RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Homestead

Is it Homestead or Intuit?

Posted on

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.

Advertisements

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.

Google making search more interesting

Posted on

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 

——————————————————————————————–

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.

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.

Do-It-Yourself Website Design With Homestead

Posted on

You are about to begin on the journey of web design after having found Homestead’s easy-to-use site builder software. The sales pitch says that you can build a site in 30 minutes. This is true. You can throw together a one or two page website in 30 minutes by using the ‘cookie cutter’ templates, the existing page copy, the ‘canned’ meta tags, etc. offered by the SiteBuilder Lite program.  What you can’t do is build a site that meets usability standards, is a well-designed, properly optimized, or viewer friendly site in 30 minutes. If all you want is a personal site or one to share with family and friends then the 30 minute approach will probably work for you.  If, however, you are building a site to sell a product or service or an informational site that you hope will reach vast numbers of people on the Internet, it’s going to take considerably more time than that. Why? …

It’s about more than just a pretty site

Successful websites depend on two very important factors: search engine optimization and good page design. You can have one without the other, but without the combination the odds of your site doing well are minimized. Done right, the two intertwine so that while you are designing, you are also optimizing and while you are optimizing you are designing.

When we talk about SEO most people think it refers to meta tags: titles, descriptions and keywords, but SEO is much more than that. Search Engines index and rank sites based on many factors not just the meta tags. 

When page design is mentioned thoughts immediately go to the colors and the fonts and the pretty pictures. Just as with SEO, page design encompasses more than just the visual aspect of a page and it plays a part in how the Search Engines react to the site.

How A Web Page Works – The Simple Explanation

You design a page.

How well that page is optimized and designed are major factors in how the Search Engines will index and rank the page which determines how well it places in searches. (There are dozens more factors that will have an impact on placement, but these two are primary.)

Page/site success is also reliant on visitors. If a page isn’t viewer friendly (i.e. poor design) or doesn’t offer the information/product the viewer searched for (poor meta tag info) they leave. You lose a potential customer. If the site shows a large percentage of visitors bouncing out without spending time on the page the Search Engines may take that into consideration and decide that your particular page must not be offering the right info for the given search term and thus the page falls back in placement for that keyword or phrase.

To build a truly useful, successful and appealing site means researching and studying what site design and search engine optimization are all about and then putting that knowledge into practice. I guarantee it will take you a lot more than 30 minutes, but I also guarantee that you will see positive results. And one thing to keep in mind – Web sites are never done.

5 Don’ts of Web Design

Posted on

You are about to design your first website using the Homestead site building program. Before you jump headlong into your project keep in mind that your competition is only one click away so you want to put your best foot forward. Let’s explore 5 very important Don’ts that can increase your success with the Search Engines and make your site more friendly for visitors.

DON’T publish pages until you have added the ‘NoIndex,NoFollow” tag.

Websites that are in the process of being constructed should be hidden from view – they can have a negative influence on search engines and also visitors. No one, not even the search bots, likes to land on a page that isn’t complete. Prior to publishing your pages you should insert the ‘NoIndex,NoFollow” tag in the <Head> tag box under the Advanced tab on Properties Editor*. This prevents the Search Engines from indexing an incomplete site or page which could hurt you in the rankings. Copy and paste the following tag on every page. When the site is completed remove the tags and republish the page(s).
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” content=”NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW”> 
*Note: This is only possible when using the full version of SiteBuilder – You do not have access to the head tags in SiteBuilder Lite

DON’T clutter your pages with unnecessary elements.

A successful website depends on certain standards that need to be adhered to if you hope to make a go of your site. One of which is don’t annoy your visitors. Many first time webmasters fall prey to what I call the ‘junk syndrome’.  It is so exciting building your first site and as you will discover, there is a vast array of things you can add to it, but pretty soon what you have isn’t a website it’s the aftermath of an explosion in a junk shop. A calm site is a site that is much more apt to hold the visitor than one where the viewer’s eyes are going in circles trying to find a place to focus. Unnecessary elements include: hit counters, date/time, guest books on professional sites, Add to Favorites, and any/all spinning, jumping, twirling, scrolling animated gizmos you happen to run across.

DON’T create pages that rely on photos/images to convey your site’s message.

Visitors and search engines both need content to determine the focus of a site – search engines need it in order to properly index the site and visitors need it to decide if they are in the right place to obtain the information or product they were looking for. Content truly is king and without good, key word rich, well-written copy your site may never see the light of day in searches.

DON’T use an entry page on your website.

Entry pages can be a killer for web sites.  Not to be confused with the necessary Index or Home page, an entry page is the page a visitor lands on when they access the site only to find they must then click on an additional link. Often times this link is not obvious making it hard or impossible to figure out how to get into the site. When someone lands on your site they should be IN your site. When you open the door at a brick and mortar store you don’t expect to have to go through yet another one to gain access to the store – this holds true with websites as well.  Your visitor goes through the door (clicks on the link to your site) and they should find themselves on the Home page. Entry pages are a good way to lose customers real fast as well as the attention of the Search Engines.

DON’T make them wait, and wait, and wait.

The Internet has given millions of people almost instantaneous access to information, products, games, and everything else under the sun/moon. We have become an impatient lot, snarling if a page loads slowly and usually moving on if it takes longer than our perceived notion of how quickly information should load. Design fast loading pages for your visitors and keep them on your site – don’t make them wait, because they won’t.

Find out more about website design with Homestead by visiting the Homestead Connection Forum. It’s free and contains a wealth of information about the Site Builder program. Owned and maintained by Homestead users.