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

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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

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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

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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

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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.