Monday, July 28, 2008

5 Qualities that make a Good Designer

Web design stems from graphic design so most aspects of traditional print design apply (apart from the ink and paper). However, there are many unique problems that a web designer faces.

However if you can master the following qualities, you will be in a good position to face these challenges.

1. Be User-Centric
At the heart of good web design is good usability. If a user cannot quickly and efficiently access the information, product or service they have visited for, they will leave with a negative impression of the site and therefore the brand.

Good usability begins with the structure of information. Information architecture is the process of organising information in a logical, intuitive manner so that the user can find their way around the site quickly and painlessly. Get this wrong and the user will lose confidence in the site very quickly. To get this right, you need to step in the shoes of a user and approach the site as they would.

Personas are fictitious individuals who act as stand-ins or ‘archetypes’ of users. Using a variety of different personas for each project can identify patterns and discover what is necessary, what is unnecessary and to differentiate between what is used frequently and what is needed only infrequently.

2. Ensure graphic integrity and originality
Many aspects intrinsic to web design can hinder originality and produce cookie-cutter web sites.
  • Templates are used to display content that is dynamic and ever-changing,
  • Pages are produced with code that places restrictions on layout not found in print design,
  • Technologies restrain the use of typography
  • Our carefully laid-out designs can change dramatically on different users systems
  • Colours can vary from screen to screen.

So how do we combat this?

3...We Keep learning
The internet changes fast and new developments in web design are being made daily. Its crucial to be in constant touch with new technologies and designs to stay afloat and progress or you risk stagnating. Because of the many challenges faced in the medium - browser inconsistencies, liquid dimensions, accessibility etc - original and creative solutions are discovered all the time and you need to be constantly scouring the web for inspiration.

Stagnation can arise by following flavours of the month and not pushing yourself to discover new techniques. It's easy to develop a style that you fall back on time and time again. It may save time but you will not be reflecting the brand if every design uses the same style.

4. Remember the Brand
A Web site is an extension of the brand just like the store down the street or the box a product comes in. In many cases the Web site will be the first interaction a customer has with the brand after seeing an advertisement, so it has to compel and reflect the brand's values.

It is crucial to have a clear understanding of the brand for each project. The personality of a brand can be communicated with sound, animation, feedback and interaction as well as traditional graphic design.

Read the brief, then read it again. Revisit it constantly throughout the design process to ensure to are meeting the clients requirements and expectations.

5. Pay attention to detail
Focusing on “what isn’t right”—can take a design from “nearly there” to “there” and beyond. At times designers present concepts that they believe are 90-100% done. However to the detail-savvy designer, the work appears to be only 50-70% there. You can see the ground work and foundation, but you know it's just not finished. To take a design to 100% you need to achieve polish and add the touches that will make a design really shine.

The key to embracing details is to think critically about your design. If you think an element isn't right, try something else until you sure it works. Regardless of how 'cool' a particular aspect may be, if it doesn't serve the design - get rid of it. Never be precious about your designs.

Keep notes while designing—these will form a good basis for a style guide. Consistency displays sophistication and shows that you fully understood and made sound decisions. Consistency should be transparent.

Take regular breaks during the design to step back and take another look. Your own gut reaction will likely be similar to the initial impressions of those who see it for the first time. Always step back and re-evaluate.

Details aren't easy. They take time and patience, but you'll be rewarded for your efforts and they are the key to producing something you'll be proud of.

Web sites are experiences. Not only do we design graphically, but we design user interactions, we design sound and we design journeys.

A Web site isn't just a two dimensional space rendered on a computer monitor, but a environment that leads a user down a path through space an time, reinforcing brand values.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why You Don't Want Michelangelo Working on Your Website

Everyone wants to live surrounded by beauty. Beauty soothes the soul, and lifts the spirit. It inspires us and keeps us healthy. We all want beauty.

Can you have beauty in your website? Sure you can, and it's important to have your website be pleasing to the folks you want to help. Unfortunately, this desire to have beauty and to please folks means that you can spend a great deal of time creating a 'unique and beautiful' web design that people actually avoid. How can you spend so much time on beauty, sacrifice so much money with a designer, and still end up with a mess?

Do you do Frescoes?

No one would complain about the beauty of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Michelangelo spent four years, from July, 1508 through October, 1512, painting over 5,000 square feet of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.

