Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is Web Design Now Too Easy?

The practice of designing a website has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. Since web design is all about technology, it is no surprise that technology is driving the change. Here are some of the factors to consider:

1. Open Source Content Management Systems (CMS)

I'm primarily talking about Wordpress here, and to a lesser extent Joomla. The learning curve for Wordpress is so shallow that someone with no background or training in web design can put up a professional-looking website in an afternoon. Here's how:
  1. Open a cheap web hosting account on a site like Hostmonster. You get a free domain name too.
  2. Go into the script library and do a one click install of Wordpress.
  3. From inside the Wordpress dashboard, install the template of your choice, or purchase a professional template for under $100.
  4. Start creating pages or blog posts, uploading images, and typing in content.
2. Website Creation Platforms 

Website Creation Platforms such as Wix or Squarespace require even less knowledge than Wordpress!

3. The Information Super Highway

Also called the Internet, Internets, Interwebs, The Al Gore-Net. Information about Web Design and SEO is so easily available, that is may appear you have everything you need to know to launch a successful business website at your fingertips. Who needs school?

Sounds great, right?

Here are the hidden problems:

1. Ease of Use is Hard

Websites are not only a visual medium, but an interactive one. Websites that look really pretty, may  catastrophically fail in usability and reaching their business goals. Websites that are great in the business sense, may not be the slickest looking things on the block. 

Believe it or not, people go to college to learn this stuff.  Business owners, who generally do not have an education in Web Design, will fixate on visual appearance within the narrow scope of their personal taste when engaged in a Web Design project. If they are lucky enough to have an educated and experience designer working for them, the may come out alright. If they choose a teenager who builds Wordpress sites after school, they are in trouble. The site will probably fail, and they will never understand why.

2. Web Designers Need to Pay Their Dues

If you can pop up a website in an afternoon with no coding or art and design skills, there is little incentive to buckle down and learn what goes on behind the scenes and why. Easy to use Web software has made the barrier to entry so low, that anyone with basic computer skill can put up a website, get some cards printed at vistaprint, and set up shop as a Web Designer. If they have the gift of gab, people will likely hire them, until the project fails to the extent that they can't talk their way out of. 

3. The Information Super Highway isn't Always so Super

There are so many websites and blogs posting information of varying quality and accuracy, if you don't have a basic formal education in the field you are researching, there is no way to filter the good information from the bad. You can spend months building up the illusion that you have gained a firm grasp on a subject, only to find out that you have been dwelling in the realm of BS, and everything you thought you knew is wrong.


Because of the low barrier to entry in the Web Design field, it is imperative that you do your research before hiring a person or agency to design your website.

1. Know what you need. 

This is of utmost importance. If you don't know what you need in a website, you won't know what to look for in a web designer. Read these tips of preparing for your web design project.

2. Actually check references

Was the person or agency fair and easy to work with? Were there a lot of hidden costs? How did the project turn out? Were business goals met? This information is much more important than a pretty looking portfolio.

3. Check reviews.

Everyone should know that good, five star reviews posted online are just as easily fake as they are genuine. By the same token, bad reviews, may just be written by a crank, someone with unrealistic or unreasonable expectations, or someone trying to blackmail the business. Even so, if a business has a lot of bad reviews, it can be a sign to stay away.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Google's July 2013 "Multi-Week" Algorithm Update - PMDs and EMDs Lose

PMDs (partial match domains) and EMDs (exact match domains) have been a popular way for SEOs  to optimize websites for a narrow range of target keywords.

EMDs have the strongest influence. If the keyword match is not "exact" however, the influence of the domain in the equation, and the corresponding rank in the search, drops off quickly. Example of an EMD: ""

PMDs have less of an effect, and I would go as far to say that they are only of significant value in searches that aren't really competitive. An example of a PMD would be "" where "Four Star" would typically be the business name or brand. 

Well, the effect of both of these types of domains has apparently been downgraded by Google recently.

Here's an excerpt from a Moz post

Google's "Multi-Week" Algorithm Update - Moz: In my post on the June 25th temperature spike, I reported a noticeable single-day drop in partial-match domain (PMD) influence. That post happened very early in the multi-week update, so let's look at the PMD influence data across a 30-day time period that includes all of the high-temperature days:

While there was a lot of movement during this period, you can see that PMDs recovered some of their initial losses around July 4th. The overall trend is downward, but the June 25th drop doesn't appear to have been permanent.

