Track your progress

Here is a cute little freebie that you can use on your websites to show your progress on something. Perhaps a fundraiser, or other goals. It is really mostly a personal thing, but for some fun sites that have goals, it could be used. It’s called Ticker Factory. You create an account, choose what your ticker looks like and what the counter looks like and it creates one for you. Gives you the html for you to put on your site and you don’t have to change that, but can just enter information into the site to update it.

The things that are available for Free!

I was sent a survey today by the local business development office. They were asking questions about what caused me to go self-employed and other things related to that topic. When the survey was finished I was taken to a site called Survey Monkey. This is another site where you can get a service for free! This one is free if you only ask ten questions, but they still send you the results of the answers that are sent back. You can pay for a more complete service, but if you are starting out and surveys are something that you need to do, then here is a free platform to do it with!

Style vs Function

I belong to a potter’s group and along with learning new techniques for using clay, we often discuss form and function. What we are talking about is the fact that you can learn to throw quite competently, but what is the pot’s use? It has to be of a size and a shape that is functional as well as attractive, otherwise it is just a dust collector.

I was looking at a person’s site for them last week. He was asking if I would re-create the site so that he could do the updates on it. At first glance, I wondered what he wasn’t happy about. However, although I knew the web address, I still gave it a search in Google. And this is where the style of the site and the function didn’t work. The site was lovely with a flash image of a leave tumbling down in the header of each page. However, the site didn’t come up in the first five pages that I looked. And I was putting in the name of the company. Not what they sold, but their actual name. It should have come up right away.

Flash on a site can be quite attractive and does have it’s place, but it won’t help your customers find you. This site had a few problems with it, which were keeping it from coming up in the first page or two of Google. Firstly, the flash was on all the navigation buttons and the header. There were no Alt descriptions on any of these buttons, so the search engines wouldn’t be able to read these buttons, but neither would a blind user. A look at the source code revealed that the person who put the site together managed to misspell the company name every time when adding the meta tags. That might work if you know your business is one that is commonly misspelled, but it is usual practise to put in the correct spelling to!

You can easily help your site become more visual by having navigation buttons that are words rather than images. If you really want the images, then include the Alt tags so they are readable to the search engines. All images on your site should be labelled to indicate what they are and if you can be creative, you can sneak in your company name or the product you sell as well. For example a Farm equipment site may label a picture of a tractor with “this John Deere is available at Downey’s Farm Equipment”. Someone who can’t see the images now knows that it is an image of a John Deere Tractor and the store that is selling it.

PDF documents are also completely available to be scanned by the search engines. Although to your site visitor they are similar to an image with words, to the search engines they are another page with information on your site.

So, as you can see, the site I looked at was attractive, but it’s real function was to attract visitors and this is where it was let down by it’s design. You can have both, but the real function of a website is to give information about your company/subject and you want people who don’t already have your web address to find you.

Calendars for your website

I was in a forum recently and someone asked if anyone knew of a calendar that they could put on their site. One fellow said that what he did was he created a page with a table and he used that to fill in the schedule that he wanted. However another suggestion was a site called Spongecell. It’s a free calendar that you can customize and fill with your events and you copy the HTML code to your page, and you have a calendar. The colours of the calendar are all customizable, so you can make it match your site. The good thing about it is that it doesn’t take you to a different site, but makes it look (with a little credit on the bottom) like it is your own calendar. I tried the code in Dreamweaver and it doesn’t show up in the design pages, but when you preview it in a browser, there it is.
Google also has a calendar, but it has “Google” all over it and I’m pretty sure that it takes you away from your site to a site within Google (but to be honest, I didn’t go any further with this one. But check out the tour and you will see the Google logo everywhere). You can create calendars with PHP (don’t ask) or other fancy coding, but the above program is free and actually, pretty easy!

Avoid Spam from your email address

I used to recommend that clients use forms on their website to try to avoid their email address from getting lots of spam. There are searches that are done that look at websites, much in the way that seach engines look at websites, but these searches are for any email address as a potential place to send their spam. So forms used to allieviate this. However, then I, as well as some clients, were starting to get the forms back but filled with rubbish.
I was reading a blog by Stepanie Sullivan (no relation) about a site that you can use that scrambles your email address on your site so these scurilous wags can’t use it. The site is called reCaptcha and what you do is type in your email address and reCaptcha will give you some code to insert into your site. Your viewers will see an incomplete email address with a link. When they click on your email address a new window opens and you have to type the text you see (you’ve seen this before). Once you have done this, it allows you to send an email address. I’m sure that anyone who is plagued by spam will not mind the extra few steps in order to send an email.

Welcome to blogging!

Welcome. I’ve been promoting the idea of a blog to a few of my clients now, and it seemed a bit ironic that I didn’t have one to promote my own website and business. Blog is short for “web log” which is kind of an online diary. However, there are a lot of different kinds of blogs now, and most writers have one that they post to daily.

Blogs are now so commonplace, that I saw an article just today that a group of blogging journalists are trying to form themselves into a union to protect themselves and get health care! This is how mainstream blogs now are. As a person who owns a business you may think “I pay my web designer to do that sort of work”. However, there are a lot of reasons why you should still consider adding the component of a blog to compliment your site.
In a conference I went to a few months ago, the presenter writes in his blog at least a couple of times a month. This created interest for people who want to know what he is up to and what specials his business – travel – are promoting. But I was searching the web last week for some information and found another radio broadcast from Australia and these guys are professional designers who were saying the same thing!
The fellow I listened to said that there were a few reasons why having a blog increased site traffic.

  1. The structures of blogs are search engine friendly (they are often written in HTML with CSS (cascading style sheets), which cuts out a lot of design code to get to the meat of your message.
  2. It uses basic HTML. (the language that websites are written in) A lot of sites have Flash, lots of images etc. and they aren’t picked up as pure information.
  3. Each post has an individual title page. These title pages are what the search engines use in their searches. And rank them as important.
  4. Most blogs have links to other sites, and as I’ve mentioned before, that means site popularity.
  5. Your content is FRESH! I have clients that I did sites for three years ago, and they do not feel it important to update their sites at all. Not even when they don’t necessarily sell the same things any longer. Your customers will be bored and the search engines will be too.
To give you an example of what you would put in your blog would be a friend of mine who has a perennial business. It is a large farm and she is promoting it all the time. But if you know anything about the garden trade, people stock up on all their plants pretty early in the spring and summer and later on in the year her place is pretty quiet. But she has beautiful perennials that come into their own later in the season, that so many people are missing! With her blog, she can write about and include photographs of all the flowers that are blooming right now! Pictures of how her gardens are looking later in the seaon and even photographs of the animals that come to drink from her pond or just pass by. This is pretty handy for you, the customer, as you can keep an eye on her blog and not have to drive out there every couple of weeks. And she doesn’t have to pay me to add more pictures each time, as a blog is straightforward to add messages and images to. Think email. It’s not difficult.
You can give advice about the product or industry that you are in. Any news that may affect your business or may have your customers worried. It is a personal touch. The blog entry doesn’t have to be long either, just a paragraph at least once a week. You’ll see your traffic start to improve. So you can learn along with me, I’ll let you know what improvements I see to my site traffic now that the cobbler has finally made shoes for his children! (you know what I mean).


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