Take your Website to the Dentist

This post was inspired by my recent dentist visit and the start of my silver grill as stated if you follow me on twitter. Having a long term website is a lot of work. You have to update the content, keep the Content Management System up to date so it’s not vulnerable to attack and make sure you check the logs for errors. All of that stuff seems kind of like going to the doctor to me, at least the general practitioner.

On some sort of regular basis you should take your site to the dentist though. In this instance I would equate the dentist with an outside consultant hired for a site evaluation.

As you continue to work with the same content it becomes harder to bring fresh eyes to the site. It’s harder to see the problems on a site because there is a reason, at least as far as your concerned, that it is laid out that way. In many ways having the same people always looking at the site to evaluate it is kind of like everyone patting each other’s back to tell them how good a job they are doing.

Back to the teeth comparison. I have always thought my teeth were healthy. They’re straight, and clean and don’t hurt. Then I went to the dentist and my teeth that looked good to me ended up being in need of a overhaul. It took a specialist to look at my teeth and see the bad parts. It takes a specialist to fix the problems.

There are problems on any long term site. New information gets added to the site that wasn’t originally planned for. The site become a little inbred and has poor elements scattered throughout. It’s hard to notice this when you work with it everyday though.

Specialist

Like going to a doctor that specializes in teeth your website will benefit from getting specialists to do a site evaluation on a regular basis. Maybe with the new wave of social media you decide that you should be more open to your users so you hire a social media consultant to give that aspect of your marketing an overhaul.

If your users indicate that it’s hard to find things on your site you should hire a user interface specialist or accessibility specialist to do a site audit. They can help you become more user friendly thus increasing the interaction on your site.

Git er Done

It’s all well and good to hire these specialists and get the recommendations from them but it does you no good to do nothing with the recommendations. Just as it would have done me no good to go for a check up and then not go back to face the drill. It may be painful, we are invested in our work, and it may cost a fair chunk of change but the important thing is that at the end of the day we have a healthy site that serves our users better.

The News: IE to use Webkit & Staying creative

Well here is an interesting development. In a recent developers conference in Sydney Steve Ballmer said that “Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that.” This is very interesting as the rendering in IE sucks currently and Webkit is awesome. I know that for all web designers it would be a wonderful thing to have the problems from IE just disappear.

Second up today is actually an article that i wrote for Design Fix on Staying Creative. It’s a quick list of how to stay creative long term as a designer.

Next is a post on 10 Key items for a perfect website. A very good check list of things to consider when building any new website. I already have a check list of things to consider when building a website but will add one or two from this list.

I am an advocate of having steady work while freelancing. Whether that is a client that has maintenance tasks or an actual steady job to make up some money. Freelance Switch has a good post on things to remember while working this steady gig. Like don’t stop marketing yourself cause it may not always be steady, and keep taking on some good projects. Just things to keep thinking about even through that amazing gig that pays the bills.

The News: Firefox is alive, seo, and some marketing advice

Today is a great day for web designer’s. It seems that Firefox is finally over 20% of the market share in browsers. Firefox is awesome, and it is wonderful to see it reach this milestone. Hopefully this really pushes IE to be standards compliant instead of the PITA that all web designers are familiar with.

How about some marketing advice now. Mike Smith (just guessing cause of the URL) has a cool post on 17 things you are probably not doing with your marketing. Ranging from the old school but essential business cards to writing for Hubpages. I actually used to do the latter and may have to pick it up from time to time with a new article. I’m not so sure about the directory submissions though. Some reading I have done leads me to believe that one day google will clamp down on those who are listed in directories that aren’t specific to thier market.

Tieing in with the last article nicely is an article on good SEO practices. All the basics are covered here. I do believe that meta tags have some relevance to search engine results but definitely not as much as they used to have. I would advise that you have good meta tags but really concentrate on producing quality content. As the article states your title tag is very important for good rankings.

