Get found online

“How will I get found online?” is one of the first questions I get when people are discussing their new website. With nearly a billion sites live in the world at the time I wrote this, that is a very relevant question, and one with many answers, but they all boil down to consistent hard work!

Get found online solution #1

The first is to have a blog on your site and commit to writing a post as frequently as possible, but at least once a week. While at first you may feel you are talking only to yourself and your mother, Google notices when you keep updating the content on your site and improves your visibility in searches as a result.

Get found online solution #2

Select your key words carefully then use them in posts and pages on your site so your site can be found through these search terms. Learn how to write for human beings, but also for Google using the search terms selected for your site. Get help with this by using the SEO plugin by Yoast. It will guide you to improve your use of your search words and phrases.

Get found online solution #3

Make sure your site is mobile-friendly so Google doesn’t demote it to the lowlier pages of search results. If you aren’t sure if your site is compliant, read more here on how to test and fix any issues.

Get found online solution #4

Add your site’s url to your email signature. It is easy to do for most email varieties. If people are unfamiliar with what you do this provides a quick way to click through and see your site.

Get found online solution #5

Register your domain with Google Webmaster tools. It is an easy way of bringing your site to Google’s attention, and requires a few simple steps to prove that you are indeed the owner of the site. It also provides feedback via email to make sure your site is as optimized as possible.

Get found online solution #6

Get your site registered with as many online directories as possible, even if you don’t have a brick and mortar store. There is a great list of options here, which you can work through at your own pace. Another option is to add yourself to Angie’s list. You will have to get a background check to be allowed on the list, and since the company works on social recommendations this might be better when you have some happy clients who are willing to recommend your services.

Get found online solution #7

Create social media channels to promote your posts. This alone will not bring hundreds of screaming fans to your site, but should be seen as part of the trickle out process. As people see your posts and get used to them appearing, they will (hopefully) start sharing them with friends and coworkers so you start to see some viral spreading of your content. If your work is primarily visual Instagram and Tumblr are your best options, if written, the LinkedIn is a great resource. Begin by distributing your material as far as you are able, then remove the sites that aren’t working for sharing your messages.

Get found online solution #8

Link your blog so it is distributed immediately to other social media outlets. One great function of the WordPress plugin JetPack is that you can immediately post to a Facebook page, Twitter, Google+. Tumblr and Linked when you click on “publish” your post. Make sure to add relevant hashtags so your post doesn’t vanish on Twitter, via the “edit details” link under “publicize”

Get found online solution #9

Help a Reporter Out is a stream of requests for information and interviews for reporters on a deadline. If you are willing to read the frequent emails and respond right away, this could be a great way to get yourself and your business known to a wider audience.

Get found online solution #10

Think big! Submit really good post ideas to bigger organizations for greater reach. The Huffington Post is a great site to reach out to and pitch your post. You will not be paid for your writing, but the traffic an accepted post brings are incredibly valuable. If you prefer to speak, you can also pitch your idea to give a TED talk. Large news and information outlets are always looking for new voices and sources, so your ideas may be just what they are looking for!

So there are a few free solutions to help your site get found online. There is unfortunately no magic bullet that will attract thousands of people to your site with one push, it takes time, patience, and a willingness to persist even though you think no one is listening. It is a process of attrition because everyone is so overwhelmed by information, so show up consistently and make sure what you say is worth reading. In time people will start to notice you and tell their friends about you!

Web design follies

I have been thinking a lot about web design follies this week. If you came to the home page of this site before arriving here, you may have noticed an enticement to sign up for may newsletter, called “The Top Ten Reasons Web Sites suck – And Why Yours Doesn’t Have To”.

In m y research it didn’t take long to uncover lots of examples of web design follies. As I made notes I found that some had practical issues, some aesthetic, and some were designed so long ago old age and neglect had crept in and left them looking tired.

I’m not going to tell you what I wrote, as I want you to sign up for my newsletter using the box on the right of this article, but I will pass on some links to sites that I suspect you will agree with me are follies. My research took me first to this gem of a site called, Bad Web Design. At first glance this site seems to have stopped to have stopped operating in 2013 as their annual awards ended then, but then I found this gem from just last month. (Watch the video on YouTube that accompanies it.)

