My general recommendation to clients is to have a single, central website however there are obviously circumstances where it does make sense to have multiple websites; let’s look into that.
I’ve been quietly getting more and more excited about Google+, Google’s social network; they really seem to have thought things through and it looks more and more like a great blend of the best bits from Twitter and Facebook. However, I don’t want to get too bogged down in G+ today, I want to just talk about a sort of side effect of it…
Most of us with anything more than a passing acquaintance with websites etc will be familiar with the phrase SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This mysterious terms does mask quite a lot of baloney but, that aside, most people would agree that getting more traffic to your website is a good thing. Ok, hold on to that thought for a minute…
What if I said there was something you could do to help your pages stand out more in the search results listings? Something that was above board, something that was free and something with further reaching benefits. Interesting eh?
In which case take a look at the search engine results snippet below:
The thing to notice is that my battered old face is showing next my post (and shut it you at the back saying that my face will put people off clicking!). The thing is this, people’s eyes latch on to faces so just getting your Google Authorship set up is an easy win.
But won’t everyone do it?
Sure – many people are already doing this but, in truth, we’re not doing this for short term SEO gain. The bottom line is this: Google are trying to understand a lot more; they want to move beyond just having an arbitrary idea of website pages; they want to understand more about meaning. And one of the angles they are attacking is that they want to know who wrote something.
When they know what content someone has created they can easily show searchers other content by the same publisher (as a very basic example of use).
Where do I start?
If you Google ‘Google Authorship‘ then the top, key result is on their Google+ domain and it explains how authorship and your Google+ profile are interlinked. This is because Google see their social network (and your profile on that network) as key to the battleground of online identity.
Note: check out this other very useful Google page on Authorship.
If you’re not on Google+ then (shame on you!) I’m be tempted to set yourself up just to get yourself started on the Google Authorship scheme.
Oh, and if you’re on WordPress.com, your life has been made easier to link your site to your Google profile.*
*If there’s any demand, I’ll publish a more “nuts and bolts” article about setting this up but, in this instance, I just wanted to talk through the concepts…
For many years I’ve been happily using the hosting services of Memset (who are also a sponsor for this year’s Port80 web conference, bless!). In particular I’ve tended to use their virtual machines - I love the fact that the top line support at Memset are looking after the hardware and that you can scale them pretty easily.
However, in the last 12 months we’ve done a lot of WordPress installs. The WordPress CMS and the plugins are a good cook’s kitchen for many of the professional/services websites myself & the team generally work on.
Now WordPress has to be looked after. You have to get security updates on there sharpish or you’re asking for trouble. Fair enough.
The thing is, I’m trying to do less hands on stuff so that I can scale the business. This means I don’t want the hassle of keeping WordPress security patched. Sure I can pay someone to look after that aspect but many clients don’t pay much for hosting so additional costs can make that prohibitive.
This is why I am currently trailing WPEngine who aim to offer “hassle-free WordPress hosting“. They are like WordPress.com but they offer you tonnes more options. For starters you can intall your own themes/plugins etc; you can install from GIT and can have a stage environment. They offers snapshot backups and CDN. Best of all they look after the security patching of WordPress so I just don’t have to worry about that. Good.
Really enjoying them so far. Their support department is really clued up and it’s a nice feeling having that on your side. Be interesting to see how they react when we hit bigger problems than we have so far; I’m sure they can cope.
I told Memset about this service as I think it’s something they should offer; so far they’ve not listened to me though
p.p.s reading this post back it sounds like I’m getting paid by Memset/WPEngine! I’m not. These are genuine recommendations.
Back in April 2012 I blogged about the blind, hysterical panic coming from reputable sources about this cookie law which would seem to indicate that if you used (for example) Google Analytics on your website you were akin to an international criminal, liable to an indefinite jail term and an immediate, multi-million pound fine (I may have exaggerated). And here is an update.
Should I display my email address on my website?
A client raised this question the other day. A friend of theirs had taken a look at their website & advised them that they didn’t think having their email address proudly displayed was a good idea as they would get added to “spam lists“.
Update: here are the legal requirements re UK website information; best not hide that email address!
They suggested a contact form instead. That’s fair enough but the website already had a contact form. I certainly do like simple contact forms as it gives a smooth route for people to contact you. But not everyone likes forms (for one thing this is no audit trail).
And I wouldn’t use a contact form instead of displaying your email address ; I would use it as well as; choice is good.
Captcha or be captured?
I’m not a great fan of attempts to obscure your email address or contact forms; techniques such as captcha (fig1) or displaying your email as an image (instead of natural, HTML text) can be counter productive as, in doing so, we’re actually throwing the baby out with the bath water. By that I mean, by trying to make it harder for bogeymen spammers, you’re also making it harder for legitimate punters to contact you. How is that useful?
What are spammers trying to achieve?
Spammers can’t do a lot useful with your email address; they can try and email you junk*, they can try and send fake emails as if it is from your email address but such spoofing is easily (and automatically) detected more often than not.
*Note: if you fall for an email from your long lost Nigerian cousin who wants to give you $1,000,000 but you need to transfer money first then email spam is not the problem; it’s stupidity.
Can they hack into your online banking with it? No.
