Why You Need A Website

As a website designer, I am frequently asking people to ask themselves this question – Why do I need a website? The answer obviously varies depending on the person, their business, what type of service or product they are selling, or how they want to be perceived online. Answer these simple questions yourself to see whether you need a new website.

Are you experiencing disappointing sales? Your website might be to blame.

Are your sales up? If you’re looking to continue to grow in 2016, your website could be a great place to start.

Why You Need A Website and Why Your Website Matters

Eighty percent of shoppers start their research online.

This is good news for companies with great websites. Four out of five new customers or clients will head to your website or search for you online. The bad news is that it means that you only have about three seconds to capture their attention.

In the end, all roads lead to your website.

But how can you tell if your current website is good or bad for your business? How do you know if you really need a new website?

Answer the following questions to find out.

Do you have goals for your existing website? Are you exceeding those goals?

The best way to tell whether or not you need to update your website is by looking at your current site’s performance.

If you don’t have any goals, start by deciding if your website is more like a brochure—i.e. a virtual business card for your company—or a sales tool.

For brochure sites, consider using these two goals:

  • Overall traffic
  • Time on site

If your website is a sales tool, consider including these goals:

  • Contact form submissions
  • Leads generated from the internet

Once your goals are set, it’s time to ask the big question:

Is your website reaching the goals you have set?

If the answer is no, or if you’re having trouble deciding your goals in the first place, then it’s probably time for a sit-down with your marketing team or a web professional.

How does your website compare to your competitors’ websites?

Google “[your key product or service] [primary geographic area].” For example,”catering Washington, dc”

catering-dc

Look at the top 10 results. Those companies are your online competition.

Compare your website to theirs. Does it look similar? Does it have the same number of pages? Which site is more modern? Which is the most out of date?

Remember that 80% of people begin researching purchases online. Right now, you’re seeing exactly what those 80% of shoppers see. So think like a new customer. Based on the websites, which company would you choose?

If your competitors’ websites are clear winners over yours and you are unbiased enough to see that, then chances are you are losing out on sales.

How much traffic is coming to your website?

Analyzing website traffic is one of the easiest ways to judge the effectiveness of your website. When considering a new website, take a look at your Google Analytics data as far back as you can. Now answer these simple questions:

  1. What is your total traffic?
  2. Is it trending upward?

Total traffic: Decreasing traffic means that your website is old—and it’s just getting older. This is a clear signal that back when your website was made, it was modern enough to help you generate traffic, but as these factors have changed over the years, your website has not kept pace. Now, traffic is going elsewhere, likely to your competition.

Does your website look good on a smartphone?

Mobile access is booming. You need to make sure your website works on a smartphone.

Without a mobile-optimized website, you could be losing 1 out of every 3 visitors.

Take out your phone and look at your website. Is everything in the right place? Can you read the font? Does everything fit onto the screen? Or did your regular website pop up with fonts and sizes too small to read?

Compare your mobile website to a mobile website like Apple’s to get feel for how a properly optimized website appears.

Do you notice a big difference?

Why You Need a Website – Conclusion

The online world mirrors real life – there are winners and there are losers. Someone has to show up first on Google and someone has to show up last. A new website is an inexpensive way to establish and boost your credibility. If your website is more than 5 years old, it probably needs an update! At Connect4 Consulting, we are happy to provide a free web presence analysis. Just contact us today by emailing gabe@connect4consulting.com or calling 202-236-2968.

Free SEO & Website Analyzers

There are tons of free Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Website Analyzer tools online. Some are better than others. Check out this list:

Don’t Make These E-Commerce WebSite Design Mistakes

It is now easier than ever to create an e-commerce website for your business. E-commerce is attractive because it is relatively inexpensive. You can have a store that is open any time of day or night every day of the year that is available to a truly global market. You don’t have to hire any staff and you don’t even have to print marketing material. You don’t have send out catalogs and you don’t have to pay for call centers.

The problem is that it’s not quite as easy to create a successful e-commerce website as you might initially think. The great news is that every one of the following mistakes is avoidable. In most cases, it is just a matter of advance planning.

