Imagination is our power

Archive for October, 2012

How to Interview And Work With A Designer And What NOT To Say!

I usually write advice for designers based on my career experiences and horror stories but I thought it was time for an article for design clients to make their design needs a bit easier and more efficient.

How to Interview And Work With A Designer And What NOT To Say!

Dealing with creatives is not as easy as it sounds. The difference in those who think with the rights side of their brain (the “creative side”) as opposed to the left (the “business side”), takes some training and understanding for the best results on projects. There are people who have a balance between grey matter hemispheres but it’s rare that the client and creative vendor both have such a balance. Here are some handy tips to make the twains successfully meet.

 

Finding Candidates For Your Project

You might need a first web site for your business or just want to update your existing one with some new technology, want to establish or freshen your brand or create some paper or digital marketing material. Whatever you need, there are great design studios or freelancers available to deliver your needs.

For the sake of this example, let’s say you need a new web site. How do you find a competent vendor for the development and design?

  1. Ask a professional friend with a great web site who they used. Word of mouth and recommendations are the best and safest way to find great talent.
  2. Google similar businesses as yours and look at their web sites. Is the site well designed? Is the functionality and navigation top notch? If so, scroll to the bottom of the page and see if there’s a link to the designer or design firm that created the site.
  3. Google “web designer, yourtown, yourstate” and then look at their web site. Call the clients of web sites they’ve designed for a reference. If you use someone local, you help your local economy, are able to meet with them face-to-face and they are available for site updates and will become a loyal vendor.
  4. If you want cheap and simple, can do without a creative brief that tailors the site design perfectly to your brand or business and are willing to take a chance on the design, try a site like 99designs.com or designcontest.com. They are not the best avenues but they are cheap and usually provide a generic solution you can use. The downside is you will not get the service you may need for uploading or debugging your site or the expertise a local designer or firm will provide. With contest sites or bidding sites such as eLance or oDesk it’s caveat emptor.
  5. Your niece or nephew goes to art school and you think they will give you an acceptable site for free or $50. FORGET IT! If you want a crappy looking site that will make your business look crappy, then go right ahead but if they screw up and something really goes wrong, do you want every relative in the world calling you to scream about how you hurt little Chris’ feelings or spend some awkward family holiday dinners sitting next to little Suzie and her sharp, pointy goth jewelry?

How Much Should You Pay?

As with any business expenditure, be prepared to pay for quality. If you hire an electrician to wire the power for your office and they quote $7,000 do you really want to chance a beating when you tell them “$200 is all (you’re) willing to spend” or go out and find someone who will actually do $7,000 worth of work for $200? If so, keep lots of fire extinguishers handy and insure your expensive computer equipment for when power surges blow out the processors.

This is not to say you shouldn’t shop around. Perhaps a competent electrician with a good reputation can wire your office for $5,000. Well, you just saved $2,000 and will have piece of mind that you won’t die a fiery death. The same goes for any professional service. A friend of mine was so excited to have bought all of her office phones on a New York City Street for a quarter of what she would have to pay in a store. It would have been a coup if the phones actually had any wiring inside them.

Shop around for a designer but make sure they are wired inside. It’s better to have a reliable source in case there is a problem with your site as a reliable designer will solve the problem right away, saving you income if you depend heavily on your site, rather than trying to go through contest or bidding site channels to get in touch with the person two continents away, in another time zone, to solve the problem… after negotiating another fee and creating the paperwork and contract through that site. Time lost and time is money.

Naturally, the bigger the design firm, the higher the cost. True, there MAY be higher service and abilities (a firm can write content, develop, design, program and come up with branding and a marketing plan… but so can a freelancer in many cases). A freelancer, in many cases, may be freshly out of a big design firm and has the experience to give you whatever you need. Check their résumé to see what other clients they have serviced. Talk to them about how they work and what they see for your own needs. As with any service provider, referral or not, shop around. Most importantly, you should feel a comfortable bond with your creative provider. Trust, communication and transparency are the utmost in your relationship.

When price comes in, do some math yourself. Have you set a budget that’s too low for a professional job? If a project translates to paying $10 an hour to your vendor, it’s too low. Keep in mind you are not hiring someone to come into your place of business and move boxes, staff the counter or shuffle papers. Designers have their own business expenses that include office space (even if it’s a home-based business), computers, computer and software upgrades, electricity, insurance, etc., just like any business. As with the aforementioned example of the electrician, a vendor who quotes $7,000 and then agrees to half that amount is most probably going to cut corners. Expect designers to do the same. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” has survived because it’s true.

Different designers have varying contracts and pay schedules. It’s common to pay 30% to 50% upfront for your project. This is the money used for material, salaries and overhead while your project is being designed. There will most probably be what is called “milestone payments.” Milestones are the points in the project where approvals are needed from you, the client to proceed to the next step in the project. Before the next step is taken, a percentage towards the fee will be expected to be paid before the designer or firm will proceed to the next step. For example, a project may be split with 30% up front, 20% at the first milestone, 20% at the next milestone and 30% when the project is finished and your site goes live.

It’s not an odd way of doing business if you compare it to other business models. Your phone company, insurance agent or internet provider will most probably ask for a payment up front and your attorney will definitely ask for a retainer against future services. Design services are no different. You get what you pay for. You stop paying and the work stops. Delays will, in the end, cost you money for lost business.

This is one big sore point I have heard from many vendors and clients. A milestone payment is missed and the designer doesn’t want to stop the progress as the project is balanced against deadlines for other projects, which can cause the designer money for delivering late to other clients and a client feels that a late payment to the designer will just be a week or two. Personally, I’ve worked for small businesses and the largest corporations. A large corporation can have a check cut in 48 hours and a small business either has a checkbook sitting in a drawer or can call their accountant and have a check within two days. Ideally, the designer or firm should give the client notice that a milestone payment will be due within seven days even if it is listed on the contract with all deadlines.

Transparency

Transparency in the work process is a touchy point for both sides. A competent designer or firm will keep the client apprised of each step of the project. Sometimes just for “hand holding” although daily reposts with attached jpegs may be too much and drive the project price up.

At a talk about design transparency, the firm’s account manager spoke about keeping the client in the loop as much as possible. Such a working method makes sure there are no changes that pop up unexpectedly or confusion about instructions and process. Even in the best of worlds, these can occur from time to time.

