Using Graphics In Your Website

What you start designing your website, it can be tempting to put a lot of graphics on it.  You need to be careful about graphics and use them correctly, though, to avoid a problem of slow page load time, and confusing your visitors.  Let’s dive into those things.

PAGE LOAD TIME

Your page load time is how fast it takes for your site to show up on your visitor’s device.  Your pictures take much longer to transmit than plain text, so the more pictures you have, and the more detailed the file is with data, the longer it takes.  That all said, there are a couple of ways to reduce page load time.

1. LESS PICTURES

One way to cut down on page load time is simply reducing the number of pictures.  For example, if you have a slider, don’t load up 9 slides and overlay them all with a bunch of dense text.  I’ve seen this done, and it’s like trying to cram an entire website into a slider.  It just isn’t something I personally recommend in almost any situation.

One case where you can’t necessarily cut back too far on the number of images is a picture gallery.  In the case of a gallery, the rest of the steps below become even more critical.

2. RESIZE

Often, modern digital cameras take extremely high resolution pictures suitable for printing out as a photo.  That’s great if that’s what you’re going to do with them, but on a website, you don’t usually want that high of a resolution.  In fact, you want to get the resolution to the bare minimum that’s still going to look good on a typical screen size.  When working on several pictures such as for a gallery, you might want to check out IrfanView.

3. EWWW Image Optimizer

This handy WordPress plugin will create multiple versions of each image in your library, and then deliver lower-resolution (less pixels) versions of your images if warranted.  The downside to this is that you end up with a bigger file folder due to the additional images, which will use more of your allowed storage space and make your backups bigger.  This may or may not be an issue.

4. RE-SAMPLE

Use a tool like either JpegMini or Kraken to resample your images.  What they do is fairly technical, but the idea is that they look at the colors in the image and find ways to do some averaging on things and reduce the overall number of pixels, but in ways that the human eye cannot often see.  For example, if there are hundreds of shades of yellow, you can imagine that many of them would be so close you’d have to look extremely close to tell the difference.  So these programs look at pixels that are right next to each other and if they’re only slightly different, it might blend them together in a way that makes the file smaller.  There are also lossy and lossless options, but I’ll save that for a rainy day.  I often get anywhere from a 25-50% size reduction.  Well, if a picture is half the size it used to be, the new smaller picture will now load twice as fast as the old one – and you probably won’t even be able to tell the difference.

JpegMini does the work off-line on your computer prior to uploading, while Kraken is a pay-per-month service that does all the work in the cloud and automatically optimizes any new images that you may add.

5. CACHE

If you aren’t using a cache, you need to be.  These come in different types, and it’s quite a discussion of its own.  For now, the important thing to know is that by using a cache, your website will be served up even faster still.

USING PICTURES PROPERLY

Too many pictures on the page will pull your visitor’s attention in multiple directions.  Usually, a web page should be funnelling your visitor toward taking a specific action.  If their attention is going in multiple directions, though, they may become a confused buyer, and confused buyers don’t buy.  Your pictures should either part of your overall story, in which case they need to be layed out in a way that flows properly, or parked in properly strategic places, such as where you expect to see a company’s logo.

You need to also be mindful about colors and your overall page composition.  Everything needs to all look good together.

Pictures can either showcase your best work, illustrate a problem to grab their attention, or be used as part of a discussion about your materials or work processes.  Which is best really depends on the purpose of that particular web page.

Thanks for reading!

Tell Them How You Can Help

As a business owner, you know your business inside and out.  In fact, your products and services, and how they can potentially help people, are things you know so well that you probably don’t give them much thought.  When it comes to your website, though, it’s important to realize that what may seem obvious to you may not be so obvious to someone who visits you online.

People come to your website with some type of life situation.  Whether they’ve just moved, or are about to move, they’re getting married, going out to dinner, or a plumbing fixture just broke, they want to know whether your business has the answer to their life situation.  They don’t just want information about your products and services.  They want to know if you’re the kind of vendor who’s going to be able to do what they need done, when they need it, in the way they need it done.  Your story as a vendor needs to match up to their story as a person to get them to call or contact you.  And it’s not just information they are scrutinizing; people are evaluating other signals about your company in order to determine whether you are the KIND of vendor they want in their life – and those decisions are made in a fraction of a second when they land on your website.

You convey these messages to your website visitors in several different ways that all need to work together.  It isn’t just one thing; it all of the individual things, both each on its own, and how they all work together, in order to convey the right message.  Let’s walk through some of these things.

As soon as new site visitors arrive at your website the first thing they need to know, before anything else, is what you do, and you convey this in two primary ways.

PAGE TITLE

Your page title doesn’t just say who you are; it tells people what you do.  For example, you wouldn’t want to just say “Raleigh UCM, LLC”.  Instead, you go with something like, “Raleigh UCM LLC – Custom Home Builder”.  Always use plain English rather than any industry technical terms, unless your normal customer is highly technical and knowledgeable in your field and that’s who you primarily market to.

