Bear Web Blog

Bear Web Blog features our Webmaster’s Blog & Our Designer Street Blog.

Webmaster’s Blog is for business owners, marketing managers, webmasters & web content managers that are all aiming to gain a greater understanding of the internet and how it can be applied to their business.

Designer Street blog is where design meets functionality with expert commentary by the Bear Web Design Design and Development Team who have produced over 400 custom websites.

Does The Internet Pass Thru Your Town

Does The Internet Pass Thru Your Town?

I was recently visiting a very small Tennessee Town to attend a 40th birthday party when I decide to walk down in to the actual village which was about ¼ a mile from where the party was.

Peter Beare, BeareWareI love visiting small towns (both in the South and in my homeland of Australia) – they intrigue the daylights out of me and they bring a sense of history that is just so attractive to my imagination. Like many small old towns of the past there were mostly empty buildings in the village area – at lot were dilapidated but it wasn’t hard to imagine a bustling village back in the 1950’s. Maybe it was a town just like Mayberry.

What made the bustling Town Die?

Aghhhh – this is Interview with a Webmaster – so I guess it’s a valid question. 

Though I won’t name the town it is on the Cumberland Plateau (may also be considered East Tennessee) – but either way there was a big “logging” industry operating between the early 1900’s up to the 1950’s when the town began to decline. The folks and family I know from this area ultimately could not maintain work and moved up North to work in the Automotive & Steel Industry (which I am sure happened in more rural states than just  Tennessee).  Walking thru the Town I found the old bank now closed with weeds growing in the building. There was a very large building that looked like the towns hotel and restaurant and then quite a few other buildings mostly boarder up and run down. After a quick walk thru the township I headed back to the party. While heading back to the party I heard a train whistle which appeared to be very close by.

So the Town Was Built on a Railway Line?

Evidently so!  I happened to meet an esteemed 90 year old town resident at the birthday party and she confirmed that the railway line was the primary form of transportation and people were riding trains to and from the town extensively in the 1930’s. Of course many towns like this one actually started slowly down when the “interstate system” started to become the primary method of transportation (and the commuter trains slowly went away). I remember the Andy Griffith show that had a new interstate system planned to come thru Mayberry . The town was all abuz (you could just imagine Barny running around excited) and the thought of skyscrapers one day being built in down town Mayberry. Ultimately for whatever reason the interstate bypassed Mayberry and went thru Mount Pilot on its route to the big city “Raleigh”. 

What on earth does this have to with Websites?

Ok so I like telling a story!  Pretty much most small towns that were not on the interstate systems probably continued to spiral down in terms of commerce and activity. In the town I was visiting with the industry all but gone, no major interstate system to be found, and the commuter train nothing but a carriage of ghosts from the past. There really doesn’t seem like anything can bring this town back to life.

That is unless the “Internet” happens to pass thru this town…

That’s right – the Internet! With the world wide web now a primary route of commerce that is capable of bringing more business traffic than any physical road or interstate for that matter. And the internet does not CARE where you are – so long as you have a professional website and services and products that an internet consumer will purchase.  Imagine the old bank is turned in to a retail crafts store that specializes in regional “Cumberland Quilts” – that are now purchased by people from all over the world. Their website – let’s call it http://www.cumberlandquilts.com/  grows at a rapid rate – visitors buying product directly from the website. 

The retail side of business doesn’t start booming initially but more and more people are starting to hear about this store especially online so people start popping by and product is now selling directly on the floor. Word spreads among the quilt makers in the Appalachians – people who have tremendous craft that has been passed down thru the ages – but had never really had the supply and demand of the internet. The quilt store establishes relationships with as many quilt makers to ensure quality remains constant as demand increases. A few extra folks from town start working in the store part time to help with the business as it grows.

One Store Leads To Another

Being a beautiful old town it doesn’t take long for a local antiques store to become part of the scenery. Today many people will browse online looking for antiques and then if they find themselves close to an antiques dealer they will make a trip to that dealer. If they are not within driving distance they may very well just buy online if it is that item they just have to have.  The Internet and their website fuels interest but also this type of store will bring lots of people to town. And what is more lovely than a beautiful old antique store in an historical old town. It doesn’t matter which building the antique store picks – they all suite the look and feel of antiques.

So now our town has 2 business operating and as important 2 busy websites. The Antiques store – http://www.plateauantiques.com/ really captures the imagination of antique buffs – and a full catalog online on with every product the store carries – calls are soon coming in from as far away as Maine to Michigan.  And our famous little post office just seems to get busier and busier.  Of course the shipping module of the online shop has shipping costs tied into their products so shipping is calculated during the purchase. The antique shop owner can even print the shipping labels thru his website. 

And with this small town being on the Cumberland Plateau there is a plethora of antiques to be found as well as dealers and novices. Soon the first Saturday of each month becomes known as “Antiques Swap” and the sleepy little town starts to become a “zoo” every Saturday morning. Everyone has an antique they think is worth something!

As traffic to Internet grows – so does this town!

OK – pretty basic concept – but then more business moves into town. With the advent of “activity” that Cumberland Quilts and Plateau Antiques have created the G’Day Café has now opened which cleverly includes the small town library and is fitted with Wi-Fi for all its patrons. With the local high school within walking distance of the town over 500 students now have an option for after school studying combined with some sociality. Of course their parents might also find the café cakes very alluring. There is also a line of computers that are linked to the internet that allow folks that don’t have a laptop to be able to come and spend an hour on the internet.

The café serves coffee, cappuccinos  and cokes. The local towns folks are now providing the café with all the cakes and sweets (that their patrons can gobble up) and with the café having pick of the crop of the old buildings downtown the café is located in a wonderful two story building that has the café down stairs the towns official “Webmaster and Technologist” is now operating from upstairs.  Providing the township with a professional website developer helps make the town competitive with any other town in the world and I hear they will be offering Internet classes as part of a “continuing” education movement – funded by the local country government.  The webmaster is not just a service provider but he is a production shop for internet traffic.  Every website that goes online for a business or organization in the township is in essence more traffic coming to this little town.

And then the Webmaster Gets Busy

With the township now coming to life and a great community park within the village limits its time to get a website online that promotes the town as a great “summer picnic” choice – and the CVB website is born.  With a professionally designed website and an online photo album the choice to visit this town is made easy.  The website of course is now running banner ads for Cumberland Quilts, Plateau Antiques and G’Day Café so a visitor to town may very well be a prospective customer for each business.

The county mayor’s office takes full advantage of having a webmaster in town – and the local government website begins to build many services online.  A strategic meeting is held to plan out the purchase of domain names that will bring internet traffic to the town not only today but in the future.  The town now has a domain strategy!  And as this little town now fully understands – domain names bring traffic – great domain names bring large amounts of traffic – and traffic brings commerce and people.

And the county mayor’s office is not only focusing on the township but many rural residents that are now getting connecting. Connecting online today makes sense – in a rural community with long distances between towns combined with $4.00 a gallon of gas – NO THANKS – they will check it out online before they drive anywhere!

Our little town now has all kinds of business’s vying for office space and positions. There’s the Beauty Salon, the Flower Shop, Several Real Estate Agents and several Lawyers. Needless to say G’Day Café has now become the center of the town’s activity but how can a little town drink that much coffee? Of course these same folks are all connecting with the town Webmaster knowing that the backbone of this town in technology. Everyone recognizes that traffic will come to this town in two methods – by road (I hope by rail again one day) and by the information highway.

A Walkable Town that immediately becomes Green

And with the latest technology promoting our little village it doesn’t take long for our “green” webmaster to start to incorporate the green aspects of the village into our websites and marketing literature. Why – because GREEN SELLS!.  But in this old town you can walk from one end to another on sidewalks and greenways. There’s even talk of some more greenways to run along the river that runs thru downtown.  And with the local farmers and their fresh produce a farmers market and a website that promotes “Buy Local” really ties into the basis of being green.

