One Site Or Two: What To Do When You’re At the Crossroads

As a small business, if you have a large site, should you split it into two websites or leave it as one? This is a difficult question that really has no right or wrong answer, but we’ll give you something even better: we’ll help you examine some of the ups and downs of both options to help you decide what’s best for you.

Maintaining One Large Site

Offering everything in one place is convenient for you and your target audience. You only have one set of expenses, one set of marketing and content strategies, one set of social media profiles, and only have to go to one location to update and maintain your content. When it comes to ranking and link juice, you have more pages use can use to rank and will be able to catch with the long tail.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to having everything on one site:

  • Too much content can be difficult for users to wade through. They’ll have to go through more content to find what they’re looking for.
  • A larger site means a larger audience. This makes it far more difficult to target specific visitors.
  • The more general your targeting, the lower your conversion rate generally is, simply because you have to get visitors past the things they’re not interested in to get them through the sales funnel.
  • The wider your audience, the wider your reach has to be and the more spread out your marketing strategies need to be.
  • Larger sites require better databases and more resources to run than smaller sites (often split onto subdomains). Sometimes, for smaller businesses, this may go beyond your current resources.

Breaking Your Site Into Two Or More Sites

Splitting your website onto two or more main domains can have a multitude of benefits. Each site can be tailored to meet the needs of a specific audience, including the design and site architecture. Each site can have its own branding and carry its own loyal customers.

Financially, running more than one site may also have some benefits. Since you have two properties, you have two separate investments that can grow. Also, if something should happen to one of the sites (say it falls in the rankings, for example), you have another site that will continue to generate revenue until the affected site recovers.

With two sites, there is often the chance to benefit from the competition as well. You have two sites to conquer more of the market and a wider range of terms, products, services, and audiences. Also, it’s possible that if customers don’t buy from one site, they’ll buy from the other, which is often the case with real world stores.

Like with one main site, there are some downsides to consider with multiple sites:

  • You have twice as many sites to upgrade, create, and maintain.Both sites need consistent content, have current social profiles, and need fresh marketing ideas.
  • Both sites require links, SEO, and attention/traffic
  • You need two distinct audiences, otherwise you’ll dilute your offering.

Questions You Need To Be Asking

Here are a few things you’ll need to ask yourself before choosing a path:

  • Do you have two distinct visitors (buyers) coming to the site for different reasons?
  • Are you able to separate the site into two ‘themes’ to create two brands that can stand on their own?
  • Do you have the resources available to market, run, and maintain two sites?
  • Will you benefit enough to warrant splitting the site or creating two separate sites (ROI)?
  • What are your plans for each website? Is there a way to grow them both together, or will your expansions take the two sites farther apart from each other?

Have you split your site onto two domains or decided to run one large site? What have your experiences been?

Business Overboard – Staying Afloat in Congested Digital Waters

Small businesses have enough on their plate at the moment simply making ends meet. As a result of the economic downturn and reduced consumer confidence there is just less and less money to go around.

In these times of squeezing personal budgets and the resultant squeeze upon your business, you may not have considered the potential power of your business website to help address the problem.

Your online presence

Do you have a commercial website for your business?

For those that do have a fully functional business website, does it attract visitors which subsequently turn into customers? The fact is that many smaller businesses have some form of online presence but just do not know how to maximise it. Spending a little time addressing your online business ‘address’ may well be the answer to many of your problems.

The old adage ‘if you build it, they will come’ does not really apply to websites in cyberspace today. Long ago when the internet was filled with just a few million web pages the chances are, you could be easily found and your services offered.

Not in today’s’ internet I am afraid.

The Mighty Google

Even during the infancy of the mighty Google which established itself during 1998 and immediately indexed over 26 million pages, saw that figure rise to over a billion in just two short years. In 2008 it revealed a massive one trillion URL’s had been catalogued and this number just keeps increasing.

This just illustrates the amazing popularity of the web and just how saturated it has become. Therefore, gaining a foothold for your business in these congested digital waters is difficult to say the least.
It is however not impossible, in fact with the right direction it can be quite a simple process.

