2010
12.21

My Mom is on the board for the retirement where community she lives. They have finally gotten with the program and realized that more people (even seniors) are using the internet for their information than snail-mail newsletters. So they are looking to revamp their website to make it more usable. My Mom then asked me if I would take a look at what they have and make some recommendations. Certainly, Moms. That is what I do! I ended up going a little overboard with a document but it did a good job of covering a lot of the bases with suggestions on site structure, navigation, design, functionality as well as SEO improvements. I won’t go over all that with you but I thought I would share what I highlighted in all-caps bold at the top of the document.

Note: These suggestions are specific to their website and not necessarily a generic top four website suggestions.

IMPORTANT MUST-DOS

  • Photos on site should be jpgs, not gifs. Gifs should be limited to graphics that are just a few colors. Just one photo (gif) on “Bowling Lessons” page is almost a meg. All images should aim to be 50k or less.
  • All images should have relevant alt tags for accessibility purposes. Headers across site should be clickable back to home.
  • All external links should have target=”_blank” to open up external links in new page so as to not take the users out of the site.
  • Put Google Analytics on the site so you can see what people are clicking on, what kind of browsers they’re using, what kind of connection they have, where people are being referred from, what keywords they’re using in google to get to the site and so on.

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2010
11.23

dear careerbuilder.com,

What happened to you? I first used you in 2004 when I moved to Los Angeles and had near instant success finding a job. I have used you several times thereafter in job searches over the years and maybe didn’t find a position solely because of you each time but you surely gave me good leads.

I am now once again in the market for a job so I turned to you, my good old friend careerbuilder. I uploaded a new resume. I created a new job search with my particular job wants. Not that any of that matters though, because since the moment my profile has been reanimated on your site, I have been inundated with emails from companies wanting me to do things I am either not qualified for, expressly do not want to do and/or in locations I am not willing to work.

Basically, your site has turned into an email farm for recruiting companies. I have gotten emails about being a financial advisor. What? Financial Advisor? The words “financial” and “advisor” are not found anywhere on my resume. How is this not spam? I go to your site to review your policy and apparently you embrace these emails and take a sort of “if you don’t like it, then you can get the hell out” kind of attitude. The exact words from the Career Builder Customer Support are, “As per our terms and conditions, when a job seeker is signed up with Careerbuilder, they have agreed to receive solicited emails pertaining to job offers, even if those jobs are not related to their profession.” Apparently, the focus of your website has turned from being about finding people jobs to selling email addresses to recruiting companies so they can spam their way to commissions. Throw enough at the wall and see what sticks, I guess.

Well, to each their own. And to my own, ex-pal careerbuilder, I will be taking my business to the actually relevant, helpful and not-yet-corrupted indeed.com.

xxoo Michelle

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2010
10.28

When most people hire somebody to build them a website, they go in only caring about how their site will look. Here are a few things you should discuss with your potential web designer.

You want:

Clean, up-to-date code. Clean code means that when another web designer looks at the code your web designer wrote, it should be really easy to follow. It should be neatly indented to show the hierarchy. It should be hand-coded with no marks from WYSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver. The CSS should be in an external style sheet not in-line all over the page. And the biggest red alert of them all is if you see the page coded in tables. Tables are basically a sign of somebody who hasn’t learned anything new in web design since 2004. You don’t want that person.

Good usability. Usability is essentially the ease as to which users can navigate and interact with your site. Ask your web designer for some examples of good usability in sites they have designed. They might talk to you about navigation or page layout. The key is that they talk to you about something. If they don’t/can’t, that is a red flag.

SEO. You want your site optimized for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so it comes up on search engines when people type in relevant keywords which, in turn, will drive traffic to your site which, in turn, is almost the whole point of having a website. Ask your web designer how they will implement good SEO on your site. They should talk about things like keywords, linkbacks and relevant content. If they say these things, at least they’re in the ballpark and not idiots. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to look through a book on SEO just so you have an idea of what it’s all about too.

References. Ask for references. Be sure to specify that you want non-relatives. Call the references. Ask them how they found the designer. Ask them if the designer was good at communicating during the project. Ask them if they ended up paying more than how much was originally estimated, how much more and why. Ask them if they had any problems at all with the designer. And after you ask that last question, pause after they answer just to see if they add a little more juicy stuff. That’s an old interview trick.