Maybe this green little town becomes a twenty first century Mayberry.  A place that is deep in our hearts and a place where so many of us want to live and work if we can sustain ourselves. The advantages and quality of life of a small town are hard to beat. A town where a mother can walk a child to the town center in a stroller on a pretty spring day. A town where the local history from the early 20th century becomes an inspiration for the current town fathers and is shared online for the whole world to enjoy.

And a town that competes and wins in the global economy by the use of technology and by using a thing that passes thru their town every second of every day – a thing called the Internet.

But what about Floyd the Barber? Seems like the Towns got everything else?

Well I must admit an Internet Kiosk would fit right in the corner of Floyd’s Barber shop (so long as it didn’t interfere with the old men playing checkers) but of course when Floyd was cutting hair Al Gore was just a kid and we all know that the Internet was not yet passing thru Mayberry…

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

The Web Development Phase

The Web Development Phase

The Web Development phase is the primary work phase when creating a new website. The design “look” of the website has been established in the Design Phase and with the client’s approval it is time to actually build the website.

Peter Beare, BeareWare When developing a website the development phase is the most time intensive. It is also a critical phase when you consider that great designs with poorly developed websites don’t produce great results…

But I thought the “look” was the most important aspect of your website?

It sure is an important aspect of your website – without a great looking website you really reduce your ability to keep new web visitors on your website – BUT no matter how good the website looks if it does not function well, if it does not have easy navigation, if key information and content are not available or if the DREADED “Coming Soon – Please Check Back” – is sitting on half your menu items – then your website might as well say – “Please go to a better website – one that has spent the time to get the information you are looking for online!”

Man that’s brutal – Can’t you just add information “after the site goes live”?

Clients and prospects alike do not enjoy wasting their time and seeing web pages “with great intentions… coming soon”.  It is a royal waste of their time and they will generally leave the website and not come back (now talk to me about brutal – you just lost a prospect!).  So it should be obvious why having a full understanding and game plan for your web content is one of the key starting points of developing a great website.  This includes establishing the menu items of the website that requires both the web development company and the client to participate and focus on.  The core content of the website should have been established in the sales phase and definitely finalized in the design phase. It simply is not good enough to decide you will update and add content after you have launched the website.

A good development company will work closely with the client in this phase and will encourage and motivate the client to launch good content.  Again It should clearly be established in the design phase what is the most important items (and content) required to produce the results the client is looking for. It simply doesn’t make sense not to produce key required content for the website during this phase.

Good Content takes Hard Work!

Today there are a lot of organizations that are now in the “Web Design” business. There is the old fashion webmaster (becoming a past relic to some extent if you can still find him or her), then there is the small web design & development companies (like BeareWare) and then you have the major companies such as AT&T, Network Solutions and GoDaddy to name a few who are now offering website design services. But no matter which company is developing your website the responsibility of content always rests on the shoulders of the client.

You will see this on most web contracts and descriptions – “Client to provide content”. Easy to say but  NOT really easy to produce. During the sales phase the prospect will inevitably hear “….and then we add your content” – MAGIC – and it includes a FREE CAR WASH! But the reality is good web content takes hard work and a good design and development company must have a good plan and solid methods to assist the client during this phase.  And as can be seen by the development check list below there is a lot of ground to cover and the importance of team work is paramount to producing an outstanding website:

Web Development Checklist:

Approved Design:  The “look” has been approved by the client in the design phase.
Route Domain:  Your domain (yourdomain.com) must be pointed to your new website.
Setup Hosting:  Your website must sit on a web server” commonly called the host.
Install CMS:  Development starts with CMS Website installed on the “Web Server”.
Integrate Design:  The graphic templates are integrated into your CMS Website.
Setup Menu:  Menu options and functions should be clearly defined in design phase.
Customize Software:  Fine tune CMS Software to optimize the look and functionality.
Add Web Content:  Adding content to the site which really brings the website to life.
Add-On Systems: Add-on systems include Online Shops, Calendars or Photo Galleries.
Add 3rd Party Software: Real Estate Listings, Travel Agent Tools or RSS Feeds.
Setup e-Mail:  Setting up your e-mail accounts (with your domain brand).
FTP requirements: FTP Drop Box for uploading & downloading files thru your website.

Wow – impressive check list – what happens if you can’t get to all of this?

We end up with a website that is not going to produce the best results. So to be frank there is not an option to not complete all aspects of the development from our point of view.  But I have to say I do see quite a lot of websites online that have not completed all tasks listed above. It just looks poor on the company who owns the website – it makes them look Incompetent. That’s not a good message to be sending prospects.

I think this really helps identify the commitment that must be made by a client when they participate in the development of their new website. As stated above it’s a lot of work and the best results are ALWAYS when the web design company and the client collaborate closely during this process. When you look at the list above website owners should also be very cautious of companies that “tout” web design as an add-on “bundled” product (but fail to mention web development or state that “you” can setup your own web pages – cause its SOOO EASY!).

Web Design as an Add-On Product?

There are many companies that have become “Web Design” companies overnight. It is a happening industry and let’s face it everybody needs a website. It doesn’t surprise me at all that large corporations have now added “Web Design” as an additional product to sell.  Some of these large companies are selling internet access and online advertising and then additionally offer web design as an upgrade to their “bundled” package. Other companies offer web design as an additional package to domain purchases and hosting. If you review our web development check list above I think it should become obvious that someone is going to have to a lot of work once the “Web Design” phase is complete.

FOLKS – web design and development is not like turning your phone on or taking out an advertisement. It’s a LOT OF WORK that requires great planning, management and implementation to ensure success.  And just to add some food for thought here the cost of “Web Design” from these large companies is a monthly fee (usually tied into other packages) so ultimately the client will be forced to bundle multiple services (for many years) and may very well have to maintain the bundle to keep the website online. Your website is just way to important to ever be tied to any other product or bundled service!

And Just To Verify – Do I Need To Understand All Aspects of the Development?

Technology is complex just like investing and the best advice I have heard about investing is don’t ever invest in something you don’t understand. I really see an analogy to that statement with technology.  So when you have a look at the development list there certainly may be a few items that you may not be familiar with. Some of it is tech “stuff” – the core basics that come with each website – such as the domain name, the host, and website software such as a CMS System.  Most of these items can be explained in very easy laymen terms – and there is nothing in the development list that fits in the “magic” category.  Probably one of the more complex items in the list is the actual customizing the CMS software (which is the discipline computer programming).

To elaborate your CMS website is a computer program written with 1000’s of lines of computer code which actually is what makes your CMS website so powerful. Quite often in developing a new client site BeareWare will make some coding changes to the software to help the customization. Most of the time it’s nothing major and generally might be a cosmetic appearance or a functional behavior. But it is a part of why the development phase is important.

Now – If you can understand the last paragraph you just read in this blog – then you are fully capable of understanding the development phase. And as we constantly remind our clients – ask questions – then ask some more questions. It is very important that our clients are very comfortable with the development process – we hope to keep them as customers for the next 20 years so their education and understanding of this process is paramount.

So at the Completion Of Web Development Is A Great Website!

Well just about! As you can see there are a lot of pieces to the development phase. At minimum the website is developed over 30 days (longer pending the size of the project) – and you have multi-disciplined persons working on the website (the graphic designer, the programmer and developer, and the project leader) – so it really serves to have a final review with the client after the development phase is completed to do some final fine tuning before going live.

And being a CMS website this should include a training session (and a training manual) combined with that final review. Although we are at the finish line of the project the final review and training are an important part of the process.  The client is also much more “educated” about their website at this stage of the project and many of their questions and comments during the review and training session really make the launching of the website an exciting event!

After all that work your company’s professional website is live and ready for action on the World Wide Web – it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

The Web Design Phase

The Website Design Phase

The Web Design phase is a critical phase in creating a future winning websites.  The “Look” of the website is established during this phase and without a great looking website, you will struggle to keep new visitors on your site for long. This phase is critical for both the web owner and the web design team.  And of all the phases in developing a new website, this must be a great collaboration…

Peter Beare, BeareWareThis must be a great collaboration – Can you elaborate?

