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Homestead Site Builder – Desktop Version vs Plus – Update

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It’s been over a year since my first post regarding the SiteBuilder program from Homestead so time for an update.

A little history:

Homestead began in 1996 and although a bit ragged around the edges, it quickly outdistanced it’s then competitor GeoCities and became a vital resource for people who wanted to build their own websites and for designers looking for a good platform on which to build and design sites for clients. The program continued its advance into the web site building world gaining many thousands of customers.

Enter Intuit. In 2007 Homestead was purchased by Intuit and thus began the slide down the slippery slope. Customer Service became a joke, outsourced to the Philippines; they stopped making upgrades to the desktop version and threw up a web-based editor that was buggy and worthless. No disclosure was ever made to existing customers about what their intent was in regards to eliminating the Desktop version – no straight answers could be wrung out of Tech Support and the program (both versions) started becoming unstable. Plus no doubt because it was some pieced together program they tossed out and Desktop because they had basically stopped supporting it except for a minor update now and then. Homestead and Intuit were never a good fit.

Which brings us to 2013. Intuit sold the Homestead web site builder to Endurance International.  What? You didn’t get the memo about the sale or what EI’s intent was/is in regards to Desktop SB? Neither did anyone else to my knowledge. Granted, they are in the transition stage, but still, it would have been nice to get a little note explaining that the program thousands use to promote their businesses, hobbies, etc. was under new management and maybe an inkling as to the direction new management intended to go with the program.

Once again I’m back to asking questions and not getting many answers. The only thing I was told with any degree of certainty was that Homestead (yes, we’re back to being just Homestead with no Intuit stuck on – YAY!!) is going to move Tech Support back to the states!  Three cheers on that one.

What are they going to do with Desktop? Dunno folks. I’ve asked for input from Homestead and to date have not heard anything.

Here’s a portion of a comment made by a Sr. Supportability Specialist (say what? Tech Support by any other name ….)

As I stated to Sandy, we have not made any decisions concerning Sitebuilder Desktop, yet. We hear you. We know we have customers that prefer desktop to browser based Sitebuilder. We also have customers that prefer Sitebuilder Plus.

With that said, we don’t have the resources to make improvements to the desktop version right now. We haven’t made improvements for some time but we are evaluating whether or not we need to prioritize that type of work. I don’t have an answer on when we will get to those types of improvements. We’re still working on moving away from Intuit.

You can read the full thread on this topic –  Here

There are a couple of statements in there that made my teeth hurt. The first being that they have customers who prefer SB Plus – ohhhhhhhhhh, I so don’t think so. The only people who prefer Plus are the ones who have no clue that there is a better version. And the second really got my fillings pinging – we don’t have the resources to make improvements to the desktop version right now – EXCUSE ME! There are 1000s of users out there who have been loyal customers for many years who signed up for and are paying for that very version!

The only way we are going to save Desktop from extinction is to be the squeaky wheel – cast your vote Here, comment to this post, post on the thread given above and keep the pressure on.

Thus, a year and a half down the road we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Move Over SiteBuilder Here comes Plus

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Change is something that either makes us giddy with anticipation or sends us off screaming and pulling out our hair. It’s also the one constant in life … the one thing we can count on to happen. And so it seems that change is looming on the horizon in regards to the desktop SiteBuilder from Homestead/Intuit.

In recent conversations with various Tech Support staff and responses to Help Tickets it has become clear that Intuit is transitioning away from the (beloved) desktop version of SiteBuilder. Many of you are already familiar with SiteBuilder Lite, the rather watered down version of SB that allows limited online editing – SiteBuilder Plus, the replacement for the (did I mention beloved?) desktop version will operate much the same as Lite, only it will be a full-blown editor.

The future of SiteBuilder

Read the rest of this entry

Form 1099-Misc and Website Designers

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tax timeThe controversial Health Care Reform Bill that was passed last year came loaded with all sorts of new laws hidden within its 2400+ pages. Many of you who use Homestead’s SiteBuilder program are designing sites as a business and that means these new laws apply to you.

Form 1099-Misc has been a requirement for a number of years for services rendered by an independent contractor in a business to business situation. When you design a site or do maintenance on a site for another business THEY should issue you a Form 1099-Misc if you receive $599 or more from them in a given year for your services.

The reverse is also true. If you pay another business over $599 for services that relate to your website design business you need to issue them a form W-9 to get their Tax ID number, etc. and provide them with a copy of a completed 1099-Misc form.

