But What Are You Doing? How Website Updates Help

whyupdatingyourwebsiteisagoodthingWe had a client we did regular services with us for six months. When it was time to renegotiate the contract, she decided to not renew.

A few months later, she emailed us. “Well you must have been doing something because my search engine rankings tanked.”

I like to think I’m not a jerk that charges people for something without doing anything. But I can see what she is getting at. She knew that we were doing something; she just didn’t understand what we were doing.

What do we do on a continuing basis to help a website do better and better in search engines? And why didn’t her search rank tank right away the moment we stopped doing our thing?

What We Do In Our Website Updating Service

Some of the things we (and definitely you) can do to keep your website doing well:

Update your software. You’d be surprised how many very smart people don’t do this. Updating your software not only makes your website less prone to hacking, it also just makes it work better. (Note: HTML sites don’t run on a particular software so you don’t have to update them. But they have their own set of issues, trust me.)

Put new content on your website. How do I know I need to put something on this website? When someone asks me about it. Someone didn’t understand why we charged people to update their social media accounts so I wrote a blog post. Someone wanted to know ALL the specs for the projector and screen we rent so I made a page with the information.

If you feel like you write the same emails of information over and over again (or answer the same questions over and over in person or on the phone), why not put that information on your website?

With the information we write content, create graphics, and can otherwise keep new information on websites we maintain (though I will say we just need a bit of information from a client to do it well).

Update social media accounts periodically with links to your website. You might notice approximately once a week, I have a day where I promote my own crap on Facebook.



Notice there are two elements to these updates:

  • What to do (and a reason to do it right now- eye catching image, thought provoking question, time sensitive info)
  • A link to make it easy for them to do it

Everyone has something to push out there, trust me. It could be to subscribe to an email newsletter, review your business on TripAdvisor, take advantage of your upcoming sale, etc. The goal is just not to do this promotional stuff every five seconds (or even most days) so when you do it, it is actually meaningful.

4) Make your website work better. As you use a website, you probably notice some things could be more seamless. Like that new map you made looks crappy on your mobile site. Or the form you want people to submit has only 1% of people that fill it out. What you’ll want to do over time, as you and other people use the site, is tweak it so it works better and better.

You might say, “Gee Nicole, this sounds a lot like putting new content on my website.” but I assure you it is different. Think of it as stepping back from your website and looking at it with fresh eyes once in awhile from a visitor’s prospective. (Hint: Google Analytics data can help you make a lot of these decisions.)

As you can see, there is no shortage of things that can be done in a given month to a website. What is important is carving out the time to do them (or having someone do them for you).

Search engines (and regular people) want:

  • Your website working well and continuing to improve (fast load times, pages that link to one another, etc).
  • New information to discover.
  • New ways to get to your website/other places online they should be.

By regularly updating your website (and ways to get to your website), you are giving search engines and the people who use them all those things.

Why It Takes A Few Months To Stop Working

Let’s say you’re on vacation, eating like a glutton and drinking like a fish. The next day, do you feel like crap immediately? Of course not. It’ll take you a couple of days but if you’re like me, you’ll gain 5 pounds and feel like crap around day 4 or 5.

In a similar manner, if you stop updating your website, Google (and your friends) don’t notice right away. Google might come back in a few days to index your site and see nothing has changed… Then it’ll wait a week. When it comes back and sees nothing has changed, it might take two weeks to come back and crawl your site.

Your friends are similar. They’ll come back and see if you have a new blog and when you don’t, check a few days later. When you don’t still, they might remember to check a few weeks later.

Point is it takes awhile to get into a habit and it takes awhile to get out of one too. That’s why it took a few months for the client to notice her site’s momentum online losing steam; it had been losing steam the whole time, just slowly enough it hadn’t been noticed.

The best way to keep your website’s appearances up is to maintain. As we’ve seen, even five hours a month can do wonders.

How To Make This Happen

To make this happen, you’d do it like you’d do anything else.

1) Schedule a time. For me, it’s a once a month 3 hour block where I write my blog posts. For you, it might be an hour a week. Whatever works.
2) Start with a list of ideas. A blinking cursor is an intimidating thing so instead, make yourself a list of things you want to happen in the next few months. (Some of mine: Making a ‘Speaking’ page with form where people can book me, update portfolio, write blog about getting Pinterest followers) Then you’ll have a hit list where once a month, you can probably hit one big thing (ex: making a whole new page) and a couple little things (ex: changing your about photo, making a new photo gallery).
3) Have an accountability partner. This is someone you’ll have to answer to, ideally once a week, about what you’ve been up to. It can be a friend, colleague, just someone willing to check in with you. It’s amazing what a deadline can do. Maybe you can hold each other accountable about website updates!