When a client has taken us on as their design company (BeareWare) – we have usually already asked a lot of questions and done a lot of research in the proposal/quoting phase. We have established a good feel for what the client wants, we have reviewed the client’s business model, brand and marketing concepts, and we also have established what we are required to deliver. We’ve asked the client to identify the types of websites they like, which has helped identify some sample looks.  There has already been good communication, but the design meeting is when we really finalize that website look.

So, What Is Involved with a Design Meeting?

The aim of a design meeting is specifically to be able to leave the meeting with a clear design plan, which will lead to final design samples for the client. We design a lot of websites – and with that we could simply decide based on “our” knowledge what designs might suit the client. But, we know that this is not our website, it is the client’s website – and our design meeting exists to specifically review the details of the client’s business model, their marketing and branding models, their images, logos, sample marketing literature, key demographics, and the specific results they desire from their website. It’s usually a very dynamic and exciting meeting. Our design meeting check list highlights the importance of the meeting and also the info that is covered:

Design Meeting Check List:

Business Model Review:  Review the business plan of the client.
Corporate Logo:  Review corporate logo, brand and corporate colors.
Marketing Material:  Flyers, Brochures, Newsletters – review of marketing material.
Domain Name Analysis:  Domain names must match brand & slogans.
Sample Websites:  Existing sites that the client & design company found (and like).
Design Inventory:  Images, Logos, Advertising samples as well as website samples.
Design choices: Menu design & navigation, website aesthetics (colors & flavor).
Web Content:  Review menu items content-wise; establishment of source of content.
3rd Party Software: Review 3rd party software that may integrated into the website.
Next Steps: Design timeline and next steps in process.

So it’s really a team effort?

Absolutely! Over the years we have had a lot of design meetings – some are held on the phone, but most are on-site meetings.  We have had a few clients along the way who have relied heavily on our recommendations and leads, with other clients knowing exactly what they want. But every client has collaborated with us as a team to produce the best possible website design for their company.  It is our job to help the client identify what main results they are looking for from their website (which is usually achieved by reviewing their business model). Every client may not have a business model written down or formalized, but every client does have a business model – and we encourage them to expand on their models so we get a full understanding of that in a design meeting.

After you’ve established the look the client likes – is that it?

In a design meeting we also look at the marketing material and discuss the menu items and content that is available for the development. This is a critical area that can be easily overlooked. It is also a great part of the meeting that goes from “visual design” focus to “written content” focus.  It makes the client really look at what they have marketing wise – and also to clarify the key modules and menu options on their website. Designing the look is fun – it’s exciting – the possibilities are intoxicating. Content is really the muscle behind that great design, and good content is hard work! A great design will get a new prospect to “bookmark” your site, and make the mental note that they like the site (in the 3-5 second test) – but content is king when it comes to the prospect getting the information they need.

How much bearing does content have on the design?

Content really can play a big part in the design of the site. One of the biggest areas we look at is the client’s industry and how important content is to that industry – as well as the client’s capability of producing content. Nothing is worse than old information sitting on the home page of a website, so we really review this with the client who requests News areas on their home page design. To have news stories coming off you home page requires a constant content stream.  We emphasize this clearly to the client. Being realistic in your content capability is also very important.

RSS Feeds are now helping out in areas where a client may want updated content on their site – but don’t have the time to produce a great deal of content on their own. RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication) are a popular technology for notifying users of updates to content in a website, blog, or even an Internet TV channel.  For example: a community website wishes to report news from their regional area, but the site owners don’t have the time to produce or reproduce this news themselves every day. So we set up an RSS feed from a regional newspaper on the client’s website. The headlines are updated on the client’s website as they are updated on the regional newspapers website – and then when a visitor clicks on the story, the newspaper’s website then opens up with that particular story. When they finish reading the story and close it they are still on the client’s website. For the website owner, you have provided some updated news that may keep bringing visitors back to your site – and the regional newspaper website has been delivered to your web visitors (which helps increase their advertising value) – so it is a great example of a “win win”.  The key is to understand when this would be a good fit with your site’s content (and when it is not).

And Now For The Design Samples

During a design meeting our design director, Vicki Payne, and I (as project manager) will meet with the client. We take a team approach, because there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle in successfully launching a website. Our design director’s role is to leave that meeting with a design plan.  We will usually produce 3-5 design samples based on the design meeting. The key outcome is the actual look of the website – Home Page – then subsequent (Standard) pages.  This process of design is really where the great design companies differentiate themselves from the rest.  Having a great designer is what this phase really comes down to. No matter what caliber or how many developers or programmers you have on staff, no matter what company hosts your site or how solid your Content Management System is – the designer is the key ingredient in the web design phase. I can’t think of a more important task than ensuring your prospects like what they see when they visit your website!

Designs are created – samples are reviewed – website design is selected!

Our design director then creates the sample designs and posts them online for the client to review and make his/her selection. The client will sometimes select one of these design samples as is, and will sometimes request modifications – requesting that different aspects of the samples be pulled together, for instance, to make a final design. We understand the importance of this to the client, and encourage the client to contribute any ideas, input or suggestions he or she may have at this phase – so the design process continues until we have the client’s final selection.

Once the design is selected, we have completed the design phase and commence the development phase (next week’s blog topic). We are on our way with our client’s website – the client knows what their website will look like and they are always excited. As stated above, this is a very exciting phase in the development of every new website.  e work very hard with our client to ensure that we have a great outcome from this phase. Our clients work very hard, too – and there is no doubt that the collaboration of both the design company and the client is the formula for future success!

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

The Web & Advertising

The Web & Advertising – A Lot To Consider!

I have been starting to work with more and more clients on website advertising.

Peter Beare, BeareWare

While I have been promoting companies (sponsors) on websites since 1998 – and I always known the value of “custom” advertising on a particular website – I must admit I was a little more skeptical on the value of “random” advertising based on keywords (known to many as Google ads, although other search engines also provide keyword ads). Of course, I stand with the opinion that the greatest advertisement on the web is always going to be your own website and that is the starting denominator.

“So, you consider a website actual advertising?”

Absolutely! I have to admit I am amazed when I hear an advertisement on the radio (or television) that includes a website as part of the promotion.  If I am interested in the product or service I will check out the website. You would be surprise how many websites are not that good – yet the advertiser has spent a lot of money on advertising, but probably very little on their website. This is not a well thought out plan!

“But you got them to your website – surely that’s enough to seal the deal?”

This statement may be true under one condition – and that is you have a great website – NOT JUST A WEBSITE. With the scenario above, a small company spends $5,000 on a month of radio advertising promoting their spring special and sending inquiries to the website (or to a phone number).  But their website is NOT a sparkling testament to their company. It is in fact an older technology site, with blurry logos and images and quite a lot of out of date content. Within a short period of time, the web visitors decide they don’t like your website – SO – they don’t like your company – SO – they don’t follow up on your spring special. It’s not because the spring special isn’t special, it’s because your website was not a professional representation of your company. It actually spelled out a lack of detail and professionalism, and frankly the end result is wasted advertising revenue.

“So, it would be worthwhile getting a great site before you start advertising?”

That sure would make sense to me.  Your website is your greatest (and ever permanent) form of advertising. 24 hours a day – 7 days a week – people are going to your website and making decisions based on their experience with your site. This is the starting point of advertising in my book. Get a great website and then you really can start to look at advertising where you can maximize your returns.

“Ok – what next – wouldn’t Search Engines be all you need?”

Ah – the infamous SEO – Search Engine Optimization. You know, from day one with Search Engines I have always wondered how all the business in a particular industry (or keyword listing) can all get the number one ranking from a search engine. It is mathematically impossible, but is advertised by some SEO companies as being possible. “Get the top Google ranking”, they advertise, “and always stay at the top! – And all for 100 bucks – BUT YOU GOTTA CALL ME NOW!” You know the old saying – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Now don’t get me wrong with SEO – we spend a lot of time on our clients’ websites establishing their keywords and key phrases – and then we submit their websites to the top search engines, including their keywords & site maps.

