Tech Thursday: What Should You Put in Your Sidebar?

If you have a sidebar on your website and have no idea what you should be putting there, this video is for you! Use that valuable real estate to your advantage.


(Note: I had some technical difficulties this week- sorry the quality is not as great as usual. Hey, was bound to have an off week sometime!) If you have a question for an upcoming video, comment or send me an email by going to

Three Free Tools To Test Page Load Time

47% of people will not wait more than two seconds for a website to load. And if you still don’t care about this yet, please look at this infographic:

I bet you’re wondering now, how long does it take my website to load? (And if you don’t, you are in serious denial my friend.)

Here are some free tools you can use to see if your website’s load time:
Great for: Testing specific browser versions and locations


So let’s say looking at Google Analytics you know most of your customers are using Google Chrome and located in Argentina. You can test the page load time specifically for this case. Now it’s a free tool so don’t go expecting it’ll have every possibility you’d want but at least it can give you an idea of things.
Great for: Getting technical ideas on how to fix issues.


If you aren’t looking for a specific load time but want a more technical analysis with some fixes, this tool in the Google Developers section is nice. Specific files are mentioned and the benefit of each fix is also outlined.
Great for: Overview


If part of you is wanting that ‘grade’ (and comparison with how your website is doing compared to others) as well as a detailed breakdown of what is slowing your site down, this is a nice tool.

Now if you want something more, like constant monitoring of your website or analyzing more than one page of your site at a time, there are paid services that take this whole analyzing your site load time to that next level. But if you want a drive by view and are ready to do something about the results, these tools can take you far.

Tech Thursday: Who Hosts My Website Again?

So, you may never really get to “meet” the person (or people) who host your website, and that’s totally fine. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a bit of research.

Before you pay that hosting bill or renew your domain, make sure you know what companies you do business with… it’s easy to check online. Here’s how!

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!

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.

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!

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