Why Flash Websites Stink

People ask me sometimes: Do you do Flash websites?

I don’t. And I have better reasons then being too lazy to learn Flash.

For those who don’t know, Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity to web pages. (Thanks Wikepedia.)

If you want to see some websites that run on Flash, here’s some examples: (Which is actually Herbal Essences, you couldn’t tell from the URL there)

If you look up ‘flash websites’ in any search engine, you’ll see there are plenty of beautiful looking Flash websites out there. So why am I a hater when it comes to this technology?

It’s expensive (and usually overkill) for the average website.
Most people I work with are small businesses who can’t afford to pay a lot for a website. When a Flash website loads, it’s basically like running a mini movie in which every frame has to be thoughtfully put together. You need special software, and expertise. Flash websites cost double (or more) than your typical CMS website.

If you have an interactive game or a vodka empire to fund your website design, go for it. But if you are a small business owner who just wants your website to be findable by the average person, Flash is likely too flashy for you.

It’s not search engine friendly.
When a search engine like Google looks at your website, it’s not looking at your pretty fonts or your bold color choices. It sees how your site is organized as well as page tags, titles, descriptions, and written content. Search engines have a hard time reading Flash websites (you have to go out of your way to make them search engine friendly). And since search engines are what drives a majority of website traffic for many businesses, few people want to decrease their likelihood of being found.

It’s not customer friendly.
Flash websites can take 2-5 times as long to load as regular websites. And most people don’t like to be kept waiting. Here’s one company that switched away from Flash just for that reason.

Also some devices can’t even load Flash (like Android phones, though there are some workarounds), alienating a whole group of customers for you. Only recently has Flash become supported on iOS devices (re: Mac). HTML and CMS websites show up on any device that can access the internet.

Flashy can equal sketchy.
Flash websites to me kind of remind me of those people who get really excited about Powerpoint’s features. You know, every slide is a different background, they have a different transition for every slide, etc. As your potential web developer, I want to spend the time making your site clean-looking, useful, easy to navigate, and informative. In other words, the information on the actual slides are what’s important to me, not how clever you can be about it. I think part of me just thinks things that are overly filled with bells and whistles are trying to conceal something, like the flashing lights on some Vegas venue trying to cover up a decaying facade. My personal bias but certainly a reason.

Proprietary stuff is not something to build on.
There is lots of software on the internet that is open source: OpenOffice and Wordpress are great examples. The obvious benefit to open source is the whole free (or really cheap) aspect but something even better than that: there are hundreds of thousands of people all working on making it better.

Adobe owns Flash. If there is a bug with some Flash update, we have to all wait for Adobe to fix it. Bug in your favorite open source software? Gets fixed almost instantly (or post it on a forum and someone will tell you a workaround).

Experts in the web development field don’t like Flash.
When I don’t like something, sometimes I wonder “Is my judgement bad?” But when enough other innovative people don’t like something, I feel better.

Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Like Flash:
Why Google doesn’t like Flash:
Why designers hate Flash:

You don’t need Flash to have a dynamic website.
You can have, say, a Javascript slideshow. You can have video on your site. You can have drop down menus. There are plenty of ways to have some ‘cool’ factors on your website without using this software.

So if you are considering a website or a redesign, please know that friends help friends say no to Flash.

More information on website types can be seen here:
More on website costs in this month’s Website Magazine:

Selling Art Online: Some Ideas

This post was inspired by my friend’s father, who wants to get into selling comissioned poems online and wanted to know my thoughts.

I am always so excited when artists want to get online and sell their craft, whether it’s some fixed item (here’s a painting I’ve already done for $X) or some custom work (send me your thoughts and I will write you a meaningful poem for your occasion). The internet is niche and just because there is a small sampling of people in your corner of the world interested in, say, watercolors of elephants, doesn’t mean you can’t make a living, or at least part of a living, at your craft. Way to go you for not being limited!

What Do Your Customers Want?

