Web Design and SEO

Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn

Facebook is for people you used to know.

Linkedin is for the people you currently know.

Twitter is for the people you would like to know.

I overheard this at an event a little while back and I’ve been thinking about it lately.  This might be a little over simplification but I think it’s pretty accurate.

An Introduction to Twitter

About a year ago I was sitting in a stupid dinner meeting with the executives of a big hotel in Vegas and the whole “I don’t get this Twitter” thing came up.  The one exec that seemed to be the most adept explained what he had read. I’m going to try to sum it all up because I tried it and it totally worked for me.

First thing – Stop bagging on things you don’t understand just because you don’t understand them.

Second – Sign up and pick a few (5 to 10) well-known people to follow.

Third – Watch. And learn. Don’t start tweeting yet, other than maybe that first “well- I’m-new-to-twitter-and-trying-to-figure-this-thing-out” tweet.  Do this for about 4 to 6 weeks.  By this time you will have figured out that you are following mostly the wrong people.  And you’ll figure out how you want to use Twitter.  Twitter isn’t for everyone.  And there is more than 1 way to use Twitter.

Fourth – Start tweeting.  Emulate the people whose tweet style you agree with but don’t be afraid to follow a few.  Use Twitter for conversations that you don’t mind being public.  Use Twitter to speak your mind about things that you want associated with your personality. Don’t spam Twitter. If you aren’t providing something either useful or entertaining don’t tweet it. No one wants to know what you ate for breakfast. Unless you just tried out a new coffee shop and want to recommend them.

Things you need to know:

Hashtags. A hashtag is a work preceeded by the # symbol.  This is used to attach your tweet to a specific topic. Don’t just do this on every tweet. This is used at events and in discussions so that everyone participating can follow related tweets.

Replying. When you begin a tweet with by addressing someone by starting the tweet with “@user” it is only visible to people that follow that user.  Sometimes this is what you want. Sometimes not.  If you want other everyone to be able to see it put something before the @ in their username. I’ll try to work their name into the middle of a sentence or sometimes I’ll just add a “.” in front of it, like so; “.@myfavoriteuser that was a good point, here’s another thing to think about”

This should be enough to get you started.  Ok, now go give it a try.

Have a tip? post it below in the comments.

Over-Optimization Penalties.

I told you so I told you so.

I don’t really like to rub it in when I’m right but this one is just begging for it.  I’ve been preaching this for the last 5 years.  My first rule of SEO is to “Keep It Real”. Keeping it real means building your links and content so that REAL users will be able to find the information that they really want. It means providing value. Make it worthwhile for the user to come to your site.

Recently Google announced that they will soon be penalizing sites that appear to have been over-optimized.  What does this mean? It means that if you have done things to make your site appear higher than it should in search results you are in for some changes.

Rand Fishkin discusses what SEO’s need to do to prepare for Google’s big over-optimization penalties that are coming up in his weekly Whiteboard Friday.  He’s dead on here. (Just as he usually is)  The word Rand likes to use to describe the right way to optimize your site is to keep it “natural”. This means doing things for the benefit of your users and not solely for the Google Bot.  Eventually the Google Bot will be smart enough to tell, and it looks like it’s not too far off.

For ethical SEO’s out there things are getting better.  You should see some good improvements over the coming weeks.

For the unethical spammy lot out there that are just about to lose all their rankings I just have one thing to say; I told you so.

If I Was Google for Just One Day

This is one of the huge welcoming signs for Go...

Welcome to Google

Let’s play a little game.  Let’s pretend that just for today you could be Google.  You can do whatever you want to the algorithm, any Google products, the Google brand, Googleplex, all 26,000 Google employees, everything Google, it’s yours to toy with.  Oh one other thing, you get to keep all the money Google makes today.

So here’s what I would do.

1. Set my goal – Make money of course. So how do I do that? by offering searchers almost exactly what they are looking for in the natural search results and offering them exactly what they are looking for in the paid ads.  By offering almost exactly what the searchers are looking for I know I can beat out the Yahoo!s and the Bings and the Lycoses and even the Altavistas and Hotbots of the world wide web.  Then by giving them exactly what they want in the paid ads I know I’m going to make at least a few cents off of every visitor.

