Use your domain for email too!

It never fails to amaze me how, when small businesses go to all the effort of registering a domain name and creating a web site, that they don’t use that domain for their email.

I seem to see it all the time – mostly on the side of vans, and sometimes on invoices and other documentation – whereby the email address looks so amateurish because they’re using a gmail address or similar.

It’s probably not the fault of the small businesses themselves, as they’re not internet specialists. But the people that sell them a web site are really letting the side down by not encouraging them to use their domain for an email address – even if it just forwards straight on to their gmail account!

After all the email address of john@amazingdecorators.ie is much more professional looking that johnsmithpainter@gmail.com.

Playing around with SSL certs

Inspired by a blog post I was reading recently, I started having a play around with an SSL cert.

An SSL cert is what enables a website to encrypt the traffic to and from the end user. This improves security and trust, and I’ve read that it also improves your search rank in Google. The most notable difference to a web site visitor is that the URL of the site changes from http:// to https:// and a little padlock symbol is displayed next to the URL in the address bar.

Some SSL certs can be really expensive to buy. The ones from my own hosting provider range from €30 to €700 a year, depending on the type of cert you want. However by shopping around a bit on the web, I came across SSLs.com who sell certs from as low as $5 a year!

Buying the cert is the easy bit. Configuring it and installing it is a bit more tricky, and I couldn’t find any easy instructions online.

  • First of all you need to generate a CSR (Certificate Signing Request). When generated it looks like a really long string of random letters and numbers. Often you need to ask your web host to create the CSR for you, but I found this tool from SSL Store to generate mine. Make sure you keep the CSR and Private Key safe!
  • Back at SSLS.com you then need to activate your SSL cert – and you will be prompted to enter the CSR. Copy and paste the full value into the box provided. The SSL cert will then be generated and emailed to you in a ZIP file.
  • I installed the supplied SSL cert myself using my web host’s control panel. Make sure you install all the certs provided, together with the Private Key you supplied earlier. In the ZIP file you’ll find your domain cert and three CA certs. Install them all.

The cert should now work for your domain, and you should be able to view your site securely using https at the start of the domain.

For my WordPress site, I also installed the WP Force SSL plugin to automatically redirect non-secure traffic to the secure domain.

Anyway, so it all works, and my richardbloomfield.com site is now encrypted and secure!

Church Websites

I was just reading a very interesting article in the Church Times entitled What’s the point of a website (subscription required), which talks about the shocking state of many church websites. It says that in England last year, although two thirds of all churches had a website, the majority of them were out of date – and many lacked even basic details such as a contact phone number or service times.

I remember maintaining several different versions of the Old Saint Paul’s website (June 2000, March 2005, May 2007) before the site was handed over to Lucent Web Design a few years ago to design the current version, which still think is one of the best church web sites around. Check it out at: osp.org.uk

OSP website from 2005
OSP website from 2005
OSP website in 2012
OSP website in 2012

 

The parish has had a web site of sorts for around 17 years.  Indeed, we registered our domain name back in 1998, when almost no churches had a web presence.  And over the years, along with all the crazy page designs, one thing has remained constant: an emphasis on audience and freshness.

There’s nothing worse than visiting a web site that doesn’t contain the information you need, or that information is out of day. And so, for a long time time, the various maintainers of the OSP website have been mindful of what information people are looking for.  In the case of Old Saint Paul’s, we were serving a number of distinct audiences:

  • Regular Congregation Members – who are looking for parish news, information on upcoming services, rotas, music lists, and so on.  They want to rely upon the website giving them fresh and accurate information about what’s coming up, which helps them integrate into the community of the church.
  • Visiting Worshippers – the church attracts a lot of visitors, and we want to make it easy for them to find out where we are, what to expect when they come, and what dates/times the services are on. If someone is making a special trip to visit us, we don’t want them to be disappointed.
  • Curious Researchers – people who may even have no intention of visiting the church, but want to find out a little more about the architecture, history or its liturgy.

In every version of the web site, we’ve tried to address the needs of these different groups, and provide the information required. This requires diligence and commitment from those involved, and a buy-in from the top people in the parish – and it requires constant maintenance.

Too often other churches view the creation of a web site as a one-off project; such that it gets built and then forgotten about. In contrast they should view their web site as akin to their weekly service sheet or parish magazine – a resource that everyone in the parish wants to use, in order to get their message out.

Web Hosting

I’ve spent the last week or so consolidating my web hosting accounts into one place, with my supplier of choice Hosting Ireland. As well as cutting down the administration overhead, it’s also going to save me some money.

I also didn’t realise, until I started the process, how many different domain names I own.  They were spread out over different domain registrars and hosting providers, and many of them are no longer in active use, but I like to keep hold of them – you know – just in case!  In total I have six domain names for my own personal use:

  • richardbloomfield.ie – My current blog, which has a rather snazzy Irish domain.
  • richardbloomfield.com – My so-called “professional” web site – not much on it.
  • bloomfield.me.uk – My old blog (now defunct), which forwards to my .com
  • layclerk.org – An old blog about cathedral music (now defunct), which also forwards to my .com
  • louiseandrichard.info – Our new wedding website – still under construction at the time of writing, but feel free to check it out!
  • bike.io – A new venture I’m trying out, to try and put together a cycling related information portal. Have tried writing a few articles, but the site doesn’t appear to be attracting any visitors.

New OSP web site

It was back in 1995 that Robin McMorran created the first web site for my old church in Edinburgh, Old Saint Paul’s; hosting the site on a free server somewhere in the Netherlands.
Then in 1998 I took over and design and maintenance of the site; moving it to its current domain name of osp.org.uk. Since then the Old Saint Paul’s web site (also sometime known as OSP Online) has gone through many design iterations, including this version of the site from 2005:
OSP website 2005
But just as I moved away from Edinburgh in April 2007, disaster struck. The web hosts were hacked, and all the content of the server (including all backups) were lost. I was busy moving to a new country, and didn’t really have the time to rebuild the site from scratch. So the vestry made the sensible decision of commissioning someone more local to home to build a new site.
Justin Reynolds has a long association with Old Saint Paul’s, and has produced numerous web sites for other organisations in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Plus he’s a professional web designer – and as such, was an obvious choice. I’m just glad that, amongst his other commitments, he was able to find the time to work on the OSP site.
Anyway, so the new site went live this morning, and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s pretty fantastic. Do have a look around, and let me know what you think. The address is: osp.org.uk