So whether you want to call it a ‘new years resolution’ or not, updating your website will help your online (and offline) business in the coming year. Promise!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Why You Should Run Screaming When Someone Mentions A Custom CMS

buildinopensourceI am all for paying for a great product. But I am a big believer of using open source (free) content management systems (CMSes) to build websites.

I think this for a few good reasons. I thought of this analogy story to illustrate my point.

Once upon a time, there was a large group of builders who lived and worked in Dreamville. They used materials like plywood and sheet rock to build houses for homeowners.

The homeowners were, for the most part, satisfied. If they decided they didn’t like a particular builder, they could always use another. When builders got busy, they referred work to each other. 

Then came along The Flashy Company. The Flashy Company was also a contracting company but they built all their houses out of kwah, a material that has the toughness of quartz with the flexibility of plywood. They were the only ones who could use kwah and when the contractors tried to look up information about it, they could find very little about it, in Google or otherwise.

Soon people in Dreamville heard about kwah and how amazing The Flash Company was telling everyone it was. Many jumped on board and had kwah houses constructed. Soon there were twenty houses in the town all made of kwah.

One day, The Flashy Company left Dreamville. At first, this was no problem since the houses were so durable. But eventually, even kwah started to fail. Houseowner Hugo called up Contractor Carl to come fix his kwah roof.

The problem was threefold:

1) No one outside The Flashy Company knew how to make kwah so all Carl could do was rig a half-ass solution with his plywood and other materials.
2) It took the Carl a long time to figure out how the house was built. Since the material was so strange, regular solutions didn’t work. This time Carl spent trying to understand kwah meant money to Hugo and was frustrating to Carl since he couldn’t offer a fast efficient solution.
3) Since The Flashy Company hadn’t worked with any other contractors while in town, it was difficult for the homeowners with homes built in kwah to find contractors to be able to work on their house. Contractors had to figure it out quickly yet had no information they could look to to help them.

Carl had to tell Hugo the sad truth: eventually he’d have to rebuild his house. Yes, even though he paid a lot of money to The Flashy Company for kwah, and even though he just paid Carl to come up solution for the room, eventually it would start to completely fail and need to be built in other materials.

What can we learn from kwah (besides it’s an amazing fake building material that should exist elsewhere besides my brain)?

1) Custom CMSes mean only the company that built your site knows how it works. If you need someone else to work with you on your website, they are either going to have a steep learning curve and/or they are going to have to rebuild the whole thing for you.

2) Open source CMSes (like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal, among others) have multiple people that can work on them. That means people can share work, find solutions, and otherwise tap into a collective intelligence. Custom CMSes are at the mercy of the relatively small team that built them. Would you rather have a product that 10 people worked to improve or 1 million people worked to improve? Exactly.

3) It’s nice to build in something that has been tested by others. While it is attractive to work in something that’s new and shiny, materials with a track record will stand the test of time, online and off. Joomla has existed since 2005, Wordpress since 2003, and Drupal since 2001. By comparison, many proprietary CMSes haven’t existed that long, or have had millions of people use them in that time.

4) Proprietary CMSes are slower to innovate. Because their code isn’t open to developers around the world, these systems move much slower in terms of features. We had one client using a proprietary software but wanted a responsive site, which the software hadn’t yet started to offer. So they had to pick between keeping their current system or having something their customers were asking for (mobile friendliness).

Now what if you have a very specific kind of business (like you sell farm shares) and this one company has a system that just does that thing perfectly? Then you should do it… but you should do your homework first. Does that monthly fee include payment processing? Are you signing up for this for a certain period, like one year? Do you own the rights to the design, should you want to take it and move it into another platform later? What features does it have to address your concerns like mobile and social media users?

In other words, really look into it and make sure it’s a good fit. Because the kwah website you build may last as long as you need it to. But someday you will need to rebuild, like we all do, and picking a material you know people can work is a good step to ensuring what you build remains standing, long after any company you work with.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

What Your ‘About’ Picture Says About You

One of the first unsolicited pieces of advice I ever got was from Meg Wolff, a big deal author and food expert who lives in Maine. I had sent her something in my early internet days (I wanted to be like her, still do.) and she wrote back something to the effect of: “You’re pretty, you should put your picture on your website.”

