Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How Can I Improve My Site’s Ranking?

April 22nd, 2008 By: andrew

This question has entered the minds of website owners hundreds of times. Being on the first page of results within a search engine can mean the difference between success and failure.
In response to the question “How can I improve my site’s ranking?” Google has given the answer. “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”
Hundreds of factors go into determining a sites rank within a search engine, however, possibly the most important is the number of high-quality inbound links to your website. By high-quality we mean sites that themselves rank high in search engines, and are relevant and similar to your websites content.
A simple search on “Link Submission” on Google will turn up thousands of websites that will accept, and dispay a link to your site on their site. You could go about submitting to hundreds of these sites, but it will likely not increase you position within any search engine. These submissions can actually hurt your site’s ranking, not improve it.
So who should I submit my link to?
While trying to avoid submitting your link to a hundred places, there are a few key places that you should submit to. You will want to add your site to the Google Index. Yahoo also provides a free site submission into their index here. You may want to consider adding your site to DMOZ.org. DMOZ is a web directory which is human edited. Getting your site listed here will also get your site listed in the Google Directory (Google uses DMOZ.org’s directory). You can submit your site to DMOZ here.
Great. Now What?
After you have submitted your site to the major search engines, you’ll want to trade links with websites that are well placed within your industry. Do a google search on a few keywords that pertain to your website. Lets say “poodle puppies.” Get the list of the top 15-20 websites that currently appear on Google or Yahoo under that keyword. Next, write an individual email to each of them asking to trade links with them. You may even consider buying a link on their site.
As soon as they add the links and the search engines become aware that they link to your site, your site’s ranking will dramatically increase.
The key to success here is not to give up. You should be continually trying to get high quality links to your site as you grow. My Next article will deal with internally improving your website to increase your ranking on Search Engines. We’ll talk about layoutstructuremeta tagsalt tags and title tags that will affect your site’s ranking.
Stay Tuned!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

