website

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?

Wordcamp Boston 2013

wordcamp2013It’s not often I get to see my friend Matt in real life. We work together virtually on almost a daily basis and I consider him one of my best friends…  he just happens to live over six hours away.

So when he told me about Wordcamp and that it was 1) in Boston and pretty close for all of us and 2) that he was going, Alice and I went down to check it out.

There were around 400 people at the conference from all over the place so I didn’t expect to know anyone. Of course I am in line for sandwiches behind a guy I haven’t seen since college who now is working on a cool Wordpress plugin and I run into Tracy who I’ve only seen online yet lives in Maine.

In other words, I actually knew people! I mean, we were in Boston (very closeby) not Istanbul but still, small world.

The biggest takeaway for me? The need for fast websites. My favorite talk of the conference was by Chris Ferdinandi called ‘Wicked Fast Wordpress’ on this very topic.

As we try to make websites more interactive, interesting, and responsive to design, us website designers/developers have invariably slowed down how fast they load. If 70% of people will not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load before moving on, that’s something we need to pay attention to. (I’ll do a whole blog post on this sometime soon I am sure.)

Year after year, website security is always a concern. No matter what the software, there is no such thing as a 100% safe website. But Sam Hotchkiss’ presentation about security was complete and a favorite of Matt and Alice (I was in another room watching a different presentation… the good news is that link goes to a video where you can watch his talk!)

And finally, there was more talk about responsive design: how to do it well, deal with issues unique to that process. If you want to know a bit more about it, click on this post we have about dealing with mobile users on your website. 

All and all, it was a great weekend where we not only got to learn new things from some very smart people but have lots of bonding time, mainly over food. We’ll be back next year I’m sure but hopefully be getting to see Matt before then.

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.

 

Three Reasons Why ‘Free Domain Name’ Works

whyadomainisfreeAs part of SquareSpace’s marketing pitch, they give away a free domain.

I find this interesting because, since they continue to advertise it, it must be working.

But allow me to let you in on a little secret.

This really isn’t a big deal. Actually it’s genius of them. Here’s why:

‘Free’ is an excellent psychological term. 

I don’t need to tell you this. We all like to feel like we are getting something for free. Am I right?

Domains cost less than $10 so giving away one to a customer that’ll give you at least ten times that is no big deal. 

When you buy a domain as a consumer, you can pay anywhere from $12/year (Enom price) to $35ish/year (Network Solutions). You’ll pay this to renew your domain name too. You can chose to renew your domain for one, two, five, any number of years. But when it’s time to renew, you’ll have to pay again to be able to keep using the domain name.

Now a company is not ever going to sell you something for less than they paid for it. That would be silly. (Note from Matt Baya: Unless this product is considered a ‘loss leader’, which is a below-price product designed to get you in a store and ideally buying more other products.)

An additional cost that consumers don’t have is also at play. To be a domain reseller, you need to pay a few hundred dollars a year. In other words, the reseller needs to make $300-$400 to keep being able to be a reseller.



A company like SquareSpace (a reseller) pays a little less than $10/domain. So if they sold it to you for $12, they’d make about $2 on you. If they sell it for $35, they make $25 on you. Once you pay back your reseller fees (and at $2/domain, it might take you awhile to get to $300), you are making money on this proposition.

But if you buy, say, a year of service at $10 a month, SquareSpace gives you a domain for free. So they make $120 and give you $10 of it. Not a big loss to them to give you this small gift. I mean if you had to give a customer something and then you know you’d make ten times that off them, you’d do it right?

They can make sure it stays renewed.

This is probably the most convenient reason to let SquareSpace (or any web host) get the domain for you, whether you pay for it or get it free.

When you register for a domain name, you do so with an email address. Before it’s up for renewal, you’ll get an email letting you know.

But what happens when you ignore it or change email addresses before it gets renewed? You can guess I am sure.

If you don’t renew your domain name, it is assumed you do not want it and suddenly, your domain name is for sale again. Best case scenario: your website is offline while you buy it back for what you paid for it. Worse case scenario: Someone buys it and makes you pay $500 (or more) to get it back. (This happened to someone I know and she had me broker the deal. Painful.)

I keep track of when my clients’ domain names are up for renewal. But some developers don’t so you should know when yours is due. Here’s how you tell.

1) Go to whois.net. Type in your domain name and press go:

whoisnet

 

2) The next screen will have information about your domain name including when it expires:

whoislookupexdate

 

So I need to renew my domain before April 15, 2014.

If a company like SquareSpace has control over your domain, they can make sure it gets renewed. The flip side of this coin is you are relying on them to do this. I usually make clients register for their own domain so they know they own it. That said, I tell them if they are comfortable they should give me access to their domain registry account so if they are off in Tahiti and their domain is expiring, I can get in there and do the renewal.

The free domain? It’s genius. It’s something that doesn’t cost SquareSpace much, it prevents the disaster of an unrenewed domain name, and the customer gets to feel warm and fuzzy about getting free.

Tell you what, if you ever become a client of mine, I’ll give you a free domain…because it’s cheaper than buying you lunch.

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.

 

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