Before jumping into the water with both feet, it may be wise (ok, it is wise) to do a bit of customer research. Some things to find out:

1) Are others doing what you’re doing? (If not, it may be a sign your idea doesn’t have a market… or it may be a sign that no one is as cool as you for thinking of it!)
2) What are people charging for similar work? Can you make money charging these prices?
3) What are people asking about? Do they want to be taught how to use pastels versus buying artwork that uses pastels? Do they want help finishing a drawing they’ve started versus one from scratch? Your idea is all well and good but if it’s not meeting a need, no matter how passionate you are, it won’t fly. What people are looking for will help make your idea better.
4) Who are your customers? Where do they live? What do they think? This may not only inform your marketing but your actual work.

Already your website will kick more butt because you’ve *thought* about what you want it to do and why.

Commissioned Art: Two Ideas For Revenue

There are two routes to go in terms of commissioned work (at least as I see it):

1) Package it as a simple transaction. is silly in premise but genius in the way it’s set up. Here is one related to poetry that is slightly less user-friendly but a similar idea:

In both these cases, the idea (and price) are really clear though. I will draw a cat for you for $9.95. I will write commissioned poems for your wedding up to 25 lines for 75 pounds.

With one glace, we see that we can get a cat drawn for us for $9.95. The attractive feature here is the novelty and price point but even more serious sites can learn for the ease of this sale.

With one glace, we see that we can get a cat drawn for us for $9.95. The attractive feature here is the novelty and price point but even more serious sites can learn for the ease of this sale.

2) Custom quotes.

This will have a lower conversion rate (most forms have a less than 10% conversion rate) but you can charge more money for the work.

Here is a custom quote form from a UK guitar maker:

The longer the form for a price quote, the less likely people will be to fill it out... but theoretically, these potential customers are more serious and will pay the price for a very customized guitar.

The longer the form for a price quote, the less likely people will be to fill it out… but theoretically, these potential customers are more serious and will pay the price for a very customized guitar.

So Door 1, charge less for a higher volume of smaller projects, straight-forward payment system. Door 2, more high quality (re: expensive) custom work at a lower volume. Payment less straight forward but you are able to be flexible.

There are clearly pros and cons to both and deciding what kind of art you’ll be selling may determine what kind of category you’ll fall into.

Taking Online Payment

Most people find that a Paypal or Google Checkout merchant account to take online payments is more than acceptable. These services charge a flat fee (around 2-3%) per transaction but totally worth it. Integrating one or both of these services with a website can be tricky so it’s worth getting a pro to do it.

If you want to take payment directly through your own website directly, you need merchant services as well as a secure certificate on your website. Unless you are doing a lot of transactions, this ends up not being worth it which is why so many people use Paypal and/or Google Checkout. To learn more, check out my post about using Etsy to sell art, which also talks about the pros and cons of doing your own ecommerce.

Selling Physical Goods: A Bit More Complicated Than Digital

If you want to get into selling physical goods (versus sending someone some writing or a image via email), that is something to consider.

BigCartel.comand other services off a DIY shopping cart solution that works well for many selling physical products for a low monthly fee. This may be good if you are trying out Ecommerce and don’t necessarily want to throw down $500+ for a custom shopping cart until you know your customers are out there for sure.

Yes, you too can buy needless Breaking Even crap (and yes, this web developer was too lazy to set up her own shopping cart)..

Yes, you too can buy needless Breaking Even crap (and yes, this web developer was too lazy to set up her own shopping cart):

The thing is with any online shopping cart software is you have to handle the orders as they come in, put items in boxes, perform customer service, etc. And with physical goods suddenly you are weighing everything and thinking about shipping options. Think of what it feels like to list one item on Ebay and multiply that by how many products you want to sell that may or may not frequently change. (You can clearly see how I feel about this… annoying unless you are making enough money to justify the time spent!) ;^)

If you want some third party company to handle the printing of your items (like you don’t want to keep stuff physically at your house ready to ship at all times), you could use a service like You upload the image and chose what products to sell (prints, canvases, etc.) Smugmug does the printing, shipping, and order handling for you. They have base prices on all their stuff and the markup is the money you make. Coffee mug is $7 and you mark it up to $10 on your site with your photo on it? You make $3. There are lots of ‘print on demand’ services for artists and here’s a long post about them if you feel like seeing what your other options are:

Make It All Stupid Easy

The key to all things web is to make it stupid easy. Having an ‘order your portrait’ button on every page, contact info in the footer, etc. The easier you make it, the easier it is for people to spend money on your artistic endeavors.

