MidBoh Web Services

Affordable Search Engine Optimisation and other Web Technologies

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Boot’s on the other foot - social pretending to have a website

I’ve been known to point out cases where a web owner has put links to their social pages on their website to look like they are “social” when the activity on their social platforms suggests otherwise.

Today I came across an example of the opposite situation .. a Twitter page with a link to a website that is under construction. The first image shows the Twitter page at the top and the website at the bottom. [I altered the image to disguise the identity of the website.]

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I checked The Wayback Machine to see how long the site has been under construction. Unfortunately, it didn’t include this site. The copyright statement of the bottom the site’s home page is 2013. I’m writing this in August 2014, so for at least 8 months the site has been under construction. The only minor positive is the website provides some contact information on this “temporary” page.

A second Twitter account / website combination I also discovered yesterday makes me scratch my head again. Here is an image with the Twitter page (top) and website (bottom).

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No sign of contact information, statement of purpose, nothing. According to The Wayback Machine, the domain has been in use since 2002, but they don’t have anything meaningful from the site in more than a decade of captures.

The current version of the site presents nothing more than a login form, which presumably allows a registered user to access some content. But there is no clue about how you get a user name and password or what value there is if you do.

Perhaps it’s just me, but both of these Twitter accounts seem to be missing out on opportunities to build an even stronger bond with their connections. There’s only so much value that can be provided in Twitter’s 140 characters. That’s where a fully functioning website comes in. Twitter’s great for sharing and interacting, but hard to deliver anything of substance.

If that’s not enough reason to build out the website, how will search engines know and understand the purpose of these sites if there’s nothing to establish a content theme. Links to this website will be meaningless again because of the absence of a theme. I think there is a huge loss of credibility for these organisations.

Are these websites about giving meaningful information, providing a base of operation for a business? No, they are just a pretence, an adornment to a social media page to give a sense of substance, which quickly evaporates once the link is followed.

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Size (of the Textarea) matters - part II

Way back in June 2011, I took a nameless website to task over an inadequately sized textarea on a contact form. I don’t remember now what website that was. Perhaps a combination of old age and meh (a young person term signifying ambivalence - I’ve seen too many websites with that sort of problem).

For many websites a small input field isn’t too much of a problem. Often the message is “call me” or “I need price for …” so a few lines doesn’t always present a problem. It doesn’t seem to put the spammers off at all so maybe we need to suck it up.

That attitude may be OK in various settings but I needed to communicate with my local council (Canterbury) after I received a letter, presumably hand delivered (it was in the letterbox but without a stamp). It was a wonder I found it among the cobwebs and catalogues, but find it I did. And I wanted to reply. My communications options are plentiful - old fashioned mail (return like for like), email, contact form on their website or a phone call. I picked contact form. Here is a small section from the screen:

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Three lines of 38 characters before scrollbars appear. That may be adequate if the message is “why haven’t you collected my garbage bin yet?” but my message was much longer.

Yes, I could have taken my message to another medium. I even discovered there’s a mobile app for messaging council. I’ll talk of the inadequacies of that approach another day. But this is method I chose and is nominally supported by council.

The option to upload an image is positive, but why not a Word document or a PDF file. That could overcome some of the constraints of the textarea.

I am annoyed because there is friction in the process of communicating with my council. Is it their intent to put me off? Well that won’t happen. Has anyone in council ever used or reviewed this contact page and left a meaningful message? I suspect not.

While my rant is targeted at council, there is a lesson here for anyone running a website. Do you provide a contact form to your website visitors? Do you ever test it? Does your test include typing a long message? Don’t rely on your webmaster or your 16 year old nephew (maybe the same person) to do the testing. They will test to prove it’s adequate. They won’t look to see what’s wrong with it. Do this testing yourself.

Periodic testing of all aspect of your website is critically important. Try giving your own tyres a serious kick one day soon.

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Filed under contact form textarea

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If a picture paints a thousand words …

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… where can I find a decent photo for my blog post?

That’s a reasonable question. You can’t just go to the internet and capture the first image that vaguely fits your requirements. There may be a copyright restrictions on the image, and if there are you leave yourself open to all sorts of problems.

The best option is to use your own images, but we are not all expert or even competent photographers. When you search the internet you need to locate images that are either in the Public Domain or free to use under a Creative Commons license (though you will need to show appropriate attribution).