Poor Product Information

When shopping in a brick and mortar establishment, you can look and even touch anything you want to buy. You can read the label information and also browse items nearby. This is not as easy when shopping online.

A well designed e-commerce website has to maximize the shopping experience. This starts with product information. Whenever the customer doesn’t know specifics, he/she will try to find that information somewhere else. You will only end up making sales when you have the lowest price.

Customers will want to know materials, dimensions, weight, size and practically everything that is of interest for the possible buyer. As a simple example, if you sell clothes online, you will want to mention colors, sizes and types available, together with a high quality size chart, thickness or weight. Try to always use descriptive words instead of technical terms.

No Contact Information

Clear and visible contact information is paramount. Customers need to know what company they deal with before credit card information is offered. The important thing is demonstrating there is a human being who can actually take care of a problem in the event it appears. In the event that the site does not offer such contact information or it is hidden and the customer cannot easily find it, a sale is less likely to be made.

The contact information must be in an obvious location and visible on all website pages. Make sure that it is in the header, right on the top of the sidebar or in the footer region. If possible, try to offer more contact means like an email address, mailing address, phone number and contact form. That is particularly important in the event that you sell something that is technical by nature.

Confusing Checkout Process

A confusing checkout process is really damaging and can derail any prospect customer. You need to do everything possible to make the checkout process simple and intuitive. If not, customers will give up and shop elsewhere.

The ideal checkout process should include only one page that would allow the consumer to verify the order and then enter shipping and billing information. Then, a confirmation page is necessary so that it is known that the offer was submitted. If you add other steps, you just end up putting obstacles in front of making sales, thus causing lower profits for your company.

In the event that there is a need to include more pages, you have to make them really easy to be filled out and quick. If possible, combine pages whenever you can and use column layouts in order to separate sections on the same page. This makes everything appear shorter.

Make sure that you do not force the interested customers to get an account in order for a sale to be made. When customers have to sign in or create accounts, this is a huge obstacle placed right in front of a sale. Capturing customer information is never as important as actually getting the order completed. You do not want to lose customers and this is exactly what happens in the event that you force the account option.

Bad Site Search Engine

If a customer knows what he is looking for, the search engine will be used instead of going through filters or categories. Try to make sure that your search engine works well and that it includes as many filters as may be necessary in order for results to be refined.

When a search is conducted and many products are returned, as is the case with larger e-commerce websites, making a choice becomes difficult. Contrary to what you may think, this is not a positive thing. Many potential customers simply leave the page as they don’t want to go through all the results.

Your e-commerce website needs to have a very good search engine. Ideally, the user should be able to search based on keywords and the refine the results based on site categories, together with standard criteria like low price, high price, new item, popular item and so on.

Tiny Product Images

Tiny product images won’t help you sell products online. You need to be sure that you either offer a large image or the product page includes a feature that will allow the user to click on images for zooming purposes.

Site visitors need to see a very large image at a high resolution. Get images that would enlarge to a resolution of a minimum of 1024X768 pixels. At the same time, try to offer at least 3-4 images of the product you sell.

Try to offer product images from various camera angles. Also show products in different colors, on the back, the sides, on the front or detailed shots of some of the features that are presented. That will drastically increase the possibility that someone will buy your product.

Inadequate Customer Service Options

Your customer needs to be able to get in touch with you if there is a question of problem. Ecommerce sites that help customers get in touch with them – offering multiple ways of communication as well as a good FAQ section – are successful. An email address is not sufficient.

Only A Few Payment Options Available

So many e-commerce websites only offer MasterCard and Visa. Some only allow customers to pay with the use of PayPal. This is not a good idea because it makes you look cheap, unprofessional, and short-sighted.

Try to use a good payment service, one that will let your consumers to pay with the credit cards, electronic checkout, PayPal and anything else you could offer. When it comes to making an online payment, offering many opportunities builds trust, which is something you need.

No Related Products

Whenever you go to a store, you regularly see items that are similar or used together being grouped together. This makes it really easy for you to buy something else than what you initially wanted or buy more items. The same thing needs to happen online. For instance, if you sell a mobile phone, you may want to include related products like a battery or even a micro USB cable.