Any artists selling their art online reading this blog? Comment on your issues/ideas and leave a link back to your website so we can see some more examples! (Heck, you might even sell something!)

Website Types

What kind of a website do you need for your business?

Well, good news is you’ve got choices!

The way I see it there are three types of websites.

1) HTML (hypertext markup language) sites- Old school, hand coded.
2) Template sites- Plug and play. Click, click, click you’re done.
3) CMS (content management system) sites- Run off a database, new school, need a bit of time to get them up and running.

Below are the break down of options with some examples:

HTML Sites

OK, so all websites run on HTML but the old school websites I am referring to here are hand-coded. Sometimes I use Frontpage or Dreamweaver to help generate the code but no matter what you use, each individual page is coded separately. I am hard pressed to think of web companies who still do this but there must be some out there…

Relatively cheap option (in the hundreds of dollars versus thousands)
Easy to ‘throw together’ quickly
Good for a ‘brochure’ website (that you aren’t going to change much)
Can add some dynamic elements (slideshows) using Javascript and other ‘languages’ like it

Making changes requires you either 1) know code or 2) pay someone who knows code
Can look ‘dated’
Adding some functionality is difficult
Need to change a phone number in your footer? Every change needs to be done on each individual page on the site. Tedious.
Files need to be downloaded and uploaded to make changes. No username-password interface.

Example site:

The LaClaires maintain their own website using Microsoft Frontpage. Front Page and Dreamweaver are two programs that do some of the coding for you while you use a WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get). That said, you still have to know some code to do some troubleshooting. You also need to make all your website edits using whatever computer this software is installed on.

By far the most annoying aspect of HTML sites for me as a web developer is how long and tedious it can be to make changes. When we wanted to add Google Analytics to their site, I had to individually add the code to each page on the site (the five page on the menu, plus internal pages). It took me an hour. Doing this in a CMS would have taken me five minutes. But the LaClaires are great people who have maintained their own website for almost ten years so they know what they’re doing… if you build a site like this, you will get to know it well too!

Template Sites

Many companies (, Intuit, Typepad, Squarespace, Weebly, Godaddy, more than we could ever write here) offer a  ‘build your own site’ tool. Sometimes this is free until a certain point (your site gets to a certain size or there is some trial period) but sometimes they charge you right off some small monthly fee.

Technically some of these are CMS websites (since some of them are database-y), but proprietary ones.

Easy to use software- a few clicks and you have a working site
Web-based (username and password mean you can log in anywhere there is the internet and make changes)
Not so ugly templates
Whole shebang is on a database, meaning it’s easy to add things like site search, etc.

Hey, I have the same template as 10,000 other people!
Tied into that particular company (ie, you can’t take your ball and go home)
Relatively expensive over time
Limited functionality (ex: Under Agreement A you can only have some set number of pages on your site, etc.)

Example site:

Seth Godin is a prolific blogger. He uses Typepad as his blogging platform but you’ll notice, for example, if you click on buying one of his books, you’re sent to another website (Amazon and a few other places). If you look at other Typepad sites, you may recognize a few Typepad-y things, like the style of the sidebar (that would be the bar on the side of the screen- I love it when web terms are actually what the thing is!).

To fully be able to customize your design, you pay $30/month. But someone like Seth Godin probably makes at least $30/month from his blog so maybe he’s fine with that. If he wanted to move from Typepad though, he’d have to start from scratch, developmentwise (you can *theoretically* export the writing in your blog posts but importing them into Joomla or Wordpress is a big pain in the butt- trust me!).

