Tables are Dumb (part I)

By | Business Intelligence, Tips and Tricks, Web Design | One Comment

This is a bit of a soapbox rant aimed at other designers and developers, but one the general audience of our readers should enjoy as well.

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh, but tables for layout is stupid. It’s hard to believe four years after that little diddy was published this conversation would still be relevant. Why have we, as designers and developers, become complacent? Stagnant if you will. Has the internet become boring? Sure, if you had the wads o’ money Mark Cuban does the internet might be boring. I’m sure thousands of businesses, designers, developers and marketers would disagree (strongly), but I digress.

So why is it taking so long for web standards to become the standard? I think for many interface developers it comes down to two problems – training, or lack thereof, and time. I believe these are ridiculous, petty arguments when viewed in the grand scheme of the benefits to client and self of implementing and coding to a modern standard.

Many, if not the majority, of the code jockeys out there learned to write html haphazardly through chance and circumstance by choice or by force round about the time of the big bubble, when the internet was in her infancy and many didn’t know better. They knew they could beat the browsers and create any kind of layout they wanted by changing the columns, rows, and cells of a data table. Accompanied by abuse of the transparent gif image and border=”0″ they beat the purpose and semantics out of each and every html tag until they were satisfied with their pixel-perfect layouts. The browsers never complained. They took everything these tag slingers could throw at them and figured out some way to display it. And so their methods were ingrained and passed on to other code jockeys for replication in their haphazard tradition.

Slowly the browsers became aware of the poisoned tag soup they were swilling. By then it was too late to abandon the millions of malformed, nested tables out there.Only when the jockeys began to realize their good intentions had created document after document with no hierarchy, no meaning or semantics, did some begin to look for a better solution.

Creating a table layout is easy, systematic, and not complicated for the brain to process. Not to say I haven’t seen some pretty complicated table layouts, but for the majority of the time to process transforming a graphic to a grid begins in the top left corner and works across the columns of that row to the end and then moves down to the next row and so on and so forth. A standards or “div” layout shatters that thought process and blows all the years of training and know-how of the jockey out of the water.

They’re now required to think about blocks or groupings of elements, how those elements build relationships with other blocks and the hierarchy of each, not in a graphical perspective but in a coding perspective. Why not in a graphical perspective? Because we have a new boy wonder, a super hero he-man to solve all of our presentation pixelation problems – Cascading Style Sheets.

Many jockeys cannot make this leap of gray matter marvel, for the old process is so ingrained in the fleshy folds of stuff between their ears. It’s natural for humans to fear the unknown, to fear change, but only through the admission and conquering of our own fears can we become better humans and therefore better jockeys.

So I stand with many others and humbly make this sermon. Stand up fellow jockeys, shed your shields of transparent images and your swords of colspans and join us in a new battle to build a better web.

Join me tomorrow as I beat down the argument of “I don’t have time to learn new ways to code”.

Increase Your Return on Advertising Spending (ROAS)

By | Business Intelligence, Definitions, Search Engine Marketing, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized, Westward Strategy | One Comment

Types of Advertising that Cause US Consumers to Visit Web Sites, by Age, February 23, 2007-March 6, 2007 (% of respondents in each group)Types of advertising that cause US Consumers to visit web sites, by age

Advertising or Marketing Vehicles that Provide Highest Return on Investment (ROI) or Advertising Spending (ROAS) according to Advertisers Worldwide, December 2006 (% of respondents)
Advertising or marketing vehicles that provide the highest return on investment or advertising spending

eMarketer
Print and Digital Need Not Compete
AUGUST 27, 2007

Dirty Words You Shouldn’t Say (in Email Subject Lines)

By | Business Intelligence, Email Marketing, Tips and Tricks, Westward Strategy | One Comment

I’m sure you know the obvious ones from George Carlin (NSFW), but Marketing Profs has posted a list of the top 100 you shouldn’t use in subject lines… ever. If you’re doing any email marketing or even considering doing email marketing print this list and keep it nearby.

