News Round UP

Here’s the weekly news round up culled from the stack of RSS feeds that I subscribe to.

Starting off is a great post from Just Creative Design that lists all of the WordPress plugins used by Jacob Cass. They range from spam filters (Akismet) to SEO tools (All in one SEO Pack). Many of these tools I already use in my WordPress installations for clients but there are a few that I will probably start installing for clients. I generally install Google Analytics for clients, though most never use it, but I will also probably start to use the Ultimate Google Analytics plugin for my own tracking and really it’s easy to install so having it for clients to reference is easy.

Second up is a post from NETTUTS on the ultimate ways to fight spam. It goes over many of the common ways that are used to fight spam. One, keyword black lists, are used here on this blog. I have a number of "off limits" words that if you try to leave a comment with it your comment will be rejected. The post ultimately recommends Akismet which was developed by the people that developed WordPress. I do have one small exception to this post’s information. It calls Akismet a new service but as far as I know the service has been around for quite a while. There have even been ways to port the service into phpBB bulletin boards for quite a while so I’m not actually sure what it new about it. Regardless Akismet saves you from a bunch of spam so if you don’t want spam install it.

Next we look at position:absolute, which I have mentioned a few times. This post discusses XHTML strict validation and is sure to get some people in quite a twist. This post can be summed up by saying that not everything needs to validate just make sure it is well written. I agree with the theme of this post. I do my best to code all of my sites to XHTML strict. I do allow for failing the validate if there is a good reason. As stated in the article, target=_blank is not a valid attribute in XTHML strict so you have to use a bit of JavaScript to make it work. I really try to stay away from javascript to make things work so am totally fine with using the target=_blank attribute if it is needed. Ultimately if there is a good reason for the failure then I am fine with it.

Finally a post from Smashing Magazine titled 7 Ingredients of Good Corporate Design. This post covers such topics as logo design, typography in design and colour in design, all with a bent to corporate branding. Good for designers of all experience levels to read through and brush up on corporate brand design.

That’s it for today.

Generating Links to your Site

One of the big things that you need to do to improve you search engine rankings is to generate links back to your blog. That’s easy to say but much harder to do so lets look at some ways to generate links back to your website.

Have Something Worth Linking to

Before you start working to generate links evaluate your content. Do you have appropriate landing pages for customers? Are you hard or soft selling on the site? Is there even any good content there for customers?

I am a web designer. I do web design for small and medium business. I write about web design for small and medium business. I hope that you find good content here for your business but I’ll admit I have a  motive too. I want you to read this and hire me. Is there good free information here for you so you won’t have to hire me? Sure, but I specialize in what I do. While people may be able to take a step forward in their web management there is a ceiling that a business will hit and they will have to decide whether to hire a freelancer or an in house person.

If they picked up a bunch of their hints from me then they are more likely to come back to me for some paid work as well. So do I have content worth linking to? Yes I do. If you don’t have content on your site that others need why would they link to you?

Start with the Easy

Once you have some content on your site that is worth reading, start by knocking off the easy avenues for link generation. If you participate in any forums put a link to your site in your signature it they let you or at least on your profile page. I don’t find that this will drive a lot of traffic to your site but it is a simple starting point. Every time I start a new site that I plan to do some advertising for I add it to the signatures in any forums I participate in. I generally try not to put to many in but two or three are alright so evaluate what needs to be in there for each forum. I have different sites on my signatures depending on the nature of the forum.

What About a Contest

A great way to get other blogs or sites linking to you is to run a contest. Many times companies will contact bloggers or site admins and offer them a give away. They do for the publicity and the blogger is happy to write the content also because of the publicity. This type of link generation is called linkbaiting and is a great way to get people talking about your site and your content.

Let the contest run over a month and really advertise it. Use Twitter, forums, facebook… to get people talking. Lots of blogs will link to you because they want to share your contest with their readers. You may be surprised sometimes how popular a blog is that links to your little contest.

Share the Love

This post is about link love and how to get it. So why would I now suggest that you give it to others? If people are always giving you links and never getting anything back then the love could start tailing off. Now I am not suggesting that you link to your direct competition but what about a business that would offer complimentary services? What about a contest run on another site? Offer up the love to others will make it more likely that they will be sending links your way in the future as well.

