Category Archive: Websites
In particular order, leading up to #1, but certainly not an inclusive list, the following is a sampling of ideas that relate to successful websites. The temptation was to do a “top 10” list, however websites are all different and their markets unique.
10. Choose your web hosting company carefully.
Hosting costs are certainly worthy of consideration, but in the grand scheme of things they are a small part of the business operating costs. More important are the smooth functioning of your site, your email and your sanity. Don’t scrimp to save a couple bucks a month only to find your site down on a Friday night before a long weekend. Lost sales/credibility are irretrievable.
9. Keep in touch with your clients.
Great example of something we know we need to do, but few do well. If your website can capture any info from folks, you have the ability to stay in contact with them. Newsletters, surveys, and web 2.0 (things like Twitter and Facebook) work magic for future business. If nothing else, you are gaining name recognition.
8. Stand out from the crowd.
If you are in a competitive field, having a memorable and effective web presence is critical. In this day and age, template sites will get passed over without a second glance. Obviously, “standing out” can mean many different things, but the takeaway should be that your site needs to be noticed and acknowledged.
7. Contact me please!
So easy to skip this one…Make it super simple for folks to reach you, if that’s what you want. Is your email handy on all pages? Phone numbers? Seems sort of obvious really, but so easy to miss.
6. Keep content fresh.
This one has lots of reasons to be lower on the list, but I had to choose. Website content is so important from a SEO standpoint that it has the potential to be the most important aspect of your site. Think about adding a blog to your site. Keeping relevant content and semantically appropriate links, headers, etc. (really needs its own article).
5. Mobile Accessibility
Countries from around the globe are noting an increase in the number of people connecting to the Internet from mobile devices like the iPhone. As a result, ensure that your website is accessible from these devices. Create a set of CSS files to target this market.
4. Clearly define the “Call to Action”.
What do you want your audience to “do” once they’re on your site? Read something? Buy something? Fill out a form. Although the “to do” list can be extensive, make sure that whatever you want folks to do is blisteringly apparent.
3. Make the site easy to navigate.
Again, navigation ease seems obvious, but often missed. Ease of navigation is one of those intangibles that trip up even experienced designers. Just because you know your website backwards and forwards, doesn’t necessarily mean that your visitor knows where to go and what links to click. (Have you thought about doing a usability study? Mindfly can help.)
2. Design your site for your audience.
You may like rocket ships and dancing pink flamingoes, but is that appropriate for your audience? The site can be (and often is) all about you, but don’t over-do it at the expense of losing your customer. Remember your call to action. See #4
(Insert Drum Roll here)
1. Define your audience.
Spend some time researching your target market. Often, inexperienced designers produce designs that are simply “just designs.” Designing for the sake of a cool design has its place, but your new website needs to pull its weight. Instead of a missed opportunity, define your audience upfront and the project will be a success.
I resisted twitter for as long as I could. I'd been deeply entrenched in web 2.0 and social media since I was old enough to type. Well, OK – really it was just for a year or so. I already had a personal mom-blog to rant and write and connect with other moms. I was on last.fm to track and organize and discover great music. I had a facebook account so I could daily touch bases with friends I hadn't seen for 15 years. But I just knew that twitter was going to use up that last little bit of time that I couldn't afford to waste, and so I resisted. I was right to resist as long as I did.
Twitter is so cool.
It's hard to explain what Twitter is, or why it's such a fun application. In the main, it's just a tool for entering your current status: "What are you doing?" – and reading the status of all the other users you are following. But it's also much more. You can respond to other people's statuses. And you begin to feel as though you're part of other people's lives.
Last week, one of my favorite users tweeted while giving birth to a baby, as I (and hundreds of other followers) read in anticipation. I also follow @whatcomcounty to find out the latest news in our area – what schools are closed for snow, upcoming events, etc. I follow several of my friends, just to see how they're doing. And some folks I just follow because I think they're funny or educational. I follow all of my co-workers and vice-versa. That way if one of is running late for work, we just send out a quick tweet and everyone is on the same page.