2. Gather the data – I have the Google toolbar that could gather the browsing habits and history of every user that has it. I have Google Analytics that shows me detailed information about the what visitors are doing on a huge chunk of the websites out there. I have Gmail where I have access to a great deal of the communications going on out there. I have Google docs that helps me organize all the things that people feel strongly enough about to create a spreadsheet or text doc.  I have Google calendar that helps me know when people are doing what.  I have Google maps and free API access to a ton of location based services that I can use to build shopping and spending patterns of individuals.  I even have Google voice that is trying really hard to figure out what people are saying in my voicemail. I have the fastest growing browser out there.  I’ll even have my own OS where you won’t be able to hide ANYTHING from me that is on your computer. And of course, and this is my favorite part, I have Google+ user accounts to tie all these services/things together so I can nail down all that information about YOU.  I’ll know where you live, work, shop, worship, recreate, vacation, and visit. And I’ll know what you do online, how long you stay there, if you’re reading or not, if it has to do with your job, if you spend money doing it, and if you’re likely to spend that money anytime soon. Today for example.

3. Tweak the search results – Now that I know everything there is to know about you I can tailor the algorithm specifically to you.  I’ll give you local search results when you are looking to buy things that you don’t usually have shipped.  I’ll remember who you have visited over the past few days and make sure that you see their ads on my affiliated adsense sites in hopes that you are ready to make that purchase today, or at least click the ad today.

There’s probably a lot that I’m overlooking but I only have 1 day to run Google, I need to get going.  I’d say that’s a pretty good start.  We’ll see how the bank account looks tomorrow and I’ll let you know how I did.

How Not to Do a Critique, and Then How to Do it Right

The Backstory

After I had been designing professionally for about 6 years I decided to go back to school and get a degree, and possibly learn a thing or two.  I ended up in Jim Godfrey’s Intro to Web Design because it was a prerequisite for the advanced class.   It was horrible. Jim made me use… (*sobs) Dreamweaver. And I wasn’t allowed to include javascript or anything dynamic.  Talk about torture. Jim turned out to be  an amazing teacher so I swallowed my pride and followed the rules.

The real fun started at the end of the first assignment when we all put our designs up on the big screen for a classwide critique.  By the time we were about 5 designs into the critique I knew one individual in particular would be my arch nemesis.  We’ll call him Larry.  I sat where I could see Larry’s screen as he worked but he couldn’t see mine.  I knew that Larry’s work was typical for a beginning class but his opinion manifested itself as rude and overbearing during the critique and just made me want to punch him.  Larry talked like he knew what he was talking about to those who don’t know better and he made everyone feel horrible for even trying to attempt the assignment.

Soon we came to mine.  I couldn’t wait to see what Larry would say. Surprisingly he didn’t say anything.  But as soon as the next design went up he was right back at it.  I began to stew.  I didn’t even notice the quality of work that was on the screen, I just noticed how wrong Larry was.  I put together my plan.  I knew what his project looked like and I planned my comments.  Making note of many of his comments that applied to his project as well.  I couldn’t wait to throw it all right back in his face.

Finally the moment came.  His design went up.  A few people raised their hands and offered praise on how well it was laid out, good white space, blah blah blah. My hand went up.  I’m normally not a harsh critic but this day was different.  This wasn’t a critique, this was war.  So I calmly began to go down my list.  Everything I said was right.  He could have paid attention to fonts, consistency in border widths, leaving a single point of interest, etc. etc.  I went on for a good 2 or 3 minutes.  As I spoke I could see the heads of all the intro students begin to nod and see that this was indeed a very poor design. I could also see Larry slide down lower in his chair.  This was supposed to be an anonymous critique so no one knew whose design we were looking at but I knew.  And I think Jim knew.  He gave me that look of “I wish I could get away with saying what you’re saying. Except I’m not that mean”.

By the time I was done I think I had destroyed Larry’s self esteem.  He didn’t offer up any more advice for the remaining few design projects.  He just slouched in his chair and sulked.  I had won.

I should have felt the joy of victory but I didn’t.  I felt sick.  Never before had I singled out an individual and systematically whittled down his work until it was a festering puddle of goo.  I had done what I had wanted to never do.  Sure I put him in his place but I think I could have handled it a lot better.  If I were to go back knowing what I know now what would I do different?

How to Critique

First acknowledge what they have done right.  Every designer, no matter how novice or how inartistic, starts with good intentions and for some part at least they accomplish it.  Start by finding what that is and give it a nod.

Second, ask questions.  Find out what they were going for.  Maybe they wanted to use so much white space that it would leave an unsettling feeling and make the viewer take a specific action.  Design isn’t about being pretty, it’s about solving an issue.  So find out what problem the designer is solving, it might not be what you are expecting.