Finally today is a post on How to spot a dud client. If you’ve been freelancing for more that 2 weeks you’ve had a call from a client that just doesn’t quite sound right. Often you end up taking at least one of these dud projects on without realizing what happened. Well here are some things to watch out for. If you see them in your clients get out now.

The Daily News: WordPress 2.7 and pricing your projects

How about we start the day with some twitter inspiration. Use the link to check out some creative twitter backgrounds and get some inspiration for designing your own. I know mine could sure use a refresh.

Next up today is some feature previews for WordPress 2.7, which I am really excited about. Overall the interface is cleaned up and the publish features have seen a huge revamp. You can also now mass edit posts or pages which would make any categories you need to change a snap. There is a huge list of things that will make your WordPress install easier to manage so go check the post out.

If you have hung around any design related forums one question you will hear is “What do I charge for …” It comes up over and over again. Freelancer Magazine has a great post on how to price yourself. Whether your just starting out or have been at it for a while have a read and check out how you price projects.

Finally today check out a post on embedding fonts for the web. Most web designers I know would love to have typographic freedom with their designs and it currently looks like this dream future is not so far away. For a good review of the situation as it stands check out the article. Don’t forget to see all of the articles that are linked as sources as well.

Is Crowdsourcing the Answer?

I just read an article on Sitepoint about Crowdsourcing for Freelancers. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, crowdsourcing is when you put your project up on a site (99designs, Crowdspring…) and get multiple options for the design. You then pick one and pay for that. I feel that it basically amounts to spec work.

Sitepoint’s article basically advocates that you can use the types of sources above to save some money during these tough economic times. Looked at from one perspective they are absolutely correct. By outsourcing some parts of your work to these sites you will save money over what a professional freelance designer could cost you.

Did you really catch what I said there though? How would you feel if your clients decided to go to one of these sources instead of coming to you? If you design logo’s you would probably agree that logo design does not cost $5.00. If you agree with the last statement why would you do the same to other designers?

This article also made me think of sites like Elance, that do bidding on freelance projects. Often it seems that the lowest price is the law (to pull from the famous Zellers saying). While it could be a good way to start to build your portfolio I would not encourage anyone to work with any of these sites for very long.

Ultimately if you are willing to crowdsource some of your work don’t complain when your clients start to do the same. You already started to devalue the industry and your own profession when you voted with your wallet.

The Daily News: Google custom search and getting more clients

How many of us have used the built in search for a site and found it to be horrid? I know that a site I am currently working on has what I feel is an unusable search function. In fact the results are so bad I think it’s better if they aren’t even there. So I’ve been thinking about using a google custom search but really wanted to have an auto complete feature. Well today I woke up to a tutorial fron NETTUTS that details just that, how to add auto complete to Google custom search.

The next two articles look at making your site/online presence better. First is 15 elements of a good site design. Looks at having a good about page to being able to track your site stats. The second article is is the second part in a series of articles about making your portfolio better to get more clients. This article doesn’t focus as much on your online presence as your overall marketing of yourself. Check out the list and start getting more clients in your door.

Today we’ll finish with a very cool wordpress link. I make lots of themes for clients and am starting to make some for sale. I have looked at custom options pages but never actually done one but that will change. I found an article dealing exactly how to build a custom options page for a wordpress themes. You can add a bunch of nice funcationality for people who use your themes.

The Daily News: Productive coding and cool shoes

We’ll start off today with a link for all programmers on how to be more productive. The one that I loved was using something like textexpander (Mac) or texter (Windows) for coding. Remember this is not just for coding. I set it up for my email signature the name of the place I work fulltime… Try it out typing will never be the same.

Second up today is a great list of plugins to add to your WordPress install. Ranging from the pragmatic delay of sending things on your RSS feed to make sure you spelled everything right to the technical that allow you to play with the PHP of your widgets. Look through and you’ll probably find one or two that will suit the needs of your blog.

Designers are always looking for cool design elements. Over at Smashing Magazine there are some cool animal RSS icons available for free right now. Take a peak and put them aside for the project that they fit.

