Dangerous Common Sense

focused on Web Design and Marketing

We’ve Moved

Posted by Ozdachs on June 7, 2011

Web design and Internet Marketing tips have moved to a separately hosted site.

The new location allows us to use more WordPress themes and features than are available on this free WordPress site. We think highly of WordPress and WordPress.com, and want to take better advantage of the blogging features.

Come see us at www.dangerouscommonsense.com.

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Say “We Made a Mistake”

Posted by Ozdachs on May 22, 2010

My frustration started early Monday morning when I retrieved voicemail left at 6 am-ish from  Dell from whom I had ordered a workstation.  The voicemail was a timely response to my weekend email inquiry asking about the status of my computer order.

On May 12th I originally ordered a workstation and an hour or so later decided I wanted to have Office Professional preloaded on to it.  I had called my sales rep, and he said that there was no problem. He’d cancel the original order and add the $300-some-odd dollar software to a new order configuration.  He said that I would receive an acknowledgment and that there would be no delay in my receiving the computer.

Over last weekend I flashed on the fact that I had not yet received the promised email acknowledgment.  I wrote the sales rep so he could check on Monday, and promptly received an out-of-office message saying the rep was on vacation.  The response gave me another email address to write, and I forwarded on my concern to that new email address.

Which brings us to Monday morning’s voicemail and follow-on calls.  The short story is the obvious one:  the sales rep had left for vacation without entering the updated order into the system.  No computer was en route to me, nor was one being built.

This was annoying enough, but the mistake was very understandable and very human.  I would been content if the vacation cover representative apologized and moved the new order up in the production queue.  Eventually, that’s what happened.

Unfortunately, the covering rep’s first response was to tell me that since I had changed the order I was responsible for the configuration not being built.  Didn’t I know that they don’t store credit card numbers and that I should have given my credit card number to the original rep again after I added the software?

Actually, I did NOT know that I needed to retell the credit card number.  In fact, I would have been happy to recite the card numbers again while I was on the phone with Rep #1, if he had but asked.

I then was told that Rep #2 wasn’t part of the original conversation so he couldn’t tell what happened.  But, since I hadn’t given my credit card number last Wednesday when I should have, all Rep #2 could do was to place the order now.

Snarling ensued.

A simple, understandable error had transformed into a finger-pointing shouting match.  Worse, from my business perspective, I see no upside to Rep #2’s reluctance to say, “We made a mistake.”  I couldn’t sue for malpractice.  At worst, I would find another computer vendor, and that possibility was much likelier because of Monday”s phone conversation than it would have been because of the original error.

In fact, doctors who can get sued for malpractice, are discovering that admitting mistakes reduces both malpractice costs and patient anger.  And, admitting the obvious mistake this morning would have made our conversation shorter and more pleasant.

The customer is, of course, not always right. But, before arguing with a customer, at the very least you should make a cost-benefit calculation.  What would saying the problem was your fault cost you?  What would it gain?

A house guest who had heard Monday morning’s phone conversation told me afterwords about a call he’d taken for his drug and alcohol testing business last week.  A client of complained about a missed delivery, and my friend and his client briefly discussed the chronology of the episode.  My house guest said he told his customer, “It sounds like we screwed up.  I’m sorry.”

Instead of invective, the put-out client started laughing.  She said that the was the first time in years that someone straight out said that they had made a mistake. She would tell everyone how honest and responsive my friend’s company was.

Not all confession stories will have a happy ending.  Not all mistakes are fixed with a simple mea culpa.  But, admitting your mistake might be the most honest — and most profitable — first step to take.

Dell, are you listening?

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5 Questions

Posted by Ozdachs on May 20, 2010

When I first meet with a prospective client it’s important for me to know about their vision for their site.

Although most people start off saying that they’ll leave everything to the designer (“just do it”), I have learned better.  Business owners may want to leave all the technical details to their designer, but most people have an idea about some aspects of their future site.

