website

The Oldest Websites We’ve Seen

After running into a website designed in 1999 (a vendor for a client we have), I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve seen an Internet 1.0 site.

For fun, I posed the question to the Breaking Even Facebook page. And boy, did our friends deliver! Here are some gems they found.

Matt suggested WizWorld.com. While designed in 2003, he’s right, it looks about ten years older than that:

wizworlddotcom

Hope found SpaceJam, which clearly hasn’t been touched since the movie was released in 1996:

spacejam.com

A moment later, she beat herself and found a 1995 gem Victor Engle’s homepage:

the-lightdotcom

Breanna found CenterPlace.org from 1999 which is apparently still having fundraising ads to help the website stay open:

centerplacedotorg

But Mike found the winning website, Slash’s Fan Page website:

snakepitdotorg

I still remember coding my first website, in 2002, and how much work it was to just get a blue background with white writing and a picture displaying to the right of it all. …So what can we learn from our older website relatives still hanging around the internet?

Websites weren’t always dynamic. Websites didn’t have information feeds, search boxes, videos, slideshows, or interactive quizzes. They just had information on them. If you were lucky, there was an animated gif.

Websites were simple. Plain background, one color text and maybe some borders around some photos. That’s about as fancy as things got.

Websites have come along way (as has the technology to make them) but the basic function of the website is still the same: Content is still king.

Or maybe more accurately, Slash is king.

How Chicken Sausage Beefed Up Their Mobile Website

My friends have a weekly poker game. At said poker game, everyone brings a little something to share foodwise with the group. Alice brought some fancy sausage to the last poker game for grilling purposes:

Al-Fresco-Chicken-Sausage

In back of the package was a QR code. As someone who regularly scans these codes only to be sent to a not-mobile friendly website, I was surprised that after this scan, I was sent to a mobile friendly website clearly designed that way on purpose:

sausagemobilewebsite1

(The Groupon ad on the bottom is courtesy of my QR code reader-which is normally what you get when you download a free app. How do I know it was the app and not the website? I put the address in my mobile browser and the ad didn’t show up. Mystery solved.)

So far so good, sausage company.



Of course when you design a mobile site, you design it for scrolling…And so scroll I did:

emailnewslettersignupmobile

Like most good websites, Al Fresco has taken the opportunity for this company to grab your email address, in exchange for a $1 off coupon. This amount ($1-$2) is about what someone typically pays for a Google or Facebook ad click (around this amount anyway) and clearly an email address is more valuable than than a single click to most companies.

When you click ‘Sign Up Now’, it links to a mobile friendly form:

emailsignupmobilefriendlyform

As you see, each thing you link to on your mobile website is one more thing you have to make mobile friendly. Signup form, links to recipes, photo galleries… everything you link to is something that not only makes your site more dynamic but also is a potential thing that can go wrong, mobile speaking.

So, if you are shorter on time or money, be enthusiastic about your mobile site but be realistic too. First off, it’s literally 1/10th the screen size of a typical computer so it can’t do everything your full-sized website does. And secondly making elements mobile friendly takes time.

The one issue I found on Al Fresco’s mobile template was one part that didn’t work:

contest404error

 

When I click to enter the $1000 contest on the ‘click to enter’ button, I get a 404 error. Bummer, I could use $1000!

Like I said, this is one of the better mobile websites I’ve run into so hats off to Al Fresco on making the QR code actually go to something interesting.

So what can we learn from our sausage-y friends about mobile websites?

  • Think about what your mobile users care about. I cook from my iPhone all the time so recipes are great. I won’t, however, read the company’s blog from my phone, which is why they don’t link to it. They aren’t trying to do everything their regular website does, just the most important to mobile users things.
  • Make everything you link to mobile friendly. The importance for mobile doesn’t just apply to the items on that main page but anything you link to from that page. Otherwise you look like an inconsiderate jerk who didn’t think the idea completely through.
  • Test often. Sometimes there can be an issue you don’t catch, especially if you are updating the page often, or have more than one person updating said page.

Whether you sell sausage or the grill we cooked them on, it’s important to think of your mobile user. So take a look at your website from a mobile perspective at least once a month to see what your mobile customers see.

Want to know more about mobile websites? Here’s a helpful article: http://breakingeveninc.com/mobile-site-options/

Helping Your Web Person Help You

Being among the masses that help people with computer (or more accurately internet) problems daily, there are a few things we the geeks would like you to know:

1) Sometimes we don’t know what you are talking about. Really.
2) Sometimes we genuinely can not replicate the problem on our end.
3) Sometimes we can’t fix something instantaneously.