There are a number of basic fundamental aspects to getting your site appreciated by the search engines and therefore ‘presented’ to searchers. By considering these fundamentals and applying them to your website you stand a much better chance of being recognised online.

4 Simple Steps You Can Use to Review Your Business

1. Title tags – are your title tags () used to display the headings of the pages on your website?

This important tag is one of the first a search engine spider will pick up and needs to contain information relating to the page. This is the tab at the top of the browser window which displays the title of the page. It is also the title which is displayed within the search engines results page and therefore needs to be clear and enticing enough for users to click.

2. Heading tags – do you make use of the H1, H2, H3, H4 tags within your content?

These are highly valued by search engines to help them establish just what your content is about. Think of your page content as a newspaper article, with headings separating the different sections of content on the page.

3. Description tags – are they fully completed and do they contain relevant information?

Again, this something which is used by search engines but more importantly is the snippet of information which is presented to users within the index. A good description and compelling call to action will dramatically increase your visitors.

4. Site Structure and navigation

This is a big issue, does your website have a good linking pattern and is it easy for users to travel around the site? User behaviour is very similar to that of a search engine spider in that links to different pages will be followed by both the visitor and the bot. If you have pages which are not visible from the home page both visitors and bots will not be able to find them.

These are just a small sample of actions you can take to review your small business website which if implemented should serve to better your website for both visitors and search engines.

Design and Print Terms Explained – A reference guide

I’m aware that as a Graphic Designer, working alongside Printers, there are a number of terms that we may use that mean completely nothing to a business owner. So I thought I’d write a series of articles that clearly explain some of these terms. You can use it as a reference guide so that next time you’re speaking to your designer or printer you know what they are talking about.

Graphic Design Software and File Types

Designers use a number of software programs with lots of different file types. Talk of Jpegs, Layered files, eps files can all get bit much. Here are some of the main programs and file types listed and explained.

The main programs used for desktop publishing in the Graphic Design Industry are Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Indesign.

TOP TIP: Inkscape, Scribus and Gimp are Open source equivalents of the software mentioned above. Open source, meaning completely free.

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is a Vector Graphics editor that is predominantly used for drawing Illustrations and Logo Designs. Vectors are graphics that are made up of mathematical points. Because of this, Vector graphics can be scaled up or down without loosing any of their quality. This is why software like Illustrator, is preferred by designers, to create logos. These can then be scaled to a large shop sign or to a small logo for your business card.

Main File Formats:

  • .ai – this is the original file format that Illustrator creates and can only be opened by Illustrator.
  • .eps (Encapsulated PostScript) – this file is a stand alone file that can be imported into other programmes like Photoshop or Indesign.

TOP TIP: If a Graphic Designer has created a logo for you ask him to provide it in .eps format. This means all the required information is contained in the file and you can send this to other Designers to use.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is a graphics editing software. It allows designers to create and manipulate pixel based images in many various ways. Every image created in Photoshop is made up of pixels and the more pixels an image has the larger the file size will be. A logo that you have used on your Powerpoint presentation may only be 200 kilobytes where as an image used on a Billboard may be a few hundred Megabytes.

TOP TIP: File size is typically the reason why people try to send emails and they bounce back. The image is usually too big to get through the email or your Powerpoint file is too big because you’ve filled it with large images. Most email servers these days can handle files approx 10megabytes big. If you are sending larger images to people via email, try using a file transfer site like www.yousendit.com

Main file formats:

  • .tiff – (Tagged Image file format) – this format is typically used by designers in desktop publishing as it saves the file without loosing any of the quality. The files sizes are usually quite large.
  • .Jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group) – this format is used to compress files. The more a file is compressed the smaller the file size. But this also leads to an increased loss of quality. Files shouldn’t be saved as a Jpeg more than once as every time you save it, it looses more quality.
  • .gif (Graphics Interchange Format) – gif images are mainly used for websites as the compression allows for very small file sizes. gif’s can’t handle too many colours so it is best suited for simple images such as logos. It also allows for transparent backgrounds.
  • .psd – this file format is the original Photoshop format. It allows for multiple layers to be saved in the same file.

Layers, in Photoshop, are a tool that allow multiple images or effects to be placed one on top of each other. This allows for easy editing as each layer can be removed or amended quickly.