If these examples of web design follies don’t bother you, this site has curated some real horrors that break every design rule in the book – and created a few new ones. The sad thing is that back in the 1990s the rule book for good web design was still being written, but nearly two decades later there really isn’t any excuse not to know what to do.

It is always easy to make fun of sites that have been up for a long time, were designed using a basic template and never modified, or were created by someone whose heart was in the right place, but whose design skills were seriously impaired. For one final round of fun please look at these hilariously bad websites.

And now for your site. Perhaps this series of links has made you reflect on your site. Perhaps it is

Web Design Follies

your site to avoid it ending up in a parade of shame. Here are some simple guidelines to get you started:

  1. Never ask your uncle to design a site – unless he’s a web designer or developer
  2. Know that what looks clever on a desktop screen can be difficult to use on a phone screen
  3. Take flashing text off your website – it is no longer 1999
  4. Make it easy for people to find what is on your site – clear navigation and a search box
  5. Pick just two colors and two fonts to use – less is more
  6. Pink text on a navy background is bad – stick with dark text on light backgrounds
  7. Distractions will cause visitors to forget why they came to your site
  8. Have someone else read your text to find typos and grammar errors before your audience does
  9. Think about words in a domain name that run together: for example, Pen Island’s domain name is penisland.net
  10. If you want your business to appear trustworthy and professional, make your site trustworthy and professional

So that is the end of my roundup of web design follies. Please don’t let your site join this list!

How will you design my site?

The other day I was working with a design client to help them to create their first website. As anticipated, there was a momentary look of panic as everything that lay ahead of them came screaming into view. I learned a long time ago that this realization only sets in when the very empty site is sitting staring blankly back at the proud new domain owner, but it is the pivotal moment when the need for design and planning decisions becomes real.

This is never a good moment to start discussing options, as the reality has to sink in before the design process can begin. Although I always ask questions about the goals for the site and how they would like it to look, the answers are very abstract in the early stages, so pace my interrogation to match the level of courage my client is showing. For ease of explanation I use these analogies, the domain name is like naming a new baby, the hosting is its home, the client is the parent, WordPress provides the body for the child, but as the parent you have to dress (create or buy a theme) and care (do routine maintenance and feed with new content) for the child. This usually brings the decision making back into more familiar territory!

The next question is where to find the theme for the new site, since buying clothes resonates with most people! I explain that there are several different options. You can use the free themes that come with WordPress, but you will then have a site that looks very similar to many other sites. You can purchase ready made themes from many companies, and when I want to get a site up quickly and beautifully, I will often buy a site from ThemeForest. These themes generally have many options so you can personalize them to a considerable extent, but they remain a publicly available “look” to a certain extent.

I use a theme that is very different from these pre-designed themes. It provides the building blocks to create any layout, and then thousands of options for personalizing the appearance of practically every facet of every box and each piece of writing. This theme is called Headway and it is a wonderful resource for designer who aren’t coders as it enables me to create custom sites for every client. It has the advantage of being responsive from the outset, so immediately works on mobile devices as well as looking beautiful on desktop and laptop screens.

When designing a site for a client who isn’t sitting beside me, I have a questionnaire that I have them complete. I know that the scary moments of the process will not be seen by the client, because the first time they see their site is when preliminary layouts have been established and it is looking like a website. The design process is the same for any site, but seeing the look of alarm on this client’s face reminded me that the steps from installing WordPress to creating a site are many.

So now you know how I design custom websites to match the needs and wants of each client I am lucky enough to work with!

 

 

Why you need a WordPress website

While there are many options for getting your idea online, I strongly believe you should have a WordPress website to call your own! While you have been considering what your passion project will be, you may not have spend much time thinking about how to promote it, but WordPress comes with lots of the things Google likes right out of the box, and other elements can be added or enhanced by adding a plugin or two.

Hardcore designers will suggest that only hand coded sites can be considered to be “real” websites, but I began building WordPress websites for clients because they could use them, add to them and feel at ease with them. I want my clients to have their own unique website to reflect who they are and what their passion is, but the real work continues for many years after the original building. While I’m happy to see to the maintenance and updating of sites, I love to see people take ownership of their sites and feel confident about adding text and images to it – maybe even changing colors and fonts if they feel like it! I want clients to feel empowered by their websites, not intimidated by them.