There are a few that caught us by surprise, including:

hello

herbal

life insurance

offer

opportunity

How to get search engines to pay attention

By | Business Intelligence, Natural Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Tips and Tricks, Westward Strategy | One Comment

The Northern Nevada Business Weekly thought our SEO whitepaper – “Back to Basics: Top Ten Tips to Improve Your Natural Search Optimization” was newsworthy enough to run as a how-to in the August 20th edition of their weekly paper. I’ve taken the liberty of posting the article in its entirety below. You may pick up a hard copy at numerous locations around town or read it on their website.


How to get search engines to pay attention
Kristy Crabtree with Chris Gandolfo

The days of putting up a Web page then waiting for it to show up on the first page of any search engine are long gone. Today it takes time and effort to see your site in the first couple pages of results.
However, most site owners and webmasters do not know where to begin. By following these 10 steps you can increase your Web site’s natural search optimization and get the search engines to take notice.

1. Optimize for keyword content
To get listed correctly in the search engines, each page of your site needs to be optimized to the best of your ability. Since the keywords that you decide to target will be used throughout the optimization process, choosing the right keywords is essential. If you choose the wrong keywords you will not be found in the search engines. If you are not found in the search engines how will anyone find your site? Pick one core term for each page and write the optimized text around it. To brainstorm top phrases for your industry try reviewing your competitors’websites.

2. Write unique title tags
The title tag of your page is the most important factor to consider when optimizing your web page for the search engines. This is because most engines place a high level of importance on information found in your title tag. The title tag is also what the search engines usually use for the title of your listing in the search results.
The title tag appears as the description of the page at the top of your browser’s window. It should be a complete sentence that includes your term(s) for that page. Do not overstuff these tags or your website will be penalized in the search results!

3. Implement quality Meta content
Meta is a part of the page html code human visitors to your site rarely see. It is used by search engine visitors (robots or bots) to help them determine what the page is about.
Description Meta should be one or two core-term enriched sentences that do not exceed 250 characters.
Keyword Meta is a space-separated list of terms relating to your page. The core term should appear at the beginning and end of this list. Limit the number of characters to 1,024, including spaces.

4. Content is king
The page content is one of the most important factors to letting visitors and the search engines know what it is you are offering.
Improve your content and you will improve your listings in search engines. Each page should have at least 200 words of copy and include your keyword terms. The most important aspect of writing for the Web is that you write for the human visitors, not the search engines.

5. Use image alt text wisely
Each image on your page can include a keyword phrase that relates to the image. This text will also help those that may have their images turned off when visiting your site. This text can be included in the alternate or “altâ€Â? attribute of the html code for an image. The important thing is to describe the image first and then try to work in key terms.

6. Use a robots.txt file to tell search engines where to go
This simple text file is a roadmap of your web site. It should be placed in the root directory of your site, and it tells the search engine spiders which sections they should go into and which ones they are not allowed in. It is one of the easiest tactics you can use to help ensure your site gets crawled. It’s also one of the most overlooked opportunities.

7. Use a Sitemap.xml file, and keep it up to date
A sitemap file is a source of information for the search engines, like your robots.txt file. It tells them the location of all the sections and pages of your Web site, how important each of those sections are to your site, and most importantly when those sections were last updated.
Most importantly, when you change your content, update your sitemap file!

8. Get rid of duplicate content
It’s easy to use the same content for multiple pages on your site, especially if you’re a retailer and the manufacturer has already provided lots of content for you. However, every time you use the exact same content you are taking a chance that the search engines will throw your site out of their results, thereby negating all of your hard work to get there in the first place.
Take the time to rewrite content for each page, regardless of how similar it may be to another page. Get rid of mirrored sites or completely rewrite these as well. Also, rewrite an article two or three times for use in article marketing or syndication.

9. Create custom error pages
If a visitor accidentally stumbles into a section that does not exist anymore, their browser’s default “Page Not Foundâ€Â? message does not give them a way to get back into the content of your site.
However, it is very easy to set up custom error pages that have the same look and feel as the rest of your site. They will help keep visitors and therefore search engine spiders from reaching a dead end in your site and leaving.

