So You Think You’re A Web Designer

Oh, My Sister Can Design My Website

After 17 long years of being in the web design business, I’m still surprised by the friends and family programs. It goes like this:

“I have a friend who can design a website. S/he just graduated from high school.”

“My sister is a programmer at [company name goes here], and she can design anything.”

“My father is a print designer who’s been in the business for 35 years. He knows everything about designing a website.”

And on and on and on and on. Of course, all of the above may be true, but chances are minimal at best. You may end up with a “Frankensite“.

A Brief History Of Time (er, I mean Websites)

Designing a website has changed tremendously . It used to be really simple. Web Design rules were to keep graphics slim (10k or less) so that they would pop quickly on a 14.4 baud modem (Do you even know what that is?). The design was originally 640 pixels wide and, consequently, leaned toward heavy, unformatted text. (The available fonts were pretty much Arial and Times.) When we went to 800 pixels wide, everyone was blown away. We had so much additional room to design a site. Unfortunately, the problem was that most people’s monitor resolutions didn’t allow for that width or, alternatively, people didn’t know how to maximize their viewing area.

screen shot of space jam website

Space Jam circa 1996

Talk about a Revolution: The real revolution hit when the standard jumped to 1024 pixels wide and the bandwidth leaped forward to T-1s. Wow! The design space was huge, and designers could do just about anything. And they did. Many web designs were encumbered with heavier graphics and text was often left to “free float” over the width of the site. Consequently, many sites were hard to read and/or the design didn’t fluctuate as planned.

Now, with seemingly unlimited bandwidth and responsively designed websites, many designs are quite large. In fact, it is not uncommon for the total number of graphics to be over a MB in size. This movement allows for some of the most beautiful designs on the web!

 It Is Still About Design

 A well-designed and well-functioning website goes a lot farther than the old days, but the complication factor has been exponentially increased as well. Confusing the issue are website templates, intimating that they are easy to design and build a multilevel site. If you have the skills, this is certainly true. If you do not, you essentially get what you get: a site that looks like thousands of others with a content management system that is sometimes more serpentine than originally thought.

Now, toss in the friend, sister, father, brother, mother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc., etc., who can make a website. Is that really the direction you need to go? Keep in mind that if a website is difficult to use, is poorly designed, poor navigation, doesn’t function well, customers may not come back. That could equate to a monetary loss. Plus, you only have 8 seconds to attract customers and keep them on your site.

Consider these factors:

  1. Are you a professional business who can live with a poorly designed or templated site?
  2. Are you trying to attract new business?
  3. Has the designer made the site user-friendly and easy to navigate or not so easy to navigate as the case may be?
  4. Does your web designer know what is important to your return on investment?

I love having friends, family and neighbors who can design a website. After all, everyone can do it. But if your website is one of your largest marketing tools, do you really want someone who is not a professional building on your behalf?

Think about it. Hard.

And for all of the people who call me about the standard size for a website, learn more about responsive designs. You have a ton of freedom to design an exciting and functioning site that will translate to multiple devices, such as a table, phone, or other monitor. Otherwise, once again, the standard has shifted.

Top Questions To Ask A Web Development Company

Web development companies differ at all levels in terms of cost, skill, and customer service. Prior to hiring any web design company, there are some questions you should ask to ensure you’re getting the best return for the money and time your are spending. We’ve posed the questions with our answers below them.

Q: What makes Design Spike unique among the hundreds of other web development companies out there?

A. It’s simple. We have the best web development team in the Inland Northwest, and we combine design and functionality with custom web tools that allow you to manage your website the way you want to, when you want to. Our design and programming team is proficient in the latest web-based technologies, and each team member can explain what it is they do in terms that everyone can understand. If you have questions about programming, content management systems, online forms, or any other part of website development, ask us – we’ll answer your questions professionally, thoroughly, and in terms that make sense. More importantly, you don’t have to be a website specialist: our team can turn your needs into a fantastic website by the information your provide to us.

Q: How long have you been in business?

A: Design Spike was incorporated in January 2003, and we opened our doors on March 17, 2003. Laura Bracken has been designing websites since 1995; Will Hall has been developing and programming data-based driven sites since 2004; Brandon Perdue has been working with Flash and coding since 2005.

Q: Where can I see examples of your work?

A: Start with our portfolio. This page lists many of the websites we have developed for clients from a variety of industries.

Q: Do you provide web hosting?

