When it comes to publishing a website, people generally have two options:
• Build the entire site themselves, or
• Pay a developer to build it for them
But sometimes it can be the case that you lack the required coding skills to develop an entire website all by yourself, and also lack the financial resources to pay a competent developer to build a site for you of a suitable quality.
Should you just give up? Heck no – because there’s a reasonable compromise available, and it’s one that might help you meet your publishing needs without a major investment of time and money.
This solution, as you can no doubt tell from the title of this article, is to use an automated website builder.
Now, it is important to understand that these systems aren’t for everyone. If your site needs to do something very advanced, this method may not be best for you. But if you just need a general business website that doesn’t need to be uniquely special, automated site builders can save you time and money.
In this article, we’ll review the most popular automated site builders in Ireland, so you can evaluate whether this is the right way for you to meet your publishing needs, and decide which company will be best for you to work with.
What we’re testing.
For each provider, we’ll examine the available pricing plans, quality and variety of templates offered, performance, and ease of use.
Wix is the most well-known of the automated site builder providers because it was one of the earliest ones and indulges very heavily in marketing, especially on social media.
Wix has the option to include a free, ad-supported, Wix branded website, with no obligation to upgrade to a premium service. For most businesses, this would not be desirable, because it makes your site look amateurish and cheap. Just because you didn’t pay to have your site professionally developed doesn’t mean you want everyone to know it!
• Template selection
Wix has more than 350 free templates to choose from, however as is usually the case, the popularity of this provider means that many businesses within the same nice may end up with very similar websites. You can avoid this problem by using one of their blank templates, however this also means you’ll need some design skills.
The selection of templates feels limited. If you were creating a website for a restaurant, for example, the choices are limited to: Burger Corner, Pizza Restaurant, Vegetarian Restaurant, Steakhouse, Mexican Taqueria, Asian Restaurant, Mexican Restaurant, Restaurant Site (haute cuisine / nouveau cuisine), Tapas Restaurant, Vietnamese Restaurant, French Cuisine, Sushi Restaurant, and Italian Restaurant.
So unless your restaurant fits into one of their neat little stereotypes, you’ll need to invest extra effort and time into modifying the template to work for your business.
This may depend on what browser and operating system you use. On my Linux system running Firefox, Wix appeared to cause a gvsd metadata loop to start up on multiple occasions, which leads to excess hard drive access. It also increased the resources used by Firefox until the gvsd metadata loop was manually shut down, whereupon the system returned to normal. If this happened only once, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. The fault may not be exclusively caused by Wix, but it was the only provider that triggered this issue on the test system.
Accessing a site already built with Wix was not impressive either. The page loading time was excessive, and I was also not impressed that Wix hides the page source in encrypted form.
• Ease of use
After signing up for a free Wix account, you are asked what kind of site you want to create. There is no delay waiting for your email address to be verified, etc. Select the category of your site, and then choose a template. A very lengthy delay then ensues, with a splash screen to show it is working, but no progress indicator, so the user will not be sure how long it is necessary to wait.
Waiting for this process to complete gave me plenty of time to notice this warning in the browser about their SSL certificate:
After 10 minutes, it still had not completed, so I restarted the process. After another 10 minutes, I abandoned their site on the basis that it clearly wasn’t working correctly. Reliability is important for any hosting service, and persistent errors are not acceptable.
Other reviews have described the editor as “easy to use” and I guess this can be accepted as true. I was disappointed not to have the chance to see for myself, however.
This provider gives the option of building the site yourself or having them do it for a fee. It’s worth taking into account that the fee is too low for them to be creating you a genuinely bespoke website, but if you’re comfortable with buying off the rack, it’s probably still better than going for a total DIY job. On the other hand, if you prefer to tackle the task yourself, it’s completely possible with their Website Builder tool.
• Register365 is also providing more value straight out of the box than Wix does, as many features of Wix that are optional add-ons are provided by default by Register365. However, we still can’t recommend them unless you’re never going to travel the world, and never going to work with any subcontractors located internationally.
Why? Because if you log in from a non-European IP, they will lock you out, and the only way to resolve this is by phoning them, because they only provide phone support (which is not good enough). They will do this even if you registered in the first place from that non-European IP. So for us, Register365 is a no-go, because you should be able to log in from where you want.
