Archive for the ‘Help and Tips’ Category

What Our Sitemap Does that Yours Doesn’t

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

A sitemap, put simply, helps your website communicate better with search engines by telling them what pages are on your site.  They’re very useful if you have a large site or you update it often.  There’s really nothing too complex about them and they’re basically essential if you’re concerned with search engine ranking.

Our sitemap does a lot more than just list pages, though, and it’s even more beneficial if you’re doing SEO (search engine optimization) work.  In addition to communicating with search engines and building a list of pages in your site, ours generates two important reports: a broken link report and an SEO report.

The broken link report simply informs you of any bad links on your site, whether they’re linking to internal pages or other websites.  Some SEO experts believe this is a factor that can hurt your website’s standing with search engines, not to mention that it can lead to a poor user experience.  Let’s face it- if someone clicks a link on your website and the page can’t be found, it reflects poorly on the professionalism of your website.

The SEO report, really, is pretty amazing.  It gives a breakdown of 16 different SEO factors for every page of your site.  Click the details link next to any of the summaries and you’ll get a list of every page on your site that needs attention.  I thought about including a screenshot of the SEO report, but I don’t want to give any secrets away.

At any rate, there are lots of sitemaps out there that simply list pages for search engines, but I haven’t heard of any others that do what ours does.  If you’re really into making sure your site is fully optimized, give ours a try.

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POP3 vs. IMAP

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

POP3 vs. IMAPLots of people wonder whether they should use POP3 versus IMAP for their email clients (such as Outlook, Apple Mail and Thunderbird).  It really depends on your own situation, but to really answer the question, you need to understand the basics of how email works and the difference between POP3 and IMAP.

IMAP

When an email is sent, it sits on the email server until you do something with it.  IMAP simply mirrors and manipulates whatever is sitting on the server.  If you read a message, it’s marked as read on the server.  If you delete a message, it’s deleted on the server.

IMAP is mainly advantageous for someone who checks their email on multiple devices.  I, for example, have two laptops, a desktop all running Thunderbird as my mail application, along with an iPhone.  Using IMAP settings, when I delete an email on my iPhone it’s deleted on my computers too.  If I create a new folder on a laptop to store funny emails and put 10 emails in that folder, that folder is created and populated on all my other devices too.  To be more technically correct, when I make these changes on one device, it makes the change on the mail server and syncs it to my other devices.

The downside to IMAP is space.  If you’re someone who likes to keep a lot of email, it’s going to eventually fill up, and once your account is full people will not be able to send you messages.  If you use IMAP, make sure you clean out old messages regularly.  That includes your sent, trash and spam folders.

POP3

Where IMAP mirrors what’s on a server, POP3 reaches up and pulls it off the server.  Most of our clients use email for business purposes and only check it on their at-work computer, and POP3 is perfect for that.

The main advantage of using POP3 instead of IMAP is that you don’t have to worry about how much space your email is taking up on the mailserver.  Because POP3 downloads the messages from the server, it is cleared out every time you check for email.

The downside to using POP3 is that you can’t fully sync your email account between different devices.  When you check your mail with your iPhone then check it again a few minutes later with your laptop, you won’t find the email you were just reading on your iPhone because it was downloaded to your iPhone and removed from the server.

If you do want to check your email from more than one device and mailserver space is an issue, you can set your email program to leave messages on the server for a set number of days (I usually suggest two or three).  Your messages and folders won’t be synced, but you will at least have all of your messages on all your devices.

So to answer the question of which is better to use, POP3 or IMAP, the answer really depends on your situation.  If you check your email on multiple devices and have plenty of space on your mailserver, I’d suggest using IMAP.  If you only check your mail on one computer, I’d suggest using POP3.

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Causes and Solutions for Slow Websites

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Does it take forever to load pages on your site?  Does it feel so much like you’re on dial-up that you can almost hear the modem noise?  In case you forgot (or you’re too young to remember), here it is:

There are a number of reasons your website could be running slow, even if you’re on a high-speed internet connection.

Slow Server

This is something you’ll have to discuss with your hosting company.  There are a lot of different reasons that a server can be slow, but there’s not much you can do about it if you’re not a server admin.  In the interest of brevity, I’ll just say that if the server is the issue and your hosting company can’t do anything about it, it might be time to search for a new website hosting company.

Large Files

In particular, I’m talking about images.  I’ve probably seen hundreds of websites where someone uploads a full-size digital image and then uses the image properties to shrink it down.  Sure, the image only takes up 300 x 200 pixels on the screen, but it’s actually a 3000 x 2000 pixel image scrunched down to that size.  Unless you change the size of the before you upload it, it’s still, in reality, a really big picture, and a big, full-quality picture is always going to take a lot longer to load than one that has been optimized for the web.  And when you try to create your own photo gallery of images that haven’t been optimized for the web, you’ll definitely feel like you’re back in the dial-up age.  Besides, a scrunched-up image looks terrible compared to one that has been properly optimized.