CMS Sites 

CMS (content management system) websites run off a database. This is awesome in terms of development (Sure, let’s add a site search for you! Want social media icons below all your posts? I can do that!) but it also means it’s easy to update on your end. For example, I can teach most people how to use Wordpress in about two hours (at least the stuff they need to know).

Note: If you do get a CMS site developed by a website company, make sure they are using open source software. Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress are all good. If they say they have a ‘custom’ CMS they use within their company, it means only they know how to use it and, essentially you’ll be stuck with them. Since thousands of people use Joomla, Drupal, and Wordpress, that means you can have many people work on your site. You aren’t stuck with any one web development company, and that’s a win for you!

Easy to use software
Web-based (username and password mean you can log in anywhere there is the internet and make changes)
Customizable everything (Make it look exactly how you want)
Add whatever functionality you want (ecommerce, 100 individual pages, whatever!)
Not tied to a company (if you use open source software like Wordpress, Drupal, or Joomla) You can take your files and move web host, etc.
Whole shebang is on a database, meaning it’s easy to add things like site search, etc.

Most expensive option up front ($1000+)
Takes time to develop/customize

Example site:

This website (and most every other site in my client list) was developed with an open source CMS (Drupal, Joomla, or Wordpress). The cost up front is higher than the other two options but the good news is your site is your site once it’s done. You can make edits to it without knowing code or paying a web developer to code them, you can move your files to whatever web host you want, and you can make whatever customization to the site that you want: ecommerce, booking calendar, real estate database integration, etc.

You can do this functionality on an HTML site but it’s essentially like paying someone to take your CD and convert it to an 8-track tape. If you are going to develop something, you might as well go with what’s new and working well versus something older that people are moving away from.

No doubt this is a simplification (and clearly as a web developer, I have my bias) but there really are a lot of options out there for having a website. No more excuses, go get one!


Better SEO In Less Than One Hour

The most common question I get over email: “How can I improve my site’s rank in search engines?” I’ve sent variations of this in about fifty emails but thought I’d finally write this up and put on the website. A few things to know.

1. Anyone who promises you page 1 ranking in Google is full of crap.

There I said it. If they get you the number one spot really quickly, it’s because they’ve bought you a Google Ad or they did something really ridiculous and probably illegal. I can buy an ad for you in five minutes, or you can buy one yourself. (Google, like any good business, makes spending money with them as easy as possible, trust me.) That is not SEO. Ranking in search engines means being high up in what’s called organic (re: non-paid) search results.

2. Google Adwords, while sometimes helpful, is not SEO.

There is a reason people specialize in SEO (search engine optimization). It’s a bit technical, the rules are always changing, and it takes effort to do it right. If you are looking for a magic pill/quick results, buy pay per click ads. You’ll get hits more quickly, sure, but they’ll stop the minute you stop the ads. If you want more of an explanation about the difference between paid ads and SEO, check out this post from The Maine SEO Blog about it.

Hey look you're number one... Wait, you paid to be there. Guess what happens when you stop paying? Photo via:

Hey look you’re number one… Wait, you paid to be there. Guess what happens when you stop paying? Photo via:

OK so you get that SEO means being in it for the long haul. Let’s oversimplify all this.

3. Search engines like three things. Give them these three things and they’ll be happier with you:

  • Links (your site linking to other sites and others linking back to you)
  • Keywords (words phrases that people are searching for online)
  • Frequently updated content (how often there is a change on your site)

People sometimes think about being sneaky and do things like put a bunch of keywords all over their page or join link farms. In the biz, this is called ‘black hat SEO’. These practices can fool search engines temporarily but more importantly:

1) Search engines could find out you did something naughty and blacklist you, like they did to JCPenney fairly recently. Do you get so much business that you can afford to disappear from Google searches?
2) It will annoy those visiting your site. Because remember, who’s doing the searches? People. Who’s going to think it’s weird you put all these random keywords on your site? People. Who’s going to think the random links on your sidebar are sketchy? People.

OK, OK so you get it, there is no short cuts and this will take time. So what *can* you do that’s legal and helpful to give search engines the three things they want?

Here’s a few things you can do to help your site rank better in search engines.