10. Get validated!
First, validate your code for well-formed HTML. The rules of HTML have changed quite significantly over the years, and it is no longer optimal for you or your webmaster to generate messy, broken mark up.Although not a requirement from the search engines, both Google and Yahoo mention it in their guidelines for Webmasters.
Second, validate your entire Web site through Google and Yahoo. This is a simple task that involves uploading a file to your Web site’s root directory or adding information to your meta tags.You can find more information on this process in the search engines’ Webmaster guidelines.
This tip also serves to build a level of trust with the search engines and lets them know that your site is a current and active. This is a major component in determining how often your Web site is visited by the search engines.
The 10 tips presented here are just the beginning of a well-optimized Web site. The depth of a successful natural search optimization strategy is beyond the scope of this article, but we hope this guide will help site owners and Webmasters improve their natural search optimization.

Kristy Crabtree is the owner of Westward Strategy & Design Group in Sparks, and Chris Gandolfo is a marketing and design specialist with the firm. Contact them at (775) 720-3521.

Get Your Free Marketing Wisdom for 2007 Special Report

By | Business Intelligence, Strategic Planning, Tips and Tricks | No Comments

Marketing Sherpa is the Grandfather of Marketing Intelligence Online and they are always gracious with sharing Tips, Tricks and most importantly lessons learned in the field of marketing. Be sure to take advantage of their FREE Marketing Wisdom Special Reports.

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10 Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Web Design Company

By | Business Intelligence, Tips and Tricks, Web Design, Westward Strategy | 2 Comments

As a follow up to yesterday’s article on protecting your website and domain I thought I would provide 10 questions you should ask a prospective web design and development company. Not only will these questions give you a better understanding of who you are interviewing, but they should also raise any red flags early in the negotiation process.

1 ) How long have you been in business?

Think about what type of company you are comfortable working with before you meet with them. If they give an answer outside of your comfort level tell them immediately. Some businesses don’t mind working with startups or individuals with lesser experience if the price is right. Everyone has to start somewhere, but if this is a risk you are not willing to take just tell the designer upfront.

2 ) Can I see examples of your work?

This is a must have for any designer. Make sure they have actual websites you can review on your own computer at any time you want. Avoid designers that only show you their work in a PowerPoint presentation or only on their computer.

3 ) Do you have testimonials from other clients?

Good designers and companies will happily provide a list of satisfied clients, both past and present. We even make them publicly available on our website.

4 ) What is the experience level of your team?

While almost every company has a few noobs (pronounced newbies) there should be some senior members on the team. Again, this is a comfort level thing on your part. Don’t get caught up in sales pitches and listen to your instincts here.

5 ) What programming languages and development tools do you use?

Even though you may not care about the answer to this question, it is important information for you to know. At the very least they should be able to hand code html. Other acceptable languages are PHP, ASP, XHTML, CSS, AJAX and javascript.

For development tools look for names such as Adobe or Macromedia (although Adobe now owns Macromedia).

6 ) What is your process for designing and developing a website?

A well outlined plan or process ensures you and your vendor know each other’s respective roles in the design and development of your website. It also will help you gauge their level of experience. Beware of companies that don’t have a plan!

7 ) What is the change process after the website is finished?

At some point your website, no matter how great it is, will need some changes or updates made. Find out what the process is for having these changes made. One way to avoid having to work with your vendor for content updates is to see if they will implement a content management system on your website.

8 ) Do you provide hosting?

Ask very specific questions about where the site will be hosted. If you need to, review yesterday’s post!

9 ) What other services can you provide?

You never know what other services they may be able to provide unless you ask. It is often easier on you and can build a stronger brand identity if one company or designer can handle multiple aspects of your marketing. Ask them about direct marketing, email marketing, and natural search optimization services.

10) Who owns the website in the end?

There is only one acceptable answer here. No matter what, the client owns the website including all graphics and content. The only exception is if your website uses a content management system. Often the CMS is outlined in your contract with the vendor as belonging to the vendor as their intellectual property.

