had been answered and my package was being upgraded.

This experience was not a one off, but has been consistent. I have since moved six more sites over to them on a shared hosting package and because the service had been so good for my personal sites, I was happy to start using them for my company’s websites too. I transferred a mixture of ten blogs and discussion forums from a dedicated server to a VDS server – and managed to halve the costs and gain better performance and service in the process – pretty much all you can ask for! You can arrange the hosting fully online if you want, or email them and ask for something more custom – they’ll reply pretty quickly.

Click here to vist Vidahost » Use this special code for 10% off hosting: NEARLYHOME10

Catalyst2

Catalyst2 were my first proper web hosts back in 2001. They were one of the few companies at the time that did decent priced Windows hosting. What I like about Catalyst2 is that if you have a single website that needs hosting, they are a great value option. The service has been good too, and although not quite up to the standard of Vidahost, it has been consistent and more than satisfactory. I’ve recommended them numerous times and still have a couple of websites with them – and after nearly ten years, that is a pretty good indicator of quality.

Click here to visit Catalyst2 »

Both these companies have been around a good few years now and were both personally recommended to me. I’m not saying these are the only two hosts you should consider, just the ones that I have been consistently happy with, and have experienced over a good number of years.

For the purposes of transparency, the link to Vidahost is an affiliate link, which means that if you click it, and buy a package, I’ll get a couple of quid as a referral fee. This doesn’t in any way affect my opinion here, and If you don’t want to click it, you can of course just Google them instead (or Bing them as we’re being transparent!). The Catalyst2 link is a normal non-affiliated link.

Before and after image of the Firefox disappearing Forward button

How to make the Firefox disappearing Forward button disappear

In line with Mozillas new rapid release programme, Firefox 10 has a couple of new minor features. One of them is a new ‘disappearing foward button’.

As part of their plans to make the browser interface, or chrome, a more intuitive part of the experience, Firefox have made the ‘forward’ button only show when there is actually a page to move forward to. This makes sense, why use up valuable screen real estate when you don’t have to?

It is a nice usability touch and although I can’t say it was a feature I was gagging for, it was stil something I was keen to try out. Except it didn’t work for me – it was showing all the time.

If you’re having the same problem, there appears to be two possible fixes (although please comment if you know of any more):

  1. In Options > Toolbar Layout, you have the ‘Use Small Icons’ checkbox ticked;
  2. You have other buttons between the foward button and the address bar.

It was this last option that worked for me. If you use an extension or add on which places buttons in this location (Delicious was the cause for me), then simply moving them to the other side of the addres bar will fix the problem.

You can move icons by clicking the orange Firefox menu option at top right, selecting Options > Toolbar Layout (or right click on the toolbar and click ‘Customise’) and then click drag the icons them to a new spot. Simple.

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Advanced Web Ranking Review

Any experienced SEO will tell you that keyword research around your websites subject is one of the most important things you can do before starting a new site. What do you want to rank for? How competitive is it? Is it possible without spending huge amounts of cash? For this you really need a decent package, and after much searching I found the Advanced Web Ranking “all-in-one seo software” that has helped me no end.

Unfortunately, at the time I started my websites I was not experienced in SEO. Therefore the keyword research I performed was virtually nil. I had created highly optimised pages based around individual products to get me going. Now this wasn’t a bad way to start – on the contrary – it gave me some nice quick wins and was certainly enough to keep my enthusiasm going as the website grew.

The Need to Track Keywords

About 12 months later I started to rank for some of the niche subjects general keywords. Only a few here and there, but it was enough to make me realise that the time had now come to start attacking more generic key phrases. In order to do this I needed to be able to track my progress so I could learn and spot the opportunities as they arose, so off I went in search of some decent ranking tracking software. Now there are many ways to do this. Online software like SEOmoz is great for tracking campaigns, and even some Firefox extensions will do it for you, but I wanted something standalone and more in-depth. Heck, I wanted pretty progress graphs too!

So I started looking and found that like most software, there are a number of programs that will do what you want, and they all promise much. Most of them have flashy websites, nice looking graphics, and also come with a free trial so we can really get to grips with them.

