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Clutter: The Ruin of a Great Website

Clutter: The Ruin of a Great Website
The following is an article I wrote that was originally published on www.SiteProNews.com in June of 2013.

chaos-and-orderThanks to TLC’s and A&E’s hit series’ on hoarding, a serious problem that was previously, for the most part, hidden from the world has been revealed: some people live in filth and clutter. Well I’m here to tell you that this problem doesn’t only exist in private homes, hidden away from prying eyes; it runs rampant online as well. Websites also fall victim to clutter. While sometimes amusing to look at, these sites are in reality, no laughing matter. Not only are they hard on the eyes of visitors, but they are also to blame for lost sales and revenues.

I’m not just talking about the neon yellow on black with purple stripes and flashing banners type of website either (although please, for the love of all that is good, if your website looks like that, change it!), I’m talking about perfectly good websites that have WAY too much too say, do and look at. Many of these websites start off with potential and their owners just can’t figure out a way to say all there is to be said and show all there is to show as soon as you hit the home page (or sometimes every page).

As a web designer I’ve seen it happen, and in fact, when possible I’ve attempted  to discourage website owners from doing it. Even some of my designs have fallen victim to such overzealous website owners. What may start out as a beautiful website often times gets destroyed by the website owner’s false belief that all the information they have about their product should be on the home page (or every page), or that adding 14 ads to their site will make them more money, or that flashing banners will gather more attention, or that bolding and highlighting every second line on the site will be more noticeable. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

When a website visitor arrives on a site that has an overabundance of information, one of two things occurs:

  1. they get confused and don’t know what to click or do; or,
  2. they just leave.

It’s really that simple. I do it myself. If I can’t get to the information that I want on a website fast enough because it’s too confusing, I leave and so do most other people. Your website may have many purposes, but it should have one primary and one secondary purpose presented per page.  That is not to say that if getting visitors to purchase a product is your primary purpose and getting them to opt-in to your list is your secondary purpose that you can’t have your social media profiles listed. But it can be done tastefully. It doesn’t have to scream “LIKE ME, FOLLOW ME, ENDORSE ME,” and have images of all your followers and show every post you’ve made to every network in order to be there.  The same goes for ads. If you really want to include ads on your site, then by all means do it, but accept tasteful ads that don’t clash with your site and won’t turn-off your target market. And if you decide to post 14 of them, know that your primary purpose will seem to be selling other peoples products and not your own.

Your website is your business’ face to the world. If it’s clean and has a clear message, you will gain more customers from it. If it is confusing and its message is muddled you will lose business.  What kind of website do you want?

Logo Design In 5,000 Easy Steps

By Guest Blogger Belinda Pyle – www.problemsbythedozen.com

My wonderfully gifted writer friend is at it again. She’s graciously prepared another blog post for me about her adventures in logo design. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did! – Kelly

As per my last blog post, How My Technological Dream Turned into a Nightmare, you now know that Kelly saved my virtual butt. Whew. So, we got the template chosen but then, it was time to look at a logo.

Choosing a logo for a small to medium-sized business like mine is challenging. Often, the founder is closely tied to the company and its product or service so this leads to all sorts of interesting questions. In my case, I was the primary product and writing was my service. Here are a few of the questions that you may also struggle with:

#1 –     What is the lifespan of the logo?

Do you expect this to be a long-term company? Will you hand it over to your grandkids as you head for beaches in a warmer climate? Or, is this your starter company that you know will either be short-term or will eventually evolve into another entity?

If it is long-term, you need help. The logo is the beginning and end of your branding and if you get this right, everything else flows much smoother. A long-term logo means that you absolutely must be completely in love with the logo. So much so that: it has its own room in your home; you tuck it into bed with a kiss each night; and you pull it out of your wallet to show pictures of it to people you have just met. Yep. You just love it that much.

If it is short-term, there are many, many sites that have stock photos. One of my favourites is 123rf and Kelly’s is iStockphoto.  Neither is the cheapest out there, but I always find what I’m looking for on 123rf and Kelly swears by iStockphoto.

#2 –     Which is more important the person or the product?

As a writer, I figured that this was an easy one. My writing was the product. Therefore, I needed to focus on it. Accordingly, I began brainstorming logo ideas and spending hours doing research. I was ready for the next step!