Your title is very important to the search engines in determining your search ranking for different terms, so it needs to both have proper SEO quality while also engaging a visitor’s interest.  This is part art and part science to put them together.

IMAGES

You want an image on your website to quickly capture the essence of what you can do for your customers, or how you can help them.  In practice, I see this done several ways, but I recommend some of them over others.  Let’s walk through them, and I’ll explain my thoughts about each.

1. The End Result.  This type of images displays the end result that you give your customers, whether it’s a beautiful lawn, a gorgeous house, or delicious mouth-watering food.  This is my #1 top recommendation for the first picture that a visitor to your website should see.

2. The Emergency.  Sometimes people have a real crisis on their hands, such as an exploding faucet.  A picture that captures the essence of their disaster can help convey that you’re the right one to help.  A picture of this sort also needs to be accompanied by language that speaks to your being able to address it and restore peace and order back to their life.

3. The Work.  This type of picture conveys someone actually doing the type of work you perform.  I think these type of pictures are very useful in parts of your website, but I wouldn’t make it the very thing your visitor sees.  The last thing you want to do is show them a bunch of pictures that will create angst over their house being turned into a disaster zone, even if it’s just temporary while you’re doing the job.  That’s because you aren’t selling work; you’re selling results.  Save pictures of this sort for interior pages where you talk about your work processes, and accompany them by re-assuring language.

TAGLINE

Your tagline helps convey what you’re about – the mission or character of your company.  What makes a good tagline is a little beyond the scope of this article, but it can make a difference in the mind of your website visitor.  It also has SEO value.

MAIN HEADING

You want to quickly convey the essence of what you have to offer.  This is one of the first things that’s going to catch their eye, so it’s important real estate on your website.  You want it to resonate with them enough to make them want to read more about you.

TEXT CONTENT

Just as the point of the main heading is to capture your visitor’s interest and prompt them to read a bit further, the same thing is true of the very first sentence – and paragraph – on any of your pages.  A bit of mystery or intrigue can work, depending on your website and services, but you need to simultaneously provoke their curiosity while creating resonance between your story and theirs.  In other words, you need to sell them on the idea that you can help, and get them to read further.

The biggest trick to engaging content is not talking about all the technical details of your services, equipment, or capabilities.  You want to have such information available, but you don’t want to stick it in their faces.  Rather, you want to talk about results and how what you can do can help with the story of their life.  For example, if you’re a wedding planner, they don’t just want a cake and a dress.  They want a smooth, peaceful and well-coordinated wedding experience.  This exact same idea applies to any other trade or service.

CONCLUSION

I outlined above a few considerations for a small business owner on content for their website.  Most people decide in less than a second whether or not they want to read any further into your website based on whether the things they see and read are what they’re looking for.  You have to tie all of the pieces together so that you can capture your visitor’s interest enough to get them to call or contact you.  I tried to give you some solid principles to go by, but there’s a lot more to it than I layed out in this article.  If you aren’t getting the results you need from your website, it might be time for help.  If you’re in that boat, reach out to me here:  http://dunntek.com/webdesign

Mobile Websites (Part 3)

This is the third and final part of a mini-series about mobile series, to help small business owners understand some of their choices.

Things to Consider

The size of your visitor’s screen is something you need to consider when you think about the layout and content of your website.  What they see when they first land needs to resonate with your typical viewer.  With the much larger screen that a desktop has, you have more places to put more things, such as sales advertisements or seasonal specials.  With a mobile device, you have fewer places to put things, but you still need to be able to quickly qualify yourself to the viewer that you’re who they’re looking for.

Checklist for Your Mobile Friendly Site

Run through this quick checklist on your own website by viewing your website on your smartphone, and ask yourself these questions.  You don’t have to be scientific – just be honest about your own reactions.

  1. Did your website load quickly?
  2. Is the nature of your website clear?
  3. Can you easily read the text?
  4. Can you navigate easily?
  5. Is there a clear call to action?
  6. What sort of user experience rating would you give it?
  7. If it wasn’t your own website, would you come back?
  8. Can you easily click on any links?
  9. Are things spaced well?

If your website didn’t make the grade, that’s exactly how other people are going to feel – and it’s going to affect your reputation with them.   This may be their very first experience with your company, so it needs to be a good one.

Equally important, it will improve your online search visibility and rankings, which is important because a great website that nobody ever sees isn’t doing you much good.

It’s also a great opportunity to give your website a makeover, modernize things, and maybe include some newer, higher resolution photos that better showcase your work.  This will demonstrate to your viewers that you keep up with the times.

Also, while you may or may not engage in social media much yourself, many people do, so with a nice site this can be free advertising for you when people Share, Like, or Re-Tweet your page.

What About Mobile Apps?

Don’t overlook mobile applications, usually simply called Apps.  Some companies are embracing them as the ideal way to engage mobile users because you have very precise control over the experience.  Some people speculate that at some point in the future, all mobile website interaction will be with apps, but this is likely many years in the future because it would require uniform standards that are unlikely to emerge between device and operating system manufacturers anytime soon.