At that talk, a freelance designer raised the question of what he labeled, “enigmatic wizardry.” It’s not a term known by any professional and he was asked to explain. He thought it was best to keep a mysterious shroud around the design process. Basically, the client hands over the money and is presented the final project. ALAKAZAM! The magic of design. Nothing could be further from the truth or reality of how the design business should run. It was the first time I had ever heard that odd process mentioned, so chances are, no other designer will have that way of doing business in their head.

As the client, you have the right to ask questions. Call the account manager or the freelancer and ask those questions. Professionals will be happy to fill you in completely. If you are a happy client, it means you will be back for further site updates, collateral material. It’s important to remember that web technology changes quickly and a strong relationship between a business and vendor is essential to keep your web presence up to date and functioning using that technology.

Changes

If the project progresses properly, the designer and client will create a creative brief that outlines the client’s “wish list” for what kind of site, expectations of function and brand building should be achieved. Milestones will include a sketch stage with color palette choices, a wireframe of the entire site and/or a site map of how viewers will navigate the site. Site content of images will be chosen, content written and all facts finalized before the stage of final design ever takes place. Transparency should keep all parties on track but sometimes the client will want changes.

Changes can be as simple as wanting a different color for the background and as impossible as the client seeing another site and wanting to mimic that design. Sometimes it’s just a relative or friend who has decided they are a design genius and negatively critiques the proposed design. As the client, it is up to you to decide on the course of action and accept the consequences. Making changes after a milestone has been approved means extra time and extra money. There’s no way around that and you shouldn’t expect anything to the contrary. Consider if your desire to make changes is merely due to your own insecurity, other people’s egos or you made a mistake and didn’t speak up during milestone approvals. If you’re building a house and decide you want to change the layout after the foundation has been poured, you can understand the need for more time and more money. Although a web site is digital and not concrete and wood changes are still work that needs to be done and someone pays for that. If the fault is yours, then you pay. If the designer makes a mistake, you can bloody well count on them taking the hit.

If everyone is open and honest and the process is all-inclusive, there should be no reason for changes down the line. One thing to watch for is the subjectivity of “design-by-committee.”

Design can be subjective. One person likes red, the next likes blue. One has a childhood trauma about clowns and the next wants prancing glitter unicorns on everything in the world. Put that all together and you have one strange web site. While you may decide that all of your employees should have a say in the web site design, act as the boss and make the final decisions as to what YOU want to see for YOUR business. It is possible to distill opinions into a sound direction but it is also important to recognize the expertise of the designer or firm you have hired. They will not just try to saddle you with the easiest way out. If they do their job correctly and provide you with what you NEED to be successful, then you will want to use them in the future. If you don’t succeed, then the designer or firm must create another client relationship, instead of retaining a growing bond with you and your future needs.

It is respect for each other, along with great service and communication that will lead to great and profitable relationships for both parties. THAT is a sound business principle everyone can agree upon.

Technology Marches On

If you haven’t noticed, the web changes at least every year. What you probably don’t know is why. Programming languages evolve, apps are introduced and technological links between computers, phones and digital pads keep evolving. It’s just like your own cell phone. It seems to be obsolete a week after you buy it. Well, the reason you get the phone for free, with a two-year activation is because the phone IS obsolete and the phone company wants you to buy the newest phone with the newest technology while you are trapped into a long contract.

A designer doesn’t have the same devious plan for your web site, in fact, technology advances excites creative geeks and you will be urged to use the latest technology. Consider the advantages of that technology for several reasons.

  1. You will not have to update your site as quickly as using technology that is a year or more older.
  2. You site will function better with changing browsers and apps for mobile web as well.
  3. Your SEO will be improved.
  4. Your consumer experience will be increased and it will lead to greater sales.
  5. You’ll eventually need to catch up with technology again and you’ll have a trust for the designer’s knowledge of web technology.

As mentioned before, if you have any questions about your site or what this technology can do for you, just ask. Your designer or design firm wants to help you and wants you to be happy. If they didn’t, I suppose they would be a branch of the government… like the Motor Vehicles Department.

Why Coding Style Matters

What’s A Style Anyway?

Coding style is how your code looks, plain and simple. And by “your,” I actually mean you, the person who is reading this article. Coding style is extremely personal and everyone has their own preferred style. You can discover your own personal style by looking back over code that you’ve written when you didn’t have a style guide to adhere to. Everyone has their own style because of the way they learned to code. If you used an integrated development environment (IDE) like Visual Studio to learn coding, your style probably matches the one enforced by the editor. If you learned using a plain text editor, your style likely evolved from what you thought was more readable.

You may even notice that your style changes from language to language. The decisions that you made in JavaScript might not carry over to your CSS. For instance, you might decide JavaScript strings should use double quotes while CSS strings should use single quotes. This isn’t uncommon as we tend to context switch when we switch back and forth between languages. Still, it’s an interesting exercise in self-observation.

Coding style is made up of numerous small decisions based on the language:

  • How and when to use comments,
  • Tabs or spaces for indentation (and how many spaces),
  • Appropriate use of white space,
  • Proper naming of variables and functions,
  • Code grouping an organization,
  • Patterns to be used,
  • Patterns to be avoided.

It’s Personal

The personal nature of coding style is a challenge in a team atmosphere. Oftentimes, seeking to avoid lengthy arguments, teams defer creating style guides under the guise of not wanting to “discourage innovation and expression.” Some see team-defined style guides as a way of forcing all developers to be the same. Some developers rebel when presented with style guides, believing that they can’t properly do their job if someone is telling them how to write their code.

I liken the situation to a group of musicians trying to form a band. Each one comes in believing that their way of doing things is best (their “method” or “process”). The band will struggle so long as everyone is trying to do their own thing. It’s impossible to create good music unless everyone in the band agrees on the tempo, the style and who should take lead during a song. Anyone who has ever heard a high school band perform knows this to be true. Unless everyone is on the same page, you aren’t going to accomplish much.

That’s why I strongly recommend style guides for software development teams. Getting everyone on the same page is difficult, and the style guide is a great place to start. By having everyone write code that looks the same, you can avoid a lot of problems down the road.

Communication Is Key

The most important thing when working on a team is communication. People need to be able to work together effectively and the only way to do that is by communicating. As developers, we communicate primarily through code. We communicate with other parts of the software through code and we communicate with other developers through code.