Frustrating Navigation

One of the most frustrating things about a poorly designed e-commerce website is not confusing navigation. If your navigation is confusing, without categories or with products that shouldn’t be included in some categories, people will shop elsewhere.

Before you even begin designing your website you need to think about navigation elements and the categories. Every single category needs to include a good number of products.

Conclusion

If you don’t know much about what e-commerce modifications you need to make in order to increase sales, you should seriously consider professional help. The work that a professional can do is always better than what you can do yourself is a good long term investment.

The best e-commerce website is the one that manages to offer a great buying experience. This is the most important thing at the end of the day. You need to actively put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers. See what they would like or what they would hate and fix the bad elements.

2015 Website Design Trends – What’s Hot and What’s Not

Website design is constantly evolving. New trends emerge and old trends disappear and then after a few years old trends sometimes reappear. The two dominant themes for 2015 are going to be mobile and user experience and user interface (UX/UI). The best designers focus on user experience because that’s what matters in the end. Design and style are highly subjective and debatable, but it is the user experience that measures the actual success of a website. Therefore, most of these trends relate to UI/UX.

What’s Hot? Simple, flat design elements.
What’s Not? 3-d graphics, drop shadows

Flat Design

The concepts of flat design are pretty simple; strip the object off any design element which is not 100 per cent purposeful in its function. This includes removing any special shadow effects, 3-D graphics and using only flat shapes, buttons and indicators.

What’s Hot? One website that works on all devices.
What’s Not? Separate mobile sites

Responsive Design

Responsive design is here to stay – it just doesn’t make sense to run dedicated mobile websites anymore.

What’s Hot? Websites with long scrolling pages.
What’s Not? Sites with too much navigation

Endless Scrolling

Example of endless scrolling website

Example of endless scrolling website

It took a while, but long scrolling pages have become the norm because it’s far easier to scroll through a site than clicking on buttons and links. This has been aided by the growth of responsive web design, full-width sites, and the use of white space. This doesn’t mean that endless scrolling is everywhere, but it is typically found on home pages and e-commerce product pages. The most notable example is Apple’s page for its iPhone 6.

What’s Hot? Rich custom background.
What’s Not? Stock image or white background

High Quality Custom Background

Plain stock photography no longer works in website design. Websites want to look unique and need to grab a visitor’s attention. Professional photography that is customized to the website’s theme and purpose ensures that a site is unique. HTML video is also being used as a way to establish a distinct, custom look. Bing’s search engine frequently uses HTML 5 powered video backgrounds.

What’s Hot? Interactive storytelling.
What’s Not? Boring websites

Interactive Storytelling

While great content has always been a requirement for a successful website, in 2015 the best websites will be the ones that can tell and sell content through a story. The best example in this regard is the Tesla Motors Your Questions Answered page. The page uses large images and embedded infographics to answer consumer questions about the cars and their features. This website is a very successful example of all of the best 2015 website design trends.

Your Questions Answered Tesla Motors

What’s Hot? Parallax scrolling.
What’s Not? Non-interactive backgrounds

Parallax Scrolling

Parallax scrolling is a design technique where the background scrolls at a slightly different pace relative to the foreground. This adds some depth to the page and is very popular on magazine style websites.

Conclusion

I think we are going to see iterative developments of 2015 website design trends like flat and responsive design in the coming months with an overall focus on optimizing the user experience for mobile and devices of all sizes.

How Google Indexes Web Pages

Have you ever wondered how Google crawls and indexes web pages? If you haven’t and don’t know, you should. Why? Because knowing how Google indexes web pages will help you understand how to rank better on Google.

First you’ll need some facts.

Google has had a search engine since 1998 and it has the largest database of indexed websites. Google’s database is twice as large as Yahoo or Bing. When you search for something on Google, you’re not actually searching the entire Internet, you’re just accessing Google’s database of indexed websites.

What is Google’s Index?

The Google Index is the list of all the pages and sites that Google has crawled and cached or stored on its servers. When someone performs a search, Google pulls out pages from this data. More than 40 billion web pages are indexed by Google.