Regardless, there are many benefits to having a mobile app for your business:

  1. Ease of use.  The typical rules for app stores are more likely to ensure a good user experience than may be the case with a mobile website, since there are no rules about mobile websites.  Programmers can code websites to do whatever they want, with or without good forethought and quality assurance – which could be the reason why many plugins aren’t that well rated.  Mobile apps are more likely to be easy for your user to engage with.
  2. Apps can provide additional functionality that your mobile website may not be able to achieve.  Facebook is a great example of this.
  3. Credibility.  Having an app can increase your perceived level of credibility and professionalism, as long as the rest of the stage has been set correctly.  It can’t necessarily fix other problems, but it might be the thing that puts users over the top for choosing you over another vendor.
  4. With time being one of our most valuable resources, an App can make your audience appreciative by streamlining common activities they might do in connection with your business, such as making payments, online ordering, and scheduling appointments.
  5. Real-time engagement.  With an app, you can perform message push notifications to users, which can be a huge business boost by letting them know about unannounced specials.  Examples might include discounts on a home service that’s booked within the next 72 hours, or perhaps an evening special at a restaurant.

What Lies Ahead

The mobile world is constantly evolving as people seek new ways of making their lives easier and maintaining social connections in ways they might not otherwise have had the time for.  The latest smart-watch that we’ve all seen on television is a great example of mobility being taken to even greater levels as technology experts find ways to make common tasks easier.

As for what this means for your small business and search engines, one thing we know for sure is that they will continue to constantly make changes in their search algorithms – although I’ll stop short of calling them improvements, since people who’s search ratings change may or may not consider them improvements.  What we do know with certainty is that we can continue to see more changes, more often.  Consequently, it’s important to stay up to date with what Google is doing because what we do know for a fact is that they penalize you if you don’t.

The world of mobility will continue to change, and for a small business this will mean a big competitive advantage for small businesses that embrace these changes early since they will enjoy improved online rankings, while those who delay may see their rank suffer as a result.  This can be a difficult landscape for a small business owner to navigate on their own, since they may not have the time needed to keep up with what’s really important.  In fact that’s the reason for my business model of partnership.

Conclusion

I see, unfortunately, lots of people advertising they’ll design a website dirt-cheap, but what so many people end up with is what I described early on in this article series: a website that might seem nice at first, and possibly be quite visually attractive, but still fail to do its job and serve your business as your #1 sales machine.  If you need help with web design for your Raleigh business, hop over here and get in touch.

Getting Your Website Responsive

In the last article, I revealed that I think the best option for most small businesses is to use a good Responsive Theme.  If you have an older HTML website, you could convert your HTML site to a responsive HTML design, but I will warn you that from my own personal testing, I was not happy with how they behaved.  More specifically, the way the ones that I used worked is that the mobile screen was not horizontally “fixed” the way it should have been and would slide left or right – at times you would think that it ought to be locked in place.  So, at present, HTML responsive layouts get a big thumbs down from me.  If I happen to find some I like that work the way they ought to, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, if you are stuck on HTML for some reason, I would lean toward dynamic serving with a completely separate set of pages.  Done right, such pages can have a very “app-like” feel to them.

If you’re using WordPress, which most small businesses really ought to be doing these days, then you have tons of options.  As a bit of an aside, one of the main reasons for using WordPress is that you can add and remove things from your, including new posts, blog content, plugins, additional capabilities, etc. without a big development cost.  And since Google very strongly favors websites that show growth and development, you can see how maintaining a competitive advantage over time will be easier if your website has the right stuff under the hood to help you do that.

So, if you’re on WordPress, your best choice is to move to a Responsive theme.  There are about a million of them, though.  I’ll share some places where they can be found, and then I’ll tell you my own preferences.

Here are some top theme providers that are currently mobile responsive:

  1. Thrive Themes – http://thrivethemes.com/
  2. Studio Press Themes – http://my.studiopress.com/responsive-wordpress-themes/
  3. Theme Forest – http://themeforest.net/collections/3226617-responsive-wordpress-themes Theme Forest also has designs for HTML and Joomla based sites.
  4. Elegant Themes are a very popular choice, with over 20 WordPress responsive themes available including their most amazing work, Divi.  http://www.elegantthemes.com/gallery/category/responsive/
  5. If you are looking for free themes, here’s a list of 30 designs. http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/30-free-responsive-and-stunning-wordpress-themes/
  6. Then there are the themes from WordPress here: https://theme.wordpress.com/themes/features/responsive-layout/

Now, if you read any of my other posts, you’ll know that I very, very strongly recommend that you do not simply pick a theme because you think it looks pretty, you like the colors, etc.  That’s a great way not to get many calls.  The reason I say that, and take a bit of a tough stance on the subject of website design, is that you have a website for your business because you want to convert visitors into customers so you can make money for your business.  It’s not a hobby or an art project.  I’m going to be as serious as I can here.  You need to decide which is more important:  making money for your business, or having a website like one you may have seen.  The reason I am prompting you to consider this question is that there is a tremendous amount of research into neuroscience and website design factors that convert people from visitors to callers.  So, as a developer, I want to help your business succeed, which means putting those things into play on your website, while trying to incorporate as much of your personal tastes and preferences as possible.  Some developers will quite happily just install any theme you want and take your money, but my point here is that they aren’t doing you any favors.

