Category: Web Sites 101


Video on a website can be either very simple or very complicated!
It’s quite simple when:
  • There is NO editing needed
  • It can be shared via YouTube
  • There is no customization of the player (play, pause, volume buttons etc.)

When you share a video on YouTube, it’s made public on their website, and then you can embed it on your website.  So people can watch it without leaving your website, but it still has the YouTube logo, and YouTube may “inject” links to other videos.  That’s the downside of using YouTube – they control how it appears on your website. Some people consider this a bit unprofessional and would rather have the video hosted on their own site, where they have total control over the appearance  But it’s a tradeoff.

The advantages of using YouTube are:

  • YouTube is a free video hosting and streaming service that works in all browsers.  This is a tremendous advantage, because if you host the video on your own website, it may not perform as well, and it will not look the same in all browsers.  In fact, it won’t work at all in some browsers unless a web designer  installs custom coding to make it compatible.
  • From the search engines point of view, YouTube video is another “vote” for your company, so you get exposure.  Likewise, people are likely to find and view it on YouTube – more exposure.
  • People are so used to seeing YouTube videos that they know how to interact with them, and they don’t seem to fault you for using a free service on your website.

So needless to say, if you’re concerned about cost, I recommend the YouTube route.

If, on the other hand, you want control over how the video appears (IE using your logo as the first frame), or how the video plays (IE want it to start automatically), then you need some customization.  In this case I would expect you need a web designer’s help to do it right.  Since video editing, cross browser compatibility, and custom players are all rather time consuming, it is likely that you’ll spend several hundred dollars.

On the bright side, someday we expect that installing video on your own website will be simple. Someday will come when HTML5 is widely used, when video file formats and players are more standardized, and when browsers improve their support for the various options.   Someday could be right around the corner!

 

The World Wide Web is the great equalizer in the marketplace. A well designed website is the public face of an organization or small business. It must be pleasing and present that organization’s or business’ persona. Web design considerations are an important factor in reaching the consumer.

There are many things to ponder as one considers the design of a website. Is the website for E-commerce, organizational, Informational, an infomercial? It can also be a combination of these things, but it must fulfill the requirements of an organization in an efficient manner. The purpose will determine the design in many ways, and a Marietta Web Designer can help meld these purposes.

E-commerce Solutions
E-commerce is one way for a small business or an organization to increase the market they can reach with a minimal investment. The electronic store front is a business model that offers low overhead, while allowing an organization to reach a much larger audience than in a traditional brick and mortar establishment; but with this form of Web presence comes a responsibility to protect the customer with a secure web server.

Most web hosting services provide some form of verification or authentication service to protect the customer and let the consumer know they can shop at the site with a minimum of concern for personal data security. A merchant account with shopping cart software and a payment gateway are also necessities. Due to the involved nature of E-commerce, professional site administration should definitely be considered to avoid pitfalls, complications, and allow for worry free productive operations.

The Infomercial
The Infomercial site, that is meant to present a single product or a palette of products in detail, is where a Marietta web designer can make the difference. Presentation to make the public aware of a product or service can make or break a product. Considering the investment to bring a product to market, an experienced professional designer is really a necessity in this media age.

The consumer expects high production value in the media world of the Web. A professional designer knows how to insure a product is presented to get the public’s attention. Part of the designer’s job is to infuse the product with the organization’s personality while presenting the product in a dramatic fashion and incorporating modern Web technologies for the most impact.

Information and Organization Oriented Websites

Information is what the Web was born to share. Properly presented, a website can help to inform the public about an organization’s goals or something they think the public should know. Maybe a news organization wants to make its presence felt on the Web. Getting one’s message out there is what the blogosphere is all about.

Information can act as a draw to a website increasing traffic, and exposure for an organization. This requires keeping content new and exciting. A website based on a Content Management System or CMS like WordPress can be the solution that allows a flexible fluid environment with the ability of the visitor to take part in the information exchange. This interactivity might be the draw that brings the visitor back.

Organizations like clubs, civic organizations, homeowner associations, and governmental entities can use their websites to provide information and services to their customers dynamically. These groups can service their customers more efficiently with a well-organized attractive website.

A Marietta web designer can provide the expertise and design ability to give your small business or organization the Web presence it needs to perform exceptionally for the customer, making your business or organization successful.

This article was written by Forrest Watkins, an expert
in the Web Design / HTML category at www.yoexpert.com

 

 

Have you noticed the little yellow review stars appearing in Google search results?   Google is picking up reviews from various places on the web, and inserting them into the RESULTS pages. This means that, before a user even decides to click on your website, they are seeing a rating of your service or product – assuming one exists.  I don’t know about you, but those little stars influence what I click on!