While the software your code communicates with doesn’t care how the code looks, the other developers on your team certainly do. The way code looks adds to our understanding of it. How many times have you opened up a piece of code that somebody else wrote, and, before doing anything else, re-indented it the way that you like? That’s your brain not being able to figure out the code because of how it looks. When everyone is writing code that looks different, everyone is constantly trying to visually parse the code before being able to understand it. When everyone is writing code that looks the same, your brain can relax a bit as the understanding comes faster.

When you start thinking of code as communication with other developers, you start to realize that you’re not simply writing code, you’re crafting code. Your code should clearly communicate its purpose to the casual observer. Keep in mind, your code is destined to be maintained by somebody other than you. You are not just communicating with other members of your team in the present, you’re also communicating with members of your team in the future.

I recently received an email from someone who is working on code that I wrote 10 years ago. Apparently, much to my shock and horror, my code is still being used in the product. He felt compelled to email me to say that he enjoyed working with my code. I smiled. My future teammate actually did appreciate the coding style I followed.

Leave Yourself Clues

Knowing yourself is important in life as well as coding. However, you’ll never know yourself well enough to remember exactly what you were thinking when you wrote each line of code. Most developers have experienced looking at a very old piece of code that they wrote and not having any idea why they wrote it. It’s not that your memory is bad, it’s just that you make so many of these little decisions while writing code that it’s impossible to keep track of them all.

Writing code against a style guide outsources that information into the code itself. When you decide when and where to use comments, as well as which patterns should and shouldn’t be used, you are leaving a breadcrumb trail for your future self to find your way back to the meaning of the code. It’s incredibly refreshing to open up an old piece of code and have it look like a new piece of code. You’re able to acclimate quickly, sidestepping the tedious process of relearning what the code does before you can start investigating the real issue.

Make Errors Obvious

One of the biggest reasons to have a coherent style guide is to help make errors more obvious. Style guides do this by acclimating developers to certain patterns. Once you’re acclimated, unfamiliar patterns jump out of the code when you look at it. Unfamiliar patterns aren’t always errors, but they definitely require a closer look to make sure that nothing is amiss.

For example, consider the JavaScript switch statement. It’s a very common error to mistakenly allow one case to fall through into another, such as this:

01 switch(value) {
02     case 1:
03         doSomething();
04
05     case 2:
06         doSomethingElse();
07         break;
08
09     default:
10         doDefaultThing();
11 }

The first case falls through into the second case so if value is 1, then both doSomething() and doSomethingElse() are executed. And here’s the question: is there an error here? It’s possible that the developer forgot to include a break in the first case, but it’s also equally possible that the developer intended for the first case to fall through to the second case. There’s no way to tell just from looking at the code.

With this style guide, there is definitely a stylistic error, and that means there could be a logic error. If the first case was supposed to fall through to the second case, then it should look like this:

01 switch(value) {
02     case 1:
03         doSomething();
04         //falls through
05
06     case 2:
07         doSomethingElse();
08         break;
09
10     default:
11         doDefaultThing();
12 }

If the first case wasn’t supposed to fall through, then it should end with a statement such as break. In either case, the original code is wrong according to the style guide and that means you need to double check the intended functionality. In doing so, you might very well find a bug.

When you have a style guide, code that otherwise seems innocuous immediately raises a flag because the style isn’t followed. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of style guides: by defining what correct code looks like, you are more easily able to identify incorrect code and therefore potential bugs before they happen.

Devil In The Details

In working with clients to develop their code style guides, I frequently get asked if the minutia is really that important. A common question is, “aren’t these just little details that don’t really matter?” The answer is yes and no. Yes, code style doesn’t really matter to the computer that’s running it; no, the little details matter a lot to the developers who have to maintain the code. Think of it this way: a single typo in a book doesn’t disrupt your understanding or enjoyment of the story. However, if there are a lot of typos, the reading experience quickly becomes annoying as you try to decipher the author’s meaning despite the words being used.

Coding style is a lot like that. You are defining the equivalent of spelling and grammar rules for everyone to follow. Your style guide can get quite long and detailed, depending on which aspects of the language you want to focus on. In my experience, once teams get started on coding style guides, they tend to go into more and more detail because it helps them organize and understand the code they already have.

I’ve never seen a coding style guide with too much detail, but I have seen them with too little detail. That’s why it’s important for the team to develop a style guide together. Getting everyone in the same room to discuss what’s really important to the team will result in a good baseline for the style guide. And keep in mind, the style guide should be a living document. It should continue to grow as the team gets more familiar with each other and the software on which they are working.

Tools To Help

Don’t be afraid of using tools to help enforce coding style. Web developers have an unprecedented number of tools at their fingertips today, and many of them can help ensure that a coding style guide is being followed. These range from command line tools that are run as part of the build, to plugins that work with text editors. Here are a few tools that can help keep your team on track:

  • Eclipse Code Formatter
    The Eclipse IDE has built-in support for code formatting. You can decide how specific languages should be formatted and Eclipse can apply the formatting either automatically or on demand.
  • JSHint
    A JavaScript code quality tool that also checks for stylistic issues.
  • CSS Lint
    A CSS code quality tool by Nicole Sullivan and me that also checks for stylistic issues.
  • Checkstyle
    A tool for checking style guidelines in Java code, which can also be used for other languages.

These are just a small sampling of the tools that are currently available to help you work with code style guides. You may find it useful for your team to share settings files for various tools so that everyone’s job is made easier. Of course, building the tools into your continuous integration system is also a good idea.

Conclusion

Coding style guides are an important part of writing code as a professional. Whether you’re writing JavaScript or CSS or any other language, deciding how your code should look is an important part of overall code quality. If you don’t already have a style guide for your team or project, it’s worth the time to start one. There are a bunch of style guides available online to get you started. Here are just a few:

It’s important that everybody on the team participates in creating the style guide so there are no misunderstandings. Everyone has to buy in for it to be effective, and that starts by letting everyone contribute to its creation.

How to Overcome Negative Reviews

No one likes to hear anything bad about their company, but is unavoidable as an entrepreneur or even a as person doing business online. Your reputation online is almost like a form of currency because people will read about what other people have said before they work with you. If you have been around long enough, someone has probably reported some type of problem with your products or services.

