Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cornerstones of an Effective Website

by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Just about everyone has a website today. Certainly, if you're in business one way or another, you have a website. And people have different objectives behind their sites. Some are content-driven. Others provide an online service and have sophisticated user interfaces. Others still are designed to entertain and amuse their visitors. But regardless what your website is designed to do, there are a few primary objectives you should keep in mind before you start building.

This first website objective is FOCUS. Your site needs to have a narrow and specific focus. Why is this? Because there are literally millions of websites out there and the visitors you're lucky enough to attract will only take a few seconds to decide whether they'll stick around or whether they'll simply click the back button and continue browsing elsewhere. Within those few seconds, your site needs to communicate exactly what it's designed to do so the visitor can decide if it meets his or her needs or not.

One of the best exercises to enhance the focus of your site is to establish a 15 to 25-word positioning statement that guides all your development activity going forward. Think about it like a mission statement. It should articulate exactly what your website does in just 15 to 25 words.

Another way to look at it is to do a Google search for a keyword in your field and see what comes up in the results page. Under each listing, there's a short description of what that site is all about. As it turns out, the search engines get that description from the meta tags on those websites but it's exactly the same thing. What do you want YOUR description to say?

Once you've established a positioning statement, you should display it prominently on your homepage. It should be one of the first things visitors see when they land on your website. And as I mentioned above, the same statement should be included in your meta tags as your site description. That way, the search engines know exactly what your site is about at the same time. And if your site shows up in a search results page, that description will show up as part of your listing.

The second objective is DEPTH. Again, this objective serves your visitors as well as the search engines. Build a massive amount of content all about your narrow business focus. That way, if a visitor lands on your website and decides in the first few seconds that they need what you're providing, they'll go on to find a ton of resources all about that topic, satisfying their need and establishing trust along the way.

Depth of content helps your website with the search engines as well. Google uses complicated algorithms to assess value to different websites and one of the biggest things they look for is content. If your website has a narrow focus and lots of content about that focus, it will get ranked higher within your area of expertise. Google will consider your site a good resource for people searching for your narrow focus.

The third objective is to make your site STICKY. This is a relatively new term that describes a website's ability to keep a visitor on the site. A lot of sites do a fairly good job of attracting visitors but many of those visitors take one look at the site and leave within a second or two. As I mentioned earlier, the positioning statement can do a lot to help someone understand what your site is designed to do. But you need more than that to keep them browsing.

The visitor needs to see immediate value when they visit your site. They need to see something that will benefit them right away. They need to see something they can use to make their own lives better. This is the foundation behind today's value-first marketing moniker. People have been over-marketed and have become skeptical in clever marketing slogans. They want to see the value. They want proof that you can deliver. They want to sample your product or service before they buy anything.

You should spend some time and think about what you can offer your website visitors as soon as they land on your site. It could be information. It could be a tool or calculator of some kind. It could be a free subscription. It could be an entertaining video or an interactive game they can play. Whatever it is, you need to capture your visitor within seconds and guide them to something that will benefit them.

Once they've received one piece of value, give them a second and then a third. Guide them through a maze of value, encouraging them to continue browsing and discovering even more. This is the key to a sticky website and you can get a good idea of your progress by measuring your average time on the site through your analytics platform.

There are a million different websites out there and they're all designed to achieve different objectives. But each one of those websites can be a bit better by incorporating more focus, depth and stickiness. All three improve your website' effectiveness and all three offer benefits with the search engines as well.

About the Author

Tactical Execution with Patrick Schwerdtfeger is a strategic company focused on growth marketing and program implementation across business markets. Visit the website for actionable guidance for revenue generation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Budget-Friendly Web Site Improvements

by Lauren Hobson

Your web site can be a powerful marketing tool for your business, and sometimes it's the simple, inexpensive improvements that make the biggest difference in your web site's performance. Below are some low-cost and no-cost strategies that can help increase traffic to your web site, improve your conversion rates, and boost your bottom line. Don't you just love it when you can improve your web site AND stay within your budget?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Aretha is right, of course. Your customers want to know that they can trust you to not mis-use their personal information or share it with third parties, which is why it is imperative to add a "We Value Your Privacy" statement on your web site. Use this simple, four-word sentence on all of your web forms and on your Contact page to reassure visitors that you won't share, sell, or disclose their personal information or email address to anyone else. Make sure you link this sentence to your actual privacy policy and clearly state how you protect your customers' privacy and keep their personal information secure.

It's All About the Customer
Take a look at the content of your web site's home page. Does it focus on how your company helps customers solve their problems? Or does it say "Our company this, our company that...." instead? Yes, customers want to know something about your company, but what they really want to know is how your company is going to improve their lives! Considering that you have about 7 seconds to convince a web visitor that your site is worth their visit, make sure that your home page focuses on them instead of you.

You Gotta Ask
If you want a web site visitor to take some sort of action on your web site (make a purchase, contact you, sign up for your newsletter, etc.), then you have to ask them to do it! Few things are more frustrating to visitors than not knowing what to do next. Consider using links that give instructions like "Learn More", "Sign Up Today", or "Make a Purchase". Also be sure to tell your visitors how it benefits them to take action now, such as "you can start saving money today" or "sale ends September 30".

