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Tag Archives: Website Design

Homestead’s Latest Site Builder

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Welcome Websitebuilder

Websitebuilder is the 3rd generation platform from Homestead. As of now they are running 3 platforms; the original, downloadable desktop version, Site Builder Plus an online version and the new and improved Websitebuilder that is cloud-based and responsive, meaning the site will render correctly in whatever device the viewer is using.

The drawback or the plus depending on your perspective is that the site must be re-built. The existing site can’t just be moved over to the new builder as there is too much difference in the software. For those with huge sites this can be daunting, but you are able to build the site at your own pace and your original site will still be up and editable as always.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool desktop user I was very skeptical, but I decided to give it a try because I knew that mobile sites were important and I didn’t care for the Duda option. Much to my surprise I rather liked it. There is definitely a learning curve, it’s not particularly intuitive and there were/are some bugs and things the developers neglected to add, but I stuck with it and built a site. A lengthy process, but at the end I had an updated, more modern looking site. I’ll probably re-build it as I discovered a lot the more I built, but didn’t want to spend the time to back-track. I like it far and away better than the SiteBuilder Plus option.

The Pros:

  • It’s a responsive site builder. Meaning that it will render correctly (for the most part) across all devices. No need to use a third-party like Duda to get your site mobile friendly.
  • For those who use templates the offering isn’t huge, but they present a new, fresh look to sites and the program has the capability to change anything on the template. There are no blank templates, but you can simply choose one, select all the elements and delete and you have a blank canvas.
  • Finally! Drop down menus are available.
  • It offers a ‘built-in’ blog. No more having to run back and forth between your blog and your website.
  • You can add HTML or even embed a web page.
  • Colors are easier to find/change than in the previous builder.
  • There are several photo gallery styles to choose from and of course the ability to  add a single image. They’ve included an editor that gives you the ability to add effects to your images.
  • Offers the ability to build your pages using sections. Use different backgrounds for each section, divide your information by sections and you can even create a section menu.
  • There is much to discover in the new builder. The main editing menu is where you begin and from there the designer (that’s you!) can create a great site.

MainMenu

This is just a highlight of the new and improved Websitebuilder.

Feel free to add what you’ve discovered about Homestead’s newest site builder.

Coming Up: The Cons

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

5 Ways to Lose Visitors

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We all have a mental list of things that bother us about websites; things that send us scrambling to another site.  The web is huge, competition is fierce and the best thing a webmaster webmaster hard at work can do is to adhere to the KISS principle. (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID). Users of the Intuit-Homestead SiteBuilder program to design sites need an awareness of what does and doesn’t work on the web. Read the rest of this entry

Website Maintenance – Keep It In Good Shape

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Spring is here! It’s a good time to get your Homestead-Intuit website in tip-top condition.

Keep your Homestead-Intuit website in good shape

When was the last time you took a good close look at your website? We make quick changes now and then, but don’t usually pay attention to the big picture. A website can always use a bit of maintenance because errors tend to happen. A website that is error free is not only important for visitor retention, but is part of good search engine optimization as well.

Common Errors:

  • Spelling errors – spell check is great but won’t pick up homonyms (two words pronounced the same, with different meanings); weather/whether, break/brake for example.
  • Alignment errors – a misaligned list can make a site look sloppy and unprofessional
  • Overlaps – the border and bullet elements in SiteBuilder add padding and can throw off the placement of elements. Finding these requires checking the site in different browsers as each browser handles coding a bit differently.
  • Grammatical errors – Poor grammar can reflect negatively on your service or product.
  • Outdated information or events that have passed scream site neglect.
  • Broken links – they happen to the most diligent of webmasters.
  • The dreaded red X – this happens too. An image name is changed or it’s moved from the original location breaking the link to the image/graphic.
  • Stray element boxes should be eliminated. It’s easy to create a text box, get distracted and forget you made one. Using the Select All option will show all the elements on a page – including ones that shouldn’t be there.
  • Check the spelling in your Meta Tags. Page titles, descriptions, and key words often contain errors. Copy and paste them either to Notepad or directly onto the page to check them.

