Category Archives: Website Design

I have been designing websites for a little over 15 years. Here is where I share a few of the things I have learned.

seo

Search Engine Optimization

SO then, Search Engine Optimization; It’s a bit of a sticking point with a lot of people, and to be honest I am no expert. What I am convinced of though is that there aren’t any experts in this field at all, there is simply a bit of common sense.

I’ve been designing websites for a little over 15 years now; many of those sites have gone on to be very successful, some haven’t. I like to think that I have learned a thing or two in that time.

Before we begin though, there are some points that need clearing up. There are no promises, short cuts or guarantees. Search engines like Google use incredibly complicated algorithms to decide where to place your website in their listings and they take into account lots of factors before deciding where your website comes up on their listings.

You will come across people who claim they have a good idea of how these  search engine algorithms work, but the truth is, Google and the others constantly change these formulae and for good reason. After all, what use is a search engine that doesn’t deliver a good but impartial search result (I’m ignoring paid listings here)?

What I can do here is give you some good quality tips which, if you follow them, will deliver a good search ranking and consistent traffic flow to your website.

Let’s start with the basics:

Website Design

The days are long gone where you can assume that most people will be accessing your website through Internet Explorer or Firefox. So your main goal when you design your website should be to create clean, elegant and browser neutral code. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and <div> tags should be used to create the layout of your website. Avoid the use of tables, layers, frames and iframes, as these are not only inefficient, but also each browser tends to render them a little differently.

Keep things simple, avoid fancy effects and browser specific bits of code because these are messy and they still need to be read by browsers that aren’t going to use them.

Avoid flash if you can. Flash files are difficult to optimize for a search engine, they are large and take up a lot of bandwidth, they require the flash plug-in (something that most mobile browsers lack).

Keep CSS and Javascript down to one individual file each and be careful not to duplicate any code. The idea is to keep these files as small as possible.

If  I am honest, I am unsure that it is now necessary to create a mobile browser version of your site as most of these devices now carry fantastic browsers that can easily render a well designed and thought-out layout

Pay close attention to the <Title> tag, it is vital to have good titles. Don’t use filler words in the title though – think Newspaper Headlines, they should be made of nouns and adjectives. Equally pay attention to the <h1> and <h2> tags. These are headline tags and Google specifically always seem interested in them. Again use newspaper headline type text in these and use your CSS file to define their appearance as the default is pretty ugly.

Third Party Scripts

If you are using a third part script like a blog, forum or content management system, be sure to take every measure possible to create search engine friendly URL’s. Most of these scripts have some form of SEO plug-in, which will help. If you are comfortable there are always tweaks you can make to the code to improve SEO and general performance. With these types of scripts it is usually a good plan to cache content in order to reduce the load on the database, which will have the result in delivering faster content and hopefully less database errors.

Navigation

Keep website navigation simple and direct. Users want to be able to go to your website and find the information they seek in as few steps and with as little hassle as possible. Search engines are no different. A well thought out navigation system will help immeasurably when a search engine is indexing. Be sure to cross link related and relevant pages from within your website.

Content

This blog is about Aspergers Syndrome mostly, and it is a terrible example of SEO, because it isn’t ALL about Aspergers Syndrome, but then it isn’t a business either.  Try to et relevant key phrases and words into your content into every page on your site, but not to the point where it appears strange or inappropriate,  but don’t go overboard.

Write pages that describe the subject of your site, its history, relevant facts and interesting notes. Often these pages probably won’t get a lot of human visitors to be fair, but they show commitment to your subject matter and search engines tend to appreciate the extra effort.

Content should always be unique and there should be plenty of it. Pretty much every search engine will punish you for plagiarism. Phrase things in ways you think your visitors might when searching. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a complete design and some good solid before going live with a website. Launching a site with plenty of content ready to go will make a world of difference to launching a buggy site with poor beta content. As a rule of thumb I won’t launch a clients website without at least 90% of the content and 100% of the design in place.

Submission

Probably the most important place you can submit your website to is DMOZ – The Open Directory. DMOZ is a directory which uses people to review any submissions, and because of that, Google, MSN, Bing, AOL and numerous others trust its links, and it is where all of them send their spiders to try to find new links. Once on there, your site will quickly start popping up on most if not all search engines.

Don’t over submit your site to search engines, it is a good way to get penalized or even blacklisted and for gods sake don’t use automated website submission tools. Search engines can detect these and they won’t be impressed.

Sitemaps

Generate an XML sitemap showing the content of your website, listing new content and changed content. There are several programs, plug-ins and bits of code out there to help you automate this, but you can submit your sitemaps to Google, Yahoo and Bing, ensuring that new content is indexed as quickly as possible.

Links to your site

This seems to be a sticking point for a lot of people. The best way to get links to your site is to ask. Email other website owners who promote things that are beneficial to your content and ask them for a reciprocal link.

Google Alerts is a good way of finding related websites, blogs and forums and use these to participate in discussions relevant to your site and link back using your signature or just your profile. I implore you thought to please respect the rules of other websites. I have run many forums and blogs and there is nothing worse than spam. If you and your website get a reputation as a source of spam I promise things are going to be a hundred times more difficult for you.