Business woman looking at a web pageI am about to call a prospective customer, so I wrote down what I want to ask her before I can tell her cost estimates and a time schedule.  Here are some of the questions I have that will help her share her web site vision with me. (I’d be happy to hear of ones you think I should add!)

  1. Are there sites you would like yours to look like?
    These examples can be competitors or sites for businesses in different fields. Please send me links to those sites so I can look at them. Then we can talk about what aspects of those sites you like. Is it the color? Layout? Navigation?
  2. How important is search engine optimization (where your site will show up in Google)?
    Creating a site that shows up high on Google for specific phrases requires planning and it also places some design constraints on the pages.  These limitations are reasonable.  However, we will keep bumping up against them and I need to know if you care if people find your site in Google and in other search engines.(Search Engine Optimization, that is getting your site high on Google’s results, involves more than designing a web page.  Obtaining incoming links, regularly refreshing content, and other marketing techniques build upon a well-design web site.  But, designing pages to appeal to Google is the first, most basic, and most important step to take.)
  3. Do you have a list of pages you want on your site and a structure for the site navigation?
    Some people only know that they want a web site for their business.  Others know exactly what they want on their site, how many pages there should be, and what the navigation path through the site should be.Please let me know what you’ve already decided on the scope of your site.
  4. Do you want to be able to updates to your site yourself?
    I currently use Dreamweaver to design and maintain most client sites.  There’s a sister product of Dreamweaver called Contribute which allows non-technical people to update pages, add pages, change and add images, and to make other changes to sites created in Dreamweaver.In general, clients with Dreamweaver-created sites can purchase Contribute from Adobe and start doing their own updates with little web designer involvement.  There is some minor preparation I need to do to make the site Contribute-friendly, and it is good for me to know that Contribute is coming as soon as possible.
  5. Have you already purchased a domain name and hosting service?
    If so, I will need the user name and password for these accounts… For some of my clients obtaining these credentials from past web designers or from their own records has taken weeks of effort.So, if you already have hosting and domain name registrations services, check your records to make sure you can get to the services’ control panels.

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Dear Dell 2005: Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Posted by Ozdachs on May 10, 2010

When Ryan O’Neal’s girlfriend is dying tragically and tear-jerkingly in 1970’s Love Story, Ryan holds himself together by vigorously cleaning their apartment.

My 5-year old desktop is suffering from random Blue Screens of Death crashes, Outlook pop-up window slowness, and general flakiness that is taking up increasing amounts of my producive time as I experiment with various work-arounds.

I am now manually copying my mail files and key data at least once a day (in addition to my automatic remote backups.) Several times a week I run various disk diagnostics or program repairs as I get different bright ideas about What Could Be Wrong. I have worked myself into a whirl of energy as I try to save the beloved Dell from the silicon reaper.

Ryan O’Neal has nothing on me.  I have vacuumed the air intake filters, reseated all cables, and watched the Task Manager for symptoms as if it were an ER room’s vital sign monitor.

I talked to friends who are professional tech support for small businesses, and they laughed at my story.  “A 2005 computer?” they snorted.

They acted just like I would have if one of my clients came to me with their story a flaky five-year-old PC.  They told me I am in denial.   Polishing the plastic and reloading a program or two (or even the entire operating system) isn’t going to make the computer whole.

I know they are right.  But, it’s hard for me to stop bargaining, promising that if the computer gods will allow my system to live I will defrag the hard drives weekly.  That I’ll always do an orderly shutdown when I stop work for the evening.

I don’t remember the details of Love Story anymore.  She dies, but I don’t have an image of how Ryan got through it or even if he did.  For my part, I feel sleazy.  I am already dating, trolling Dell and other computer sites for ideas on a replacement.

I know it’s quick, but I know that my 2005 Dell would want me to be happy.

