RSS Feed

Category Archives: Website Design

Designing websites with Homestead site builder software

Just have to share …

Posted on

Last year we posted about Transparency and Ethics in designing sites professionally with the Intuit – Homestead software.  This is also a topic we cover pretty seriously in our e book,  Homestead Website Design – Building Blocks to a Successful Home Based Business.

We stated that piggybacking sites, overcharging clients for services already covered by the hosting/program fees, not allowing clients access to stats or the ability to make their own updates and changes is A. not ethical and B. can come back and bite you. So, yes, we got a real chuckle out of the following letter we received last week from a gentleman who had purchased the book and read it and ignored the advice.

Greetings,

I’m wondering if you’re able to offer some brief guidance.  I own your Intuit by Homestead SEO and Website Design Business eBooks.  Without unnecessarily elaborating on the background, against my better judgment, I set up a few websites for other businesses under my own Homestead website account.  I didn’t do this to be unethical but because I reside in an area where certain business owners are seemingly not the type to even touch a keyboard even though many would like to have a website so asking them to set up their account with Homestead, at least at the time, seemed impossible.  Naturally I’ve now found myself in a position (as warned in your books) where one business owner (2 websites) is requesting immediate direct access to their websites and full control.  (I’m sure you’re not surprised.)

I was hoping you might instruct me on the means by which to most effectively accomplish this.  I’m planning to instruct the business owner that they will need to set up their own Homestead account under the Gold Plan to accommodate both websites and their existing features.  Do you happen to know if it’s possible for me to then transfer not only the websites but the domains as-is over to their new homestead account?  I’m sure I’ll need to rely on Homestead Support for details but I’m just hoping you’ll tell me this is possible and not terribly challenging to accomplish.  Any insight you can offer would be greatly appreciated.  I certainly learned the hard way that any future website assistance I provide will be under that person’s own Homestead account.

Steve (last name removed to protect the innocent)

Steve was given some direction on how to ‘clean up’ and hopefully it won’t have any lasting effect on his business.  He learned the hard way. You don’t have to.

Keep on webbin’ in an ethical sort of way.

Intuit – Homestead Site Builder Design Tips

Posted on

The frame – border element option in SiteBuilder adds functionality to the program and is  a nice tool to have.

Using it you can:

  • frame photos
  • surround a block of text to set it off from the page content
  • create a button

The options allow you the ability to:

  • increase or decrease the width of the frame – border
  • choose the amount of bevel for the frame
  • select the color

The border appears to be a rectangle but in reality it is a graphic with colored edges and a transparent center. This means that when you place a border or frame around something you are actually placing the graphic OVER the item.  If you have any links within the text block you are bordering or on a photo, those links will not be clickable as they are covered by the border element. An example of this can be seen at the Homestead Connection.

It is important to remember to send your border elements behind the graphic or text in order for any links to be available. If  the area where you place the border is an element other than the main background use the Send Backward option rather than Send to Back.

Using the Element Layer Order in Homestead Site Builder

Just Released – 2010 edition of SEO Building Blocks

Posted on

SEO Building Blocks 2010 is now available. The up-to-date 50+ page ebook written expressly for users of the Intuit – Homestead SiteBuilder program explains the process of Search Engine Optimization and addresses the things that make optimization for Homestead sites different. Expanded information on page design and an updated web site design guide are included in the book.

Learn search engine optimization with easy to understand examples, visual guides and explanations that show you how to make your site stand out for the Search Engines and increase visitor appeal – both of which add up to more visits and more sales!
Written by Homestead users for Homestead users.

Visit SEO Building Blocks

The building blocks of search engine optimization for Intuit - Homestead users

SEO BUILDING BLOCKS

How’s your integrity quotient?

Posted on

You know how sometimes things just gnaw at you and even though you try to shrug them off they seem to constantly rear their heads and demand attention? This particular issue has gnawed long enough and its time to get it out there.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery …  but when it comes to claiming it as your own that’s a whole new ball game and when you do a lousy job of it that’s even worse. The real kicker though is charging people for so-called expertise  taken from someone else, edited just enough to maybe avoid copyright infringement and then presented as your own in an amateurish manner.