Use Facebook and Twitter as a friendly method of pointing people to new content, but again don’t go overboard. People don’t log onto social networking websites to be bombarded with spam. In Facebook start a group which links to your site and allows you to post links to your latest website news / content. Again participate in discussions on these sites. Links from relevant content are infinitely more valuable than links from random websites. In other words try to contribute to awareness of your subject in general.

Use Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics to see where your traffic is coming from and how it is getting there. You can use this invaluable information’s to look at mpopular content, traffic sources and trends on your website and you can use this information to tailor your content and marketing stragies accordingly. Take some time to analyze this information  though and consider the very best way to use it.

Keep your wallet closed

SEO shouldn’t really cost you anything unless you are a large business wanting paid for or pay per click listings. I have never been convinced these paid for approaches generate significant traffic for 99.9% of websites. In my view aside from SEO friendly add-ons/plug-ins for third party scripts if you are not comfortable writing your own, there really shouldn’t be any outlay for SEO. All it should cost you really is time and not your hard earned money.

Patience

SEO is an ongoing process. Scripting languages change, browsers, search engines often move the goal posts by taking into account hundreds of different things, and awareness of your website will take a while. If you follow the above tips, your traffic will grow consistently; you just need to give it a little time.

I will cover some of these points in much greater detail in some future posts when I have the time as I realise I have been a little vague in a lot of areas, but for now put these general principles into play and hopefully you will see the rewards.

ZenEmu X

wizard2

Website Design: Search Engine Optimization Scumbag

I recently came across a chap who claimed to be a Search Engine Optimization Professional. This chap charges people a small fortune to “Optimize” their websites. He claims to be able to get you a top 10 place guaranteed on any search engine for any given keyword.

In the same vein, I am a professional eye brow wearer. I have had two eye brows all my life and I have worn the hell out of them. Thanks to a little “Professional” eye brow grooming, you would never know that naturally they meet in the middle like two love sick caterpillars. I charge people to…, OK er yeah.

Listen, Search Engine Optimization isn’t voodoo or magic. Just don’t follow my example on here. Keep content relevant, link to other sites that have something to do with the subject of your site and carefully use the “<h3>” tag and the title tag, and you won’t go far wrong. Try to mention variations of the topics your page is about within the text. Most of all, be patient. Not rocket surgery is it?

This guy is in a career, because people are gullible. Look, nobody is going to get you that number one spot, because nobody knows exactly how google works. Google hire sorcerers and priests, who chant mysterious spells over Googles many many servers. Because of this, even the people who work at google don’t really know how Googles search algorithms work. It is more mysterious than Coca-Cola’s secret ingredient. Other search engines use similar unearthly practices. It is nothing short of a miracle that google usually brings back pages that have something roughly to do with what you asked for.

The chap in question also uses Automatic Submission tools. These are programs that submit your website automatically to every search engine you have ever heard of and several hundred you haven’t. The problem is, this kind of behaviour angers the sorcerers at google and other major search companies, and they will punish you cruelly for trying to cheat. Not only will they ban your website, but they will curse your loved ones. These people are proper hogwarts graduates, don’t ya know.

Your website will get to where it is meant to be in it’s own good time. Don’t push it, don’t rush it just relax and make sure you follow my advice, and it will work out for you.

Don’t be a stereo-typical gullible idiot. Keep your credit card in your dusty moth eaten wallet/purse, where it belongs. Leave Karma to deal with these complete scumbags and ignore emails that promise you the world, and as a rule don’t trust people called Nigel, Gordon or Alistair; and never ever trust anyone who says they can make you more popular online without you having to take your clothes off.

Lecture over.

ZenEmu

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Your creativity will be crushed.

SO, Thinking of becoming a Website Designer, eh?

I have been designing websites on and off for around 15 years or so. I don’t consider myself the worlds fore-most expert on the subject, but I like to think I have picked up a few things over the years.

If you are young and thinking of going into the exciting world of web design, please take my advice and don’t. Become an ice-cream salesman or solve world hunger. Do anything really apart from web design.

In an ideal world you would expect to go and see your client, and it will be all jolly and exciting. You listen to what your client wants, you discuss what is technically possible and offer your educated opinion and advice, you define a budget, you agree on the look and feel of the website and you will get a good grasp of your clients business model. It will seem like an exciting new project.

WARNING: Your bubble is about to be burst!

You see, the trouble is that website design is easy, but people are complicated. Most of your clients won’t have any idea about the wibbly wobbly web, nor will they understand what they are doing wrong when they insert a slice of bread into the CD Drive.

Impressive Graph

What typically happens is that you will go and visit your client, they will demand the impossible on a shoe string budget and then look appalled at what you wish to charge them. Occasionally, they will wish to see some kind of presentation too, with graphs and everything! I’ve never really been clear about what these graphs are meant to show or indeed prove, but I have made up some impressive looking ones over the years and clients really seem to like them.

Your client will pretend he/she understands what you are talking about, and more worryingly so will you.