Less than 10% of the entire Internet is indexed. That means there are more than 450 billion web pages that are not indexed by Google.

Google uses programs called “Spiders” to index your site.

Spiders have the following characteristics:

  • they browse the web just like people browse the web
  • they move from page to page and link to link
  • they try to find and index every page on the web

This process is called crawling.

Crawls can happen several times a day or once every few months.

Update or change your content regularly and Google will crawl your site more often.

Fun Fact: Google needs more than 1 million servers to crawl the web and deliver search results.

  • Facebook only has 181,000
  • Intel has only 75,000
  • eBay has only 54,000

7 most common reasons Google can’t crawl your pages:

  1. No or incorrectly configured robots.txt file
  2. A badly configured .htaccess file
  3. Badly written title, meta, and author tags
  4. Incorrectly configuring url parameters
  5. Low pagerank
  6. Connectivity or DNS issues
  7. Domains with bad history

How to help Google crawl more pages:

  1. Check out crawl errors and address them
  2. Be careful with Ajax applications
  3. Add a robots.txt file and make sure it’s working
  4. Add a sitemap to your site

We can help you address these four critical steps to make sure you are doing everything you can do to help Google crawl your pages.

Contact us today by emailing gabe@connect4consulting.com or calling 202-236-2968 for more information.

Seven Obsolete SEO Tactics

Search Engine Optimization has changed dramatically over the years and what worked before doesn’t necessarily work anymore. Some of the old tactics you are using may now be a waste of time or money and it’s also possible that some obsolete SEO tactics may actually now harm your search engine ranking.

Obsolete Tactic #1: More Backlinks Means Higher Ranking

Although more backlinks used to mean a higher search engine ranking, this is no longer completely true. These days you’ll notice new sites with few backlinks that rank better than old sites with hundreds of backlinks. What’s going on? Google is prioritizing backlinks – rewarding backlinks that are more relevant. This just shows that you don’t have to focus on backlink quantity. Focus on building highly relevant links that are topical to the content of your website.

Obsolete Tactic #2: SEO is About Writing Keyword-rich Content

If you want to rank for a term like “business loans,” you would need that phrase on your web page, right? That used to be the case, but Google’s algorithm uses latent semantic indexing.

Latent Semantic Indexing is an indexing and retrieval method that uses a mathematical technique called singular value decomposition (SVD) to identify patterns in the relationships between the terms and concepts contained in an unstructured collection of text. LSI is based on the principle that words that are used in the same contexts tend to have similar meanings.

In other words, Google sees the words “corporate loans” as being similar to “business loans”. That means that if you used the word “business” instead of “corporate” you would still rank for both words.

Instead of trying to write keyword-rich content, write content that is user-friendly. If you put your users first and you write what’s best for them, Google will naturally figure out what terms you should rank for and will place you there.

Obsolete Tactic #3: SEO is Just Links, Code, and Content

This is what SEO used to be five years ago. Sites with tons of links, good on-page optimization, and mediocre content ranked really well. That’s not the case anymore.

Sites that rank well are sites that have a large social following. The more popular your site is on the social web, the more eyeballs you will draw to it. And the more people see it, the more backlinks it’ll get.

Check out this great Social Media Tutorial if you want to build your social following yourself.

Obsolete Tactic #4: You Need to Track Your Rankings

Rankings are irrelevant. Sure you want better rankings, but search has changed into a long tail game. Just look at the data: search volume for head terms is down by 8%, and sites are starting to see the majority of their traffic coming from long tail phrases.

The beautiful part about this is that you no longer have to track your rankings. Instead, you need to focus on creating a long tail strategy by using content marketing.

Obsolete Tactic #5: More Pages Means More Traffic

If the pages aren’t high in quality, you won’t rank well. Instead of actually helping you, adding too much content, especially mediocre content, can hurt you.

Google released an update called Panda, which targeted sites with low quality content. Such sites got penalized, and their search traffic dropped.

Don’t create sites with thousands of pages. Focus on creating high quality content.

Obsolete Tactic #6: Higher Rankings Means More Traffic

There is a big misconception in the SEO industry that higher rankings mean more search traffic.

