Hiding Your Website In Development

threewaystohideCongratulations on your new site in development!
Now I as a web person understand your old website needs to stay online while your new website gets developed… then get moved ‘live’ when you are ready. The question I have for you is, how secret do you want it to be?
Here are three levels of ‘hiding’ your website in development, in case you are worried about spies.

Level 1: Hiding it from search engines.

This hides it from being indexed… but someone typing in the direct URL can still get to it.
To do this: In Wordpress go under ‘Settings’ then ‘Reading’ and check the box to discourage search engines. (Other kinds of software have similar settings.) Will it completely stop everything? No. Does it put at least a white sheet over it that someone has to notice and remove? Yes.
For most clients we work with, this is enough. We simply work on the site at a location like while stays online. No one even notices! (And honestly, most people don’t really care.)
Best for: People who don’t want to take their current site offline but aren’t feeling super sneaky either.
Kind of like: Playing hide and seek with your 10 year old cousin. You can get up and go find them if you really want to but really, aren’t you going to just keep sitting on the couch, watching the movie you started?

Level 2: Hiding website from everyone behind a password.

This means when you type in a website address, you will immediately be prompted to enter a username and a password before it’ll even load. This box will pop up and, until you give it what it wants, you aren’t getting anywhere.
If you want to hide what you are working on from everyone, this is one way to do it.
The annoying thing for people who keep having to work on the site: You’ll have to do this *every time* you want to look at a page. Also things like uploading photos becomes difficult as you are changing files and the server gets a little confused sometimes since you didn’t enter the password to do that. (And at times, you have to turn on password encryption to be able to do these things.) This is a bit technical and it’s something that can be set in your web hosting (in Cpanel, it’s relatively easy. I can’t speak for servers that don’t use Cpanel as far as to the easiness of this).
Best for: An idea that is potentially damaging if it gets out before it’s completely solidified (ie you think you’ve invented the next Facebook) yet you need a team of people to be able to work on it from different locations.
Kind of like: Breaking into someone’s email. You probably can’t guess the password but figure if you can’t get in, there must be something juicy lurking in there. (P.S. I’ve never broke into someone’s email, for the record… but if my younger days, I definitely tried!)

Level 3: Working on the website locally

zoolanderfilesincomputerThis is the most secure. Basically you download Wordpress/your website onto a computer and work on it from there. (Downloading a program like MAMP (or WAMP if you have a windows computer) makes it a bit easier to run a server on your own computer).
Since you are working on it on your own machine only, only you can see it. We don’t do this a ton because we’re often showing things to do the client, having multiple people work on it at the same time, etc. but this is an option. (You can also send links for previews to clients in the Pro version of the software I believe.)
You basically add MAMP (or WAMP) to your computer, run a backup of your current site, and pop it into MAMP/WAMP on your computer. When you feel the site is done, you just move it back to where it goes online (I don’t mean this is necessarily ‘easy’: few hours of work and involves some database changes but honestly, in the grand scheme of things, not a huge deal. Just worth paying someone to do that portion maybe!)
Best for: Super secret projects being worked on by a small team either physically close together and/or you have an interconnected network together
Kind of like: Every spy movie you have ever seen where they go in the government building and realize everything is happening in the one room that you need to break into. Get out the grappling hook! (Or in this case, be ready to steal a computer.)
I know it’s easy to think that everyone is waiting with baited breath for your new website, going to the point where they will do ANYTHING to see your new site before it’s live… but honestly, most of this is overkill for most people. But we did want to mention that you do have options while the site is in progress to keep it under wraps.


Website Launch: Brunswick Downtown Association

Website Launch: Brunswick Downtown Association Tour from Nicole Ouellette on Vimeo.

What would you do if you had a website software you loved but it wasn’t mobile friendly and didn’t seem like it was going to become so anytime soon?

The Brunswick Downtown Association was faced with this very dilemma. They loved the Wild Apricot system for the reports it generated and the time it saved tracking members but the design was limiting and cumbersome.

The BDA wanted to appeal to an increasing population of mobile users… and this system they were paying $100/month to use was beginning to seem outdated. Deborah, Patti, and Alexis were ready to make a move to open source software and we were ready to help.