Optimize Your Web Site
Of course, the single most important thing you can do to improve your web site is to optimize it for the search engines. You may have the best web site ever developed, but if customers cannot find it on the web, then is it really doing you much good? Make sure you research and carefully select the right keywords for your market, then optimize each web page for the right keyword density and usage. Also be sure to test and measure your site's search engine positions at least monthly so you can make adjustments if necessary. Remember, you are competing with millions of other web sites out there, so optimizing your web site is not really a luxury anymore, it is a necessity.

Make a Big Announcement
One of the best ways to bring traffic to your web site is to send out a press release that links back to your site. Make sure your press release follows accepted journalistic conventions, then submit it using a wire service and/or the web-based press release outlets. If your press release gets picked up, it could mean multiple inbound links to your site, an increase in web site traffic, an article or mention in an industry publication, or even a call from a reporter for an interview! Don't forget to also submit to the major Blog outlets too, since these provide great PR and inbound links as well.

It's the Little Things...
By using any or all of these strategies, you can improve your web site's performance without spending a lot of marketing dollars. It's often the tweaking and improving that you do over time that brings the best results, so don't overlook simple improvements like the ones mentioned above. If you are persistent, your site can become a powerful marketing tool that generates traffic, brings in new leads, and increases sales for your business.

About the Author

Lauren Hobson is the Editor of Biz Talk Newsletter and the Five Sparrows Marketing Blog from Five Sparrows, LLC. Read the most recent Five Sparrows articles on small business websites and marketing or subscribe at www.fivesparrows.com/biztalk. Copyright 2007

Conceptualizing an Effective Website

by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Most people make the mistake of building an initial web presence before they've really thought it through. That mistake then tends to linger because the established website can't easily be changed to accommodate the changes deemed necessary after the fact. In fact, most people end up making the problem worse by building out an ineffective website rather than starting from scratch.

An effective website needs to be well thought out before construction begins. You really have to take some time with a pad of paper and start brainstorming the various elements and you need on the website and how they contribute to your business. Obviously, these elements will be different for every business but there are a few things everybody should do before they begin building out their website.

The underlying moniker for today's internet is to "go an inch wide and a mile deep". That means you should focus your website on a narrow topic and then build a huge presence around that one narrow topic. Not only will this help your ranking with search engines but it will help your website visitors as well.

When someone visits your website, they need to understand what your website offers and they need to understand it quickly. You've only got a few seconds to make that impression and a narrow focused website has a much better chance of establishing an identity in the minds of visitors and leaving them with a clear understanding of what you do.

Your website should have a 15 to 25-word positioning statement right across the homepage that concisely describes what you do in plain English. This positioning statement should be keyword-rich and should be included in your meta tags as well. In fact, that positioning statement along with a list of keywords should be close at hand whenever you add anything to your site.

Your list of keywords might be the most important resource when building your website but few people ever make such a list. Before you even begin, you should compile this list and narrow it down to a few primary keywords. You can quickly get your list together by stealing the meta tags from competitor sites and entering them into the Overture keyword selector tool, the Google keyword tool or WordTracker.com. Between those three, you'll quickly get a list of effective and targeted keywords for your site.

Another critical prerequisite for building your site is to map out your menu of products or services ahead of time. Before you even begin, you need to know what you're selling and all the different packages visitors can choose from. And don't make the mistake of making all your products or services inexpensive. It's always good to have a wide variety of price points on your website because it allows visitors to see an impressive breadth of products right away, establishing your credibility within the field.

A client is building a website around wine jelly. Yes, you read it right. He sells wine jelly and apparently, it's excellent. And the narrow focus is ideal for today's internet. But his menu of products was going to top out around $25. That was going to be the most expensive product. I disagree. He needs to have a much wider price range on his website and I suggested he include a once-annual 3-day retreat in Napa County including a tour of a particular winery, workshops on making wine jelly, gourmet meals including the jelly and a gift basket to take home.

The package could cost $2995 and would add a whole new dimension to his business. In reality, the package may never be purchased but its existence would show your visitors that a parallel world exists and this wine jelly is at the center of it. It adds dimension to the business. It adds credibility. Think about your menu of products before you build your website and then design the site consistent with the most expensive item.

There are millions of websites out there. Making yours stand out can be difficult but a more effective website has far greater odds of finding an audience than one less focused or poorly designed. Take some time on the front end and ensure you have it well planned out before you spend time or money on actual construction.

About the Author

Tactical Execution with Patrick Schwerdtfeger is a strategic company focused on growth marketing and program implementation across business markets.

Simple Web Design

by Dustin Schwerman

You have your content. Text, graphics, media. You know a simple color scheme and layout. You don't want to use a template, because you want a professional in the web design field to not only create the ideal code but also offer suggestions on improving interactivity, SEO, navigation, and other key points of a website. Fortunately, you've done all the writing and obtained the graphics already, so you should be able to get a pretty good deal.

This is simple web design. An easy process for most web designers, consisting mainly of laying out the pages with style sheets, linking them together, and perhaps a few simple javascript functions. In this case, you aren't paying for the designer's effort or hours; you're paying for its expertise and experience. This article will point out some of the things you should expect to get from the web designer.