Remember a good SEO plan takes time it doesn’t happen over night so you need to be patient and keep up the hard work. The day will come when you have more clients than you know what to do with and that will pay for all of the time spent up front.

Tuesday News Round Up

As I was digging through my RSS feeds today I found a bunch of useful information that I thought I would pass on.

Starting off there is a great article on the implementation of sIFR3. It takes you from a discussion on how to implement it to the what if questions regarding the lack of Flash plugins or javascript. The post includes all of the info including links to file downloads to get you going.

Second is an article on choosing colours that match your brand. It provides resouces for finding out which words are associated with certain colour types and a number of links to additional resources for learning to choose colours appropriately.

Third is an article on acceptable cross browser differences. While we strive to have a website look the same in all browsers at time we do need to just accept a difference. This is a list of the differences that the author believes are acceptable. All of the things listed are totatlly acceptable differences in rendering of websites.

Finally is a great article form Blog Design Blog on how to disassemble a free wordpress theme. As the author states, most wordpress articles are written for people to design a new wordpress theme from scratch not how to dig into an existing one and modify it as needed. If you have found a good design and just need to tweak it keep and eye out for this series of articles.

Enjoy the reading.

Using Social Media to Market your Business

Most people out there now have profiles in a number of social media networks. From Facebook to Twitter most of us are familiar with social media and how it can help us connect with people. It is also possible to use the power of social media to find new clients, but how.

It’s in the details

First make sure that your contact details are up to date. I recently came across a wonderful photo on Flickr that I would have happily purchased from the photographer. Unfortunately I could find no way to get in touch with them, even though their profile listed that they were a professional photographer for hire. They lost a potential return customer (I produce newsletters ever month that theirs style would have fit) all for lack of contact data.

Along with the contact details goes the profile information. A potential client should be able to find out who you are and what you do at a quick glance. They will not dig around trying to find out what you do, unless you’re well known, they will just look for someone who lists what they do in an easy to find manner. We have all heard that the competition is only a click away and to a certain extent this is true. The potential client wants you to be the person to help them but if they get frustrated figuring out what you do or how to contact you off they go to the competition.

Network, network, network

Most people would rather work with people they feel they have some relationship with. I recently had some PHP coding work to do that was beyond me. I first went to Twitter and asked if anyone was interested. Unfortunately I didn’t find anyone that could do what I needed so I posted the job on a job board and looked at other avenues for getting someone to do the work. I ended up remembering a friend who might be able to do it and he at least had a name of someone who could do get the work done. Honestly I would have much rather had someone on twitter do the work, though I’m not displeased with the arrangement, just because it would have been easy for me. I have had some interaction with many of the people that I follow on Twitter so I feel like I know them, they’re kinda like pen pals. Helping out a friends is always a nice and you feel safe working with someone that you trust.

I have another friend who participates in forums and Twitter and writes a blog. Niki recently got asked to contribute to a new project by Envato. She is a great designer but already had contacts with the company as they run the one of the forums she participates in. I’m not sure what other contacts she had but I don’t think they were face to face (she lives in the USA they in Australia). This will give her tonnes more exposure in the design industry and move her career forward. I have also been asked to contribute to other blogs via twitter.

Actually Participate

Make sure that you don’t just favourite your own stuff. People don’t mind you tooting your own horn but if that’s all you do they will quickly become irritated and you will be hurting your name/brand. Adding some self promotion now and again is generally fine but participate in the community as well.

I am an avid Stumbleupon user, I love to find new inspiring art and I admit I use it to “like” my blog posts. I see a few hundred visitors a day from Stumbleupon. I have a number of people that are my friends because they love the things I find. Ultimately more traffic to my blog (or your site) translates into a greater chance that a potential customer will come along.

Participation also gives you opportunity to build your brand. I do everything with just my name. All forum usernames, profiles are my name. I am using it as my brand. Yeah very few people are looking for me know but hopefully that will change. I have actually noticed that there are more and more searches for my name (and I asked my mom it’s not her). Eventually this will translate into customers.