It’s true that more people will see your listing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get more clicks because the keywords you are targeting may not get much search volume. Or your meta tags may not be appealing, which will cause people to not click on your listings.

You can solve this by doing two things:

  1. You need to start using the Keyword Planner tool by Google to find the right keywords to go after.
  2. You need to optimize your click-through rates.

 

Obsolete Tactic #7: You Need A Lot of Text to Rank Well

Until recently, you needed as much as 2,000 words on a page to rank well, but this is changing dramatically. Sites like upworthy.com have very little text but rank well.

This shows that text isn’t the only form of valuable content. Videos and images also do well in the rankings, which is what Upworthy typically uses within its posts.

If you want high rankings, use different types of content to reach this goal. From podcasts to videos and quizzes, there are many possibilities.

Conclusion

Stop wasting your time on obsolete SEO tactics, and start focusing your energy on strategies that will boost your traffic.

Need A New Website? Why Should You Hire A Professional Designer?

There are several companies aggressively pushing their way into the website design field that are targeting people and businesses in need of a new website. If you watch TV, you’ve seen ads for Wix and SquareSpace. These sites offer people affordable and easy to use ways of designing your own site and for some people that’s perfectly fine. However, I’m going to tell you why you should hire a professional website designer.

Top Ten Reasons You Should Hire A Professional Website Designer

1) A professional website designer is going to save you time

By hiring a professional, you get the benefit of hiring a web presence expert who knows successful, efficient ways to create an appealing website for your industry.

2) A professional website designer will make your website unique

It’s 2014 and there are more than a billion websites. Making your website stand out from the crowd is crucial. A professional designer has the ability to create a site that is unique to your business, user-friendly, loads efficiently, and is search engine optimized.

3) A professional website designer will make your site easy to use

Professional web designers design with your visitors in mind. This makes it easy for your visitors to seamlessly navigate the website without getting confused or giving up and leaving the site altogether.

4) A professional website designer will help boost your credibility

By having a professionally designed website it gives your visitor’s confidence in your services. Online competition is strong and first impressions are very important to attract and retain customer.

5) A professional website designer is a communications expert

Professional web designers are experienced in knowing how to communicate your business message. Through the use of colors, web fonts, graphics etc…, a professional website should convey a clear and consistent message that represents your business.

6) A professional website designer will build your site so that it is search engine optimized

Having a website is one thing, having a website that can be found is another. A professional designer and website developer will know how to design your site so that it is SEO friendly.

7) A professional website designer will build you a website that doesn’t look home-made

Do a quick search online and you will quickly be able to decipher between a home-made web site and a professionally designed website. Your customers and clients will know the difference too. By having a professionally designed website it conveys to your customers a sense of security about your services.

8) A professional website designer will make your business the online expert in your industry

A professional designer knows how to portray your business as the online industry expert in your field. A good professional web designer will suggest resources, online material, articles and web content that will make your company look stand out in your business niche.

9) A professional website designer will help you convey that your business is trustworthy

A good website designer knows ways to convey your trustworthiness through the use of images or text in the design. This lets your website visitors know there is a real human on the other side that is worthy of doing business with.

10) You have a business to run

Hiring a professional website designer to create, launch, and manage your website will allow you to focus on what matters most – growing your business. You’re probably already responsible for every aspect of your business, from sales and marketing to the everyday administrative duties like payroll, etc., especially if you are small. Do you really need to focus your time and energy on creating your website?  Let an expert handle that for you to ensure that your site is one that will give you the most competitive edge in the marketplace and which reflects the best image possible to potential customers.

Make Your Website’s First Sentence Count

Ten seconds is about how long you have to convince the average visitor to your website to stick around. That is just about long enough to read one sentence — so it better be a good one.

Visitors Make Snap Judgments

Microsoft recently published research showing that website visitors make rapid decisions about whether to stay or go.

Basically, visitors are most likely to leave during the first 10 seconds. If a visitor sticks around for about 30 seconds, they are likely to stay and read more. In other words, you have about 10 seconds to convince someone to keep reading or click over to another page on your website (which resets the stopwatch).