All kinds of interesting applications have cropped up for Twitter users. One of the most interesting I recently found is Mr Tweet. If you follow Mr Tweet, it will "suggest good people and followers you are missing out on, recommend you to enthusiastic users relevant to you, and update useful stats of your twitter usage." It's pretty fascinating information. There are also apps out there that allow you to skim all tweets for keywords. For instance, if you happen to tweet about your troubles with Comcast service, @comcastcares will usually reply to you and see if he can help. It's impressive; I've seen it in action!
I'd love to hear about your own favorite Twitter apps – maybe I can
waste spare just a little more time in my day…
When I was a very small amoeba of a monster, old enough to know better and young enough to get away with it, I learned two very important things: 1) band-aids were magical, curing all ills with a mother's kiss on colored latex, and 2) band-aids garnered attention. My older brother liked his Mickey Mouse and G.I. Joe band-aids, but I liked the normal fleshy ones best. What better way to declare proudly, "I have a boo-boo!" than the subtle, yet elegant, placement of a plastic bit right over the knee, elbow, or other such easily skinned area? It always fell off, of course, flapping loosely and revealing a gnarly green- or yellow-tinged scab (these were the days when people didn't panic at the thought of playing in the dirt with scabby knees, see), but that wasn't the point.
Band-aids were marks of pride, badges of honor to be shown off at the local hang-outs — usually someone's front yard — and eyed with disdain on your own body. "Nah, it didn't hurt," we'd lie, right through our teeth, repressing any sure knowledge that we bawled like babies when we'd limped home to mom after taking that fall from our transporation of choice, or falling out of that tree, or off that fence, or just being clumsy.
Band-Aids gave you power, and people noticed. I especially noticed when my brother would come home, tear-stained and bloody, and mom would fuss and cluck over him, wash him up, and apply that ever-magical, all-powerful Band-Aid. So in my young wisdom, I would find the box — wherever my mother tried to hide it — and steal away to a likely hidey-hole. More often than not, this was a corner in the bedroom, a closet, or under the dining room table. Patiently, methodically, I would tear open the package, find the little red string and do my best to use that appropriately. (I often failed, mangling package and band-aid both.) I'd very carefully peel off the impossible-to-figure-out shiny plastic bits protecting the adhesive, remove the adhesive bit from my fingers, and artistically place the band-aid on an exposed bit of skin. By the time I was done, there were no band-aids left in the box, and every inch of available skin was covered by flesh-colored adhesive. A peek under my shirt would also reveal a nice layer of band-aids around my navel — I wasn't sure what would happen if I put a band-aid on my belly-button. If it magically closed up, I'd be a freak, wouldn't I?
Sometimes my mother would catch me before I went anywhere, and occasionally I managed to get away with it for a little while before getting caught. The end result usually was nothing like I'd planned; people do tend to wonder about your home life when you walk around like a Band-Aid mummy.
(The fact I also did this with chapstick indicates either a premature interest in maintaining my young skin, or sheer bloody-mindedness.)
Band-Aids solved everything. I Band-Aided my Barbie once, just to see if it would make her prettier.
I also band-aided my nose when I realized that consistently wiping it
on my sleeve was putting a little dent in the tip. It
didn't fix that, either; I did stop wiping it on my sleeve, though.
Now that I'm older, and ostensibly wiser, I can see the lesson here. Aside from "Stop wasting money, band-aids are expensive and you look ridiculous", it's also, "Just because you think something works, doesn't mean it always will." The first time I sprained my ankle, band-aids were useless.
Kyle touches on the subject in his latest meanderings. In Mindfly's zeal to have found a fabulous way to do columns, we latched onto the tool that worked and failed to really break out of that. Without repeating what Kyle has already explained (and at great length, no less), we fell prey to the same way of thinking that had me covering myself in band-aids. It worked, it looked awesome. Voila! The wrapper div had become our magical band-aid.
At least until until the continuous pounding of Kyle's head against the brick wall behind him rendered a better solution.