First off, we wanted to keep what they loved so we took Wordpress and made a Wild Apricot style dashboard in the backend. Sure it was some custom programming but it performs the needed functions so the switch was less painful. Alexis can now easily generate reports and track membership with numbers that match up from previous years’ data generated by Wild Apricot.

Patti wanted a way for members to submit events and all she’d have to do was click ‘approve’. We ‘hid’ the event submission under a login (members only!) and now, Patti gets an email when a member wants to post an event, saving her hours of data entry.

For the website visitors, we made a responsive layout using a modern color scheme; showcasing photos; and using buttons to get visitors to highly trafficked areas on the site. Visitors can find content by clicking on anything in the menu, slideshow items, buttons, hot links, or by typing what they are looking for in the ‘search’ box, which appears on every page.

For the members, we have a responsive business directory with customizable listings. Refreshing the page puts different members on top, making sure everyone has an equal shot of being seen. Instead of the business name clicking on a detailed listing, the BDA wanted the click to take website visitors directly to member websites (or in some cases, Facebook pages or other online properties). This makes sure members get the most bang for their buck, getting users to websites sooner rather than later. We also made easy to see/use buttons to get users to ‘Contact’ (to email the business owner) and ‘Website’ (in case they don’t know to click on the business name to get to the business website).

As a member upsell, we also have custom ad space on the sidebar of the desktop and tablet version of the business directory pages, allowing members who want more visibility to purchase advertising and further support the BDA.

Special thanks to Alice, Matt, and Ashley who made very significant contributions to this project, pleasure to have you on the team!

And congratulations to Brunswick Downtown Association who has been using their website the past two months and helped us work out the bugs post launch. You’ve got a great organization and we’re excited to come visit this summer and see some of the fun events you have planned.



Is It Worth Your Time?

Sometimes, with any task in life, it’s easy to wonder (out loud or otherwise): Is this worth my time?

While I can’t answer that in every instance of your life, I can help you with the internet stuff. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you do something:

How many eyeballs are looking at this?

For example, I’ve been wanting to improve the ‘clients’ page on this website for about three months… but I had to pick between working on that page or updating my ‘events’ page. The events page gets more traffic (plus we had two workshops this month to promote) so that took precedence.

You can do the same thing in real life. Should you spend your money upgrading your lounge area or bathroom? Asking yourself how many of your customers see each might clarify where your priority should be.

Who is looking at this?

As important as the number of eyeballs to think of is who is looking at this.

For example, if you just sent out an email newsletter with a link to a page on your website you want your subscribers to see, you know that people you care about are going to be looking at that page from the moment you click ‘send’… so make it beautiful and functional before you do.

If less people are looking at something but they happen to be important people to you, it’s worth prioritizing.

What does it matter?

Now there are people who make a living dissecting words on a page. Should you be using ‘hair stylist’ or ‘beautician’? Should you put the customer quotes in the middle of the page or have them scrolling on the side or the page? Is the 14 point Helvetica really better than the 12 point Veranda font.

This is minutia, people, and you know it.

Also, all these questions can paralyze you into doing nothing.

When you have a slow news day, that’s when you can implement what you’ve learned in Copy Hackers to optimize an important page. That’s when you decide it’s time to overhaul all the slides in your slideshow. Make a list of those things you’d do if you had time and you can knock them out over the course of a few months.

What matters?

1) Up to date information (hours, menu, pricing, etc.).
2) Nothing weird/off putting (a slide that won’t load, a button that links to a social media page you haven’t updated in a year, the top of your favorite employee’s head cropped off).

If you have an hour or so to devote to this a week, spend it first on that critical stuff.

What’s gravy? The best wording possible. New photos. Trying out that font. Social icons that match your brand.

You can spend an infinite amount of time online but asking yourself ‘What’s worth it?’ will let you still do what you need to do online and run your actual business.

Website Launch: Seaside Cottages

When Jay and Kathy asked us to redesign their site, we took a look at the site they had going. The Seaside Cottages homepage has great, relevant information, but the images were not a prominent feature. We came in to give the page a bit of a virtual facelift, and design it to work harder for Jay and Kathy.