One of my author clients has only one review on one website for her new book.  But it’s a credible website, and Google has “scraped” it.  That means she’s benefiting quite a bit from just ONE review!

A recent survey conducted in the UK and US found  that 69 percent of respondents trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations. See article for details: Local Consumers Trust Earned by Having More Reviews – Website Magazine.

As small business owners, we would do well to develop networking or service follow-up routines that include asking satisfied customers rate and review our products or services online.

Did you know that there are only a handful of fonts that are considered “web safe”?
These are the fonts that can be rendered by most people’s computers without any special “work-arounds”.   Web designers just use HTML or CSS to tell the browser what font to use, and that’s that.  You can see these web safe fonts at the ampsoft website.

But wait?!  I’ve seen lots of fancy fonts online!
Yes, these are generally used in titles and logos.  For the most part, these special fonts are really not text, but IMAGES of text. Instead of typing in the text and formatting it, designers create an image of the text in Photoshop, then place it on the web page. You can tell whether a font on a web page is text or an image: Just try to highlight and copy the text (left click and drag over the text).  If  you can’t  copy the text, you’re looking at an image.  If you right-click on the image, you should see a context menu that allows you to save the image.

Text or image, it looks the same. Why is this important?
The important thing to know is that search engines can’t read an image.  So, using images as a replacement for fonts is a tricky business.  Overdo it and it will effect your search rankings.  And here are a couple more reasons to be judicious about replacing text with images.  Screen readers can’t read images;  If all the headings on your web page are done with images, your website will not be accessible to people with special needs.  Also, too many images will slow down you pages.

Web designers love fonts! It’s frustrating to sacrifice beautiful design for search engine friendly design, or vice versa. This is a problem we talk about, and there are some improvements on the way.  But often they require special skills or extra, unnecessary code.

Google Fonts

The folks at Google have offered us a partial solution. By storing some special fonts and code online, and allowing us to link to it, they’ve made some new fonts available to web designers. You can see them at Google Web Fonts:    http://www.google.com/webfonts. Your web designer should be able to implement any of these fonts byt following the instructions provided by Google.  Very most cool!

 

OK, I’m trying not to sound bitter or sarcastic here….

I just had a prospective client cancel our meeting because “her friend who knows some Photoshop will do a website for $300”.

This happens occasionally. It’s not surprising, really.  Starter websites are priced anywhere from FREE to $10,000! Budgets and needs vary tremendously, too, AND you don’t always get what you pay for.   So how do you know if you’re really getting a deal?

Here are some questions to ask your nephew / sister-in-law / interior designer / computer geek when they’re about to take a stab at your website.

1. Have you ever designed anything for print or web?
This one speaks for itself.  You don’t want a website that looks like a third grader or a psychotic made it, do you? No offense to any third graders or psychotics out there…

2. Do you know what meta tags are, and how to use them for SEO?
Certain meta tags (in the HTML code) are used to tell the search engines what your website is about. This is the  most basic form of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  No website should be without these, yet many, many websites have meta tags done incorrectly or not at all.  Because website owners can’t see the meta tags from the “front end” of the website, they often lack this simple, critical form of SEO and don’t even know it!

3.  Can you optimize images for the web?
All photos and graphics need to be reduced to appropriate size (both dimensions and file size) and resolution for the internet.  If you use “print-ready” files, your pages will load very slowly. If your pages load slowly, your customers will go somewhere else. It’s that simple.  Image optimization is not rocket surgery, but it does take some software and know-how.

4.  Ever heard of cross browser testing?
Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Chrome:  These are a few of the browsers that people use to view the web.  Unfortunately, your web pages don’t look the same in every browser.  If the bugs aren’t fixed, your pages may look fine on your computer, and horrible on someone else’s. For the most part, only professional web developers perform these tests.

5. Are you familiar with HTML?
HTML is the language that tells your browser how to display your pages.  Believe it or not, it’s possible to use software to create websites without knowing any HTML.  It happens all the time.  Here’s what else happens:

  • When something goes wrong (and be assured it will) you’ll have no idea how to fix it.  Broken pages make your website look unprofessional, and cost you customers.
  • Your automatically generated “one-size-fits-all” HTML code will be riddled with extra, unnecessary contingencies (code bloat) which can cause your pages to load slower.  Slow pages lead to lost customers.
  • Code bloat  also makes it hard for the search engines to see your website.  If the search engines can’t find you, neither can your customers.