So if you are wanting a web person (or tech-saavy brother-in-law several states away) to help you out, here’s what we need.

i-have-no-idea-what-you-re-talking-about

Case 1: We don’t know what you are talking about. 
Need: A screenshot or link where we can see the error.
‘My website isn’t working’ really isn’t enough for us to go on.

Unless we go to your website and see that there is Turkish music playing and some unrecognizable script across your page… you know, and you aren’t a Turkish music group. Then we’ll know something’s up.

But let’s just say that’s not the problem. Let’s say the problem is you are getting a weird error message on the registration page of your site. Sending us a link to your registration form showing an error message is really helpful because it lets us see what the problem might be… and as importantly, where the problem isn’t.

For example the other day someone called saying “I can’t check my email” and after a few minutes, I figured they were typing their email address into the search box of Google instead of going to the webmail link before typing in her email address. A screenshot would have solved this more quickly… and much less frustratingly for both of us.

hello-tech-support-have-you-tried-turning-it-off-and-on-again

Case 2: We can’t replicate the problem. 
Need: Specific information about anything that might be (or might not be) relevant
So let’s say we try to see the error but can’t. We will need to know a bit more specifically about how your computer is set up. Feel free to offer the following information, depending on the problem of course:

  • Operating system (Windows 7, Mountain Lion, etc.)
  • Browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.)
  • Email client (Outlook, etc.)
  • Email settings (POP/IMAP, server settings, etc.)
  • When the problem started
  • If this problem is existing just on your computer
  • Other stuff more specific depending on how you answered the above questions and the nature of the problem

We are not asking these questions to be jerks; we are genuinely trying to figure out something, anything, to be able to see what you see.

And if we ask you to do something dumb, as long as it’s not going to do permanent damage to you or your device, just do it. We’re trying to help and sometimes turning it on and off really does work.

emailrespondnow

Case 3: We can’t fix it instantaneously.
Need: Time
Despite what you might think, the internet is not an instantaneous place. Sometimes we genuinely see something we haven’t seen before and need time to mull it over, ask our buddies about it, or try some things.

If it’s a problem with your website, we may make a copy of your website somewhere else so we can test solutions, for example.

So give us time to comb the forums and otherwise try stuff out. Because doing it in front of you is nerve wracking, especially if we can’t fix it right away.

Thanks so much for giving us what we need at every stage… because doing it helps us help you better!

Why You’ll Never See ‘Designed By Breaking Even Communications’ On A Website

We think it's great but we don't think of it that way.

We think it’s great but we don’t think of it that way.

We had a recent client who was so grateful for our work she insisted we put ‘Designed by Breaking Even Communications’ at the bottom of her website.

I refused.

She couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t think of a way to explain it well at the time. (Yes, this is how I get ideas for most of these blog posts!)

What I am about to say may make some people annoyed. Many web designers put their credentials at the bottom of every website they do. Here’s why we don’t:

To me, website designers are invisible artists.

I’ve heard those who put their credentials in the footer of websites they design think about it like a painting they are making on commission. You sign your name on the bottom of a painting proudly, why wouldn’t you sign your name on the bottom of a website?

I can easily think of other examples in which someone does building/creative work for others. Did the company who painted your house sign your foundation? Did the person who designed your wedding invitations add their URL on the bottom corner of all 200 copies you ordered?

In my opinion, some artists are invisible. Web design to me is one of those professions.

Adding our name to the bottom of your website doesn’t give you more value.

Ideally your website is well coded, fast loading, visually pleasing, informational/entertaining, and highly functional… whether we did it or someone else did.

Unlike the painting example, having our name on the bottom of your website doesn’t give it more value, so why put it in there?

(I doubt anyone is having us design sites so they can own a ‘Breaking Even’ original, though I am extremely entertained at this thought).

You can see who designed a website if you look at the source code… or asking the person who owns it.

There are ways to put authorship on a website in the source code that’s completely non obtrusive to the website design. Sometimes we actually remember to do that.

But mainly, I think if someone likes a website, they can always ask the owner (via contact form or other means) who designed it. Looking at it from another angle, to get a feel for the kind of designs a particular web designer does, you can always look at their online portfolio on their website. (We have ours here, just so you don’t think we’re shady about our clients or anything!)

Our clients pay us to create things for them and their good word of mouth is the credit we appreciate most.

I am not writing this to make any enemies here; I’m simply saying why we don’t do this particular practice.

So what do you think, regular folks or fellow designers? Do you think you should have a link at the bottom of every website you do or do you agree we are silent artists?

One Day Website Workshop: The When, The Why, and The How

Last Friday, we gave our twice a year ‘One Day Website’ workshop. Our reasoning is that there are people who have the time/interest in learning website software but not the funds to pay us to do it for them.