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Why Your 2002 Site Needs to be Redesigned

Posted by Ozdachs on May 2, 2010

The sites of clients I’ve worked with for the longest time are not the ones I feature as examples of my work.  The reason for my choice in reference sites became painfully obvious last week when I worked with one of my established clients to refresh her site. The work is still in progress and the new site isn’t yet live, but I’ve already learned alot.

When we worked on the site in 2002, all we were trying to do was to increase her visibility on the Internet.  She wanted her clients and prospects to be able to find her site when searching the Internet.  She didn’t have much information to share, really, but wanted an Internet calling card so that people would know she was a real business.  She also thought she might want to update the information herself.

To meet her needs, we created her website using FrontPage.  We optimized her home page for the search phrase “San Francisco Medical Transcription”, and posted the little information we had.  In those days of mostly dial-up Internet access, I remember fighting to find small graphics that would decorate the pages.

We thought the site looked great!  It even had a JavaScript slide show and a tasteful animated .gif.  And, Pacific Medical Transcription shows up #1 in Google when you search for San Francisco Medical Transcription.

Pacific Medical Transcription 2002 web site

Pacific Medical Transcription 2002 web site

But, times, styles, and Internet norms change.   Web pages no longer have background texture, mood music, and unrequested animations are either very slick or showing tacky ads, or both. FrontPage is no longer made, and most clients recognize that they don’t have the time to do their own web publishing so they allow web designers to use professional tools and blogs.

Today we expect web pages to be blocky, and we demand good-sized graphics. We want the pages to show up in a number of different browsers, so we expect that the code used to write them conforms to standards. In 2002, you viewed your web page in Internet Explorer. If it looked okay there, you were done. Now you validate your web pages according to international standards, and then you check them with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and on a smart phone.

What can I say? I just like the result of today’s web development better than I like the look of what we did in 2002. Here’s the prototype of the new site.

Pacific Medical Transcription 2010

Pacific Medical Transcription 2010

The client chose the colors and layout, and we updated the text and added some stock photographs.  It’s still a small, calling-card niche on the Internet.  But, it looks like a 2010 niche, and will help her prospects feel comfortable with her business.

The shelf life of software — and web sites — is good.  They don’t spoil and go bad.  On the other hand, a site that hasn’t been touched in 8 years may not show off your business as best it could.

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What’s Flash Great For?

Posted by Ozdachs on April 25, 2010

I often tell business owners why they shouldn’t use Flash. (See this post for an example warning!) I might even tell them too loudly and forcefully, because I feel like I am shouting into the wind when I try to explain that just because Flash is bright and shiny, that doesn’t mean that Flash belongs on your web site.

I’ll admit it. Sometimes, Flash does belong on a web site. It’s an extremely effective tool when used correctly.

Here’s when I suggest using Flash:

  • When a visual walk-through of your store/home/product functionality will help visitors understand what you’re offering. These uses include:
    • Virtual home tours by real estate agents.
    • Property tours by innkeepers.
    • Room tours by designers.
    • Assembly instructions for your products.
    • Video of your product in action.
  • Introductory testimonials or video blogs. These clips let your clients and prospects know more about you, and the warmth of your voice and face can carry the day.
  • Examples of your work if you’re an animator, videographer, or graphic designer. Showing how snappy and cool you are can help you get new jobs and can even show off your Flash skills for non-web projects such as business presentations.

Still, my recommendation is that these bits of Flash be embedded in a basic, non-Flash web page. And, whatever you do, don’t make your home page require Flash.

I have used Flash in sites, but my Flash objects have been movie-like things for the visitor to watch. I don’t use Flash for site navigation or to trigger any actions.

My first incorporation of Flash was in 2004 for a site redesign of a bed-and-breakfast. I moved the Flash introduction from the home page to a page about the property’s facilities. People looking for a place to stay no longer had to wait 30 seconds or more for the movie to download (remember, most people in 2004 were using dial-up). But, when they clicked on an inside page to see pictures of the guest rooms, the old Flash introduction was a great virtual tour.