It’s true that some people really do need to just “slap up a website”.  But most smart small business owners are looking to make a wise investment in a website that enhances marketing efforts now and in the future.  A professional web designer can help you get the most from your budget – it’s money well-spent!.

So you’re ready to sell online?  Congratulations!  The online marketplace is an exciting world (in a virtual sort of way).  And thanks to new technologies and services, it can be a safe, friendly and profitable place.

I’ll assume you have your product or service worked out, along with prices and delivery methods.  And let’s not forget the marketing plan – you have to know how people will find you.   Got all that in place?

OK.  Now of course you already have a domain name and web site with a good hosting company, right?

What – you don’t have a web site?! Well, that’s OK, you can avoid some mistakes by setting it up AFTER you’ve thought through your shopping cart.   As for the web host, It’s important to make sure your software is compatible with (supported by) your web host. For this reason, your choice of software may effect your choice of web host (or vice versa).  For more information on setting up a web site / host, check my article  Web Site 101 – Costs. My current favorite hosting companies are BlueHost and Lunarpages.  They both offer some easy installation options for  shopping cart software.

OK, NOW you’re ready.  But wait – there are a few things you should consider first – preferably before you set anything up.   These are:

Since these technologies all have to work together, it’s best to make the decisions before you implement anything.  I’ll talk about each one, and how they work together.  I’ll also discuss some possible “shortcuts”.

Shopping Cart Software

What Does It Do? It uses a database to allow you to display, price and sell your products.  It keeps track of customers choices, and sends their order information to the payment gateway.  In most cases, it also helps you keep track of your orders and collect information about your customers.  Other possible features include:  autoresponders (confirmation emails to your customers and you), eNewsletter capabilities (so you can send updates to all your customers), inventory management, shipping and tax calculations, shopper registration / login, product promotion options, and more.

Do I Really Need It? In a word, Yes.

What’s the Best Way? Well, that depends.  Here are some options:

Commercial Software: Best for those setting up a large shopping cart with high volume.  OR if  user friendliness and technical support are high priorities (and you’re willing to pay for them).  Many companies are out there.  Here are just a few:  X-Cart, Cart32, ShopSite, MonsterCommerce

Open Source Software: Open source software is free, publicly shared software.  There are some very good open source shopping carts.  Technical support comes in the form of documents and online forums.  In other words, there’s no 800 number to call – you have to read the directions!  Here are a couple of popular ones:  ZenCartosCommerce and CubeCart.

Hosted Shopping Carts: You can have someone else host your shopping cart for you.  In other words, you pay for web hosting and shopping cart on one account.  You still have to set up your shopping cart, maintain it, etc.  BUT you don’t have to install it, your technical support will probably be better, and you’ll have help setting up your merchant account and payment gateway, which will then work properly with your shopping cart.  What’s the catch?  Well, you’ll pay monthly fees on the order of $50 (web hosting is included in this fee).  AND you may pay additional transaction fees.  Still, this approach is a viable one for folks who need a web host and a shopping cart, and want to get started without large upfront costs or hassles.  Try Yahoo Small Business or Volusion.

Is There a Shortcut? Well, sort of.  Here it is…..
Buy Now Buttons
If you’re only selling a small number of products on your web site, you can use PayPal or Google Checkout to set up “BUY NOW” buttons.  You create buttons and install them on your own web site, next to your products (assuming you can work with HTML).  When a customer clicks the button, they go to PayPal or Google Checkout to complete the transaction.  In this way, PayPal or Google Checkout acts as your shopping cart, your payment gateway and your merchant account, thus saving you several steps.  Your customer support will not be as good as with a commercial or hosted shopping cart, and you won’t have all of the features.  Still, this approach is a great way to get started, since you could shift to a different system later on.   You pay no upfront or monthly costs, but you do pay transaction fees.   I have set this up for several clients, with good results; My fees are smaller because it takes me less time than setting up a full-on shopping cart.  Right now Google is advertising transaction fees of 2% plus $ .20 per transaction.  PayPal will be about 3% plus $ .30 per transaction.

Payment Gateway

What Does It Do? It accepts you customers’ credit card or eCheck information on a secure server, encrypts it, and communicates that information to your financial institution (merchant account).  There are many services out there.  One reputable one is authorize.net.  You will notice more  – pay attention as you shop online – see who your favorite shopping web sites use.  Your payment gateway may be bundled with a merchant account, or may recommend a compatible merchant account.  See fees below, under Merchant Account.

Do I Really Need It? Yes.  But if you use “the shortcut”  discussed above, PayPal or Google Checkout can act as your payment gateway (and merchant account).