We tend to see what we know/think should be there rather than what actually IS there. If you have a really good friend, willing family member or co-worker who has time on their hands, enlist them to help proof your site. A fresh pair of eyes can help pick out those errors that you might be overlooking. If you don’t have someone who can assist then look at your website in a different way when you proof it.

Proofing Your Site:

  • Start at the back (last page) and work forward.
  • Read from bottom to top.
  • Copy the page content and paste it into notepad or Word and increase the font size.

Keeping your website in good shape will show visitors and the Search Engines that there is webmaster activity on the site making it more credible to both.

Download the free Website Design Guide to refresh your memory on the do’s and don’ts for websites and incorporate necessary changes when you are tuning up your site.

Website navigation – Is yours friendly?

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Is your Homestead site chasing visitors away?

If your navigation isn’t simple and straightforward you could be losing customers. One stat claims that 1/2 of online sales are lost due to the result of  a navigation that is poorly designed. That’s a pretty big number!

Your Home page is THE most important page of your site and it should be listed first in your navigation menu. Visitors look for the Home page link in the regular navigation so placing it elsewhere is a stopper for your potential customer. Every time you interrupt the flow of the visit you distract the visitor from their intended mission and make them focus on something other than finding/buying what they came for.

navigation menu on Homestead site

Can your visitor easily discern where each link in the navigation will take them or did you go with cute and clever link names that make the visitor stop and think about what that link refers to and where it may take them or what information it will yield?

Web users have two things in common:

  • They are totally focused
  • They are impatient

Using what you perceive as clever page names or icons without text  in the menu can be another stopper for the visitor that sends them elsewhere.

Consistency counts. Is your navigation the same throughout your site? It should be in the same location on every page, maintain the same structure, look and feel. Again, you need to make this a smooth, effortless journey, not an Easter egg hunt.

Location, location, location. Where is your navigation? Ideally it should be directly below your Logo/Header or on the left hand side at the top. Placing it anywhere else is going to be a stop and think for your visitor. Don’t neglect your site visitor in the (perceived) interest of aesthetics.

Have they been there, done that?  It is easy for visitors to a site to get confused as to whether or not they’ve already visited a page, this is especially true on larger sites. Using a regular link color and a visited link color, viewers can tell at a glance by the color change if they have seen a particular page.

How many times have you visited a site and had to get out the magnifying glass to read the menu? That menu is the life’s blood of a website yet designers/webmasters often use a tiny font and a light color for the navigation. This doesn’t mean you need to use a size 14 font in bold, black, but it does mean you should be sure the menu is easily read. Not everyone has 20/20 vision.

The success of a website involves many things, some big, some small, but navigation is VERY  BIG. The webmaster who doesn’t follow some basic principles of good design could be chasing customers away.

Happy webbing!

website design word cloud

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.

Ethics in Web Design using Homestead Software

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Ethics in Site Building – Transparency and Integrity

There are a large number of Homestead users who have gone into the website design business. Some with  integrity and others not-so-much. Everyone in business is there for one reason (or should be) and that is to make money. But where is the line between making money and ripping off the client?

Many designers are not being forthcoming with their clients about where/how their site is being hosted and are charging their clients over and above what the actual Homestead package costs. One designer we found even charges clients extra for email addresses (included in the Homestead package) and for a Site Stat report (again, included in the Homestead package and probably not all inclusive). Outrageous!

Homestead allows multiple sites to be built on one account so designers are building the client sites within their own accounts (piggybacking). Basically they are holding that account hostage – for obvious reasons the client would not have access to the account, thus they also don’t have access to site stats and there is a question of whether or not the domain name is in the client’s ownership or the designer’s.

Designers can and should promote their services for extras like continued site maintenance, link development and search engine optimization. This is just good marketing. Charging extra for services that are already included in a client’s package with Homestead is, in our opinion, not an ethical practice. 

I’ve spoken with designers who use the piggyback practice and their reasoning is that if the client knew they were using Homestead they would just build their own site. Granted some might, but our personal experience is that many simply don’t want to be bothered with it – they just want a website, others have tried and failed miserably. The mainstay of our design business is re-designs for those who have tried and failed because they don’t understand design, usability and search engine optimization and their sites have fallen through the cracks. Several of these clients have become long term customers even after the re-design. They use our services for updates, maintenance and on-going SEO.

