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Straightforward design, marketing and technical advice for making your website more efficient and productive.

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How to Save Money on Our Web Development & Design Services

April 1st, 2014

Save MoneyIt may seem strange for a Web development company to provide guidelines for how its customers can spend less with us, but really it’s not from our perspective. We believe applying the golden rule not only benefits our customers but also us in the long run. We might make less money in the short term, but we gain the more valuable benefits of building trust with our clients and playing a small part to insure their long-term success. Such clients will spend more with us over time and become invaluable sources of quality referrals which is how a vast majority of our new business come to us.

So, with that preamble, here are a couple easy ways to reduce your Web development, technical service and graphic design costs:

Maximize the value of each change request

Like almost all Web development and design firms, we have a minimum  charge for any job of one hour . This is due to the fact that to switch to a new client’s project, for even a small amount of work, compromises the efficiency of our day’s work flow and imposes an opportunity cost. We have to transition from another project, “retool”, login to appropriate accounts, backup data before changes, post changes, often test the changes (for example in different browsers) then communicate back to the client regarding the work.

The key for clients to realize is that once we have initiated a change request, the incremental cost is much lower for us doing other small changes while we’re already working within a client’s account. For example take a client who sends over three Website content change requests during a week. Each change may take 10 minutes of actual coding, but if they send those requests at three different times they would get billed 3 hours. If they save those requests and send them all at once they would only get billed for 1 hour or 66% less.

This strategy of course has the most dramatic effect for small changes that are not extremely urgent, and can most commonly be applied for changes for Website content. So if you find yourself with numerous small changes throughout the month, simply try holding them in an Outlook folder or whatever and sending them in groups.

Save 15% by prepaying

We offer prepaid hours with a 15% discount off our standard rates. There is no minimum quantity, you can use them immediately, they never expire and unused hours are 100% refundable. You can also track your prepaid balance real-time through our online client portal.

Save up to 40% through our retainer plans

For any client who regularly gets at least twenty hours of service from us a month you will save a significant amount of money through our flat-rate retainer. Not only do you receive a substantial discount on the number of hours in your plan, you are also entitled to a discount on additional hours each month if you should need them. Flat-rate retainers are paid in advance of each month. Additional hours are billed at a discounted rate of your hourly retainer rate + 20% and payable net 15. Unused hours in flat rate plans are not refundable nor carried over to the next month. Retainers automatically renew but can be canceled at any time. If you have any questions or would like us to personally review your ongoing service needs and provide recommendations please feel free to contact us by phone at 208.475.3192 or through our online contact form.

PowerPoint Background Design Pointer . . . Less is More

March 13th, 2014

Some great advice from the design sage John McWade from Before & After Magazine

Branding with Authenticity and Emotion

February 7th, 2014

Wow, this is such a powerful ad from Google Chrome. This branding campaign is a great example of taking a cold technical product like a Web browser and powerfully connecting with prospects and customers. Take a look at how Google uses authenticity and emotion to take a cold product and create a unique and lasting impression of the real benefit of their product.

How to change DNS, a checklist

January 4th, 2014

Before Authorizing Your Domain’s DNS/ Name Server Change

  1. Back up your email. We strongly recommend you install a POP email client on your local PC or Mac and download all the emails from your existing account before a service transfer. If you use a POP client like MS Outlook this means that copies of your emails are stored on your local PC or Mac. If you manage all your email using a Web Mail application this means that all your email and email folders are stored on your current Web server. Be aware that when a DNS change is complete all those emails and folders in your Web mail account will be irrevocably lost during the change process. If you do use Web based mail, please insure that you download any emails or folders you wish preserved. One option is to download your email from your Web account using a POP client like MS Outlook or Apple Mail. If you don’t have a POP client Mozilla Thunderbird can be downloaded here for no charge.
  2. Insure that your existing email accounts (e.g. myname@mydomain.com) are set up on your new mail servers prior to the DNS change so that as soon as the change is complete your emails will be received by your new mail server.
  3. If applicable, insure that you have the Website you want to be displayed at your domain installed and ready on your new hosting account.
  4. Understand that while most DNS changes are completed within 24 hours they can take longer (as explained in more detail below).
  5. Understand that while most DNS changes result in no or nominal interruptions in your Website access and email service they can result in interruptions that last longer (explained in more detail below).
  6. Understand that when the DNS changes are submitted, the process is completely in the hands of the top-level domain registers and numerous backbone and secondary DNS servers and there is nothing that can be done to speed up the process once changes are submitted.