TOP TIP: Always ask for the layered files of any artwork that is created for you in Photoshop. This means that any future designers can easily manipulate the work using the .psd file.

A note about File resolution:
The following is a regular scenario in my day job. A designer requests an image file. An image is grabbed from a website and sent. The designer responds, saying that the file is not good enough quality and asks for a High Resolution file. Why is the designer asking for this?

All images have a resolution or dpi (dots per inch). The higher the resolution, the better quality the image. Designers and Printers usually work with files that have a resolution of 300dpi. This allows for the image to be printed at high quality. The resolution of your computer screen is 72dpi. When people optimise their images for the Web they reduce the resolution down to 72dpi as this dramatically reduces the file size. Any more than 72dpi is a waste as your screen won’t display any higher than that.

TOP TIP: If you have a database of images, keep one folder of your High-Res Images or your 300dpi images and a Low-Res folder with all your 72dpi images in them. This will allow you to quickly navigate to the correct file type when asked.

Adobe Indesign

This program is predominantly used for Brochure or Newsletter design. Quick and flexible page layout tools in Indesign allow for great multiple page documents.

Main file format:

  • .ind – This is the original file format for Indesign. Once the document is finished it is usually exported as a HIgh-Res PDF and then sent to the Printer.

A note about PDFs:
PDF (Portable Document File) – is an open format for document exchange. It is created in a program called Adobe Acrobat and can be opened by a free to all program called Adobe Reader. Designers use PDF documents because all the file information can be stored in one file format that can be accessed by anybody with Adobe Reader. PDFs can be saved as High Resolution files that are ready to Print. Once exported from a program PDFs can not be adjusted in any way. All the programs listed above can export PDF documents.

TOP TIP: If your designer has provided the final artwork as a PDF document, make sure that you get access to the original file format, wether ,ai, .psd or .ind, as the PDF document will no longer be able to be amended.

3 Time Tested Ways To Get More Website Traffic

Who could use more website traffic? If you didn’t have your hands up then wow, congrats! Almost all site owners big or small whom I know are always looking for ways to get more traffic. After all without traffic you’re not really in business. Just like plants need sun and water to grow your online business needs traffic to thrive. But how? You won’t find a shortage of people proclaiming a certain channel. Social media! Some cry from the roof tops. Blogging! Others shout into their megaphones.

Well, they may be right but over time, I’ve learned that there are always some time tested methods that work quietly but surely. They may not be as sexy as the newer shinier methods but they still work. Here some of them that you can implement right away to start getting more traffic to your website – Fast!

Become an author. Publishing articles online is a sure way to get traffic to your website. But publishing articles is not just great for getting more website visitors, it also positions you as an expert in your field. Not only will potential customers read your articles and visit your website, they will also view you as an industry expert. This means you build trust and credibility. This is why publishing your own articles is a sure fire way to improve your business. In more recent years, this has taken the shape of guest blogging. It’s the same thing, just different platform.

And if the thought of writing articles sounds daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Web writing is conversational in nature. Simply see it as an extension of your website and put your knowledge into an article format. Then distribute the articles to online article directories as well as trusted, high-ranking websites. The more high-profile websites you can get your articles published on the better.

Budget for advertising. Advertising doesn’t have to be scary and you don’t need a huge budget to get great results. The key here is to keep in mind that you’re a small business owner. You don’t want to concentrate on building your brand as such (this takes a great deal of money as well as experience to do correctly) but instead you want to gain a little exposure as well as those highly sought-after incoming links.

Incoming links help to build the credibility of your website within the search engines. The more credible a website appears to the search engines, the more traffic it will receive. To make this strategy work for you, advertise on high-ranking websites related to yours. You want to look for at least a 4 or 5 ranking website which receives a sufficient amount of traffic each month. Take a look at Alexa.com to help determine the popularity of a website.

Write great content. Regularly adding high-quality content to your website is one of the main things you can do to get more traffic. Always think of ways you can help your visitors by adding articles, tips, and helpful information to your website.