The second thing to consider is that, in many of those places, the developers come and go, and the support for their themes may go with them, leaving your website with buggy code that nobody is ever going to fix.

I am personally quite picky about the themes I use, because I want to be sure that both myself, and especially my customers, can count on having active support for a long time to come.  For most sites, I either use Divi by Elegant Themes, which can do practically anything you might dream up, or one of a couple of proprietary themes along with Visual Composer, the go-to industry standard for custom layouts.

Keeping Your Current Theme

With WordPress, you can use one of several plugins to create a separate mobile version of your website right from within WordPress itself.  I don’t recommend this approach for anybody that I typically work with, but there are certainly instances where it might make sense as a short-term measure just to get you back into compliance with Google while you then work on fixing the bigger problem with your website design.

HandHeld Mobile Plugin by Elegant Themes lets you create a separate mobile-friendly version of your existing site.  This plugin comes straight from the manufacturer, so it does not have a rating on WordPress.org.

Jetpack helps site owners by giving you the mobile-friendly features of hosted wordpress.com with your self-hosted site.

WPTouch is a plugin solution that will allow you to create a separate, mobile-friendly version of your website. Your desktop site will stay unchanged.  When visitors view your site from any mobile device, your website will display a different theme that you configure. You can select from various themes that the plugin offers. Currently rate 3.5 out of 5 stars.

WP Mobile Detector, works similarly, allowing you to select from different themes and create your mobile friendly website. This plugin only has 3.4 out of 5 stars.

Device Theme Switcher is a more complex plugin that allows you to even give a different version to not only phones, but tablets.  This gives you quite a bit of flexibility and more granular control, which may sound nice, but with complexity comes cost.  Although the plugin is highly rated with a full 5-stars, most small businesses that I work with are cost-conscious, so I would not tend to go this route.  Although the plugin seems quite nice, I have concerns about the longevity of support since there is only a single developer who has no other plugins.  We can only hope that since he seems to be doing good work that he’ll survive the test of time.

The thing to be cautious about with plugins is the same issue as with themes themselves.  Developers come and go, so you want to use mainstream, major brand plugins so you can be reasonably assured that they’re going to be likely to continue providing support.  The other main issue is that you may not be able to brand your website for a consistent viewing experience.  In general, I do not recommend the route of plugins to accomplish a mobile website due to both reliability and support concerns I have.  Is it easy to install it, charge a client money, and then walk away?  Sure.  But I can’t begin to tell you how many websites I’ve run into where a website developer installed a cool plugin that seemed a good idea at the time, but when I’m in there fixing things, the plugins are badly out of date with bugs but the person who wrote them is nowhere to be found, leaving the client to have to pay for me to move them onto a more reliable WordPress configuration.  If you are going to use a plugin, I would lean toward Elegant Theme’s HandHeld Mobile since you will likely get more consistent support over time.

Types of Mobile Website Design

You really have three choices when it comes to an approach for your website’s mobile version. From a Google perspective, neither is necessarily any better than the others just from the standpoint of gaining their favor. However, each does have both its advantages and disadvantages. I’m going to walk through these three choices, and then tell you which approach I generally recommend and explain why.

Responsive Website Design

Perhaps the most common approach, a responsive website design is one which automatically adjusts the size and position of different components of your website based on the visitor’s device. Some of the things that a responsive website may do include changing the font size, displaying smaller pictures and videos, spacing links further apart so they are easier to tap, and re-ordering the content so it fits well onto the screen and flows well as you can then scroll down to see the same content as if you were on a regular desktop PC, but it’s been re-formatted so you can now see it easily on your smartphone or table.

One advantage of a responsive design is that you have a built-in consistent look and feel to your website, regardless of how your visitor choose to visit it. This feeling of familiarity and comfort is a factor in website conversion. Additionally, since you only have to maintain one website, your overall cost will probably be lower than other options.

The downside to a responsive design is that you may be showing visitors more than they needed. For example, if you consider the scenarios in which a person is likely to visit your website and think through what they really want to know about you if they are using their phone to look you up, do they really want to read all of your articles and detailed explanations? Maybe, maybe not. Plus, all of that content has to load on their device.

Dynamic Page Serving

This approach to a mobile website will redirect mobile users to a different URL if they are on a mobile device. The methods for making this determination vary, but the most common result that you may recognize is visitors being sent to a “m.” version of the website. In this scenario, you essentially built a duplicate version of your website, including some pages while leaving others out, and tailoring the content of those pages to better suit mobile viewers.