We certainly want our clients to get great rankings on search engines, and some of the sites we manage have number one rankings on key words– but there is SO much more to becoming a number one ranked site on a search engine (and keeping that position) than just what is generally called SEO. There are many parameters and formulae that Search Engines use to produce rankings – and folks it’s their proprietary asset, so it’s not public knowledge – the guys you pay $100.00 bucks for that guaranteed number one ranking also don’t know the formulae.

It seems very clear to me that the best websites for a particular keyword are going to have the best chance of getting very good rankings. The number of visitors plays a big part, as do valid links from other websites (this is pointed out by many search engines as a key parameter.) Either way, you want to make sure that your keywords and phrases are embedded in your website – you want make sure your title lines (on pages) are descriptive – and that your website has been submitted to search engines. But he who lives by SEO will most likely die by SEO – it just isn’t a way to guarantee business, as you cannot guarantee positioning.

“Now, I would consider website advertising and Google Ads”

I keep hearing this from the media (themselves) – that newspapers and television in particular are losing advertising market share (in particular those who are not providing online advertising as part of their overall advertising packages).  The ads usually mention the increase of online advertising’s numbers. I don’t have the cold hard facts on this, but it does seem reasonable that advertising online gets you lots of exposure, it can link directly to your website, and it can be tracked so you can see specific results – which to my knowledge no other medium can provide. On top of this, custom advertising also provides great branding opportunities – so, whether the ad is clicked on or not, web visitors may very well remember your brand.

And of course you have the ever increasing numbers of people surfing online. When you consider advertising on a specific website you really want to know the demographics, how many impressions your ad will get in a specific time frame, and the tracking of click-through’s to your website.  The good old banner ads, which have been around since the conception of the Web, are still considered very solid. You can’t miss them, they are easy to read, not intrusive, and can be very effective.  Of course, you will pay more for prominent positioning on websites – but the other great thing about website advertising is the ease with which an ad can be setup (and turned off) per the client’s budget.

“I must admit – the use of Google Ads now has my attention!”

When Google Ads first came out, I thought they were SO TACKY. I would be surfing a website (let’s say the website was promoting a local cultural club), and then a Google Ad promoting the sale of sports tickets (in California) would appear.  I remember thinking to myself, “This website does not have the demographic that would be interested in those tickets, neither geographically nor  product wise.”  I frankly wasn’t much of a believer.  The premise in my mind was placing ads on non- related websites just didn’t jibe.  Also, with my background in running a lot of sponsor advertising on websites, I knew that a reasonable percentage of advertising is brand awareness – and Google Ads don’t compensate the advertising website for “awareness” – only “click-through’s”.  I also wondered how they would control some joker from just clicking through the ad all day long to generate advertising revenue.

But, over time Google got better at placing ads in relatable and reliable websites – and then lo and behold in the last 12 months I saw a Google Ad on the home page of my favorite Australian News Paper (“The Age”) and I just about did a cartwheel. If the large newspapers are using Google advertising, then it must really be working.  I started paying a lot more attention to the topic of the page and the ads, and they were matching up better and better. I would also state that most likely some of the websites (small and non-professional websites) that were running Google Ads initially gave up since they were generating no click-through’s. And then what really impressed me was the Google “Graphic Ads” – instead of the standard text. This really opened my eyes and commenced our focus on adding Google Ads to clients’ website as well as placing client ads.

“What about Sponsored Links on Search Engines?”

As per my “rant” above in terms of the fact that everyone cannot possibly have a number one ranking on Google, the Sponsored Links are clearly the ONLY way to guarantee yourself a high listing.  And it makes sense – you pay for it, you get the best positioning. And just like Google Ads on a website, you establish your budget for the month (which is pre-set), and then you let the Google Ads do the rest. You are only charged when someone clicks your ad, so that means you get the branding promotion “free”.  If no one clicks your ad, you don’t pay. If people do click on it, you will be getting new prospects to your website, and that is worth paying for.

In summary, when considering your overall advertising and marketing plan as an organization on the web, you really do have a lot to consider. My rule of thumb is to generally steer clear of anything you don’t understand. I have gradually become a fan of Google Ads over time – not because someone specifically told me it was the way to go, but because I started to get an understanding of how it works, and how it could work for me.

Remember – your first and major form of advertising is your website itself. Make sure it is in great shape, then look for strategic sites that have the demographic you are targeting in custom advertising when doing a specific promotion. Then consider setting a small monthly budget for Google Ads and give it a try. Once your budget has been met, your ad will automatically stop running. The click-through process allows you to monitor the results, and you can even place graphic ads today.  Advertising on the Internet is growing all the time. Don’t wait too long to consider getting into this arena!

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

More than just a Website

 More than just a Website!

This last weekend we took a new client’s website live – which is always an exciting event for the client and for any web design company. You work with the client from the point of an initial sales inquiry to analysis to design and development and then deployment.

Peter Beare, BeareWare Most clients now have a training session as well as final review of the website and then commence their roles as Content Managers. There was quite a bit of work taking this particular client live – and it made me think about the things we do once we leave the design and development phase of a website.

So that’s it – once you have launched their site your work is done?

In actual fact that is really when the second phase of our relationship commences as we begin the long term relationship of working and supporting the client as their website and visitation begins to grow.  I know there are many design companies out there that do sign off at the point of the website going live – and I know why they do it – it is not easy supplying support for clients post the design launch. It is not sexy – there is a learning curve that is almost perpetual for the client and most websites just don’t stay the same for too long…

Most website don’t stay the same… – Is that because you designed it wrong?

That is a good question – and it is very critical in the design and planning phase to make sure you not only know the current business model of the client – but also understand future plans so they can be incorporated into a website in the future. Adding new menus and content with a Content Management Systems (CMS) are very easy – the real challenges comes when the client adds new business and marketing models and concepts post their initial website design.

For example – a great long standing realtor client of ours started off with their website as all clients do and after the first 6 months recognized the value of additional domains (or really sub-domains) that could drive additional traffic to their website.  This meant adding new domains to the clients portfolio and then designing a template design (based on the brand and current website design) – and then incorporating the new sub-domains into the clients existing account.  As with the initial website development – the client wanted value for their money –  they did not want the site to be hosted separately from their current site – they did not want multiple companies to deal with in maintaining and managing their websites – and they wanted to be able to make future adjustments with someone who already understood their business model.

So in a nutshell – this reinforces why you guys provide hosting services to clients?

Absolutely – this is very good example. The premise that you can build a website – and then have it sit with a host (maybe even a host you don’t know ) and then have the site perform for you without any client or host/management support interaction is just a fairy tale – like all aspects of business – the website is a working component of your business  – it is alive and it requires specialized support and hosting to grow and prospect.

I am STILL amazed when I read web design companies FAQ that states “You can host the site anywhere you like”… – which can be easily translated into “It doesn’t matter where or with whom you host the site – we are not going to suffer the consequences of your decision…”  This is a classic sign for a prospect to recognize the relationship you will be receiving with that web design company will end the day your website goes live. So when you need to modify your e-mail accounts, check your statistics, add a new menu option or update content with a content management systems you will be sitting in “no-man’s land” – where the host will basically supply a place for your website to sit on the web (and pending who that is they may have 10,000 other clients doing the same thing) – and your design company will say you need to work with the host to make future changes  (as we don’t providing hosting services – we just design).  How on earth would the client who owns one website know where they should host their website?

So Hosting a Website is not the same as Managing A Website?

Hosting classically is where you physically place your website on the internet – with your domain name being the way people get to that website. Large hosting companies have thousands of web server’s setup and that is what their client’s websites reside on. Hosting is the physical place your website sits. Not every hosting company is the same – nor do they provide the same technology. That in itself is what makes me role my eyes on the “Host Anywhere” statement. If one host has great web management tools – and one host doesn’t – isn’t the decision of the host going to be critical. If one host provides great service and one doesn’t – isn’t the decision of hosting even more critical?

So just out of curiosity – Do you actually Host your client’s websites?