All the control. Make sure you clarify that when your designer is done and paid for, you want all the logins and passwords to the FTP, to the WordPress Admin, to the whatever. This way if you ever want to go with somebody else to continue maintaining your site or to do any sort of redesign, you don’t have to go back to the original designer. That can be awkward.

This is not an exhaustive list. It’s for you to know the other things you should be thinking about when you want a website beyond how it looks. It’s also something for you to arm yourself with so you don’t go in there thinking that this person has all the power and knowledge. And it will also let them know that you are not an idiot to be taken advantage of. Because you’re not.

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2010
10.18

This weekend, I discovered that the RSS feed on one of my WordPress blogs wasn’t updating properly. So this really seems like a great excuse to share this tale of troubleshooting. SPOILER ALERT: It has a happy ending.

I run my RSS feed through Google’s Feedburner (for analytics) so first thing’s first, I went there to begin detectiving. Their troubleshooting was giving me the error that my feed was over 512k which is too big for their britches. This was no surprise to me as I had just realized the photos getting put up on the site by my creative half weren’t compressed enough. So I grabbed the most recent ten photos on the site, compressed them to about a fifth of their size and uploaded them to replace their bloated brethren. Back to Feedburner… My feed was now no longer throwing a size error but it was throwing a non-descript “null” error. Arghhh!

In what could probably be filed under things I didn’t really need to do, I deleted the feed off of Feedburner. I was at a loss and part of me thought perhaps there was some sort of weird caching thing Feedburner was doing that was preventing the feed from showing up fixed even though it was. Then, I tried to reburn my feed with Feedburner and got an error saying my feed was broken. On the error page, they provided a link to a feed validator which also said my feed was broken and provided the explanation, “server timed out.” Double arghhhh!

I then compared this feed to the feeds from my other WordPress blogs. These other feeds were validating just fine so the validator wasn’t broken (that was a thought at one point). And I could see no difference in the XML between the working feeds and the non-working one. Arghhhh arghhhhh ARGHHHH!

Now, begins the Google searches. I googled my problem with every wording possible. Lots of people seemed to have had this problem or problems similar to this. One possible cause was errant characters in a blog post. This is usually caused by copying and pasting from Microsoft Word right into WordPress. I went through the most recent ten posts and changed every apostrophe and quotation mark I saw. This was to no avail. I went so far as to change the settings so my feed only includes one post, then I added a dummy post with just the word “test” and no images or anything. Still no good.

I continued my Google searching on the problem and I stumbled across a forum thread where somebody suggested that the cause could be a WordPress plug-in conflict. To confirm this, you have to deactivate all of your plug-ins to see if the problem is fixed and then reactivate the plug-ins one by one to see which one is the culprit. So, I did that. And guess what? This was the goll-darned issue.

It ended up being this plug-in,Sexy Bookmarks, I use to share my links i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc. I had checked a box that included it at the end of posts in the feed and that was what did it. So, I unchecked that box. Then I was successfully able to burn that feed back on Feedburner. The problem has been officially troubleshot and solved. Sigh of relief.

To note, this whole process took at least eight hours over three days to solve. So even though this was all mind-numbingly frustrating, I was able to figure it out and fix it. I am not a genius and since neither are you, I trust that you have the abilities to troubleshoot your problems to a solution too.

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2010
10.11

nobody knows everything

So many people are intimidated by web design. I was afforded the luxury of having learned web design in 1994 when the the internet was so very new. A friend taught me a few HTML tags and then I was off to the races. I learned how to FTP files to update my site. I learned basic Photoshop skills. And I “view sourced” like a fiend to find out how to do what other people were doing. Over the years, I’ve picked up more things and I’ve evolved. I’ve gone from HTML to tables to divs/css. I’ve learned my way around some programming languages. I’m still quite the novice at javascript libraries. But the long and the short of it is, I could go back to just using HTML, Photoshop and FTP to still create a decent website for today.

I’ve had over 16 years to become this capable awesome and I still don’t know anything close to everything. I just know what I know and I try to keep learning new things as much as I can. And quite often, I come across somebody that seems to know so much more than I do. However, before I get intimidated, I just remind myself that they don’t know everything either.

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