Cord has been a web developer for over a decade, working with small businesses, non-profits, and independent bloggers to rein in their web development costs and grow their online audiences through simple best practices.
With the notable exception of non-profits and other civil organizations who work with veterans, it is generally not a good idea for commercial entities to engage in any sort of social media campaigns involving holidays like Veterans Day or Memorial Day.
At best, your attempt to promote your product, service, or “brand” will come off as being in bad taste.
At worst, you will produce one of the offensive and shameless social media blunders highlighted by the Atlantic’s Philip Bump.
Perhaps most shameful is the spelling-mistake-laden offer of a free bloomin’ onion to veterans. Our veterans deserve better than your deep-fried root vegetables, but more importantly, the holiday deserves more respect.
Save your promotions, discounts, contests, sweepstakes, and other commercial tie-ins for more festive holidays, like Halloween or Independence Day.
Of course even the folks highlighted by Mr. Bump aren’t as bad as 9/11 advertisements. Simply the worst.
A large swath of these issues are address in our SEO work with clients, so if you’re an existing customer or work with a similarly well-rounded group of geeks, these items can be checked off your list in advance.
However, many of the recommendations provided by Portent are content-specific, so the list is worth reading for non-technical folks who have an editorial role in their company’s website.
It’s only when both sides come together—technical and editorial—that SEO can have a significant impact.
The Manhattan Institute had been running their Public Sector Inc blog on Movable Type for years and wanted to move to WordPress, but were unsure of the best way to migrate, especially given the very limited support offered by Movable Type for those who want to leave the platform. Thankfully I met Manhattan’s Communication VP Lindsay Craig (now president of the National Review Institute) at the State Policy Network annual meeting in 2012 and told her about our TP2WP.com conversion tool and how ReadyMadeWeb had considerable experience rescuing folks from both MovableType and its sometimes uglier cousin TypePad.
Late this summer, the folks behind Public Sector Inc—the brilliant Tatyana Kustus, Kasia Zabawa, and Stephen Eide—began working with ReadyMadeWeb on making the transition to WordPress. After a few rounds of design, data conversion, and a few hours of manual content massaging, we’ve launched Public Sector Inc as a new designed and fully mobile-responsive website.
Here’s the before and after:
Before Moving to WordPress
After Moving to WordPress
ReadyMadeWeb also redesigned the Public Sector Inc logo complete with social network profile icons:
We’re extremely happy with how this project has turned out and grateful to have worked with such talent folks at the Manhattan Institute!
Photos of your product and people using it play on the customer’s empathy in ways that colorful layouts and illustrations cannot. It helps them identify with the product and visualize themselves in the same context.
Making them span the entire width of the browser window adds to the immersion and transforms the page into a place, if you will.
Pettit provides several key pointers on using photos in homepage design and a couple of great examples. Here’s one my favorites from Harvest, which up until recently served as ReadyMadeWeb’s billing platform:
Upon reflection, it’s entirely possible that this photo, which has been in place since we signed-up for Harvest, had a big influence on my deciding to purchase the service. Picturing myself helping team members log their time made we focus on Harvest’s time tracking feature, which was already important to me, but the photo helped that idea stick.
Two percent of traffic from mobile devices is so low a figure that, when I first saw it, I questioned its accuracy.
This particular company does not market or sell to the general public. It is a B2B company that works with a relatively small group of distributors and contractors from a defined geographic area. The client attributed the low mobile traffic to this demographic, which would access the website from an office desk, not on the road with a phone.
I agreed that mobile figures would likely be lower for this demographic than for a typical audience (for the websites we manage, 30% of traffic comes from mobile visitors, although some websites get over 50%) — but not this low. I felt that something else was happening here, and my gut told me that part of the reason was that the website worked so poorly on mobile devices. I suspected that the lack of a mobile experience kept mobile visitors away.
I did not share this theory with the client at the time, but in the year since the new design went live, the mobile traffic figures have climbed, from 2 to 17%. Granted, that is still lower than what many other websites get these days, but it is a sizeable jump and cannot be ignored.
Demand for a mobile experience was there, but the traffic didn’t reflect this because of an outdated design.
Girard also points out how responsive design is not the same as creating a mobile design and shouldn’t be presented in that way to clients. Instead, it’s important to understand what responsive design really encompasses, a design methodology that should work well with devices of all sizes, whether they be phones, phablets, tablets, netbooks, laptops, desktops, or a beautiful 27″ iMac.
Mike Lemovitz, writing for The Next Web, comments on his experience getting an iOS app built using a contractor on Elance:
In many ways, you could say that I accomplished my mission. However, the frustration that went along with the process, dealing with someone on a completely opposite schedule, and constant battling over the nitty-gritty left me feeling like I should learn how to do it myself.