A: Yes. For $25 per month, we will host your website, allow unlimited data transfer, unlimited email addresses, provide website traffic analysis software, and run anti-spam filters on your email. Our hosting services are billed in 6-month increments prior to the start of the period.

Q: Once my website is finished, who owns the images, content, and code contained in my website?

A: You do. Design Spike is providing a service to you; we do not ask for royalties or ownership of any portion of your site. If you wish to transfer the site to another host, we will provide you with both the design and programming code on a disk. Other companies may refuse to make this same guarantee.

Q: Will my website work in every web browser?

A: Yes. When Design Spikes develops your website, we use WC3-compliant practices to ensure your site will look the same across web browsers. As a standard, we test our sites on Internet Explorer 6 and 7 (Windows), Firefox 2.0 and 3.0 (Windows, Firefox Mac), Safari (Windows and Mac), and Opera (Windows).

Q: Will my website be visible in Google and other search engines?

A: Yes. Design Spike uses basic search engine optimization techniques other companies may leave out to ensure your website will be visible in Google such as appropriate page titles, titles in links and images, and more. We also offer enhanced SEO services which can be added as part of your design and development package – ask us!

Q: Will I be able to update my website easily?

A: Design Spike can build a custom content management system (CMS) to your specifications. This CMS is a web-based tool enabling you to easily manage the content on your website. We will not use a generic CMS unless you specifically request one, but build a CMS to your requirements and needs, whether you have an e-commerce website or an information-only website.

Q: Will my website work with any hosting provider I choose? What platforms do you use for developing my website?

A: All reputable web hosts allow the same technology Design Spike uses for website development: PHP for programming, and MySQL for databases. We use other technologies that are browser dependent and generally available in every modern browser: JavaScript, Flash, CSS, XHTML, and others.

Q: After my website is done, do you provide technical support for it?

A: Yes. For a period of 90 days after your site is posted to the Internet, Design Spike will fix any issues arising from code or layouts causing the site to function incorrectly. Note that this 90 day period is for bug fixes only, not additional site development or coding.

After the 90 day period has expired, Design Spike has many options for website maintenance and development tailored to fit your budget and needs. Let us know what you’re looking for!

Q: Where are your developers and programmers located?

A: Our entire team is located on-site in downtown Spokane, Washington, meaning you’ll always be able to get in touch with us by phone, email, or by just stopping by if you’re in the area.

Q: Will you outsource any work?

A: Generally, no. However, if any aspect of your website requires technology outside of our area of expertise, such as coding using ASP, .NET, or otherwise, we may outsource the work to one of our partners. Any guarantees made by Design Spike will of course be honored and processed by us.

Since we share an office with a company that develops websites primarily using Microsoft technologies, our outsourcing generally does not have to go too far – typically only across the room.

Q: What other services do you offer?

A: Graphic design, Flash media services, search engine optimization (SEO), PR Mailer (proprietary email campaign software), web hosting, blog integration, on-site photography, data conversion services, destination tax integration, complete e-commerce systems, online shipping integration, custom search functions, and more.

Q: Why are your prices so low/high?

A: When considering the cost of a website, it is easiest to use a metaphor for the price. Consider the following three stores: Goodwill, Target, and Nordstrom’s. The different price ranges for a website can be likened to these three stores:

Goodwill – The least expensive website. Not quite free, but inexpensive. Doesn’t come with a guarantee, and any work the site needs down the line will probably be done by you. This type of site can be great if you have the time, skill and energy to manage it, but can make running your business difficult if you don’t. Prices generally range from $750-$1500 for this type of site. Design Spike generally does not create websites in this category.

Target – An economical website that will likely have some manageable features built into it, but the site will not have been customized. The design (or “front end”) will look great, but, at best, it will have limited functionality (or none at all). Once the site has been completed, you may or may not retain the rights to everything on your website. Prices range from $2000-$4000. Examples include D.E.P.D.S. Law and OMS Architecture.

Nordstrom’s – The highest functioning and the best-looking websites would fall into this category. In general, Nordstrom’s-type sites have custom front- and back-ends that allow you to add, edit or delete images, content, products, etc. based on your specific needs. You’ll have complete ownership of the site along with excellent technical support. Prices usually begin at $5000 for a site like this. Examples include The Make-up Studio, Lemon Dingo, Northwest Christian Schools, and Hagood Real Estate.

The majority of Design Spike’s sites fall into the ‘Nordstrom’s’ category by default, though our prices may sometimes be in the ‘Target’ range.

