Website Design

What’s It All About?

by Christi on August 31, 2010

  • What is web design? Is it about color, fonts and logos? Is it about where the words and pictures go?
  • Should I have a web designer make all my updates or should I do it myself? Can I do it myself?
  • My web designer uses terms I don’t understand like URL, DNS and CSS. If I don’t understand completely, what are the consequences?
  • I have a Facebook page and Twitter account. Can I incorporate those with my website and make them all work together?
  • I have an idea what I want my website to look like, but I’m not sure I know everything that is available to make my site better. Where can I find out that kind of information?
  • My site is okay, but I’m not getting the leads and customers from it that I think I should be getting. What can I do to change that?
  • I’ve been burned by web designers who didn’t listen to me, didn’t return my phone calls, didn’t do what they said they would do. What should I do to avoid being burned again?
  • Once I have launched my website, who is going to look at it? Who do I want to look at it? How will I know who looks at it?

If you have ever asked yourself any of these questions, be sure to come to the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center Class – Website Strategy and Planning. We will answer these questions and more in a casual and relaxed setting (no tests!). Each participant will receive a workbook with lots of resource information and practical information you can actually use!

Sign up at ASBTDC

Locations, Times and Dates are:

Tuesday, September 07, 2010
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Arkansas State University SBTDC
ASU Delta Center for Economic Development
Jonesboro
Cost: $40.00

Wednesday, October 06, 2010
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce
409 Vine Street
Cost: $40.00

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
ASU Mountain Home Campus
Rm. 107 McLain Hall
Cost: $40.00

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Breaking Out of the Chains

by Christi on June 29, 2010

Remember back in the old days when almost all websites were static and you paid a developer not only to create the site but for all changes made to the site as well? Businesses were tied to their web designer/developer at the hip and often were at the designer’s mercy. Well those days are gone. At least, in most cases. Sure there are times when a static website is all that is needed, but not very often.

Enter, the Content Management System (CMS). CMS is designed to allow website owners to easily change and maintain their site without knowledge of any programming language. Changes can be made from any computer with an internet connection and a web browser.  Making changes in most cases is as easy as making changes to a Word document. There is no need to call or pay a web developer to make changes or maintain your site.

However, setting up a CMS can be a bit complicated up front so you will probably want to hire someone to do the initial setup and this is where things could get tricky. Some developers create proprietary CMS so you can still make changes easily, but you are also still tied to the developer for any updates to the CMS or any additional functionality such as shopping carts, forms or social media integration.

Don’t worry though, there is another option. Open source CMS is available and there are some really great open source options. The top three open source options are Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. What are some advantages to using an open source CMS?

  • No licensing fee – open source options are available to download for free.
  • You can contract with any open source CMS developer to create your site and if, for some reason, something happens to them someone else can easily take over without having to learn a proprietary system.
  • Open source CMS makes it easy to implement social media and other web 2.0 integration.
  • SEO is enhanced because the coding is clean and adding content is easy.

The wider the distribution of an open source CMS means a larger user base and user community. The community of people work on the software, patch bugs, create add-ons for greater functionality, create new and better versions and more. And, the best part is you get all that benefit for free!

So what are some of the disadvantages of open source CMS?

  • Open source CMS requires more specific hosting. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal work best in an Apache environment and require PHP and MySQL.
  • Initial implementation costs may be higher. While open source CMS is free to download, the initial setup and configuration is more complicated than static HTML. However, in most cases, the savings of being able to update and maintain your site will more than make up for the initial setup cost.

While there are a lot of great open CMS options available, for now, you might want to stick to those top three – Joomla, Drupal and WordPress. They all have strong communities built around them. They all make regular updates to add greater functionality and all have  extensive plugin/extension/add-on libraries.

Those old days are long gone and the future looks more exciting than ever for business using the powerful reach of the internet to attract new customers and grow their business!

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Being Held Hostage by Your Web Designer?

by Christi on June 4, 2010

It seems that this situation is happening more and more. A business wants to update and make a few changes to their website. They call their web designer and on of the following happens:

  • Their web designer doesn’t answer and doesn’t return their phone calls.
  • The web designer agrees to do the work but months later the changes still are not made.
  • The web designer makes the changes and charges an exorbitant fee.

The business owner is left wishing he could just make the changes himself and call it a day. However, when he tries to get access to the site to make the changes, he finds out he doesn’t have access and in many cases, can’t get it!

Wow, don’t let this happen to you! There are a few things you should know BEFORE you start. First of all

OWN YOUR WEBSITE!

That means that you have access to everything and that you can kick your web designer to the curb if you aren’t happy.

Own your domain name and make sure it is registered in your name and that you have the administrative username and password. Any reputable web designer will be happy for you to do this.

Own your hosting. Make sure you have a user name and password that enables you access to all of the files and programming that make up your site.