There’s an ego problem with Flash, I think. A good Flash movie takes a lot of work and it can look stunning. So, the designers who have just created this Flash masterpiece wants to show off their handiwork. They make the Flash work of art the centerpiece of the web site.

Wrong!

The web site is not about the graphic talent of the web designer (unless the site is the designer’s own). The site should be all about solving a problem for the visitor, your potential client.

And, that’s when Flash can be great. When it’s used as a tool — just like other components of a web page — to show the visitor how you can solve their problem. Whether you’re keeping them from sleeping on the streets or you’re relieving their anxiety about your qualifications, Flash can be a great tool for your site.

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No Flash in the Pad

Posted by Ozdachs on April 20, 2010

My web design approach is to create simple, good-looking pages that attract visitors to my client’s web sites and then to their businesses.

When I first started designing, I had to fight persuade clients that animated cartoon .gif files and unrequested music were not not good additions to their Internet home. Times changed, and the music died down and the animated files became fewer and fewer. But, then, Adobe unleashed a new technology: Flash!

Flash lets web designers put movement and sound into their pages. Done correctly the animation is professional video quality, and the sound can be multi-tracked and amazing. It is terrific tool for presentations and for some online functions such as videos and virtual tours.

But, I have consistently dissuaded clients from using Flash, especially for “welcoming” visitors to their home page. (Why do people feel the need to welcome web site visitors, anyway?? Visitors want to be informed, not welcomed!)

Flash blocked on an iPhone

Example of an iPhone blocking Flash. The tiny blue dot in the middle represents the blocked Flash -- the visitor never will see the key content on the center of this page.

My reasons have been:
  • Flash is more difficult to produce than simple text and photographic web pages. This means more work for me or another designer. More work means greater cost, and most of my clients are very cost conscious.
  • Search engines don’t understand Flash content very well, if at all. If you want to show up on Google search results, using Flash gives you a handicap to overcome.
  • Flash can be slow to download and start up. We’ve all seen the Flash screen countdowns, promising that they’re “loading… 55%”. A certain percentage of visitors (potential customers) will click away instead of waiting.

Now Steve Jobs and Apple’s latest gadget, the iPad, re-validates my recommendation to avoid Flash. Jobs has gotten into a slap fight with Adobe, Flash’s makers, about the application. Flash has always been blocked from working on iPhones because Jobs thinks it is buggy and has security flaws, and now he has expanded the ban to keep Flash from working on the hot Apple iPad.

Think about it: if you are a company trying to get business from Internet visitors, you want the hip visitors who can afford things like iPhones and iPads. But, if your site uses Flash, these best prospects won’t see what you’re offering!

Apple’s decision to continue to block Flash reinforces my decision to stay away from Flash as a web development tool. If you are a large corporation with a large budget, you can make Flash and non-Flash versions of your pages — or normal and mobile versions — to get around Apple’s Flash block. But, what a lot of work to use a tool that doesn’t truly benefit most sites.

My recommendation is to save the extra money you’d spend on Flash development and instead spend that on Google ads, updating your site’s content, or creating an email marketing campaign.

Flash doesn’t show up on iPhones or iPads. It’s relatively expensive to develop. Flash just doesn’t make sense for most sites. Sorry, Adobe!

Posted in User Interface, Web Design | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How Many Number 1 Pages Do You Have in Google?

Posted by Ozdachs on April 7, 2010

A friend said he was recommending me to one of his contacts for Search Engine Optimization. The contact asked, “How many #1 positions does Ozdachs get in Google?”

I was stumped. I produce reports for clients saying where they show up in various search engines for different phrases. But, I have never thought to aggregate the #1 positions for all clients and come up with a number of #1’s for bragging.

Frankly, I don’t think the gross number of top positions is a good metric. I work with my clients to track:

  • Referral sources for prospects who contact them.
  • Hits to their web site, including the search phrases used by the visitors.
  • Search engine result positions for selected phrases in the major search engines.

Tracking the number of #1 positions in Google for a site may be a good marker for success. Or, it that number could be a useless statistic that can be gamed by a Search Engine Optimization company.