Hooked to the Web

Are you thinking about starting your own online business, but have gotten into the rut of telling yourself “I’m not good with computers” or “My idea is not good enough”? You may find yourself identifying with Jim Price in the article below.

Jim Price claims he’s a “low-tech guy” who whittles crochet hooks and auctions them on his blog in order to fund a porch for his Deadman Creek cabin in Ferry County, Washington. “Low tech. Low money,” Price says, chuckling.

Price, a self-effacing, retired patent agent, began whittling when he was in grade school. In the years since then, he has custom carved hair sticks for women, hook handles, maple buttons, towel racks, quilt racks, and wall hangings.

“We were little kids when we lived up there,” says Price, and Sandy “doesn’t get back too often, so I try to send her a piece of something from the farm every now and then. I knew that she crocheted, and I wondered if I could make [a crochet hook] from the old apple tree out there on the property.”

Initially, Price began making hooks from dried apple tree branches and giving them away. Then, one day his son, Lance, mentioned he could list the hooks for sale on Craig’s List. After finding a forum for crafts, Price began socializing with other “hookers”, who, in turn, directed him to Crochetville, another forum-based website that discusses all things crochet.

It was while he was socializing on Crochetville that someone suggested he have a blog. “I thought that [a blog] was some kind of wetlands or something.” Price says laughing. “I just blew it off.”

His new friends didn’t. A couple of members from the forum put together a blogging site just for Price. Called “Jimbo’s Front Porch”, the site allows Price to show off his newly built cabin and porch, which “doesn’t have a roof yet”, as well as auction his one-of-a-kind, ergonomic hooks.

“I decided to do auctions because I was too chicken to put a price on [my hooks],” Price says.

Although the opening bid for a hand carved hook usually starts around $15, Price says that it’s not unusual to get $50 for one. Dried little apple tree branches have now provided hooks to buyers in Germany, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Iceland, Australia, Singapore, Morocco, England, Canada, and the United States.

Price has also carved custom crochet hooks for people who may have tendonitis or arthritis. He says customers email him a picture of their hands holding a crochet hook, and Price makes the hook fit their hands. He’s learned that there are a “bunch of grip styles” out there.

But those different grip styles didn’t stop him from trying an online experiment. On his blog, Price says he had an idea “tossing around in my twisted head”: a traveling hook. He wanted to make a hook and see how far it would travel around the world. He would craft a hook and send it to someone who would crochet a square. Hookers would send their squares to a central collector at Crochetville and the hook on to another crocheter. Ultimately, the squares would be joined together to form a wall hanging, and both the hook and the wall hanging would be auctioned off.

Hookers who read Price’s blog were excited about the idea, which is in its second incarnation. Price says that the first traveling hook got lost or was forgotten. But the latest hook, which began making its rounds in June, will travel to 23 different states, make a detour to Canada, and be used by more than 38 Crochetville members.

Not all of the hooks are from the old apple tree anymore. Price uses a variety of woods including rosewood, tulipwood, maple, hazelnut, redwood, crabapple, cedar, as well as other little dried branches of brambles and “crick wood” he finds while walking his property.

And it is those 30 acres that keeps him whittling away at the crochet hooks. “The object was to sell these things to make the porch,” he says. “I’m in a partnership with the ranch, and the old apple tree helped me do that.”

Search Engine Ranking – the Basics of SEO

Improving your web site’s position in the major search engines has long been a black box relegated to the proclaimed ‘SEO Experts’, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are a business owner looking to learn the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), or a developer new to the SEO field, this article will help you get on the right track.

Search engine optimization, while not a difficult process, is one that takes a constant effort if you’re trying to earn top rankings in Google and other major search engines. Distilling all of the information available on the web can be a daunting task, so we’re going to suggest 7 tasks you and your website manager can complete to get you well on the road to better search engine positioning. Hiring a professional web developer might be a good step to get you started on the road to SEO success if you don’t feel up to the task.

(1) – Structure your site properly

This starts when you choose your web design company. Search engine spiders will crawl across your website, and give the highest priority to whatever they encounter first on the page, whether it is navigational links or text-based content. At the same time, you want to ensure that your web design allows for the best user experience possible. It is possible to tie SEO and usability together, and a professional web developer will do this; most print design companies and homemade pages cobbled together with Dreamweaver don’t consider this strategy at all.