Beginning December 31, 2012, thanks to even more sneaky tactics when the bill was drafted, businesses will be required to obtain W-9 information and file 1099s for not only services but GOODS as well. That means you will need to issue a W-9  for the 1099 form anytime you purchase a product related to your business that is over the established limit. New computer from Best Buy? You’ll need to ask for their information. If your office supply purchases are  in excess of the $599 threshold  from any one business – 1099, if you claim a portion of your utilities phone, internet, etc. for your business and the amount exceeds the limit – 1099s will need to be issued. And on and on …… Try to get in the habit of issuing a W-9 prior to paying for goods or services.

The whole point of this is so the IRS can compare reported income against issued W-9s  in the hopes of collecting unreported income. And as is usual, the wording is ambiguous and about as clear as mud. There are of course penalties if you don’t comply.

The good news is that some lawmakers in Congress are currently making attempts to repeal and or modify the new laws attached to Form 1099-Misc.

Senate passes amendment to repeal 1099

Partial Repeal Likely

As a web site designer you need to be heads up and make sure you are in compliance with the laws that are currently in effect for tax year 2011.  Consult with an accountant or tax attorney for assistance in what information you need to be collecting, receiving and reporting.

Be sure you get listed in that Directory

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As many of you know we offer a free directory to users of the Homestead – Intuit web site program. The Homestead Connection Directory was developed to give Site Builder and Store Front users a way to add a non-reciprocal, inbound link to their sites as well as giving them web exposure. We’ve gained some insight into how many people, who submit to more stringent directories, probably aren’t getting in or if they are, their listings probably aren’t doing them much good.

Using the Homestead Connection Directory (HCD) as an example, there is a link to the Guidelines as well as a FAQ page in the navigation menu. When you submit to any directory you’ll find a similar page(s) that list the requirements. That page isn’t there to just take up space … it lists the rules, requirements, limitations and so forth that the directory requires in order for your site to be accepted. READ THE TERMS AND COMPLY or you will most likely not find your site listed in that directory.

Again using the HCD as an example, one of the terms is that the Description not be any longer than 200 characters, including spaces. This is repeated on the form used to submit the site. Yet time and again we receive submissions that are in the 400-500 range.  We’ve been lenient and allowed a bit of overage and sometimes we even re-do the listing in order to meet the requirement. 9.5 out of 10 directories will simply toss the submission.

The flip side of this is the listing that comprises only a few words.  Ex: Dog Breeders or Houses remodeled. It’s a big world out there and there are many dozens of dog breeders and home remodel companies. Make that description work for you and make the visitor want to click on your link. List the area you are in. The search engines pick up on localities so this is especially important for those who serve a limited area.

Your Description should include your main keyword/phrase and it should make sense to the human reader. Many directories specify not to use exclamation points, sales hype, all capital letters, etc. Be sure you comply if you are serious about getting your site listed.

There is usually a character limitation for the Title as well specific criteria for the content of the Title.  This is usually the domain name of the site ( not the URL).  Sometimes you’re allowed to use the actual page name if you are submitting to an internal page.

Contact information is another area that often lacks enough information. Utilize the maximum amount of information allowed. Show that you are a legitimate business by including a phone number, city and state, contact person’s name (even just a first name is better than nothing), if your business is a brick and mortar store include the physical address and an email address.

Sample listing for directory

Sample Listing

Remember that directory listings can play an important part in your overall SEO. Make sure to read and follow the instructions for each directory you submit to in order to get listed and be sure that you give viewers enough information to make them want to visit your site.

Intuit – Homestead Site Builder Design Tips

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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

Is it Homestead or Intuit?

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Back in the day, Homestead Technologies was a small company that provided website building software called SiteBuilder. The program is a drag and drop system that makes it easy for anyone to build a website because you don’t have to know any code. You see what you’re building as you build it – that’s why these types of sites are also called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). The building is easy, the knowing how to optimize the site and proper design techniques has a learning curve.  At any rate, the SiteBuilder program made the step into the World Wide Web relatively painless for the average person.

A couple of years ago Homestead was purchased by Intuit. So now their moniker is Intuit Websites by Homestead.  But  the SiteBuilder program is still being sold under both names. You have Homestead and you have Intuit.  As web designers we have clients who have purchased through both companies. Logically (or at least in my mind) you would think that the software would be the same, but that isn’t the case. To work on a Homestead site you need to download SiteBuilder from Homestead and Intuit accounts have to download the software from the Intuit site.  Same program, no differences in how it works, looks, or acts.

SEO Building Blocks, the expertly written guide to search engine optimization, applies to SiteBuilder and other drag and drop type sites.  And the Homestead Connection site offers Intuit and Homestead users help with the program, tutorials and useful tips to improve the design experience.

So is it Intuit or is it Homestead?  A smattering of both, but ultimately it is SiteBuilder.

So you think you’re a website designer …

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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.