Own your content and programming. I saw an excerpt from a contract at Entrepreneur.com that a poor lady signed and then, of course was left without ownership of her site:

Unless other contractual arrangements are made beforehand, you will not be receiving any source code or files containing code of any kind from us other than what is stipulated here: You can request a CD or ZIP file containing and limited to: “.swf”, “html”, files for purposes of backing up your site. Unless specific arrangements are made these files cannot be altered, adjusted, decompiled or changed in any way. If you remove and edit or otherwise obtain files not given to you by us you are in direct copyright and contractual violation.

I understand that the source code for all projects belong to and are copyright of (Name of Design Firm). Source code is defined as all project files, executable code, source files and materials used to create the framework of the project. [In the event that (Name of Design Firm) is not able to provide service or future updates, we will negotiate a flat fee for any source files. This fee will be 50% of the total hours spent on the creation of source files. Source files will include fla, swf and a copy of the store.]

Why would anyone agree to such terms? They probably didn’t understand that by agreeing to such crazy terms, they were completely handing over control of their website to someone else.

Also, insist that your designer use industry standard programming. Proprietary programming is going to be difficult for another designer or you, as the business owner, to take over and, quite frankly, sometimes it is designed that way for just that purpose.

Don’t “ask” for access to your site – demand it. READ your contract before you sign. Pay your hosting, domain and design fees on time so none of them lapse. If you are not comfortable making changes to your site, make sure you understand what the charges will be for your designer to make changes for you.

Keep in mind that if you use a “do-it-yourself” template design, you will most likely NOT have access to the code of your website, so if you wish to change to another system or host, etc. you will have to start from scratch. Often these types of systems only allow limited access to meta tags such as title tags and descriptions as well.

Your business website can be one of your most valuable assets. Don’t give someone else complete control over that much of your business!

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Are You Ready?

by Joe B on February 9, 2010

From Mashable

According to market research firm IDC, vendors shipped 54.5 million smartphone devices in the fourth quarter of 2009, an increase of 39% compared to the same period in 2008.

With the ever increasing use of smartphones, businesses must be prepared. Gone are the days when people would pull out a phone book and look for the name and address of a restaurant, an auto repair shop, a clothing store. Now, as they are out and about, they can pull out their smartphone and find a restaurant, read the menu, make reservations and get a map with directions from where they are to the restaurant of their choice. They can even ask their social media friends for recommendations.

Combining a mobile friendly site with social media power can put your business in a perfect position to take advantage of this growing opportunity. Loading speed is even more important than ever in the smartphone world. Google has even mentioned trying to make loading speed a factor in their ranking algorithm. You may or may not need a separate .mobi site for use by smartphones, but at the very least, you need a site with clean, uncluttered code and all your pictures should be optimized for the fastest possible loading time.

The social media aspect is just as important. When someone asks their social media friends for a recommendation, will your name come up? Make your presence known on the social media sites and offer great information. However, the most important part of this equation is focusing on delivering excellence once your customer finds you. Even if a restaurant is found on a smartphone and offers a great menu, if you don’t focus on delivering excellence, you will not likely be recommended in the social media world.

Marketing in this lightening fast world is a challenge but it is the businesses that meet the challenge that will rise to the top.

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Website Pet Peeves

by Joe B on December 31, 2009

Okay, it is the end of the year. Let’s see what pet peeves people have about websites!

  1. Websites that automatically start playing music or a video. People don’t seem to object to music or video being on a site, they just want the option of playing them or not.
  2. Slow loading pages. This one has visitors leaving sites in droves!
  3. Clicking on a menu item and a .pdf starts opening. Again, they don’t really mind a .pdf if they know it’s coming. .pdfs can be slow to load at times and they just want a little warning!
  4. No clear contact information. Okay, they are at your site, they like what you’ve got, now, how do they contact you? Especially, when people are ordering online, they would like to see a phone number to call if there is a problem and they need to actually talk to a real live person.
  5. Out of date sites. They have been looking all over the web for exactly what they found on your page and then find out that you no longer carry that product or the great sale that is advertised on the site was over 2 years ago.
  6. Under construction pages. It is just frustrating to think you have found what you are looking for, just to find out that the page is “under construction.” Why not just finish the construction and then post the page?
  7. Anything flashing. Hey, they are trying to read here, will you get rid of that annoying, distracting flashing thing on the page?
  8. Splash intro pages. Okay, these are for designers to show off what they can do – they do nothing for your business. How often do you you click on “skip intro” on pages like that?
  9. Unclear navigation. If you want me to click on something, you better put the link where I can find it and move around easily. Links all over the page just confuse me.
  10. Dead links. People really hate clicking on a link and getting a 404 – page not found error.

Okay, these are a few of our pet peeves. What about yours?

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Who Owns Your Website?

by Joe B on October 12, 2009

At the last SEO seminar that we taught for the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, we were asked the following question:

I had someone design my website for me and now I can’t get it back, what do I do?

Another question along the same line is:

I lost my website, what do I do?