It is super-discriminatory to assume that you’re an intruder based on where you’re logging in from, and ought to be illegal.
• Template selection
Register365 only provides somewhere between 100 and 200 templates, which means you’re even less likely to find a suitable one for your business than you would have on Wix, and even more likely to end up being “twinned” to one of your competitors due to using the same template.
Register365 did not trigger any of the performance issues encountered on Wix and was impressively quick to load. The only downside was the log in screen, which has quite an amateurish appearance, and not what we’d expect from a major service provider.
Their lack of support for globalised industry also has to count as a point against in terms of performance.
• Ease of use
The interface was a little more complicated than expected, but it’s still easy enough to get to grips with. You start by selecting a template for your site, and then clicking the “Edit” link. CloudSite templates are made up of components called widgets. You can edit each widget directly by clicking on it in the editing area, and you can drag-n-drop widgets from the left panel.
The knowledgebase for this system is scanty, and for this reason it’s not easy to recommend Register365 to anyone with no prior experience in designing and building websites. Considering that this would be the main market for this kind of service, the logical conclusion is that updating the knowledgebase to be more comprehensive should be their highest priority.
This service demonstrates the concept of “you get what you pay for”. It’s the cheapest option out there, but it’s lacking in too many areas to be an easy recommendation. This service could be of interest if you’re strictly a local business and you aren’t interested in a nomadic lifestyle or working with a widely dispersed global team.
3. Hosting Ireland
This service was the easiest to get up and running with quickly. Registering was a snap, and required only a name, email address, and password to be entered. Once registration is completed, the user is taken immediately to begin the process of building their site.
Hosting Ireland offers three different website builder packages that you can create a website with. At first the pricing may seem high, but when you take a look at the inclusions, you can see that these packages actually represent excellent value. The Premium package, in particular, comes under notice, offering a free IE domain and free SSL certificate included, at only €149 per year for an annual subscription.
What makes Hosting Ireland stand out is the added value from all the inclusions. While their regular hosting is even more affordable, and also excellent value, if you need the simplicity offered by a website builder application, these packages are an excellent choice.
• Template selection
The number of templates available was low in comparison to Wix, but then none of the website builders (including Wix) are offering anywhere near enough templates to meet the demand. The starter site had the lowest number of templates to choose from, while both of the higher priced options include more than 100 templates. It’s worth noting that these templates offer certain enhancements as standard inclusions that would be paid extras under most of the other services in this review.
The performance was impressively fast during testing, and there was virtually no lag, even when tested using a Wi-Fi connection.
• Ease of use
There wasn’t a great deal of difference in ease of use compared with Register365’s CloudSite, with the only real difference being that the widgets are dragged down from the top of the screen instead of from the left. There are also more widgets to choose from.
At first glance, it looks like LetsHost is offering very similar deals to HostingIreland, but actually the differences are definitely there to be seen. LetsHost has a more solid focus on eCommerce, and offers it even on their lowest package deal, but they’re not including as many freebies and bonuses.
The first of these, which was really the standout compared with HostingIreland, is that there’s no SSL included, and no free domain included. This thing about “membership” was also confusing, since that should be something entirely under your control, not something your host should be involved in at all. And very alarmingly, they imply password protection is only available on the premium plans, but also it’s not clear what they mean by this.
The most concerning thing, however, is that this service stands alone in charging transaction fees, and it’s not clear whether this transaction fee is merely passing on from their payment services provider (Weebly), or is added on top of Weebly’s transaction fees (which would make it a total of 6%). We’re going to assume that it’s not added on top. Either way, for a host branding itself as a stand-alone host to be routing checkout through Weebly just feels slimy.
• Template selection
This service has more templates than most of the other services except Wix, but the wording on their site implies there are “thousands of variations”, which is kind of true, but you could say that about any site using templates. A variation just means using different fonts and colours to the default.
As an example of how meaningless this is, consider a site that offers 100 different templates, and for each template there are 10 foreground and background colour options. This means the number of variations is 104 (or 10x10x10x10 = 10,000).
If you then have 100 different fonts you could choose from, the number of possible variations becomes 106 (or 10x10x10x10x10x10 = 1,000,000).