Third, make suggestions.  Don’t tell them what they have done wrong. Suggest that they go back and try approaching it from this angle or that angle.  Try giving a little direction rather than just pointing out errors and mistakes.

Finally follow up all the advice with some more praise.  I don’t remember who told me this in school but you should treat a critique like a sandwich.  Keep all the meat in the middle and sandwich it in between two good pieces of praise.  I have used that philosophy since I got out of school and it has always worked well.

So what works for you? And what good critique horror stories do you have?

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The Three Types of Designers – What Level are You?

I attended a seminar a few  years ago where the owner of one of the states largest design firms gave a really interesting presentation where he kind of mentioned this fact as a sidenote: “There are three types of designers; Technicians, Artists, and Problem Solvers.  The technicians make up about 70% of the field, artists about 20% and problem solvers are only 1 out of 10.”  I remember being really impressed with all his work but this is the main thing I took away from listening to him.  I’ve worked with all types of designers over the last decade and here’s my thoughts on who’s who.

The Technician

In school I was taught all the tools and not really pushed to create anything that special.  Had I not worked as a designer before I decided to get the degree I probably would have been one of them.  You know the type.  They can explain how to use all the tools in Photoshop or Illustrator.  They understand the printing process and know how to do spot checks.  They can even code a little HMTL.  Technically they are designers. Technically.

They can take your mockup or sketch and turn it into something that is well… less like a mockup.  Some people will even be convinced that it will be something you could be proud to present to your customers.  They are really good at punching a clock and generally stay on task without much complaining.  They can take your idea and put it into the chosen medium as well as you can explain your idea.

When to hire the Technician

If you already know what you want but don’t possess the time or ability to produce your design you probably need a technician.  If you are the type of manager that loves looking at everything through a magnifying glass you might want to hire a technician.  A technician take instructions and doesn’t worry about adding their own style or applying their own market knowledge. In other words they won’t use their artistic ability to mess up your already brilliant ideas. Technicians are cheap.  You pay them for their time and their ability to memorize those keyboard shortcuts. And in the end, you get what you pay for.

The Artist

When I went back to school all I really wanted was a piece of paper that would open more doors.  I already thought I knew it all so I wasn’t really expecting to learn anything.  Well surprise surprise, I did learn a few things.  One thing I learned well (in photography and not in my design classes) was how to push yourself and explore artistic expression.

First off artists are technicians, and then some.  They have learned the tools and can design circles around the technicians but this has never really been proven because they wouldn’t every really stoop to that level. The artists are the designers that win awards.  They have a flash website that shows their great portfolio.  Many of their examples are quite visually striking but leave the viewer a little confused as to what is the exact purpose of the piece they are looking at.  They can make you feel like you are in an art gallery of sorts.  They charge a lot more than a technician and don’t really need you to give them a lot of direction.  In fact they don’t want much direction.  You don’t usually keep one of these guys on staff, they either work as a freelancer or for an agency.

When to hire the Artist

When you need to impress clients or competitors with your marketing budget, a good way to show them that you have money to throw around is to hire an artist.  When your only goal for your product is to be eye catching and get some attention you need an artist.  You hire an artist when you don’t have specific conversion goals or when you have goals but no metrics to track those goals.  You have a great deal of faith in your artist and you will need to give them some space to work their artistic magic.  You can expect the artist to deliver something mind blowing and unexpected.  If that’s what you are after you can’t get that from a technician. You’ll need an artist.

The Problem Solver

Something that they really didn’t teach in school was the ability to solve problems. They tried, but mostly they failed.

In the truest sense, a designer is a problem solver.  They must have mastered the technical aspect.  They must have the artistic flair.  But they also have something that the other two types of designers are lacking.  The have the ability to understand why their client has come to them in the first place.  Even in cases when the clients doesn’t understand why they have come to the designer.

The problem solver has the ability to figure out what the client is hoping to accomplish by having something designed and then finding the best solution to accomplish the goal.  The problem solver uses goals and tracking metrics to measure the success of their efforts will come back and tweak things until they know they have it just right.  The problem solver has considered and in some cases pursued a career in some field of engineering.

Problem solvers are going to require a bit more time than the other guys.  They are going to spend a lot of time up front  getting to understand your industry and business.  They’ll really get to know your company and your goals.  They will also be a little bit pricey but not really that much more than the artists.