So what, you ask, is this all about? A couple of years ago this person showed up on the HC Forum asking for help.  He knew nothing about search engine optimization and had a site that was very poorly designed (and unfortunately it was a site he was designing for some unsuspecting soul).  Judy and I gave this fellow a ton of help and he purchased our book, SEO Building Blocks™.  The next thing we knew he began promoting himself as an SEO expert (remember, this is the guy who just a couple years ago didn’t even know how to spell SEO and you definitely DO NOT become expert in SEO in a couple of years) and selling information via videos (very poorly done and lacking in good/correct info.) and documents. Pity the person who purchases as they are not going to be getting expert advise, rather they will get info harvested from another source – in trying to escape copyright infringement he did a lousy job so the ‘expert advise’ is outdated and often incorrect. He has even gone so far as to incorporate the term Building Blocks into his content. Obviously integrity and honesty aren’t words in his vocabulary.

So buyer beware, if you are an Intuit – Homestead user and need some help with SEO, make sure that the source you purchase from is legit and truly knows the ins and outs of search engine optimization. Make sure that the seller is providing you good, quality, up-to-date information that will help you succeed on the WWW.

We have over 25 years of combined experience in design and SEO  and the Site Builder program. And,  ‘We wrote the book on SEO for Intuit – Homestead sites’®. If you want the ‘real deal’ visit us at SEO Building Blocks for information on the ebook that can truly offer you insight into search engine requirements and help with optimizing your website.

Thanks for letting us get this off our chests!

S & J

So you think you’re a website designer …

Posted on

You have the Homestead or Intuit software and have decided that it’s so easy to use that you’ll go into the website design business.

Do yourself, or better yet any potential clients, a HUGE favor.  Do something else until you learn the right way to design sites.  Otherwise you are doing the client a disservice and contributing to the bad name that website designers have gotten because of the amateurish attempts of many.

You are not a website designer if:

1. You aren’t aware of page weight, what it is, how to reduce it or even how to check it.
2. Alt text isn’t in your vocabulary.
3. Templates are your mainstay design tool.
4. You use the non-professional elements that just scream ‘Amateur’ or Non-Professional site.
5. You don’t realize that sites render differently in different browsers.
6. You haven’t taken the time to learn SEO (and even worse don’t know what SEO stands for).
7. You kidnap the site and ‘piggyback’ it off your own site. Thus the client doesn’t have access to the stats or the ability to go in and run the site themselves.
8. The link structure is poorly thought out and/or incomplete.
9. Usability also isn’t in your vocabulary.
10. The site isn’t consistent from page to page.
11. You think blinking, scrolling, flashing, jumping things are consistent with good web design.
12. You use “Black Hat” techniques.
13. You don’t understand the difference between java-script and plain text. And worse yet, don’t realize that java-script can have a negative impact on the site.
14. You still aren’t sure exactly what Meta tags are.
15. Page Titles show up as Home, About, etc. in the browser bar.

We are seeing more and more “website designers” asking for a site review on the Forum.  Upon reviewing these sites it becomes instantly clear that they have a long way to go before they should be turned loose on the unsuspecting public as website designers.  Having the ability to easily make sites with Intuit – Homestead software is great and does afford the opportunity to become a designer.  But PLEASE do your homework before you venture out and ruin a client’s potential to have a successful site due to your inability to design a site that offers usability, visitor friendliness and search engine optimization.

We have written two books that can help you successfully start your own web site design business. The first deals with starting a home based design business and the keys to good design. The second is a guide to search engine optimization that is an invaluable resource for anyone, whether a would-be designer or someone who is just building their own site.  Of course we’re interested in selling our product, but the bottom line is that we are more interested in seeing people succeed in their ventures by creating sites that do the job they are intended to do.

Homestead Website Design – The Building Blocks to a Successful Home Based Business

SEO Building Blocks – Search Engine Optimization for the Homestead Website

Books can be purchased separately or as a bundle.  Visit The Learning Center for more information.

What’s in a name? Choosing a good domain name.