We host 35 client websites with a large hosting company in Chicago (HostForWeb). We have been with them for approximately 5 years and they have been outstanding.  Because of the long relationship we have with our host and the fact we understand their services inside and out – we can provide our clients with superb support services – quickly, efficiently and cost effectively.  From our client’s prospective we (BeareWare) provide the full line of support on their websites – so our clients don’t actually ever talk to their physical host company.  (We deal with the host company allowing us to provide a much higher level of expertise in that support role)…
What doesn’t the Website Host Do?

Great question that should be asked by every new website owner – (before they even commence the development phase). The Website Host is primarily a physical hosting location – so in short they are not responsible for any actual operational and content management aspects of the websites. They are responsible to ensure the website functions correctly – based on their hosting facility, software, and setup. When you type a domain name in a browser – you get to the site – and it comes up with your browser. Just about everything beyond that point is then the responsibility of the designers (how the site looks and functions), and the support and content managers are then responsible for updating content, e-mails accounts, menu items, ftp servers, etc. The hosting account will also supply statistical software and other helpful software – but they don’t actually use the software – it is up to client being hosted to learn how to use these tools.

Web Owners Need More than just a Physical Host! 

So you can see the support gap – and the need for a Support/Management Group that will provide technical support to clients (and their visitors) – and will provide the management services that a client might need. This varies from client to client – today’s website owners are getting more involved in their website & content management (really there are getting more educated and knowledgeable) and their support requirements are more detailed enhancements to the website and high level technical support.

As with our example above – the support/management group will add subdomains – then setup web pages for those subdomains to link to the primary website. Again – a standard host is not going to provide this level of service (or they will at a billable rate beyond hosting.)  I have been very interested to see domain registrars are now providing services such as web design and hosting – and many add-on products and services. If you have registered a domain name recently this will ring a bell – you get a full page of “side bar” questions such as – “Do you want a hosting location with that, do you want us to design your website – do you want FRIES with that????” The registrars have designed this model based to some extent on the “Web Design and Development Company” – that designs and runs – leaving the new web client to the mercy of these very large organizations.

The amazing thing about the web industry is it is now very different than it was 5 years ago. The business models within the industry are ever changing – we have smaller specialized companies (such as BeareWare) that provide full support and management services to compliment their design and development. The one off webmaster is almost a thing of the past and then we have the very large registrars and hosting companies now offering as many products as they can quite often that require additional support (for a fee).

As today’s topic states – “More Than Just A Website” is really highlighting the complexity and choices required to ensure the long term success with your website . Your success simply doesn’t come from a good looking website alone.  From the early days with our company – BeareWare has always provided the long term support and management services for our clients.  As stated earlier in this article it sure ain’t the sexy side of the business – but it is as important as the design side of the business. Companies that win with their websites do so because of strong host and support relationships – that help them grow, develop and prosper in a constantly changing environment.
 

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

Does Your Company Have a Content Manager?

Does your company have a Content Manager?

With Content Management Systems (CMS) Websites becoming the most popular websites on the Internet today, a new skillset within your organization is now required to manage your website. Ladies and Gentlemen – Introducing – “The Content Manager.” 

Peter Beare, BeareWare

“But we are a small business – we can’t afford a Content Manager!”

OK – don’t panic. Generally every small (and large) business has a Content Manager lurking within. If you have had a website for any length of time – then you most likely have a Content Manager. The Content Manager is the person responsible for updating the content of your website. With the new class of Content Management Systems, updating your website is very similar to using a publishing or MS Word-like writing tool, making it very easy to use.

“OK – tell me again – What Exactly is a Content Management System?”

A Content Management System is a website that is a web-based computer program (or series of programs) that allow the actual content of the website to be updated directly through an administration tool.  The Administration is accessed through a web browser so there is no need for additional software.  Content can include text, images, online shops, events, photo galleries and even menus, modules, and templates – pending the human web content manager’s expertise. The truth of the matter is the Content Management System has (and will) replace the traditional webmaster’s role of updating the website.

“Awesome – we no longer need a webmaster!”

There is no doubt that the requirement of having a webmaster for web content management is certainly going to disappear from the landscape long term. That doesn’t mean your webmaster won’t be supporting your CMS system as a whole, or providing technical and educational support on using the CMS – but the actual process of updating the web content should definitely fall into the hands of your content manager.  The interesting thing is that the company was always the provider of content to start with – something that to this day remains confusing.

“Content should always originate with the Website Owner!”

During my time as a webmaster to date we have developed close to 100 websites. We have worked with our clients (once their sites were developed) and managed and supported approximately 20 websites per annum. When you work with this many clients you develop methods of obtaining client content and helping the client establish the content they need for their website. You also see what the best methods are. When designing a new website, content can be overlooked or at best be underestimated. When the development is very focused on the look of the site, it is easy for both the owner and developer to assume content can be easily created and populated at development time. 

During this process, it became obvious to me who the content expert was – the website owner, of course! My role was to collaborate with that expert. With that, I would iterate that no webmaster is going to be able to create (or copy) content as well as the client who knows his or her industry. A collaborative effort (in which the design company works closely with the web client) ALWAYS produces the strongest websites.  And a good design then creates the format to maintain that content in the future.

“So, CMS Systems Make Absolute Sense!”

With the fact that the best content always comes from the client, you can really see why CMS Systems are so popular. The client knows the information he wants to add or update on his website – he understand what his web visitors, clients and prospects will be focusing on when they visit his website – and of course if his website is designed well, it will be a very manageable job to update the website content.  There is no doubt that the speed of being able to update your website makes CMS very attractive, and the fact that you can update your website from anywhere in the world (even from Australia…) is really outstanding in my book.

“So, what kind of person makes a good Content Manager?”

The Content Manager can be anyone in your company who shows an aptitude for using computer programs such as Word, Excel, Publisher, and Outlook – and is involved with the communications of the organization – which may be Public Relations, Human Resources, Sales & Marketing, or Corporate Communications. Generally, it should be a person who has strong communications skills and works well with staff members. Of course, if you are a one man shop, then you would add this skill to your already long list of skillsets that are part of being a small business owner.  In fact, a lot of small business owners developed their own sites in the early days, so CMS combined with a great looking website is probably a dream come true!

“And the company reduces its cost of managing the website?!”

With a person responsible for updating your website content (that ain’t the jolly ole webmaster), most companies will also see a reduction in the month to month costs of managing their website.  When my company BeareWare was managing the content for clients, our average client cost was $125.00 per month. Today we still have some clients that we manage content for, but the majority are now updating their own content and pay between $30.00 – $50.00 per month for hosting and technical support (once the website is designed and developed). That is significant to a small business – and the results are a great looking website that is up to date and well within a small business budget.

In summary, I will add that the migration and learning curve in becoming a Content Manager varies from client to client. But the model is sound and here to stay.  The CMS system also reinforces how important the design of the website is – as the design will not be changed while managing the content. The design must sparkle at all times.  And like most things in the tech world you have to have a positive approach to learning and working with your website.  This is something we try to promote heavily with all our clients in reinforcing that their investment in knowledge and understanding of their website (and participation) will be a sound business decision.  And today – a great investment will be made in identifying your company’s future Content Manager!

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

Why Do We Need a Website?

Recently I was requested to pay a sales call on a prospective client (by another associate) and included in my sales call was a request to sell the prospect on why they actually need a website.  That’s right, there are still companies and organizations that don’t have websites and don’t know why they would need them.

So this organization has never had a website?

Perhaps there was a site once, back in the early days of the Internet – a page designed by Uncle Joe’s nephew, Jebadiah (who subsequently graduated high school and became involved in other pursuits). The company’s web page, of course, was neglected almost from the instance of its birth. Soon, the e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers listed on it no longer worked. Finally, the domain name expired and the forgotten site just literally disappeared. “Well, I think we had a website once,” says the prospective client. “But I don’t think we ever got any business from it.”

Well, isn’t it obvious why you would need a website?