First, the layout. Don't be afraid to ask for changes. Laying out a site is not difficult, and adjustments can be made almost instantaneously in many cases. A professional web designer is not going to expect you to be satisfied with the first thing it comes out with. Here's a tip: the designer is using style sheets to adjust all the pages of the site by changing one. It's not hard to setup or adjust a large number of pages in this way, so unless you need a different layout for every page, a designer can easily make changes (if you do need a different layout for every page, the site design is no longer simple and you should expect a higher cost).

Expect--and request--advice about how to make your layout better. Remember, a lot of web designers will be linking to other websites they have designed from their own sites. They will want every site they make to be impressive. You are paying for the designer's experience in web standards. Use it.

The linking structure. If your web designer is not offering a linking structure with a simple website, find another designer. Specifically, your linking structure should include any button links that you plan to utilize, as well as text links. Ask for a site map. A user (or search engine spider) should be able to get from any page in your site to any other page in a couple of clicks.

SEO. Although web designers may require additional charges for detailed SEO work or research, if you know what keywords you are targeting, let your designer know. The designer can implement those keywords in ideal places in your web pages. You should also ask the designer to look over your content and make sure it is credibly optimized. Although on-page optimization is only one part of SEO, it is an important part, and one that even simple sites should be aware of.

Basic web design can be very advantageous, since you don't have to pay for much of the content, but you are still benefiting from a web designer's experience. Remember, though, that a professional web designer is going to charge a professional rate even for a simple task. You are paying for the web designer's knowledge and expertise. Don't make the mistake of ignoring it.

About the Author

Dustin Schwerman is the head web designer for Truly Unique--Affordable Custom Website Design. Truly Unique specializes in creating highly customized, visually impressive websites at affordable prices.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Affordable Small Business Web Design - 5 Tips

by Andy Doan

When creating an affordable Web site for your small business, there are certain things to keep in mind from a design perspective that can make or break your site. Even if you do not plan to spend a fortune on your site, paying attention to each of these items you will ensure that the final product is something of which you can be proud.

Here are 5 tips for designing your small business Web site, even on a budget:

Tip #1: Make sure your Web site loads in 5 seconds or less: Have you ever tried to view a Web site only to find that it takes 10 or 20 seconds to come up on your screen? Unless it has been recommended by a friend or you have some other burning desire to visit the site, you probably likely gave up and moved on. The first 5 seconds is very important in terms of the attention span of your visitor. During that period, you need your site to load and for the visitor to be able to "get" what your site is about. If it takes longer than this, your visitors will run out of patience and leave. Tip: if you want to show off a long flash presentation, try featuring it on a page other than the home page.

Tip #2: Limit the menu bar to 5 options: Your Web site needs to be singular in purpose and focused in appearance. If your site is trying to be all things to all people, it will end up being of value to almost nobody. The simplicity and focus of your site design is reflected in your navigation and symbolized on your home page by your menu options. If you believe your site requires more than five menu options, make some of them sub-menus that are available only after the user selects one of the five main options.

Tip #3: Make clearly visible a call to action: Ever shopped at an IKEA? Their stores have a non-traditional layout that allows you to look around freely and yet literally leads you from one section to another, right on through to the multiple cash registers and food goodies waiting for you at the end of your path. Let this serve as a model for how to set up your Web site: on every page, you need to make it abundantly clear to your site visitors just exactly what it is you want them to do. Do you want them to contact you? Order your product or service? Add a comment to your Web site? Whatever it is, make this call to action very easy to spot both textually and graphically from anywhere on the site.

Tip #4: Provide free and clear access to additional help options: You do not want to lose sales (or visits, or whatever your goal for your visitors maybe be) just because you failed to give someone the chance to ask a question. Just as with your call to action, make it clear to visitors that no matter where they are on your site they can easily locate help via phone, e-mail, live chat, call back, user forum, or knowledge database. Hint: present the various options in a prioritized manner depending upon anticipated user needs.

Tip #5: Show consistency among other design elements: The look-and-feel of your site as a whole is really just a combination of all of its individual components. Pay close attention to every detailed component of your new site. Use appropriate colors and graphics, pay attention to font size, make sure your messaging is readable and makes sense, and make sure images look crisp and appealing. Items that you think are minor might form the basis for whether someone chooses to stay on your site or find that of a competitor.

Whether you are designing your own site or hiring a professional designer, pay attention to these items and you will have a winning site for your small business, even on a budget.

About the Author

Andy Doan of iConvex has been saving small businesses from Web site grief for over 6 years. Get your free, no-hassle quote at http://www.iconvex.com/. (First time customers: mention coupon code AT0045 to get a 10% discount).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Do I Build A Website - The Facts

by Charlie Cory

This article attempts to answer the question "How Do I Build A Website", and is based on my own experience. It is not definitive though, as there will be many more ways to build a website than those discussed here. As at the time of writing, however, the methods mentioned below are standard, and recommended.