For anyone keeping track at home, my personal blog has gone through no less than five designs in one year. Some saw the light of day, others never made it past the final snippet of code. While some got better, others regressed, and the fact of the matter is, I've been in a design rut for the past three designs. The theme I entitled "Blue Ambition"was likely the peak of the lot, ambitious for my level of knowledge and just plain pretty, besides.
The reason for this rut came with the shininess of new knowledge. I learned a few tricks, and then that was all I decided to implement. Memo, folks: the fifth time you say, "Hey, guys, watch this!", there better be something truly spectacular in store. Maybe even something involving an award at the end of the year. If there isn't something awesome, then all you're doing is trotting out the same thing time after time, until all you end up being is that lame guy at the party who tells the same joke over and over again. (What did Batman say to Robin before they got in the car?)
This time, it's different. I have avoided my box of band-aids, and I'm now looking to branch out into new territory. This is a lot harder than it sounds, but you know what? Sometimes your scabby knees just need to flap in the wind.
A fellow designer who has come out proud, knees flapping, is Joelle; otherwise knows as Tenth Muse and whose blog has undergone a recent transformation into something truly luscious. Initially, her original design was illustrated, flat in dimension but sparkling in color, and heavily inspired by 70s pop culture. Martinis, gogo boots and all. While she still professes a love for vintage, she's taken it back, ya'll, and embraced lush textures, all new depth, and an impactful color palette that embraces a trend for the divas. Even more, she's dipping her toes into an all new blog code base.
Way to take it out of your comfort zone, sister!
For this reason, I'm also really proud of Mindfly. While some folks are wallowing in the ongoing effects of the US recession (and all that it means for, you know, money) Mindfly has turned its collective attention toward reaching for higher goals, really pushing to come up with and practice on tools and ideas we had no guarantee would work. And while I am working on the next, hopefully last for a while, incarnation of my personal blog, we're all striving to make ourselves better, more standards aware, even pushing into territory as yet unexplored by the masses.
Will it all work out? Not all of it, I'm sure, but it won't be for lack of trying. (Helloooo, browser support.) That's not the point, though. The point is: there is only one surefire way to get out of a rut, whether it's how you think, what you design, or even how you go about your day.
The answer isn't one we always like to hear (just ask Kyle and his giant brain-bruise), but it works every time: shake it up. Shake it up hard. Even if you think you'll fail, you may as well get the experience trying.
And, uh, stay out of the band-aid box. They aren't that expensive anymore, but you still look ridiculous.
Something that most people don’t know about me is that I love to eat. Really. I spend an inordinate amount of my day thinking about what I am going to eat later on. And ironically, eating helps me to focus; I am pretty sure that my snacking abilities sustained me through four years of college lectures. So while you’ll usually find me munching on something at my desk, there is nothing quite like sitting down to a hearty meal with friends after a long day at work or play.
Unfortunately, I also possess very limited cooking abilities. So besides simply eating, another one of my favorite activities is eating out! While eating out is decidedly taxing (literally) on the pocketbook, my bad habit also provides the inspiration for this blog post: restaurant websites.
As with any business, what an owner includes on their restaurant’s website depends on the individual establishment. But here are some of my suggestions, as a seasoned restaurant website surfer, for the most important information to include, and some other fun ideas.
All the essentials (name, address, phone number and hours of operation) should be easily found on the homepage because a potential client is probably searching for one of those four facts. Including a photo or graphic of your restaurant’s marquee, so patrons will recognize it when they drive by, is also a good idea. A few quality images of your restaurant will also make the website more interesting visually. A contact email can also be included, but only if you’re going to check it and respond to it on a regular basis.
If you’re going to have a website with multiple pages, I suggest including the menu to give people a quick glance of what you have to offer. A word of warning, however, on menus: make sure that the menus are updated frequently to reflect changes in seasonal fare; I find it a little irritating when I’m looking at a restaurant’s “winter” menu in June.
Providing a menu on a website is especially useful your restaurant offers a call ahead service for To-Go orders. If you really want to get fancy, you could even include an online order form, as seen on the website of the oft heralded Mindfly neighbor, Rocket Donuts.