How to Overcome Negative Reviews

You do not have to be perfect, but you should be on track to improve as a business in the face of criticism. Here is an outline of some steps you can take when these things happen as well as some additional facts to consider before you take action.

 

Trolls vs. Legitimate Complaints

Many businesses tend to assume that any type of complaint against them is from a troll. Sometimes this is true, but the you have to know how to distinguish a legitimate complaint from that of a troll. A troll is usually someone that completely slams your business, your products, and your services. They may not have a legitimate complaint at all in the midst of their remarks and everything they say about you is negative. Surprisingly, some of them may have never done business with you in the first place because they may be spammers or even competitors in disguise. Some people will have this type of reaction if they have had negative experiences, but the difference is that a troll will be inconsolable. A normal customer will usually accept your offer to rectify the situation, but a troll will not. They will continue to complain until the very end. That is the difference. If you are indeed dealing with a troll, then the most that you can do is apologize, make an offer, and then move on. Continue to be the good guy and allow their own actions to speak volumes about who they are. Also, remember that trolls are out to make you look bad by enticing you into saying or doing something inappropriate. People love to hide behind a screen to spout negativity, but few of them have the gall to say anything in person. This goes without saying, but never stoop to their level to make threats, use profanity or inflammatory language.

Should I Call My Lawyer?

That is a good question. Sometimes you should call your lawyer depending on what was said, but it usually is not that serious. People are entitled to their own opinion, but they are not allowed to spread slander, lies, or intentionally try to say things online or offline to destroy someone’s business. Saying that you had a negative experience is one thing, but trying to ruin someone is taking it too far. If someone has left some extremely inflammatory remarks then you may be able to contact the website hosting the reviews to have that particular comment removed. Unbeknownst to many, you have a lot more control than you think on websites like Yelp, Yahoo, and Google Maps because you can not only respond, but have them removed. However, if that does not work then you may need to consult with your attorney to have them contact the web hosting company or even pursue a case of defamation if necessary. You do not want to give people that impression that you are overly litigious or too sensitive, so this should be looked upon as a last resort for a troll, not a dissatisfied customer.

What To Do When You Have A Negative Review

Step 1: Assess the situation

Read the review carefully for a couple of times to assess the situation. You will likely get sort of angry when you read anything negative about yourself, so give yourself a moment to think and reflect before you respond. Ask yourself why this person decided to write a negative review about your product or service. Yes, there are some trolls out there, but that is usually not the case for most of the negative reviews online. Many of the people that leave negative reviews have done so because they felt like they were not being heard. They felt as if they had no choice other than to complain elsewhere because business would not do anything to help them. It is not a poor reflection of you or your businesses’ products and services because it is still one person’s opinion.

What You Ignore Persists?

Ignoring negative reviews and feedback is not to your advantage. If you ignore what people have written, then it may perpetuate a cycle and encourage others to chime in. There have been a number of complaints that were ignored in the beginning, but actually went viral because so many other people got involved. Ignoring these types of remarks will not remove them nor help you improve your business, so you have to say something to correct the problem or it will continue to haunt you.

Step 2: Write a response to the complaint

Only approach the written response after you have cooled down for at least an hour to a couple of days depending on your emotional state. It is better if you respond sooner rather than later, but it is disadvantageous to say anything if you are not in the right place emotionally. It does hurt and it could feel like a personal assault on you, but it is not. Write a response in a writing program like Word or Open Office Writer first because it will enable you to plan out your response better. You do not want your response to have any type of grammatical or spelling errors whatsoever. After you have proofread your text, read it as the customer and think about how you would react to it if you were in their position. This is really important because saying the wrong thing could hurt you more than if you had ignored the comment altogether. It may be a good idea to even have a few people read it over to see how they would respond to it.

Step 3: Apologize for the inconvenience

You must have an apology in your written response even if it was the customer’s fault. There is no way that you can look good as a business owner if you blame your customers. Since you are the entrepreneur, you automatically have to take the fault for whatever happened. Part of the being your own boss means that you have to take responsibility for everything whether it is good or bad. The customer is always right and it never looks good to criticize customers in any way.

Step 4: Discuss your plan to improve going forward

A lot of companies often forget to take this step, but it can actually go a long way. One of the things people want to hear is that you will implement some type of change to improve in the future so that this will not happen to them or anyone else again. For example, if you made an error, let them know that you will change your policy going forward or mention that you or your employees will receive additional training in the area. Follow through with the changes because it will make you a better company because of it.

Step 5: Make an offer

The best thing you can do to improve the situation is to make the customer an offer. You do not have to give anything away, but you should. You want your customers to walk away from the situation satisfied because they will continue to spread the word about your company long after the ordeal. If you can change their opinion now, you may be able to win them over. Offer to do something over again, give them something for free, give a refund, or at the very least offer them a discount. People love free stuff and something like that will usually be enough to help sway their opinion. What would be really impressive is if you got this same person to come back and write a more accurate assessment after they have taken you up on your offer.

Step 6: Learn from the experience

Once you have apologized and made your offer, take some time to evaluate the your performance and improve. Think about the good that can come out of it and notice how you have changed for the better as a result. Encourage future clients to come to you first before they post a review online.

Step 7: Accentuate the positive

Since they have already written a review online, there is little that you can do to get it removed. Accept it for what it is and then focus on the positive aspects of your business in more than one way. Not only make a mental shift, but literally put a spotlight on your positive achievements online to displace the negative reviews. This can take a while, but start creating more listings that talk about new products, services, news, discounts, and partnerships. You can do this via social media posts, blog posts, or even press releases. The more of this you have, the more likely it is that this information will come up first in the search results before the negative feedback. Also, request that some of your satisfied customers write supportive reviews as well. Adding testimonials to your website will also add more credibility to your business.

Never Fake It!

Although it is quite tempting to pay a company to give you positive reviews, that is not really a good idea. It is one thing you have actual customers that are leaving remarks, but it becomes manufactured when you just start paying people. Truthfully, a lot of companies do pay for reviews, but you do not want to be one of them. People can tell if a review seems to be a little over the top and they will likely overlook most of the positive reviews because they may think that all of them are fake. It could backfire on you because they may just believe the negative reviews just because they seem more honest than some of the overwhelmingly positive reviews. Only solicit reviews from legitimate customers and ask them for completely honest and balanced feedback that will be informative to your future customers.