So effectively, claiming there are thousands of variations possible is a meaningless statistic, and it’s not helpful to consumers in making a comparison. All the different providers have thousands of variations.
The performance of LetsHost was impressive, with fast loading times even for large images and video backgrounds. Some of the links and scripts on their own website didn’t work when clicked, so that was a minor concern. Otherwise the platform itself seems quite sturdy.
• Ease of use
LetsHost uses a left column drag interface. The buttons are clearly marked and easy to understand. Navigating within the control panel was a little more complicated compared to HostingIreland but easier than Register365.
If you like working from templates, don’t want to pay anyone to assist you, or you want a simple eShop where you don’t have to do any real work to configure it, an automated site builder is for you. Otherwise, regular hosting and a bespoke site built with HTML and CSS is better, because it’s going to give you a lot more control over the end result.
From the sites reviewed above, Hosting Ireland offered the best overall experience in terms of value for money, performance, and ease of use. If they added some more templates to their offering, it would be as close to perfect as an automated website builder can get.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) has two important functions associated with site security and integrity:
• When your SSL certificate is digitally signed by a trusted third party certificate authority, it helps to verify that your site is identifying itself correctly
• SSL encrypts all communications between the user and your site, making it difficult for somebody to extract anything useful even if they are able to intercept the communication
Every site that is owned by a business, non-profit organization, or government agency should have an SSL certificate. The only exception is where your site does not collect or disseminate any sensitive information.
When you have an SSL certificate, users can connect to your site via the HTTPS protocol. The “S” in HTTPS stands for “secure”. Although we use the term “SSL”, which is the one most people are familiar with, the standard has actually been superseded by something called TLS (Transport Layer Security). But you don’t need to worry about this because TLS is going to be enabled by default on any modern web server.
Even though the technology is enabled by default, sites that have an SSL certificate still need to set the HTTPS version of their site as the default protocol for inbound connections. A 2014 survey by Moz showed that less than 18% of respondents were already using HTTPS, and as recently as 2015, it was found that less than 2% of the top 1,000,000 sites had HTTPS set as the default protocol.
As a user, you can ensure that HTTPS is used whenever possible regardless of a site’s default settings by installing the HTTPS Everywhere plug-in.
Using SSL may give your site a boost in Google rankings. In August 2014, Google announced that it would take SSL into account as a ranking factor.
It also must be considered that HTTPS does slightly lower the speed of a site, so if your site is already slow (which it shouldn’t be – fix it!), you could see your rank actually slip as a result of adding HTTPS. It will really come down to the differential between the benefit from HTTPS and the benefit from having a fast site.
Google wants sites to use HTTPS because it makes it easier to verify the integrity of a site, but that doesn’t automatically mean you need to do it. Most sites will benefit from having HTTPS, but because SSL certificates aren’t free, you might choose not to have one if the cost can’t be justified.
Risk vs. reward: the privacy and security advantages of SSL
You have to think about the financial cost of purchasing and renewing your SSL certificate. If there’s nothing on your site that needs to be confidential, you may not need to go to the trouble.
But if your site collects personal information from the user, has password authenticated log-ins, or engages in any sort of e-Commerce, you absolutely must have SSL if you want to avoid problems and retain the full confidence and trust of your users.
How to get an SSL certificate
Buying an SSL certificate is not like a regular purchase, because there are a few tests and checks that have to be done before a certificate can be issued. This is for the protection of everyone, including you. Usually the easiest way is to get your Hosting company or SEO manager to obtain the certificate for you, because this will simplify the process greatly.
If you’d prefer to do it entirely on your own, your first step is to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your server. This is a block of encrypted text that looks similar to a PGP signature. What you need to type to generate the request depends on what server software your web host is running.
Most websites are hosted on Apache servers, and Apache uses a service called OpenSSL to generate a CSR. Here’s an example of how to generate a CSR for a company called Widgets-R-Us Inc, with domain widgets.com, based in Los Angeles:
openssl req -new -newkey rsa:2048 -nodes -out widgets_com.csr -keyout widgets_com.key -subj “C/=US/ST=California/L=Los Angeles/O=Widgets R Us Inc./CN=widgets.com”
The section that’s relevant about the company is the -subj section. This contains a string value with specific values, as follows:
• C is a 2 digit country code, for example: US, UK, IE, FR, DE, BE, and so on.