Posted on

In the beginning it was relatively easy to acquire the domain name you wanted. Then the web grew and the profiteers got savvy as to the potential of ‘investing’ in 100’s – 1000’s of domain names to resell at profit. Now it’s increasingly difficult to find a short .com domain name that isn’t just sitting there, parked by one of those profiteers waiting for the right person, who just can’t live without the name, to come along and spend big bucks for it.

That said, how do you go about choosing a domain name that will identify your business, be search engine friendly and simple for visitors to remember?

In a perfect world you would know that choosing the domain name should come first in the line up of creating an on line business so that you can then create the site around the name.

Some thoughts on domain names:

1. Ideally they should be short. You can use up to 67 characters, but keep in mind you want the name to be easy to remember.  A domain name of the coolestwidgeteverinventedbyman.com is less likely to be remembered than coolwidget.com .

2. Make it easy to type and to convey to others. Sites with hyphens often end up sending business to the competition because:                                              

              Hyphens are hard to remember
              Hyphenated addresses can be difficult to type correctly
              Hyphens are hard to verbally communicate to others

 Imagine trying to give someone your website address over the phone.  It’s http://www.coolwidget-invention.com and suppose that someone else owns http://www.coolwidgetinvention.com.  The hyphen is likely to be overlooked or forgotten and the customer ends up at the http://www.coolwidgetinvention.com site.

3. As mentioned earlier, a short .com domain name is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Should you opt for a .net or a .org or one of the other extensions? Maybe, but keep in mind that viewers are very .com oriented and are much more apt to type in that extension if they are going from memory. Suppose a viewer types http://www.coolwidget in the browser … the .com can also make a difference in search engine results ( SERPS ) as the search engines will first look for matches in the .com extensions and again you could be sending business to your competition.

4. Using your business name for the site address seems like it should be the first choice, but maybe not!  Does the business name reflect the product(s) you sell?  http://www.johnandsons.com isn’t going to tell a potential client that you sell widgets.  Using your key phrase in your domain name can help both viewers as well as the search engines. The exception to this would be a business that only offers localized services and is at least fairly well-known by the business name.

5. If both the .com and .net extensions are available you might want to consider buying both. Your first domain name is included in the cost of the Homestead package. We generally purchase secondary domain names through GoDaddy, but there are dozens of domain registrars out there. If you purchase a domain name from an outside registrar be sure to point it to your Homestead account. Some registrars who also offer website hosting will put up a so-called placeholder page with advertising benefiting them until such time as the domain is pointed elsewhere or an actual site is built.

When selecting a domain name keep in mind that this will be the address you will be giving to people on the phone, in email, on business cards, etc. so make it as short, easy to spell/type and as memorable as you can. Try to avoid helping your competition by simply adding a hyphen or a 2 or some other character simply to get the main portion of the domain name.

Website Design and Usability

Posted on

Is your site usable? The irascible usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, has been preaching about usability on the web for years. While anything can be (and often is) taken to extremes, the findings of his research offer some very valid points about the functionality of sites and the importance of making a site user friendly. Homestead websites are easy to design, but the user needs to be aware that it takes effort to design a site that will be successful.

One of my favorite cases of non-usability is the site owner who asked us for a review of his site on the Homestead Connection Forum . He admitted he was quite proud of his work and stated he had a better than average grasp of design. Upon reviewing his site it failed miserably on a number of points both in design and usability. The most glaring was the fact that while this person is selling a customizable product he gave the visitor no way of ordering it.

Don’t strain your visitor’s brains or make them work at finding information. Slow site performance isn’t just about a slow loading page, but also how hard it is for the visitor to pick out the main points on the page and access the information they are seeking. Make them work or have to pause and think about how to do something and you can easily lose them to your competitor’s site who has taken usability into consideration.

By testing your site with people unfamiliar with it you can gain a lot of insight into just how well your site works. Find a couple of people willing to test your site. Give them a task. Let’s say you sell golf equipment. Tell your testers to find a specific product and then watch as they try to do just that. No cues from you! But tell them to feel free to talk aloud about what they’re experiencing. Do they hesitate? Backtrack? Ideally since this person already knows what they want, their journey should be a straight line, with little hesitation from the Home page to the specific product to purchasing. This holds true for any site whether it is a retail site or an informational one. A visitor shouldn’t have to wade through a maze to obtain what they want or guess how to find it.

