Archive for February, 2010
Potential clients have suggested great topics for blog postings this week (see Is it ok to use fictitious information to market Web sites? for the other potential client inspired post). Yesterday, the potential client was looking for a new designer because her old designer wasn’t listening to her suggestions.
As Web site designers, we hit this sometimes. We have opinions about how to do things, and our clients do too. We think we know the answer because of our experience with Web site design. Our client knows their business very well, and often has input that might conflict with what we think is right. So who wins?
At Curvine, our policy is that when this occurs, we give objective reasons why we think we are right. Objective reasons include ”the colors the client suggested would be hard for color blind people to see” or “if we made the design larger, some people would have to horizontally scroll to see it.” We present our argument to the client, and let the client make the final decision. That means that we sometimes complete projects with content we disagree with, but we feel like this balances the needs of clients and us.
How do other designers deal with this situation? Do you “fire” clients because their taste is different than yours?
When we launch Web site for clients, we provide tools that allow them to make changes to their Web sites. These content management systems are popular with other Web site developers and end users alike. These tools are powerful: they let site administrators make many changes to Web sites without hiring a Web site developer.
But as the expression goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
A typical mistake we see is that site administrators upload very large images to these content management tools and then use the tools to “resize” the image. However, content management systems often leave the image the original size and compress the image to fit the space you have “resized” it to, in the same way one might use a shoehorn to make a shoe fit that doesn’t. When this occurs, the image can appear distorted and can take a long time to load.
Luckily, there is an easy way to fix this: resize the images before you upload them. On Windows XP, download and install the XP Image Resizer Powertoy (by Microsoft). On Windows Vista or Windows 7, download the Image Resizer (a clone of the XP version that other developers made). These tools will let you resize the image by right mouse clicking on it. You can even select multiple images and right mouse click to change many at once.
Either tool will help you resize your image. Remember to always downsize your images before uploading them to your Web site.
I got a phone call from a potential client last week who was looking for someone to help with marketing his Web site, something that happens several times a week. What made this call unusual is that the potential client was upset about his former’s search engine marketing company’s ethics.
He told me that he was contacted by another firm to help list him with search engines. He paid money upfront and agreed to a monthly fee. After a few weeks, the company delivered on its promises and got his site listed on the first page of Google’s search results. Upon examining the results more closely, the client discovered that the pointer on the map in Google’s local search results was in the wrong location. He discovered that the search engine company had used a fictitious address. He also noticed that his business had 5 reviews listed, but the names of the reviewers didn’t seem familiar and they were all glowing recommendations. Of course, the search engine marketing firm used fictitious information in the reviews they created for this business. The business owner placed a phone call with the search engine marketing firm which confirmed all of this. They claimed that everyone does things like this, that using fictitious information was the only way to get listed and that Google had authorized them to behave in this way (something I doubt!).
At Curvine, we don’t use fictitious data in trying to help market client’s Web sites. I don’t recommend these types of practices, but I’m curious what other folks think: Is this kind of conduct ethical? Is it legal?
Very new small business owners are thinking about what is important to spend money and what isn’t. Should I hire someone to help with sales or do it myself? Should I hire a bookkeeper? Can I incorporate my business on my own or do I need a lawyer?
One important question many ask: Should I make my own Web site or hire someone?
There are many tools out there that advertise the ability to quickly and easily make your own Web site. Many low cost Web hosting companies offer free tools if you sign up for the Web hosting. Some example pitches include “Build Website In 3 Easy Steps,” “Build A Web Site For Your Business. Fast & Easy. Try It Free!,” and “Free 30 Day Trial! Custom Website & Hosting For Less Than $5 a Month”
When deciding to use one of these services, you should consider the following:
- No matter what tool you use, when you make a Web site yourself, it will look like you did it yourself. Even if you pick the best software available, you’ll still need graphic design skills to make your Web site look like a professional did it. Graphic design is a talent and no software can make up for a lack of it.
- Many of these tools will use a template, which means that the design was already complete by someone else and will be adapted to your needs. The template may be used by other people and may not be a precise fit for your business
So when is making your own Web site a good idea?