There are a few of options you can use for resizing a picture prior to uploading it.  There are lots of programs out there, such as Photoshop, GIMP and even MS Paint that easily take care of resizing picture.  There are lots of websites out there too.  Just do a search for image resizing and you’ll find plenty of them.

Another option is to see if your web designer can install a program that will resize the images for you automatically when you upload them.  For example, if you use our ecommerce solutions and upload a category or product image, we can set the parameters of the uploader to set the image to a specified height and/or width.

While I’ve mainly focused on images here, you could have the same issue with any sort of media such as Flash, music or videos.  Remember that the web, as nice as some things look on it, is geared (at least for now) towards low resolution.  For example, a client of ours recently sent me an audio file of a radio commercial she wanted to play on her homepage.  I noticed the large file size, re-sampled it to a lower quality and cut down the file size by about 75%.  And you know what?  It still sounded fine on her website.

Just remember that in order for your page to load fast, you’re going to want to make all your files as small as possible while still maintaining an acceptable quality.

Coding

This ties into my last point, to a degree:  The smaller the size of the files on your page, the faster it will load.  By that same token, the smaller your page’s file size, the faster it will load.  You’ll most likely have to talk to your web designer about this, but optimizing your code includes such things as converting the site to CSS, linking to external files (such as one consolidated CSS file and one consolidated javascript file) instead of coding them directly in the page and reducing unnecessary white space in your code.

Of the three suggestions I gave, the one that will usually make the biggest difference is converting a site to CSS.  Now, I don’t want to get into a CSS vs. tables debate, but the fact of the matter is that a site using pure CSS is going to have a lot less code than a site using tables, so it’s going to be faster.

The problem that a webmaster will sometimes run into in telling a client that they need to optimize their code is that a client won’t see a difference in the site, so some website owners are hesitant to shell out the dough necessary for a website coder to spend hours on updating their site’s guts.  Cleaning code isn’t sexy, but it can be extremely effective in speeding up a website.

Making sure your site loads quickly will not only make your website visitors happy, but it will make Google happy as well.  Search engines put a premium on sites that are quick to load, so it can also push your website up in search engine rankings.

If you have any questions about how to go about doing some of the things I mentioned above, feel free to leave a comment below, contact us or send us a Tweet.

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Does My Business Need a Website?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Yes.

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Things to Consider Before Building a Website

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I saw someone on Twitter ask if anyone had a good checklist for building a website.  I wondered if they were talking about a checklist to look at before a designer gets involved, or if this include looking for a designer.

If the list were to include looking a designer, I’d have to write it to be shamelessly self-promoting.  (Do they build the site in a CMS at no extra charge?  Do they offer any free updates?  Do they give you a free search engine ranking report?)  In light of that, let’s assume you’ve decided you want to build a website, but are not at the point of hiring a designer yet.  A lot of people skip the part in-between, but the more fleshed-out your site is before you talk to a designer, the easier that talk will go and the faster the designer will be able to come up with a quote for you.  Having a clear vision for your website will also keep you from adding to the project as you go, sparing the designer a headache and saving you some money.

So, here’s a checklist for building your website.  Maybe it’s not a checklist, per se, but this could serve as a guideline for things you should know about your website before you seek out a designer.

What is the goal or purpose of my website?

Are you selling something?  Are you trying to generate leads?  Are you giving information?  What do you need to do to draw attention to that purpose?  Knowing the answer to these questions will help you strategize the layout, graphics and typography of your website with your web designer.

Who is the intended audience?

If the purpose of your website is to sell Medicare supplements, you’ll want to capture the attention of people around the age of 65 and above.  You’ll want the writing to be easy to read, maybe a little larger than usual.  You probably wouldn’t want the design to be too slick and techie.  On the other hand, if your website is geared towards gamers, you probably want more images and slick graphics.  Keep your audience in mind when planning your website.

What should my website look like?

This is a pretty big one.  A decent web designer can make a site look like anything.  Some people are fine giving a designer complete freedom to design a website however they want, but hopefully you have some idea as to how your site should look.  It will save your designer time, even if you look at other websites and pull elements you like from them, if you’re able to give at least a few guidelines.  If you already have a logo, business cards or some kind of branding, make sure to incorporate that.

Do I need my website to be found?