I have been building websites for several years. My sites are usually commercial in nature, but some have been built just for the fun of it. If you're intent is to build a commercial site, then you will be far more restricted in the methods that you use, because in order to succeed, you will have to demonstrate seriousness to the search engines. They do not seem to like some of the free mediums available because of this.

There are a number of ways of creating small websites with free web building tools. If you just want to put a site up with some notes about your hobbies or your families, and the content is primarily aimed at friends and family, then these free types of resources will be perfectly adequate. However, the tools and facilities available to you, such as web space for example, or if you want to do more than just write a few pages, will not give you any degree of control over your site, so I will discount these methods from this discussion.

I will concentrate on three areas. All the methods outlined below will be suitable for commercial purposes (in varying degrees), so if it is your intent to make some cash with your site (or not), then you can explore any of these options.

Blogger

The first option is Blogger; a blogging platform owned by Google. This is the best choice if you have limited technical skills, and have no interest in learning any. Whilst it is possible to host blogger blogs on your own web sites, it is not necessary to do so. It is possible to do everything by signing up for a free blogger account and answering some questions. You choose a template from those offered at Blogger, and then voila, you have a web site. The steps of creating a Blogger blog are beyond this article, but if you really don't want to get your hands dirty, then this is the best option. Creating content is as simple as creating posts for your blogs. Log in, write your post and save. That's it. And the great thing about blogs is that they are interactive. You can choose to allow people to comment on your content, and you can choose to respond. You will need to be aware that some people may try and spam your blog. But hey, it happens, and Blogger gives you access to some tools to manage this too.

Wordpress

If you feel a little bit braver, and have access to your own web sites, then you should consider Wordpress Blogs. Whilst it is possible to host Wordpress blogs at wordpress.com, sites hosted there do not have anywhere near the same clout as Blogger Blogs hosted at Blogger. The good thing about Wordpress Blogs is that they are highly customisable, using a feature called 'plugins'. This is actually a simple way of adding other peoples code to your blogs to increase the functionality of your blog. You can do many things with Wordpress blogs that you cannot do with Blogger blogs, and if style and identity is important to you, then Wordpress Blogs are a serious option. The downside is that you will need to host your own sites, which means that you will have to buy a domain, and arrange hosting. Installing Wordpress is easy, because most hosts supply a program called Fantastico with the cpanel that comes with your site. (The cpanel is a control panel, but they are easy to use). So with only a modicum of technical skill, you can create a top class web site, with the same blogging benefits as outlined previously for Blogger blogs, namely ease of daily use and maintenance.

Create Your Own Sites

Finally we come to the third option, where you have to create your own sites by hand. Well, not entirely by hand, because there are plenty of tools available that will help you create a site. However, it is time consuming, because not only will you have to create the content for your site, but you will also have create the html for the pages as well. I use a tool called Dreamweaver, which is very good and takes much of the pain out of the creation of web sites using this method. However, you will need to understand html, because when things go wrong (as things often do), you will need some knowledge in order to put them right. Whilst I use and like Dreamweaver, it is not the cheapest option available. You will find many other software solutions by searching the web. So the upside of this method is almost complete control over your web building efforts. The downside is the time element, and the increased technical skills that are required.

The last two options also require you to be able to use ftp (file transfer protocol) which is essentially a means of transferring files between your pc and your web site. It is not hard once you know what to do, and there are many tools available to you but it is an additional skill that will be required.

And there we have it. How to build your own web site. It is not that hard to do, and can be a lot of fun. All you need to do is to choose a method that suits your skills and temperament.

About the Author

Charlie Cory is an online entrepreneur who has been building websites and earning a living from the Internet for a number of years. Charlie Cory is an online entrepreneur who has been building websites and earning a living from the Internet for a number of years. To give him control over his business, he uses the best Internet Marketing Professional Software available.

Authority Site Building Blueprint - What You Need To Do

by Cory Threlfall

If your aim is not just to survive, but pronounce your presence online more prominently, then a authority site is your solution.

An authority site will have more content, more pages and more links added to its body. The quality of content should be very relevant, original, up-to-date and complete. The site will be such a high quality statement of the genre that other sites will want to add their links and refer the authority site's link on other pages.

Now, to build an authority site you need to be very conscious and diplomatic. It is imperative that you have a wide knowledge of your industry, present market conditions along with a well researched market segmentation and identification of targeted readers before you embark on authority content. You would also need to have an understanding and a full knowledge of how the content works, the various high networking options and sophisticated web site builders with guaranteed SEO ranking.

A successful authority site would also require identifying and collaborating with similar sites, finding new marketing ways like adding link baits.

Here is a step-by-step guide or blueprint if you will on how you can successfully create an authority site.

Step #1. Product Research.

To build an authority site the first thing you need to do is to know everything about your product. Whatever product you are launching, or whatever service you are offering - first get all the primary data on it. This will give you an idea about the content for the pages of your site. Arrange your knowledge in an importance based order - this will give you an idea about what your content would be and where would you need to place them. Also, a wide knowledge of your product or service will help you throughout the process.

Step #2. Market Research.

Now study the market. Generally, large organizations hire market researchers for this job because it is very systematic and needs a vast knowledge of statistics and marketing. As you go with market research, you will know your competitors, the current industry situation, nature and quantity of demand. This will help you revise your content to suit the demands of online optimization. Your study of your competitors will make you aware about the current industry standards and help you set your goals above them. This process is necessary because it can give you the list of important links that you can add on your sites.