#3 –     What is memorable about your product/service?

This was where the fun and the not-so-much-fun began. Kelly and I were brainstorming and we came up with the idea of a chameleon to represent my ability to change my writing depending upon the audience (I know, brilliant wasn’t it!) I got really excited and the only one who does “excited” better than me is a five-year old on Halloween night–after he has tasted all of his candy.

This idea quickly got out of control and here’s how:

    1. krisdog130100042-[Converted]Found amazing picture on Internet. Fell in love with it.
    2. Showed picture to Kelly who suggested I search for a stock photo to save money on having it hand drawn.
    3. I wanted an “original” so I turned up my nose and asked a friend’s amazingly gifted son to turn it into a cartoon (Kelly has a designer on her team, but I decided to give the business to my young friend since Kelly and I are working on other things together).
    4. Went to pet stores looking to buy a chameleon as my mascot. Really. I did.
    5. After a few back and forth bounces with my young friend, I realized that I was not communicating my vision well. Started flipping through stock photos to give him an idea and found a perfect, already completed chameleon logo image.
    6. Paid $100 for stock photo including all electronic and print rights.Yes Kelly, this is where you say, “I told you so.” (Note from Kelly: I would never say I told you so…to your face ;))
    7. Realized that my excitement had led me down the wrong road. I am the company, not a chameleon.

Conclusion? I wasted $100 and a lot of time because I did not do my homework on question #2. (Kelly: Although I did get a really great image for this blog post – he’s really a lovely little chameleon!)

Back to Question #2

So, here I am, back at this question and finally have the real answer. I am more important than my product. Why? Because this is for the long-term: the type of writing I do may change but I will always be here.

So, bye, bye $100.

Bye, bye, chameleon.

Kelly, better warm up your computer because I am finally ready to listen to your logo advice.

Top 100 Web Design Blogs to Follow in 2013 **YAY – We’re #98

Top 100 Web design blogs to follow

 

An infographic by the team at CouponAudit.

How My Technological Dream Soon Turned Into My Worst Nightmare

By Guest Blogger Belinda Pyle – www.problemsbythedozen.com

Confused woman with laptopI can’t remember a time when I was more excited. The company owner where I was last employed had given me a lovely gift as he kicked me out the door—one year’s salary. Apparently I had done such a great job at developing, launching and running the business that he thought he would give it a try himself. Um, thanks?

So here I was, in the enviable position of actually having the funding and the time to do exactly what I had dreamed. It was wonderful, it was exciting, it was thrilling, it was terrifying. What the hell was I doing, thinking that I actually could be a writer. Gulp.

My dream was to write a book, but you can’t write a book in this marketplace without having an “author’s platform”. If you have done any consulting you know this means that you basically have to be everywhere demonstrating that you can do everything. This means quite simply that you had better be damn good at technology. Since I was pretty good with Word and passable with Excel, I figured developing my own blog would be a snap. After all, I had supervised and hired lots of marketing companies over the years to develop sites for clients so this would be simple, quick, and a no brainer.

The only thing simple about it was that I lost my brain. I learned about Word Press and was enchanted by the idea that I could whip up my own blog as easily as scrambled eggs. Since scrambled eggs are the extent of my cooking ability, this certainly sounded like something even I could do. But I wanted my site to look “just so” and to do that, you need to know about fun things like CSS and HTML (geek speak).

Frightened computer userFinally I gave in and enrolled in training offered by the company hosting my consulting site. They were patient, kind, and helpful, although I am not sure how. I called, and called, and called, and called beyond my pre-determined hours. The more they trained me the less I knew.

Finally, two wasted Word Press themes later, I switched my blog to the theme that they were using and since this was their expertise, things started to smooth out. I got to a place where I was ok with my site but still not thrilled. I realized that if I wanted to be thrilled, have something that was uniquely mine and would stand out from the noise in cyberspace, I would have to get some professional help.

At this point, I was on the technological edge and through friends, found Kelly at Oomph Studios. In one call, I went from despair to delight and confidently stepped away from the ledge. No need to jump now, I had someone watching my back.