Understanding What Happens During and After DNS / Name Server Changes

Initiating this DNS change with a domain register may affect the hosting, DNS servers, and email servers associated your domain. This means that when the transfer process is complete:

1. When your domain name is entered in a browser, it will display the Website installed at on your new hosting account; the content of your old hosting account will not be displayed or accessible using your domain name. If you have an active site at your domain, this means prior to authorizing this DNS change you must insure that your new hosting server displays the site you want your visitors to see. This of course does not apply if you currently are not displaying a Website at your domain.

2. When someone sends you an email, that email will be routed to a new mail server; the content of your old mail server will no longer be accessible. This means that you can only retrieve your domain’s email by going to the new URL we provide for Web mail and, if using MS Outlook or another POP client, by entering the new account information (such as your POP and SMTP server addresses) provided by us or your new service provider.

When a DNS change is submitted, typically the changes take place within 24 hours; meaning that the Website (if applicable) on your new hosting account appears when your domain is entered in a Web browser and you view and send email using your new accounts mail settings. While 24 hours is typical, there is no set or guaranteed time frame the changes will be finalized. The changes can take a number of days and, very infrequently, up to 7 days to complete.

Please be aware that once the DNS changes are submitted with your current DNS service provider, the process is completely in the hands of third parties and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to expedite the change process (called propagation). DNS propagation is a complex process of updating top-level index records, International Root Name Servers, ISP’s, Internet Backbone Service Providers and even the internal routers or servers of your own company (if applicable).

As stated, the vast majority of DNS name changes are complete within 24 hours or less. However, you must understand and accept the possibility that your domain name server change may take longer.

Potential Temporary Service Interruptions During a DNS / Name Server Change Process

Website
Typically, DNS changes occur sooner rather than later and provide a seamless and often transparent transition for site users. If the Website installed on your new hosting account prior to the DNS change is an exact duplication of the site on your old hosting account, it’s likely your site visitors will never know any changes have taken place. However, it is not uncommon for a period of seemingly odd or unpredictable behavior to occur during the change process, such as your site not appearing, your new site appearing then reverting back to your old site, etc. If this occurs it is temporary and is manifesting only because of the series of complex record changes that are taking place behind the scene.

Email
For email, you will know your DNS change is complete (or nearly complete) when you find your current POP client or Web mail settings no longer work. You will then use your new email server access instructions and soon be able to send and view email using your same email address associated with your domain (note: new accounts with matching addresses have to be manually set up on your new mail servers first). With Email, even in best case scenarios, there is often a brief period (usually a few hours) when your email address will not work and those who send email to your address may get it returned.

If any of these behaviors are experienced with your Website and Email, they may manifest sporadically during the update process, which as mentioned before is typically lasts 24 hours or less but can take longer.

Frappe Free Web Design

December 11th, 2013

One of the biggest ROI killing design blunders for any product or publication is over complexity, and Websites seem to be one of the most common offenders.

The term usability is used in Web design jargon as the attribute of how easily understandable and navigable a site is, and how readily it meets its target visitors’ needs. Almost without exception, each of the millions of Web sites in cyberspace are designed for very specific tasks for a narrowly defined group of people.

Osterizer GalaxieYour primary goal as a site owner is to provide a completely intuitive experience for your visiting prospects. In spite of this obvious goal often simplicity becomes lost in unnecessary clutter. When this happens visitors become confused and confused visitors, according to research, tend to make a hasty retreat.