You’d think the obvious answer would be the affirmative, but not every site needs to be ranked #1 in search engines to be useful.  I refer to these sites as business card websites.  Some people just need a portfolio, resume or supplemental information to be available when they point people to the site.  Most sites, though, do need to be found.  If you offer a service or sell goods, you need to make sure to set aside a good budget for search engine optimization and/or pay-per-click ads, and you need to plan your website accordingly.

Does my website require any special features?

Would it be useful to my visitors to allow them to create an account for my website?  If you have a movie theater website, it would be useful to have a database to add movies and their showtimes.  For a real estate agent, it would be great to be able to have a database for real estate listings on your website so you won’t have to manually create new pages and links for every listing.  If you need a special feature on your website, think it through in as much detail as you can.  Simply telling your web designer that you need a client login doesn’t really tell them anything.  What information is required to create an account?  How do they retrieve a lost password?  What happens when they log in?  Think through what you need and how it should work.

The point in all this is that the more fully realized your website is before you even contact a web designer, the easier the entire process will be.  You don’t need to write out an entire RFP (although we do love those), but you should know something about your creation.  Many people dream about having a great website, so get it started on the right foot by laying the groundwork for success.

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Reasons Your Company Website Needs a Blog

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

When I mention the word “blog” to most of my clients who don’t already have one, you can almost hear the fear and uncertainty creep into their voices.  The number one response I get?  “I don’t really know what a blog is and I don’t have the time to figure it out.”

Having a blog on your website, and by “on your website” I mean one that is fully integrated into your site, not just an offsite link, is one of the most powerful tools available to businesses of all sizes today.  Here are five reasons your company really needs a blog.

1. Search Engine Optimization

Ask anyone who knows about SEO and they’ll tell you that the golden rule in search engine optimization is that content is king.   A blog allows you to write content that is pertinent to your website that may not quite fit in on another page of your website, and the more relevant content you have, the more it’s going to help your site’s ranking.

On top of that, search engines also like to see that a site isn’t stagnant.  When you have a blog you’re adding new content to the website, which tells the search engines that the site is active, not something that was just set up and left to hang out to dry on the web.

Another SEO benefit to having a blog is that you might have people leave comments or ask specific questions regarding an article, which adds even more content to the site.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed a question into Google resulting in me finding someone else asking the very same question in the comments section of a blog article.

2. Increased Online Exposure

Isn’t increasing traffic through search engine optimization the same as increasing online exposure?  Well, no, not exactly.  Increasing (targeted) online exposure, or a web presence, is one goal of search engine optimization, but a blog can help you link to other online services such as Twitter and Facebook.  By posting your blog entries to these services, you keep your Twitter and Facebook pages from becoming stagnant and give people a reason to follow you.  When people follow you they see your updates, and when they see your updates your online exposure increases.

3. Disseminate Information

If you are in business, chances are that you know something about your field.  If you’re a web designer you may not know every detail about the differences between PHP4 and PHP5 (and hey, I don’t, but I’m not a programmer; I leave that to Scott), but chances are you know more about programming than the average guy off the street, and you can talk about it.

A better example might be this: You’re a plumber who’s been at it for a few years.  You may not know as much as the guy below you on the search engine results page who has been plumbing for 30 years, but you can write about plumbing and give people tips and advice, so that people will see that you do have knowledge and are approachable, they’ll contact you instead of that other guy.  Blog articles give you authority.

It’s also good for just giving people other information about your business, like when you’re going to have a sale or when you’ve hired a new staff member.  People like to feel like they know you.

4. Let People Know You

That brings me to another point: people want to know who they’re doing business with.  If you have a friend or a friend of a friend who offers a service you need done, you’re generally more likely to hire them than someone you’ve never heard of, right?

People have different writing styles, and your personality can show in your writing.  Blog writing is generally laid back and conversational.  Now, that doesn’t mean you should write like a fourteen year old on Facebook, but it doesn’t mean you have to act like you’re writing a technical manual either.  Let your personality come out, and don’t be afraid to share a little about your experiences (so long as you’re not trashing anybody; that doesn’t make you or them look good).

If your prospective customers feel like they know you they’ll not only be more apt to use your services, but to share your articles on Digg, Twitter, Facebook, email or some other form of social networking.

5. It’s Not That Hard

There are other benefits of blogging as well, and the fact of the matter is that it’s really not that hard to do.  There are plenty of blogging programs out there (my favorite being WordPress) that you can learn the basics of in a matter of minutes.  There are so many positive reasons why a company should have a blog that I really can’t think of any excuse good enough to get in the way.