The two main advantages of this approach are that you don’t have to make much modification to your existing website, and achieving a highly-optimized mobile viewing experience with streamlined or summarized content and less options for the viewer, so they are more strongly directed to a particular outcome, ex. calling you, as opposed to other things they might do on the desktop version of your website such as read PDF’s or special reports you may have.

The disadvantages include having to now main two different websites, and the attempt to tailor content for mobile viewers may leave your existing customers in a flux since they are used to looking for certain things in certain places, but now you’ve gone and moved things around on them which can be frustrating for your existing customers. Additionally, since you have two websites, you need some technology to decide which version you’re going to serve up to your user, and that technology may or may not work the way that you really want it to – a situation which is becoming more problematic as newer smartphones emerge on the market with extremely high-resolution displays. You also carry additional cost associated with maintaining more web pages.

Different Mobile URL

In this scenario, mobile visitors are sent to a completely different URL where your mobile website is housed.

The advantages are essential the same as dynamic page serving, in that you can deliver a highly mobile-optimized experience for your user with summarized content and simple navigation. Sometimes the term “web app” is used to describe this type of website, in that it functions almost more like an app on your smart phone rather than looking like a web page. In some cases it is cheaper to launch a new “web app” than to convert your website to a mobile responsive design, so some business owners may see it as a short-term cost avoidance so they don’t have to redesign their whole website.

The reality is that any cost-savings is very short-lived, because you’re going to be paying additional hosting and maintenance costs, plus you have all the same disadvantages as dynamic page serving.

Summary

You have three primary choices for how to approach the mobile website for your business, and I’ve done all three. First you have the responsive design, which maintains a common look and feel regardless of how someone access your website. This is what I do the most of. Second, you have dynamic page serving. I’ve hand-coded custom HTML websites in this format for some clients. Finally, you have what I call the “web app” which is essentially a completely separate website. I’ve done these as well. Overall, I steer most small businesses toward a responsive design because:

1. It maintains a consistent look and feel for your website;

2. Lowest overall cost;

3. Most future-proof as device resolutions change;

4. Less headaches with having to deal with multiple websites.

So there you have it – my general recommendation for most small business owners is a responsive website design. That said, there may be cases where one of the other options is a better choice for your particular situation, so feel free to contact me on my website and we can talk through which option might be best for you.

We’ll continue the discussion about mobile websites in the next article.

Why Your Small Business Needs a Mobile Website

If you want to get more customers online, then you probably know that it’s important to comply with search engine requirements about the things they want to see on your website.  If you don’t follow their rules, you’ll find yourself gone from their listings.  That means people aren’t going to be calling you as much.  What this means for a small business owner is that you can’t just create a website and forget about it; you have to keep your website up to date with these changing requirements by search engines.  Just like a house requires maintenance and upkeep over time, fixing and replacing things, painting, and regular yard maintenance, so does your website.

Over the years, the volume of online searches conducted from mobile devices has exceeded 50%, meaning that now well over half of all searches are being made primarily from smart phones.  This is particularly true with online shopping specifically; if your shopping cart isn’t mobile friendly it’s estimated that you can be losing 30% of your potential sales on that item alone.  But the main point here is that when people search on their phones for a local service provider, much of the time they aren’t idly cruising the web.  Rather, when people use their phones to conduct a search for a local service provider, they’re usually doing so with an intent to buy.  Think about that.  Most of the time when people are using their phone to search for a plumber, they’re going to call one for service.  If you’re a plumber and you don’t have a mobile website, you’re now letting all that traffic just pass right by you.

Back in April, Google instituted changes in their search algorithm.  Whether or not you have a mobile-friendly website design is now part of how you get ranked when people search from a mobile phone.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  People on mobile phones would rather see a mobile-friendly site that’s easy to navigate, than one with tiny text or where they have to pinch and zoom to find their way around.  This means that if your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re going to get less calls.

If you don’t know whether or not your website design complies with the latest requirements, go to Google’s online testing tool, type in your website address, and it will tell you:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly

How Online Searching Has Changed

One of the factors to consider about your local marketing is the manner in which searching has changed.  For example, once upon a time, you might make a search like one of these:

Pizza + Chicago

Plumbers in Seattle

However with the rise of location-detection technology, that isn’t really needed most of the time anymore.  Search engines can detect where you are, and deliver results that are determined to be nearby based on your location.  That assumes, of course, that your device supports location detection and that you have enabled it for your web browser.

Understanding Mobile Users

The first thing you need to do is think like a mobile user and put yourself in their shoes.  One common scenario is a person doing some quick shopping, in which case they want a simple, streamlined buying process without a bunch of steps, so it’s fast and easy to buy.  But for a small local business, the more important scenario is when they just had a major plumbing disaster and need someone NOW.  They want to do a quick search, see top-rated professionals, and be able to do a quick tap to call.  People want things to be quick and easy.  If your website isn’t set up so it’s just a matter of a click or two for them to either call or contact you, they’re going to call someone else.  If you’re a restaurant, your exact location with a map link and your menu should be easy to use.  (Tip for restaurants: Include pricing on your online menu, and allow online ordering for pickup customers.)