The reason we do it only twice a year? Honestly, it’s a ton of work ahead of time (helping people buy domain names, getting the software installed, preparing the slides since the software likes to change periodically). We barely break even on it looking at this from a purely business point of view… but the whole point of this business was to at least ‘Break Even’ so I guess we’re good there. (I know, haha!)

But earning beaucoup bucks is not why we do this. For me, I consider this a bit of community service… and if we happen to get business from it someday, great. But at least we’re doing our part, teaching small pockets of people how to do something they want to learn. It’s a bit like being a teacher again.

I’m always impressed by the variety of people who come to this workshop: different ages (everyone from college students to retirees), different businesses (artists to non-profit directors), different levels of seriousness (from ‘I want to get this done today’ to ‘I just came to check it out’). As someone who runs one very specific kind of business, it’s nice to get a window into what other people are working on, and what they care about in terms of a website.

Since Matt Baya and I started doing this workshop in 2009, we’ve helped take about 200 people through this process in the twice yearly ‘One Day Website’. And that’s kind of cool.

Many people don’t end up finishing their websites, which makes me a little sad. But then I think about the success rate of the adult ed French class I used to teach… or how long it’s taken me to lose 15 of the 30 pounds I want to lose… and I see it’s similar. It’s hard to make yourself do something that is a little (or a lot) against your nature.

I’m always sad when I haven’t taken photos of these things, especially since we had such a nice group on Friday. But it was fun and we do look forward to doing it again!

Had no idea we did this kind of event? For the official internet record, we do it twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall (summer is crazy and winter weather can make travel difficult where we are). The best way to find out about when it’s happening is to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter. We announce the workshop there first, wait 3-4 days then post it on Facebook, the website, etc.

Sometimes, we can do this workshop for a private group, like we did for the Maine Indian Basketweavers and the Maine Crafts Guild. If you can fill a room for us, we’ll show up and do our thing. If everyone chips in, it’s a pretty affordable (and almost painless) professional development opportunity. If you’re a Chamber of Commerce, business group, networking group, adult education facility, university group… it’s a pretty good offer since just about everyone these days needs/wants a website.

So thanks to everyone who came last week, and especially those who came to those first few workshops when we were still learning the ropes. There will be many more of these (and hopefully some other regular workshops) coming to Downeast Maine and beyond.

Those who can do teach. Those who can’t, we can just teach you in a class. 🙂

 

Hiring Someone To Write Your Blog: The If, The Why, and The How

Many people are surprised when I tell them we ghost write for other blogs. Despite the fact that this blog is fun and kicky, we can be serious when we need to be. Some of our clients have been tech companies (since we have that knowledge anyway), some are just regular businesses.

Many people know that a blog is great for SEO and building authority. So the natural decision to make at this point is: are you going to do it or pay someone else to?

There are a whole group of people who think blogging can and should be handled within your company.


Why Your Blog Could Be Handled Within Your Company

1) Someone in your company knows what’s going on. A content writer is not in your business so they can’t know close to everything that is going on like someone who is there 40 hours a week.

2) Someone in your company can write. Yes, most people graduate high school being able to string sentences together… and some people have a real talent for it.

3) The same person who can write has free time. You can probably think of idle times in your schedule (or an employee’s schedule) and have the thought ‘Hey, maybe I/they can crank out a blog!’

There are a few reasons though why you may hire people like us to coordinate your blog, write part of it for you, or write the entire thing for you.


Why Your Blog Could Be Handled By A Content Writer/Marketer/SEO Person

1) Content writers are lay people. Chances are your customer won’t care and, most importantly, won’t understand fancy jargon. Someone who can explain things about your business in a way your customers understand and enjoy can be worth some money.

2) Content writers are good writers. Someone who understands how to write for the web and how to write concise blog posts that are both interesting to read and written in the voice of your company will leave website visitors with a good impression.

3) Content writers get the SEO stuff. There is a bit more to blogs than the writing part. It’s part specialized data entry, part understanding how blogs work in the bigger picture of website traffic. You need to  know about the following to do it well:

  • using tags
  • interlinking to previous blog posts
  • how to find, use, and cite legal images in a blog post
  • how to write a grabbing headline that has keywords in it
  • proper formatting for easy reading and search engines
  • and more!

4) Content writers are fast. These people look at websites all day so we should be fast. They’ll work at least twice as quickly as your employee doing the same thing. (I’d be slow trying to ring up a customers purchases at your cash register since I have no idea what I’m doing in that situation!)

In other words, you have options. You don’t have to write the blog yourself! You can have a blog for your business and have someone else write it!

Even if you do hand this off, as the person driving this train (re: your business), you will need to set the person helping you (and your blog) up for success.