Unfortunately, Michelangelo was a sculptor, and loved working in marble. Prior to the Sistine Chapel, he had only painted briefly as a student of Domenico Ghirlandaio in Florence - which means that he got off to a slow start as he learned how to paint frescoes.

Luckily for him, Michelangelo was already an accomplished artist. He wasn't exactly doing the Sistine Chapel as a free promotional effort. Pope Julius II commissioned him for those four years, and didn't seem to mind that it took Michelangelo a while to get in a groove.

History reports that one of the Pope's motivations was to outdo Pope Alexander VI. So, the whole idea was to create an amazingly glorious ceiling that would stun everyone who saw it.

Are you trying to stun your visitors? Remember the purpose of your website: to create a relationship with the right people, connect with their hearts and needs, and to help them take the next step in relationship to what you provide. If you aren't being commissioned to paint the ceiling of your website by a fabulously wealthy Pope, and if you aren't trying to stun your visitors with beauty, I suggest you relax, just a little bit, any attachment you might have to beauty and uniqueness around your website.

Your visitor is waiting for dinner.

Imagine showing up at a fríend's house to eat. You've worked all day, you're hungry and you've been looking forward to dinner. Yet, once you arrive, they keep you waiting for three hours while they pull out family home movies, or their wedding album.

It's not that you wouldn't eventually like to see those things. But first, can we have dinner, please?

The Two Functions of Your Design

Absolutely prepare and present the food with love and beauty. But just remember that your visitor is looking for food, not frescoes. It's been shown that when a visitor comes to a website, design plays two primary functions:

(1) to show that the website is solid and professional-looking enough that the business can be trusted, and

(2) to make sure that the visitor can find what he/she needs really easily without having to guess or hunt.

As long as you are meeting those two needs, your design is going to work.

So, where is it safe to bring forth beauty and inspiration on your site, and where will it keep you stuck to the ceiling for four years?

Keys to Website Design

* Things to avoid.

Avoid putting a pattern behind your text, or using a text color that isn't very dark. In fact, I recommend that you stick with black text on a white background. Millions of novels of great variety, beauty and talent are written, all printed black text on a white background.

As a general rule, avoid animation and oversized photos and illustrations - anything that distracts from the food you want your visitor to eat.

Avoid unique design layouts. Many websites look the same structurally - and so do human beings. You don't have to look at the back of someone's knees to find their eyes. People know how to connect with each other more easily in part because of structural similarities.

Your visitor has been trained to expect certain conventions in web design, so they can find what they are looking for. Don't play a guessing game with them by creating some outlandishly creative and confusing design.

* Things to do.

Keep your text front and center. Keep your navigation either across the top, or down one side, with clear labels. Don't use more than two columns - one for the navigation or side text, and one for the main content of the page. Have a clear banner across the top with a simple message about your business.

* Things of beauty and inspiration

Make your banner beautiful and inspiring, without being cluttered. Use colors you love.

Use creative bullets rather than just the usual round variety.

Use color highlights around navigation buttons, and in the frame around your page.

* Above all, don't agonize over it.

If you don't have a website yet, or your website isn't effective and you are upgrading it, bring in what creativity you have, but don't agonize over the beauty aspects. Your visitors are waiting to be fed! Once you start having a lot of visitors coming to your website, and your business is humming, you can take the time and space to bring out the fine china for them.

My very best to you and your business.

About The Author
Mark Silver is the author of Unveiling the Heart of Your Business: How Money, Marketing and Sales can Deepen Your Heart, Heal the World, and Still Add to Your Bottom Line. He has helped hundreds of small business owners around the globe succeed in business without losing their hearts. Get three free chapters of the book online:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Do You Know About Google Image Search?

Improve your rankings in the Google image search. Google image search is increasing in importance. Curious about this functionality, I did some digging on what it takes to get your photos ranked well in this image search engine. Here are some great tips to follow:

Ranking high in Google’s image search can increase your traffic considerably. This is especially true if you can rank in the top three for search results that show images above the organic search results.

1. Make your images large - Large images tend to rank higher than smaller images. I recommend making images you want to rank high in searches at least 10,000 square pixels. An image that is larger than 333 pixels wide by 334 pixels tall would work.