“I don’t have time.” You can’t take half an hour out of the week to write a little bit about what’s going on in your community or your business?  Sure you can.  Or maybe:

“I can’t type very good.” If you wrote that, then no, you don’t.  But you know what?  You probably have an employee who can type well and would like to help the company out by writing blog posts.  Maybe a salesperson or a secretary, or both!  And if there really is nobody in your company who can spend a little time writing your blog, hire a freelance writer.  Yes, there are people out there who make careers out of writing blogs articles for people who can’t find the time to do it themselves.  It’s worth it.

“I don’t know what to write about.” Make lists.  List the things a customer should look for when hiring a company in your field.  (Note: Make sure you live up to the things you list!)  List some resources you use.  Talk about services you provide.  Review products.  Talk about events your company is involved in.  Talk about a new hire, a new job, the process you go through when creating a new product.  Write about classes you took in college or the people who influenced you.  Write about anything!

There are so many reasons your company needs a blog: search engine optimization, increased online exposure, disseminating information, letting customers get to know you and because getting these benefits and more is so simple, it’s silly not to do it!  Years ago it became apparent that any serious company needed to have a website in order to be legit.  I think the time is coming where you need a blog as well.

If you need help setting up a blog, why not give us a shout?

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WordPress Auto Update Good to Go

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Upgrade WordPressA little over a month ago I wrote about how I had used the automatic upgrade to take my personal blog from WordPress 2.9.2 to WordPress 3.0.  At the time I ran into some trouble and suggested that people not do it if they didn’t know how to do the manual upgrade.  Well, I just updated this blog from WordPress 2.9.2 to WordPress 3.0 with absolutely no trouble at all so I’d say it seems to be good to go.

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WordPress Mobile Theme

Monday, June 28th, 2010

I just now finished installing the WPtouch iPhone Theme plugin for this blog.

The plugins description is: “A plugin which formats your site with a mobile theme for the Apple iPhone/iPod touch, Google Android, Palm Pre and other touch-based smartphones.”

I highly recommend this now that so many mobile devices are being used for social and even business blogging.

I created a custom icon that will be used when bookmarking.  It creates a really nice icon for the home screen that with one click will open this blog.

So far I have only tested this on my iPhone, but the plugin documentation states it works with “popular touch-based smartphones like iPhoneTM, iPod touchTM, AndroidTM, PalmTM Pre/Pixi, and BlackBerry StormTM.”

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Upgrade WordPress 2.9.2 to WordPress 3.0

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I saw yesterday that WordPress 3.0 was out of beta and available via WordPress’s terrific automatic update feature.  I figured if they had it available through that, they must have worked out any auto install bugs, right?

Well, not quite.

I did the auto install on my personal blog and was told that it failed, then when I tried to go back and change some things in my admin, I got this error:

Fatal error: Call to undefined function set_current_screen() in /xxxxx/wordpress/wp-admin/admin.php  on line 129

Upgrade WordPressI did a little digging around and discovered that I wasn’t the only one.  The suggestions were to disable all your plugins (if you don’t have admin access you can do this by simply renaming the plugins directory via FTP) and see if that works, which would mean one of your existing plugins was causing the issue, or do a manual upgrade.

Renaming my plugins directory didn’t fix it for me, so I decided to do the manual upgrade, and that did the trick.  My WordPress 3.0 blog is working peachy keen now.

There’s a lot going on in WordPress 3.0 and I was eager to play with it, but it was pretty late at that point so I messed with the new default WordPress theme, Twenty Ten, a little bit and called it a night.

While the manual install isn’t particularly difficult, I’m not going to suggest our clients upgrade to it yet unless they want to give it a go themselves.  I’m going to wait until whatever bugs there are in automatically upgrading from WordPress 2.9.2 to WordPress 3.0 are fixed before we go forward with that.

In case you want to know how to manually upgrade from WordPress 2.9.2 to WordPress 3.0, here are the steps:

  • Download WordPress 3.0 and unzip the files into the WordPress folder on your computer.
  • Back up your database.  This is optional, but it’s a good idea.
  • Disable your plugins.  Sometimes a plugin will conflict with something in a newer version of WordPress.  You can reactivate them one at a time to make sure there’s no conflict.  I usually skip this step, personally, but I do remember once or twice where it caused me a problem.
  • Delete the wp-admin and wp-includes directories on the server.
  • Upload all the WordPress 3.0 files to your server except the wp-contents folder.  That folder contains your themes and plugins.
  • Upload the wp-content/themes/twentyten folder.  This will give you the WordPress 3.0 default theme, Twenty Ten, which lets you use all of WordPress 3.0’s new features.  Uploading this folder separately from the rest will ensure that any other themes or plugins you have are not overwritten.
  • You’ll be prompted to update your database, which takes under a minute, then you’re done and ready to explore the new features of WordPress 3.0!
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