For simplicity, websites can be presented using tables, cascading style sheets (CSS), or a combination of both. CSS is the most flexible method of arranging content and allows you to easily place important information first while allowing you to control the layout of your pages. Tables are more rigid, and a site that has been designed using table structures prior to consideration of any search engine optimization can be updated similarly to CSS-based websites, though it can take a fair amount of time and money to do so. CSS/Table hybrids are much tougher to work with unless your designer is doing a complete site overhaul, as they are composed of two systems, both of which may have to be tweaked each time a single change is made to the site. Generally, sites using this combination were developed when speed of construction was more essential than using a strict methodology.

(2) – Use proper, unique page titles

The page title may be the most important SEO element on any pages – search engines use them as the first clue to determining the content of your page. They’re also prominently displayed to users – they’re shown in the window title for your web page, for bookmark titles, and as the big blue link at the top of search engine listings.

  • Be accurate – don’t lie about the content of a page. This confuses users and search engines.
  • Be concise – use the fewest words possible that accruately describe your content.
  • Use a consistent format – many sites use something like “Page Title | Site Name”. If users see your page title, they’ll instantly know both the content and who it comes from..

(3) – Research your keywords

Find out which words visitors are using when searching for your industry. Once you have a list, make sure to use these words at appropriate times in your content. This way, when visitors search for your site, the page containing the keywords will appear. Use keywords in whatever text is appropriate – headings, page titles, link text, alt tags, and text content. If you’re having trouble finding keywords, use the Adwords Keyword Suggester, or your own traffic analysis software.

(4) – Create unique, relevant page content

Create content that will attract users, and help build links back to your site. Inbound links are the single best way to improve your search ranking – and the only way to increase inbound links is to have content that site owners and social media users will want to link to.

Some other content caveats:

  • Duplicate content is frowned upon by search engines, meaning syndicated news feeds, articles that can be found elsewhere on the web, and plagiarized materials won’t help – it may well drop your search engine ranking.
  • Don’t overload your content with keywords. While it may seem like a good idea (more is better right?), search engines will see this as spamming, and penalize your site accordingly.
  • Do away with any thoughts of ‘tricking’ the search engines, such as keyword stuffing using text that is the same color as the background of your page (making the text invisible to users), as they have been aware of these schemes for quite a while now. Just remember a golden rule of web site design and development: create the site with usability in mind, and the SEO will follow naturally.
  • With the exception of articles, use attractive, concise wording to get your message across. Due to the medium and expectations of what they are viewing, web users don’t read everything on a page – they ‘skim’ a site for the relevant information. It is always in your best interest to get your point across in the most efficient way possible.

(5) – Make URLs search engine friendly

Human-readable URLs such as ‘http://www.bakery.com/baked-goods/cherry-pie/2.htm’ vs. ‘http://www.bakery.com/index.php?category=1&product=2’ are more understandable to your site visitors – search engines recognize this fact as well. This may be difficult if you don’t have experience using the Apache server’s mod rewrite module, or something similar if you are using the Microsoft IIS webserver platform. Mod rewrite gives you the ability to make ugly URLs consise and readable. You’ll want to have your web site developer look into this, since even the slightest error when using this module can bring your entire site down.

(6) – Build links to your site

First, don’t waste your money on sites that claim they can submit your website to hundreds of thousands of directories. They may follow through, directories, but your site may never get listed in those directories, and search engines are cluing in to this practice as well. Generate quality, compelling content for your site visitors, use techniques of effective web design, and others will naturally link to your site. These links have the benefit of increasing traffic to your website by visitors clicking on them, and search engines place more importance on web pages with relevant links pointing to them.

(7) – Use title and alt tags in links and images

Often overlooked, but important. These tags will show a description of what the link or image is about (title tags) or an alternate text to show if an image is not available (alt tags).

Note that title tags can be used in many html elements, while alt tags are generally reserved for images. Use of these tags is great for usability, and search engines will pick up on them as well.

Summary

To recap, remember the 7 points of basic SEO that we have discussed:

  1. Structure your site properly
  2. Use proper, unique page titles
  3. Research your keywords
  4. Create unique, relevant page content
  5. Make URLs search-engine friendly
  6. Build Links to Your Site
  7. Use Title and Alt Tags in Links and Images

A good web development company will suggest these techniques as part of an SEO package when discussing the web development part of your project. Integrating these techniques into your new site will help you stand out and be noticed not just by the search engines, but your visitors at well. If you want to find out more out the web design package Design Spike can offer to you, contact us, and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

Healthy Highway – Snacking Online

Katherine Weiss, a Lakeside Middle School teacher, discovered her passion for good nutrition, and five years ago, while teaching a health class to her students, she had a “brain fart” and decided she was going to open an online store that sells all-natural, organic snacks. Since then, she has been contacted by the Golden Globes and found a modicum of financial success.

