EJM Designs Limited Blog

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Old News Education: Flash Can Still Kill SEO

I would say that [potential] client education is one of the most important parts of what I do. And sometimes I forget, because I do it all day long all the time, that there are still some items that need clarification to most people. Today's education will talk briefly about Flash animation and how it should and should not be used.

There are basically 2 points:

1) Flash will kill your search engine optimization (SEO) - still
Search engines are still having trouble with Flash websites. While Google and those other two or three have said they are making strides to pick up on that Flashy content, it is still a crippling venture to choose to develop your entire website in that flowing, textured beauty (when done well, of course).

In the very best case scenarios and future scenarios where the search engines can pick up every word of copy on your site, your Flash site is still, functionally, a single page because the entire Flash piece exists on one page. So even if you have hundreds of Flash "pages" of content, even if you knock out best practice SEO for that page aside from the Flash bulk, you have an entire site that is essentially your homepage. And that's it. And you are effectively irrelevant.

I'm specifically nailing this to the ground right now because we had a nice little chat about it at Podcamp Ohio 2 and I just saw - today - that one of my favorite places to get a haircut and massage redid their website: entirely in Flash. Almost 1/3 of my business over the last year has been re-designing the work of a mediocre - or worse - designer/developer. And that shouldn't happen.

The people and businesses who are in the market for a website redesign need to know this information and the development companies providing these sites are either ignorant or deliberately misleading for the "wow" factor. And that makes me sad for the businesses and angry at the service providers.

Now, with that said...

2)Flash is NOT the Devil
Flash is - and has been since its inception - an excellent and attractive (again, if done well)addition to a site. If you want some of that pretty-pretty moving picture stuff on your site and don't want to make it invisible by creating the entire site in Flash, that is the preferred method of execution. The only thing that you must remember is that any text that lives in Flash components is potentially un-readable to search engines. So either reiterate that in copy or keep it to lovely images retaining all copy for straight-forward HTML text.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a web designer and developer that works hard for my clients to get them the best SEO results. In the spirit of honesty: I'd rather see a business spend money elsewhere knowing what they really need to purchase as opposed to wasting money and ending up with me, angry, distrustful, and just wishing they'd done it right the first time.

Get it right the first time: Never pay for a website that is entirely designed in Flash.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reasons Bing Will not Dominate Google

Bing Logo

It looks like Bing is here to stay. For those of you that have somehow made it to this blog post without encountering Bing online or through the media blitz, Bing is Microsoft's new pet search engine - I'm sorry; they call it a decision engine. They also call it a Google Killer.

And while I have been tweaking this post for a few days now, and today a deal was sealed between Yahoo and Microsoft, I believe the argument still stands. Here are a couple reasons that Bing/Yahoo will not overrun Google.

The Raw Numbers
The last Neilsen Online numbers for search engine usage (May 2009), Google was over 63%. Yahoo and MSN/Live together were less than 27%. And while Google and Yahoo (and even AOL and Ask) total users had increased from last year, MSN dropped by almost 15%.

We all know Google. The simplicity of its home page is a beautiful thing and a psychological comfort to many of us. People are creatures of habit and while novelty may lead some to seek out Bing, most will go back to what they're used to.

Mystery Meat Home Page

Bing Screenshot

What the hell?

One of the reasons that Google is successful is the simplicity of it: one box, two buttons. The Bing home page is variable. There is an image of some sort littered with invisible boxes with information mildly relevant to the image. (note the one on the American Flag in the image above.)

This is mystery meat in the worst way: not only do you have to mouse over the boxes to see information that may or may not relate to the piece of the picture you are mousing over, you actually have to hunt for the boxes because they do not appear until you mouse over (or near) them.

Why is this bad? A large part of good design is abundant clarity that allows visitors to intuitively navigate to or use your page to gain the information they are looking for. Without distraction. On the contrary, Microsoft is employing design elements that are tried and true examples of worst practice.