Merchant Account

What Does It Do? It’s a financial institution that’s connected with your own banking account. It receives information from your payment gateway, processes credit cards and eChecks, and allows you to transfer funds between your merchant account and your business / checking account.  Your payment gateway may be bundled with a merchant account, or may recommend a compatible merchant account.

Payment Gateway and Merchant Account Fees
Expect to pay a monthly fee and a transaction fee.
For example, FreeAuthNet and Merchant Account Express are Authorize.net resellers that offer a package deal on a merchant account and Authorize.net gateway. Their rates for merchant and gateway accounts combined are approximately:    $10 – 25 per mo plus 2.15% – 2.33% + $ .25 per transaction

Do I Really Need It? Yes.  But if you use “the shortcut”  discussed above, PayPal or Google Checkout can act as your payment gateway (and merchant account).

SSL Certificate

What Does It Do? Secure Sockets Layer protocol allows private data to be transmitted safely over the internet.  Web sites using SSL start with https: instead of http: an SSL Certificate tells the customer’s browser that the web site is secure.   If you’re selling online, it will be important to your customers that you use this technology.  It’s important to you, too.  You don’t want to be involved in a credit card fraud or stolen identity incident.

Do I Really Need It? In my opinion, yes.  BUT you may be able to share your web host’s SSL for a small fee (or for free).  Also, if you use the shortcut we discussed earlier, you won’t need your own because your secure transaction will take place on a PayPal or Google web site.

Summary

There you have it.  I’d like to say it’s simple, but, well, it’s not.  Hope I’ve shed some light on the process, anyway!  Feel free to contact me if I can help!

Suzi Beaumont
BeauCreations Web Design

About Naming and Saving Files

Did you ever wonder why computer programmers have such quirky ways of naming files?  Or why they seem neurotic about backups?

Well, different types of programs, for various reasons, restrict what you can do with file names.  If you “break the rules” you can mess up code that would otherwise work, or (more commonly) just bring things to a grinding halt altogether.

And as for backup neorosis?  Well, that’s easy to explain.  In fact, you already know this.  All you have to do is lose several hours of mind-numbing work, and you’re a fan of backups.  OK, some of us may have to repeat this experience a few times, but we do learn eventually….

This is an exceprt from an instructional article I’m writing – it may be helpful to those who are just getting started with HTML, or editing / uploading files to a server via a file manager program.

About file names: In most web applications, file names are case-sensitive, and don’t allow spaces. Since you have to mush words together (no spaces), some people like to use capital letters to make them more readable, like this:

myDocument.html

whatWeDidLastSummer.html

These examples are perfectly legal, though the second one is really too long. Here’s another way to do the same thing without capitalizing.

my_document.html

what_we_did_last_summer.html

This is also perfectly OK. In this case, I used an underscore between words. Hyphens are allowable, but not commonly used. The key is to be consistent, because when the server looks for the file, it has to be entered exactly right, including any caps and underscores.

About saving files: On web sites, when you upload a file to the server, if there’s an old version in place (and there should be), that version is automatically over-written. That means it’s gone forever. For this reason, you have to be sure your changes are correct. Since we all make mistakes, it’s good to have a backup file.

So, let’s say you are editing a file called myDocument.html I recommend first creating a file called myDocumentBak.html as a back up. Then you go back to myDocument.html and make your changes. If something goes horribly wrong (and it will), you’ll just re-name your backup file, put it back where it was, and pretend it all never happened.

Now, here’s another common scenario. You want to create a new document – say, a new article — from an old one. In other words, you’re using one document as a template to create a new one. In this case you just save the old document under a new name immediately upon opening it.

So, I take myDocument.html and save it as myNewDocument.html before I make any changes. The original file remains intact in its old location. The new file has a unique name, so it won’t over-write anything when you put it on the server.

Suzi Beaumont,  Web DesignerPost by Suzi Beaumont of BeauCreations Web Design

Recently a prospective client asked “What other costs should I expect” after I’d sent an estimate to design and install her first web site.  So I thought I’d share my answer.  This will be of interest to first time web site would-bes.

Website

First,  let me say that the initial cost of having a custom website professionally designed can vary considerably – that’s why I do detailed estimates with “what’s included” after talking with an interested person.  But since this assessment would be incomplete without the cost of a web site, I’ll go out on a limb here and pick a number.  For my example I’ll use a six page brochure web site, custom designed but with no additional interactive features (no blogs, shopping carts, Flash animation, etc.).  I’ll say this very basic web site would cost $1200 – $1800 for design, construction and installation.