Your Website’s First 10 Seconds

Open the stopwatch on your phone and go to your website. Don’t look at it yet, though. Pretend you are visiting your website for the first time — or even better, find someone who has never seen your website and look over their shoulder. Start the stopwatch as soon as you open your eyes (or just hide your website under a blank browser tab until you are ready to start the stopwatch). At 10 seconds, stop, and make a note of how far you got.

Did you come across anything interesting enough to click on get you to keep reading during that 10 seconds?

If not, it’s time to go to work on your website.

The First Sentence

If you want the majority of visitors to your website to stay, the first sentence better be a good one. That is true whether the first sentence is a tagline, a text overlay on your header image, or the first sentence in a block of copy. And if your first sentence is so buried that it takes longer than 10 seconds to get to it, make sure that what visitors can see in 10 seconds is pretty awesome, or else it is time to redesign your website.

It’s important to note that it is not just the first sentence on your website’s front page. You never know where someone may land when they come to your website – so their first page may not necessarily be the home page. The first sentence on every page matters.

Unfortunately, there is no formula for the perfect first sentence, but I like Matt Homann’s “Haiku of What You Do”:

Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

Here is an example:

I help small business owners
market their business online using new technology
so they can sleep better.

The Haiku of What You Do is a good approach because it answers one of the main things a potential client visiting your website for the first time probably wants to know: whether you can help them. Few websites do a good job of answering this simple question. Instead, they tend to be all about how great the company is and what services are provided.

The main thing to remember, is that your website isn’t about you — it’s about your prospective clients. Keep that in mind when writing copy for it. Focus on helping visitors to your website figure out if you can help them. Don’t just write about yourself.

Write Like a Normal Person

Find a sixth grader to read your website out loud.

Remove the jargon. For example, words commonly used to describe types of law practices, like boutique and virtual, are meaningless to most people. Irrelevant, too, for the most part. Stock business-website phrases like innovativecompassionate, and aggressive are equally meaningless and irrelevant, as well as a bit cliche.

To figure out if you are writing like a normal person, read your website copy out loud. Better yet, find a sixth grader to read it out loud. If he or she stumbles on any of the words or giggles when saying them, use different words. Or try reading it out loud yourself when you are exhausted and bleary-eyed after a long day. Because your first sentence needs to be totally obvious to someone surfing the web half-asleep at midnight.

Make Those 10 Seconds Count

No matter what you come up with, go back to the Haiku Of What You Do exercise above, after you think you have got your first sentence just right. Now do you think you would click a link to another page on your website or keep reading? When you can confidently answer yes, you can call the job done.

To see whether it worked, keep an eye on your website’s bounce rate and time on site over the next month or so. If your new first sentence was an improvement, the bounce rate should go down or the time on site should go up, or both.

Comment Spam: What Is It and How To Control It?

If you have a blog or WordPress site, chances are you have encountered comment spam. Unfortunately, the more popular your blog becomes, the more spam it is likely to get. There is nothing more frustrating than having to spend time moderating your comments to determine which ones are spam and which ones are legitimate. The good news is that this unethical approach to search engine optimization is used less and less frequently thanks to Google cracking down on the process and not rewarding fake links.

In today’s post, we are going to look at:

  • How to identify spam.
  • Settings and plugins you can use in the base WordPress comment system to help moderate spam.

Comments, Trackbacks, and Pingbacks

Before we go any further we need to define a few terms that are related to blog comments.

  • Comments – Comments are created when someone uses the comment form on your blog post to engage with your content.
  • Pingbacks – Pingbacks are automatically created when someone links to your blog post from one of their blog posts.
  • Trackbacks – Trackbacks are manual notifications by one blogger that they have linked to your blog post within theirs. Pingbacks were created to automate this process.

WordPress refers to Trackbacks and Pingbacks as Pings when you attempt to filter your comments.

 

You can recognize the difference between the two visually like this. Comments will have the comment author’s name, email address, optional website link, and IP address listed along with their comment.

 

Trackbacks and pingbacks (Pings) will only have the title of a blog post, a link, and an excerpt from the external blog post as the comment.