With over a billion people now browsing the Internet from a mobile device, the simple fact of having a mobile website means you should see an increase in traffic.  Conversely, not having one means your traffic will go down.

This is the first article in a series.  Next time, we’ll discuss some of the different types of mobile websites that are available.

Creating Content for Your Website or Blog

It happens to all of us. You’re either trying to write the text for a page on your website, or write a blog article. Maybe you’ve allocated a special time and sit down with a cup of tea or a hot cup of coffee. Then you log onto your computer, put your fingers to the keyboard, and… nothing. The fountain of words that normally flows forth seems to have dried up into nothingness. You’ve got writer’s block.

Here are a few tips that can help when you find yourself in this situation.

1. Take something complicated, and simplify it. Just think about how many times you may have wanted to learn something, but didn’t have the hours needed to read a complicated manual. Think about who your readers are, and, knowing that, identify something that they are likely to want to be able to do, but may have never been properly instructed about. You can also draw inspiration for this type of article from a recent customer interaction (but be careful not to get into any details about that. You don’t want your customer getting mad at you.) When you begin, getting people’s initial interest with an eye-catching fact is always good.

Example: If you wanted to talk about proper shoveling technique, you could start with a statistic about how many injuries occur each year while using a shovel. Now turn this into a problem statement: You need to know how to shovel correctly in order to avoid hurting yourself or someone else.

Next, map out the series of high level steps involved in performing whatever the task is. For example, first picking the right shovel for the task. Calling for utility locates. Ensuring a safe work area. You get the idea.

A general sort of high level format that works well in many situations is:

  • Explain the problem and why it’s important to learn to do the task correctly
  • Defining the actual task and reason for doing it
  • Advantages and disadvantages of doing it yourself (it’s always a mix!)
  • Preparing for the job
  • Choosing the right tool for the job
  • Getting the tool – buying, renting, borrowing – explain any special economics
  • Ensuring safety
  • Performing the task (Stage 1)
  • Performing the task (Stage 2)
  • Performing the task (Stage 3 etc.)
  • Assessing & refining
  • Cleaning up
  • Storing your tools properly

Then, once you have the overall structure right, go back and fill in the details.

2. Compare the pro’s and con’s of two different choices. For example, you might compare granite and marble countertops, or two different types of grass for a North Carolina lawn and how each does in the different regions with differing soil types. You know a lot about these things; this is just taking something that you already know and putting a different spin on it that people will actually benefit from reading. Just be careful not to name any actual products or brands, since that might get you into legal trouble.

3. If you favor a particular brand that you sell, and you have the legal rights to do so, perform a case study in which you talk about how and why that brand was the perfect fit for a particular situation that you encountered. In doing a case study, tell the story of the person that you did work for and demonstrate how the product made a difference in their life.

4. Read the news. Get ideas from local and national news, as well as any industry trade publications.

5. Follow other bloggers just to get an idea about what’s interesting enough not just to write about, but to see what sort of topics get people engaged.

6. Review a product or service, but again, you need to research and understand any legal implications.

7. Look through the table of contents of related books online just to get ideas for the structure of an article or post. Don’t plagiarize, but looking at what other people are writing about will very often cause an idea to pop into your head out of nowhere. It works extremely well!

I hope that gives you some ideas on different ways of coming up with things to write about for your website or blog. Fresh content is always good for search engines, but it does take time and some skill at putting the content together in a way that will create authority for your website.

 

Customizing Error Pages

How many changes have you made to the structure of your website? 10? 100? Maybe a lot more? Over time as your site grows, this number will increase, especially if it’s a dynamic site like WordPress or other CMS.

Now, how often have you typed the wrong thing by accident when entering code? It happens all the time, no matter how careful you are – and we’ve come to the point that a lot of people rely on spell-checking. But those programs just make sure it’s a real word, not necessarily whether it’s the right word for the context. And if you’re creating an entire website, is it realistic to think you are going to catch ever single such possible error yourself? You certainly hope to, by going through the website, but there’s always a chance you’re going to miss something that leads to a link not working correctly.

When that happens, and someone clicks on that broken link, they are sent instead to an error page – most commonly with a 404 error. We’ve all seen this page before; it lets you know that the server can’t find what you wanted. This will make the user think that you aren’t keeping your website up to date, but even worse, there’s no way for them to tell you about it. So you have no idea about this problem.

Hosting providers now very often take advantage of this and actually make money off it. I know this might surprise you, but it’s true. If you have not created your own error page, then they have the server set up to send *your* website visitor to an error page that advertises *their* services. Now why would you want to give them free advertising on your real estate like that? You may be surprised to hear that’s a 7-figure industry.

How can you not only stop them from stealing way your website visitors and recapture that potentially lost traffic? It turns out to be quite simple, but you need to be a bit technical to do it.