Help With SiteBuilder Program for Intuit – Homestead Users

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Build a website and the world will beat a path to your door. It sounds great, but the reality is that unless your site is well designed and optimized for the Search Engines you will probably end up falling through the cracks and have very limited success with your site. For users of the ( Intuit ) Homestead Website software there are a number of ways to get support and help with the program.

The key to developing a web site is planning. A good place to begin is with the free Web Site Design Guide from S&J Enterprises.  With over 20 years of combined experience we are very familiar with the workings of the Site Builder program and how to develop a website that is both user and search engine friendly. The Guide provides helpful ideas and guidelines for designing and optimizing your Homestead website.

Download the free Web Site Design Guide

The Homestead Connection  is another great resource for Homestead users to get help with the program. The website explains how things work with the drag and drop SiteBuilder software.  Examples and tutorials take you through the basics of the program. There are also tips and information as well as links to sites and software that help to enhance your website design.

The Homestead Connection Forum  is a free, moderated Forum for Homestead users to get advice, offer help, receive site reviews, learn about Search Engine Optimization ( SEO ) and share in the Homestead Community experience of website building.

If you are an Intuit – Homestead user you can list your website(s) in the free Homestead Connection Directory.  The Directory was created to help webmasters get better exposure with the Search Engines and provide a quality directory for visitors. Your first listing is free and you have the option of adding a second listing or even a business card listing for a nominal fee.

Homestead Design and SEO  is the Blog resource we use to keep Homestead members up-to-date on design and Search Engine Optimization in addition to help with the Homestead program.

SEO Building Blocks E book by S&J Enterprises is a comprehensive guide that explains how to optimize your Homestead web site for the Search Engines. Simple directions and visual aids make it easy to apply   search engine optimization to your website. Examples and explanations show how to give your site more Search Engine and visitor appeal – both of which add up to more visits and more sales! 

The Homestead Website Design  E book was written to give Homestead users a guide to starting a home based web site design business. The book explains the steps necessary for start up, proper design techniques and ways to create an income stream to earn more from your business. Great even for the beginning webmaster who isn’t interested in starting a web design business but who needs help with site design.

Homestead Technology has both phone support  ( 1-800-710-1998 ) and a Help Ticket resource.  The Help Ticket can be accessed by logging into your Homestead account and clicking on Help.

There is a wealth of help for the Homestead user. Between the assistance offered by Homestead and the site building help from actual Homestead users, the Site Builder program is undoubtedly one of the best supported website building programs available.

Google making search more interesting

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In March, Google introduced something new into their search algorithm. Their statement in part says, “we are deploying a new technology that can better understand associations and concepts related to your search.” Simply put, semantic search is now a part of Google’s search results. By definition, semantic is the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text. Google’s changes will give results that target more queries and provide searchers expanded relevant results.

On page copy (content) is and has always been important for the Homestead webmaster but now it is even more so. The new changes allow a better use of related terms in your  information as the algorithm can understand the association of terms.  This makes search engine optimization (SEO) even more important for webmasters to gain good placement in searches.

The best part of Google’s improvements is how it effects longer queries…Google will be expanding the number of lines in the snippets to provide more information. The results will show the queried words in the context of the page. A search for ‘how to build a Homestead website’ is an example:

Search Results

The words in bold are what Google pulled from the site to match the search. In this example it is a snippet from one of our previous blog posts.

For webmasters who have actually developed good on-page copy this should be a real benefit by presenting your information to more searchers. It will not only provide results for the specific keywords but words that closely relate to those search words. These snippets may come from anywhere on the page.

This change should encourage better writing because the search terms utilized can and will include options beyond specific keywords. Phrases that semantically ‘fit’ may also be included in the results.  This should be a win win situation for both the web searcher and the thoughtful webmaster.

Homestead users should keep in mind that website design and information placement is important in regards to page copy.  As more information is added to a page it is possible for a website to initially overwhelm the reader/searcher with too much information to sort through.

It is wise to keep the top portion (above the fold) simple with emphasis on the main purpose of the site. Additional information can be placed lower on the page. The use of bold type for important information helps the reader to quickly scan to find the meat of the site.  Utilizing lists also helps the viewer to see at a glance what the focus of the site is. Both of these also help with the Search Engines.  By constructing pages in this way the reader can quickly determine important information in the first few paragraphs.  If what they see piques their interest they will continue reading/looking.

As search engines continue to refine their algorithms, on page copy becomes even more important. Webmasters will need to hone their writing skills and think beyond placing emphasis on just a few key words or phrases in order to fully benefit from searches.

Visit Google’s blog for the complete scoop on the New Improvements to Search Results 

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Be sure to visit us at the Homestead Connection Forum  for more help and information on making your Homestead site user and search engine friendly.

Homestead user who needs some help? The Homestead Connection  site offers users of the Intuit (Homestead websites) software, tutorials and examples of how to use the SiteBuilder program.