Here are some of the sources of sites that will help you find images under these licenses:

* These help search for suitable images at Flickr.

Once you have images, you may still need to make some adjustments - typically crop or shrink images to a suitable size. Here are some sites that can help with this:

If you have some graphical skills but don’t want to fork out big dollars for the high end tools here are some options. All of which have the right price:

These resources are all worth trying to see which can help make you blog posts or social media updates more visually appealing.

There may be many other possible tools to help with images for those of us with limited graphical skills. I’d love to hear your suggestions. Please add a comment or send me a tweet (@midboh).

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Photo Credit: TheLizardQueen via Compfight cc

The image used in this post may require an explanation, unless you are of a certain age or are a fan of mushy loves songs from a bygone era. In 1971, the group Bread had a hit with the song “If”. The opening line of that song is “If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you”.

Filed under creative commons public domain

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Digital Sharecropping - who controls the platform?

Recently I was talking with a friend I had successfully encouraged to start blogging. She has now taken the decision to put her effort into publishing content on LinkedIn’s publishing platform. Her logic is she has a lot of strong connections on LinkedIn and she is interested in putting her content where it can be easily found.

At face value that logic is appealing, but I don’t believe any advantage gained by that approach is sufficient to offset the disadvantages. Just because you publish on a blogging platform doesn’t preclude you from re-publishing on LinkedIn or any other social platform.

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First, why do I refer to it as digital sharecropping? I hope the digital bit doesn’t need much explanation. Sharecropping is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on the land. The tenant never gets to own the land and, depending on the specifics of the arrangement, may never be certain how far into the future the arrangement will last. The incentive is for the tenant to work hard to improve the yield but always the landlord shares any gains.

In the digital sense, content published on a shared platform, like LinkedIn, benefits the landlord significantly and the long term control of the content is uncertain. There are numerous examples where a platform has largely vanished taking content with it (e.g. MySpace) or changed the rules which limited access to content (e.g. Facebook).

LinkedIn may be above reproach in their dealings with content publishers and they may have a long and bright future. But the future is never certain. Also, they have at least as much to gain from the content published as you do. Prestige for the platform and increased usage of their site, which may increase their advertising revenue are two obvious benefits.

So if the likely readers of your content are at LinkedIn but LinkedIn shouldn’t be your primary publishing platform, what should you do? My advice is to continue publishing on your blog associated with your domain. Then share that content on LinkedIn. The content is still available to and easily found by your likely LinkedIn readers. Best of all, this content enhances your domain.

Other benefits of this approach are:

  • the readers are more likely to look at some of your other content, which could be your product or service offerings; and
  • you can present several options to subscribe to your new content (think RSS feed and email subscriptions)


Your blog should always be the primary showcase of the content you create.

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Photo Credit: Bootheelsharecroppers - The Sharecropper’s Story cc

Filed under sharecropping digital sharecropping linkedin

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Did you get the memo, Flash websites are a disaster on mobile devices

I drafted a post for this blog more than 12 months ago. I was reluctant to show the image from a live website that might be seen in some way as holding the site to ridicule. I decided at that time not to publish the story. I have reconsidered. The story is important and the site is a classic example of the associated pitfalls. The business involved seems to be successful despite my concerns and is probably unconcerned by my opinion.

I have a long-standing love-hate relationship with Adobe Flash (mostly hate I’ll concede as my history of writing on the subject will confirm). It is a great tool but it should not ever have been used as the cornerstone of a website. I read another story recently, that I think only puts another nail in the coffin for Flash for web development. I’ll come back to that later, but first my original draft

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I don’t get it. This was the response my wife was given when she tried to visit the website on her iPad to buy 2 vouchers worth $49 each. How can a website interested in providing services to a wide range of customers seriously pretend that the above response is acceptable. Self interest alone should be sufficient to change the website. This response effectively snubs anyone attempting to view their site using iPhones and iPads.

In case anyone missed the memo, Adobe Flash doesn’t work on iPads and iPhones.

Only The Team Room will know for sure what percentage of their web visitors use these devices but I suspect it will be significant. For some of my customers it is as high as 20% of all visitors. I don’t know of any business in these tough economic times that can afford to thumb their noses at this many potential customers.

