Saturday, December 31, 2011

IT'S 2012 - IS IT TIME TO UPDATE YOUR SITE?

Maintaining a website can be a daunting task. There are so many things to remember and the timing is difficult to get the hang of when you're updating information. Before you know it, a year has gone by and the old info is still there. And then...another year goes by. It just isn't a priority, right? But how often have you gone to a website for information only to find that it is outdated? What was your reaction? I have a tendency to be frustrated and wary of businesses that let this happen. 

The solution is to make it happen by scheduling regular maintenance for your site. This doesn't mean you have to change it every month. It might just mean once a year. Are there other regular maintenance type things you do in your life like changing batteries on smoke detectors or weatherization on your house? If so, time your updates with those things.

If you're having someone else work on your site for you, it's a good idea to plan ahead. Keep a running list of the regular things that happen in your business that most often cause a need for changes. If nothing else, plan to update your site at the beginning of the year so you have the correct year in all the right places. If you need changes more often, ask your web designer about setting up a schedule. This may even cost less in the long run.

So many websites out there go years without being updated and it really shows. Don't send your potential customers away thinking you don't know how to run a business.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

GOING MOBILE

It seems like everyone has smart phones and other devices that can access the web these days. Is your website ready to be viewed in mobile format? If you're not sure, try this mobile phone emulator and this iPad emulator. Most websites can get away with being viewed on an iPad, but phones can be problematic if a style sheet for mobile devices hasn't been added.

If you were less than satisfied with the way your site looked on either platform, don't worry, it's a fairly easy fix. How urgent is this change? I think it's a good idea to stay up on technology, but the urgency depends on your site. If you already have your site hooked up to Google Analytics or some other analytic system, it's pretty easy to see what kind of traffic you have from mobile devices. I have clients with 20% of their visitors from mobile devices and clients with 1% from mobile devices. Clients with a physical location and phone number will generally get more traffic from mobile device customers who need to find them, but some sites will also get traffic from people researching on the fly or reading articles to pass the time away.

In the end, going mobile is a good idea both to stay current on technology and to help your search engine rankings. The immediacy, however, is all up to you.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

DO YOU REALLY NEED SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION?

Have you ever been told you need SEO? Do you really? Maybe. Maybe not. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It means putting your website through steps to make it easier for search engines to find based on a set of criteria important to you. Not only that, but it means that you're going to come up higher on the search engine page rankings because of it.

While it's true that Search Engine Optimization can help you become more visible, you should also know that SEO has become a big business and it isn't all on the up and up. There are difficult cases that necessitate spending lots of money to get results, but the average person doesn't need to spend that much. If your website is built correctly in the first place, you're off to an excellent start because good web design has Search Engine Optimization built into it. It may only need some minor work to dial in your settings and add additional features. If your site wasn't built correctly, it may need more work to update it.

To figure out if your site needs work, start by asking yourself the following questions:
  • Why do I have a website?
  • Do I care if anyone finds me?
If you don't care if anyone finds you - you don't need any SEO! If you want people to find you and search engine results are important to you, you can do some easy tests yourself by plugging in keywords to various search engines. (Tip: You can get results across multiple search engines by searching on DogPile.com.) Were you happy with your rankings in the searches you ran? If you weren't, Search Engine Optimization might be needed. If you were unsure of what to search for, you can get ideas by going to the Google Keyword Tool. Plug your web address in and find out what keywords come up most often on your site. Were they relevant or did a high number of irrelevant words repeat all over your site? With this tool, you can also get keyword suggestions or see what your competition is doing.


Still not sure if you need SEO? Check to see which statement fits you best:
  1. I really don't care if anyone new finds me. I have a website because people expect websites and I want existing clients to keep in touch.
  2. I just need a presence online and a place for people to read current info about me. They'll be searching for my name or they already know my URL.
  3. I want to put forth an expert voice in my field and I want to be well known for it. People will search for what I have to say by subject.
  4. I need people to be able to find me based on specific search phrases and I need to come up within the first two results.
  5. I used to rank high in searches and now I don't.
If you are aligned with statement #1 or #2, you probably don't need to spend any money on SEO - provided your site was built correctly utilizing proper web practices. (An exception would be if you have a very common name and you need to make sure you are set apart from the other million people who share your name.) If you picked statement #3 or #4, you may need a tune-up with special attention to your text, page titles, graphics, and page descriptions. If you picked number #5, you may also need a tune-up. Search engine results are not static. They are constantly changing and depend on a number of things including what your competition is doing. Have your site analyzed and see what it needs. It may only need minor changes.

The bottom line:
Most people don't need to spend thousands on SEO. If you are told that you do or that you can achieve #1 search engine ranking by paying them a couple hundred dollars every month, run quickly the other way. It isn't necessary and could actually hurt your rankings depending on how results are achieved. While search engine optimization seems mysterious, other than taking some time and know-how, it's really pretty simple.