Finally, I would encourage restaurateurs to provide a personal message about the history of their establishment on a website. Yeah, it’s kind of cheesy, but a lot of people, like me, like cheese (mmm…cheese), especially if they’re interested to know if you use locally-produced and organic ingredients, or if there are any local charitable organizations that your restaurant regularly supports. And, of course, a blog is an easy and personal way to inform people of special events at your restaurant, like live music, and to keep your website’s content fresh and current.
As some may have figured out by now, my not-so-secret goal in life is to sell the books I write, become a whoop-de-doo romance author on the NY Times Bestselling List, make lots of money doing it, and then show up wearing shutter shades and saying things like, "Ta, darling, I simply must get these edits in." (Yes, I'd be trading a life with one set of deadlines for two. I know.) The only thing standing between me and total romance-market domination is getting the darn book finished. The blasted middle just doesn't want to be written.
This brings me to my point: how making websites is like writing a book.
In the writing world, there is a condition — a blight, if you will — called "The Sagging Middle". This is the phrase used to describe the obstacle of or problem with a full-length book. (Trivia: A book that is approximately 100,000 words is called a single-title book, while a book less than 80,000 — like a Harlequin novel — is called category. I write single-title.) 100,000 words is a lot of writing. It's 400 pages, more or less, of double-spaced Courier New, 12pt, 1-inch margin type. At least 15 chapters, sometimes as high as 30. It's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes an epilogue. I hate epilogues, but this is beside the point. I'm also not a fan of prologues. I'm an equal-opportunity -logue-hater.
Most authors have no problems with the beginning or the end. In both sections of a book, the action is high, the drama is high, the pace is fast and furious. You're setting up or wrapping up the plot. Bullets are flying, dialogue is sexy, the music is loud. Whatever the case, you have meat to the matter and you know exactly what to write. And then there's the middle. The middle is where the action slows down. The climax of the story (har har, don't think I don't know what you're thinking) has not been hit yet. The Great Reveal is still lurking in the shadows. An author must somehow push the plot along without losing the substance of the book, keep the reader interested. It's far, far too easy to gloss over the middle, thereby causing it to — you guessed it — sag. Suddenly, the middle just isn't as strong as either the beginning or the end.
(Am I the only one who skipped over most of the Sam/Frodo "I'm walking, I'm walking, I'm tired, We're walking" scenes from the The Two Towers and Return of the King books? … Just checking. Please put the torch and pitchfork away.)
Creating websites mirrors this almost exactly. It starts with the client meeting and design. Excitement is high. We've got ideas, ready to design and implement! It ends with the finished product. The cut is in place, the markup is sweet, the whole thing is uploaded to be adored by adoring viewers!
The Sagging Middle begins with the end of the home page design.
I freely admit I suffer from this blight in all things, up to and including my own web page designs. I start with the home page. It's gorgeous. It looks like candy. I want to lick it. And then I start cutting. Whee, cutting! Markup, CSS, all the works. And then I click on one of the links that take me to an internal page and I stop. And I stare. And my mind goes blank for a good long minute. And then I think to myself, What the blazes are you thinking, you idiot?!
I have forgotten, or not cared, to design the internal pages with as much forethought as I took for the home page. I have engineered my own Sagging Middle. The design of the home page is pretty, the content is good, but the bridge between the two — the prettiness of the front page and the awesomeness that is the textual content — is completely missing.
Let's be honest. No one who isn't writing a thesis or specifically looking for a quote is going to waste the time to wade through a wall of text. Designing elements to break up the monotony of the internal "meat of the matter" pages is every bit a part of the "making a website" process as getting characters from point A to point B without killing them is a part of writing a book. If a reader gets to the middle of the book and, lo and behold, get bored mid-way through, they will put it down and go find something else to do. Then you get bad reviews on Amazon, someone flames your blog… it's civil war, man.
The concept holds true on websites. The link or button or little 'x' at the top of the browser is just a heartbeat away, and viewers will click it. Make no mistake. You have to keep them there. It's only one part what you're writing, and everything to do with how you're writing it and what it looks like. Face it, webpage-makers: we site visitors are a vain, shallow, judgmental breed, and we will close a site at the drop of a hat. I've been known to do so, myself.