Test your users again. The task is to find how to return a product. (Please tell me you have that information readily available – who buys something without knowing they can A. return it and B. how). If your site is informational give your testers the task of finding a specific piece of information. Again, watch and listen to the user. Don’t stop with just a couple of tests – make good use of your volunteers and test other aspects of the site.

Often the webmaster makes the mistake of designing a site based on personal likes or dislikes. We frequently see sites that have removed the underline from links because, “I don’t like the way it looks.”  Seasoned web surfers and even neophytes are accustomed to that underline. Take it away and you may be taking away an opportunity to have the visitor travel to another part of the site for additional information or even to make a purchase. Bold it instead? No. Web surfers are so used to seeing bold text that they will probably skip right over it without a second thought that it’s a link. Use the underline – it’s the best and surest way of saying to your visitor, here is more information.

Make your Homestead designed site a simple, familiar and uncomplicated journey for viewers and potential customers and you will have a much more successful website.

Does A Pretty Site Matter?

Posted on

Websites depend on several factors to be successful. Design, search engine optimization and viewer usability are the mainstays of any website. Users of the Homestead sitebuilder software need to be aware of these and design sites accordingly.

You can create a gorgeous website and fail, you can create a gaudy, but well-optimized site and fail, you can create a blah, unoptimized but fairly useable site and fail. Granted there are degrees of failure and success among any of the above, but to be more certain of success than failure you need to incorporate all three elements into a site.

  • Asthetics are very important. If a site has eye-appeal a visitor may stay long enough to find out if it also contains the information they need. Creating sites that are simplistic, uncluttered, yet attractive is an important step in site design. But this alone will not ensure that the site will ever find its place in the Internet ‘sun’. 
  • Usability is paramount when designing a website. If you create a site that visitors have a difficult time navigating or finding the information or product they were seeking you haven’t done your job. The journey through a site should be as easy for your viewer as possible. This means consistent navigation, making the purpose of your site readily apparent, providing good content and not making your visitors work at finding what they need, because they won’t.
  • Search engine optimization, without it you might as well pack up and go home. Search engines rely on textual information in order to index a site. Image based sites can often find themselves at the bottom of the pile.  Using alt text on images supplies the SE’s with information and also gives viewers who use assistive technology or those who view pages in text only an idea of what an image represents. But this isn’t going to be enough to satisfy either the viewer or the search engine. Content, content, content.  Meaningful information written for the viewer will satisfy both your visitors and the search engines.

Requests for site reviews in the Homestead Connection Forum show us time and again that webmasters aren’t providing adequate information for either type of visitor – human or search bot – particularly on the Home page. This page is the heart of a website and needs to be presented in a manner that is going to capture the interest of the viewer within 10 seconds.  Webmasters often fall prey  to clip art mania, using every cutesy, spinning, whirling, graphic available. That isn’t what a viewer is there to see, nor will it  help grab their interest – often the opposite is true. They want to know what you offer, how it will help them, what makes your product or service better, different, more helpful, than the million other sites out there offering the same product or service. They really aren’t interested in how clever you are at finding clip art or creating Flash-based pages.

Does pretty matter? Yes, but to be successful your site needs to incorporate all the three elements; good design, usability and search engine optimization.

Debunking the “can’t be optimized” myth

Posted on

The Homestead SiteBuilder program often receives negative remarks from coding purists and those ill-informed of the benefits of the website designing software. Bring up the topic of Homestead in a Forum such as the Google Group and you immediately have snide comments.

Far too many web designers who hand code, utilize templates or even software programs such as Dreamweaver tend to look down on Homestead’s drag and drop type of program. They look at the site’s code and spout things such as “couldn’t produce a well optimized site if it tried.” Granted, Homestead’s code is not the prettiest, but it can certainly hold its own with websites developed using the methods mentioned above. And, as time goes by Homestead will almost certainly improve upon the coding structure of the software. There are many, many Homestead users who have websites that outrank sites developed by web designers who used the so-called conventional methods. 