- When you don’t have money set aside for a Web site: Some small businesses start with a do-it-yourself job and then hire a professional when the time is right.
- When your business isn’t relying on the Web for generating business. For example, a plumber who gets enough referrals from existing sources may not need a Web site at all, or just one that was done for free.
- When your timeline is very short. A do it yourself Web site can have something up in a few minutes, faster than a custom designed Web site. Even looks aren’t important, than this may be sufficient.
We’ve invited some Web designers to add their thoughts on this topic below. When do you think it is ok for a business owner to make his/her own Web site?
We’re often asked about Web sites that are optimized for mobile environments, such as the iPhone, the Droid and other smartphones. This is a space that is clearly growing and changing at a fast pace. Today’s smartphones are smarter, faster and cheaper than phones made even a year ago.
First a note in the interest of full disclosure, our main corporate site isn’t optimized for mobile environments (we followed the methodology described below) and I don’t even own a smartphone! As high tech as I am, I like to be off the Internet when I’m out and about, and my job affords me the flexibility to do so. We’ve researched the options and we make informed recommendations to clients.
When deciding when and how much to invest in building a mobile site or application, you should first examine your audience. Is the person who will buy your service someone who will make a buying decision after learning about your service or product on a mobile device? You can find this information from your Web site traffic reports or from Google Analytics. You can also build a profile of your typical client or customer and determine whether visiting your site on a mobile phone is part of the process or not. Some examples:
- A service that handles reserved seating for restaurants near Microsoft’s campus in the Redmond, WA area would be very likely to be accessed via phone. The type of person who would come to the restaurant probably has a phone and would be likely to look at the menu or reserve a table from their smartphone.
- A hearing aid retailer is unlikely to be accessed via smartphone. The typical user probably doesn’t make buying decisions using a smartphone.
Where does your business fit in?
Let’s say you have determined you need a mobile site or application. The temptation is to just copy what’s on your Web site over to the mobile site. That’s usually not right, because mobile users might have different needs than a regular Web site user. An example would be a restaurant: a Web site user might want to read about the history of the restaurant and see pictures of the interior, a mobile user might be looking for a menu and directions. For mobile users, you might focus on a subset of functionality available to users. You also might consider building an application which allows users to quickly access information.
Other aspects of mobile sites:
Data entry: Using databases, mobile Web sites, mobile applications and the original Web site can share data, so once information is entered by the site’s administrator, it doesn’t need to be retyped or reposted.
Testing: On the desktop side, there are 4 major Web browsers and two major operating system. In the mobile world, there are 10 different browsers across many different operating systems. The feature sets of these browsers are in flux, so what’s work great now may not later.
Screen Resolution: Mobile devices are much smaller than desktops and laptops, and the screen resolutions is also usually smaller. Pictures may have to be resized to be seen properly.
Have you optimized your site for mobile? Why or why not?
As a Web site development firm, we get a lot of questions about search engines. People always want to know what will get them top listings in search engines. They often have ideas on how to do it, and unfortunately, some are just wrong. Here are some popular myths:
Myth #1: Hidden Text helps Search Engine Rankings
This one involves placing text in a box that doesn’t show up for regular users but would appear for a search engine. People also suggest putting text in the same color as the background of the Web site (white text on a white background, for example). This technique was popular in the late 90′s, but all major search engines are savvy enough to detect and either ignore text like this, or ban a specific Web site from its listings. This is well documented by many commentators, but the best source of all is Google.
Myth #2: Meta Tags Are the Key to Good Search Engine Placement
Meta Tags are codes that are put on each page of a Web site that help describe the Web site to search engines. Two Meta Tags that are popular are the keywords tag and the description tag. People think that if you put these on every page and stuff them with lots of keywords, you search engine rankings will rise. The fact is that the “keywords” meta tag is ignored by Google, and the “description” meta tag is only used for display purposes, and not for ranking purposes. Other search engines use these tags in a minor way, but other factors are much more important in determining whether your Web site shows up on page 1 of a search query.
Those are the myths about SEO we hear about most often. What myths have you heard?