I ran across a great example of usability in design recently when my ancient Osterizer Galaxie Blender broke. While it had provided many years of satisfactory service, it was always a source of mystery and anxiety to me. I just needed it to perform one simple task—blend. But each time I went to use it I had to wonder at all the buttons on the front:

Chop (Off) – Grate (Off) – Grind (Off) – Stir – Puree – Whip – Mix – Blend – Frappe – Liquefy

Am I doing this wrong? Should I be Puree’ing or Frappé’ing this protein shake. And does it matter which off button I push, why are there three? Just for good measure, I would randomly use all the buttons on different
occasions—all with no noticeable difference to my concoction.

Osterizer BeehiveIn browsing for a replacement, I came across the polar opposite of the Osterizer  Galaxie—the Oster Classic Beehive. There’s just one switch on the whole thing and that tne switch does just what I need without having to stop and think about which button to push and why.

While blenders and Web sites don’t have much in common, the design principle illustrated by Osterizer’s two extremes make great litmus tests for the usability of our own sites.

Now the Beehive looks much cooler than my old Galaxie, I no longer have to hide my blender from guests come over. But the most important thing about well designed
products or Web sites is not looks (although good design naturally lends itself to better aesthetics) it’s about making the value you offer clear and easy to implement.

I mentioned Steve Krug probably too much, but I know of no who does a better job of explaining the foundational principles of usability and helping people really “get” what it takes (and doesn’t take) to create an effective revenue producing Web site. If you’re the owner, manager, or administrator of a site I implore you to get your hands on a copy of his classic book, Don’t Make Me Thinklink opens in new window.

Best Practices – Facebook Marketing

December 2nd, 2013

VerticalResponse has one of the best condensations of how to manage your business’ Facebook page that I’ve seen. If your business has a Facebook page I strongly recommend checking it out. Looking for someone to manage your Facebook branding, marketing and posts?  Let us know, we can work with you to develop and manage your online, social media and email marketing.

Courtesy of: VerticalResponse

 

Design tells the world who and how relevant we are

November 26th, 2013

A design article entitled Oh, the logo by committee over at the Before & After Website is worth checking out. A few key quotes:

“Design looks easier than it is, and it’s more important than it looks. . . Design is us and it is personal. How something looks tells the world who and how we are.”

“When Steve Jobs started his Next computer company, his first act — before he had a building, before he had employees, before he had a product — was to pay Paul Rand $100,000 to design a logo. And Rand’s black cube gave Next its sleek identity.”

“NBC once paid a designer a million dollars to design an N.”

Read the whole article here.

Emailing Groups – The Right Way

November 9th, 2013

Are you aware that how you send emails to your customers can dramatically affect the viability of your entire business? In the most extreme cases emailing to customers the wrong way can result in your entire domain being frozen or shut down.

While a successful email marketing strategy involves much more, there are a few basics that you must adhere too to protect the good name of your business and prevent potentially serious problems with your company’s ability to deliver emails of all types to vendors, clients and customers.

1. Never send to large groups using Outlook or Webmail!

Have you ever logged into your individual email account and sent an email to a group of customers by adding them all to the bcc field? Or have you ever taken a larger list of customer email address and broken them up into smaller sequential emails?

Because of the prevalence of spam, email service providers and ISP’s closely monitor emails sent to multiple addressees as well as the frequency in which they’re sent. ISP’s and service providers tend to be overly cautious and favor erring on the side of preventing potential spam. Therefore  they are likely to flag your email/domain as potential spam when they see this type of group sending activity. In some cases I’ve seen email service suspended as a warning for 24 hours if too many such emails are sent, and, in extreme cases, the Website and email for your domain can be shut down.  This threat exists when sending through an individual account no matter how legitimate the email is and how much your recipients want to receive it.