Step 8: Monitor all feedback

People are not just leaving reviews on places like Google Plus or Yelp because most of them will just tell their friends on Facebook and Twitter. If you do not already monitor social media websites, you should because that is usually one of the first places that they will go when they get angry. You can set up alerts to notify you anytime the name of your business is used like Google Alerts. There are also sites like SocialMention and Hootsuite that let you perform searches on a number of social media websites at once. Actively look for people talking about your company and get involved in their conversations even if it is not overtly negative. Some companies will actually give stuff away to people that are caught giving positive publicity to the company if they send a photo of their new product or just tell their friends what a great experience they had.

What More You can Do

Have A Proactive Customer Service Policy

Customer service is really about stopping these types of issues before they start. Check to see if you even have a way for customers to contact if you they have any problems with their order. It could be an email confirmation, contact form, your website design & navigation or even a physical slip that you send them in the mail. Let them know upfront that they can contact you to correct any problems that may have. Also, allow people to provide tips and suggestions regarding your business. Let people feel welcome to discuss their concerns without fear of retribution.

Build Allies and Partnerships

Having allies and partnerships online will help buffer any damage to your reputation. It helps that you have these things in place before any negative attacks, but it is never too late to start. You want to have people on your side who are loyal readers or followers on social media websites or blogs. Try to find at least a few influential bloggers or social media leaders to support you. Getting these types of people on your side is not always easy, but it is worth it in the long run because they will be at your side if and when something happens. Reach out to people gradually and give them something in exchange for supporting you.

Bolster Your Self-Esteem

On a personal note, it is challenging to deal with any type of negative feedback whether or not it is warranted. Everybody makes mistakes even if they happen to be a multinational corporation, so realize that you are not alone. These types of issues can get to you after a while, so go a step beyond just learning from the experience and actively boost your self-esteem in your personal life. This could mean pursuing some projects just due to your personal interest, taking some time off to relax, meditated, or spend time with your friends and family.

 

Dealing with negative review is not very pleasant, but necessary to your growth as a business. Any time there is a negative review, look at yourself first and think about what you could have done differently. Acknowledge that a mistake has been made and then address the problem with the customer. Just apologize, give them a peace offering, and vow to do better in the future by implementing new policies or procedures. If the situation escalates, then there may be a need to look into legal solutions for the problem, but again it should considered the very last resort to a very serious problem. All businesses make mistakes, but the difference is that the good ones learn from them.

Responsive Web Design Tips

Designing a web in the past was very easy because you only had to design it for one device, the desktop computer. Today, with the great advancement of new technologies and devices, web designing has become tougher as compared to the past. With the increased use of smartphones and televisions, with small and wide screens, developing a website has now become an increasingly difficult task for the web developer.

Responsive Web Design is an easy and effective way to use the benefits of every pixel of useful display property, without switching the mobile layout. For instance, if you pick up the area of your browser and gradually reduce the size of display, you will see the website accommodating the new quality because it was made on a responsive structure that adds and erases content as required. If you use a cell phone or tablet pc, the website will click to the best structure possible for your device. This is very effective because it makes a website very useful, and no cruising or panning is required to study the content or get around the web pages.

 

Without Responsive Web Design, several turned off editions of the same website have to be designed and toggled by hand or using complex display quality and system recognition programs. This exponentially increases designing costs, and updating the website becomes a major difficulty for web developers.

How Responsive Web Design Works

The best part of Responsive Web Design is that it is a technology-light remedy. It depends on a function of CSS known as “media query” that permits you to select different style sheet features with respect to the screen size that is detected and the orientation of device on which the web page is being considered. For example, you may want your web page to have three columns of the content for viewing it on the desktop. But that would probably be very hard to read on a smartphone. With the help of media query function, you can easily change to different style sheets or call a number of features within one style sheet to your content into just one large column by knowing the dimension of the screen.

Benefits of Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design has many benefits that are spreading its use over the online world very quickly. Some of the benefits of Responsive Web Design are as follows:

  • It Saves Money: Before the wide use of Responsive Web Design, website designers and owners had to develop many versions for a single website because of different screen resolutions of different devices. This is expensive. If some companies spend their money making different versions of a single website for the leading devices like iPhone, iPad and android phones, then what would happen when new devices come onto the market?

    That is the beauty and perfection of Responsive Web Design; it allows your site to display all of its features on any size screen, from the wide screens of televisions to the tiniest smartphones. Now, you just have to design your website once, which will definitely reduce costs and save you money.

  • It Saves Time: The reality is that the fact that you have to design and develop your website one time only will also save you time and energy. This consequently results in fewer events, less work, and less stress knowing that you don’t have to repeat this procedure if a new system comes on the market.
  • It Beats Your Competitors: As many web designers do not know much about Responsive Web Design, you can benefit from it. Make a lot of changes and transformations on your website to fit all types of screens in order to gain more traffic. In this way, many visitors will like and visit your website more than the websites of your competitors.
  • Your Website Will Last Longer: By using Responsive Web Design, the life of your website will increase, and people will keep visiting it for a longer time because it will be convenient for them to get needed information with any type of device they have.
  • Increases Conversions: When people come to your website, they will definitely appreciate changes and modifications if you give them a good experience. It means that you have to give them everything they want and with the use of Responsive Web Design, you can easily make conversions on your site to give visitors a better and easier experience.
  • It Gives You Freedom: With all of the benefits mentioned above, you will experience less stress, knowing that your site is working optimally on all types of devices.