So, now I will be working with Kelly on my technology adventures and will be documenting them together in her blog. In the meantime, here’s what I have learned about launching your own site:

1) Time Sucks
Yes, time is sucked away faster than you can say “upload”. My year flew by and there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t learning or working on my blog. If you have a year to learn about technology and all of the marketing that is associated with it (hint: SEO does not stand for send email over) then go for it.

2) Economy of Effort
The army knows best. A friend of mine is an army guy and as we were clearing the table last evening, he explained economy of effort. “You are going to clear this table 1,000 times and make 10,000 trips to the kitchen. Or, you could spend one day making a nice wooden trolley to take the dishes one time thereby reducing 10,000 to 1,000.” (Or, I could get my kids to do it by bribing them with TV time but I digress). For your site this means taking the time and doing it right up front. It will save you tremendous amounts of time later on with the constant tinkering to get it exactly the way you want it.

3) What is your time worth?
This is a very big thing in the non-profit sector. I constantly see Executive Directors doing secretarial jobs or in my case, writers doing technological guru’s jobs (never again Kelly!). As an entrepreneur, your time is the most expensive and most cherished so try to always hire others to do what can be done by others. While they are doing secretarial and marketing support, you are out doing what you do best–getting new clients or producing your product.

4) Know enough to know what you want
I am not advocating that you stay a technological innocent. You need enough training to know: a) what is possible b) what you want and c) if possible and want make sense together. Furthermore, try to know enough to do some of the basic stuff yourself so that your site can be a dynamic living, breathing entity.

Good luck on your technology adventure. We would love to hear about yours!

Why You Need to Secure Your Website Now

The following is an article I wrote that was originally published on www.SiteProNews.com in October of 2012.

Internet Security ThreatsAs the owner of a website, one of the things at the back of your mind might be your website’s security. I’m here to bring it to the forefront. Most site owners are under the mistaken impression that their website sits on the World Wide Web day after day in complete and utter safety. Many think that as long as their passwords are kept secret and secure that no harm can come to their website. If this is you, then be glad you are reading this article because it could be the thing that finally convinces you to secure your site.

You likely haven’t put much thought into exactly what the Internet is. It’s just there to explore when you turn on your computer each day. You, like so many others, may not realize that the website you are viewing is hosted on a computer that might be very much like the one you are on right now. Given this information, let’s think about your website. Right now, it’s sitting on a computer somewhere. Very likely this computer is fairly secure (if you have a decent host), but if you think that computer is not at risk, then you are avoiding reality.

Hackers and viruses aren’t the only ways that your website could be damaged or destroyed. Hosting companies make mistakes every day. Just one employee who doesn’t know what he or she is doing could bring down your site. And it doesn’t just have to be hosting company employees. If you have employees that work on your site, they are only human, mistakes can be made. Ruining or deleting a site is not difficult to do. It also wouldn’t be difficult for a disgruntled employee to take their revenge by damaging your website.

Now back to that computer where your website is hosted. Let’s imagine that your website is hosted on your own computer. Has it ever crashed? Is it immune to crashing, overheating, getting destroyed in a fire? No? Well neither is any other computer on which your website may be hosted. I can almost hear your next question: “But isn’t my host responsible for keeping my website backed up and secure?” The answer is a resounding “No.” That responsibility rests solely with you, the website owner.

There are a plethora of things that could possibly happen to the computer on which your website is hosted, many of which could severely impact your business. The best thing you can do to ensure that this does not happen is to back up your website. Research methods of securing your website and implement them, or hire someone to do it for you, but most importantly back-up your site. Any security plugins, or programs can fail, but having a copy of your website and your website’s database is absolutely crucial if the unthinkable happens.

Create an e-Course and Put Your Website on Autopilot

The following is an article I wrote that was originally published on www.SiteProNews.com in August of 2012.

Put Your Website on Autopilot with an e-courseI see it every day; entrepreneurs fighting to balance work, family and time for themselves while struggling to maintain a sustainable income. In fact, many entrepreneurs find themselves working 7 days a week in order to keep up. They work harder and harder telling themselves that one day it will pay off. You’ve heard the saying, “work smarter, not harder.” But how? How do you work less and still make enough to pay your bills and grow your business? Some will say outsourcing is the trick and they would be right to a certain extent. Outsourcing is a great way to put some balance back into your life. But outsourcing requires the income to hire someone to help – and what if you’re simply not there yet? There is another way. Put your website to work for you!