It's interesting to note, even if not directly relevant to this analysis, that the long-term trend for PMD influence in our data is still decidedly downward. Here's a graph back to the beginning of 2013:

Because PMDs are more easily obtained than EMDs (who else would want they are more widely used and tend to be of lower quality. A spammer can buy a bunch, and in theory get some long tail traffic. I think the trend will continue to downgrade the effect of these domains, particularly on sites that lack the other signals of a quality site.

My own experience is that EMDs I am watching actually got a boost and the beginning of July, but have settled out to about where they had been before. The same Moz article shows a downward decline in ranking for these domains over time as well, which is not surprising. Any SEO tactic that Google knows about will be penalized. It will be penalized, however, in a way that is weighted towards the success of big sites and brands, and to the failure of smaller sites and businesses.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why Comment Spam Happens on Nofollow Blogs

I just found a great explanation of why low-quality link builders persist at spamming blogs with useless comments. The brief explanation was actually part of a longer comment on another blog post complaining about Black-hat SEO techniques. Although not confirmed by my personal experience, the explanation makes a lot of sense.

By way of explanation, the nofollow attribute in a link keeps Google from counting that link as a backlink to your website. Almost all blogs automatically attribute links in their comments with nofollow. Since gaining links on other Websites to yours (link building) is done for the purpose of having Google count those links as backlinks, nofollow blog comment links seem useless for SEO.

As the comment cited above pointed out, these cheap links ARE useless for SEO. Their real purpose is to confuse competitors trying to determine where the real link juice is coming from. Another benefit of this spammy link building is that it makes the link profile of the website look more natural to Google. A steady stream of garbage links smooths out the linking profile.

Beware though. Small players could really get burned if they try using this technique themselves. Without the real strong links that the big guys have, all these garbage links can do a lot of harm and no good.

Blog comments, link exchanges and low quality link directories are the mainstays of offshore, cheap link building operations. If you've ever used Yahoo Site Explorer to take a peek at a high ranking websites inlinks, you know how much garbage there is to sift through to find a good link. If you have a blog, you know the volume of obvious spam comments that are submitted daily.

So, although spam blog comments are a major annoyance to bloggers, and an enigma to SEOs, they will persist as long as they are useful to the big players in keeping their link building process a secret.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Las Positas College - Visual Communications Program | Pleasanton Web Site Design

Want to be a Web Designer? Check out this great community college program in the East Bay Area. Perfect for students living in the Tri-Valley - Pleasanton, Dublin or Livermore. Not a huge commute from Fremont either!

Las Positas College - Visual Communications Program Pleasanton Web Site Design

Monday, May 17, 2010

Breezing Forms for Joomla: Captcha Image Sucks

If you've used Joomla for websites that require custom forms, you've probably heard about Breezing Forms, or it's predecessor, Facile Forms. Breezing forms is the best Joomla component you can use for custom forms, in my opinion, but it is not without it's flaws. The programmer, however usually addresses bugs pretty quickly, and is available to help with problems that come up.

When I upgraded to a new version, 1.65 I think, I was dismayed to see the huge, red and blue captcha image in a big bubbly font. The old captcha image was small and could fit onto compact forms, worked into webpage content to increase conversion. Now the captcha image itself was about 1/2 the size of many of my forms!

Luckily, this is something that you can configure. There's a file available just for that purpose:
Open up the file you'll see well commented parameters that allow you to change the size, distortion, font, font color, number of characters, and background of the Breezing Forms captcha image.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Microsoft Advertising Intelligence Tool

Ready for the coolest new SEO tool that you've never heard of? Try out Microsoft Advertising Intelligence (formerly Microsoft AdCenter Add-in for Excel). Like all the great free SEO tools, it has been developed to aid in the use of a search engine's PPC program. It is still very valuable for organic SEO.

Here's what you need:
  • Microsoft Excel 2007
  • A MS AdCenter account
Just install it (with Excel closed), start up Excel and you'll see a new tab with a ton of functions that will make any SEO geek smile. But, I won't spoil the surprise. Download it now and get started!