“I’m very passionate about good eating habits,” Weiss, 39, says. And, indeed, she must be. It’s been almost ten years since she began researching the availability of nutritious snack foods that “didn’t taste like cardboard.” Although her early quest provided samples, which she would share with her classes, she never found the sampled products in local stores, and she didn’t see any natural-food snack stores opening up in Spokane.

So, in 2004, Weiss developed the Healthy Snack Store (www.healthysnackstore.com), an online snack store. The website sells all-natural or organic snack foods such as cookies, dried fruits, trail mixes, jerky, cereal, seeds, nuts, and even chips and popcorn that bodies can burn. Weiss adds that a consumer will not find MSG, saturated fats, or hydrogenated oils in the products she carries. In fact, nutritional information, ingredients, and Weight Watchers Points for each product are even posted on the site.

“We won’t sell products that don’t have a natural or organic standard. Everything we look at is food-based so that our bodies recognize it and digest it.” Weiss says. Food-based products do not any contain artificial ingredients (such as refined sugars or flours, milled grains, or artificial sweeteners, food colors or flavorings) and are minimally processed. That’s not to say that everything on the site is good for you, Weiss points out. “But at least it is food that your body can burn off.”

Originally, Weiss wanted to work primarily with schools, but the bureaucracy involved in modifying food sources has not been easy to wade through. However, she says that Lakeside Middle School has allowed her to stock its vending machines with healthy snacks. “The kids love it,” she effuses.

Ultimately, though, it’s the website that has allowed her to find other venues for her products. “Now, corporations buy from us,” she says, explaining that many employers provide free snacks to their employees. One company even rid itself of vending machines and put coolers in the lunchroom. Weiss says, “Now the employees can go into the lunchroom and dig through the coolers and find raw, healthy food.”

Weiss is also involved in sharing healthy snacks with overseas soldiers. Through Operation Gratitude, a California-based non-profit, Weiss donates cases of sunflower seeds to American troops. One appreciative soldier in the United States Navy recently wrote to Weiss, expressing his gratitude for her participation. He writes, “I could say ‘thank you’, but that doesn’t seem like it would come close . . . to all that you’ve done for all of us.”

Weiss says she receives a lot of requests for samples and sponsorships, which she has learned to decline, but for her, “it is important to support American troops and what they are doing.”

But what Weiss is doing is getting noticed. Weiss says that the Golden Globes contacted her and asked her to do a booth and provide snacks at their annual awards event. “I thought it would be fabulous and what great advertising. But I couldn’t go to that and manage the after effects. I would die. That’s too much!” she says, laughing. “I’m still running the business out my home.”

And what a business it is. So far this year, Weiss’s monthly sales are nearing the $8000 mark. Since the inception of the website, she notes that her yearly sales have grown by over 400 percent. Even with that growth, Weiss quickly points out that she doesn’t draw a salary from the business. Instead, she puts her profits back into the business and saves what she can in order to “have a little bit of a nest egg so that I can get a store front and warehouse.”

Weiss dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar store where people could come in and purchase healthy snacks, but she’s not quite ready to run that type of business. She jokingly says that she already works two full-time jobs. The reality, however, is simpler. She loves teaching and has eight more years before retirement.

Until then, the rest of the world will have to make do with her healthy snack store being online.

Legitimate Email Marketing

DoubleClick Inc., a New York based company that develops tools for marketing programs, recently found consumers view email as a legitimate and relied-upon marketing channel. With approximately 147 million people across the country using email almost every day, email has, in many ways, become a replacement for telemarketing and direct mail.

That’s why permission-based email has emerged as the latest way to acquire, retain, cross-sell, up-sell, promote and reinforce branding efforts. Permission-based email (or email that someone has signed up to receive) gives companies the power to create relevant, cost-efficient and effective dialogs with customers.

In its survey, DoubleClick reported that 57 percent of those polled currently receive permission-based email from online merchants, 55 percent from bricks-and-mortar retailers, and 45 percent from catalogers. Household goods and coupons display the greatest category interests, with 17 percent and 28 percent of consumers desiring to receive these types of email, respectively.