Microsoft's MSN/Live Debacle History
First it was MSN. Then it was Live, but MSN was still there, bumming around with its hands in its pockets. Then MSN was still there but running the Live engine. And now it's calling itself Bing. Oh, MSN is still there, just running the Bing engine. And Live is still there linking you to Hotmail and Spaces (hehe, yes the MySpace wannabe is still extant).

Microsoft is already a target for being The Evil Empire. Toss in a history of confusion and failure as the basis of continuing confusion in branding and that's just untrustworthy business.

I'm guessing Bing will be around for a while - at least until MS takes a different tack. And I will work with it as a web developer because that's just good business practice. But even with this new Yahoo/Microsoft marriage of internet nobility, they are going to have a hard time getting their numbers to stabilize, let alone rise, let alone creep up on Google as a search engine.

But there's also that: Bing will always be the #1 decision engine.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wired: Weird

I subscribe to Wired, the manic magazine full of all things web, tech, gadget, and everything else that is on the cool cutting edge. It's sometimes even referred to as elitist.

So when it was time to renew, I got an email asking me to pay online with links that sent me here:

Wired Renewal Screen

How exactly does a magazine that lives at the ever-changing pinnacle of technology send me to a page, not on their server, that looks like a 13-year-old's phishing experiment?

Boo, Wired. We expect better.

I'll be renewing over the phone. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Episode V: Facebook Strikes Back or "Yes, I'm Human"

It was a long day. I was clearing the plate before the sun went down and suddenly realized that I'd promised to set up a Facebook group for an organization of which I am a member. Not so difficult. But I'd done the basic account setup for clients so often, I guess I went into autopilot. And I opened a new account instead of starting a group. And after I set it up I changed the contact email to my main email - which happens to be the same email as my Facebook account. There is no check or verification for that circumstance.

I quickly realized what I did and - just as quickly - saw that my account, vanity URL and all, were gone. Disappeared.

I've been contacting Facebook help for 2 weeks now by various means. To no avail.

For a while I had hope: eric.marschall vanity URL is not available and the old EJM Designs Limited business page was still there. But it's been too long.

Oddly (or not so oddly because of the time I spend on the internet), I actually uncovered an older Facebook account that I'd opened a couple years ago and have fully converted it to my needs in the anticipation that Facebook will fail on this one, at least in time (which is now).

So you can find and connect to my new facebook page at www.facebook.com/eric.j.marschall. The new EJM Designs Limited Facebook page can be found at this place. Become a fan!

I'm posting all this information because I'm good at what I do, but I'm also human. I can goof. And I don't have other-worldly powers to fix those goofs. But I do admit it and I do fix them and I get the job done. It may take me a couple of days to get my profile up to par, but my dedication will get it done in just a couple days.

As always, I'd love comments, but especially on this post: join me on Facebook and become a fan of the EJM Designs Limited site. Have a great day!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Trouble With "Vision"

I've been doing a lot of work recently with my own business (see sidebar) and in that work, I invariably come across both direct (web design, SEO, search marketing, social marketing) and indirect (general marketing and public relations) companies and their web presences.

Most of their sites are straightforward and professional enough to keep a browser's interest, providing the necessary information about what they do and how to contact them. However, there are a couple of common items I continue to run into that are just not good design/business.

V a g u e n e s s . . .
Maybe I missed the memo. Maybe nebulous ideas of what you actually do, descriptions rife with ideals and forms but no concrete language is what is of the moment. But I don't believe it. That's the trouble with "vision." Sure, it's necessary to have a mission statement, great to have a vision statement. But to format your web copy (you know, that primary - potentially only - contact point your potential client) on vague thoughts and non-targeted language could seriously be hurting you.

Then again, I can guarantee there are those consumers out there that eat that up. Not sure how to address those folks.

Mystery Bag O' Image Fun
If you use significant images to represent different aspects of your business then for the love of all things holy please make it intuitive. Or put labels on the images. The idea of a landing page with various, un-labeled images that represent varied and anomalous things or change on mouseover to reveal a "Hey, that's what I'm looking for!" label was tired after fifteen minutes at some indeterminate time in 2002.