In the end an agreement will be reached which will make you both slightly unhappy. and work can begin, but not before your client asks you to do them a favour. They will point at the age old PC in the corner of the room, tell you it is broken and ask if you wouldn’t mind having a look. When you are young and naieve, you may well agree to this, assuming that it is five minutes out of your day and it will go a long way towards strengthening your working relationship. If you find yourself reasoning this way, you are an idiot!

Pirated SoftwareThis computer will inevitably have a shady copy of windows XP and more porn than its pathetic little hard drive can reasonably be expected to cope with. Now trust me on this, your client will not appreciate you accusing them (no matter how politely) of being a software pirate or a pervert.

An ability to keep a straight face while navigating through your clients porn filled XP box is a key skill requiremed by any good website designer as your client insists he/she has images you must use.  Ignoring porn is something that is not taught in college. This isn’t necessarily an easy thing either, especially when it comes to unholy pictures of your client with horses and sheep, but that is another post entirely.

Back on subject: Your client will want a website which is ugly, hard to navigate,  or breaks every single rule of Search Engine Optimization. Any suggestions of yours will recieve a polite nod and then will be dismissed or purposely ignored.

Your client WILL NOT provide you with all the information you need about their product / services / business despite repeated requests from you, and then one day they will telephone you demanding to know when their website will be finished.

Be careful of client input, if not you will end up with something that looks like it was created by a FrontPage express wizard. I warn you now, clients of a certain age are overly fond of the <Marquee> tag, black backgrounds with large bold pink or red text and a very visable hit counter. They see it, they want it.

Don’t get too clever with php or asp either. You may achieve something technically brilliant that would have another website developers jaw dropping in disbelief, but your client will simply shrug and ask you to remove this technical marvel, because it doesn’t scroll, or isn’t in large red or pink bold text with lots of exclamation marks after it !!!!!!!!

Your client will demand not only that their website filled up with pointless and ugly bandwidth hungry animation, but they will also demand that it is future proof,  so that in a thirty years time they can retire having spent no more money on their website and they will insist that  it will still work perfectly in every browser and on every operating system. For example,  A client I had a little over ten years ago, who I have not worked with or spoken with since, recently sent me a very angry email complaining  that this 10 year old website site  doesn’t look quite right on his blackberry’s default browser and insisting I fix it (without charge). This is typical behaviour.

Your client will expect you to deal with setting up their online payment system. They will be very angry with you when you point out that most of these systems take a small percentage after a certain number of transactions. This will be entirely your fault. The fact that these systems, by and large, need the client to help set them up with their bank and whichever Payment Service Provider they wish to use, will not go down well.

When the website is up and running and a compromise has been made, your client will find that His/Her phone will ring a lot more and business will pick up. You see, people like talking to other people when they are thinking of buying things. They like the human contact, the personal touch as it were. They like the assurance that it is OK to spend money they don’t have on a product they don’t need.

The fact that 40% of your clients customers are now finding your clients phone number and contact details through the new website will completely escape your client. He/she will be angry at you, because his/her inbox is not full of new orders every three seconds. You have very little defence against this. I usually make up a another even more impressive graph and email it to them.

Two to three weeks after you have completed the website, your client will call. They will be angry, again. They will demand to know why his/her website has not got the number one spot on Google for some obscure search phrase and they will call you every five minutes about firewalls, antivirus software, windows error messages, broken computers, broken printers. You see, what you failed to understand as a website designer is that when you became their website designer, you also became their full time (24/7) unpaid IT support technician.

Most clients will be reluctant to pay everything upfront for anything; but they will become suddenly very hesitant to pay you  once the website is finished. Sadly they will be unavailable, in meetings, away on leave, in hospital, dead or dying. I suggest if you often use your own Content Management System to build websites, that you write a backdoor into it, so that you can shut the site down in these cases. In my experience that promptly induces payment and increases your clients availability (and often their health).

You will feel the need to drink quite a lot during your career as a website designer. I suggest whisky, it’s effects are quick and reasonably long lasting and each hangover is slightly easier to get over than the last one. Don’t worry about drinking, it will help with your creativity; it will numb the pain as, one by one,  your clients crush whatever creativity you have left. Do try to avoid hard drugs though, they really are quite expensive and you certainly won’t be earning enough as a website designer to buy them long term.

Your creativity will be crushed.So this is what is in store for you in your future career. Rude, Angry, Unhelpful, Angry, Computer Illiterate, Angry, Hopeless, Angry people, who will bend any faith you had in humanity to the breaking point.

Drink, the cheaper class C drugs, caffeine and junk food will become your best friends and your support mechanism. On top of all that you will have a Repetitive Strain Injury and a bad back too, because the chair you sit in all day doesn’t have the correct Lumbar Support. Insomnia will no longer be a condition, but a way of life. You will probably be dead by the time you are forty though, so at least the future won’t hold any nasty suprises.

If you feel you can cope with this kind of thing in the long term and maintain any semblance of a normal life, then good on you! But may I ask you a question? Have you ever thought about therapy? Because disliking yourself that much just isn’t healthy.

Take heed, have fun, live long and try to do something you love, or at least like.

ZenEmu.

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