 

Unfortunately, comments, trackbacks, and pingbacks are all used frequently as spam. There are ways to even automate the spamming process which adds to the problem. So let’s look at some ways to identify spam.

Why Comment Spam Is Harmful

Some people, in an attempt to inflate their number of comments, will approve comments that they know are not legitimate. Why is this bad? Consider these things:

  • Google is cracking down on bad links. This doesn’t just include sites that buy bad links, it also includes sites that allow bad links. The last thing you want is Google to think that you are allowing bad links on your website, even if they are just in your comments.
  • Comment spam shows lack of moderation. Imagine that you’re buying a home and you drive through a neighborhood and there’s a house that’s unkempt at totally overgrown in weeds. That’s the impression you are giving to your visitors if your blog posts are littered with comment spam – that no one is actively taking care of it.
  • Your readers might lose faith in you. What if one of your readers clicks on a comment link and is taken to a site they don’t want to be. If you wouldn’t link to a viagra website in your own website, you shouldn’t let a commenter link to one either.

How to Identify Spam

How do you know whether a comment on your blog is spam or legitimate? This is tough and it’s really up to you. Some blog owners will read every comment and consider it legit if the comment shows that the reader actually read the post. Other blog owners will dismiss a comment as spam based on the fact that the link does not match the same industry as their blog. Here are some questions you can answer when looking at a comment that will help you determine whether or not you should approve it to go live on your blog.

  • Is the author using a real name or a bunch of keywords? The use of keywords in a name in a comment field without first or last name is always the sign of an SEO spammer.
  • Would I want my blog readers to click on the comment author’s link? If the answer is no, don’t approve the comment.
  • Is the comment specific, or could it apply to any blog post? 
  • Has the same comment author been using several different email and website addresses? If John Doe comments one day linking to an outdoor store and then the next day linking to an automobile supply store, you know it’s spam.
  • Does the comment author use a legitimate email address? If you see someone commenting using an email address like email@email.com then chances are it’s spam.

Settings to Control Comment Spam

WordPress has some basic settings that you should use to control comment spam.

Moderate Comments from First Time Comment Authors

Not only will this prevent your blog from becoming a spamfest, but it will also allow people who have been approved once to be approved for future comments, leaving less to moderate. Comment authors who change the way they enter their name, email address, or website link will be placed into moderation again. This keeps someone from being approved once with a good website link from coming in and using one you would not approve of in future comments.

To hold a first time commenter author in moderation, go to your WordPress dashboard > Settings > Discussion. Under the Before a Comment Appears section, check the box for comment author must have previously approved comment. Make sure the checkbox above it for an administrator must always approve the comment is unchecked.

Turn Off Trackbacks

Trackback spam is sometimes worse than comment spam. So you have to consider whether or not having it on is even necessary. You can still find out who is linking to your blog by looking at the Incoming Links portion of your WordPress dashboard.

Turn Off Comments After 30 or 60 Days

People who comment for link building purposes (SEO spammers) typically look for blog posts with high PageRank – Google’s 1 – 10 scoring of authority. Typically, blog posts start out at a PageRank of 0 and only gain PageRank after a few months. This means that SEO spammers are going to be targeting your older blog posts.

Typically, the height of popularity for a blog post is within the first two weeks. That will also be when you get the majority of your comments (unless you don’t update your blog that often). Hence, if you close blog comments after 30 – 60 days based on your preference, you will have a lot less comments to moderate.

Plugins to Control Spam

At Connect4, our WordPress sites all come with the Akismet comment spam plugin installed. It filters all comments and acts like a junk email filter for WordPress comments. It is not perfect, however, and you still have to moderate the process and approve some comments identified by Akismet as junk, but it is far better than not having any plugin to control comment spam.

 

Terrible Web Design Trends and How to Stop Them

From LiveStrong yellow wristbands to Planking, the power of trends is undeniable. In our digital age dominated by social media and audiences with ever-shortening attention spans, these rapidly changing trends extend to web design as well. Continuously developing design and development technologies means that web design trends come and go quickly. While it might be cool to be an early-adopter, it certainly doesn’t pay to be a late-adopter or you will be left with a website with one of the following five terrible web design trends. Thankfully, most of these are not that common anymore.