The average user can create an attractive, user friendly site that is well optimized using Homestead’s SiteBuilder program. Any website, regardless of the method used to build it, will suffer if the webmaster doesn’t also have a working knowledge of usability and search engine optimization. The site can also suffer if the designer doesn’t fully understand the program they use.

Those of us who utilize the Homestead Site Builder and have a working knowledge of website usability and search engine optimization understand the short comings of the SiteBuilder program. We have learned how to work with the program and work around the problems that are intrinsic in using a WYSIWYG or drag and drop site builder software.
 
It is important to learn and understand certain potential road blocks presented by portions of the SiteBuilder program and adjust accordingly to bypass these issues. Items such as Java Script navigation and some of the templates that rely heavily on java-script can be problematic. The Apply-to-All feature for Meta tags, while seemingly a time saver, should never be used. Using the full SiteBuilder program rather than SiteBuilder Lite offers more options for creating a user friendly, well optimized site. Making use of the Homestead Connection Forum, the Homestead Connection Site, and even this Blog will help users of the program learn the do’s and don’ts associated with it.

Designing a site that will succeed is not so much dependent upon the method the site is built with as it is having a basic understanding of Search Engines requirements and usability standards. Every search engine uses different algorithms and knowing the basic requirements of those engines aids in producing an acceptable website. This applies to usability as well. Knowing what is user friendly helps to design a site that visitors will find appealing.

Homestead websites can be optimized to do as well in search rankings as any website regardless of who built it or how it was built. But, sites built with Homestead have something most others don’t and that is the ability for the site owner to either build their own website or to easily take it over once the site is designed. This is not the case with the vast majority of web sites that have been created by design companies. In most instances the owner ends up with a website that they can’t update or make even simple changes to. They have to continue to pay someone for updates, and SEO and link building.

It is no wonder that many web designers and those who are ill-informed or biased take the stance that Homestead sites are lacking…. if everyone were to find out that they are a viable option that can save the site owner time and money and do well in searches, we would see even more people taking the Homestead route.

Mini Websites – A niche for Web Designers

Posted on

Can a single page website be of value?

There is a segment of the business population who simply don’t require a large multiple page website. But, having a web presence would definitely add to their customer base and the potential for increased sales or allow a group a convenient way to keep their membership informed.

Marketing gurus preach time and again the importance of having a website. Yet most-many-a lot of these small businesses either don’t think a website would benefit them, feel they can’t afford it, or they plan to do it themselves and never get around to it. 

These businesses aren’t involved in national or international sales. Rather they are small industries and organizations or service industries. The businesses are often owned and operated by one or two people and offer a specific service or product within a localized area. 

Following are just a few of the industries that could benefit from a mini website:

Electricians and Plumbers
Dog Groomers
Adult and Day Care
Butcher Shops, Organic Food Mart
Taverns and Cafes
Barbers and Hairdressers
Handyman and Painters
Attorneys and Accountants
Non-profit Organizations
Homeowners Associations
Service Organizations

The key to these types of businesses is that their customer base generally knows what they want, they just need to know who offers it, where they are located and how to contact them.  A one page website offers enough room to give the visitor an overview of the value of the service/product offered, contact information, including a map and even allows for the business to include special offer coupons or monthly/seasonal specials.

A mini website is like handing out a business card on the web.  It puts a business or organization in front of a larger consumer base and just makes good marketing sense.  In today’s economy the more a business can do to attract customers the more apt they are to be in business tomorrow.

For web designers this niche market would be good to tap into. Best bet to reach this market is to advertise your service locally in the newspaper, post flyers, hand out your business card whenever the opportunity arises, make direct contact with someone you know who could benefit from a mini website. Be prepared to explain how a single page website can help the particular business or organization.

The mini website can definitely serve to help the small business or local organization attract new customers/members and increase both their visiblity and credibility.

Homestead web site designers have the ability to make these mini-sites quickly and affordably. They should definitely be in your list of services offered.