If you have questions or would like to have your current site assessed, feel free to contact me.

On your own:
Check out this Search Engine for Dummies Cheat Sheet for more info.

Books:
Good comprehensive beginner book - Search Engine Optimization by Kristopher B. Jones  












Good advanced book on SEO - The Art of SEO - an O'Reilly book

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WHAT YOU DON'T SEE IS WHAT YOU GET

The internet is full of every type of website imaginable. Some are slick, some are trendy, some are beautiful, some are cluttered and some are loud. Getting the right design is important for your business image, but so is the functionality of the website.

I'll let you in on a secret. Anyone can create a website. You don't even need special software. In fact, the best place to create a website is in the most basic text editing software there is. This would be a program that doesn't even include formatting or a selection of fonts. That's because websites aren't built by placing visual elements on a page the way you might do in a graphics program. Websites are constructed from code. This is the part that most people rarely see.

The major part of the code is called HTML (HyperText Markup Language) or XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language). HTML/XHTML tells the browser where to put all the elements on the web page. This code provides the structure for the site, like the framework for a house being built. Another type of code, CSS, provides all the style - just like paint, carpet and fixtures provide style for that new home. CSS tells the browser what fonts should appear, what size they need to be, how pictures should appear, etc.

Code is also important to the functionality of the site because what works in one web browser won't necessarily work in another. Some browsers have major differences that need to be worked around. A good designer knows how to do that with code. 

There are a lot of web designers out there these days. Some are good designers who rely on special programs, but don't know code. Some know the code, but don't know design. To get the most for your money, it is advantageous to hire a designer who knows code and design.

Want to learn more?
Check out CSS Zen Garden for examples of what can be done just by changing the CSS portion of a website. (Make sure to click on the different designs listed on the right.) If you're a beginner, you can try your hand at a bit of code in Head  First HTML with CSS and XHTML. It's a great step by step way to get started learning the most important part of website creation and can also give you an advantage in understanding what your web designer is talking about.


Friday, March 11, 2011

MAINTAIN CONTROL OVER YOUR WEBSITE

"Running a business is hard enough," you say, "but now I have to keep track of all this website stuff?" There is a lot, too. You've got your webhost, domain registration, design, edits, search engine rankings, passwords, FTP...it's enough to drive you crazy isn't it? It's so tempting to hand it all over to someone else to take care of.

You don't necessarily have to keep track of all of it, but it is wise to hold onto some of it. I encourage my clients to at least maintain control over their webhosting and domain registration. It has become all too common for me to get frustrated phone calls from potential clients who are stuck with a bully who is overcharging for hosting and holding their website and domain  name hostage. Most people don't realize what has happened until it's too late and why would they? This website stuff is like a foreign language.

If you are signing on with a service to handle your website, make sure to ask plenty of questions and read any fine print before you finalize an agreement. Here are a few important things to check on:

• Make sure you will own your domain name and they aren't just "renting" it to you. Some nefarious characters will charge you a hefty sum to turn your name over to you if you leave their service.

• What about your website? Maybe you can cancel your service, but can you take your website with you? Some services will tell you that you can take your website with you, but they won't tell you they'll be charging you quite a bit to get your files from them.

• Is it worth the $30-50 per month they're charging? Maybe so. Some services offer an interface that allows you to edit your own website or they provide special e-commerce features. If you change things often and have an online store, it could be worth it. If you change things once or twice a year, it's doubtful.

Take your time making your decision, especially if you have been approached by a salesperson who is pressuring you to sign up because their "special" is going to expire. Ask other website owners what they do and compare terms by researching online. For most people, standard webhosting for a few dollars a month with domain included is all that's necessary. Above all - stay away from bullies!

Monday, February 21, 2011

KEEPING UP ON BLOG POSTS

I'm involved in a project right now that is keeping me busy posting on my children's illustration blog and less here. But four weeks between posts is just too long, so I thought I'd pop in and do a quick post on...blog posts.

It is sometimes challenging to keep posting regularly. Things get busy or ideas for posts just aren't there when needed. Because of this, I've got a small journal I keep on my desk and another one I carry with me for jotting down ideas to blog about. Sometimes I can't write fast enough to write all the ideas down and other times there's just nothing there.

My clients supply a lot of the topics in the questions they ask or the situations that come up in their businesses that require changes to their websites. On my other blog I write about my process and experiences submitting work to children's publishers. The important thing is staying true to the theme of your blog and who your audience is. That can be tough for me when I come up with a great topic that has nothing to do with any of my blogs. If I absolutely can't shake the idea, I'll try to come up with an angle to link the idea to my blog.

If a topic seems stale, try coming at it with humor or from an unexpected angle to breathe new life into it. Perhaps it is a common topic that has been discussed to death and you have a unique viewpoint on the matter.