I was skeptical. At the time, I was in my mid twenties but looked younger. Who would take me seriously?

Still I decided to listen to her and slapped my photo in the sidebar of my blog.

I noticed people contacting me increased. They were more likely to book consults. I even got ‘recognized’ at the grocery store as ‘the girl from the internet’ in a way that was equally flattering and disturbing.

Since starting this business, I have not gone the way of a lot of my website making/marketing counterparts and refused to use stock photography in favor of what I (and anyone I work with) actually look like.

I have done this not because I think myself a reputed beauty but because I want people to trust me. And it seems to have worked. (Evil laugh)

As an aside, when I see people using stock photography, I feel like they either 1) want to hide who is involved with the company for some reason or 2) can’t get their act together enough for at least the senior level people to get headshots. Here are two such cases that made me laugh:



Now either the Texas School of Languages and Affinity Auto Transport have the same staff or there is some stock photography going on. (And Texas School of Language has an actual Instagram account, meaning they are trying to take more pictures- come on people!)

But in all seriousness, websites with photos on them tend to have a higher conversion, which is why people will resort to stock photography over nothing in most cases. Like Version A below got 64% more mortgage applications. (More cool studies here, including one where stock photography backfires. This is why testing is important!)


Since my sheepish debut in 2008, many people seem to have gotten the message that faces are important and have put them on their website.

Let’s look at a few photos and see if we can learn anything about the kinds of photos we should be using on our about pages:

David-ThomsonThomson Reuters

While serious, everyone on this pages looks like they are being active (well as active as a board of directors can be) but a photo showing you doing something shows you are action oriented. Choosing this non-traditional kind of shot makes me think the company is progressive.



Typical corporate headshot. If you are a real estate agent, lawyer, or some other professional that has some sort of photo expectations placed on you, this is totally acceptable to me.


Bill StrathmannNetworkForGood

As a non-profit and a fundraising entity, trust is super important to this company. Everyone from the CEO down is looking at the camera smiling. Trustworthy, approachable. When in doubt, I tell people to do this.


If you are a ‘creative’, you can get away with posting zanier stuff, like of yourself as a child or in a Halloween costume.  Just be aware that people might not ‘get’ it.

As you see you can be a bit more creative than you probably expected with a simple about picture. I will say this though. The largest one I saw was maybe 200 pixels so if you don’t have a professional headshot yet, don’t worry about it. You can take a picture of this resolution with your phone or webcam.

If you are in a position where people are listening to you for advice or dealing with you on a fairly personal level (you’re a health coach, massage therapist, hairdresser, personal chef, business consultant, etc.), please post a photo of yourself looking at the camera and at least slightly smiling. I went to ten websites and found these photos to show you what I mean.


(If you have a picture of yourself with Oprah, this is where you whip it out.)

I hope I have now convinced you to put some photo of yourself on your website. If you do it, please leave the link to your about page in the comments so I can check it out!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Why Directory Websites Are Probably A Waste Of Your Time

When I started my blog in 2007, I took any free listing I could get. This did a couple of things:

whydirectorywebsitesareawasteoftime1) Connect me with people who were looking for blogs to read about certain topics.
2) Put my link on a new domain.

Did I really think posting my blog link on was going to catapult me to fame? Not so much but when you have, like, ten people visiting your site per day, you might be a tad overexcited about an extra two visitors. Plus way back then (sixish years ago), all links were good links.

The rules, my friends, have changed.

Here’s the thing, while search engines really like links coming into your website, not all links are created equal.

The following factors matter in varying degrees (Skip bullets if you are not a nerd or don’t care):

  • Domain age. I’ve owned this domain since 2009 and, at that time, I bought it for like five years in a row. A domain being owned and used for a long time means the website is less likely to be sketchy. And Google likes non-sketchy and rewards domain age.
  • Google Page Rank. Not all websites are equal. Google Page Rank, which ranks web pages between 1 and 10 (9 being, 10 being, 3 being the website you are on right now). A link off a higher ranked website is worth more (here’s how you can check your page rank:
  • Keywords that are linked. When people do a search, they use words. (You know, since Google can’t yet read our mind.) If someone writes about ‘social media marketing’ and links the words ‘social media marketing’ to this website, Google takes it as this website must know something about social media marketing. Over time, the words used to link to your website give search engines an idea of what other websites think your site is about, versus what you say you’re about. This is called ‘anchor text’ and if you want to know more:
  • Pages that are linked to. Linking to a homepage of a website is cool but linking to other pages means there is useful info deeper in. More pages mean your website is better indexed by search engines and more links from other sites to internal pages means your site is a trusted source.