Step #3. Audience Research.

This step starts from market segmentation and identifying your target readers. This will make you reshape your content accordingly. Moreover, it will give you an idea about the designing of your site keeping in mind the target age group and financial segment of your audience.

Step #4. Planning the Site.

This is the most important step. Because here you have to apply all your knowledge and on this depends your future prospects. Plan your site according to your link strategy, keyword fundamentals and keyword saturation. Plan web hosting including emails, file manager, fantastico, traffic stats, log files and cpanel. You may also add link baits to accumulate more links on your site. It is a good idea to arrange blog-space as it will automatically increase your content. Above all, design your site in such a way that all users feel comfortable, free and tempted to visit your site more often.

Step #5. Developing & Designing.

This is the step where you realize your project. You may use different website ranking optimization tools like ContentPress, Pheedpress to your site. This also includes a rough hand out submission to major search engines, press releases with submission to DMOZ and various directories, booking web space, registering domain name and ultimately designing your site attractively and uploading.

Step #6. A Strategic Marketing Plan.

As you launch your site, it is also now time to market your site. There are popular methods to market your site like Search Engine Optimization with monthly link building campaign, search engine ranking report, link campaign status report and more. This will continue with a thorough online marketing, Internet promotion services, periodic up gradation, troubleshooting, indexing and all other relevant services.

These 6 steps I outlined above will give you a good headstart with creating your first authority site. I recommend you read through them one more time so it really soaks in, then sit down and start thinking about what you want your first authority site to be about, then take action.

Good luck and have fun.

About the Author

Cory Threlfall is an Internet Marketer and website developer. He publishes a blog called Strategic Online Business and Marketing Tactics on a weekly basis at http://www.corythrelfall.com . He also built a Squidoo Lens with Video, Articles and Diagrams for people interested in Authority Site Building - http://www.squidoo.com/authoritysitebuilding and recommends The Authority Site Center - http://www.corythrelfall.com/recommends/ASC.html

Budgeting for a Website

by John Simms

The following are some of the basic tasks involved in producing a website that will influence the costs.

Domain Registration
Frequency: Annual | In other words: Claiming your website address

This is a fee you will pay annually in advance (sometime 2 or more years in advance depending on the type of domain). Factors influencing the price of your domain depend on the extension you are looking for (ie. a co.za vs. a .com) and the number of domains you wish to register (you can register more than one website address, that takes people to the same website).

Hosting
Frequency: Monthly| In other words: Facilitates website and email Hosting is the service that facilitates for the working of the technologies used on your website, as well as the functioning of your email addresses (yourname@yourdomain.com, etc). Factors influencing the cost typically depend on the technologies you require, disk space (amount of content) the number of email addresses you need, bandwidth requirements (the amount of content downloaded from your website over a month, for example) and in which country you choose to host your website.

Website Content
Frequency: Once-off or ongoing

A website is nothing without good and effective content, regardless of what it can do or how attractive it is. It is recommended to consider what your content will be before advancing to the design and development of the website. Content includes pictures, media and text. If you want to use a photographer to take photos of your products, purchase stock photography or use the services of a copywriter to assist in developing text content, you may want to consider how they influence your budget.

Website Design
Frequency: Once-off | In other words: The look & feel of your website

A website designer and a website developer are typically very different - one is more artistic and the other is more technical. Using a specialised designer for a more appealing design will usually mean a higher price than if you asked your developer to create a design on-the-fly. If you want to purchase stock imagery for use in your design rather than use your own pictures you need to factor that in. The number of different page layouts you need for your website is another factor.

Website Development
Frequency: Once-off | In other words: The functionality of your website

This depends on the complexity of your website and the different features and functions it requires - are you looking for a few pages with basic information or do want provide visitors with a database of content (such as a product catalogue or business directory). The activities you want your visitors to perform is also a factor (eg. to click on a link that opens their email program vs. providing them with a contact form that captures the details you want from them).

Website Promotion
Frequency: Monthly | In other words: Making sure it gets used

This is an area many companies neglect. Promotion activities on the web include pay-per-click advertising, banner advertising, search engine marketing and email marketing amongst others. Often the key is to have produced a website that through its design, ease of use and content, effectively attracts the qualified visitors and persuades them to purchase your product or service. This can result in less costly advertising and promotion requirements.

Website Maintenance
Frequency: Monthly | In other words: Keeping it up to date

If you're thinking your website is going to do all the work for you, think again. A website can never replace the human element that is required in dealing with new and existing customers. Also, content needs to be kept up to date with what people need. It can be useful to have someone assigned to look after your website and your 'internet customers'. Often this person would also be reporting to you on the performance of your website and indicate any interesting trends that might help you make an informed decision on the development of your business as a whole.

Domain Registration, Hosting and Development are the bare minimum requirements for a website. Remember the more you put in the more you can get out, but also sometimes less is more. Therein lies the art of a website strategy.

About the Author

A member of Eiledon Solutions Web Design: website design, development and internet marketing services in Cape Town, South Africa.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hexes...Who Did Them?