Check out my profiles: Twitter | Linkedin | Facebook | Flickr

Changing the default ‘required’ in cformsII to an image

I recently had a client request a red asterisk instead of the default (required) that comes with cformsII the wordpress plugin. As it was actually my first time using cformsII in any fashion I started with a quick search to see if there was a documented work around to make this happen. While I did find a way to change the default text to a * which I could then have applied a colour to I wondered further if I could do it with an image. I realize that an image was not required for my circumstance but since I was digging into the CSS a bit I figured I should find out if this was possible just incase it ever came up in the future.

If you’re going to do this start by copying the CSS from cformsII into the stylesheet for your site. I learned through a few trials that this is way easier especially if you’re using a code editor with a built in FTP client for editing remote files. Once you have picked through the CSS and styled the code how you like it we’re off to the races.

The (required) text is surrounded by a span and class as seen below:

Code Snippet
<span class="reqtxt">(required)</span>

In the stock CSS you will find that there are a few lines of CSS to display the look of the required text. I deleted all of them and combined the styles to simply:

Code Snippet
span.reqtxt, span.emailreqtxt {text-indent:-5000px; display:
inline-block; background: url(http://filepath/asterisk.gif)
 no-repeat; width:15px; height:15px;}

This is partly things I learned from the CSS Sprites technique (text-indent) and partly trial and error. I had actually tried the same code while I was trying to edit CSS from withing cformsII and it didn’t work inside there. I am not sure why but I assume that I made a typing error the first time. You have to set the display value to inline block or the images will collapse and not be seen. Also don’t forget to define the width and height of the images.

I also tried to set the font-size to 0px but found that in IE it rendered small lines that was the text. After I realized that I tried text-indent again and it worked. I did find that a negative text indent number was required as with a positive one the (valid email required) text did not indent.

This method will allow you to display any image in place of the (required) text on the page. If your client decides to add more (required) fields at a later date it will also continue to work with the new fields. The only thing I was unable to get client proof was the legend. I hand coded the legend at the bottom of the form. This means that if my client adds a new form it will not automatically show the legend at the bottom. I feel this is only a minor draw back as the symbol is widely used for the same meaning and the implementation of a legend at the bottom of the form is marginal in time taken.

You can see the technique in use here.If anyone else has better options for implementing an image replacement for the (required) field I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Bring on the New: CS4 is out

A few weeks ago Adobe announced that Sept. 23 was the release day for CS4. Well today was the big day in the design industry…Adobe announced and is shipping CS4 starting now. I had opportunity to watch the live showing off of some of the new features of CS4 and wow. I answered my own question from a few weeks ago with a resounding yes. I’ll have to check the graphics card on my PC but I will own CS4 in a few weeks.

Lets take a tour of some of the new features. The one that really gets me is the content aware scaling of photos. You have to see it to really get the idea of what this is capable of for designers. Imaging having a picture that is landscape orientation for a magazine and strecthing it to portrait without affecting the quality of the image in the areas that really matter. Photoshop CS4 also improves greatly on the dodge and burn tools, it now protects the highlights and shadows as you use the tools. Effectively this takes some of the responsibility off the designer while dodging and burning photos and puts it on photoshop to only effect the correct areas. One of the final big things for Photoshop is the use of the GPU for rendering photos. By leveraging the power in the GPU Photoshop is able to zoom smoothly in and out of photos as well as render objects crisply at odd zoom number (33.3%). This should also make better use of your system resources and allow 32bit systems that can’t have huge amounts of RAM run the apps with less of a slow down if they upgrade their video card.

I am a web designer so I am most excited about Dreamweaver CS4. I have been using it since they released a preview version a few months back. I have used is as my only editor (reluctantly switching

Dreamweaver CS4 Interface
Dreamweaver CS4 Interface

back to CS3 now) and have had no stability problems. The interface is beautiful and easy to work in. Now the design view uses webkit as a rendering engine so what you see in the design view should render like it does in Safari and Chrome. Remember though this is still no substitute for actually checking your code in native installs of the browser.

Dreamweaver also comes bundled now with the .air plugin for application development. This really excites me as I move forward with my own plans for a .air app.