So what is so great about having a WordPress website?

First of all WordPress is “open source” software, which means that the great minds and techs keep adding to it and updating it – without charge to you and me. When I build a WordPress website for you, you will have to update it fairly often, but in doing so, you are getting the latest security features and options available.

Secondly, you don’t ever have to touch a scrap of code to use your WordPress website. You certainly can if you wish, but all the extra features are added via “plugins” which perform a specific function on your site. They could ask people to “like” your site, or keep them out if they shouldn’t be trying to get in. Plugins can display your photos in a slide show or allow you to email people every time you write a new post. These examples are even less than the tip of the plugin options, as at the time of writing there are 37,905 free plugins available from WordPress.org and thousands more plugins in addition that are sold by their developers.

Thirdly WordPress websites are reliable, even when huge sites are built on the platform. Amongst big companies and entities who trust WordPress for their websites are: The New Yorker, BBC America, Variety, Sony, MTV, eBay, Best Buy, Xerox, Nokia, Ford, fortune, Time, The New York Times, Marks & Spencer, The Harvard Business Review and The Rolling Stones – to name just a very few. (Source WPBeginner.com) If organizations as prominent as these feel confident in having a WordPress website, then I think you can feel confident too!

Most importantly for you, is that a WordPress website is user-friendly. If you were a techie you would have built a site for yourself, so that you are here suggests that you are more interested in growing your passion project than getting bogged down in technicalities. With a little training before handing off your site to you and access to my online tutorials you will have no difficulty adding text and images to your website – as and when you choose!

I do, and I understand

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
~Chinese Proverb

On my first day at teacher training college we were told that the best way to teach children was to remember an updated version of the proverb. The proverb as I heard it was, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” We were being given rule number one as we worked our way into the world, which was, “don’t talk and expect children to learn form that alone.” We all duly wrote it down in our notebooks.

In the past few days I have noticed several forms of this proverb – and attributed to an array of authors – and realized that it applies to tutoring work as much as any other teaching. When working with clients I always have them open up their computer and show me what they they have been doing to try to solve the current problem. This gives me a clue as to the way they are thinking about the problem, and whether they are on the right track or need to start over.

While I may open my computer and show how to do the task, I will also talk the client through the steps, and then have them do it again without prompts. Then I will have them do it again and offer no suggestions so the process has to be recalled – or the solution found from the new information learned earlier in the lesson. The look of triumph as the task is completed is always a joy to see!

When my younger brother took an advanced driving course he reported back that he had to talk through what he was doing so the trainer could be sure he was aware of everything that was happening. This showed the trainer he was actively attending to the road conditions as well as driving the car, so the trainer could see whether he was really learning and not hoping to get through. Because it focused his attention so closely on what he was doing, for several months after he had passed the course he continued to talk through what he was doing because he realized that it helped hold him accountable to the process.

While adding text to a photo is substantially less dangerous than driving at high speed on a busy road, I also employ the “talk me through what you are doing” strategy. Not only does it help the client focus on the task at hand, but it can also reveal odd behaviors that don’t add to the process, so I can help stop the unnecessary steps.

I also set homework if it is an ongoing tutoring project. It isn’t anything arduous, but does ask the student to repeat what has been learned without my being close by to step in or remind them what to do next. Mostly this is a success, but sometimes the results reveal that intriguing workarounds have been applied. Again, this is a great opportunity to ask questions and have the client show me what they did.

Ultimately it remains as true now as when I first heard it on that sunny day in London in 1975 that for tutoring students, “I do, and I understand.”

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

When working with a client on a site they often groan when I mention Search Engine Optimization (SEO). They want their site to be visually appealing and functional, but get annoyed when that the ability to be found by Google is mentioned. Whether it is enjoyable or not, if traffic is wanted, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), has to be addressed.

What does Search Engine Optimization (SEO) mean?

Essentially you are creating an easy way for the search engines to find your site, and then show it in their search results so potential customers can find you. To do this there are multiple steps to take (and they change with disturbing frequency) and include site wide actions as well as actions on each page.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your site

Much of the following work will be carried out by your web designer, but you will have to help with identifying the keywords you feel are helpful as you are the expert on your topic.