Protect Your Website and Domain

By | Business Intelligence, Tips and Tricks, Westward Strategy | No Comments

This month seems to be the month of horror stories from clients and prospects. Many of them have relayed stories of current or previous “solutions providers” that have taken them on some wild rides in terms of service and support. So we hope to provide a little bit of advice to business owners on how they can avoid a few pitfalls in their online journey.

Protecting Yourself and Your Web Presence

Avoid the just “get’r done” attitude by refusing to let any one employee or partner hold all the chips. When a domain is registered for your company make sure more than one internal person is listed on the contacts for that domain. One of the hardest things to do is prove to a registrar that you are who you say you are when your name isn’t associated with the domain in any way.

If you are working with an outside vendor ask them to put you down as the administrative contact and themselves as the technical contact. The same rule holds true for internal employees. Irate ex-employees have been known to do strange things when they leave. The last thing you want is your domain forwarded to some “adult novelty” website.

Your Site is Hosted Where?

Another difficult thing to do is get access to, or copies of, your website if you don’t know where it is hosted. Make sure the site is hosted by a reputable hosting provider or in a true, secure colocation facility. Ask for proof of this arrangement. If you vendor or employee is doing everything on the up and up they should not have a problem providing this.

The last thing you want is to have them hosting your site on some server in their living room, garage, or even their bathroom. I have seen this. The person responsible said the room’s exhaust fan helped cool the server. I’m not making this up.

If the server in any of the scenarios above were to crash it is possible your website files could be lost forever. Reputable providers take into account redundant measures to ensure your site files are backed up and your website remains accessible nearly 100% of the time. Sometimes you have to pay a little bit more for this backup service, but trust me it is worth every penny.

I invite you to share your own horror stories and how you resolved the issue by leaving a comment below.

The SEO Glossary – Industry Jargon Defined

By | Business Intelligence, Definitions, Search Engine Marketing, Tips and Tricks | One Comment

Whether you’re just looking to pick up a few new terms or you want to scour all the jargon forwards and backwards, the gang over at SEOmoz has created a great SEO Glossary for anyone interested in all the fun terms and acronyms that are essential to today’s search marketing professionals. Most of it is serious, but there are a few funny bits like:

SMWC (Slapping Myself With Celery) indicates an extreme reaction similar to a “spit take” but more vegan-trendy. Often combined with other exclamatory acronyms. – WTF/SMWC, or perhaps ROTFL/SMWC.

While their list format is not the easiest to get through, this is the most complete list I have seen. I also recommend the SEO Dictionary for quick reference.

Why We’re Not Adding a Sphinn It Button to Our Blog

By | Business Intelligence, Tips and Tricks, Westward Strategy, What Are People Saying | One Comment

I’m sure most of you read that headline and said “What’s a Sphinn it button?” Which is exactly the reason we’re not adding one to the blog.

Sphinn.com is, according to the website, “a social site for search and interactive marketers. It’s designed to allow you to share and discover news stories, read and take part in discussions, discover events of interest and network with others”.

A Sphinn it button, if placed here, would allow you to click on it and cast your vote for this post as a newsworthy search marketing topic.

Think Digg.com for search marketing. It’s a fantastic idea and a great website that is garnishing a lot of attention and praise in the search marketing arena. I believe in the concept as well as the site, heck I’ve even subscribed to the RSS feed.

Which again, is the reason we’re not adding a sphinn button to the blog. You, our loyal and dear reader, are not like me (one me is enough thank you) and you probably could give a rat’s hind end about the ins and outs of search marketing. After all you have a business to run! You don’t have time to become a search marketer, which is probably the reason why you’re here. You are the type of person we want here, the business owner or person in charge of marketing for your company, that wants to take a peak around, see what we’re up to, and maybe get some advice.

We’re not running a blog for search marketers. The search marketing industry at large, much like the design community at large, needs to stop speaking to ourselves and start communicating and educating the business community at large.

Which is exactly the reason why we’re not adding a Sphinn button to our blog.