Useful Tips

Following are some tips that can help you design a Responsive Web Design effectively:

  • Wireframe: Before making any markups, wireframe your small screen and desktop, as this will give you all the information you need about where and in what order your HTML will need to gain the correct position of your site on small screens and larger desktops. If your website needs editing, then you can easily add and remove elements with the help of JavaScript. You have to be sure that you have put in enough navigation to get to to every page of your site.
  • Make Full Use of Relative-Absolute and Position-Absolute: You may want a specific logo on the menu and below it. You can move your HTML markup or reposition it with the help of JavaScript. It is a very beneficial way to redesign your markup visually.
  • Use of Fluid Layouts: Making use of the percentages in your markup is called flexible layout and fluid layout. Try to use percentage margins in your website. It is very helpful in making a Responsive Web Design.
  • Placing Selective and Important Content for a Small Screen: If your site is informative, then your main aim is to inform people Try to focus on the information provided for researches only.
  • Make the Buttons Large: If your website has may things that a majority of people use to click on, then add huge buttons on your site, which makes it convenient for people who click on small screen devices. Avoid the “fat finger” syndrome by making the action convenient enough for fingers.
  • Scaling Media: Don’t forget to scale media such as images, videos, and embedded objects. Try to put them on a max width of approximately 100%. For this purpose you should know the CSS elastic video process or you can also do it through JavaScript.
  • Selection of Media Format: In this modern era, you can simply achieve this goal by using video distributing software and services that will automatically change to video formats suitable for your site.
  • Use of Appropriate Size Image: If you are about to use JavaScript, then you have to check the width of the browser and choose the most appropriate size image for the desktops and the small screens. You have to request smaller images that allow the user to download it fast enough through small screens.
  • The Process: Any type of project, whether big or small, has a process. The Responsive Web Design process is a little tricky, but by reading and following the instructions of the process below, you will definitely get a lot of help. Following are some of the important items such as development, design, discovery, and deployment that are included in the Responsive Web Design process.
  • Good Start: If you are getting help from a web design company then you should meet with them and discuss all the things that are to be included in your website. If you are designing a web yourself, then collect all the necessary researches and all the paper work needed to start your Responsive Web Design. A good start is very helpful in completing the whole process. Keep one thing in mind; you must be aware of all the tricks and tips in order to perform this task yourself. Otherwise hire a team that could do this for your website.
  • Analyze the Project: Determine all the requirements of your project, from a creative, technical, and organizational point of view. Analyze everything, including, the visual design of your site, writing style, and interface design, and have a complete understanding of the main purpose of your website. Plan everything, from where your website is now and what it will be in the future, and then plan it accordingly This is a very effective part of the process.
  • Content Strategy: Depending on certain conditions, you can make changes and amendments in the content of your website qualitatively and also quantitatively. Make a site map for your site, because it is very important and it helps users to find what they want from your website. Always be concerned about the requirements of users, and keep in touch with them to understand their needs and demands. Remember, your customers’ needs must be your first priority; this is the reason why you are making your design responsive¬–to provide them ease in their search from any device conveniently and without any difficulties.
  • Search Tactics: Develop a responsive site that fulfills all the needs of Search Engine Optimization to make your site appear on the top of search engine pages. This will bring more visitors to your site. Content should include items like URL syntax, content hierarchy, structure of your page, screen resolutions for big and small screens, and media data. Make sure that your responsive design is beneficial for search engines, your audience, and yourself.
  • Compiling Information: Compile all the information you have gained through your research into an abridged content. This content should cover the outlines of content, search, and creative, as well as technical strategies. This content will work as a map for your whole project, which will keep you updated about everything on your website.
  • UX Sketches: Make difficult wireframes, or UX blueprints, for key opinions. This will help in designing the style of the program, while creating a sense of performance.
  • Web Page Tables: One of your main objectives is to keep the content separate from style or demonstration. Your material should never be reliant on a structure to work effectively. So, along with the wireframes, you will obtain a complete set of page platforms for key web pages. These page tablets recognize each content location in order, and recognize the most important information to connect in each area.
  • Interaction Style and Design: Once you have made all the outlines, then you can easily wireframe the remaining views by using benefits from the feature list and page tablets. Every view strategy will be done to make all the features you have planned to visualize. This makes it convenient for both small and large screens.
  • Visual Designing: After wireframing your website, your next approach is to attract people. This can be done by working on the visual state of your website. You should take care of the writing format, color palettes, branding elements, and a lot more. This will give your website a great look. The better your website looks in big and small screens, the more traffic you gain to increase your site rating.
  • Style Guide: Make a style guide that is easy to implement. This guide will demonstrate the personality and design of the system.
  • HTML or Theme Build: After doing the visual designing, it’s time for you to build JavaScript, HTML or CSS themes. For good outputs, make sure that all the work is done by the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) that forces the browsers to display the websites and web pages the designer wants to show. You can also use JavaScript instead of other software for the interactive elements of your site.
  • Cross-Browser: This is the place where you can test whether your page templates are working well for the desktops and browsers like Blackberry, iDevices, androids, etc. You should make your website so versatile that it will run on any device according to its specifications and screen sizes. If your website works on all devices, then your website will be successful.
  • Writing Content for Your Website: A website without content in it is considered junk. Write content for the publicity of your website and for the ease of users. You can also hire online content writers who will understand the theme of your website and will write useful and meaningful content according to your needs.
  • User Acceptance Testing (UAT): UAT helps you to confirm that your newly edited website meets all the requirements and objectives that are mentioned above, because you need time to know whether everything is working well in your website. Similarly, if the users have some problems with your website, then you can overcome them easily by making edits and adjustments according to their needs.
  • Launching Plan and Publishing: After making the amendments with your current website, launch your plan and release your newly edited website to the Internet. Don’t forget to use the quality checklist as this will tell you whether your website is meeting the requirements or not. Take care of the fact that your new website is handled by appropriate search engines because a website that does not appear in the search engines does not have any value.
  • Updating: Your website is something that continuously grows and changes its face throughout its life. So, you have to update it regularly to make your website user friendly for a long-term basis.

HTML5 and SEO

Since the advent of the first web search engines, designers and developers have struggled with issues of how to increase their placement on a search engine results page.

With the major search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) unwilling to reveal their ranking algorithms — protecting them from “black hat” search engine optimizers attempting to game the system — “white hat” search engine experts must play a constant guessing game to determine which tactics will be most effective.

The continuing development of technologies, from HTML and XML to JavaScript and Flash, has made the pursuit of prime search engine real estate a massive industry in its own right.

The introduction of HTML5 has simplified many tasks, but adds another layer of complexity in this area.

HTML5 and multimedia

For many years, web designers and developers have used plug-ins such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight to add audio, video and graphics content to their projects. These plug-ins have enabled professionals to create glossy, eye-catching designs that have attracted visitors and won numerous awards.

However, these sites have traditionally suffered from poor search engine ranking due to webcrawler’s inability to index this type of content. Great strides were being made in this area just prior to the death of Flash, but to a large degree, investment in the area of plugin indexing has now ceased altogether.