10 Things You Need to Know When Hiring a Web Designer:

April 17th, 2008 By: dan

  1. Choosing a firm (or freelancer):
    • Recommendations - When choosing a web designer, recommendations are your best guide. If you do not know anyone who can make a recommendation, you’ll need to find one on your own.
    • Local – If you do not have a computer or email, a local web developer may be your best bet. You can easily stop by to sign-off on conceptuals or progress. However, local shops -- depending on where you live -- may be more expensive than having the work done out of town.
    • Out of country - Out of country can cost less, but web designers out of country are harder to communicate with because of different timezones or language barriers. Some in-country firms hire out of country developers providing a buffer to the communication problem, but note that a one-day turnaround for a bug-fix may be impossible.
    • Locating a designer – Searching the web is a good way to find a design house. Try to find a firm who’s portfolio has some examples similar to your requirements. If they can leverage past work it may bring down your cost/time to deployment. Say you find a designer who has done some work similar to your needs, except that you do not like look or functionality of what they have done. Remember, that particular example may not be an exact representation of their talents; the client may have wanted the site to look or function just as it does and the developer may have suggested otherwise… or it may be a low budget site. To help evaluate their design skills, take a look at ALL the prospective designer’s portfolio examples, even if they are in a different market then you. If they have work you like then they are probably capable of designing your site to your liking.
    • Freelancers – Freelancers are okay to use and many are quite good. The only problem is that they are typically one person and may not have the bandwidth to meet your time constraints. Or after they have done your work they are booked up and cannot make time to fix/update your site.
  2. Your Budget: Know about how much you are willing to spend at this time. Every website is different, there are countless options and each case has it’s own requirements and solutions. If your friend had a website built for $1000, do NOT expect that your site is going to cost the same.
  3. Technical Knowledge: You DO NOT need to be an expert on the Internet, websites, or even computers. Let the experts at your prospective firm be the experts. Ask them questions if you do not know how it all works—hopefully they will be able to explain it to you without all the techno mumbo-jumbo.
  4. Your Needs: Tell the web designer all your plans and web needs for present and future… You may not be able to squeeze all your wants and wishes into your current budget or time frame, but knowing them upfront can help developers make decisions today that make future implementations less costly.
  5. Be prepared:
    • Information – Have some information about your company if available… current site, brochures, mission statements, or even ideas scribbled on a napkin. The more the designer understands your business the better the end result.
    • Target Audience – Let the designer know about who your customer or clients are. The designer may be an expert on web development, but they may have no or little knowledge of your widget or service. Educating them about your target audience will help in the design and presentation phase.
    • Examples – If you can provide examples of sites in the same or similar industries the designer can add these to his research to improve the design of your site.
  6. Web Domain: This is your address where your clients can find you on the web… yourcompany.com. .COM is the standard [identifier] for commercial businesses—not the only identifier but arguably the preferred one; unfortunately, most names are taken… even names you think no one else in this world could have wanted, quite often are taken. If you do not already own your domain be prepared with alternative choices or your web firm can help with common alternatives.Normally a domain name costs about $15 per year—multi-year plans are available and even recommended. If it is in your budget to spend the $100 or so for a 10 year domain you should do it; It will help bump up your ratings in search engines—more on this later.
  7. Content: Content is king. Your site is only as good as the content you put on it. Images, Text, Sections, etc. Not only what that information is, but how that information is presented to your audience is important. The developer you choose should be adept at information design, that is, they should be able to help organize and present your content to your customer in an orderly intuitive way. Web surfers are accustomed to certain things and when you don’t have things where they are expected to be they will be lost and your site will be a failure. (Have you ever gone to a site looking for information and after searching for a while given up?)
    • Brevity â€“ It had been my experience that it is not the quantity of content, but the quality of content. Try to make your point as clear as possible in as few words as possible.
    • Copywriter – Most designers will offer to help spell and grammar check your content. Some will have a copywriter on staff who can turn your text into gold… for a fee.
  8. Marketing and Search Engine Optimization: You can put up your site and be done with it… but if you need customers driven to your site then you will need to market it. Unfortunately web-sites are not baseball covered corn-fields… if you build it, they won’t come. Your site will NOT be effective if you do not market it; Your designers should also have some ideas on how to generate traffic to your site.
    • SEO – One of the best ways to market your site and important component to the success of your site is Search Engine Optimization or SEO. SEO are techniques to help your site appear if a more favorable position on search engine results. Your designer should employ at least the basic rules of good SEO; but do not expect to be on page one search results, it’s probably not realistic.
  9. Cost of a web-site: Buying a web-site is like buying a dog, there is the initial cost of the dog… then you need to get shots, collar, food dish, etc. Plus now continuing payments on food and what not. Once you pay for the site development there are add-ons and recurring costs that are part of owning a website, and they should be planned in your budget.
    • Development â€“ This is the cost of designing, developing and deploying your site. Expect to pay 50% upfront and 50% upon completion… though payment plans vary and are negotiable.
    • Domain â€“ This can be an annual payment that should be in the range of $10-$15 per year. It is recommended you get the $100 every 10 years plan if you can afford it (this option provides higher page scores). Here is a catch besides yourname.com, you may consider—not required—purchasing other common domains (such as .net, .biz, .org) to help protect your brand. These are basically another $10/year each.
    • Hosting â€“ When you build a website you need to put it on a computer somewhere so people can access it—not just any old computer, but one connected to a fast secure data-pipe. This is generally done by paying someone to host your site. This is another one of those grey areas… for an average brochure site, look to pay $10 per month–quarterly and yearly payments are usually available. For complex sites it can cost much more. They should come with email, yourname@yourcompany.com, and other services.Your designer can recommend a good host, probably themselves.
    • Maintenance â€“ Your site may require regular updates… You may have to pay either a monthly rate to include updating your site with new or improved content, or you can pay as you go.
    • Marketing â€“ As mentioned earlier you will need to budget to market your site. If this is your first site, there are initial costs that need to be considered into your budget such as re-printing all your business cards and brochures to include your web address, sending out email notifications to your customers telling them about your site, or a marketing campaign to introduce your new site. It of course is not required and you can just put up your site so its available for customers who are looking.
  10. The Process:
    • Call or email a prospective designer. Let them know that you are gathering quotes to build your web-site. Tell them what your needs are and ask questions. Set-up a more detailed meeting. If you’re a large company you may have to generate a RFP (Request for Proposal) to send to several designers to bid on.
    • Have a details meeting. If possible, make sure you invite all the decision makers and content owners, and technical/IS staff (if applicable) to this meeting. This is where you iron out most of the needs and requests.
    • The designer will put together a bid. The bid will probably include tasks, requirements, time-lines, milestones, payment schedule, and other details needed to complete your site.
    • You make any necessary changes to the bid. When you both come to terms you like, sign and accept the bid.
    • Make sure any content/approvals required by you or your team are met quickly and within plan… this will help keep things running smoothly.
    • Review any drafts or milestones. Make any corrections within the scope of the proposed bid.
There you have it… A few simple guidelines to make your web designer search a breeze.

Highlighting Active Rows in Forms

April 17th, 2008 By: Daniel

What can be done to make the ubiquitous form element a little more usable and appealing? That was a question we asked ourselves on a recent project and one of our answers was to highlight the active row. It’s easy to change the appearance of the active input element with the focus pseudo-class in css, but a quick Google search didn’t reveal an easy way to highlight the containing tr element and so I ended up rolling my own implementation.
First I added the following javascript to public/javascripts/application.js:
/* For highlighting active rows */
function highlight_row_on_focus(e) {
function unhighlight_row_on_blur(e) {
And then I styled my rows in public/stylesheets/application.css:
.evenrow {
  background-color: #f1f5fa;
tr.focused_row {
  background-color: #d7e0ea;
To make the view a little cleaner I added a quick helper to helpers/application_helper.rb:
def element_options_with_highlight(opts = {})
  {:onfocus => "highlight_row_on_focus(this.parentNode)", :onblur => "unhighlight_row_on_blur(this.parentNode)"}.merge(opts)
So now in your views all you have to do is add an element_options_with_highlight to the input elements in your forms:
    <tr class="<%= cycle('oddrow', 'evenrow') %> required">
      <td><label for="username">Username:</label></td>
      <td><%= text_field_tag :username, @username, element_options %></td>
Then check your layouts to make sure the Scriptaculous libraries are being loaded and your javascript and stylesheet is being sourced and voilá! you now have a form that highlights the active row as you tab through.