Actually it isn’t that obvious to a business owner unless you use the “everyone has one” philosophy.  I suspect that many companies cannot actually tell you the specific purposes of their website – what their site accomplishes  – what type of visitation it has – what kind of results it gets – and what can be added as their business grows and changes.

But these questions really help you start identifying why you do need a website. A website should be a reflection and extension of an existing business and/or business model.  That is IT, in its simplest form. There are lots of functions that websites can do, but the main reason to have a website is that you are adding a great marketing and technology teammate to your business team, and it is a teammate that will be a key part of your business from this point on.

OK – seems like every organization needs a website – are websites the same for every industry?

I think every website has, as its primary aim, accurately reflecting and presenting the company or organization. But each industry has different functions that the website will provide, and each industry (if not business) may be looking for different results (also called “conversions”) from its site. These aims are generally discussed and established during the design phase of your website. The Real Estate Industry, for instance, uses websites to promote Realtors and to list houses for sale. Obviously, there are other areas of focus within a Realtor’s website, but these are the primary functions. If a web visitor decides to actually tour the house, they will contact the Realtor via phone, e-mail, or tour request, and the game is afoot. The website has performed its job – delivering a potential buyer for the house that is for sale.

As another example, for an online store the name of the game is to establish the store brand, provide products for the shopper to browse, and then to ultimately sell a product and create a repeat customer.  The aim of the retail site is to sell product – but keep in mind a visitor may come to the store three times before making a purchase – so the shop must be well presented and use strong online marketing to ensure a potential sale. Keeping these processes in mind will result in more traffic for your site and better results for your organization.

A few extra key points as to why you need a website…

• Your company’s primary brand and marketing vehicle…

Make no mistakes about it – your website is a marketing vehicle. Its aim is to promote your brand, highlight your services and products, and produce a positive result from a web visitor. The website is there to attract business, reinforce existing business, and provide functionality for existing clients. But first and foremost it is a statement about your company.  And today more than ever it is a visual commercial representation of your company.

• Your organization’s most controlled (and best) word of mouth vehicle…

There are several ways a new prospect will find out about your business, and one of them is “word of mouth” – which many business folks still believe to be the strongest form of referral. Today when someone refers your organization, most likely the referral will point them directly to your website (unless your website is awful). A great looking website will immediately reinforce the referral, and most likely will produce a direct call or contact. Once you have a professional website, it will make it easier for people to refer you to their friends and associates — after all, it’s far easier for someone to tell you a website address (assuming it’s fairly easy to remember) than to tell you a company’s physical location or phone number.

• Your organization’s best salesman (and one that doesn’t ask for lunch breaks)…

A website provides a permanent salesman for any size organization. By simply taking the process of an organization’s sales model, and then applying it to its website, you will end up with a website that will lead to direct buying (e-commerce) or direct contact of a sales team member.  When a visitor goes to your website, they get the “feel” from the look of the site (hopefully liking what they see),  then usually head to the “About” page to learn a little about the company or maybe to the FAQ for some frequently asked questions direct from the sales team. If they like what they see and read there, it’s just a simple click to the “Contact Us” page, and badda bing, badda boom – the sales process has been initiated by your website!

• Key Information ranging from services details to your office location & key company staff…

When I go to a website to check on a company, I like to check out their company staff and find out who I am working with, who are the key players. This kind of information is very valuable on a website, as it immediately helps you get a feel for the organization. Additional info might be your office address, contact numbers, e-mail addresses, hours of operation, and driving directions (possibly linking to Mapquest or Google Maps). Once this information is set up, it will generally not change. It sure can save your clients and prospects valuable time – and can even save your staff taking calls from people asking some of these general questions.

• Being online will make your organization competitive in the 21st century…

Last but not least. When a prospect is looking for a place for a service or product, and they don’t know you, they will go to a search engine more often these days than not. They may be on their computer – they may be on their phone or mobile unit – but there is no denying people search the Internet more and more ever day. Having a website puts you in the hunt for new business. It doesn’t guarantee it, but it does give you a fighting chance. And the better developed your website is, the higher your website will rank in search engine key words. You can also use services such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that can help improve rankings. You could even be a listed sponsor on a search engines for very little cost – so the key point is when you are online you are competing with others for business – new business.

In hindsight I think the question of “Why do we need a website” – is a great one that should be asked by every website owner at the start of a new design project and thereafter on an annual basis. Your website needs to be a living breathing member of your corporate team and like every other member of the team the website needs to have clear missions and focus. And annually just like an employee – your website should be reviewed with new missions established based on your business and its future aims.

And as technology continues to grow and your business and its clients mature and change your website will most likely play an even greater role for your company in the 21st century.

Cheers Mate,

3-5 Seconds and The Decision is Made!

3-5 seconds and The Decision is Made!

I hope the title to this week’s blog has caught your attention. In truth, I hope everything — or at least SOMETHING — on the BeareWare home page catches your attention.

Peter Beare, BeareWareThe reality is that, in the wonderful world of websites, the behavior of web visitors is becoming much clearer. Their behavior is becoming more and more discriminating. A visitor will go to your website, and either your site will have “The LOOK” or it won’t – and that visitor will make his or her assessment. If you haven’t captured the visitor’s interest almost instantaneously, he/she might immediately leave your website, potentially establishing an association in his or her mind between your company and your website, based on what they saw in only a few seconds.

Wow – this seems to be very brutal behavior by web visitors.

Actually, it isn’t brutal as much as it is human nature. And we as humans are becoming more educated on what is a good website and what is not – so, really, in a world in which time is so important, multi-media is dominant, and there are so many other choices – deciding whether you like a website quickly actually makes sense. I have to admit:  every website I go to gets the “Thumbs Up” – or “Thumbs Down” assessment. Of course, developing websites for a living makes me overly critical, but the feeling is undeniable and immediate, and that feeling tends to extend to the organization that owns the website.

So if they don’t like the “LOOK” of the website, they just LEAVE?

Well, it actually isn’t that black and white. But, firstly, the look of the website will get a response from the web visitor – “I like the website or I don’t”.  The way the website is designed visually is the bottom line. And the feeling the visitor establishes in his or her mind will probably stick. If you are a small business and the web visitor doesn’t know you, then maybe your website has helped them make a decision to consider using your services (or to not use your services!) in the future.

Based on website statistics for our clients at BeareWare (presented when we do our annual client website reviews), around 50% of all web visitors come and leave the website within 30 seconds.  Now this of course includes unique first time visitors and repeat visitors. So if a web visitor doesn’t particularly like the look of your site, they might hang around and look for the items they are interested in – and if they find them (quickly) they may continue the visit or at least decide the website has information that can be revisited in the future. It is definitely clear that within 30 seconds, your future relationship with this web visitor is established one way or another.

Doesn’t functionality and content on the website count?

Sure it does – but if your visual representation of your site is not “up to par”, then the web visitor may never get to see or experience your functionality or your great content. Websites today are leading people by images (more so than text) to content, action items, and functionality – with design imagery establishing brand, themes, and the targeted aims of the website. It is through this visual design that all paths now lead.

With respect to many hard working folks – in particular small business owners who have spent a lot time developing and managing their websites – 3-5 years ago “Content Was King”. And it was text content in particular that would keep visitors on your website. Loading of images was slow – of course, there were webmasters who helped perpetuate the value of content versus images with the classical “Website Loading – Standby – Nearly Ready to Launch – OK… Here we go & the grand finale – SKIP INTRO” which may have become the most clicked link in website history. A lot of people were still using a dial-up connection, and Flash start ups showing on the home page was really the graphical look of the time – but lost its effectiveness rather quickly.

The times have changed and so have the players!
 
Let’s agree that there were (and are) many good sites, which had really good content, though the images on the site were small and conservative at best. The web today is not that same place! The web is now a multi-media environment – we watch movies on our laptops – and we expect to see the same quality on our PC’s that we see on our televisions. Professional, attention-grabbing graphics are now a must.