However, I’m a fussy person, and the thought of installing 6 lots of trial software on my PC really didn’t appeal. Experience has told me that I would probably disregard half of these programs after the first few minutes of use, and their flashy sales talk would prove to be just as thin and empty as the programs were. So I went off in search of some recommendations first.

There were only a couple of programs that were consistently recommended by users, and that were suitable for my needs. One of them, Advanced Web Ranking, had received a glowing personal recommendation from an affiliate marketer I know. He was not involved with the company, and had nothing to gain from the recommendation so this was the first product I decided to trial.

Installation and First use of Advanced Web Ranking

Now to say Advanced Web Ranking is basic software is a massive understatement. I’ll be honest and say that when I first fired it up, I was daunted with what I saw. I was even tempted to just close it down and try something else, but software doesn’t get to be popular by being average, so I persevered. And I’m glad I did because it got easier – much easier. The tutorial that greets you when your first launch the program is a real help and whilst it doesn’t explain absolutely everything to you, it tells you enough to get going. With the help of the help section on the right of the screen, over time I started exploring more about the software and what it can do.

I started off with the basic keywords, and then expanded them to longer tail keywords as I went on. The meant I could spot patterns where I would see one main keyword improve (or decline) and see if the same effect happened on the longer tail version of it.

As well as being able to track your own websites, you can of course add in competitors too. I’ve added some direct competitors (similar size of website), but also some much bigger retailers to compare against and it does show up plenty of useful data.

Day to Day Usage

After we had trialled the software we decided to go ahead and purchase AWR. Rather than just start over again, you can just activate your trial version and so keep all your projects intact. You get a nice ‘Advanced Web Ranking Licensed to your name’ in the title bar just to make you feel a little more valued!

The updates are very frequent – almost every day there is an amendment to the search engine listings, and there are frequent patches too to help keep it ahead of the game. The latest version is especially good, and includes and much improved, and more graphical interface. This will make it easier for new users to get to grips with it.

Recent updates and additional features – such as plugging into Google Analytics to get visitor data, and obtaining link data from SEOMoz – have made the program more powerful. I’m currently using version 8.6 and it is much improved from when I first started using it.

The Graphs Go Up, But Also Come Down – Especially When There’s a Panda About!

Screenshot of Advanced Web Ranking
This is a scary screenshot of Advanced Web Ranking showing rankings drops during Panda 2. Note the number of keywords that just disappeared.
The software really has come in its own following the recent Google Panda updates. It’s always nice to follow the progress of keyword rankings as they move upwards, but since using the software I’ve learned more when following keywords back down the rankings results.

The Advanced Web Ranking graphs following the Panda update did not make pleasant viewing for some of my sites! But being able to see what keywords suffered and what didn’t really helped me target my recovery plans. To have this information to hand was immensely useful – and to be honest, I’m not sure where I would have started without it.

Why you’ll like Advanced Web Ranking

Advanced Web Ranking is not a piece of software that is going to do everything for you and tell you what you need to do, but it does give you the information you need to be able to spot opportunities and trends, and where you need to focus your efforts.

What’s also good is that you get a pretty full featured free trial so you can fully test it. No software is perfect and we were pretty thorough before investing in it – we needed to get along with it day in day out. We even called on the support guys a couple of times for help – they were excellent and on one occasion had a patch written as a result of a suggestion we’d made.

If the great support wasn’t there we’d still use Advanced Web Ranking (don’t tell Caphyon that!) but with it, we’ve no hesitation in recommending it.

The ‘Standard’ edition is extremely good value for money, and although it lacks a couple of features such as reporting and PageRank data, for general day to day use it will probably suffice. The ‘Enterprise’ version will suit most full time SEO’s and agencies, and the ‘Professional’ version will suit those in-between.

Read more about AWR and the offers available here: http://www.advancedwebranking.com/

Disclosure: I am a genuine every day user of AWR – I used it at my last company, and made my new company buy it too! The only thing I am getting out of this is a licence to use at home, and everything I have said stands true regardless of that.