I’m not talking about just having a great website (although that is a definite bonus). I’m talking about literally making your website do your work for you by creating an automated educational product around your offerings. It will require some work from you to set it up, but once completed, you will be able to sell your own unique e-course without spending more than a few minutes from time to time working on it.

The first step is to determine what part of your services can in-fact be converted to educational material, or what kind of material your target market could benefit from and then create that material. Do you coach, counsel, educate, or sell a product? What service(s) do you offer that can be made into either educational written material, or videos? If you sell a product, look at your target market and determine what they might like to learn about. For example, if your company sells pet products, they might benefit from some dog training videos. If you sell food products, perhaps your target would be interested in a healthy living e-course, or a cooking e-course. If your business coaches entrepreneurs, create an e-course that will automate the coaching process with instructional emails, or videos, or both and offer it to entrepreneurs who can’t afford personalized coaching.

Next, install a membership program on your website. If you are using a platform such as WordPress this can be as easy as installing a simple plugin. If not, you may require someone with technical skills to help with this step, but paying for help with setup will pay off in the long run. Membership software will enable you to create areas of your website that are only assessable to members. You may consider creating a page for each chapter, or level of your e-course and the content can include, text, audio, e-books for download and/or videos. You can also make your membership program more enticing by adding forums or social networking groups so that the people that register can network and communicate with like-minded individuals.

Consider carefully which program you would like to use. Create a check list of what you would like your program to have – for example, you’ll likely need it to integrate with your payment processor or shopping cart and if you’d like to automate email deliveries, along with your e-course, you should be certain that it integrates nicely with the email marketing service of your choice.  Also consider your payment structure. Will people pay a monthly fee or a onetime fee to access your material? Will they pay per chapter, or per level?

Once completed, your program will act as a silent business partner working in the background increasing your income while you focus on other areas of your business. And guess what? You’ll be working smarter, not harder.

Your Role in Optimizing Your Website

Web DesignerThe most important part of getting a great looking website is of course, choosing the right designer. But once that designer is found there are things that you can do that will help your designer to create a website that not only fits your needs, but that suits your personal style as well.

Before you approach a designer about working on a site, the vast majority of your site content (i.e. logo, text and photos, if you’ve already selected photos that you’d like to have included) should be ready. “Why,” you ask, “why not just have the site designed first and plunk in the text and other content around that?” Well, that could be done, but there are 2 good reasons not to: 1) If a designer constructs a website without first seeing the logo, he or she may not leave enough space to properly highlight it. If you have a beautiful logo, you want the space it appears in on your site to be the optimal size, shape and color to fit it and display it properly. 2) If the designer has the text, he/she will better know where to insert images, icons, widgets, etc. to break up the text and make it more visually appealing.

Show your website designer samples of several sites you like and sites you hate. Tell them about elements of different sites that appeal to you and components that drive you crazy. Tell them about colors combinations you love and show them examples of these colors being used in a way you like. Doing this will give your designer a better vision of your personal style and will allow them to design a site that you will find irresistible!

Do you want a little bit of your personality infused into the site? Tell your designer about you! Are you fun, goofy, serious, grumpy? If you want your site to reflect a little of you, let your designer know.

While it’s all well and good to design a site that is visually appealing to you, in the end, if you are trying to sell something, you should always have your target audience in mind (along with your own personal preferences of course). No one knows your target audience better than you, so tell your designer about them. What do they like? What don’t they like? Are they young or old? Male or female? Married or single? Any details you can give your designer about your target market will help him/her design a site that will be attractive to that market.

Knowing this information from the beginning of a project should get your designer on the right track to designing the best site for you as an individual, or for your business. While the designer knows design, you know you, your business and your target audience best. So share that information with them and have them create a website you’ll fall in love with.