I just did an image search for internet marketing and there were only two images with less than 10,000 square pixels on the first results page.

Make sure to specify the width and the height of the image in your html.

2. Put your keywords in the file name - If you want your image to rank high for the term ‘internet marketing’, name it ‘internet-marketing.jpg‘.

3. Put your keywords in the Alt tags - This is probably the most obvious thing to do. Alt tags are designed to provide alternative text when images cannot be displayed. They should describe what the image is about.

4. Put your keywords in the image title tag - Many people don’t realize that there is a title tag associated with images. The text in the title tag is shown when the user mouses over the image. Put the same text in the title tag that you put in the Alt tag.

5. Put your keywords in the text close to the image - I recommend putting descriptive text that includes your keywords below each image that you want to rank high in image searches. This is just more information for Google to use in determining what your image is about.

6. Optimize your page for the keywords - Include the keywords in the title tags, meta tags, header tags and the body copy of your page. Keyword density of the page that the image is on is very important.

7. Create an image site map - I have just started testing this out, but I have high hopes for it. Create a page with text links to all the images on your site that you want to rank high in image searches. Use the appropriate keywords for your anchor text when linking to the images.

An image site map is a great way to get links that come directly into your images and it lets the search engines know more about what the images are about.

8. Increase the authority of your web site - Images on pages with high Page Rank tend to rank higher in image searches. Build links into the page where the image is located and both your organic and image search rankings should improve.

9. Prevent the framing of your web site with javascript - You can stop Google from framing your web site by adding javascript code to your pages.

The idea here is that when somebody clicks on the image thumbnail in the search results they will go directly to the page on your site where the image is located without seeing the Google frame that has a direct link to the image. You should get more page views by using this javascript. I’m not sure if Google will penalize your site for using such code.

I would love to hear of any other techniques that you have found successful for increasing your image search results.

Michael Fleischner - Marketing Expert

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Add-On Domains, Parked Domains and Sub-Domains

Once you have a website up and running, you may want to launch other websites. The default way to do it is to register new domain names and open new hosting accounts. However, opening new hosting accounts can be expensive, especially if you still have plenty of free space and bandwidth available in your original account. Fortunately, it is possible to share the web space and bandwidth of your original account among different sites.

You can basically do so through:
Add-On Domains
Parked Domains, and

What is an Add-On Domain?
An add-on domain is a new domain name that points to a subdirectory within your existing domain hosting account, where the website for the new domain will reside. Add-on domains must be registered domain names that you own, and that are configured to point to your web host's servers.
From a web user perspective, an add-on domain functions just like any other domain. For example, if you already have a hosting account under, you can register and set up an add-on domain (for example:, so that when your visitors type "" in their browser, they will be transported to the new site.
The advantage of add-on domains is that the browser's address bar will show "" (there will be no reference to the original domain), so the process will be totally transparent to your users. If your users navigates to another page, their browser will accordingly show "", just like it should.
Apart from sharing web space and bandwidth with your main domain, add-on domains also get their own cgi-bin and statistics.
Many web hosts now offer to set-up add-on domains for free. This is only fair, since you are not getting any more web space or bandwidth. Others, however, will charge you a modest one time fee, which is not bad, especially when the cost of registering the new domain is included. Finally, some web hosts will charge you a montly fee for each add-on domain you set up. In some cases, that fee can be very close to the monthly cost of your web hosting account, to the point that it is better to just open a new hosting account for the new domain. If you plan to set up add-on domains in the future, you're better off avoiding this kind of account.

What is a Parked Domain?
A parked domain is a domain that doesn't have a hosting account associated to it, and that is usually enabled with URL forwarding capabilities, so that it points to an existing website. For example, let's assume that you already run a newsletter that is hosted in a subdirectory of your domain name, as follows: "". You may at one given point want to register a separate domain name for your newsletter, so that it is more memorable, but may not want to move its pages to a new server, open a new hosting account, or pay to establish an add-on domain. You can then register a and park a new domain for your newsletter (for example: ""), which will be forwarded to "".
You don't need to register this new domain with the same company that hosts your website. You can register it with any domain registrar (preferrably one that offers free URL forwarding) and point it to the physical location of the pages.
The difference between a parked domain and an add-on domain from a web user's perspective is that with a parked domain the URL in the address bar will change to the physical location of the page as the page loads. For example, if you type "", that domain won't remain in the browser address bar, but will change to "" as soon as the page is displayed.
From a webmaster's perspective, the difference is that the parked domain won't have its own separate statistics reported through the control panel of your hosting account.
Parked domains are also a good alternative for webmasters whose site is hosted by a free hosting service, since by using a memorable parked domain users won't need to remember the cumbersome web addresses usually associated with free hosting accounts.
They are also widely used by members of affiliate programs, who forward the parked domain to the merchant pages, so that they don't have to use an affiliate URL that includes their affiliate id (which turns many people off).