Web Developer Weems wrote a blog article about designers and home pages, which is actually a great precursor to how to avoid The Sagging Middle. The concept is simple: design all the types of pages. All of them. Don't design the home page and then casually mention, "Hey, there's two more types of pages, just make it look like it goes with the home page." That's the same as saying, "The characters start in Seattle looking for a murderer who killed the girl's cousin and then they fall in love and end in New York just as a comet hits it. Somewhere in the middle, a guy is going to die, so just go ahead and fill in whatever there, get them to New York, and make it sound right." (In writing, the concept for avoiding The Sagging Middle goes more like write an outline, you lazy slacker of a writer, so it's at least similar.)
The reason I bring this up is because, well, I am guilty of a Sagging Middle. I love making home pages, love writing beginnings and endings to books, and utterly fail at keeping up the pace towards the middle of the project. This is something I am not only encouraging myself to work on, but everyone out there who makes web pages and/or writes books. Get it down to a system, and you will never go wrong.
… Well, "never" at least until the comet hits.
If you walk into the Mindfly design studio—with a snazzy, new desk configuration to maximize workspace and create a more collaborative work environment—and say hello, it might take a moment for anyone to respond. We don’t mean to be rude. We’re all just busy making and running websites. We also have our headphones jammed in our ears and plugged into our computers because we’re listening to Pandora.
Founder Tim Westergren and a group of musicians started the Music Genome Project began back in 2000. The idea was to analyze and classify music based on “melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony” (About the Music Genome Project®). With tens of thousands of artists and song classified, the Pandora radio service was launched in 2005.
Go to Pandora and enter the name of an artist or a song. A radio station is created, selecting other songs with musical attributes similar to your request. You can then further design the station by adding more artists to the mix, and by giving songs a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to help Pandora better tailor a station to suit your tastes.
Since it is a free radio service (a paid subscription is also available), there are a couple limitations because of licensing restrictions. It’s currently only available for residents in the United States. You can’t rewind or replay a song, but you can skip or pause music. Pandora is also not allowed to play a particular song or artists on demand. But if you’re just dying to hear a certain song again, they provide quick links to iTunes and Amazon so you can purchase the song or album.
I test the true of the effectiveness of a Pandora station based on how closely it can emulate my iPod playlists. Why not just listen to iTunes then? Because I like the fact that Pandora stations also throw out some music by artists I haven’t heard of, but that they think I’ll like based on my previous requests.
So most of the web design/development jargon usually goes over my head. All that html code is usually just gibberish to me. But I do like that I have started to think a little more about how websites look and why the designer/developer might have picked certain features, even if I don’t understand how it all works.
I also like finding cool stuff on the Internet that is easy for anyone to use, including me. Have you guys heard of Wordle? It was created by Jonathan Feinberg of IBM Research. Much like a “tag cloud,” it creates a word cloud based on entered text, giving prominence to words that appear more frequently. You can change the font, color, word orientation to make the perfect cloud.
As someone who loves words, I like seeing them used in a creative way. I like the idea of stripping everything else away and getting a pretty clear visual representation of the essential ingredients of a song, a speech, or, quite literally, a recipe.
I created this Wordle using my previous blog posts. Pretty neat, huh? It’d be cool to see what some of our other bloggers' tag clouds look like. It might help us understand each other a little better.
I saw a poster for faces of bellingham© outside La Vie En Rose on West Holly, so I had to check it out. Was it an event? Was it a political statement?
It's a blog by local artist, Lea Kelley, featuring the faces of people she encounters on the streets of Bellingham. That's it, just faces. Her goal is to get 700 faces, representing 1% of the population of our hamlet by the bay. If you find your picture, you're welcome to tell the community who you are, give a link to your website, and share comments on other people's photos. She already has over 500 photos, and I'm hoping that even when she reaches her goal, she'll keep going. The site is an amazingly simple way to feel connected to our community. It's fun to find people you recognize, even if you've never actually spoken to them.