Your business website is a valuable tool and you shouldn’t leave it to chance that you might lose it or lose control of it. Here are some tips for keeping control of your website:

  1. Own your own domain. It is okay if you have your designer arrange the purchase of the domain, but, make sure that it is in your name and that you have all the account information. If your designer will not agree to do this, don’t use them!
  2. Get a copy of your files from your designer. Your website is a set of files. If you are using a do-it-yourself template system, you may not be able to get these files. If you are using a website design company, you should be able to get these files on a disk. If your web designer doesn’t want to give you this, you may need to work with another designer.
  3. Avoid using do-it-yourself template systems. These are great places to start if you need a website in a couple of hours, but not for long term in most cases. Remember, also, that if you use images from a template system, they aren’t yours and you can’t take them with you. If you want to move your web site somewhere else, or if you don’t pay your bill, or if your company goes out of business, you don’t have a web site. You don’t have the files on your computer because you just filled out an online form. The only thing you have is your domain name – if you paid for it personally – not the template company.
  4. Keep track of all your website information. We already discussed the domain name, but you also need to know account information about the web host as well. Keep the domain information, host information and a copy of your website files in a safe place.

Don’t lose control of your website! It is too valuable an asset!


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7 Elements of a Great Website

by Joe B on September 29, 2009

A great website can be an invaluable asset to a small business. In today’s world, often if you are not on the internet, you are invisible to a large percentage of your potential customers. So, as a small business owner you must have a website. Not only should you have a website, you should have a great website. Here are 7 elements of a great website:

Visually appealing

A clean, uncluttered design will let your content shine. It is recommended that you use dark letters on a light background because this makes your content much easier to read. Use pictures and graphics wisely. Don’t clutter up your site with a lot of extra “pretties.”

Easy to navigate

Visitors to your website should be able to find information easily and without a lot of extra clicks. Navigation should be easy to understand and easy to use.

Informative

People who come to your website are looking for information. A great website is informative. It tells about you and your business. It makes what you do clear and uncomplicated. Take the time to make your content informative and easy to understand.

Up to date

Have you ever found exactly what you were looking for on the internet and then found out that the company website has not been updated in years and what you found is no longer available? How about websites that have “under construction” on pages for years. Lose the “under construction” signs. If you have a page that isn’t ready then just don’t publish it.

One of the best ways to keep your site up to date and fresh is to have a blog. Of course, if you have a blog, you need to keep it updated and fresh as well.

Search engine friendly

Don’t just guess about keywords. Do some research. Find out if people are actually searching for your keywords. Use your keywords (or phrases) wisely. Don’t go black hat and just repeat your words over and over. Make your content keyword rich and informative. Some time spent getting this element right is well worth the effort.

Loads fast

Make sure all of your graphics and pictures are optimized to load fast. People just won’t wait around for your site to load, so don’t make them. Back to the visually appealing aspect, if you don’t overload on the pictures, and the pictures you use are optimized, you are doing it right!

Clear calls to action

Don’t make your visitors wonder what you want them to do. Make it easy to contact you or call you or whatever it is you want them to do. Once someone makes up their mind to do business with you, don’t make them go searching for a way to contact you. Make it really clear and really easy.

These are just some of the elements that make up a great website. Your website is an important tool in your marketing arsenal. Make it the best it can be!

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Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, What’s Next?

by Joe B on September 24, 2009

Okay, so you understand that blogging and social media are great tools to grow your business. You have personas all over the internet. How do you pull it all together?

The best suggestion I have seen is to have a home base for all of your “personalities” to land. A website is a great landing spot for your home base. You can have links and feeds from all of your online personas in one spot!

Picture it. You have a site that has your blog feed, your Twitter feed, your Fadebook feed all in one place, along with information about your business, about you and what you do. Your feeds back up what you are saying on your site and what you say on your site backs up what you are saying in your blog and at all those social media sites.

Now, you are not only reaching others who are participating in social media, but, those that are not as well. Believe it or not, there are still some of those people out there. There are also a lot of people who have joined social media sites, but, only go there once a month or less. Who is reaching them?

Pulling it all together with a website home base is a great solution.

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Are You Targeting Your Landing Pages?

by Christi on April 16, 2009

targeted-landing2


 A “landing page” is the first page a visitor to your site sees. Almost all of your pages have the potential to be a landing page, so design them as such. Whether or not that visitor remains on your site is determined in large part by what she sees on that first page, that landing page. If she sees what she is looking for (i.e. the search term she typed), she is likely to remain; if not, she will most likely leave.

What this means for websites is that the more targeted the landing pages, the more likely the website is to attract and keep visitors. A “targeted” landing page is a page built around one or two keywords or key phrases. When a person comes to your website from a search engine, she is more likely to remain on your site if your landing page contains, and is built around, her search word or phrase.

For best results, use your keyword or phrase in your page title, headings and content.

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Ever Use Your Own Website?

by Christi on April 6, 2009

magnifying-glass


How often do you visit your own website? If you are like me, not often enough. Now, I’ll use the excuse that we are so busy working on other people’s websites that we don’t get around to ours enough, and, while this is true, it isn’t good enough. That being said, we are working on updating and redoing a lot of things on our site, even as I write this post.

So, what about you? When people look at your site, what do they see. Is it what you want them to see? Do all of the links work (one of my personal pet peeves)? Does it load quickly? Is it up do date?

Just thought I’d ask?

Photo by Auntie P

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