In conjunction with visual design importance comes the connection of our first generation webmasters (mostly computer programmers and tech folks) versus more graphics-oriented web designers. These separate disciplines have become very clear and obvious to me. I see lots of goods websites (technically strong, programmed sites) that just don’t have any visual “Va Voom”. Generally you can bet the webmaster is more of a programming/tech “type” without much if any input from a designing/graphic “type”. And to be frank, you actually need both.
 
For a website development company to be successful today, it must have a good graphics person. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how many great programmers you have on staff – you have to have the person(s) who produces the “LOOK”.  With respect to many of my programming colleagues (as I too was once a computer programmer), this is where I see many small web company start-ups actually closing shop – or migrating into other areas of the Internet (such as application development) versus web design. The skill set requirement to develop websites today is absolutely multifaceted. This is also why I am not a big fan of “web builders” (the do-it-yourself web design templates readily available on the Internet). These basically hand the “design” aspect to the client – generally the client has absolutely no experience in design at all – so the chances of producing a visually appealing website are very low.

OK – It’s the LOOK – but what about my customers – they still use my website!

Correct. And they most likely will continue to use your website. They are already committed to you as a client. When you consider your website you really have two types of visitors – those who know you (your existing customers) and those who don’t.  The “LOOK” and the 3-5 second decision making process is about a potential customer – some one that doesn’t know you. Whether he or she has been referred to your company, saw or heard an ad that listed your site’s web address, or found you on a search engine, this first-time visitor is the one you most want to impress. 

For every website BeareWare develops, we have these focuses to consider:  what we expect the first time visitor to experience, and what outcomes we want from that visit. Then we focus on functionality and services for visitors who are repeat visitors and existing customers. And don’t get me wrong – functionality and content for your website are paramount – you must provide superb services in order to retain customers, and this goes for web customers, too. Great looking websites with poor functionality won’t retain visitors and will make for very dissatisfied clients.

In summary, I hope this blog has given you a little insight and food for thought into the behavior of web visitors. Now that I have your attention, it would be a great time to go to your company’s website and visit it through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you. What impression will they get? And what impression will they leave with? If you find that the impression is not reflective of who you are (or who you want to be) – then maybe it’s time to call a good web design company and change the winning odds back into your favor.

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

Nightmare On Domain Street

Nightmare On Domain Street

The stories you are about to read are true. Only the names have been changed….

Peter Beare, BeareWare

One dark and stormy night, a prospect called me about a new website. During that conversation, the prospect stated that his domain name was in “Deletion” mode, and that he’d been informed that it could take up to six months for the name to become available for repurchase. The prospect’s webmaster, who was the registrant on the domain name, had mysteriously “disappeared” (not an unusual occurance in Webworld). This disappearance had caused a great road block for this business owner to simply renew the domain name and get on with his business.

So, I have to ask – is this a one-off case or does it happen often?

Sadly, I suspect this is happening very frequently, and will happen even more often as we move to what I call the second phase of the Internet – and web development and management – when we find that a lot of the “so called” webmasters have retired or recognized they did not have the skill sets for this industry. In their hasty departure we (BeareWare) will get phone calls just like the one above. Usually, the domain is in jeopardy of being lost (and may have to be bought back for hundreds or even thousands of dollars), or – even worse – if the domain name was snatched up by a competing business, it can be kept away from you  (and from potential web traffic looking for your business). In my opinion, domain name management is one of the least understood aspects of owning a website.

Well – if we paid our webmaster for the domain name – we should be set – RIGHT?

You can register a domain name for one year or for multiple years, and so long as you maintain the payment on your domain name as it comes due for renewal, you really should not encounter problems retaining it. Sounds simple – but now add the fact that you yourself didn’t actually register your domain name (“Web Dude” did) and he actually didn’t put your name as the Registrant (he put his own) AND for contact information, he used a now-defuct e-mail address (webdude@groovybaby.com), an old cell phone number, and his old credit card securing the account. To top it off, “Web Dude” has now quit the webmastering business, moved to Santa Monica to pursue a career in seashell sales, and your formerly viable and informative website is now completely off-line.

OK – I get it – Now we have some major problems!

At this point in time, the website and domain owner is in a “spot of bother”. Depending on what they know – what accounts, passwords, renewal dates, etc. they were given privy to by the former webmaster – their website could be basically paralyzed. At best, the owner may end up with a Registrar’s Customer Support group that may or may not be able to direct the domain owner in a course of action. Of course, if your name is not associated with the domain, you technically are not the registrar’s customer.

How about some terms clarification – Registrar – Registrant – Who are these folks?

Good question. I think some description of terms will help put the domain game into a more understandable format.

ICANN (Internet Corporation Of Assigned Names & Numbers) is the governing organization of domain names on the Internet.

ICANN is the relatively infant, world-wide governing body of the Internet. Unfortunately, it is not easily accessible yet for resolving the “smaller” problems like domain disputes – in other words, it sure doesn’t operate the same as visiting the county clerk to register a business name, even though the function appears similar and is probably most relatable to our process in registering a domain name.

REGISTRARS – Companies that have been “appointed officially” by ICANN to register domains on behalf of domain owners.

You are probably familiar with some of these companies – Network Solutions, Go Daddy, Aplus.NET, etc. These registrars deal with thousands and even millions of domain registrations. They are very strict in their policies regarding domain ownership, and maintain support policies for domain name owner/registrants only. (The owner of a domain name is, for all practical purposes, the same as its registrant.)

Many of these registrars have started selling auxiliary services including hosting & web development. The auxiliary services, in my opinion, have created an even greater level of confusion for domain owners – who quite often think that hosting the website is the same as managing and maintaining the domain name.

REGISTRANTS – The person or organization that registers the domain name – with the registrar.

The owner/registrant of the domain name should be the name of the person and/or company that owns the website. This is the BIGGIE, the detail that causes so much trouble when “Web Dude” vanishes but is listed as the registrant and has his contact information in the registrant info.

ADDITIONAL DOMAIN CONTACT INFO – When you register a domain, the Registrant is the primary contact, and his/her contact information should be listed – but you are also required to fill in the following contact info, and this can help you in terms of differentiating between the owner of the domain name and webmaster.

ADMINISTRATIVE CONTACT – The person who administrates the domain name.

Now, this a far more logical place for “Web Dude” to be listed. The administrative contact does not have to be your webmaster, but be aware that the more people you list as contacts, the greater the chance that some information will become incorrect or out of date when it comes time to receive the notices that your domain name should be renewed.

TECHNICAL CONTACT – The person who technically manages the domain name (and most likely your website).

The technical contact is a great place for your webmaster to be listed. They manage the domain technically to ensure it is pointing correctly to your website, and should also manage contact information updates.

BILLING CONTACT – The person responsible for ensuring that payment is made on the account when it is up for renewal.

The billing contact can also allow for an additional person to be listed, who would be responsible to ensure the domain is paid for on renewal (usually by way of keeping a valid credit card on file with the registrar). However, I would recommend using the owner/registrant as this contact – or the webmaster if he or she is providing domain management services – versus another individual who may be unreachable when the time comes for renewal, or may not hold the same position in your company, for instance, as when the domain name was first registered.

In a nutshell, you want to use the most PERMANENT names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers possible for your domain name contact information. You do, however, want to have at least two different, reliable persons listed as contacts, each with their own e-mail address, etc. Domain name renewal is something you will only have to deal with once a year (if not even less frequently), and things can change dramatically in the course of a year. Don’t let your domain get hijacked unnecessarily by not providing good contact information when it is first registered, or by not keeping that information updated whenever it changes.

If you are following me at this stage, we are in good shape and you have the basic structure of your domain name and what is involved in its long term management. There is one more loop to this process – which also can add confusion – and that is the Account that you setup with a registrar. When you go to a registrar to register a domain name, you set up an account as part of this process. So, if I go Aplus.NET to register a new domain, I will end up with an account with Aplus.NET and within my account I will have one domain name.

Every Domain Name Sits In A Registrar’s Account!