Has anyone here ever deliberately hexed somebody or know anyone that has?

The Role of Designer as Educator

by Sherry Holub

I belong to a number of online news and discussion groups and recently the topic of websites came up within a particular group. This led to many group members posting a link to their business website. Of course this wasn't meant to be a critique, but I couldn't help but silently evaluate the sites I visited. One person mentioned how many people loved their site and that they always receive compliments on how professional the site is or how easy it is to navigate. I visited the site and found something I would best describe as, "1998″. By that I mean that the design was laid out in the way websites were about 10 years ago. Not only that, but there were a multitude of fonts (I counted over 4, included some very non-web-safe fonts being used as text and not image-based), a multitude of link colors (3), and just about every product category had a different layout (images, buttons, and descriptions all in different places). There was no consistency and I found the products pages somewhat confusing. The person admitted that their accountant was the one who had set up the website. That was enough to explain everything about the lack of design to me. However, my confusion still hung off the supposed fact that the business owner receives compliments on the website.

I decided to delve further into my own research of this phenomenon. I started with analyzing the industry of this business, which happened to be natural personal/beauty care products. There are some very large companies in this industry such as, Burt's Bees, Tom's of Main, Jason, etc. But it seems that the majority of companies are not large, with many independents (and "mom and pop" operations). Of course, cost does factor in to an equation like that - large companies usually have large marketing as well as design budgets, smaller companies may not, leading them to believe they must do it themselves.

So the obvious was now out of the way, but there was still the question of what is deemed to be "professional" by the clients of a particular business. For over 10 years I've tried to study the habits of the web user while also striving to evolve design for the web and stay on the cutting edge of what's hot. There are many standards that lead to a website in which users are more likely to stay, and in the case of ecommerce sites, buy. There is also color theory, imagery (photos, etc.), and basic design principles that can be used to lead the user's eye around the page. Does the average web user have a much lower expectation of websites than myself, being the professional designer? Could business such as the one from the online group mentioned above be receiving "compliments" from friends and relatives that are screwing their perspectives of what is professional?

Well, yes.

As I think about the many clients I have had, I realize that I have often played the role of educator as well as designer. I do believe that even the folks that might have a notion of what professional is can raise their expectations once a designer takes the time to explain why something may be more effective. I have dealt with clients who absolutely demanded to have 18 different fonts on their page or a red background with blue text or any other manner of design "no no's" and have helped them to understand how a better design choice would ultimately lead to their business (and their website) looking more professional (and potentially increase their sales). I have also had to gently take the reins away from friends and relatives of the business owner and steer them back on the course to a great looking website or printed materials. And I have even had to break up "committees" and force someone at a large company to make an executive decision to not only reach the goal of a professional design, but also remain on track with the development timeline.

I do believe that the responsibility to educate clients about great design resides with the designers themselves. If no one steps up to alert a business owner that a visual or layout choice may not be right for their website or marketing materials, then they're likely to be unaware of the potential they could have or the business they may be missing out on.

About the Author

Sherry Holub received her degree in design from UCLA in 1995. She is now the Creative Director and Lead Designer at Southern California firm, JV Media Design (http://www.jvmediadesign.com). Sherry is also a member of the NAPP and the International Academy of the Visual Arts.

Finding Catchy Keywords and Search Terms

by Brett Miller

Someone is looking for you, but the problem is they don't know you yet!

Your future business is going to be split into 2 groups: people who know you and people who don't know you. Those who know you can find you easily and even the least optimized website can be found by someone typing in your buisiness name or domain name directly into their browser.

For those who don't know you, the best way to bring prospects to your Small Business is through the internet, and the best way to get them via the internet is by using the right keywords. Knowing the right keywords to use in your Small Business website and blog is crucial to obtaining a high search engine ranking. If your website doesn't have those key words or search terms in the title or the text on your website, you will not be found... period.

What are keywords? Keywords are the words that best describe your business, services offered, and/or products offered. These are the words that people search for when they need what you have. For instance, if someone is looking for a plumber in Laguna Beach, California, they will search for "Plumber Laguna Beach CA," or something like that. "Plumber Laguna Beach CA" are keywords.

How do you know which keywords to use? Put yourself into the mind of the person sitting at their computer looking for what you offer. Chances are, those who don't know you but need what you offer will be going online and typing into their favorite search engine a few key words and perhaps a city name to locate you. What are those terms?

Another strategy is to follow the lead of other successful websites by doing a Google search in your own category and see who is at the top. Go to their homepage, right-click anywhere on the home page. Then scroll down and click on View Source. A window will open on your screen. A few lines from the top, you'll see a line that starts with the title "meta" or "meta name." Now look for "keywords." You'll see the keywords used on the page. This is an easy and completely legitimate way to know what keywords are being used by high-traffic sites.

Using the same keywords as the top-ranked sites doesn't guarantee a high ranking for your Small Business blog, of course, but it's a good way to start educating yourself. Although these are good ways of learning how other businesses are directing traffic to their websites, the best way to find the right keywords is to choose an Internet Marketing expert to host your website and blog. A web system that offers Search Engine Optimization and keyword selection targeted to the specific prospects in your market will achieve a high ranking for your site without the expense of pay-per-click advertising that you see on the top or side of search engine results that say, "Sponsored."