This is the article I read recently - Using Adobe Flash For Your Web Site? Google Mobile Results Will Issue Searchers A Warning. I haven’t been able to reproduce this warning using the Australian version of Google yet. That isn’t surprising. Google often has a progressive roll out of new features across there various local platforms. But I expect it will be apparent in the next days / weeks.

If your website relies on Flash (ask your developer if you aren’t sure) and you have any significant volume of visitors on mobile devices (check your analytics package or ask your developer - but every business I know has at least 20% of their visitors on mobile devices), then you need to make a change - and soon.

Once this warning is visible in search results on Google Australia, you will have no idea how many potential visitors will see this warning and not even attempt to visit your site. That could be catastrophic.

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Filed under flash google

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Who knew hamburgers could be good for you?

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Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know there was a name for that funny icon with 3 horizontal lines. I knew it was a menu and that I had mostly seen it used on responsive websites when I used my Android phone to visit them.

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Soon after I learned the name for it, I started using a hamburger menu (not the same as the one you see in the drive through) in a project I am currently developing. In the project it is an easy way to hide or re-display the side menu, to free up space for the primary display.

Now it turns out, there might be a reason to use it in other contexts. Well that’s the suggestion in How Hamburger Menus Can Increase Your Conversion Rate.

I’m not convinced the research they quote directly proves the use of the  hamburger menu as a means to reduce the distractions on a landing page is effective. It is a reasonable theory and should be tested in situations where a benefit might be possible.

I also wonder if the icon itself is universally recognised. If it isn’t it may effectively render the menu inaccessible, rather than just temporarily hide the complexity / distraction of a menu. The effect it will have will be heavily dependent on the audience.

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photo 1 credit: Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ via photopin cc

photo 2 credit: iconfinder.com

Filed under hamburger menu ux ui

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Time to re-think email strategy in the mobile era

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Once upon a time, men in white coats invented email. Maybe it was pimply faced programmers sipping Jolt Cola, eating pizza and never seeing sunlight. Whichever is the real origin story, some decades later, email moved from the exclusive domain of universities and government offices into the hands of the rest of us. [Marking 25 years of the internet in Australia]

Early adopters used a personal computer to access a mailbox somewhere, often one provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Mail stayed briefly in the mailbox until it was collected and then it lived on the PC until it was deleted (perhaps never) or until the PC died.

That model served us well for a long time, but relied on the fact that we only ever used one PC and mostly that PC lived in the office or at home.

We have moved into the mobile era and, like it or not, willingly or not, we now use multiple devices - perhaps a mobile phone, a tablet and a laptop - to check mail. The model of having all the mail in one spot works, sort of. We read new mail on the tablet and phone but we leave mail in the mailbox until we access it and download it on the laptop. Well that’s what I’ve been doing for some years.

I am not much of a road warrior. I don’t need full and continuous access to my mail where ever I am and regardless of whichever device is at hand. On the occasional day trip with tablet and phone in hand, I can read and respond to new mail. The big catch-up happens when I return to the office.

I can see a time for me when this will not be efficient. I’m sure many of you have already faced this issue. Some have resolved it. Others are still looking for a solution.

For a person in the technology business, this may seem like a major admission. In my defence, let me say that my technological expertise extends more to back end development (databases and applications) and niche activities like search engine watching. Email has always just been a tool and not really a very exciting one, so it hasn’t really given me a reason to dig too deeply.

What sparks the current interest? There have been three client cases recently, each with quite different requirements, where I haven’t really been able to devise a suitable solution. My frustration is not that I can’t sell a solution. It is that I can’t help my clients.

What is the solution? Not my current method that’s for sure.

Recently I tried leaving the mail in the mailbox for up to 30 days, even when I have downloaded it to the PC. So far, this is just getting confusing and shows no sign of being a good solution for me.

I think the solution is to have a specialised mailserver with adequate storage. All mail is left on the server and local devices (phone, tablet and laptop) all synchronise with the server. For some this solution has been apparent for years.

The dilemma now is do I use a cloud based mailserver or do I need to dedicate a device in the corner of the office for this task.

Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Issues like security, amount of storage required, access to the server all need to be considered and resolved.

For now the jury (me) is still out. I know a change is needed. I’m just not sure what the change will be.