6 Reasons Why Your Business Need an Affiliate Program

Why Your Business Needs an Affiliate ProgramIf you’re an entrepreneur, you are very likely on the lookout for low cost marketing ideas that work. An affiliate program is just such an idea, but many entrepreneurs don’t consider it because they believe it is too costly, or too difficult to set up and manage. Those entrepreneurs are for the most part wrong and here’s why:

  1. It’s affordable marketing done for you. The best reason of all to implement an affiliate program is that it’s an inexpensive way to market your business. Think about it; anyone who signs up will want to promote your business to their tribe. This means low-cost advertising in social media, on websites, in newsletters, on blogs, in forums and anywhere else your affiliates can post links online.
  2. If the affiliates are getting paid, it’s because you are getting paid. If you set up an affiliate program that pays an affiliate only when they refer a customer who buys a product, then it’s a win-win situation. You get paid, and only then will your affiliate earn his/her commission. If the affiliate doesn’t refer anyone who makes a purchase, then there is nothing for you to pay.
  3. You are in control of the program. You have the ultimate say on how much your affiliates earn – the more generous you are, or the easier the program is to sell, the better your affiliates will do in selling your product or service. You control whether affiliates get paid every time someone clicks their affiliate link, or they get paid only when a sale is made. You control whether an affiliate gets paid a percentage of the sale, or a flat rate. You control when and how affiliates get paid – monthly, or after each sale, and whether there is a minimum amount they have to sell before they get paid.
  4. It can increase your website traffic and boost sales. An affiliate program will enable you to extend your reach on the web. If you have enough affiliates marketing your program for you, traffic to your site should increase and along with increased traffic should come increased sales.
  5. It can be extremely easy to implement. Depending on how easy your website is to work with, adding an affiliate program can be as simple as installing a plugin and adding a widget. Platforms such as WordPress make it extremely simple and often do not require technical skills other than very basic WordPress knowledge.
  6. It can help you grow your tribe. Even if the increase in traffic for some reason doesn’t boost your sales, it can definitely increase the number of people signing up for your newsletter, e-zine, or opt-in list and as you likely know people on your list are more likely to buy your products.

An affiliate program is basically a done-for-you advertising campaign while your affiliates are your low-cost sales force.  There are very few downsides. You stand to increase your income and so do your affiliates. What could be easier than that?

So You Have a New Website, Now What?

The following is an article I wrote that was originally published on www.sitepronews.com in July of 2012

So you have a website, now what?Getting an online presence by publishing a website is the first step in opening your business to a larger market. It takes you from a local market to a potentially global one. But, therein lies the problem. While your website may be accessible to people worldwide, it only has the “potential” to be visited by a global audience. The trick is getting people to know your website exists. This is where the real work begins. Publishing a website and putting no work into marketing it is basically the equivalent of opening a brick and mortar business on a desert island, which is isolated from the outside world and expecting to actually generate new business.

If your website sits there day after day, looking pretty, but not getting any results, and you don’t know why, here is your answer: right now your website is on such a desert island. Currently no roads or bridges lead to your site and no one in the outside world even knows your business exists. Your job is to build those roads and bridges and put up signs that not only direct people to your site, but that will also tell them why they should want to get there.

Building “Roads” to Your Business Online

Don’t worry, no concrete or asphalt is involved in building virtual roads and bridges. What you need to build are links and luckily it’s extremely easy to post links to your website and there are thousands of places to do it. If you don’t have links to your website published in various places online, the only people who are ever going to find it will be people that you give your URL to directly. Your business’ URL is the way that your customers will find you on the World Wide Web and it’s also the only way Search Engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo will be able to find your site and list it. Like with any brick and mortar store, the more people that visit your store, the more likely you are to convert your visitors to buyers, so the more bridges and roads (a.k.a. links) that lead to your store, the more visitors you’ll have and the more sales you are likely to generate.

Post links in as many places as you can think of. Your social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any others should have links to your website. If you are not involved in social media, get involved. Do some online research to learn how to best go about this and you’ll be glad you did. Other ways to get links to your website include article marketing, publishing press releases, guest blogging and joining clubs, forums or other membership sites where your target market will likely visit. You can also respond to forum and blog posts using a signature that includes your URL and post your link in numerous online business directories.