However, spam is still an issue. In a study conducted between November 22 and November 26, 2004, by e-tailing, a consulting firm in Chicago, Ill., merchants who were more assertive in their email marketing-sending messages three to five time times during this period-were perceived as sending spam. Among many consumers, spam remains a concern; but according to DoubleClick, worry about this has declined over the past year.

Although consumers find email aggressiveness a turn-off, they are still more likely to make purchases either online or offline in response to permission-based email. In fact, 32 percent of permission-based email consumers are likely to make an immediate purchase as a result of an email. Those consumers clicked through (or went to the website of the seller) and made a purchase. A slightly smaller percentage clicked through to learn more, only to return later to make a purchase. Another twelve percent went to the website to learn more, but then purchased the item offline.

Permission-based email has become an accepted marketing tactic consumers accept and desire. Nonetheless, subscribers who are sent irrelevant mail too frequently may believe that the sender is careless or sending spam.

Email marketing does, indeed, increase response rates, lowers costs, and builds longer and more profitable customer relationships. But beware. As the quantity of email increases over time, marketers need to create targeted, relevant email communications to customers.

If you are interested in creating an email marketing campaign, Lyris Technologies Inc., an email management company in Berkley, Calif., suggests the following guidelines:

  1. Get the consumer”s permission: The highest, most ethical subscription standard is called double opt-in. It requires prospective subscribers to actively confirm their wish to receive email from you. In this process, prospective subscribers submit their email addresses, and then receive confirmation requests to which they must reply in order to join your list.
  2. Set expectations: One of the easiest mistakes to make is to send content members don’t expect to receive. By not setting unmistakable expectations, marketers inadvertently cause people to delete their messages, unsubscribe from their list, or tag their email as spam.
  3. Test your HTML formatting: When preparing to send an email message using text and HTML versions, test your messages on multiple email clients or software applications such as Eudora, Outlook, Hotmail, etc. Testing in different applications will help ensure consumers will share the same type of experience when receiving your message.
  4. Optimize for delivery: The headers (From, To, and Subject fields) of your email messages are critical components, which are scrutinized by automated anti-spam filters that protect ISPs and individual mailboxes. Use a clear and consistent From: header such as your organization’s name and a valid email address. Create an accurate and compelling subject line. Write content that won’t be filtered as spam. And avoid words such as “free”, “mortgage”, or “prescription” that are frequently used by spammers.
  5. Cultivate industry relations: If you have a very large list or plan on sending high volumes of permission-based email on a regular basis, it’s worthwhile to establish a point of contact at each major Internet Service Provider or email provider. Since some of the ISPs maintain lists of known senders who have met certain permission-oriented criteria, email may not be filtered as aggressively as that sent by unknown senders.
  6. Comply with the law: The following recommendations are for email marketers in the United States, and are based on the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (http://www.spamlaws.com/federal/108s877.html). This Act requires email marketers to comply with certain mailing guidelines:
    • Don’t “harvest” or take arbitrary email addresses from the Internet for commercial mailing purposes.
    • Don’t send commercial email via a computer that you don’t have proper authorization to use.
    • Don’t falsify or obscure the header information in your commercial email messages; always use a valid From: address and an accurate, non-misleading Subject: line.
    • Include a valid postal mailing address and a functioning opt-out mechanism in every commercial email message you send.
    • Don’t continue to send email to a recipient who has opted-out of your list.
    • If you send adult content (i.e., sexually explicit material), use a warning label of that fact in your subject line.
  7. Analyze results: Set goals for your email marketing by determining what you expect the email to do. Is it to drive Web site traffic? Build sales? Generate advertising revenue? Inform users of new products? Demonstrate your authority in your field? Then decide what will prove success. After you have identified the key components, feed those insights back into your next campaign.

ICANN Creates Loophole for Domain Name Theft

On November 12, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), based in Marina del Rey, Calif., announced that its inter-registrar domain transfer policy has gone into effect. This is both good news and bad news.

This latest policy is intended to simplify the domain name transfer process, protect against unauthorized transfers, and standardize authorization by the domain name registrant prior to the initiation of any transfer. However, this change toward simplicity also provides the opportunity for domain names to be taken from an owner without prior approval.

The domain name system (DNS) helps users find their way around the Internet. Every computer connected to the Internet is assigned a unique number known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The IP address is a rather complicated string of numbers.

IP addresses consist of four numbers separated by periods and look something like 216.229.182.49. Because numbers may be tedious to deal with, an IP address may also be assigned a “domain name” (such as www.spokesmanreview.com), which is easier to remember.