What is a Sub-Domain?
A subdomain, also known as a "third-level" domain, is a great way to create memorable web addresses for various sub-sites of your site. For instance, Yahoo! uses subdomains for its different services, like "", "", etc. The basic syntax is: "".
Large businesses use subdomains to establish branding and focus on separate products or services, because a subdomain creates a separate URL and web presence, all within your same main hosting account. For example, a restaurant directory may establish sub-domains for different cities, or a school can set up subdomains for different academic programs.
It is also possible to redirect (forward) traffic from a particular subdomain to another location, either within the main site or to a different website altogether.
You should be able to set up and manage add-on domains, parked domains and subdirectories from your hosting account or domain registrar control panel. However, as we usually suggest, always consult with your web host before proceeding if you have any doubts.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The real truth behind SEO Experts

I believe thousands of people get scammed every year by so called SEO Experts. Why? Well, because they can’t distinguish lies from the steel cold truth. Because they are too credulous and there are lots of guys waiting to take advantage from it. And of course, because they want great results with as little expense as possible.

So, how can you distinguish the good SEO companies from the fake ones? Well, first of all, learn not to believe in any of the following stories, that the guys from Hobo-Web put together a couple of days ago. I’ll show you only some of the "best" replicas:

  • We cannot show you results for clients as it is 100% confidential - so i guess i should take your word for it, ay mate?
  • We KNOW how Google works - well, that surely make you unique. Cause i don’t and i don’t think anyone does, not even Matt Cuts… But hey, that’s just my opinion. You’re the big SEO Expert, you know better…
  • Toolbar Page Rank Is Everything - Of course it is. And pigs fly. Oh no, wait, they don’t… That means there’s something wrong with your logic? Ironicaly, the PR myth is so deep-rooted. 90% of my clients ask me about it and demand a PR5+ for their site…
  • Submit To 75,000 Search Engines - Since Google, Yahoo and MSN have like 95% of the worldwide market, and you don’t even have to submit your site on them, what are all the other 74997 search engine submission worth? :P
  • We don’t rank for any “seo” terms because we don’t want to - or perhaps because you don’t know how to? Hmmm…

Anyway, clients like to see high figures, so you can’t really blame companies for giving them what they want, can you? But in the end, how can you be sure you won’t be duped when looking for the services of a SEO company? Well’ you can’t, but the risks should be minimal if you take these advices into consideration:

  • never sign a company that guarantees you results over night. Because we’re talking about a logical and longtime process that can’t happen over night, and which can’t always have the desired results
  • don’t fall for the big numbers: 50.000 search engines, 10.000 first positions in SERPs, thousands of visitors everyday, etc etc
  • try to work with companies/people recommended by your friends (or by many others on forums, groups, etc)
  • ask for previous work references
  • make sure you know what you are asking for and what are you expecting to obtain from a SEO company

Search engine optimization tips - the beginning

More and more people are planning to go big on the Internet, that’s why Search engine optimization tips is a very hot subject these days. But they must know at least the basics in SEO first. That’s why I’m going to write a nice guide on search engine optimization, with many episodes, covering all (or at least most of) the important things in this domain, with planning, On Page SEO, Off Page SEO, statistics, improving and of course tips.

SEO - The beginning

One of the important causes why some sites are successful and most aren’t is because their webmasters did their homeworks before starting building the project. They studied and researched. What? Well, there are many aspects.

1. Think about your site, about the idea behind it, about its topic, about its niche. Niched sites are the most likely to become big in time, as long as you don’t pick an overcrowded niche and you have something to say regarding that subject. So, going as deep in a niche as possible and being an expert there is important.