A good way to manage your domain names, in particular if you have more than one, is to manage them within one account. You can have as many domain names in the same account as you like. This of course is how many webmasters manage domain names on behalf of their clients – but it also causes greater hardship when a domain owner has lost contact with his webmaster, and it is identified that the domain is in the webmaster’s account (not theirs), and they have no immediate rights to access or update the information in that account.

This then requires some significant paper work to verify your domain ownership – around 3-4 hours to actually get around this scenario and get the domain name listed in the rightful owner’s name. You will generally need a company that knows what they are doing in this situation, as well. If your domain name goes into deletion mode, then from 30 to 60 days later the domain will be released to the general market, and whoever gets to it first becomes the new owner. If it is a valuable domain name – or one that a competing business might be keen on owning – there is no guarantee whatsoever that you will get to the domain name first when it comes up for sale.

In BeareWare’s experience of managing over 400 domain names for clients, we have really learned that the domain world is one in which the consequences for lack of knowledge or diligence can be absolutely devastating. Losing your company’s domain name is a major issue, and one from which your company may never fully recover. In other words, once it’s gone you may NEVER get your domain name back.

I would recommend to all domain name owners to be proactive in understanding this part of the web, and to be sure to have a company that can assist you with this process. I would not recommend relying on the registrars solely, as they are very much geared to mass domain selling and are not as well geared to serving an individual client. They are not responsible for your domain if it is not renewed correctly and if your current e-mail contact is now incorrect – they don’t pick up the phone and call. If the domain name expires and someone else comes along and registers the domain with them, they have merely fulfilled their function – selling and/or renewing registrations.

If you have a webmaster who has “taken” care of this for you past, ask some questions: “Who is my registrar? Can you send me a copy of my registration, including contact info and renewal dates?” Your webmaster should’t mind providing this info, and you will be able to see for yourself who is listed as registrant, administrative contact, etc. and will be able to get any corrections made.

Remember, this is unlike any other area of management on the web – a downed server can be brought back online and a hideous website can get a makeover. Once a domain name is lost, however, it might very well be gone forever. The website at the beginning of our story, incidentally, was miraculously rescued from Deletion Mode by an anonymous hero in a bear costume. (Go figure.) Anyway, after a few hours of phone calls and paperwork, the storm had finally passed. Take ownership of your domain name, and do it today. You’ll greatly minimize your chances of starring in the next edition of “Nightmare on Domain Street”.

Cheers Mate,

Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here

Send us your comments and questions – Click Here 

Peter Beare, BeareWarePeter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.” 

how to fqa

How to set up frequently asked questions

The “Frequently Asked Questions” or  “FAQ” page…

How to set up a frequently asked questions page on your website. It’s a great team mate for your website, and one that can help prevent losing that visitor and prospective client, is the “Frequently Asked Questions” page – good old FAQ…

“FAQ” – A Great Team Mate for your Website!

If you are like me, when you’re browsing a website and can’t find the information you’re looking for, you will most likely just move on to the next website. You probably won’t bother making a phone call to find out the additional information you’re seeking – in particular if you think that information is relatively straightforward. And, as we have established in our previous statistics blog, visitors generally spend 30 seconds or less on a site to find what they’re looking for – so a site owner is always playing “beat the clock” as far as grabbing and holding a visitor’s attention. One crucial thing for the site owner to remember is that key information must be easily accessible.

A great team mate for your website, and one that can help prevent losing that visitor and prospective client, is the “Frequently Asked Questions” page – good old FAQ…

How do you identify what questions should be put in your FAQ?

Good question (excuse the pun) – but it actually should be questions that you receive from your website visitors, clients, and prospects. What questions are asked most frequently during e-mail inquires, phone conversations, and introduction or sales meetings? I like to think of FAQ in the context of an interview – I am being interviewed by a prospective client and he or she is firing away with questions.

Here are some steps to take in creating your FAQ:

1. Establish who your target demographic (most desired website visitor) is.

Your target demographic should really be the point of view you consider when assembling your FAQ.  Generally this will be your target prospects and clients. There is little value in posting off the wall or one-off questions that are unique to one prospect only. Your FAQ should be directly from your client and prospect base, and should serve this base best.

2. Write down the questions you have been asked in the past.

When a prospect or client asks a question, be sure to record the question and answer to use in your FAQ area. If it is on the telephone, then I would send the prospect a follow up e-mail after your conversation and put the question in writing – “Just following up from our conversation and verifying the information again…”. Then by keeping a copy of that e-mail, you have started your FAQ list!

3. Logically break the questions into categories – Services, Products, & Pricing, for instance.

I have recommended that you start with around 10-20 FAQ’s, but this can vary, especially if you have a product or service that naturally lends itself to lots of questions. In that case, I recommend that you break your FAQ into different categories, such as service questions, product questions, and/or pricing and general company information. Keep category information together, as it is logical that one question will lead to another (or to an expanded answer). Listen to the way prospects ask you about a product or service, and follow their lead when deciding how to present your FAQ items.

4. Establish the optimum answer to the question (this should take some thought!).

When you create your FAQ’s, don’t just write the first answer you think of. Look at the question and establish a total answer that covers each aspect that may be in that question. In other words, be thorough. Ask yourself, “Does my FAQ answer cover different prospects or clients who might ask very similar questions?”

For instance, someone might have asked if you ship to Canada, and you’ve chosen to use that question in your FAQ. The simple answer would be, “Yes, we do ship to Canada.” A better answer, covering a far broader range of possible questioners, would be, “Yes, we ship to all countries.” Better still would be to change the QUESTION slightly (for the benefit of a non-Canadian who might not think the question applied to him), to “Do you ship to all countries?” Answer: “Yes, we do.” A weak FAQ response could be a nail your coffin when it comes to a prospect deciding to contact you. (OR NOT!)

5. Prioritize the FAQ into logical sequence – basic to advanced.

Arrange your FAQ in the logical sequence that progresses throughout a conversation. Ask the obvious questions first, and design the FAQ to assume that you are beginning at the start of your conversation with a prospect (not halfway through it). I would not recommend putting your pricing structure as your first FAQ. Pending your industry, you might not identify pricing online at all – but if you are talking about pricing, it should come in the FAQ approximately where it would in a meeting with a prospect – at the end or close to the end of the meeting. That way, the prospect has a full understanding of everything you are offering, which most likely will justify your pricing.

Is there a limit to how many FAQ’s you should have?

There is no doubt you could really go to town in terms of the number of FAQ’s – realistically, you could have hundreds of questions, but I would recommend narrowing it down to the top 10-20 questions. Taking the above steps, you want to clearly identify the top questions that you are being asked by your key demographic, and then if necessary break them into appropriate categories. Also as important is to establish the logical sequence of questions – basic to advanced.

For example, Bear Web’s prospects are coming to our website to see samples of our work, see the kinds of clients we have, and to get a list of the services we offer. They then decide whether or not we are a company that can provide the services they are looking for. Our questions in FAQ are arranged in the order of basic to complex, and are formatted as a “one time conversation” – meaning that they are anticipated to be read in one reading, and not as a disjointed list of questions that are read from time to time. In businesses with a longer list of FAQ’s, however, they will likely be read on an as-needed basis, and so categorizing them is very important to ensure that visitors will be able to quickly find the answers they’re looking for.

Once you have FAQ’s in place, will they work forever?

Like every aspect of your website, you should periodically review your FAQ’s and make sure they are current and covering your key questions. If an FAQ is out of date (or technologically incorrect) you have sent a great big message to your prospect – “RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN” – as we are not up-to-date, and we don’t take the time to provide you with accurate information in a timely manner. I am sure you get the point – don’t waste your web visitor’s time by having FAQ’s that don’t answer their key questions.

There has never been a better or more relevant time to add this new “Team Player” to your website. The FAQ is a great option to have on your website – prominently displayed, up-to-date, and informative – so that when your web visitors decide to pick up the phone and call, they will be ready to “talk turkey” (versus calling YOU a turkey for not giving them the information needed to establish whether your company was a good match or not!).

Contact

Bear Web Design
2622 Bluefield Avenue
Nashville, TN 37214
(615) 504-6845

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