• ST is the state or province
• L is the city
• O is the organization name
• CN is the “common name”, which is a fully qualified domain name (FQDN).
There’s an optional value called OU that can appear between O and CN, but it is rarely used, and can cause problems. Currently (at the time of writing) the SSL certificate of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is affected, for example. OU stands for “organizational unit” and means a department within the organisation.
After generating the CSR, it would look something like:
—–BEGIN CERTIFICATE REQUEST—– MIIHVjCCBj6gAwIBAgIQVXENtd02KRwAAAAAUNuvdTANBgkqhkiG9w0BAQsFADCB ujELMAkGA1UEBhMCVVMxFjAUBgNVBAoTDUVudHJ1c3QsIEluYy4xKDAmBgNVBAsT H1NlZSB3d3cuZW50cnVzdC5uZXQvbGVnYWwtdGVybXMxOTA3BgNVBAsTMChjKSAy MDEyIEVudHJ1c3QsIEluYy4gLSBmb3IgYXV0aG9yaXplZCB1c2Ugb25seTEuMCwG A1UEAxMlRW50cnVzdCBDZXJ0aWZpY2F0aW9uIEF1dGhvcml0eSAtIEwxSzAeFw0x NzAzMDIyMjA5MzNaFw0xODAzMDIyMjM5MzFaMIGNMQswCQYDVQQGEwJBVTElMCMG
—–END CERTIFICATE REQUEST—–
In this case it is contained in the generated file “widgets_com.csr”. You need to open that file in a text editor, then cut and paste all the text (including the begin and end instructions) into the online form of the SSL certificate authority you are ordering from. Do not confuse the csr file with the key file.
Once the certificate authority has validated your domain and company, it will email you a copy of your SSL certificate, which you then need to install on your server.
Due to the complexity involved, most people prefer to have professional assistance rather than opting to do it themselves.
Cloud services are all the rage at the moment, but it’s not necessarily true that every cloud has a silver lining. When choosing which services are right for your business, you need to consider all the pros and cons of the different options available. And while some services are being heavily hyped and marketed as the way forward, it must be remembered that all marketing has an agenda, and that agenda does not necessarily fit hand in hand with your own.
What is necessary is to strip away all the bias and hype, and look carefully at each factor which would affect your decision. Only in this way can an objective view be created. That’s the purpose of this article, and hopefully by the end of it we’ll have an answer to the title question.
1. Access and Storage
These two items need to be considered together at the same time because they’re linked too closely for it to be worth separating them. When your email communications are hosted traditionally, messages take up space on your web server until they’re downloaded or deleted.
Once messages are downloaded, they are only available from the place they are downloaded to, and any devices that are able to access that location. With a cloud-based solution, the messages are stored on a 3rd party server, and there’s no need for you to worry about how much space they are taking up unless you’re close to the limit offered by the provider.
• Messages won’t affect the performance, storage quota, or bandwidth quota of your website
• Messages won’t normally take up space on your own devices, except temporarily
• Cloud-based solutions often have great management and curation features
• May make it easier to share emails among work teams
• May (sometimes) protect against malicious payloads
• Can be accessed from anywhere that you can connect to the Internet
• Messages can only be viewed if you have a working Internet connection
• Many cloud-based services do not allow messages to be downloaded
• You can’t be certain whether deleted messages are really deleted
• Most free (and some paid) services discourage or disallow encryption
• Can be very difficult to obtain and preserve true anonymity with cloud-based services
• You may need to frequently delete messages if you have a storage limit
• International travel can be a problem, as some services may deny you access when you log in from another country.
Depending on the nature of your business, this could be a major concern for you. It can be especially important for people dealing with matters related to national security, law enforcement, crime, health services, and financial services. Some of the key points were already mentioned in the previous section.
• No known privacy or security advantages. You are trusting a 3rd party with your confidential information, with absolutely no control over how that 3rd party might access or use that information. Even if you trust an organization to do the right thing, you may not know if you can trust each individual employee, because even the organization does not know if they can be trusted.