Translating the name back into the IP address is known as “resolving the domain name.” The goal of the DNS, then, is for any Internet user located anywhere in the world to reach a specific website by entering its domain name.

Anyone anywhere can own a domain name. And, with approximately 36,191,278 registered domain names, just about anyone does.

Now, ICANN, the non-profit corporation that oversees Internet technical matters, has made it easier for all domain name owners to move their domain to the registrar that offers the best services and price without having to “double-confirm” the transfer process.

ICANN originally announced the policy change in July, but it just recently went into effect. (The full version of the Policy on Transfer of Registrations between Registrars may be found at http://www.icann.org/transfers/policy-12jul04.htm.)

Policy elements include:

  • Requiring registrars to verify the identity of the registrant or administrative contact requesting the transfer by one of a number of approved methods to deter fraud.
  • Preserving the ability of registrants to “lock” their domains so they may not be transferred from the registrar, but requiring registrars to provide a readily accessible way for registrants to have their current registrar remove this lock at their request.
  • Providing a robust dispute resolution process for resolving disputes between registrars, including registries implementing a “transfer undo” functionality to provide for efficiently reversing any transfer initiated in violation of the policy.

As an added bonus, this newly implemented policy is expected to increase competition in the generic top-level domain name market and could drive costs down by as much as 80 percent.

Still, domain name owners should be aware that their domain names could be transferred within five calendar days if the Registrar of Record fails to respond, resulting in a default “approval” of the transfer.

This becomes a concern for many domain name holders whose domain names are not registrar-locked or who haven’t kept their registrant information current. Since domain name records reflect the information that was entered at the time of purchase, many DNS records have invalid email addresses, incorrect mailing addresses, long-forgotten user names and the like.

Currently, most requests for domain name transfer are usually sent via email to the registrant. So, if the registrant’s email of record is a non-working email address, the registrant cannot decline the transfer of its domain name, thus allowing the transfer to occur without the owner ever being aware it happened.

Before this new policy went into affect, a registrant’s domain name would be relatively safe. A transfer simply could not happen without a registrant’s explicit approval. This new policy requires that the current registrant explicitly decline the request. If the current registrant fails to decline the transfer, the transfer will go through.

So beware. If you own a domain name, be sure all of the registrant information is up to date. And, if you were not planning on transferring your domain name to another registrar, be sure you formally “decline” the transfer.

Starting Out With SEO

Almost everyone who has a web site wants to be found among the top 10 results of an Internet directory or a search engine. But if there are millions of top-level domains, how does a single Web site crack the top 10?

The answer is not simple, or necessarily easy.

The first thing to know is that every search engine has its own formula, or algorithm, to index and score Web sites. These algorithms often change in an effort to provide visitors with more relevant results. Such changes generally go unnoticed except by those who research search-engine optimization.

One company, GoRank – an online keyword tracking system – recently released a report that analyzed and compared the algorithms and keyword density of Yahoo and Google. Keyword density is an element found in many search-engine algorithms; it’s equivalent to the total number of words on a Web page divided by the number of times keywords appear.

GoRank reported that Yahoo prefers more occurrences of exact keywords than Google, Google prefers more text links than Yahoo, Yahoo prefers the use of bold text, and both the page title and meta description, a tag in HTML code that is used by search engines to display a description of your page, are important for both.

Translated, this means that there is little overlap in major search engine databases. A website found in one search engine’s top 10 results doesn’t guarantee that same site will be found in the top 10 on another search engine.

Search engine placement, then, is not a real science. It’s more like magic. However, with a few hints, you can – and should – compete for better search engine placement. Here’s how:

Select effective keywords and key phrases (words or phrases that people use when trying to describe your product or service). Then, use at least two of those keywords in your meta tags. In HTML, meta tags tell search engines information about your page. Using single keywords lowers your odds for successful placement.

Replace unnecessary images with strong text. Search engine spiders, used by search engines to index web sites for their databases, are blind. They can only read text, not images. If your site incorporates a lot of graphics, include a text description in the “alt” tags. An HTML alt tag references alternative text for non-textual elements, typically images. If your site uses Flash animation, it cannot be indexed completely, though search engines are starting to get a little savvier at spidering Flash elements in a web design. Remember, too, that words used as part of a graphic image are still a graphic image.

Use your keywords or key phrases often and in the crucial locations on your web pages. Add keywords to your page titles, meta tags, headings, and links. Since search engines pay more attention to certain areas of your site, words there carry more weight. Keywords should be given more prominence in those areas.