How You Can Set Up A Blogger For Success Who Isn’t You

  • A blog site

You’ll need to understand a bit on how your website works to understand if you’ll be able to blog on your current site or if you need to set up something on another domain that links to your site. Talking to a web person is worth it at this stage, mainly because you don’t want to build this blog up (and links coming into it) only to have to move it later. (I have moved my blog three times, trust me, don’t do this to yourself!)

If you are on the fence on the blogging thing, set up a free account on Wordpress.com and try it for a month. If you like it, you can move it to a Wordpress self hosted site by the Import/Export functions under ‘Tools’ without much trouble. All this to say, to blog you’ll need a place to blog. It may be worth it to have the employee you plan to blog with sit down with your web designer for some training on the software.

  • A regular publication schedule 

Whether you are going to publish every Monday or every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, establish this with the person you plan to work with. They are going to be limited by time constraints (like everyone!) and they need to know what is expected. For an employee that’s new to this, allow 3-4 hours per blog post (start off with 4 hours and as the person gets the hang of it, the time will be less). Remember a blog post isn’t sitting and writing: they may need time to contact information sources and do research in addition to the actual writing part.

If you are hiring a content writer, have them create a proposal of what you can expect from them in terms of content and publication schedule. (Note: content writers work much faster than your employee who is not a full time writer. It’s not fair to your employee to think otherwise!)

  • Sources for images

Whether you have a company Flickr gallery, an account with iStockphoto, or just a Dropbox folder where everyone puts in images, make sure whoever is writing the blog has access to this resource. They will need them for blog posts (blog posts with images are much more widely read, and having images has other benefits).

If you are creating the images, make sure to name the files something useful (like the name of the person in the photo). This way, the writer will be able to use the images appropriately and generate captions.

  • Topic structure and leads

Usually at a blog client kick off meeting, we figure out a general topic posting schedule. For example, Mondays are going to be interviews with our suppliers. Here are the questions we’d like to ask them and here is the contact information of some people to start with in terms of the first four interviews. Thursdays are going to be a product review. Donna will email you a list of new products for this season. Here’s a sample review I wrote to kind of give you an idea of what we are looking for on Thursdays…

A ridiculous level of detail? Maybe. But you don’t want your blog writer to stare at the blinking cursor and think ‘What should I write today?’ Having a structure will force ideas for days there are none and give a structure for the writer to work within and make sure the blog stays on topics you want it to be on.

Sometimes people do is hire a content writer to set up a structure for the staff blogger to follow. Give it a month and if it’s not working, you can always change it… but at least it’s a place for the blog to go day to day and week to week, especially those first few months.

  • Access to social media

The best thing to do after you blog? Be able to promote it! If your company has a Facebook page or Twitter account, give this person access so they can promote their posts. Sure you can have it set up so posts automatically go out but letting your writer go onto the social network and respond to comments, share it on their profile, and more means you’ll get way more bang for your buck.

  • Autonomy

By all means, check the first few blog posts before they go online… But nothing will slow down your company’s blogging quite like the bottleneck you will become if this keeps happening. Trust your people to do a good job (and by all means read the blog when it’s online!) but after an initial period of training, let your content writer run with it.


How Do I Find Content Writers?

So you’ve gathered above that while paying an hourly or salary employee to blog is cheaper for you per hour than having a writer do it… but it will also take them at least twice as long as someone just figuring it out. How can you find someone to help your employee get started or to do this for you?

Read blogs.

By reading blogs, you will find bloggers whose style you like. If you want to find someone local, do a Google blog search for local blogs in your area and see who’s writing. If you want someone who specializes in an industry, read blogs in those industries and certain names will emerge. These are good starting points.

Try LinkedIn.

Now that you have some names, look these people up on LinkedIn. Are they legit? Do other people recommend their blogging skills?

With LinkedIn's new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

With LinkedIn’s new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

You can ever search by skill on LinkedIn (blogging) so think of this site as a way to check someone’s references.

Problogger.net Job Board

If you want to be a bit more general about it all (‘I just want someone who wants the job’), try posting it on the Problogger job board. This is a highly regarded place in the online community to find legitimate paid blogging opportunities. (Well it’s as legitimate as Craigslist for finding an apartment… there are always scammy people but plenty of reputable people use it too.)

No matter the route you go, all bloggers should be able to provide writing samples to you and other pieces of information that can help you make your decision.

Like the rest of the world, you are more likely to find someone you already know for the job. That said, there is no reason you can’t go out and seek a content writer yourself if you don’t know any!
Does this seem like a bit of work? It always is to implement something new at first.
Will your employee need a bit more help then someone who does this all day? Of course.
But is it worth having a blog? This being my 897th entry, I might be a little biased when I say absolutely.

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