Splash Pages

We’ve all seen a site that loads with sliding photography, blinking status bars, and a cacophony of visual excess. The thought behind a splash page is “Watch this long ‘short intro’ video to discover how awesome our website is!”

Hoping for a strong first impression, websites that adopt this practice of showing a splash page definitely make an impact. Unfortunately, it’s usually an overly negative one.

Splash pages waste time and delay people from accessing the real website content. Site users just flock to the “click to skip” link, or, in some cases, can’t even find it and decide to leave instead of waiting.

Conclusion:

A good homepage, information architecture (how the information is organized), and content strategy are all you need. Don’t waste precious time by showing users pointless filler content.

Web 2.0 Design

Rounded corners, reflections, drop shadows and gradients say one thing: 2005. As the Internet moves toward a flatter, harder-edged aesthetic, don’t let your site get stuck with an outdated look.

These days, dimensionality and drop-shadowing look soft and tentative. Skeuomorphism for skeuomorphism sake doesn’t really accomplish anything, other than potentially confusing your viewer with an over-complicated design. You can do better. Simplify your designs to make your interfaces more user-friendly and to improve UX.

Conclusion:

With major tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and others going flat, the reality is that this is what users will come to expect.

Stock Photos

Good stock photos don’t actually look like a stock photo, but they can be prohibitively expensive. So, instead, we are often shown cold, lifeless fake photos of people.

Conclusion:

Use stock photography sparingly. If photos are needed on your website, try and take them yourself. If this is not an option, be very selective with your stock photography. Make sure that adding the photo is actually going to improve the look of your site instead of making it look like a joke.

MySpace-ification

Thankfully we don’t see this too often anymore, but in the mid-2000s, internet-savvy users were defined by the amount of personalization in their MySpace profiles. Unfortunately some web designers picked up on this trend, over-designing sites to the point of complete chaos.

Conclusion:

This one is simple. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Flash Sites

The strength of Flash is also its weakness. Though animations and movement definitely grab attention and can enhance the look of your site, they are also incompatible with many Web devices (all Apple products).

What good is a large amount of visually-stimulating content if many of your users can’t even see it?

With the maturation of CSS3 transitions and HTML5 standards, it is now possible to create impressive animated sites without the use of proprietary, closed-source software.

Conclusion:

It’s time to stop relying on Flash and get on board HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript which accomplish many of the same things as Flash with less compatibility and performance issues.

Background Music

Some web designers want to engage their viewers’ senses, so they add some tunes to help build a connection. If you’re considering this, keep in mind two things: 1) some of your viewers have their sound muted and will thus miss out on your awesome jams, and 2) those that do have the sound on are likely listening to something else or looking to hear something specific.

Not to mention the potential issues with site loading speed, licensing, user experience, etc.

Conclusion:

Unless you’re a DJ company or a radio station, please skip the urge to add music to your site.

Popup Windows

I think we have all experienced the frustration of loading a webpage and immediately being bombarded with a trillion unclosable pop-up windows. It truly harms our experience on the site and makes us wary of coming back.

Unfortunately, today, popup windows are being reincarnated in the form of modal window overlays that open automatically and interrupt our reading experience. Check out Tab Closed; Didn’t Read to see a showcase of disruptive window overlays.

Conclusion:

Ads are a part of life, and they’re an important way for many sites to generate revenue. That being said, no one likes an ad that’s overly disruptive. If you’re going to use popups, use them sparingly, strategically, make sure they can be closed and don’t cover the entire screen.

Like any trend, what’s popular in web design comes and goes quite quickly. If you have a robust development and design team, incorporating current trends can make your site look fresh and relevant.

Just remember that trends have a shelf-life, and be prepared when it’s time to make a change. What’s hot right now could soon go the way of sparkly mouse pointers and site visitor counters.

For those who are more risk-averse (or strapped for time or by budget), it’s best to focus on more mainstream design ideas that will always look professional and be effective.