Get other sites relevant to yours to link to your site. Search engines may regard sites with many relevant links pointing to them to be more important than others, and links from popular sites will give your site a higher rating. Linking to other sites that offer the same product or services may also improve search engine placement.

Avoid frames. Frames were intended to make navigation easier by keeping one part of a site constant while opening links in another part. However, search engines cannot follow frame links. If you are using frames, make sure there is an alternative method for search engines to index your site.

Submit sitemaps to the major search engines that will accept them. A sitemap is a complete listing of pages on your website in a link format that search engines can follow.

After all of that, if your site isn’t listed in the top 10, remember there were no guarantees that it would be. Search engines may be a primary tool for people to look for products or services on the Internet, but they’re not the only one. People also find sites through traditional advertising, word-of-mouth, or newsgroup postings.

So, is it possible to follow every tip and still not see any improvement in your placement or in traffic to your site? Doubtful. Has your time been well spent? Definitely.

Static and Dynamic Websites: A Primer

In the web design and development industry, there is a growing disparity between what clients know and understand about the different types of websites and “tech speak”. In an effort to close the great divide, here’s a quick primer.

HTML or Hyper Text Markup Language is the basic coding language for web pages. After a site is visually designed or laid out so that, at a minimum, the navigation and logo are clearly displayed on a page, developers use letters and symbols to define how the page will look on the Internet. The resulting site is essentially controlled by HTML.

There are many programs out there that help new designers with the lay out of the site. Programs such as Adobe Go Live, Microsoft Front Page, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and others, are called “editors”. More sophisticated than ever before, these software programs will create a form of HTML that may be used on the Internet. In general, but not always, these programs depend upon a simple understanding of how websites work and help build “static” websites.

Static websites are often like brochures. They provide information that seldom changes. Once a static – or fixed – site is posted to the web, it will not change until someone physically modifies it by altering the information or modifying the code.

Static websites greatly differ from dynamic websites. A dynamic website (often referred to as a database-driven site) uses advanced programming languages to allow data to flow in and out of the site and to make meaningful relationships with the data. For example, an online business directory may allow local businesses to sign up and create profiles for their businesses. These profiles would be used by visitors to the site who may, in turn, search the directory based on their needs; while one person may conduct a search for a lawyer in their zip code who speaks Spanish, another person may search for a beginner yoga class. Think of this type of site as a classified ad. The information about a business could change at any moment, but a user could still look up that and other companies.

Another significant feature of dynamic websites: owners may upload both pictures and text on their own, preferably through a password-protected, administrative interface. In other words, using a browser interface (such as Internet Explorer, Netscape, Firefox, etc.), one can “login” – or register – to use a selected area of a website that is not accessible by the ordinary user. Once logged in, an owner (or someone the owner designates) can easily add, edit, or delete most content that is available on the site; one does not require a proficiency in HTML or website design to update or maintain a content-managed site.

A content management system commonly known as a CMS has a variety of uses. Consider, for example, a typical ecommerce website (electronic commerce or shopping). Since some products become obsolete, they may be deleted. As other items go on sale, prices may be reduced or modified. And, as new products become available, they may be added to the site. Any one – or all – of these modifications may be done anytime, during the day or night.

Although a dynamic or database-driven website is indeed interactive, a Flash site may be both interactive and animated. Using a software program by Macromedia called, not surprisingly, “Flash”, creates a Flash-built site. Essentially, this type of site is a movie that uses vector graphics, or graphics that can be scaled to any size without losing clarity or quality.

An advantage of Flash is that it is virtually independent of browsers. However, users or visitors to this type of site need to download and install a plug-in (a software module that adds a specific feature or service to a larger system) before they can see anything. The good news: the latest browsers come installed with the Flash plug-in.

Programming languages such as JAVA Script, php, asp, .net (dot net), Cold Fusion, XML, and perl, can be used in conjunction with databases such as SQL (see-quall) server and MySQL to create a dynamic site. Although these terms are often bantered about, most developers have their own preference for a particular language and database, and good programmers can create the type of site that is required by most businesses.

As the Internet grows, more and more sites are becoming database dependent. That does not necessarily mean that any one language or program is better than another (although many will dispute that statement). It simply means that it is becoming more cost effective to have a custom website design that will last beyond tomorrow’s headlines.

So, if you are thinking about a website for your business, seriously consider the type of website your business will require and the budget required to get there. Then, when interviewing web development firms, ask a lot of questions. Remember, it’s your buck and your site.