  • Set up a webmaster account with Google and Bing and get your site verified as belonging to you
  • A site map should be created, ideally for every page, but at a minimum for the site. It then has to be submitted to Google (and BIng) so their spiders know where to go.
  • Keywords need to be carefully researched to make your site’s information specific to your audience. Visit Google’s keyword planner to identify keywords you could use.
  • The navigation should be text, not images or code so it can be read  by the spiders.
  • Add analytics code and check the results to see how people are responding – do they bounce away after only a second or two, or do they stay?
  • Make sure you have good keyword links both within your site and out to other sites.
  • If your front page is static, i.e. not your blog, then leave the text alone. Changing it frequently can make your site search results worsen.
  • Whenever possible, use text instead of words as the spiders don’t crawl much of the text connected to pictures, but crawl all the text on a page.
  • Make sure your text is original, do not copy content from other sites as you will be penalized for this.
  • If you are collecting identifiable information about visitors, you should have a privacy statement explaining what you will do with it. you can read more here.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your pages

It is always good to get help with SEO as it is a huge field to learn. WordPress themes often come with a SEO help built in, but if your theme doesn’t appear to have this, download and install the WordPress plugin called WordPress SEO by Yoast as it has a huge amount of useful advice for improving the SEO on your pages.

  • You page title should include your keyword for that page.
  • Add a page description of at least 156 characters (include your keyword) which will appear in your listing for the page in Google search results.
  • Use multiple heading levels on your page, ideally using your keyword in them. (It helps the spiders know what the page is about as well as helping scanners quickly understand what the page is about.)
  • Make sure there are at least 250 words on each page, and ideally at least 500 words. Make sure they are your own words, and include helpful and informative content.
  • Any pictures should have “alt text” added so that the content of the image can be presented even if the image can’t be seen.
  • Only add links that have a purpose. At one point it was regarded as important to have huge quantities of links on every page, and so people bought them. This behavior is frowned upon by Google, so be sure that if you add a link it makes sense and adds to what you are saying.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ongoing tasks

Once your site is built, it is wise to follow up on your initial work on getting your site found:

  • Check the results in Google analytics to see whether people are visiting your pages and staying or “bouncing” away quickly.
  • If the bounce rate is high, review your content to ensure the keyword and the content really match.
  • Make all recommended updates to your site that will be sent to you by Google and Bing.
  • Make sure your site and photos are mobile-friendly. Hopefully your site was set up to be responsive, but if it is older there may be more work to do to achieve this. Google will demote your page if it isn’t mobile-friendly, and you may lose natural traffic if your site doesn’t view well on a phone or tablet.
  • Don’t add so much to your pages that they load slowly. One video or 3-4 web-friendly photos at most to a page. Google will demote your site is pages load slowly.

So, while for most of us SEO isn’t the most exciting part of building a site, it is very important if you want customers or clients to find you and your services. Work your way through these tasks and all should be well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tutoring Help with Web and Graphic Design

I have recently encountered a new group of people who need design help, but instead of wanting me to design a site for them, these folks need tutoring help with web and graphic design for a site that has already been built. As start up companies grow, new administrative staff members are brought on board to help with the growing work load. Unfortunately this new staff member may then find that their tasks include updating the company website. With all the crazy advertising for DIY websites there is a sense that not only is building a website a simple “drag and drop” activity, but by extension, maintaining and updating a website must by definition be equally easy.

entrepreneurSadly the back end of a website isn’t something that can be immediately understood. While I discourage the practice, some bosses try to get extra help from their web designers. Listening to these phone conversations is not a pleasant experience, knowing that the designer is probably in the middle of another project and has probably forgotten the minutia of the set up of this particular site. The upshot is that they are not happy to receive these calls and the help given is usually minimal at best.

While I can’t change this attitude, I have come up with a solution for those caught in the middle of this dilemma. I have decided to create web and graphic design tutorials so people can find out how to do small maintenance tasks for themselves. The tutorials will be available from a paid membership site where for a small monthly fee the tutorials can be accessed any time, day or night. There will be longer tutorials on how to build a WordPress site, and shorter ones on topics such as resizing and naming photos for use on a website and formatting text around pictures on the site. The range of topics will grow, but they will begin by covering topics that people keep asking me to help them with.