Claim your business on Google Places, Bing Local, Yelp, etc.
Here are some of the sites where you can ‘claim’ your business:
Google Places
Yahoo Local
Bing Local
You’ve probably noticed when you do a search, sometimes these directory listings come up above search results. These listings besides just having the standard contact information also allow you to add keywords, etc.  If nothing else, enjoy the free inbound link to your website.
Note: To prove you actually own the business, the service will usually use a verification phone call where they’ll actually call your business phone and give you a code to type into the site… so try to be by your business phone when you’re doing this.
Time estimate: 5-10 minutes/site

Use SEF links (search engine friendly).
OK someone sends you an email. Would you rather click on:

Exactly. Not only do people like to know what a link is but search engines can read the text in your links and treat them like keywords. Bonus is it’s not difficult to turn on SEF links if you have a website that runs off a content management system. You can even manually create them for HTML sites if need be.
Time estimate: 5 minutes – 30 minutes

Autopost website updates.
So when I post to my website, I also have it connected so it goes out to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well automatically. If your website has an RSS feed, this is pretty easy to set up. I use RSS Graffiti for Facebook and BlogToTweet for Twitter/LinkedIn.
Time estimate: 10 minutes to set up

Write something for your website… whether it’s a blog entry or more info for a page on your site.
Search engines (as well as real people) like it when your site has new stuff. As a matter of fact, the more often you update your website, the more often it’s indexed by search engines. I know, crazy huh? Also more pages of content help your site seem more search engine friendly. So every blog entry you write, every new page you create all helps.

So take 20 minutes and sit down to write something. Write about how your business started, an interesting customer who always comes in, review a new product you’ve just gotten in, write a how-to… It doesn’t have to be perfect, just something people might be looking for online, something that they can now find on your website.
Time estimate: 20 minutes

Setup social media pages.
Another way people increase visibility is with social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to keep in touch with potential customers and take just a few moments to set up.

But how does social media help with search? Well, on every profile/page you make, you can add your website link as well as a space to put info about your business. You see where I’m going here, right? Keywords and a link? Nice.

Social media will also increasingly become a part of how search engine results are calculated. So social media isn’t just touchy-feely anymore! In other words, all aboard! There’s no better time to finally create that Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, or other social media profile related to your website.
Time estimate: 10-20 minutes/profile

Create a 301 redirect.
This is kind of nerdy but it is a good search engine-y thing to do to keep from accidentally duplicating your content. Search engines do things like penalize you for duplicating content (the same thing written multiple places- it’s what spammers do). Here’s a few ways to do the redirect.
Time estimate: Non-geek under and hour, Geek a few minutes

Have a blog.
Hands down me and most everyone else who does this for a living will tell you to do for better SEO is start a blog. Because blogs have links, keywords, and frequent updates… just like the search engines want. And once set up, a blog is technologically easy to update. Again, perfection here isn’t important (just look around my blog and you’ll see what I mean). Just write something and allow people to interact with you and other readers about it.

Clearly a blog could potentially take a lot of your time but if you plan your entries ahead of time, keep posts short, and set aside time, you can put a small amount of time towards this project.
Time estimate: 1 hour/week (that’s about what I spend)

Is this everything? Of course not. Is it something to start with? Absolutely. And if you want to totally geek out and see what factors are important to search engines ranked in order of importance, check out this fine study with 2011 data: And if it all overwhelms you, contact your favorite geek.

Have a quick tip that helped with your SEO? Share it in the comments!

Marketing Monday: Goop

Editor’s Note: Thank you all for your kind condolences about the death of my dog. I appreciate your compassion, and am happy to report that I am feeling much better this week. Many thanks.
Know an individual or business doing something cool to promote themselves online? Let me know about it and they might be featured as part of Marketing Monday!