As far as other costs go, I can think of these “ongoing” costs (assuming you already have an Internet Service Provider):

Domain Name

You’ll want to purchase / register this yourself.  It should not cost more than $10 – $15 per year, or even less if you buy five years at once. Plenty of web hosts will include a “free domain for life”, and that’s fine, provided you go with a reputable web host (see below).  Consider setting your account to “auto-renew” right off the bat;  You do NOT want to lose your domain name after your business is established, just because you forgot to renew!

Web Host

Again, you’ll want to purchase this yourself on a separate account.  Some web designers will host the web site for you on their own server computers, so you can get a package deal.  I don’t advocate this because small web designers such as myself, while providing great value in custom designed web sites, cannot compete with the big companies as far as hosting a site is concerned.  You want a web host with 99.9% uptime guaranteed, and lots of customer support staff on duty!  AND you shouldn’t pay more than$7 – $12 per month. My web host is Bluehost – they are great!

Incidentally, your web host should include email accounts in your cost. So, for example, if your domain name is www.mywebsite.com, then you can set up an account for me@mywebsite.com.  Then you have an email address that reminds people of your website, and looks more professional.  There should be no additional cost involved.   But wait” – you say.  I like to do all my email from my hotmail account -it’s too much work to keep track of all these email accounts!” No problem, just set up an email forward that sends all mail addressed to me@mywebsite.com over to your hotmail or gmail account.  Your web designer may or may not include this type of set-up support in your fee (generally speaking I do this for my clients at no extra cost).  But it’s not rocket surgery – you could figure out how to set this up yourself!

Web Site Maintenance

This is tough to estimate because it depends on your time constraints and ability to learn how to update your own web site.  I have many clients who continue to use my services for all manner of web updates.   Small business clients may spend anywhere from $0 to $300 per month on edits and updates.  My current rate is $50 per hour. This rate varies considerably among web designers.

For budget minded do-it-yourself-ers, there are ways to set up a web site that can be edited.  Edits to the text of existing pages are easy to learn, provided you’re willing to take the time to set up some free or  inexpensive software on your computer and learn a thing or two about FTP (file transfer protocol – the way your home computer talks to your web host’s server computer when you are updating.)  Or, if you have a shopping cart, there’s no reason you can’t teach yourself to update your products and prices.

But here are some limitations: If you’re adding new pages, moving things around, modifying the design, or adding images that need to be processed for the web (most do), you may need a web designer with the software and expertise to do these things.  Here’s what I told my prospective client, who is doing a shopping cart web site:

“Let’s say we finish the web site, and 3 months later you have six new products to add.  Assuming you know something about image processing, and can take your own digital product shots, I could probably train you to add the new products, prices, etc., in a 3 hour training session.  Or I could do it myself in about 1 hour. So, at $50 / hour,  you’re looking at $50 – $150 for that sort of update”.


“On the other hand, if you decide to do additional pages, re-format the design or layout, switch to a new web host or shopping cart,  add a blog, enhance your search engine optimization, do online marketing, or any other upgrade – well you could spend a couple hundred dollars on each of these.
But they are all entirely optional, probably not important for the first year you have a website, and can be done on your time frame as your business grows.”

So you can see there are plenty of considerations, but setting up and maintaining a web site doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.  More importantly, it doesn’t have to take you away from your core business functions – if you don’t have time to think about each micro-decision because you prefer to focus on what you do best, there are services and people out there who can make it easy for you.

Embed a Blog in a Website

Note: Since writing this post I’ve found a second online service for embedding blogs: http://www.webrss.com/. Like RSS feed, this service allows free or paid accounts, depending on the features you need.

I found a great tool for converting the RSS feed on a blog into HTML so that it’s visible in a web site.   While it’s somewhat complicated to actually integrate a blog into an existing web site, this method simply puts the latest couple of posts wherever you’d like them to appear.  Then you can link to your blog from there.

The really cool part is that it can be done with PHP.  Since PHP interacts with the browser to output HTML, the search engines see the text from your blog!  This is better than the alternative, (JavaScript), which does its work on the client side, after the page has “arrived”. In this latter case, the search engines only see the JavaScript, not the blog text;  so of course they don’t interpret it as new or relevant content.

Oh, BTW, here’s the free tool from RSS-Info.com:  http://www.rssinclude.com/

And here’s what you need:
– Enough HTML knowledge to insert code and upload a page
– A web host that runs PHP
– A web page that runs PHP, or the knowledge to use a Server Side Include.    You may be able to just change the page name from .html to .php
– Your RSS feed URL.  Easiest way to get that is to subscribe to your own RSS feed, then click the link in your RSS favorites, and go there.