If you still feel stuck, there are entire blogs out there devoted to helping you become a better blogger. Try the list at this link for post ideas.

Sometimes you just have to start writing to get the creative juices flowing. The most important part is to do it regularly. You will benefit from the process and your readers will benefit from what you share. Keep on blogging!





Saturday, January 15, 2011

CARING FOR YOUR EQUIPMENT

Lately I've had a real pain in my neck. No, I'm not talking about family, pets or clients...it's me. I've been working long hours on websites, with my laptop too low, while sitting on a regular chair and (gasp), I haven't been taking regular breaks. I know. I know. What a slacker. It seems I do this every few months. I'm feeling great, I kick my usual Balance Ball seat to the side, grab a regular chair and work hours on end without taking a break. A few weeks of this and my body can't fight the bad positions anymore.

It would be one thing if I didn't know better, but I do. Lucky me. I was set straight with neck pain and headaches. That's what our bodies do. That's what pain is for. Amazingly, I was trying to blame the pain on something else. Maybe I slept wrong or was coming down with something. This continued apathy can lead to missed work and all kinds of long term problems with posture, muscle loss, carpal tunnel, sciatica, and arthritis to name a few.

So I think I've finally found what I need to help me remember to take regular breaks while I'm working. It's StretchClock - a browser gadget that's easy to install on your computer and it's FREE. Don't worry. It's not a massive system of workouts. It's a reminder to stop and stretch or move around and if you want, you can set it up so you're given a short video stretch to do. The stretches are super easy and very effective. I could feel the difference immediately. It's nothing new. They don't even last a full minute. The trick is doing them regularly. I know a ton of stretches. I even know the ones they do on the videos, but if I don't do them because I feel fine, it isn't going to work.

The thing I like about the stretch videos is that the guy in the videos isn't at a gym. He looks like he stepped out from behind his computer, put on his sunglasses and went outside for a quick stretch. I can relate to him. No stretchy outfits and impossible yogi feats...just a quick stretch so you can get back to work.

There are also suggestions for proper work position in the sidebar. It's really well done and customizable to come up in many different time increments and as a prompt to do your own stretches, as a reminder that you click to show you their video or to show the video automatically. In other words, it's totally doable. No excuses.

Here's one of my favorites:

Regular exercise is also helpful for keeping those excess stress chemicals from getting the best of you. Or maybe a regular massage as a sanity break? The beauty of it is - it doesn't take much, so take a break and get back to work!

..................................................................................

P.S. If you want to set up your own system of stretches for specific areas, here are a couple books I've found helpful over the years for preventive info and for getting back on track: 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

GOT CUSTOM 404 ERROR PAGE?

Often times 404 error pages are neglected when setting up a website. The design and organization of the website is the focus and the error page is a detail that is neglected. But let's face it. Errors happen. All the time. The last thing you want to happen is for someone to exit the realm of your website because of an error and the unhelpful generic page that appears.

Custom Error Page for FaeryMedicine.com
Custom 404 error pages are really easy to set up. Sometimes webhosts even offer a template for those who need some help. Whenever possible, it's great to create your own page that matches the rest of your site in design and personality. I enjoy creating clever and/or humorous error pages the most, but this isn't always appropriate for the rest of the site.

Not sure if you have an error page already? If someone else designed and set up your site, you may not know, so type in your URL, put a forward slash after it and a random word that does not pertain to your site. The more ridiculous the better. For most sites, I find "vampires" works pretty well, but if your site has a page called vampires on it, you'll have to pick another word. Armadillo perhaps?

Custom Error Page for KristenSchwartz.com
Probably the trickiest part of creating a custom error page is the .htaccess file that goes with it. This is a very simple text document with an often troublesome file name that gives the server directions on what to do for any scenarios that are contained in the file. I say it's troublesome because this file may become invisible after you create it, depending on your system.  You can get around this by setting up your computer differently, but an easier solution, if your webhost allows it, is to name the file something like htaccess.txt and rename it on your server after you upload it.

There are thousands of webhosts out there with many different ways of handling error pages. For instance, Yahoo allows custom 404 error pages in the form they specify, but they don't allow users to upload .htaccess files to their directories. I have been able to upload both error pages and .htaccess pages and change the name once uploaded with webhosting on 1and1.com. If you're doing this yourself, contact your webhost or consult their FAQ pages for the best information on how to proceed.

(As always, I am available for consulting or design of your custom 404 error pages.)

Have fun!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

HAPPY 2011!

My new website has gone up quicker than I thought. It was supposed to take 48 hours to transfer. Instead, it took 10 minutes! This site will now serve as a blog rather than a portfolio. It is way too late at night to make all the changes I need to make to have this looking like a blog again. I will be back tomorrow to finish what I started. In the meantime, check out my new site...KristenSchwartz.com and Happy New Year!