With most web hosting providers, you can at least partially customize some aspects of the server configuration. I’m going to show you how to do this for Apache, which is the most common web server software in the world. You can also do this with IIS or other web server software; you’ll just have to look up the exact details.

First, you need to develop an HTML template page your error pages. To maintain consistency with the user so they still feel like they are on the same website, you want it to look similar to your main pages. You may not be able to make it exactly the same; the important thing is that it clearly belongs to you.

Next, you will need to decide what content to display on the page. You should let your visitors know that they have stumbled across a dead link, but you also want to provide a streamlined method for them to find their way back to your site. I recommend using the appropriate error message in the page title and at the beginning of the page using h1 tags. You should append a description of the error message to your page title and display this description using h2 tags in your page.

Example:
Error 404: The page you are looking for was not found

Error 404

The page you are looking for was not found. Please check the URL and try again.

 

Now you need to provide a easy “one-click” path to your website. This can be accomplished using a simple text link in the page footer.

Example:
Error 404: The page you are looking for was not found

Error 404

The page you are looking for was not found. Please check the URL and try again.

To return to the [Company Name] homepage, click here.

Now, upload your template as error404.html to your website’s root directory (usually public_html).

To get this new template to be displayed whenever a website visitor tries to access a non-existing page by clicking on a bad link, you just need to create or modify your a .htaccess file, using your favorite plain text editor, put this line into it, and then put the file in the root directory (usually public_html) of your website. Most of the time, you will probably already have an .htaccess file.

ErrorDocument 404 http://yourdomain.com/error404.html

(WARNING: Only experts should ever try to change their .htaccess! You can end up taking your site down completely.)

Now you just repeat this process for each type of error that you want to provide a custom page for. Adjust the filename and ErrorDocument statements appropriately for each error page. To gather a complete list of server response codes, search Google™ for “Apache error codes”. (Adjust as needed for your server software.)

If you are using WordPress specifically, one of the best ways to accomplish a good 404 error page is to first make a backup copy of your old 404.php, make a copy of your index.php file, name it 404.php, edit the guts of the file to get rid of any normal content and instead supply special text for your user. This will give you 100% consistent branding for the page, so your user is less alarmed when they see it, while asking them to let you know about it. Now, you might be thinking, why don’t I just have the system notify me when someone hits that page? The reason you would not want to have this page notify you ever time somebody hits is that, although you may not know it, web robots are crawling through website all day long, and you’d be getting tons of pointless emails.

As you can see, this process is extremely simple and only takes about five minutes. If you are good with HTML and you have a Google AdSense™ account and other affiliate accounts, you can easily customize your template to include your AdSense™ search box and your affiliate links.

Be sure to contact me if you need error page customization.

Creating Content for Your Website or Blog

It happens to all of us. You’re either trying to write the text for a page on your website, or write a blog article. Maybe you’ve allocated a special time and sit down with a cup of tea or a hot cup of coffee. Then you log onto your computer, put your fingers to the keyboard, and… nothing. The fountain of words that normally flows forth seems to have dried up into nothingness. You’ve got writer’s block.

Here are a few tips that can help when you find yourself in this situation.

  1. Take something complicated, and simplify it. Just think about how many times you may have wanted to learn something, but didn’t have the hours needed to read a complicated manual. Think about who your readers are, and, knowing that, identify something that they are likely to want to be able to do, but may have never been properly instructed about. You can also draw inspiration for this type of article from a recent customer interaction (but be careful not to get into any details about that. You don’t want your customer getting mad at you.) When you begin, getting people’s initial interest with an eye-catching fact is always good.

Example: If you wanted to talk about proper shoveling technique, you could start with a statistic about how many injuries occur each year while using a shovel. Now turn this into a problem statement: You need to know how to shovel correctly in order to avoid hurting yourself or someone else.

Next, map out the series of high level steps involved in performing whatever the task is. For example, first picking the right shovel for the task. Calling for utility locates. Ensuring a safe work area. You get the idea.

A general sort of high level format that works well in many situations is:

  • Explain the problem and why it’s important to learn to do the task correctly
  • Defining the actual task and reason for doing it
  • Advantages and disadvantages of doing it yourself (it’s always a mix!)
  • Preparing for the job
  • Choosing the right tool for the job
  • Getting the tool – buying, renting, borrowing – explain any special economics
  • Ensuring safety
  • Performing the task (Stage 1)
  • Performing the task (Stage 2)
  • Performing the task (Stage 3 etc.)
  • Assessing & refining
  • Cleaning up

Then, once you have the overall structure right, go back and fill in the details.