All of these methods have two further bonuses in addition to creating better access to your website. The first is that all of these methods optimize your website for search engines. The better optimized your site, the better you’ll rank when someone searches for keywords related to your business. The second bonus is all these options will allow you to demonstrate your expertise in your field. In other words, article marketing, social networking, guest blogging, commenting on blogs and forums and press releases are all great ways to position yourself as an expert in your field and to demonstrate to your potential audience why they should want to visit your website.  So put down your shovel and pick up your mouse. It’s time to get building!

Considering a Do-It-Yourself Website? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself First

The following is an article I wrote that was originally published on www.seo-news.com in June of 2012

Trying to save a little money on your new website isn’t something to be ashamed of. Almost everyone has some sort of budget and for some that budget is just smaller than for others. Lately I’ve been asked by more and more frugal business owners why they should have a website professionally designed when there are so many online “Build your own Website” services available.  It’s true, there are many such services cropping up all over the web, but whether you should settle for such a service depends entirely on what you want in a website. Here are five questions to ask yourself before deciding between a build-it-yourself service and a professional web designer.

  1. Do you want to own your domain? Your answer should be a resounding YES! You should always be able to purchase a domain via a different domain registrar and use it along with the service. If the company requires that your website’s URL be something like www.TheirDomain/YourCompanyName.com, run away! If you want a website that will be found by search engines, do not go with a service that lists their own company name in your domain. You may come away with a decent looking site, but your decent looking site will scarcely by seen by a soul, because the search engines won’t find it.

    Another big thing to watch for here is services that buy your domain for you. You may think that it sounds like a good deal to get your domain purchase included in what you’re already paying, but be very careful, this could be a slippery slope. Read the fine print and be sure that YOU, and not the service provider, will be the owner of your domain. If you fail to do this, you could find yourself in the unenviable position of losing your URL. Imagine owning a company called ABC Florist and having a website on the domain www.ABCFlorist.com, then when you decide you want to change your service provider, you realize you don’t own your domain. Your choices are to a) buy it off the company that owns it (the service provider for your do-it-yourself website) for a ridiculous amount, b) get a new URL and lose most of the repeat business from customers who have previously visited your website, not to mention you’ll have to change the URL on your business cards and all of your marketing material, or c) stay with the same service provider indefinitely. This could be a nightmare, but it does happen and it’s a critical consideration when contemplating these services.
  2. Do you want a specific look, feel or style to your website? If you don’t need anything specific, then maybe a build-it-yourself service would be a good option, but if you are very specific about the way you want your site to look and feel, then one of the cookie cutter templates probably is not going to be a good fit. For most of these services, you are quite limited in the styling changes for each template. You may be able to change the colors and have some layout and font options, but for the majority of cases those options are incredibly limited and will likely provide a website that will be disappointing to the discerning customer. If you need flexibility, you might be better off with a professional designer, despite the cost differences.
  3. Do you want your logo to appear on the site? Again your answer is likely yes, and most of the do-it-yourself services can accommodate this requirement. But, if your logo is irregularly shaped, or must encompass a precisely sized space in order to display correctly, then again, you may have issues with the flexibility of the do-it-yourself sites.
  4. Do you want analytics for your site? In other words, do you want to see how many visitors your site is getting and how they are finding you? If you answered yes (and you really should have answered yes), then you may want to go with a web designer. Some online services may offer you the option of analytics, but if they don’t you will have no way of determining how successful your website is at doing its job – bringing you more business.
  5. Do you want to include payment options, e-zine or newsletter opt-ins, portfolios, or any additional features? If you answered yes and you still choose to go with an online build-it-yourself service, then I would advise you to look carefully at what options are available for each service that you choose. Some will integrate with other services nicely, some will charge you an extra monthly fee for such additions and some won’t integrate at all. You likely don’t want to be stuck with a website that does not provide some or all of these services.

These are just five things to consider when making a decision about how to create your online presence. In reality, there are tons of other points to consider, such as the sometimes hefty monthly price tags, paying for each additional service, being stuck in a yearly contract, what happens if you want to move your website, and the list goes on.  Your goal is to have your business grow, your website should be able to grow with it. If you  can’t afford to have your site professionally designed or if you feel that the cost cannot be justified, then maybe a build-it-yourself service is the right option, but before jumping into anything, be sure to ask yourself the above questions and as with any agreement READ THE FINE PRINT!

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