If you would like personal tutoring from me, I am happy to help! I can work with you by Skype wherever you live, or meet in person if you live in the Western Philadelphia suburbs. You can use the form below to contact me or hire me via Wyzant tutoring.

 

How to choose a tutor

While the obvious reason for finding a tutor is to learn a skill, finding someone who can work well with you is often more important. In my experience, the most successful tutoring comes about when both the tutor and student are in sync with one another.

Many times a potential student will ask for a tutor who is patient. This immediately tells me that they are feeling insecure about learning this new concept, and want to know that they will be treated with compassion and consideration. As a tutor I know that the biggest thing I can do for a student is to help them see how smart and capable they are. Too often earlier learning has left some negative feelings about being taught, and I know to tread gently when I uncover this.

how to choose a tutorUnderstanding and the mastering the material I have prepared will follow naturally once I have reassured them that we will go at a pace that is comfortable. I also explain that we will stop and go back over the material as often as needed, and until the student feels comfortable with what they are learning.

Unlike a classroom where the learning pace is set for the group, a good tutor will keep the pace geared to that one student before them, and will listen as much as they talk. In addition to this, a good tutor will quickly change to an alternative ways of learning if a student isn’t understanding the concept. It may take several different explanations before the concept becomes clear, but the look of joy – and frequent high fives – are a wonderful sign of comprehension!

So before you start hearing the lyrics for Jane and Michael Banks’ song from Mary Poppins in your head – the lyrics are below – consider what personality qualities you respond to best. Is it important to you that the tutor is calm and organized? Someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously? Alternatively, what personality types have you found it to be most difficult to work with in the past? You might want to avoid tutors with those traits as you are taking these sessions to learn, not to end up feeling anxious or unhappy.

But how do you do this? You email or call the potential tutor before you begin to work with them. If you are working through an agency then academic qualifications and background clearances will already have been obtained, so this isn’t a job interview. Instead it is closer to a dating service, and as a result, the only way you will find out if you are compatible is by talking to one another – either by email or on the phone. Ask questions like, “Will you be patient with me if I find this hard to learn?” or “How will you help me if I am having difficulties?” If you like the answers you receive, then it is a good sign that you will be able to work together.

As a tutor I also find this a useful process to decide which students to accept. If my gut reaction is that I don’t feel comfortable with a potential student I will decline the work. If either of us feel uncomfortable then successful tutoring is unlikely to take place. Sometimes there is fear that masks the real personality, in which case I have found that humor often helps. If we end up laughing together during this preliminary period it is generally a very good sign!

So, talk to your potential tutor and trust your gut reaction to them. If you think it is a good match, schedule a tutoring session and see how it works. It is also helpful to explain the goal for what you want to learn so the lessons can be tailored to your specific needs. With all this done, relax and enjoy the tutoring session!

Lyrics from the film, Mary Poppins

Wanted a nanny for two adorable children
If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Rosy cheeks, no warts
Play games, all sorts
You must be kind, you must be witty
Very sweet and fairly pretty
Take us on outings, give us treats
Sing songs, bring sweets
Never be cross or cruel
Never give us Castor oil or gruel
Love us as a son and daughter
And never smell of barley water
If you won’t scold and dominate us
We will never give you cause to hate us
We won’t hide your spectacles, so you can’t see
Put toads in your bed or pepper in your tea
Hurry nanny, many thanks
Sincerely, Jane and Michael Banks

 

Good Design Takes Time

Having spent some time recently tutoring people to use web and design software, I have learned a lot about the fear and dread felt when someone is confronted with the unfamiliar. When I first began creating websites I tried to overcome that same dread by looking for pretty themes in the vain hope that if my site looked pretty it wouldn’t matter how well it worked. I was able to leave this mindset behind nearly a decade ago, so was taken aback to find how many people still think it would be easy to create a good design if they could just master the software. I teach concepts in small increments to help students feel a sense of achievement, so in part I have created the problem for myself, but am also battling the cultural view that good design is simple to achieve.