When to hire the Problem Solver

When you know what your goals are and have them well defined you are probably ready for a problem solver.  You understand that you have your expertise and the problem solver has theirs.  You are going to rely on their expertise but not just on faith. You want to work closely with them so you can understand how to work better them but you don’t want to try to manage them or dictate what they do.  The problem solver will help you understand who your target market really is (not just who you think they are) and help you reach that market.  They’ll take the time to understand the mindset of the target market and develop a plan to really connect with them.

The problem solver is also an artist but they understand that a design must do more than blow people away.  It must connect with your customers on a conscious level as well as on a subconscious level.  It also goes without saying that the problem solver is also a master technician.  They not only know the tools, they have tweaked and customized the tools to streamline their work and many times have developed their own tools to accomplish what the industry standards don’t quite pull off.

So I have to back up a little.  I don’t really consider Technicians to be designers.  I also don’t really consider the Artists to be designers.  But if you ask them if they are they’ll t respond affirmatively.  I’d call them aspiring designers maybe. In my mind a designer is someone who can find the right balance between form and function to solve a problem.

So Who Are You?

Which type of designer are you?  Are there more types of designers that I am missing?

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Facebook – Guilty for People’s Stupidity?

I read an interesting article today about the darker side of social media.  It highlights some cases where people have used facebook to get fired and fuel feuds that end in assault.  We’ve all seen the headlines.

The thing that amazes me here is how people are blaming Facebook.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate Facebook as much as the next guy but come on people.  It’s not Facebook’s fault you can’t communicate with your teenage kids. It’s not Facebook’s fault that you got fired. It’s not even Facebook’s fault that your cousin got that date and you didn’t.

It’s like blaming the weapon used in a crime instead of blaming the criminal.  Facebook is just a form of communication and media consumption.  What people do there and say there isn’t Facebook’s fault.  Let’s stop vilifying websites for the actions of their users.  A moron on Facebook is a moron no matter what medium they are using at the moment.

Am I wrong on this? I don’t think so but please feel free to voice your opinion anyway.

Social Media – Is it Dead? Really?

Rogers' bell curve

We're in the late majority section of this curve.

So the AntiPR Guy wrote a post a few weeks ago about social media being dead.

He brings up some really good points about Social media being to the point where it will not be growing any more.  We’re past the top of the marketing bell curve.  While I agree with this I don’t agree that it is dead by any means.  To me this sounds a lot like the people who said that TV was done growing in popularity in the 60’s.

Social media is here to stay.

Social media has only helped communication evolve.  AntiPR Guy says that the next generation will not have a blog or a podcast, they will simply text.  I don’t see it.  My son for example is definitely part of that generation. He’s 10 and he has just launched his own blog where he posts chapters from the books he is writing.  As this next generation grows up I think much of their communication will be via texting but to say they won’t blog or podcast is just silly.  Social Media isn’t dead. It’s evolving.  Who can say what will be the next big thing in social media?

Social Media Landscape

Now don’t get me wrong.  Social media isn’t all it’s cracked up to be by many of today’s marketing analysts.  It never has been.  Sure it’s all the rage in marketing.  “Does your new product have a Facebook fan page?”  Social media is just the shiny new toy.  It’s like when any new medium comes along, marketing types jump all over it because they don’t want to miss the gold rush if it just so happens that this is the thing that is going to replace the horribly unquantifiable advertising practices of the past.  People are always looking for a magic bullet.  They thought banner ads were it, and they thought spam was it, and they thought TV advertising was it.

Social media however is an effective tool when used right.  It’s social.  People are social, products are not social.  But people like to socialize with other people who enjoy the sames things, including the same products.  And when they feel that a certain brand connects with them, they share it with their “friends”.  That’s when social media works for advertising,  When it’s not really the social media doing the advertising it’s the users using social media to do what they would have done via a different medium in a different age.

What Social media really has going for it will still be here for quite a while.  It’s the ability for something to spread very far, very fast.  To go viral if you will in the true sense of the word, not the buzzword meaning but like Old Spice really did with their Old Spice Man earlier this year.

So here’s the way I see it in a nutshell.  Social media is just another tool in available to advertiser and marketers.  Potentially it’s a very powerful tool. And like I always tell my kids, “Use the right tool for the right job”.   But just like any other tool, if you don’t know how to use it you’ll just look like an idiot.  Kinda like when you see a guy trying to change his tire with a hammer.

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An SEO Experiment – What Is Mesothelioma?

Someone asked me not long ago what would be a really good strategy for building an MFA site.  Personally I have never liked them. I think they make the Internet a NOT-better place.  But I knew this was someone who wasn’t planning on launching thousands of lame sites so I indulged.