HTML5 allows for indexing multimedia content, such as menus, audio and video, with new markup tags. The content within these tags can improve a site’s search engine ranking. Indeed an HTML5 site consistently ranks higher than the equivalent site built with a plugin; however there is some question as to HTML5′s suitability for all tasks.

Google frequently tells us to build a site for the user, with ‘natural’ content. We may need to wait for HTML6 for that to be possible.

HTML5 and link types

In previous years, developers would use the “rel” attribute on their link tags to specify which links that a web crawler should not follow:

<a href="no-follow.htm" rel="nofollow">Don't Follow This Link</a>

In HTML5, new values for the “rel” attribute of the link tag allow us to create a context for a document that, moving forward, should provide greatly improved search results for users:

Alternate allows us to specify alternate content, the same text in PDF format for example, or the same content in a different language.

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="espanol.html">

Author enables us to link to an author’s profile. This is of great benefit on Google if the author is signed up to Google+.

<link rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/0123456789">

Bookmark lets blogs link to an article’s permanent URL, helpful if your articles are usually published on a home page.

<a rel="bookmark" href="http://mysite.com/article.html">Permalink</a>

Help is designed to be used by third party apps to provide access to help files. Not much use on a blog page, but invaluable for web-based apps.

<link rel="help" href="helpfiles.html">

License provides a link to licensing information.

<a rel="license" href="licensing.html">License information</a>

Next and Prev are used when a document is part of a series, giving context to the current page.

<a rel="next" href="page-2.html">Next</a>
<a rel="prev" href="page-0.html">Previous</a>

Search provides a link to a resource that can be used to search through the current document and its related pages.

<link rel="search" href="http://www.mysite.com/mysearch.xml">

The full specification for these attribute values can be found on the W3C site.

HTML5 and ranking

In late 2010, John Mueller of Google remarked that HTML5 is “still very much a work in progress” and that the company is still working on ways to index HTML5 content. However, the company is making a sincere effort to incorporate the indexing of HTML5 content into its newest generation of web crawlers.

While Google’s relationship with HTML5 standards remains in flux, and while Google remains the focus of most SEO efforts, HTML5′s introduction of new content and ways of describing that content is unlikely to offer any real SERP benefits.

However, the merits of allowing more content to be indexed with less effort is not in dispute, and with HTML5 rapidly becoming the new standard for web design it is just a matter of time before HTML5 sites outrank xHTML sites. Webdesigners should be planning for that future today.

 

Do you take full advantage of HTML5′s extra markup? Have you seen any SEO benefit of coding in HTML5 over xHTML? Let us know in the comments.

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Responsive Web Design as the Demand of Time

Now it’s difficult to find a single person over the web community who didn’t hear about Responsive Web Design (RWD). This relatively young technology captured the restless minds of enthusiastic developers, aiming to implement future innovations into our current life. The point became so urgent due to the mass invasion of portable devices into the world market. The most startling fact is that tiny size of those gadgets doesn’t limit their functions. The users are not tired to their home or office computer any more; they are free to cope with multiple tasks from their car or bus or maybe from the park where they enjoy a long walk with family. Positively, each and every gadget whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet, provides internet access. Needless to say how virtual reality has penetrated all spheres of our life, it became the whole world where we are almost omnipotent. No doubt that Internet makes our days more interesting and replete, helps us easily cope with complicated issues, be more efficient and productive.

Unfortunately, here the web community faced the natural problem, rising from the variety of screen sizes and resolutions of mobile devices, users exploit for browsing. The smaller size of the screen was the worse results it showed. Websites looked completely broken and absolutely unreadable. Of course, there are no deadlock conditions and mobile phone website versions were considered as a real way out. As all of us understand, it’s not too convenient to run two website options simultaneously, the full and the clipped one. Furthermore, a website adapted to mobile phone screen size doesn’t cover the needs of the whole variety of other devices.

Keeping in mind everything mentioned above it’s difficult to overestimate Ethan Marcotte’s contribution into web design development, as he was the first who introduced the term Responsive Web Design. The principal goal of RWD is to provide equally qualitative viewing experience across the whole range of portable and stationery devices from desktop computers to mobile phones. Actually, RWD utilizes a set of leading technologies allowing to attain the desired effect. The developers apply fluid grids, flexible images and media queries. If you are interested in studying the matter more extensively, we can offer you to use the interactive Responsive Web Design Infographic, which will guide you through all complicated technical peculiarities in memorable and entertaining form.

To make a long story short, Responsive Web Design is a contemporary goodie giving users and website owners additional possibilities to browse the sites they want from any device they prefer, getting the best possible readability and navigational opportunities.

Unfortunately, responsive online stores are still in minority now-a-days, but we’ve got great news for online merchants. The guys from TemplateMonster’s team started to produce fully responsive designs for two most popular e-Commerce platforms – Magento and PrestaShop. Even if you are very far from statistics, it’s quite easy to predict that the number of customers in such stores will increase enormously, as users will be able to make purchases from their portable devices anywhere in any time.

If you are not the RWD fan yet, we hope that our cool, creative collection of the best responsive themes will become the crucial moment. View the websites, test them on different browser widths and perceive all pleasures of Responsive Web Design!

Successful Websites Make Sure Navigation is Intuitive

When it comes to building and managing a successful website there are a number of factors involved in defining that success. Things like the topic of your website, level of engagement, value provided, etc. are some of those elements of a website that you need to focus on if you want to own a successful website.

Another extremely important element of your website that you need to make sure is perfect is your website navigation. Intuitive navigation is an absolutely critical website element that you need to nail if you want to have a successful website.

 

Intuitive navigation means that your website is designed in such a way that website traffic flows from web page to web page. Traffic simply knows where to go to find anything that they are looking for, and quite frankly, they know where to go if they cannot find what they are looking for. There are a number of tactics that website developers and website designers can employ to ensure website traffic can intuitively navigate their websites. In this article we are going to define intuitive navigation, explain some of the tactics that you can employ to ensure navigation is intuitive on your website, discuss internal linking, explain how to use Google Analytics to track how visitors are navigating your website, and go through the benefits of perfecting your website navigation.