Goop's front page. Flash driven and a little vague (bad) but graphic and simple (good).
I’d first of all like to keep this blog a positive one. There are so many people doing so many good things online, to promote their business or otherwise.
Today, I wanted to review Gwyneth Paltrow’s website called Goop. It’s mission is to ‘nurture the inner aspect’ and is supposed to be about things in Gwenyth Paltrow’s life.
Recently, her post about a New Year’s cleanse recieved some media attention at both Nerve and Huffington Post and just this past weekend, the site came up in conversation over lunch with two of my friends in the media.
The only reason this website seems to work is because it belongs to Gwenyth Paltrow. I haven’t found anyone who ‘gets it’.
Goop does not embrace internet terms.
A web magazine written by one person about their life is called a blog.
Goop can call its posts ‘articles’ all it wants but in doing so alienates itself from the blogging community. I could see the use of another term if this website was launched five years ago when blogs weren’t nearly as prevalent . But nowadays, bloggers are used as experts on television news programs and followed by media types on social media for story tips.
Bloggers are far from obscure and distancing yourself from a group of people also trying to create online content seems like a silly thing to do. Let’s not mention the fact that bloggers spend a lot of their time talking about and linking to other websites. Not one of them? That certainly makes it hard to become part of the community.
It’s unclear whether the site is compensated for the products it endorses.
A whole section of Goop is called ‘Get’ and seems to endorse cool products. No where on the site could I find policies about these products. Does Gwyneth Paltrow receive financial or other compensation for putting these products on her site? Does she personally use them? It’s hard to say.
As a reader of the site, I’d like to know. A simple ‘About’ section of ‘FAQ’ would do wonders at answering some small questions about the site and its policies.
Goop doesn’t link to other sites.
Not linking to other sites makes you 1) less connected with other web developers and 2) doesn’t help your search engine ranking. This is why all bloggers have a blogroll or list of links we like: because it’s good for us and good for the people we link to.
Not having many (or perhaps any) links off the site seems like a missed opportunity, not only for increased traffic to Goop but also for Paltrow to use her star power to help out smaller sites. You can’t buy the kind of good buzz that would create.


div>In short, celebrities can get away with things the rest of us can’t.

Most regular people can’t get away with a ‘this is stuff i like’ blog, if only because most of us have a limited audience. There are probably 30 people in my life who would care about everything Nicole Ouellette likes in my case. I am not Oprah, and this is why my blog entries have an undercurrent of money and marketing. It is why most blogs have a topic or subject they are about: more universal appeal.
What is Goop about? Whatever Gwenyth Paltrow feels like needs to be covered that particular week.
As my Twitter friend Marc Pitman puts it, it looks like Goop is “trying to do WAY too much”. I agree.
Some people do like a website that covers a lot of ground though, but for those of us who like to know what to expect, it’d be great if there’d be a preview of what’s coming up. No doubt the staff that maintains this site plans ahead for content and letting readers in on the not-so-distant future offerings I think would lead to increased overall satisfaction with readers.
Also, it would be great if Goop engaged it’s readers in some way. Featuring helpful comments in the weekly newsletter or having reader guest bloggers would no doubt increase Goop’s appeal and further connect it to other cool things going on online.
While Goop has interesting written content and a clean design, the posts have no photos.
The posts on Goop are text heavy; it would be great to have some graphic elements to get the content more skimmable and make the website prettier. Perhaps this is a place where readers could contribute if they knew about the topic ahead of time. Just an idea…
In short, Goop is not the world’s most terrible website but it could further its mission with some thoughtful tweaks and increased reader engagement.
Want some other opinions besides mine?

Shameless Promotion: Post Summer Cold Edition

Last week, I was slammed with the classic terrible summer cold. I am feeling better now but it did make me miss having sick days just a little bit…

Here are some interesting things I’ve read:

Pay What You Want Taxi @ Boston Gal’s Open Wallet
‘Freakonomics’ originally found that pay-as-you-go systems were actually profitable and here’s another example of that.

Sold! @ Rural Runway
I am often guilty for forgetting about eBay. Boy am I happy when I remember though. Just last week, I scored a fantastic brand new Anne Klein silk dress for $40. A fellow Maine blogger, the gal at Rural Runway talks fashion and how to sell it for fun and profit on eBay. Great tips.

+ Read More

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23