Websites

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 blogorama.com 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. http://rapidwebseo.com/matt-cutts-does-domain-age-really-matter.php
  • Google Page Rank. Not all websites are equal. Google Page Rank, which ranks web pages between 1 and 10 (9 being Amazon.com, 10 being Google.com, 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: http://www.prchecker.info/check_page_rank.php)
  • 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: http://moz.com/learn/seo/anchor-text
  • 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: http://www.weidert.com/whole_brain_marketing_blog/bid/116515/Google-Penguin-Penalties-How-to-Remove-Harmful-Inbound-Links

4) See who owns a website. Directory listing with a downtown association or your local chamber of commerce? That is legit. But thebestbusinessdirectoryonline.com? 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.

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 tools.pingdom.com, which not only works well but happens to be free:

websiteloadtimebefore

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:)
updatedsoftwareanddeletedunusedstuff

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):

resizedimages
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 www.domain.com or domain.com, 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:

whyistheredirecttakinglong

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

afterredirect

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:

websiteloadtimeafter

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?

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:

cbcbefore

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.

 

How To Pick The Best Wordpress Plugin Or Joomla Extension

The great thing about open source website building platforms like Wordpress and Joomla? They come with a lot that works out of the box. In both these systems, you can create pages, menus, and manipulate the basic site template.

Most people, however, want their websites to do something with this software. They want to sell products, have a form that collects information, or display Flickr photo albums.

These ‘apps’ that work on websites and allow them to do more then the standard software allows are called plugins in Wordpress and extensions in Joomla. Here’s where you can find them:

Joomla Extensions Directory (JED)

Wordpress Plugins Directory

As you see, you have options. Want a Facebook like button that works with Joomla?

facebooklikebuttonOh I’m sorry. Were you not looking for 116 options but simply the best option for you? You are reading the right blog then!

Here’s how to find the best plugin or extension for your Joomla or Wordpress site (I can’t speak for Drupal but I bet these same rules would work there as well):

1) Is it in the directory?

Both Joomla and Wordpress review the listings of plugins/extensions in their directories. Now if I wanted, I could create a plugin and just put it on my website. But getting something that is listed in the directory means you are already more likely to be getting something that is peer tested and reviewed.

2) Is it compatible with your software?

When you log into your website, you should see the version of the software you are running. Let’s say you are running Joomla 2.5. You will need an extension that works with this software. (Not all extensions work with every software.) Wordpress updates more frequently than Joomla so look in the directory and see when the plugin was updates and what versions of Wordpress it’ll work with:

wordpressplugincompatibility

 

As you see, if you are running version 3.4 of Wordpress, you can’t use this gallery… so you’ll have to find another gallery or upgrade your software (we recommend upgrading in general- prevents hacking and all kinds of other nonsense).

3) What else does it need to work with?

Let’s say you want people to be able to leave blog comments while logged into Facebook or Twitter. When you look for a commenting plugin, you know to look out for compatibility with Facebook and Twitter.

By understanding how you want something to work (and as importantly, how you don’t want it to work), that’ll eliminate some potential plugins.

4) Is your design responsive?

If so, you’ll find a lot of plugins/extensions are not responsive in nature so this will limit you. Like a lot. (Try finding a responsive business directory that doesn’t look like crap or cost a ton of money for example.) Tip: If it doesn’t say it’s responsive, it probably isn’t… but if you are in love, it’s worth installing and testing it out.

5) Are the reviews good?

Now granted, everyone has one to six haters out there but in general, I like something where at least a majority of the people are not completely angry in their reviews. A quick look at the star ratings and some forums will let you know what people really think of the plugin.

reviewsjed

6) Is this from a reputable developer?

Great companies tend to have great reputations. Checking into the company that has developed the plugin will give you a look into how (and if) the extension/plugin will be supported and how customer service will be handled. Trust me, as important as having an awesome piece of software? Having the service to back it up. (I recommend a Google search on this since this will turn up forum posts and other places off the beaten path people may have left feedback.)

7) Does it work on your site?

So you download the extension and install it… does it work? Sometimes, it is not as simple as find, install, and tada. (If it was, not sure if I’d have a job.) If the plugin doesn’t work, try disabling all other extensions/plugins and see if there is a conflict. If it still doesn’t work, try it with another theme or template. If you find it works elsewhere and just not on your website, you have to decide whether it is worth your time getting it to work, or trying something similar.

The great news is people are developing extensions all the time that’ll make our lives easier and our websites better… but we still need to develop the skills to find and use the best of them.

 

New Site Launch: Abbe Museum

abbehomepageThe Abbe Museum contacted us about a year after their new website had been designed. They realized their website also needed a mobile counterpart in an increasingly online and on the go culture.

They were thrilled of the work of their web designer but the firm didn’t do mobile work, so we stepped in to help.

Since the Abbe Museum had a style guide we could work from, the work went more smoothly then it would have otherwise.

A style guide is document showing how logos, fonts, colors, and other design elements should be treated in all communications. If you don’t have one, you should consider making one for your business or organization because it means anyone producing communications for your organization will create something that is consistent and branded well- anything from a company event flyer to your website redesign two years from now. (I have seen these guides be anywhere from 4 to 25 pages- get as detailed about what you want but it is worth having a conversation about with your team!)

A style guide saved a lot of back and forth and meant we only had to do two design drafts to get the look and feel of the mobile site right.

Because the Abbe Museum’s website is coded in HTML, that meant we had to chose which pages would be mobile friendly since they would have to be individually coded. Based on the amount of web traffic they got and the importance of the information, the following pages were coded for mobile friendliness:

  • Home page (obviously)
  • Visitor information
  • Calendar
  • Current and Future Exhibits
  • About
  • Donate (just linking to their Paypal donate page)

In case users wanted to see one of the other 80ish pages on the site, we also have a clear link on the bottom of each of these pages to the full (not mobile friendly) website.

Besides creating and linking to the most important pages on the mobile site, we also made sure the most important marketing messages were front and center. The Abbe Museum’s marketing is driven by a strong email list as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Making anything we wanted users to click look like buttons was one way to achieve a simple streamlined page while creating some visual interest with colors.

If you want to check out this site, go to www.abbemuseum.org on your mobile phone or you can go to www.abbemuseum.org/mobile on any device. (When you access the Abbe Museum’s site from a device, it’ll automatically redirect you to the mobile link.)

Since the mobile site files are on the server (in a different folder), the Abbe Museum can update the information in them like they are updating their regular website.

We thank Cinnamon and Julia for being super easy to work with and hope the mobile site brings even more visitors to downtown Bar Harbor to the museum.

 

Three Google Analytics Metrics I Care About (And Three I Don’t)

On Facebook awhile back, Breanna asked about reading Google Analytics:

breannaquestion

I’m sure she’d want me to say she sent that from her phone and it typed it for her. She’s normally a very clear sentence writer. But I totally get what she’s saying. And since I’ve never written about it before I thought this would be a good time to do it.

If you have ever looked at Google Analytics, you know it’s enough to be overwhelming. And while I am writing this from my business point of view (year round, service-oriented business not doing ecommerce) it might give you a few good places to think about (or not think about)

Three Metrics I Care About

These are items I look at when I figure out how I should be spending my time.

Social Overview

socialmediagoogleanalytics + Read More

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