People don't want to have to think too hard. Make them think about what they would like to find on your site, not figure out the puzzle of your layout scheme.

SO Out of the Box
So you want to go "out of the box" and have designed your website with a unique layout unlike any other. I commend you. But is it usable? If I want to do a quick two clicks to find out if you even provide web design, is it like solving the day's Sudoku puzzle in the paper to get to that revelation?

There are definitive conventions of web design that - while not entirely sexy - are conventions for a reason. Try to keep that in mind. I repeat: People don't want to have to think too hard. Make them think about what they would like to find on your site, not figure out the puzzle of your layout scheme.

Innovation and vision are good things in business and marketing. But people are on such a limited time schedule - and sickeningly low attention span - that it's the quick nuts and bolts that should be straightforward. If you want visitors to see your vision, put together a vision statement page with a prominent link. The fewer things potential clients have to think/worry about when visiting your site, the more follow-through you'll get.

Would you rather a low percentage contact you as to your exact services or a medium to high percentage contact you on details and pricing for what you obviously do?

So what are your thoughts? Is this something you've noticed? Is it okay? What do you want to see on the websites of service providers?

Comments always welcome.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and Other Twitter News

EJM Designs Twitter

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Tweet

Last night at midnight saw the first showings of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (and it reportedly pulled in $22 million just in those showings). Not surprisingly, there was some Twitter activity coming out of those showings.

Whether or not folks who could not make it sat, glued to their computers waiting for tweets tagged with #hp6 and #harrypotter does not concern me so much as the violation of a glaring cell phone screen periodically popping up, distracting me from a movie I paid $10 to view. I tweet just about everything I do that relates to social media or web design or might be interesting to my followers. But tweeting through a movie is an issue of respect towards others, and a line I will not cross.

Twitter Reality Show?

Called "The Final Tweet," here's the pitch:
In this choose your own adventure type journey the players rely partially on the influence and knowledge of their twitter followers and supporters, the strength of their teamwork, and their ambition to advance them from spot to spot... and bringing them one step closer to that final tweet. Teams will unite, squabble and laugh, looking forward to what Twitter Headquarters has up their sleeves. Twitter followers at home will live and play their journey as the teams document themselves by tweeting updates.

I know. I just threw up a little too. Maybe we can start a reality show that works on the premise of enacting pilots for the most miserable reality show imaginable. But these guys are out. That's a ringer if I ever saw one.

Tweeting the Crime

26-year-old Annemarie Dooling, a NY web producer and social media nut was present when her bank was robbed. So she tweeted right after it happened, through her role as a questioned witness.

At first it was cool. RT's all around!

Then the internet made it ugly. People without all the facts assumed she tweeted through the process of the robbery. She got nasty tweets. By yesterday evening, she had hidden her updates.

One of the downsides of Twitter is that it allows for the acceleration of ignorant consumers to jump to uninformed conclusions. I wish Annemarie luck.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't Think Small and Push; Think Big and Pull.

Don't think small and push; think big and pull.

I came up with that in a previous post. Here, I think we need to dissect and look at the deeper meaning behind it.

Thinking Small

If you are a small business, you may be dealing with the moniker itself. Worse yet, you may be embodying that nomenclature, taking the word "small" and making it a part of the subconscious identity of your business: You're struggling with growth; You're worried you won't be taken seriously; You don't have an office with 30+ employees.

It's all state of mind. And you need to have a vision.

Can you see your business bigger? Do you have a plan - or even a thought of what you might do - when things really get going? Do you have a solid belief that things will really get going?

If so, then you're on the right track. You just need perspective.

On the other hand, if you are drawing on that word "small," even subconsciously, and making excuses that you're not big because you don't have the time or don't have the resources or don't know why, you need to regroup.

You are as big as you think you are. You are as successful as you know you will be.

Thinking Big

You don't have to be big to think big. It's actually the basis of any successful vision: you start thinking big and get it going from that direction. In other words, you must mentally position yourself as "big" and pull the reality of the business in that direction. Towards you. You as "The Big."