When you find a company that promises to Search Engine Optimize your website, make sure you know what you're getting before you sign up for a hosting plan. Most hosts will submit your keywords to search engines, but not all will help optimize your site for keywords.

Are you tracking the key words people are already finding you with? If not, you should sign up for a free account with either StatCounter or Google Analytics and place their few lines of supplied code on every page of your website. Then go in regularly to see how people are finding you now, if at all. If you're several pages back from the first page, you may want to consider how to optimize your site more effectively for these desired key words

No one knows your business better than you do. Keyword selection is part Internet science, but it's also a product of experience and intuition. What word or phrase would you type into a search engine if you were looking for the type of service you provide? Brainstorm. Ask your friends. Experiment. The answers can help your Small Business blog and website to the top of the search results.

About the Author

Brett Miller, the founder of HoopJumper WebSystems, is the creator of Webepreneur, an easy-to-use website building program for small business owners and individual service professionals who want to save money and time by building and editing their own search engine optimized Web 2.0 websites. If you're a Small Business Owner and you want your websites to work for you, go to http://www.webepreneur.com/

Sunday, September 2, 2007

How To Identify Fake Web Designers -- And Choose A Real One

by Sherman Cheong

Like going on a blind date, choosing the right web designer can be an adventure fraught with false hope.

Unlike a big corporation, a small business generally has a tight budget--especially when it comes to advertising and promotion--to engage a big web design agency to serve their online marketing needs.

With the understanding that a cheap-looking website is not the best way to represent your business--or that you do not have unlimited funds to throw at web designers on the off-chance that you'll get something that resembles what you want--there exist good small design studios and professional freelance web designers with reasonable rates, fortunately.

Here are some tips on how to choose the right one to meet your small business needs.

Identify the Fake Web Designers

Check out their portfolio!

Do they look professional? Is the style of the designer something you would like to have on your own site? Are they logical, easy to use, and provide what's needed to help customers achieve their (and the clients') goals? That means that a lot of business development has gone into them.

Web Designers vs Web Programmers

There are many web designers who are actually programmers who know little, if at all, about design. They use templates that are created by other professional designers. Unfortunately, templates aren't customized to your unique business.

Moreover, with advances in software applications, it is easier than ever to create and build a website. These software can help anyone build a website without knowing a thing. However, there is a distinct difference between creating and designing one.

Design, be it web or print, is about communication. Without the necessary design knowledge how could the programmers do an effective job communicating with your prospective customers?

How Can Good Design Help Your Business

Design is about you--what you know, what you see, and what you have to say. Behind every design is a vision, a purpose, a reason to be. Web design is not about decoration but communication; about making your words and vision visible, giving it form and body for all the world to see.

While the sales copy of your website remains vital for the effective selling of your products or services, the use of typography, color, graphics and layout help lead your prospects read and navigate your website.

This makes your page a pleasure to read and increases their overall user-experience.

A professional, well-designed website has been proven to increase sales!

Web Design Process

The web design process is also a matter of planning, what to include and what to exclude, good design, appealing text, how to sell, what business plan to follow, and more.

Like any other marketing medium, it requires a lot of work by individuals who understand what visitors and the search engines like to see: properly organized text. Combining a nice layout with SEO isn't easy, make sure the designer understands both the human and search components.

The result is pages that perform well for visitors and rank high for specific keywords.

No doubt, there are many who can turn out professional websites, but few who will volunteer to spend dozens of hours consulting with a client, designing a clear and unconfusing website, and sweating over ad copy, pictures and all the major and minor details -- in essence, creating a online marketing vehicle.

Online Marketing

The number one mistake that most first time web site owners make is that they don't know what to do with their site after it's designed. It is very possible to have a beautiful site designed for you and no one ever sees it.

A website is merely another means of marketing your products or services. With hundreds, if not thousands, of websites sprouting out everyday, competition is fierce. Having a "web presence" for your business has virtually become an understatement.

A good designer will not only help you create a professional looking site, they will also ensure that your site gets a good ranking with the search engines so that your site can be easily found online. Make sure that your designer will optimize your site for the search engines and submit it to the major search engines. Your website need to rank reasonably well in search engines.

Moreover, small business should seriously look into harnessing the power of the social media and sound web marketing design to increase the exposure of your services and products to extend your reach.

Is a Website Just a website

In the online world, traffic and targeted prospects is the life blood for you website. A pretty website becomes a white elephant if no customer visits it.

Does the web designer practice what he preaches? How much traffic is his website receiving?

To get an estimation of the amount of traffic, go to www.alexa.com, enter his URL to get the traffic details. You'll see the Traffic Rank for his website. As a general rule of thumb, if the traffic ranking isn't within the 1st Million globally (e.g. Yahoo ranks no. 1), then his online marketing effort certainly has much room for improvement, even for his own business website.

Offline Marketing

Small businesses exist in numbers far larger than big corporations.