• No control over the storage, copying, and archiving of your messages
• Encryption may not be supported, and in some cases may be against the terms and conditions
• Messages are stored online, not locally, so if the provider is hacked, you could be compromised
• When messages are stored online, vulnerability from staff being socially engineered is increased
• Many services provide unwanted protections that may cause more problems than they solve
• Almost every cloud-based service states they will release your information to government officials if asked (not ordered by a court, just asked). There are a few exceptions to this. Most of them also say they will not inform you if they do hand over your information to government officials.
In general, cloud-based services offer better preservation of your communications compared with traditional hosting where messages are downloaded to a local device.
• Messages are often stored indefinitely and may be automatically backed up to multiple locations.
• You are protected from data loss due to local device hardware malfunction
• No certainty that deleted messages will be deleted
• Losing your password may deny you access to your own account
• Service provider may decide to deny access to you at any time and for any reason
With traditional hosting, you are free to define whatever email management policies you like. When you use cloud-based services, the provider may impose their own policies over the top of yours, or at least in addition to yours.
• May help reduce the amount of spam you receive
• May provide more advanced management options than your regular email software provides
• Messages may be incorrectly flagged as spam, often for ridiculous reasons
• Messages may be denied from certain senders just because of the IP address their host uses
• When messages are denied, you may not even be aware that it has happened
In general, most cloud-based services do provide good support (though some provide almost no support). Ordinary hosting doesn’t usually provide great email support unless you have a problem of a technical nature. The quality of the support you receive depends entirely on what the service provider is prepared to offer, and the combined skills and experience of the support staff in dealing with technical problems.
• Some cloud-based email services have excellent support available
• Support is usually available 24/7
• Many services outsource their support (normally negative)
• Support staff may not have proper technical training and solutions may be prepared from scripts
While there are many positive aspects to cloud-based email services, there seems to be more negatives. The biggest problem is in the matter of security, because messages are stored online indefinitely, and normally in plain text (unencrypted), so if the provider is compromised, then so are you. There is also the possibility of employees of the provider to read the communications, either due to boredom or with criminal intent.
For these reasons, the majority of businesses would actually be better off not using cloud-based email services and sticking with traditional hosting for email services, downloading their communications to local devices, and following a sensible backup and security plan. The convenience of being able to access your communications from anywhere on any device is also a vulnerability.
Plus of course, any important internal communications should be properly encrypted (there is no good reason not to do this), and that’s not always possible with cloud-based services.
Last year Google rebranded their cloud business apps to G Suite. This quick video clip may help you decide if this Google product is worth exploring further!
We all would like a safe Internet for ourselves and of course the younger generation. We may well be asking what can we do that would make a difference, after all we are talking about the World Wide Web. Well we can do something, the video below has been developed by INHOPE especially to answer that question…
By Julian Box
Today, even the most ardent naysayers are coming out and proclaiming cloud as the only way to do computing. This is especially true in my own jurisdiction of Jersey in the Channel Islands.
With technology suppliers suddenly telling you to use cloud, does it really matter which one you use, who owns the service provider, and where it stores your data? The quick answer to all three questions is ‘yes’ – but let’s look at each one:
Is there a difference between cloud service providers?
This question is probably thought about the least. There are people and suppliers that believe only the large cloud providers can be trusted, but how true is that?
Take Amazon and Microsoft. They’re the largest cloud providers in the world today, having multiple data centres around the world with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of customers. However, they have one big, often overlooked issue — they are lock-in clouds. Sure, they have some great technology, but once you start using it, you can’t get out.
Their technology is designed to be proprietary — you have to use them and only them. Whether you use Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s AWS, their tools, utilities and APIs only work in their clouds. If you want to move, it will cost you so much money that it becomes prohibitively expensive to leave.
On 14th May 2015 ISPAI Hotline.ie Service launched its Annual Report covering January to December 2014 – an Analysis of Online Illegal Content – during a press event hosted in Dublin, at the Irish Architectural Archive.
In her opening addressed Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality emphasised that “Hotline.ie contributes to the empowerment of citizens by providing a means to report illegal material and in particular Child Sexual Abuse Material on the Internet and to have it dealt with appropriately in cooperation with the Gardaí.”
2014 was a very busy year for Hotline.ie as it dealt with the greatest number of reports received in one year since its establishment (1999), marking a massive jump of 97% above the average of the previous seven years.
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