Photo Credit: xJason.Rogersx via Compfight cc

Filed under Email

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Don’t let your domain renewal notification go missing

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At the start to every month, Andy and I send out our newsletter to clients. The newsletter includes website traffic statistics, some relevant keyword ranking information, a couple of paragraphs on a topical idea and a list of recent blog posts.

This month, the topical story was a true story about a client’s domain that expired on the first of the month. I think the topic is vitally important to every business, so I am posting the content of the newsletter here ……

Some of you manage your own domain registration. This usually means in the weeks prior to the expiry you receive one or more emails from the registrar asking you to renew.

We had a situation this week where we noticed one of our client domains went off the air. After a little checking it was obvious the domain had expired. As soon as a domain expires no one can access it.

The renewal emails had gone straight to the client’s junk folder and had not been noticed. Fortunately, the domain was expired only 24 or so hours and it was a simple matter to reactivate it. The down side was for a day no one could see the website and emails to the domain were bouncing back to the sender. To some it would have appeared as if this company had gone out of business.

A couple of issues to think about ..

  1. Your domain name is an important asset for your business. It is a cornerstone of your ability to communicate with customers. It needs to be protected.
  2. Do you know the email address associated with the domain? Is it one you use regularly? If you aren’t monitoring that address you could easily miss the notification.
  3. Do know when it’s due to expire? Mark your diary with the expiry date and use an alert to get plenty of warning.

If you don’t know the email address we can look that up for you. But if you don’t know the expiry you will have to look through your old accounts or your emails from 2 years prior.

Three clients responded to the newsletter. It’s great to get feedback. Craig replied to say he had just renewed his domain. He’s safe for at least another 2 years. Angie replied to say she regularly checks the junk mail folder. Brett’s response was “I have been getting renewal notices and signed up to auto renew [mydomains].” This triggered a response. Here’s my reply to Brett.

Some registrars call automatically generating an invoice and sending it out as “auto renew”. If that’s the case you still need to keep an eye out for the email. Others hold your credit card details on file and charge it with the renewal fee at some point prior to expiry. Just watch that the credit card doesn’t expire between renewals.

Do you have your domain registration sorted?

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Bad reviews are like a bad smell - lingering and unpleasant

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I recently had need of a repair to my washing machine. It’s German and it seems like not all of the local appliance repairers handle it. During the process of looking for someone I came across this review page on the Google Plus page for a local repairer, that I had used previously when we owned a different brand of washing machine.

Both of the reviews are unflattering. Both have been hanging around (like a bad smell) for some time (2 and 4 years). I don’t know how many people have read the reviews or been influenced them. I do know that Google reports the page has been viewed 60,301 times, so the chances people are reading the review is high.

The lack of positive comments make these negatives starkly obvious.

The Google Plus page has been claimed by the business (it shows a tick to signify it is is a verified local business) and has been updated to show business hours. But these are the only signs of life. The header image has not been personalised, and there are no photos, not even a company logo, on show.

I can’t know if the company is aware of these reviews, and if they are, what their attitude is towards them. Blissful ignorance is not a good strategy.

As businesses, we know (or should know) these types of sites exist and that many of them carry reviews. It’s not difficult to develop and maintain a list of pages that reference the business. It then becomes a simple matter to periodically visit the 5 or 6 mostly locations where reviews will be lodged to see what’s changed. Using Google Alerts with a series of brand name searches can also help identify sites other than the 5 or 6.

As part of the process of developing the list of sites to review, it is also worth researching the policies these sites have for arbitrating disputes about claims made in the reviews.

These are “no brainer” tactics, but they are reacting to something that has occurred. We also need some proactive tactics in our arsenal. Asking customers to provide reviews and making it easy for that to happen is about acquiring positive reviews. Positive reviews will help minimise the impact of the occasional miss step in customer relations.

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Mean it when you ask “Like us on Facebook”

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A “Like us on Facebook” in the corner of the window near the entrance of a shop in a large suburban shopping centre. Perhaps it seems like a reasonable effort, but it seems to lack conviction to me.

Of course I may be very wrong. This particular chain has over 12,000 likes on their Facebook page. Then again, the likes might be coming from other activities - ads, competitions, the promise of discounts or they just have some really enticing content.

The connection to Facebook is certainly more obvious on the corporate website than it is in the window of this particular outlet, which is just as well. That sign does not attract much attention.

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Photo Credit: Me

Filed under facebook likes