Code hinting now works for AJAX and JavaScript and the design view has support for Photoshop smart objects.

Another thing I am super excited about is the fact that Fireworks is now being bundled in the Design Premium version of CS4. I used to have to do without Fireworks because I do some print work and need InDesign. Well no more I can have my cake and eat it too. For those not familiar with Fireworks it allows you to draw both pixel and vector based objects. You can create hotspots on pages and essentially build yourself a working prototype of a site with no coding. Clients can see the site and critique it while your still working in a drawing program. Very cool. There is a great video on Adobe TV using Fireworks to prototype an .air app.

There are so many more things that are cool about the new CS4 release. To finish off here are some links to videos and other cool things in CS4

News from around the Web

Lots of things are happening today most notably CS4 was released by Adobe. I’ll be writing another post later today going into more detail about the launch and rouding up resources for further reading, for now on we go.

There is another great post over at Design Reviver detailing 22 Firefox 3 Plugins for web developers. This list is fairly exhaustive and although I use many of the plugins I didn’t even know about some of them. Specifically Font Finder and iMarcos look very promising for saving me time everday.

Sitepoint also has a great article on Minimalist HTML documents that is a must read. Detailing efficient document layout all web coders should take a quick look through and check against their own coding practices.

Finally there are two great articles over at A List Apart. The first one deals with proper Progressive Enhancement of styling on the web. Using javascript to check for box model support you can serve different CSS to a browser based on its support of the box model. The second article takes on the topic of Web Standards and how they haven’t been the saviour of the web as was originally thought. The author details many of the problems that are plauging the implementation of standards in the web industry today.

That’s it for my round up for now. Check back tomorrow some some more in depth stuff on CS4

Search Engine Optimization for Small Business

I deal with many small business’ as a freelancer. One thing that they most often have in common is the knowledge that websites need some work to get good results in search engine rankings. What they often don’t know is the bit of work they can do to improve their search engine traffic.

1. Content Management
Use a content management system. If you are getting a new site built then insist on some sort of content management system. It will cost you more up front than an entirely static site. You will no longer have to run to the designer each time you need to change your hours of operation or your prices. That also means you won’t have to pay them for every little change. A content management system will also allow you more control over the SEO of your site.    

A good content management system will also have a number of SEO items built in. Look at the title of this post and then look in your url bar in your web browser. Notice that they match. Having a url that is readable and not full of question marks and = signs can make a big difference in the traffic that your site gets.

 

2. Take the time to do it right
Alt tags. Alt tags are the alternate tags found on images. If you don’t have alternate tags on your images search engines can’t tell what the picture is of. If the search engine can’t tell what the picture is of it just ignores it and you loose the possible boost that could be gained by the presence of an alt tag.

 

3. Figure out who you want to market to and write appropriately
If you are a Motel in a small town known for it’s fishing and want to get more fishermen to stay at your motel make sure you talk about the great fishing in the area. Yes I realize that you are a hotel and don’t actually offer fishing in your parking lot but with content written about fishing in the area you are more likely to appear in a search about fishing in the area. If they are searching for ‘fishing and motel’ you are even better positioned to be a primary hit in your area.

 

4. Get links from related business
Using the example of the motel again, you should network with related business’s. I know that other motel’s will not link to you as a competitor but what about a local fishing lodge? They may have a list of accomodations in the area, are you on it? If not consider asking the owner for a link in return for a link to their business as a provider of fishing trips. This link will help increase your page rank through google and make your site a more relevant search term for places to stay while fishing in the area.

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News around the Blogoshpere

I thought today I would bring you up to speed with some of the neat things I found in my feedreader today.

Smashing Magazine is offering 67 free photoshop brushes today. They are free to use for any project but not to distribute.

Over at Niki’s DesignO’Blog there are some very cool tech coasters that you should check out.

If you have been following the NETTUTS tutorials on learning PHP like I have you’ll like to know that the second Learning PHP from Scratch tutorial is now out.

Finally Abduzeedo just put out the sites of the week post. There are a number of beautiful designs here that I have added to my inspiration folder.

Hope that give you enough reading for the weekend. I may not be posting this weekend as my internet connection is down and I have to get that fixed, so have a good one.