Throwing up your link in a fly-by-night seeming online directory, as you can probably tell, is kind of like casting your fishing pole in the middle of the ocean. Sure you could catch something but you probably won’t. Best to cast your fishing line in a part of the water where you hear that other people are getting fish… which brings me to.

Most directories have no track record.

If some new directory has sprung up and is asking you to pay money monthly for your website to be listed, ask to see their data. Total number visitors is not impressive. Trust me, you can make numbers look pretty flattering when people don’t understand what they are.

What you want to see in terms of stats from an online directory is how many eyeballs 1) use the directory (how many people landed on that part of the site, how long they spent there, and how many pages they looked at.) and 2) clicks to business listings on that directory. If the directory owner actually gives you examples of #2, they are likely the best performers they’ve got so assume lower results for you.

And to top all this off, some links are actually bad links.

That’s right, in a Google update, some have found that having spammy links coming into their site actually hurt their search ranking. In other words, that sketchy directory website (or spammy looking blog) linking to your site could actually be hurting you. So not only are you casting your fishing line into unproductive waters, you might find  sharks in those waters that are eating your boat.

Get out of that water and head to safer waters, my fisherman friend!

So what can you do to prevent this nonsense from adversely effecting your life?

1) If you are really gung ho to spend some money on a not proven directory, agree to pay per click, not for a listing… and agree to a trial period of a couple months to evaluate.

A click to your website is a potential customer and worth A LOT more than eyeballs on an ad. PPC (pay per click) might be a cheaper (and higher quality) way to evaluate an advertising prospect.

2) Ask businesses outside your industry what is working for them.

I say outside your industry because I think those people will be more candid with you. For example, in actually talking to people a couple years ago I could have saved myself $200 and not bought a Better Business Bureau online directory listing (which I stopped paying two years ago yet is miraculously still online). See, I fall for this crap too. In case you were wondering, I got exactly 0 referrals from it and so have a few other businesses I’ve talked to.

Ask people in your industry too, maybe just people outside your geographic region or otherwise not in direct competition with you.

3) Write to webmasters who have spammy links connecting to your site and ask that they be removed. If you noticed your website traffic tank around mid-May 2013 (or you’ve gotten a notification from Google), you might be being penalized for bad links. Here’s what you should do in that case:

4) See who owns a website. Directory listing with a downtown association or your local chamber of commerce? That is legit. But How do you know what wizard is behind that curtain?

You can do a WhoIs lookup on the domain to see who owns it and begin Googling with the information you get. Can’t find out? It’s probably not because it’s a good secret. Go with your gut on this one. Any business transaction is about people and if you are getting a ‘sketchball’ vibe from someone, steer clear. There will be other marketing opportunities for you.

Am I saying all directory websites are bad? Of course not! I am saying it’s worth taking the time to evaluate a directory to see if it’s right for your business… and planning on where you cast that fishing line is more important than ever.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

How We Improved Our Site Load Time By Almost 100%

After Wordcamp Boston, it was clear. We have to get our (and our clients’) websites loading in 3 seconds or less.

It is natural to think about our website for a few reasons:

1) If we messed anything up, we could easily restore a backup (and have no one really mad at us for temporarily taking it offline).
2) This website has 50 pages, 950 blog posts, and at least 1,000 images. Being able to load a website with a lot of content like ours fast is a bit more impressive than doing it with a small website.
3) This project is one thing we can spend time on that’ll actually (eventually) make us money, since we have probably invariably scared off high value customers with our slow as molasses website.

What we say below can work for any website no matter what software is running it. Our site happens to be Wordpress in case that is a helpful form of reference.