I can get almost anyone the #1 position in Google results for a lot of commercially meaningless searches. The easiest example is your company’s name. Your web site is probably already #1 in Google for your business’ name. Search Google for “Ozdachs Consulting” and my site comes back on the top of the list… and I have not done SEO on my own site. My client “Sterck Kulik O’Neill accounting group” shows us #1 when you search for “Sterck Kulik O’Neill”.

These #1 positions aren’t important. If someone knows your business’ name and searches for it, they are already your clients or at least know about you and are considering buying from you.

Search Engine Optimization is most valuable when marketing your site to people who are looking for what you sell but don’t know that your business exists. Those are the prospects who find you when they search Google for terms such as “San Francisco CPA”. Sterck Kulik O’Neill comes up #1 in Google for this search, and that’s a #1 that means business!

How many of those type of #1’s do I have? Not that many. The reason is simple. It takes time and money to earn number one rankings for terms.

For instance, you can optimize each web page for only one search phrase. So, if you want to score well for several phrases, you need to have separate pages tuned for each phrase. “San Francisco CPA” is not the same as “San Francisco accountant”. To have both phrases show up #1 in Google, you will have one page tuned for each phrase and unique content for each page. Then you have to find authoritative sites to point to each of these keyword pages so that Google knows to take each and every one of them seriously.

Most of my clients decide that it’s cost effective to try for one or two top rankings in Google. We identify the most important money-making phrase and tune the home page for it. Tuning more pages for other phrases isn’t too much work, but to get them to rise to the top of the search results requires promoting them and having other sites link to them. To do it right, we really should set up separate web sites — or at least unique sub-domains — for each money term.

I’m up for the task, if my clients want me to spend the time. But, in my space most clients are very happy with having one page show up near the top of Google. When other tuned pages in the site show up reasonably well, they’re ecstatic.

So, how many number 1 pages do my clients have in Google? Enough to keep them happy with my services!

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Flickr vs. SmugMug: My Judgment is Colored

Posted by Ozdachs on April 3, 2010

Birthday Set Thumbnail from FlickrI have been using Flickr for posting photographs online for several years. It’s been a great place to upload photographs for my church’s electronic newsletter, and it’s been a handy place to share dog pictures and other personal visual memories.

I kept my Flickr account even after I stared using Facebook which comes with free photo galleries. The image quality on Flickr is an order of magnitude better than the fuzzed-up, blurry mash that Facebook offers on its photo galleries. Plus, the general public — not just your friends — can wander by your Flickr sets and find photos of things they’re looking for. I’ve enjoyed getting comments from strangers.

But, Flickr washes out and changes the color in some photographs I upload. I notice this fault more on images I have previously manipulated in Photoshop. It’s as if Flickr figures out that I have edited the photo and then tries to do more automatically of whatever editing I had done myself. This pale, over-whiteness of images is particularly annoying when I look at a slide show of my pictures.

This morning I uploaded a set of photographs of a friend’s birthday party to Flickr. Some of the photographs were noticeably bluer/whiter/lighter than they appeared in Photoshop on the same computer monitor. I went back and color-manipulated four images to increase the warmth of the light, and uploaded replacements, trying to make the people less glaringly Caucasian corpse-like. The results were better, but still there’s a sickly paleness on a lot of the faces.

On a whim, I decided to open a trial account on SmugMug. That’s a service which is used a lot by professional photographers — I set up a client with a site there just last month.

Damn! I notice a difference! The photographs on SmugMug are more appropriately vibrant and with the same tone I see in Photoshop. The clarity of the down-sized thumbnails are good, too.

Can you see the same difference? Check out the two slide shows. I suggest making them both full screen to see as much of each photograph as possible. (Remember, these are personal, non-professional photographs. Some are blurry and some show residue of the camera’s flash. That’s how they came out of the camera, and those faults are mine and not either Flickr’s or SmugMug’s.)