Thinking Strong

You're already "big." Even if you want to remain a small business, you need to think big to pull, to get your business to that "I'm okay" level.

But chances are - if you are thinking of or stuck in the "small" - that you're in need of some confidence. I may not be Tony Robbins, but read this with all intensity and seriousness:

You are as strong as you believe you can be. You are much stronger than you think you are. You can and will succeed. Did you hear that? You will succeed.

Plan your business strategy. Seek help in strength from others if you need it. Reassurance if you desire it. But make it solid. Don't try; do. Don't whine; make a plan to fix the problem. And never, never think "small" ever again. You're already a big business. Make it real for you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's Up With a Kidney Donation Post?

I know this has nothing to do with web design, SEO, social media, or technical gadgets. However, my father and sister, a little over a year and a half ago, donated their kidneys to my uncle and a receiver from West Virginia. It was a cross-donation.

Here's the skinny: My father wanted to donate his kidney to my uncle - his wife's brother, 10 years in dialysis - but was not a match. My little sister stepped up and got tested and was a match for my uncle. But since my dad still wanted to give, he had his tests compared and sent out and matched a guy in WV. That guy came up for the surgery, four went under, two came out one kidney less, two woke up with something that would make their lives better for a very long time. The compatibility was so good that my uncle's kidney flushed pink with blood and started working immediately on the operating table. A year and a half later, everything is good, and both donatees are living a much better life because of it.

But this post isn't to brag or blog about my father and sister. They were small potatoes compared to this story:
Kidney Paired Donation: 16 Patients, Four Hospitals, Four States
Henry Ford Hospital is the first in Michigan to participate in a domino donor kidney transplant in which eight patients received a new kidney from eight unrelated donors at four hospitals in four states.

Surgeries were performed on four separate days at Henry Ford, The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis as donated kidneys were transported by airplane to their intended recipients under a Kidney Paired Donation.

It is believed to be the largest series of kidney paired donation procedures performed in the United States. All eight donors - five women and three men - and eight organ recipients - five women and three men - are either in good or fair condition.

Organ donation is damn important in our country. And how easily it can be expanded is frightening. Make a commitment, at least on your license.

Make a difference.

Tech Thursday: DSi and Absurd Watch

In today's Tech Thursday report, I was left in gaping wonder at a wonderful, warranty-voiding mod of Nintendo's DSi case for $26. Plant your peeps:

DSi Case Mod

I guess I'd need a DSi first.

(boingboing gadgets)

The other wonder upon my person is the sick and crazy watch running at $265K. Worth it? You decide:

DSi Case Mod

(via DVICE)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eastern Hills Journal (Community Press) Small Business Spotlight

The Eastern Hills Journal (Community Press for our chunk of the East Side of Cincinnati) printed a great article highlighting EJM Designs Limited in the Small Business Spotlight. Lisa Wakeland did a great job on the piece. Since not everyone in Cinci gets this form of the paper (and those outside of Cinci don't have access to it), I've posted it here.

The article came out in print today (07/08/09), and I'd just link to the web version of the article, but Community Press technically posted the article online - much to my chagrin - June 2nd and their 30 day purge of online articles has passed. But you can still see the electronic version here - article on B1.

Front Page of Eastern Hills Journal EJM Designs Limited

Article on B1 of Eastern Hills Journal EJM Designs Limited

For anyone in the area who owns a small business, you may be wondering: "How'd you get that?" Here's the secret: when I saw the feature I contacted the journalist. I find in my dealings with other small businesses that some owners have a tendency to take the word "small" and make it a part of their being, a part of the core of their business. This leads to a subconscious view of self in the diminutive sense.

You never land if you don't jump. You don't sign the contract if you don't make the call. EJM Designs Limited is only "small" right now because it's not "big." But it's moving in that direction. Don't think small and push; think big and pull.

Oh Crap. My Parents Joined Facebook.