Can they take over your life in an Invasion of the body snatchers nightmare? No.
And remember there are many other ways they can gain email addresses. In fact, they could just guess. Eg if your domain is ACMEBIZ.NET then do you have any of these email addresses active? Info@, sales@ support@? See, the genie is already out of the bottle.
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM
You’ve also got to bear in mind that email SPAM is just a never ending problem; and one that a contact form or hiding your email address doesn’t really fix (in fact, contact forms can cause more issues than they create).
I use GOOGLE to host jojet.com email and Google are pretty darn good at weeding out spam; we should let them do their job. Using Heath Robinson-esque systems to keep bogeymen spam harvesters at bay can be a red herring.
For more nitty gritty, check out the Wikipedia entry on Email Address harvesting.
p.s. oh, and can someone tell me the point of splitting your email address up into “jh dot jojet dot com” via a Twitter DM?! Paranoid are we?
Recently I read a thought provoking post from Seth Godin titled “How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers“; it didn’t sit comfortably with me so after letting it stew for a while I decided to make a rebuttal.
The aim of Seth’s article was to help business marketers communicate their website vision better so that the whole process went smoother and, ultimately, the website appeared quicker. Fair enough. However, there were some flaws in his advice.
Be careful what you wish for…
The gist of Seth’s advice was this:
Let’s make the process take less time and be less hassle. Browse other websites and find the tech elements you want for your website (a shopping cart like this, a homepage like that), mockup the website in Keynote or Powerpoint and use that as your specification.
However, I have some issues here.
In my experience of designing websites, you have to be mindful of reaching for the tech too early. It’s all too tempting to be lured in and to spend time “researching” what the competition are doing, and mistaking that for a strategy for deciding what your website needs (“ooh! look, their pages fip like a book..WE NEED THAT!“). What is right for one company and one website is not right for another. And who’s to say that the websites you are looking at are any good?! You could be copying poor websites & poor techniques; this is hardly laying the foundations for online success.
Where you should start
Competition research is fine and has its place but, in my experience, it is more important that the client brings the following to the table:
- A clear idea of who they are & what their brand is
- Who their audience is and what motivates them to buy
- What products/services are they offering to their audience
- The buying process of that audience
This is stuff which marketers should know really well (but don’t always).
And this is a gold mine of information which savvy website design companies will use as a starting point so that collaboratively we can create a highly polished piece of online marketing collateral.
If you have established the above information then, by all means, go further and map out how you think this experience should manifest itself online (e.g. a sitemap or mocking something up in Powerpoint). BUT treat this as a straw man only.
And use your straw man to communicate your vision to your web design team but the conversation should not be “this is how it should look” or too prescriptive full stop. A good web design team will work with you on what you are trying to achieve and, armed with that, they can advise you on how that may be best achieved online. Brow beat your web design team at your peril.
Seth says “Virtually all websites are not on the cutting edge of technology.” true, but that’s like saying “Virtually all recipes can be made using ingredients you can buy down a local supermarket“; the skill is in understanding what ingredients to bring to bear for the end result; the magic is not so much in the ingredients; it is in the knowledge of how to bring it all together using a creative process.
I don’t want to start every paragraph with “Seth says” but…
Last step: Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away until it’s finished
This is dangerous, dangerous advice.
Online success is rarely achieved by business stake holders and design creatives working in isolation; it is more likely that it is achieved by working collaboratively to bring your vision online. The process is iterative. And it needs input & ideas from various business stake holders along the way. Web design companies do not possess a crystal ball and if you want to avoid that awful moment when the curtain gets pulled back on the project and you start finding fault then I would advise you to be part of the process (yes, design has a regimented process) from day one. Design process is what achieves results; the design is just an output.
What you should concentrate on?
A word not mentioned once in the post is something which I would consider critical: content.
Without good content a website is dead in the water. And by cherry picking the process and trying to decide on (for example) what navigation system you think you need on your website, we run the risk of not concentrating on what we DO need to focus on. And that is the actual content of the website.
- What content does the website need?
- What form will that content take? (text, video, audio, infographic etc)
- What content do we have already? (and what shape is it in?)
- What new content do we need? Who will create it?
- How will our content work on mobile?
- How will we measure the effectiveness of our content?
Indeed, some website companies will push clients to create the content first before any further web design is done; concentrating the mind of the client on creating top quality content to engage their audience. Once we understand the message we can see how it needs to be applied to the medium.
Seth suggests that in following his advice you will achieve results with “less time and less hassle“. However, be careful on the corners you cut, quality results require time & effort.
Perhaps I misunderstood the advice offered in his article but, if I did, my concern is that other people will have misunderstood as well.
p.s. one good bit advice from the post was “Don’t do any coding.”, however, to me this is self evident. It’s like saying “Unless you are a qualified dentist, don’t perform your own root canal work“.
p.p.s part of me suspects that Seth knew his article would raise eye brows in certain quarters; perhaps he is not adverse to link bait
The concept of mobile is something which has sat uncomfortably with me for quite a while. I don’t mean that I exchange angry looks with my iPhone. No, I’m more than happy to access websites from whatever device is close to hand (much to my wife’s annoyance). My issue is how we, as people who build websites, handle mobile elegantly.