The first thing to do of course was to get a baseline reading. A nice tool that does this is, which not only works well but happens to be free:


The first logical step was to uninstall any themes and plugins we weren’t using. Let’s face it, we all do this: we download something to try it out, it doesn’t work the way we hoped, and we forget about it, leaving it to take up electronic space we don’t need. It could be you do this on your phone or computer… we happen to do this on our website. Guilty! (Note: it seems like it takes longer to load but really this is simulating load time in the Netherlands versus Texas. If you look at the grade and number of requests, you’ll see an actual improvement:)

The next thing we did was resize images. Compressing images is not something many on the web will even notice (yes your pictures might be a tad less sharp than they were before) but they will notice when they are waiting ten seconds for your beautiful pictures to load and they will get annoyed. (Grade is similar but look at that page size decrease):

After these logical steps, I noticed that the www redirect (what we in the biz call a 301 redirect) was taking almost a second to happen. (Background: This redirect is done so whether someone types in or, they get to the same place.) This is why it’s not only important to look at the speed but what things are slowing down the speed:


Matt did a ‘mod rewrite’ in the htaccess file to get rid of this delay when someone types in www:


Looking further, I noticed there were three slides in our slideshow that were much bigger than the other files. Alice fixed those so they not only loaded fast but were crisp. We also made some things that weren’t necessary disappear from our homepage:


So with a few hours of our time we:

  • Changed the page size from 2.2 MB to 0.91 MB  (41% decrease)
  • Decreased requests from the server from 145 to 78 (54% decrease)
  • Increased our load time from 3.38 seconds to 2.94 seconds (here in the US anyway- an 87% increase)

We changed nothing noticeable to our visitors on our website; we just made things work better.

Remember when someone goes to the homepage of your site, everything that loads on the homepage of your site needs time to load. Every plugin, widget, picture, etc. you have on your homepage needs to load. So you really have three options when you think about making your site fast:

1) Load less stuff (ie do you really need 20 slideshow slides? Cutting it down to ten means there are ten less images that now have to load).
2) Resize what is loaded (this is to say reduce file sizes for images, css files, etc).
3) Get ready to get your hands dirty with customizing how your website works by changing parts of your content management system (caching commands, changing default php files with your Wordpress theme, etc.)

Options 1 and 2 are relatively straightforward. Option 3 takes longer but when Option 1 and 2 have been exhausted, it can be necessary to dive in deep. Fortunately, our website with options 1 and 2 was able to get where we needed it to get.

 How long does it take your site to load? And more importantly what have you done (or are you going to do) about it?

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

New Site Launch: Camel Brook Camps

It’s always interesting working for people you grew up with. Mr. Leblanc (as I used to call him) was our industrial arts teacher in school. I worked as a lifeguard with their daughter. They have known me a long time and live in the beautiful town of Fort Kent, Maine, where I grew up and where most of my family still lives.

Camel Brook Camps responsive website layout.So when Anne and Jean contacted us for a website for their rental business Camel Brook Camps, I was excited to prove that Nicole had grown up… and wasn’t going to going to be known as the only industrial arts accident of the year (true story, I drill pressed part of my finger, though that was not on Mr. Leblanc’s watch, he had gone onto other things by the time I took his class).

Alice created a responsive template that felt outdoorsy but sophisticated. Well, she created two (we always do that) and they picked their favorite which we tweaked until it was what they wanted.

Now with each design we want things to look different. In this case, Alice worked with the wood background (we normally do solid backgrounds) and created a way to highlight the business name with it.

camelbrookcampsmobileWith responsive design, the website adjusts to the screensize its on, meaning it looks great not only for those visiting on a computer but a tablet or mobile phone as well.

Camel Brook Camps has several cabins to rent but we wanted to intersperse photos of the area. We contacted Brent Stroliker Photography who had some great multi-season shots of the area. We negotiated a rate for the photos to be able to use them in the slideshow on the homepage and on various pages of the site.

While I’d love to be able to do (and be good at everything) myself, it’s important to be able to pair with professionals and be able to help each other out. I think you can also see how photographs people have of their businesses mixed in with professional photographs gives a clean inviting look. (Very important to use photos with permission as we did!)

So what else did we do in creating this site?

  • Created separate inquiry forms for each of the four camps
  • Kept their guest book entries and allowed new ones to be created
  • Installed a weather widget that automatically updates with the day’s conditions
  • Made sure there was a way to access ‘Camps and Rates’ on every page
  • Put the phone number in the footer on every page
  • Created how-to update documents complete with screenshots to be able to give Anne and Jean so they officially don’t need us (unless they want us of course)

Anne and Jean didn’t need the world’s fanciest website; they just needed something visually appealing, information rich, and user friendly in a platform they could easily update as they take new photos or change prices.

In case you were wondering, here’s the before picture of the site:


So whether you love this design or not, I think we can all agree this is a definite improvement!

We thank the LeBlancs for letting us work on their site and here’s hoping they get lots of new business from it.


Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
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