2. Study your competition. See how are their sites built (that’s why a SEO wannabe must have basic programming knowledge, like HTML, PHP, CSS), see on what keywords do they rank well, see where you can beat them.

3. Think about the keywords you’ll be focusing your main page. This article on keyword researching tools will help you.

4. Then, choose your site’s name. I suggest you go for branding instead of choosing a name that would help you from the SEO point of view. Why? Because a branded site name can pe optimized for search engines but a SEO name normally can’t (all the good domains are taken, at least on .com). Remember, the name should be simple, easy to remember but also should be related to your site’s topic.

5. Find a good and reliant hosting. I’m using Dreamhost and I’m satisfied with it. For 10$ a month i get 500 GB storage space, 5TB traffic, i can park as many domains as i want and so much more. If you’re interested you can get even better offers from here. You can use this code: MIKE84 , and get 2 extra FREE lifetime domain registrations that are well worth some bucks.

6. After you’ve done all of these, you’ll have to take a while and think about your site’s structure and layout. It is important to use also usability criteria here, to make your content easier to spot by your future readers. Use SEO friendly programing languages (more about this on a following article). For now, here are the basics:

  • No frames
  • As little Javascript, AJAX and Flash as you can
  • Use plain XHTML+CSS code. Use external CSS
  • Try to use a table less layout: reduces the page’s size so your site will load faster
  • Validate your code. It might be hard to eliminate all the errors, so focus on the important ones: don’t open a tag without closing it, don’t use improper attributes, etc

If you can’t build your site by yourself the way it should be, hire a specialist. It will well worth the money.

7. Plan your link structure carefully, as this is a crucial aspect.

On page SEO checklist

This is a short (actually not so short) checklist of ON page SEO factors i look at when someone asks me to analyze a site. There are others too, more complicated ones. I’ve just decided to share with you the basics… And a little bit more. So, enjoy.

The ON page SEO Checklist

  1. The arborescent structure
    • depth of the tree (should be at most 3 levels deep)
    • the logic dependence between levels (the child level has to be a particular case of its parent)
    • Existence of broken parts of the tree
  2. Link analysis

    • breadcrumbs (the navigation bar)
    • link structure (related to the structural tree)
    • use only absolute links, no relative ones
    • how is the link built (should contain only lower case words separated with "-"; special character and connection words should be eliminated)
    • length of the link (65 characters top is the best)
    • no duplicate links (different links with same content)
    • links should always end in "/ " ( due to server loading problems
    • don’t use links ending with extensions (.htm, .html, .php, etc)
    • number of links on a single page
    • title attribute on each link
  3. Menus
    • Important keywords in menus
    • absolute text links
    • using Hs where needed
    • Use CSS menus rather than JS or Flash ones
    • use nofollow on secondary menus where needed
  4. On page SEO ChecklistIndexing and nofollow
    • use robots and index only the important pages (usually search and secondary pages should be excluded)
    • use nofollow internally
  5. Semantics
    • Title, keywords and description - unique for every single page
    • using H1 for title, H2 for subtitle, etc
    • using the Alt attribute for pictures and Title for links
    • using Em, Strong, etc to emphasize parts of the text
    • using internal linking
  6. Sitemap
    • use a sitemap
    • the standard of the sitemap
    • put in the sitemap only the links you want to be indexed
  7. Coding
    • validate your HTML and CSS code (might be impossible to do this, but take care of the important errors. for example, don’t leave opened tags unclosed, don’t use inappropriate attributes for a tag, etc)
    • external CSS
    • try not to use JS, Flash unless really needed. If you have to use it, make sure you have external JS.
    • Don’t use Frames or iFrames
  8. Gallery
    • make sure you have a little bit of content on each picture’s page in the gallery. (A short description of the image would do just fine)
    • use the Alt attribute and try to rename the picture accordingly to what you can see in it (actually, according to what you think users will search on Google to find that picture). Be short and descriptive.
    • use proper navigation in you gallery
    • I would not recommend on using Flash or JS galleries, even though they look quite good. That’s if you want your pictures to be found by Search engines.
  9. Other problems
    • personalized 404 page returning proper HTTP status code
    • domain canonicalization
    • table less design would be appreciated (not needed though)
    • keep your page dimension as low as you can (many Internet users in the world still use Dial up you know)

Well, this should help you make a decent analysis on your site.