The best alternative is to utilize one of the large 3rd party email marketing companies, namely VerticalResponse or Constant Contact. They send millions of emails each month and have the ability, because of their size and volume, to safeguard that your domain name does not get associated with spam. Not only will your domain name be protected, for their nominal cost, there are many other advantages such as tracking and the ability to have have a custom HTML email design developed for your brand.

2. Never buy lists of email addresses from 3rd parties!

There is a good reason why Constant Contact and Vertical Response do not allow the use of third party email lists . . . they are often not poor quality in terms of relevancy, they tend to result in a much higher rate being marked for spam by recipients (thus potentially blacklisting your domain) and most importantly there is no way to verify that these lists were obtained legally. In short, they present a very high risk of damage to your domain name and the deliverablity of all your company’s email . . . just don’t do it!  For more information on this topic and insight about best practice email marketing visit Word to the Wise or Deliverability.com; both great sites about email, delivery and spam.

There are of course legitimate ways to collect addresses for your email  marketing—you can start with this these 29 Ways to Collect Email Addresses for Your Business provided by VerticalResponse.

3. Comply with the CAN-SPAM Act on all your marketing related emails (It’s not hard).

While admittedly The FTC is not overly aggressive in prosecuting, the fact remains that each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. This should serve as good motivation to adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Tell recipients where you’re located.
  4. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
  5. Honor opt-out requests promptly.
  6. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

For full details on these email guidelines, see the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Facts for Business.

Why We Don’t (Usually) Like Responsive Website Design

October 27th, 2013

First, for those of you who might not be aware, Responsive Web Design means creating a website that retains the same code and content but adjusts for whatever device might be viewing it. In other words, it’s a one Website fits all users approach. While it is great in concept it is not a practical solution, in our and other developers opinions, for most corporate Websites.

Website Magazine just published, Responsive Design: Not So Simple, a superb article on the significant limitations of responsive design. As the article alludes to, the problem with responsive Web designs is that they try to be be all things to all users . . . from a user on a 27 iMac screen to a a smart phone user . . . and in doing so it compromises the quality and control of all. As they state, “Different features are more appropriate for different devices.”

Rather than a responsive design, we typically advocate for our clients is developing a parallel dedicated mobile framework that works in conjunction with their primary site.  There are some cases however where a responsive design might make sense . . . for example on a microsite.

If you’re debating whether your business should implement a new project using a responsive design please read Website Magazine’s article or contact us for more discussion on the topic.

 

Do you know who controls your business’ domain?

October 9th, 2013

Where is your company’s domain registered and when does it expire? If you’re like many executives and managers you have no idea. How do I know? I talk to them all the time.

Here’s a typical scenario: ten years ago your company launched a web site…no one in-house knew where to start so
the person who claimed to know how to program their VCR was given the task of registering a domain for the company. This person registered the domain but used their name, address, and hotmail account. What’s more this individual may no longer even be employed by the company, probably could care less, and hopefully is not disgruntled with their former employer.

What would be the consequences to your business if your Website was suddenly gone and all your company email accounts ceased working or now featured a spam site (or worse)? Does this sound crazy? While this scenarios might be on the extreme, you are guaranteed some degree of misery and loss if you let your registration lapse.

If you are not immediately and unquestionably certain where your domain is registered, and more importantly to whom your domain is legally registered, stop everything right now and get it fixed!

Here’s how:

  • Access the Whois public database and enter your domain name. Assuming your domain does not have a private registration, look through the list of information and find the following:
  • Registrant Name: If this is not your name or the company’s name you’re at risk.
  • Admin Name: Do you know this person? Do you trust this person with your entire business? Your domain needs to be registered under a name of a corporate officer, owners or executives—not an employee. All it takes is one disgruntled employee to reek havoc on your business.
  • If you need help registering, renewing, or transferring a domain name please visit https://virsafe.com or call one of our domain registration experts at 480.624.2500.

More information on domain registration:

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