Me: What is your domain that you want to do adsense on?

Them: Oh, I don’t have one yet. I was wondering what domain I should go get.

Me: Ok, do you care what subject your site is on?

Them: No, not really. I mean as long as it’s not porn or illegal or something like that.

Me: Ok, I would start out by researching the value of the ads that your site will be placing.  You need your site to naturally rank for the keywords that your advertisers will be targeting.  Let’s do a quick search.  (searching…) Ok, here’s a good list.  Number 1 keyword: Mesothelioma.  Do you know what mesothelioma is?

Them: No idea.

Me: Mesothelioma is a cancer that is caused by asbestos.  There was a few big class action lawsuits a while back and basically if you come down with mesothelioma you can get a big chunk of this money.  Lawyers are dying to get in front of you if you have mesothelioma so they are paying big bucks to get that keyword.  See, look at this. Keyword number 3 “What is Mesothelioma” They’re spending $50 a click to get that keyword.  Now keep in mind, they are probably not paying for non-Google domain searches.  That means that your won’t be getting the $50 clicks on your site. But that’s still a pretty good indicator.

Them: So let’s say I want to have my site be about mesothelioma.

Me: Ok, so next thing you want is to see if you can get a domain with one of these keywords in the domain.  So let’s see what’s available… wow, look at that! is available.  A .biz is no .com but still, that’s a pretty good domain.

Them: Ok register it right now before someone steals it.

Me: Oh you must have done this before on GoDaddy and come back the next day to get the domain that you wanted just to see that someone else had registered it hours after you had looked it up.

Them: Yeah. How did you know?

Me: I’ve heard that story many times.  That’s why I don’t use GoDaddy. (typing and clicking…)  Ok, so now it’s registered.  You have two choices at this point.  You can either develop your own unique content (which is better) or you can just put up a page with links and some easy copied mesothelioma stuff and not worry about it any more.

Them: I think I’ll develop my own content.  How do I do that?

Me: First, go research Mesothelioma.  Make a list of sites you want to link to.  Make your own notes and write some unique content about it.  I’ll setup a WordPress blog and you can just come add content when ever you want.

So the story doesn’t end there.  The site cleared the sandbox in less than 2 weeks.  It got its first real visitor about 3 weeks later.  And finally 2 months later it’s ranking for the keyword “What is Mesothelioma”.  Granted, it’s on page 31 but it’s still ranking.  With less than a total of 5 hours of work on it.  And it’s getting clicks.  It’s best click so far has been $2.94. That’s not too bad but you can’t make a living on it without traffic.  Now we’ll just see how much it really gets.

**Note: I also recommend going through the process of measuring potential traffic. We just didn’t happen to do it on this experement.

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RAD (Rapid Application Development) with WordPress

I can hear the developers screaming for my head on a platter already and I haven’t even began to explain.  Please sit down and put away the pitchforks, I think it’ll make sense.

WordPress is not a development platform. It’s a blogging platform, right? Right. It’s also pretty flexible.  With a little creativity it can do a lot.

Screenshot of the WordPress 2.9 adminstration
WordPress Admin Screen

I’m not going to suggest that you could use it for most web applications but I just had an idea Monday, and today it’s live in WordPress, for the most part anyway.

The Story:

I have always run into times when I wanted a page printed out with some sort of lines or graph or something that Iknow I could buy at Office Depot but I only want 3 copies of it so I sit down and crank it out in Illustrator in about 5 minutes.  I have amassed quite the collection over the years.  Then Monday my son brought some blank sheet music home from piano lessons and I caught myself thinking “hmmm, I could have created that in like 3 minutes.”  Then I looked closer.  It had a web address on it.  His teacher had just gone tothis website and printed out the paper templates for free. In less than 3 minutes I’ll wager too.

The Development: (and I use that term loosely here)

So that got me thinking… “Why couldn’t I take all my paper templates and launch a similar site.  I would like it to have the ability for random people to come submit their designs too.  But I want it to be a kind of community site, not a shopping cart.  And I want contributors to be able to just upload their stuff.  And why not run adsense on it to see if I could get it to make a little money.  Hey, I could do all those things in WordPress.  Right?  Yeah, I think I could.”

So I did it, I say down for 2 hours and did it all; register the domain, setup the host, install WordPress, install an appropriate theme, install some necessary plugins, setup a twitter account.  And presto, I have a new site where people can come contribute their paper templates and anyone can come download and print them for free.  In one night.  I’d call that rapid wouldn’t you?

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