Intuitive Navigation for Websites

Intuitive navigation is defined simply as someone knowing where to go to find the information they want. Intuitive website navigation is the process of website traffic being able to navigate through your website seamlessly from web page to web page consuming the information they want and bypassing the information they do not want. There is a lot that goes into designing a website that can be navigated easily by the majority of people who visit your website. If you can figure out a way to make your website easy to navigate you have a much better chance of people returning to your website, and eventually making it their go to resource for the topic that your website covers. If you want your website to be easily navigated it starts with navigation planning and design. Far too often website designers and website developers jump into the overall design of the website and drop the navigation elements in without much thought. That’s the wrong approach. Let’s go through the right approach.

Designing Intuitive Website Navigation

Designing a website that many consider easy to navigate is an absolute must if you want to have a successful website. Some of the things I write about here at InstantShift.com are relatively easy to implement once you know how. That said, designing intuitive website navigation can absolutely be done by pretty much anyone, it is something that is a little more difficult and will take time to fully grasp if you’re a website designer or website developer who builds and managers websites for clients. That said, once you master it you will be able to provide website owners with a much better product. As mentioned above, far too often people jump into designing a website without giving much thought to navigation. Navigation is something that they fit in. I like to go about it in reverse. I like to come up with my website navigation plan first, which will then allow the overall website design to kind of come to life as I’m going through my website navigation planning process. Once I’m finished with my website navigation plan then I move on to the overall website design, which becomes a much quicker process since I already have a good idea of what I want to do based on my website navigation plan.

Website Navigation Plan

I know that there isn’t always time for this, but I like to approach all of the websites that my company builds for clients by creating what I call the Website Planning Spec before we build anything. The Website Navigation Plan is one piece of the overall Website Planning Spec. That said, for the purpose of this article we will stick to discussing just the website navigation plan portion of the Website Planning Spec. Here are the key elements of a solid Website Navigation Plan:

  • Main Navigation Bar – This is the main website navigation and is usually located horizontally across the top of the website OR along the left side of the website. Personally, I prefer horizontally across the top, but it really should correspond to your goals for the website and what you think provides the best user experience.
  • Call-to-Action – What’s the end game? What is the overall goal for your website? If you could pick one web page on your website that everyone who visits your site would read, what page would it be? Once you know your goals for the website and where you want to drive people, you can design a navigation system that funnels all traffic to that page as quickly as possible.
  • Sidebars – Will your website contain sidebars? One or two? Will you have banners within your sidebars that link to landing pages? Will these sidebars appear on all web pages throughout your website on only some of them? These are the sorts of questions you need to ask yourself regarding utilizing sidebars for your website. Then start flushing this out for each web page within your Website Navigation Plan.
  • Internal Linking – We will cover Internal Linking in more detail later in this article, but this is where you can use the copy from your website to link website visitors to other pages within your website. Internal linking is a great way to funnel your website traffic via a call-to-action to the most important pages within your website.
  • Landing Pages – Will your website leverage landing pages? How will you drive traffic to those landing pages? Where do you want traffic to go from those landing pages or what action should they take once they get there? Landing pages can be extremely beneficial in achieving your goals. When then are used properly they can help convert website traffic into paying customers, subscribers, or simply more informed consumers of your websites’ information.

Thinking through each of these elements of website navigation will help you formulate a “flow” for your website. It will help you understand how you want to leverage different components of your website to get website traffic from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. By doing this you’re much more likely to achieve your goals, which ultimately leads to you being able to classify our website as a success.

Internal Linking As Part of Intuitive Website Navigation

An effective Internal linking strategy is a huge component of intuitive website navigation. Internal linking is the process of using the copy of your website to link to other web pages within your site. When it comes to funneling traffic from one page to the next the best way to do it is through the website copy. Obviously if you’re talking about a specific subject and you want to move visitors from one aspect of your website topic to the next the best way to do that is through the website copy. You can use a call-to-action within the website copy to get readers to click-through to the next page of your website. Remember, your ultimate goal is to get readers to that one main page within your website that will help you achieve your goals. For an e-Commerce website it’s getting website traffic from every other page on their website to their online store. For some websites it might be to get people to a sign-up form, a donation form, get people to contact you, or maybe it’s simply to get people to read one very important piece of copy. Whatever your goal is, internal linking is a great way to achieve it.

The best way to approach this is once you have defined your goals and your have an idea of all of the different pages that make up your website. You should pick that one page or two pages that you want to drive visitors to. Then start writing the copy for each web page. As you write the copy think of ways that make sense for taking people from the subject that you’re writing about on that page to the page you want them to go. Sometimes it will take you having to take people to one or two other pages first. That’s OK. You want to find the most efficient way to get them to your main web page, but you also want to ensure it makes sense from a user experience perspective and from a copy perspective.

Use Google Analytics to Track Website Navigation

A great tool for tracking how your website navigation is performing is Google Analytics. Google Anaytics will actually show you where traffic originated (ie. search terms, direct, or referrals), which pages that traffic landed on, and then the pages that they navigated to from there. If you have followed all of the steps above, you’ve set goals, you’ve designed your website navigation plan, and you’ve used internal linking with calls-to-action to get website visitors from point A to point B as quickly as possible then you can use Google Analytics to see if your plan is working. You might find out that people are taking a short cut to get where you want them to go. You might find out that people are bypassing your main web page for something that is more interesting to them. Heck you might even find out that people are getting to your landing pages and then dropping off. Whatever the case is, Google Analytics is your tool for finding out how your hypothesis is matching up to real world practice by website traffic. Armed with this knowledge you can then go back to your website, make some tweaks, and then come back to see how effective those changes were. You can continue to do this and over time you will create a very intuitive website navigation system.

Benefits of Designing Intuitive Website Navigation

By designing a website that is easy to navigate, and as long as your content is rock solid, you are sure to have success. People come back to websites where they get great information without having to exert too much energy in finding that information. Here are some of the many benefits you will reap if you take the time to consider website navigation before building your next website:

  • Increased website traffic
  • Increased repeat website traffic
  • Increased subscribers for things like your blog or email newsletter
  • Increased sales if you run an e-Commerce website
  • Increased social media connections
  • More engagement in regards to things like blog comments
  • Higher search rankings for the pages of your website

These are just a few of the many benefits that await you after taking the time to design an easy to use navigation system for your website.