It is ever more important for your business to stand out from your competition with a professional, consistent image--your corporate identity, namely from your web design, company logo, to the offline marketing collateral such as business card and flyer designs etc.

Having the same company to design both your online and offline marketing collateral have significant advantages of consistency and cost.

Word of Mouth and Testimonials

Word of mouth is a good indication of someone who knows his stuff.

If he comes strongly recommended by trusted friends or family members, chances are he's created design solutions that work for their business quite well. Ask them whether it was a good experience or not.

Most designers will have testimonials from previous clients on their website. It's a good idea to see what his customers are saying about his services. Follow the web links and try contacting some of them. You should have a feel after talking to one or two. This also ensures the testimonials are not fake ones that were simply "made up".

Chemistry is Key

You are going to have to share aspects of your business, from visions to operations to preferences to competition, with this person.

So it's important that you feel comfortable enough with him to be honest about your business details and goals, as well as ask as many questions about his advise as you need to. Does the designer seem friendly and are they willing to answer all of your questions? Does he respond promptly to your emails and/or phone calls?

A good designer will keep in touch with you every few days, at least. You don't want to get down to the final days of creating the site only to find out you don't like it!

Look out for his modus operandi during the first meeting. He should be asking you extensive, detailed questions about your requirements and goals, in order to analyze your needs.

Someone who is more interested in telling you the different design packages he can offer you is probably more concerned about making a quick buck.

Website Maintenance

A common issue with most small business is a lack of technical skills. What happens if you want to update the content after the project has been completed? Can you update it yourself without any HTML knowledge?

Content Management System

Would your website be built on a content management platform such as Wordpress or Joomla? This will allow you to update, edit and add pages on your own without going back to the web designer. Thus saving time and cost.

Engage Your Customers Via Blogs

If you are marketing your business on the web and you don't have a blog, you will always be beaten down by your competition.

A Blog platform allows you to do things no one else in your market can do with static websites. This means you don't just have a web site, you have a search engine magnet and an interactive community builder that will drive targeted, willing-to-buy visitors to your site.

Price

This is an important factor for any small business to consider.

Although there is no clear-cut rule as to what an "average" price for web design is. In most cases, you get what you pay for. You are paying for this his expertise, time and experience.

Be realistic about your budget. You may not have all the bells and whistles such as animation and special effects.

It is more important to create a successful website that has a good position in the search engine and one that you are very happy with the look and function of than to save a couple of bucks. If you get a good site, your site will be able to grow with your company and, hopefully, that's for a very long time!

The savvy, experienced web designer can implement your ideas and enhance them, spotting possible pitfalls and making recommendations along the way--and he'll help you to understand the procedure and give you the benefit of his experience and understanding of the Web, so that you come away not only with a website, but with an enhanced understanding of the Web and online business. In short, he'll work with you and be effective.

About the Author

Pagethinker is about web design for small business. A small singapore web design studio specializes in designing effective websites for online marketing. For tips on how to design to attract both customers and search engines, and ultimately, sell your products & services, visit http://www.pagethinker.com

Web Design Elements You Should Avoid Having on Your Site

by Milo Lawrence

As a web designer, you should design your websites to give your visitors the greatest ease of use, the best impression and most important of all a welcoming experience. It doesn't matter if you had the greatest product in the whole world -- if your website is poorly done you won't be able to sell even one copy of it because visitors will be driven off your website by the lousy design.

When I'm talking about a "good design", I'm not only talking about a good graphical design. A professional web design will be able to point out that there are many components which contribute to a good website design -- accessibility design, interface or layout design, user experience design and of course the most straightforward, which is graphic design.

Hence, I have highlighted some features of the worst web designs I've come across. Hopefully, you will be able to compare that against your own site as a checklist and if anything on your site fits the criteria, you should know it's high time to take serious action!

Background music

Unless you are running a site which promotes a band, a CD or anything related to music, I would really advise you to stay away from putting looping background music onto your site. It might sound pleasant to you at first, but imagine if you ran a big site with hundreds of pages and everytime a visitor browses to another page on your site, the background music starts playing again. If I were your visitor, I'd just turn off my speakers or leave your site. Moreover, they just add to the visitors burden when viewing your site -- users on dial up connections will have to wait longer just to view your site as it is meant to be viewed.

Extra large/small text size

As I said, there is more to web design than purely graphics -- user accessibility is one big part of it too! You should design the text on your site to be legible and reasonably sized to enable your visitors to read it without straining their eyes. No matter how good the content of your website or your sales copy is, if it's illegible you won't be selling anything!

Popup windows

Popup windows are so blatantly used to display advertisements that in my mind, 90% of popup windows are not worth my attention so I just close them on instinct every time each one manages to pass through my popup blocker (yes, I do have one like many users out there!) and, well, pops up on my screen. Imagine if you had a very important message to convey and you put it in a popup window that gets killed most of the time it appears on a visitor's screen. Your website loses its function immediately!

In concluding this article, let me remind you that as a webmaster your job is to make sure your website does what it's meant to do effectively. Don't let some minor mistakes stop your site from functioning optimally!

About the Author

The Author's website Affiliate Marketing and Make Money Online For Beginners features how you can drive more traffic to your website with seo elite, seo software and seo tips.