I understand Mike’s frustrations here as I’ve also worked with contractors on Elance and I’ve found the process to be frustrating for all the same reasons—contractors underbid, then ask for more money, then change the terms. Who wouldn’t be frustrated by this?
But I have to disagree with Mike’s conclusion—learning to code yourself is certainly not an acceptable solution for everyone. Instead, Mike could learn understand the limiting factors of sites like Elance so he can get better results in the future.
First, Mike should have realized the challenges working with someone in such a different time zone. ReadyMadeWeb consists entirely of remote workers, but we’ve always been with a few timezones of each other. That way, developers can collaborate with designers and project managers for at least a few hours each day. This real-time communication allow for issues to get resolved quickly, through IM or over the phone.
By contrast, working with a developer who shares no working hours with you means that discussions take place day by day, rather than minute by minute. Progress then becomes grindingly slow as a missed API key or an overlooked design detail costs an entire 24 hours, rather than a few minutes. This encourages overly-detailed emails that cover everything, making it harder to emphasize priorities and leaving both parties with email exhaustion. Solving problems through natural conversation is always a better route.
Second, if Mike had worked with more contractors on Elance, he may have discovered the line between such a service’s strengths and weaknesses. My experience has told me that Elance is good for tasks that aren’t very creative, but require a fair amount of technical expertise. Creating an iOS app—even from the most detailed specs and designs—requires a great deal of creativity. Implementation of an idea will always be more complicated than the best laid plans can anticipate. So tight budgets that allow for no revision, pivoting, or rethinking will always crumble when pixels start becoming lines of code.
Other projects—those that don’t require this sort of creative adaptation from concepts to code—can be far easier to work through with Elancers. When I started ReadyMadeWeb I used an Elance contractor to do some simple optimization tasks on our web servers. The requirements were limited to implementing a very known software platform and then testing the installation with a very narrowly defined set of tests. We never needed to revise the tasks midway through the process and the terms left no room for renegotiation. Routine implementation and testing tasks are the only tasks we ever consider as candidates for freelancing markets such as Elance.
But perhaps the real problem with Elance is that developers are trying to comply with a client’s expectations and budget, rather than educating clients as to what their expectations should be and what sort of budget is reasonable for that work. Any professional offering a service should set their own parameters for their work. That’s what we do at ReadyMadeWeb and it allows us to control our process, set proper expectations, and stick to timetables and budgets. Elance turns that professional approach on its head, so its no surprise that the result is commonly frustration.
In a detailed and very serious post on github.io, the Onion’s tech team describes how the “Syrian Electronic Army” hacked into several of their social media accounts as well as Google Apps. The methods used were quite clever and involved a sort of multi-tired approach to gaining access to more and more of the Onion’s accounts:
Once the attackers had access to one Onion employee’s account, they used that account to send the same email to more Onion staff at about 2:30 AM on Monday, May 6. Coming from a trusted address, many staff members clicked the link, but most refrained from entering their login credentials. Two staff members did enter their credentials, one of whom had access to all of our social media accounts.
To describe this sort of activity as “hacking” isn’t exactly accurate and it does a disservice to the public who should be educated on this sort of phishing scam and how to avoid it.
This is why it’s so important that along with implementing technical solutions to keeping websites and other services secure, we educate clients and internal staff on best practices for handling passwords. As this case study shows, dozens of hours of security hardening and testing can be undermined by a single email and a poorly informed user.
Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo continues to make me excited about the future of the web. I want another big, competent player doing cool things on the web to serve as a counterweight to Google. ”Pure” is another example of Yahoo becoming just that. The description of the pure efficiency of this code is pretty awesome:
Pure is ridiculously tiny. The entire set of modules clocks in at 5.7KB minified and gzipped, without forgoing responsive styles, design, or ease of use. Crafted with mobile devices in mind, it was important to us to keep our file sizes small, and every line of CSS was carefully considered. If you decide to only use a subset of these modules, you’ll save even more bytes.
Beyond this obsessive level of optimization, “Pure” may also meant that we should expect Yahoo properties to soon be united by a common design language. This was one of Mayer’s biggest accomplishments at Google and something that Yahoo is lacking now.
Along with this design language, I’d love to see Yahoo put some serious developer weight behind their login system, which is currently frustrating and broken.
I’m very bullish on Yahoo becoming a more coherent company under Mayer. Revitalizing Flickr and acquiring Tumblr seems to place emphasis on creators and content, something that is already a Yahoo strong suit. Bringing real design sense and an increased emphasis on technological innovation to bear on that content, could result in some really cool products and services.
There are few companies working on content and technology right now, but with Netflix and Amazon now producing content and HBO creating apps, uniting these two industries that were formerly needlessly opposed to on another, may be what’s needed to push the web, and media consumption overall, forward.