One of our goals was to give users powerful visuals to correspond with the information on the website. Visitors usually want to get a lay of the land before spending a vacation anywhere, and the new Seaside Cottages website delivers. The majority of content is now images, which are large and high quality. Users can also now “pin” images they like, since we integrated Pinterest on the site. Due to the emphasis on imagery, Pinterest made the most sense as a social media choice. (Just because Jay and Kathy don’t use social media themselves, doesn’t mean their target demographic isn’t using social media to plan their next Maine vacation!)

Images that are easy to pin.

Images that are easy to pin.

We put a lot of time into generating the footer, which is a hard working tool. For instance, the Seaside Spring icon leads visitors to a page that features spring-related content. Maine is blessed with four distinct seasons, and we thought it would be nice to share images of this with potential customers. We also wrote all original content for these seasonal pages.         


The hard working footer.

The hard working footer.


Like any business, Seaside Cottages relies on customer satisfaction, so the footer also features a “visual guestbook.” This particular page is a source of pride for Kathy and Jay, as it uses notes people have left them on scraps of paper after a stay in one of the cottages. This is a creative way to incorporate testimonials into the website, and allows Seaside Cottages to showcase their reviews. It also acts as a ‘trust’ symbol- potential customers can view these notes and know that they are in good hands at Seaside Cottages.


In terms of the more nitty-gritty technical changes, the new Seaside Cottages site has a responsive design, which is great in terms of accessibility and functionality. Responsive design means no matter what type of device people are using (phone, tablet, PC, etc.), the site automatically adjusts so that they can view and access all the features.

The new site also has custom forms for each rental. This form does the heavy lifting in terms of booking, and makes it easier for Kathy to follow up with people. A form makes the booking process easier for customers as well- rather than sending an open-ended e-mail, they can now simply fill in the information requested on the form and feel that they’ve taken action towards booking that vacation.

Best of luck to Jay and Kathy with their new site, and we hope that they get a record number of bookings in the upcoming season!




Why Too Many Choices Are Paralyzing Your Customers

When I was showing Kassie around our Google Analytics the other day, I couldn’t believe what happened when I drilled down into the data. Over 50% of people are leaving off the homepage. Here’s what it looks like:


Holy crap, people have no idea where to click. I mean really neither do I. Too many choices!

When you overwhelm people with choice, it turns out you overwhelm them period (there’s a paper all about it from Stanford and a book on the subject that came out recently.)

Here are some fun facts about choice:

  • Americans make 70 different choices a day on average.
  • 77% of people with nine options used an elimination strategy while only 21% used an elimination strategy when given three options to make a decision.

Not only do people not like a lot of choice but things like sleep and food effect the decisions that are made.  Check out this graph that seems nuts but actually makes a ton of sense (click on it  or here for the original source and full article):


In other words, the more choices you give people, the more paralyzed they become and the poorer their decisions. These poorer decisions are increased when health and other conditions are not ideal.

So when you wonder why someone isn’t buying what you’re selling; isn’t going beyond a certain page of your website; isn’t making that choice, you may want to ask yourself if you are giving people too many choices… or if maybe they just all need to go eat an apple. 😉

There are some amazing articles I’ve read on this topic recently. Here are some worth checking out if you are also interested in this topic:

Mequoda’s indepth article about how Scientific American’s four subscription offerings could work better with less choices

Here’s an article summarizing why people don’t like so many choices and how it effects your website visitors. 

A Globe and Mail piece with some examples about how improving customer service (versus giving more choices) actually increased revenue.

Here’s a TED talk about how to make decisions more easily (you know, in case you need that sort of thing).

An article from Fast Company about how to make better decisions.

Now please excuse myself while I take 10 of the average American’s 90 decisions a day off the homepage of my website.

Tech Thursday: Why is My Website So Slow?

Wonder why your website is loading slower than Nicole runs? (That’s slow by the way.) Here are a few ideas. Bonus is Kassie has come out from behind the camera for this video!

Remember, don’t settle for anything longer than 3 seconds. If it’s taking longer than that, you may want to check out what’s going on behind the scenes.

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