Essential Keystrokes is…

where I share my favorite tips, tools, reviews and commentary on web design, marketing, blogging, new media and related topics. For more about this site and the voice behind it, check out my About page.


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Archive for Product Reviews


Moo-velous Business Cards from

Posted by: Char | Comments (3)

Not one of my strongest post titles, but you will forgive me.

One of my goals this year is to help my website gain more popularity via online and offline methods. I am constantly mentioning the site to teachers, librarians, homeschooling parents, and friends who have young kids and needed a card I could give out that would give them a reason to visit the site. After hearing so many people singing the praises of, I checked them out. Since one of the things I wanted to do with the card is highlight activities on the website, I needed a double-sided card. With, no problem!

Moo allows you to pick up to 100 DIFFERENT designs for one side of the card for no additional cost. You can grab the images from your Flickr account, your own collection and a variety of other sources. This was the perfect solution. I chose 5 different printable activities from my site that would reduce well and set them up on the site. Then I designed a very simple card front using their interactive design interface.

The result:


One front design and 5 different backs all for a really reasonable price! For 100 cards (20 of each design), I only spent $20. You can’t beat that – especially for small businesses or for marketing your blog offline!

Last week I had to mail something to fellow designer, Randa Clay, and I decided to include one of my new business cards for (one of my other sites). After receiving her package, she sent me a tweet via Twitter that went like this:

Coming from Randa, the compliment means so much, but it also reinforces that putting the activities on the back created my desired result. Everyone I have given them to has also loved them – thanks to Moo!

If you have had fun making moo-velous cards with Moo, I’d love to see them! Leave me a link so I can check them out.

Unique Business Stationary

Comments (3)

Website Optimization Book Review

Posted by: Char | Comments (7)

Website OptimizationWhen you hear the phrase “Website Optimization”, what is the first thing that comes to your thoughts? Is it how a site ranks in the search engines? How about ways to make your site more user friendly? Or how to make your site faster? Or do you think about the user experience and how to make a click turn into a lead or sale?

Regardless of which of these answers came to mind first, you were right. Each of those concepts is part of website optimization. In Andrew King’s most recent book, Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets, he methodically takes you through all aspects of website optimization from:

  • Search Engine Marketing Optimization
  • Pay-per-Click Optimization
  • Conversion Rate Optimization
  • Web Page Optimization
  • CSS Optimization
  • AJAX Optimization
  • Advanced Topics (Server Side and Client Side Optimizations)

While Website Optimization is well written with plenty of screen shots, useful graphics and case studies, this is not the kind of book that you sit down and read in an afternoon. Rather, I recommend focusing on one chapter of the book at a time – reading, understanding, then implementing the recommendations.

Andy King’s first book, Speed Up Your Site, was released in 2003, but the web landscape has changed so dramatically. His new book takes the trends, tools, and technology of today into account. For example, in 1997 the average web video was 45 seconds – but thanks to faster computers, faster connections, YouTube, Flash, MySpace and digital video cameras, the average web video in 2007 was 192 seconds. As a result, his new book contains about 10 pages on optimizing multimedia for better server and end-user experiences.

Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets, is a great reference book not only for web professionals, but anyone who wants to know how to tweak a website so it performs at its very best. You can also visit the  companion site of Website Optimization Secrets for sample chapters, chapter summaries, full-color figures, and the latest news.

Comments (7)

13 Top Notch Web Hosting Companies

Posted by: Char | Comments (22)

Essential Keystrokes RecommendsAs a web designer, I get asked daily for web hosting recommendations. While there are literally thousands of web hosting companies that provide excellent service, great uptime and have knowledgeable tech support, I have compiled a list of 13 hosting companies that either I use personally, have clients using or trusted associates recommend. These are companies I recommend if you are looking for hosting for your blog, small to medium size business site, online store or community.

Most of these sites feature two things – cPanel and Fantastico – both of which are requirements for ease of use in my book. cPanel is easy to navigate and loaded with features allowing you to easily check stats, set up email, create database, password protect directories, and more. Fantastico offers the fastest and most straight forward installs for more than 20 of our favorite Open Source programs and scripts like WordPress, phpBB, ZenCart, Galleries, and other utilities. For the average website owner or blogger, these features cut down on a lot of tech support/webmaster support time.

In alphabetical order the web hosting companies I recommend are:

Over 9 Million Customers!
1 & 1 Web Hosting is a very well known web hosting option for many bloggers. A lot of associates use it and while they don’t have cPanel they have a reasonable substitute. For a limited time you can get the first 6 months of Business Hosting Package FREE!

A Small OrangeBased out of Atlanta, GA, A Small Orange provides both shared hosting and virtual private servers. They advertise no limit hosting, cPanel, multiple stats packages, Fantastico and advanced email options.

GoDaddyGoDaddy is my personal choice for domain name purchasing/registration but I do have clients who love GoDaddy’s web hosting, too. They don’t have Fantastico, but do have their own version of it called Hosting Connection which gives site owners access to a variety of one click script installations. They provide shared hosting, virtual dedicated servers and dedicated server plans.

HostGator HostGator is my personal choice for web hosting. They have been doing a great job of hosting 30+ web sites for myself and my clients for the past two years. HostGator is very affordable, offers cPanel and Fantastico, and has had amazing uptime! HostGator has tech support that is second to none! Anytime I have had issues with my sites they have been able to help me identify the problem and resolve it immediately. You can read a review of them here.

HostMonsterHostMonster is another popular choice for affordable web hosting. They allow you to host unlimited domains on one account which is great for owners of multiple web sites. Fantastico and cPanel are included, and you can get $50 of PPC credit for both Yahoo and Google with your account.

HostRocket HostRocket offers unlimited bandwidth, 1,000+ GB of RAID protected storage space, cPanel and Fantastico, 10 websites per account plus add a new site every month, and $50 Yahoo search credit.

JumplineI have been a customer of Jumpline since their first year in business – 1997 to be exact – and currently have about 15 client websites hosted with them (some of them have been hosted there since 1997). Jumpline’s uptime has been close to FLAWLESS, the tech support is knowledgeable and helpful, and they have been very stable. They do offer ValueApps – their own library of scripts – but it is not as intuitive as Fantastico. offers enterprise level redundancy and security in their Tier 4 data centers with a dedicated staff of over 120 support professionals.

Media TempleDo you have a high-traffic site that needs scalable, high end web hosting solutions? If so, MediaTemple is my first choice! Powerful grid service replaces shared hosting and the dedicated physical virtual servers in their Nitro program run on quad core processors.

MossoMosso is another service for sites that need instant scalability like a popular blog (that regularly gets Digg front page traffic), a large e-commerce site or 20 medium sites under one account. Mosso uses cloud technology which is basically instant, easy access to large scale computing. is probably what I would consider to be the most credible and most likely to be around forever web hosting company there is. I registered my very first domain name with them in 1997 and have never once questioned the quality of their services. They have a more options and plans than most providers – in other words, you will be able to find a solution to fit your needs.

Site5Site5, a great solution for eCommerce, Blogs or Ruby on Rails sites, is co-located with The Planet. Site5 uses extremely high-end servers and doesn’t crowd them. Additionally, they handle their own tech support and offer a 60-day money back guarantee.

I hope this is a helpful resource.   Finding a good web host is not easy, because many hosts offer sub-par support.  I’ve tried my best to list only the best web hosts there are. Or you may find you need to sign up for dedicated hosting services from a trusted provider.


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