How about we finish off with a fun one. Niki over at the Design O’ Blog asked designers to send in pictures of their shoes cause we all know that designers dress cool. There are some cool shoes in here so if your looking for a new pair head over there and get some ideas to spice up your shoe collection.

What Services should a Web Designer Provide?

It can be hard for small business owners to know exactly what services they should receive from a web designer. Of course they will design a site for you and publish it to the web but what exactly does that mean?

Prep Work

The first thingĀ  a good web designer should provide you with is a creative brief before they quote on the project. A creative brief will ask you a bunch of questions about what pages you need on your site, what sites you like and should be used as design reference, what sites you consider your competitors, who your target market is, and what content will be going on each page. All of this information will allow the designer to quote on your site accurately so that both of you are on the same page.

What if you don’t get asked these questions? It doesn’t mean that the web designer is a bad one but it may mean that they will not be prepared for all of the things you want on your website. If that happens then the relationship will be strained on both sides. You will both assume that you are on the same page and you won’t be. You as the client may expect a very complex form on your ‘contact’ page while the designer may expect that all you need is a basic three field form. Both of you will be frustrated by the lack of understanding of the other.

With the information gathered in the creative brief the designer should then take the time to survey your competitors to get a better understanding of your market. Without a good survey of your industry the designer will be unprepared to really design a site that is good for your users, and ultimately the site if for the users not for you.

Build for SEO

A good web designer should also be building your site with on page SEO in mind. On page SEO makes sure that you have proper heading tags, alt tags on images, and that you have all of the appropriate meta tag information. I would also expect them to set up a proper 301 redirect so that if people type in your site address without www at the beginning they will be sent to the version with www at the beginning. If they don’t do this both sites will be viewed as different sites and that will hurt your search engine ranking. This initial set up is not a full SEO plan for your business but a firm foundation for you to continue with a good plan to maximize your search engine results.

Web Standards

Your web designer should build your site to proper web standards from the start. Not only does this provide you with a site that is easier for search engines to read it also sets up your site for easier changing in the future. While I’ll admit there are some valid reasons not to have a site that validates to the W3C spec there should be a good reason that this is done. Accidentally capitalizing a break tag is not a valid reason to fail W3C validation.

Accessibility

Finally a web designer should take your target market into account when implementing accessibility on your site. If you are getting them to design a site for video gamers then it you can safely assume that they will have the latest plugins for Flash, and Javascript. While if they are designing a site that is marketed at the elderly it is safe to assume that they may not be the most technically savvy of users and you should build to suit their needs, which in not necessarily with the newest and greatest technology. If you just try to have the newest technology in your site without addressing how this will affect your end user you are doing them a disservice. Your web designer should build the site for your users not for themselves or for you.

The Daily News: Keeping clients, javascript and an interview

Keeping Clients Around

Once you do the hard work of landing a client you always want to keep them. Repeat work for good clients is always a bit easier. If you want some tips on those little things that keep clients around check out this article on Freelance Switch. It lists 3 easy ways to provide that little bit of extra service that will keep clients coming back for more.

curvyCorners

If you’ve been developing websites for a while you probably know a few ways to achieve rounded corners. For non-crucial effects I often use -moz-border-radius (along with the webkit version) and leave IE out in the cold. In fact, the corners on my blog are achieved in that way. curvyCorners uses javascript to perform on the fly rounded corners for all major browsers. While I’m not a fan of relying on javascript, if it is a non-crucial application you can include IE in the party. It seems that there is also a jquery plugin in the works.

Tutorials Galore

Now how about a round up of links in my round up (a bit ironic isn’t it). Over at NETTUTS there is a great list of things to know for web designers and developers. Everything from photoshop designing to jquery is covered in this list. I’ve done most of them over the months and highly recommend you at least skim through each one and expand your mind.

Getting Inspired

I love reading about other designers. Learning how and why they do what they do is simply just fun. Over at Just Creative Design there is a great interview with Doug Cloud. Doug does beautiful work and has a cool story.

That’s all I have for today. Hope you enjoyed.