When social media becomes popular enough that it begins to span generational gaps, discomfort and hilarity spreads. Then it spawns meta-sites like Oh Crap. My Parents Joined Facebook. Here Facebook users - almost exclusively the son or daughter - can submit screenshots of the questionable tresspasses. It's no ICanHasCheezburger or FailBlog, but it's worth a few of your precious time-wasting minutes.

The mix of social media and familial relationships is very interesting, but not without real-world correlations like your parents walking in on a party and trying to be cool, not only embarrassing you but changing the dynamic of your own behavior, as though a sanctuary had been violated.

I'm looking forward to that level of awkwardness coming soon from both ends: I've probably less than a year before my parents get interested enough to join and I get liberal enough to let my daughter open an account. Then it's weird all over.

Incidentally, I'm currently dealing with my own Facebook snafu: my account has recently been deleted. Entering my own vanity URL results in an Account not found and my login no longer works. I think I've traced the source of the problem, but am awaiting response from the Facebook Support team. I gain only slight encouragement from positive comments about the help folks I've come across. Wish me luck.

And let me know: do you have or know of cross-generational accounts on Facebook? How's that working? No big deal or out of control?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Quick Template Websites Are a Bad Idea

I was reading through my Entrepreneur magazine this past week and could not help notice a 4-page spread from a prominent hosting company pushing one of their new services which amounts to a low-level CMS bounced off a stock of templates. I also recently saw some software that does the same thing from the desktop.

In the spirit of full disclosure (and you probably already know this), I find my livelihood from building - mostly by hand - well-designed, polished, user-friendly websites that are integrated with SEO from the ground up.

That said, here are the top 5 reasons you do not want - and do not want to advise anyone you know - to use a quick-click website builder.

Templates are generally of mediocre design

If you were building a brick-and-mortar store, would you pick a cookie-cutter design that might not necessarily reflect your business? Would you pick something that's near and say "Yeah, that's close enough."? If you answer "yes," then you have some serious alone time ahead of you to focus on marketing and branding.

If there is even a 1% chance that someone could visit a website and see that - hey, that free porn website looks the same as xxx.com's - then you should NOT do that.

Template stores and quick-startup websites are not designed to be friendly. They are designed to be cookie-cutter money makers. Not for you, but for the person selling it to you.

Where's that brand?

Did you get a chance to stick a block graphic that looks utterly out of place on your new site? That's great. But this is no longer 1995 and something that looks like your cousin Jimmy who took a class on web design put the whole thing together does not rock anymore. Simply "being there" passed a decade ago. You need to be polished, user-friendly, and specified to your niche.

Is a professional crafting your content?

You may know your business, but do you know how to craft a keyword-efficient paragraph about your product or service? Is plugging in a few lines about what you do and leaving it at that enough? No. See the previous section on design. Copy is the same. It needs to be not just a slug from a catalog or a scratch from a napkin; this is how people see your business.

This may be the only contact they have to your business.

Are you willing to chance a potential customer or client or sale on something half-assed?

Where's the SEO?

A template is void of Search Engine Optimization for a website. That is because SEO for a website combines a crafting of keywords and phrases in the background code - something that necessarily needs to be done by someone who has experience in HTML coding.

Let's put this point into a tangible analogy: If you wanted to design and send out a postcard to your potential clients or customers, would you hire someone who said "Hey, I sent a postcard to my sister once!"? No. You wouldn't. And if you would, your business would shrivel.

Short answer: You get what you pay for.

I love the hell out of what I do every day of my life. I love helping businesses develop a usable, polished web presence that people can find. But the biggest problem I run into - on a regular basis - is a lack of client education.

It's the stalwart businessman who says anything his cousin put up on the web is gold; it's the woman who owns an investigation company who says "It was good 7 years ago, why not now?"; it's the business owner who asks: "Why do I even need a website?"

"Good enough" is NOT good enough.

Not anymore. You must stand tall against your competition. You must drive new business to a friendly web presence. And you must keep them there long enough to email you, give you a call, or click "Buy."

As always, comments are appreciated, happy or sad.