Since I spend time reading blogs by designers it is easy for me to assume that it is a given that good design isn’t anything that can be quickly achieved. I know the template web companies want everyone to believe they are an innate designer, but the reality is that a template site is just a template site – one of many that look very similar. Good design is a completely different beast. To achieve it takes years of learning, practicing, the revision ideas as technology changes, and the slow evolution of an aesthetic.

I was thinking about the elements of “good design” when I came across this post by Chris Guillebeau where he examines the underlying element of good design. He describes them as years of concerted practice and development. In a world where a variety of “magic pills” are available to save you time and where you can learn how to do pretty much anything online, it is easy to believe if that once you learn something you instantly become an expert in it. Sadly, the reality is that experience has to be gained over time.

Yesterday I was working with a high school student who wanted to learn how to use Adobe InDesign for a project. She was very well-prepared and we quickly got the initial elements laid out. We then went on to make the page look closer to the way she had sketched it out, but the effect wasn’t very inspiring and she looked despondent. As we looked at each of the elements in turn, I helped her see how moving something a fraction of an inch, making a line heavier or lighter, or using a different font for emphasis made the layout more interesting. The combination of tweaks drew the eye from item to item, pulling the reader through the story, not leaving them to figure it out for themselves. She suddenly realized that these were all things you had to have experienced to know to try them.

While I am well aware I was hired to help get a project done, I also hope I opened a window into the process of creating good design. My hope is that by leading her through the thinking behind the changes we made, I have opened her eyes to see that it is the fine tuning, and years of practice that make the difference in creating good design.

So the next time you look for the “Easy” button to solve a design problem, ask yourself if you want a quick solution or a good, well-designed solution.

Email Newsletters: Say Less!

One question that keeps coming up concerns email newsletter frequency. Many people seem to believe that sending out an email about an event is a magic bullet that will get lots of people to participate. Unfortunately this tactic too often results in multiple emails going out to the entire list each week, which a quick look at the open rate and click through results shows that this optimism is completely unfounded.

People lead busy lives. Their email inboxes are stuffed with emails every day, so when they receive the third email from you in a week for an event they my not have much interest in, they are more likely to delete the email and unsubscribe than open the email and attend the event. It is well established that the open and “click through” rate (i.e. responding) drops off quickly is too many emails come from one source (no matter who within it sends them) each week.

So what should you do? Firstly it would be wise to break email addresses down into smaller lists. If subgroups of your list want specific information, then emails with that targeted information specific to that group should be sent only to that group, not the entire list. It is always wise to have a central person who knows when group emails will be sent so no one is overwhelmed with emails – no matter who sends them.

What about larger lists of information or events? Once a week it is a good idea to send a mass email to the entire list to remind them of upcoming events. The results of research are fairly clear as to when these should be sent: Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays at about 1:30 pm when people have tackled their morning emails and are ready to stop and read new emails as they come in.

It is important to remember that just because someone has given you their email address, it doesn’t mean you are free to bombard them with emails. Think carefully about the content of your emails. I suspect that the majority of emails are sent to ask for time, money and/or participation. Instead, consider how you might send some emails to engage –  that start a conversation that will be continued? Engage the individual in a thought? Do your subscribers feel that they, personally, are wanted for who they are, or are they just being asked for something?

It is also important to recall that these days many emails are read on phones. If you have ever tried to read and click on links in densely packed text, you will know that it is annoying as you have to enlarge the area to get to the one line of text you want to select. Make sure that the body of the email can be read easily, and then have a link at the end to read more – don’t make phone users jump through hoops – because they’ll just leave the email for later… a time that may not come.

So what are the takeaways from this?

  • Coordinate emails and send fewer, not more. Let your list know which day and time to expect the information email.
  • If subgroups need to send out extra emails, let the coordinator know so the total number of emails can be contained.
  • Train your subscribers to read the weekly email – don’t let them up to expect to receive multiple emails which duplicate the information in the main email.
  • Break the list down into sub groups so subsequent emails can be targeted to those who have expressed an interest in different areas.
  • Don’t always ask for attendance/help/money in emails. Start a conversation that will be developed and make your subscribers feel wanted and respected – beyond their capacity to give.
  • Make the content of emails easy to read and respond to when viewed on a phone. Choose a responsive template so it shows well on a small screen.