  1. Compare the pro’s and con’s of two different choices. For example, you might compare granite and marble countertops, or two different types of grass for a North Carolina lawn and how each does in the different regions with differing soil types. You know a lot about these things; this is just taking something that you already know and putting a different spin on it that people will actually benefit from reading. Just be careful not to name any actual products or brands, since that might get you into legal trouble.
  1. If you favor a particular brand that you sell, and you have the legal rights to do so, perform a case study in which you talk about how and why that brand was the perfect fit for a particular situation that you encountered. In doing a case study, tell the story of the person that you did work for and demonstrate how the product made a difference in their life.
  1. Read the news. Get ideas from local and national news, as well as any industry trade publications.
  1. Follow other bloggers just to get an idea about what’s interesting enough not just to write about, but to see what sort of topics get people engaged.
  1. Review a product or service, but again, you need to research and understand any legal implications.
  1. Look through the table of contents of related books online just to get ideas for the structure of an article or post. Don’t plagiarize, but looking at what other people are writing about will very often cause an idea to pop into your head out of nowhere. It works extremely well!

I hope that gives you some ideas on different ways of coming up with things to write about for your website or blog. If you need help with managed website content solutions, contact me on my website at http://dunntek.com/webdesign

Preparing for Your Website

As you prepare to launch a new website, there is some prep work you should do. I’m going to walk you through some hands-on things you need to actually do, and some things for you to think about, to help you make the most of your time and end up with a great website.

COMPETITION ANALYSIS

One of the first things you should do is some online research of your own. Go to Google and search for your business-related keywords. An example might be “tree service Charlotte”.

Now, go study the top 5-10 websites. Find out what services they provide, the type of information they have online, how their website is organized, etc. Keep in mind, just because a lot of them are doing something doesn’t mean they are really doing it right, but the first page of Google is always a great place to use a reference, since they’re obviously doing something better than most.

QUESTIONS

Next, try to work through some of these questions. Takes notes, since this will help your website developer later.

  • What things are they missing from their websites?
  • What can I do better than they did on their websites?
  • What services do I offer that they don’t?
  • Why should someone choose me?
  • What are my advantages over other companies?
  • Are those advantage related to a specific market segment?
  • What is my brand message?
  • Is my quality higher? If so, what, specifically, make it that way?
  • Am I cheaper? If so, how do I still deliver a great result for my customers?
  • Who is my ideal customer? Think in terms of age, demographics, location, etc.
  • What matters most to that person?
  • Time? Money? Or Quality?
  • What kind of language does my ideal customer use?

That’s just a short primer on how to differentiate yourself, but should give you more than a little to think about. It all plays into what sort of message you convey on your website. Once you identify your ideal customer, it’s a lot easier to put together content that resonates with them. If your message is that you’re the economy provider, everything should reflect that. If you cater to high-end clients, again, your language, pictures and video should be something that’s going to make them feel right at home with you.

INVENTORY YOUR SERVICES

Make an inventory of all your products and services, and then break each one down on a separate piece of paper and write down as many details as you can think of. Then, go back and see if there are any logical groupings to your services.

Your website designer should be able to help you group them in a way that’s going to use good language that search engines will like. My recommendation is to follow their lead on how to structure things for best search engine results. You may have to make a trade-off between using language that you just personally like, and what’s going to get your website rated higher, so you need to decide which is more important to you.

CONTENT PAGES

Now that you’ve both answered some of your branding questions about who you are as a company, and taken an inventory of your services, you can now put these together to write your content pages. This is where you take the nitty gritty details about different aspects of your service, and explain how your business delivers those things with your unique value proposition, using language that’s going to resonate with your ideal customer.

PICTURES

Old pictures may not be sufficient in this day and age, but I run into people with tiny little pictures they want to look good online – and sometimes there’s just no magic I can do with a tiny little pic. Get all your digital pictures together. You are going to want pictures that are at least 1600×900, and that’s a bare minimum. The reason for this is that your designer needs to be able to chop them down to size for different purposes throughout your site, so they need a good sized picture to start with. If they happen to be much bigger, don’t worry about trying to downsize them yourself.

Now, organize your pictures into folders that relate to your services. This will help you figure out which of your services that you do not have any pictures for. Often, stock photographs can be found and used, but it’s always better to showcase your own work if you can.

If you don’t have suitable photographs, see if you can take pictures of some of your recent work with a digital camera. Pick a time of day with good, bright sunny lighting in that location, and be mindful about how you frame the pic – i.e. how close you are, what’s in the picture, things getting cut off, etc. Remember you cannot use other company’s trademarks in your business website, so try to eliminate any such things from the picture before you take it.

MARKETING TIP

Your website may be the very first time someone forms an opinion about your company. The most important thing about a website is for people to see it and immediately get a sense that you’re the right company to help them.

Remember, though, that if you are a small local business, you are most likely not selling to anyone and everyone. That is not to say that you wouldn’t do so, but rather that there’s probably a certain demographic that is most likely to do business with you. The better you can identify who your customers are, and the typical “life story” for them at the time they are going to be visiting you online, the better you can do at tailoring the language on your pages so that your story about your business just naturally meshes right into their own life story, and they see you as someone who understands what they need.

If you need help figuring out how to tailor your website to better suit your target audience, drop by my website and connect with me there.