  • SmugMug Album. Click on the “Slideshow” button on the upper-right part of the screen.
  • Flickr Slide Show. Click on the “Slideshow” link on the third row down and toward the right side of the screen.

SmugMug has other advantages over Flickr. It offers a nicer layout of its photographs, and each set of photographs can be laid out in a different format with a different background. Plus, switching to the next photograph in an album is instantaneous on SmugMug but takes time on Flickr.

Of course, Flickr is significantly less expensive than SmugMug. Flickr is $25/year for a “pro” account while the comparable service from SmugMug is $40/year. My trial SmugMug account uses some customizations and strips out the SmugMug logo from my galleries, and this level subscription is $60/year.

Is the better photo image quality, flexibility in gallery settings, and overall professional feel worth $60 a year to me for my personal photographs. I think so. But, I have 13 more days to make that decision for sure.

Posted in Product Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Everything Is Incremental

Posted by Ozdachs on March 22, 2010

The bad economy has generated desperate calls from owners who are begging for the Internet to save their business.

I wish it were that simple. When I talk to these potential clients, I first have to set their expectations.

Internet MagicThe fact is that a web site and the Internet are not magic. They very, very, very rarely make a site owner a lot of money quickly.

Even if you plot, plan, and work to optimize your web site to return high on Google’s search results, you’re not likely to get rich overnight.

Distrust anyone who promises riches if you hire them to promote, design, or advertise for your business on the Internet. (Or anywhere else!)

Like every other real-world marketing effort, each action you take to market on the Internet will yield incremental results. This is not bad, but it is not magic. For every step you take, you’ll get a few more calls, a few more visitors to your business.

Want a marketing push? Then commit yourself to play in as many of these areas as you can:

  • Create or update your web site.
    Your web site is your primary electronic calling card. Potential clients check it for your style and personality, in addition to looking for concrete information like services offered. People expect your business to have a site, and they expect it to look like 2010 and not 1999.
  • Optimize your web site for search engines (also called “Search Engine Optimization” or “SEO”).
    You’ll want to do some research or hire a professional for this step, but showing up better in Google is well worth it.
  • Advertise your goods or services on Craigslist.
    Really! Craigslist listings are free, and you can use them to point to your web site for more information. Don’t forget to repost the listing or update it every three days so that you’re not lost too deep in the clutter.
  • Identify a target client group and create a direct mail campaign.
    Really, again! This low-tech approach to an identified group of potential customers should get their attention and invite them to check you out on your web site. Start off by use your local chamber of commerce address list or even the membership list of an affinity group (such as a business exchange network like BNI.)
  • Claim and spruce up your local business listing in Google and Bing.
    These are the two major search engines which show maps of businesses when people search for goods and services. You want a link to your business on the map — this is especially important if you’re selling impulse or food items like pizza.
  • Run a Google Adwords campaign.
    Adwords are the “sponsored listings” which show up on the top and right of the normal search results. You can get new visitors to your site for a couple dollars each.
  • Send out a monthly electronic magazine.
    Even if you’re not selling anything people can click on and buy, touching your clients regularly is essential to growing your business. Your monthly message doesn’t have to be very long, and it should not be about you! You want to give your contacts some helpful information that will get them to smile and remember that you’re available to help them. Of course you can help them with a special or coupon in the newsletter, but don’t talk too much about you, your services, or your own wonderfulness.
  • Join and attend regularly a business referral group.
    The best new clients can be the ones that people who know you and your business pre-screen and send to you. So, spend a couple hours each week talking with other business owners. In addition to the straight-forward benefits of a referral, you’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses when you answer standards questions — such as who is a perfect referral for you — as part of the program. Moreover, you’ll learn about trends and area-wide concerns of people outside your industry. Valuable stuff!

There’s more, of course. Almost all of the pre-Internet marketing options remain marketing weapons in your fight for profit.

Each action is helpful. And, none of they is enough by itself!

Posted in Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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