When we design a new site the client is made aware of the hosting/design program used and the costs involved. The account is opened in the client’s name and the domain is registered to them. They have full access to their Homestead account. This way, the client knows exactly where their site is hosted and how to access it in the event something happens to the designer. We have run into instances where people have a site, the designer has vanished, they have no idea where the site is hosted or anything else about it. Once we complete a site the client has the option of taking it over or using our services. It is not held hostage, stats are readily available for the client, all the options in their Homestead account such as email addresses are also available to them.

A designer’s job is to create a quality, professional website that will serve the client’s needs while making money for their work. In the long term it is infinitely better to be upfront with the client, charge a reasonable design fee and offer continued service than to overcharge the client and withhold their ability to access their account and the information available through the Homestead package.

Debunking the “can’t be optimized” myth

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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.

Design fast loading pages

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One of the most important things for the Homestead webmaster to keep in mind when designing sites is that to be successful a page needs to load fast. The impatient web viewing public will not sit around and wait for a page to load – count on it! Search Engines have an easier time of indexing a page if it isn’t bloated with code – what does that mean? Every item on a web page is rendered into code – every image, every piece of text, every photo, every border, etc.  The SE’s have to parse through all the code and find the relevant information they need to properly index a site.

The general rule of thumb is that you have 10-15 seconds to get the attention of the viewer. The 30kb rule should remain a benchmark – a page that weighs 30kb will load within the 10-15 seconds over a typical modem connection. Even with the advent of cable, wireless and DSL there are still many, many viewers still using dial-up and you need to keep them in mind when you design your pages.

As with all things, there is no absolute. The secret is in using good judgement when adding anything to a page and keeping in mind that a little goes a long ways. So what can you do to minimize the weight of a page making it both viewer and search engine friendly?

Load time isn’t just due to the weight of the page

Page weight is just one factor involved in how fast (or slow) a page will load. Keeping page weight under control is important so that it doesn’t contribute to a potential slow load.

What factors determine the speed at which a page loads?

  • The type of connection and dependability of the viewer’s service provider (dial up, DSL, etc.)
  • How much traffic on the Internet there is at the time the page is requested
  • How the web server is performing that viewers get the page from
  • The dependability and speed of that particular server’s connection to the Internet
  • The viewer’s computer – old and slow or new and fast
  • The weight of the page

Use text instead of images

It doesn’t take long for a page to get seriously heavy when images are used in lieu of text. Textual content is extremely important to a web site’s success and should be the main portion of a page using images sparingly. Obviously images are important on sites that are promoting products, but even these can be whittled down in size by using a small, optimized thumbnail image with a link to a larger view and making more pages with less on them.

Optimizing images is critical to keeping the page weight under control. Reducing the dimensions (length x width) of an image does NOT make it weigh less. There are many programs, such as Easy Thumbnails available that can be used to reduce the resolution (weight) of an image.

Repeating an image will also help with reduction of page weight. Images only need to load one time. As an example, your logo (if it is an image) will load on the first page a viewer lands on – from that point it is stored in the browser’s cache and won’t reload every time a new page is chosen.

Avoid gizmos and gadgets

The saying, “if it doesn’t add value, don’t use it” really applies when it comes to the countless gadgets available in the Homestead SiteBuilder program and on the Web. The majority of these are simply ‘fillers’ and add nothing to a page but weight and the potential to irritate your viewers. Also, anything that moves can be a distraction to your visitor and removes their focus from the important aspects of the page. In most instances they also cheapen the appearance of a site. Remember that your visitors are on your site for information or a product or service.

Some things to avoid:

  • Guest books on professional sites
  • Add to Favorites
  • The Link to Me button
  • Moving text – includes scrolling, bouncing, fading, etc.
  • Recommend this site
  • Music on sites unrelated to music (or be sure there is a way to turn it off)
  • Cutesy clip art
  • Animated anything
  • Hit counters
  • Date, Time element

The benefits:

Fast loading pages that are clean and uncluttered make visiting your site a pleasant experience for viewers and the more apt they are to return. The easier it is the more likely they are to stay and shop or utilize your service. Pages that load quickly also make it simpler for the Search Engines to crawl and index your site appropriately.

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.