Structure the content in a clear order which makes it easy for both your visitors and the search engines to find your website pages. You’ll also want to include a site map to help make things easier for your visitors and the search engines, and to make sure that all your pages are properly optimizes so that your website can be found on search results.

You really can’t go wrong by adding quality content to your website on a regular basis. Not only does it position you as an expert, it also builds credibility and sends more traffic your way.

Getting website traffic doesn’t have to be difficult. It does take time and a little effort but your hard work will be rewarded with long-term results and a profitable, established website.

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How Often Should You Switch Your Site’s Design?

At a web conference today, someone asked me that very question. It is such an excellent question because years ago when the Internet was young, it wasn’t all that easy to change your design without some technical skills. These days, changing a design is as simple as uploading and selecting the theme. Yes, you may still need a little bit of tech work to tweak it but it’s much easier. As a result, I’ve seen people change web site design like they change clothes. To me, that is a problem and here’s why.

Chameleon by Ross Dismore

Let’s forget the branding part of the equation for a moment and talk about usability. Have you ever been to the store to find out they moved the bread aisle? Now you are forced to wander all through the store to find what you need. It is frustrating. While this may be a tactic in retail to get you to stay longer in the store, online, people just click away. Many of us know building traffic is not that easy anymore. You work very hard and in some cases, spend gobs of money to buy that traffic, getting people to come and return to your site. So don’t confuse them every time they turn around.

I prefer to make moderate changes that can still make the site look fresh, new and updated. Things like tweaking a few colors, making background changes, updating the buttons, removing blocks that are not effective, adding interactive tools like a ratings option if it is a store. Tweaking the copy to make it clearer where people stumble most often. The underlying structure is rarely changed. Meaning sidebars are still where they are, login links and buttons still in the same place, contact and support links don’t get moved and so on and forth.

Does that mean you shouldn’t change your site’s design? Not at all. The only thing I’m saying is, don’t make complete changes too often. Overhauls are good and should be done within reasonable time frame. Or if a site changes hands, sometimes an update is a good thing. For example, TechBasedMarketing has had the same design for over 2 years. It is time for a change. This time, I hope to standardize the structure on all our company’s sites including this blog, so there is more uniformity and people can jump from one site to another in the network without getting completely disoriented.

And yes of course, all this is part of our branding process. People need time to familiarize themselves with your brand and if you keep switching your design you look undecided, fickle, flighty. Not exactly characters that you want your brand to have. While there is a lot more that goes into a brand other than design but humans are visual creatures. Imagery and color play a huge part when people are trying to recall your company. If you take a look at some of the largest brands around – have they changed over the years? Sure. But it’s often not done all at once.

Resource you might be interested in:

A book about Web Usability

10 Critical Questions To Ask A Web Designer

Building web sites is not rocket science, but it is job that requires many skills you can’t learn overnight. Not if you want a good looking, yet functional and efficient web site. It is certainly a full time job on its own. So having this important task outsourced is smart.

On the other hand, when you’ve never done the job before, it can be a little difficult to know what to ask of your web designer. This list of questions should help you out.

Meeting

What skills do you or your team posses? HTML, CSS, Drupal, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CGI, Ruby on Rails?

You may not fully understand what all that alphabet soup means and can do, it is important to have a rough understanding what this designer and their team is capable of. Web design today is no longer about HTML and static web pages of the 90’s. There’s interactivity and connectivity. You can make a site be as simple as a brochure or as complicated as your own social network with paid memberships on the side. The more complicated a site is, generally, the more your needs gravitate toward a Web Developer than a designer. Someone who can actually program or hook up the more technical things in the back end.

Developers usually have more technical skills like PHP, MySQL, CGI and Ruby on Rails. Designers generally are more on the artistic side, with graphic skills, strong HTML, CSS and even some Javascript. By asking them this, you’ll get a better feel whether they have the skills to build the site you have in mind. Sometimes you end up with someone who is good overall though that is rare, unless you are working with a team of people.

How quickly can you provide a first draft of the site and how long does a job like this normally take?

A pretty standard question but important nonetheless if you are in a hurry or on a budget. The faster you need it, the more  you pay. Also, it helps you prepare your own promotional schedule. Don’t take this literally if you’re fuzzy with what you want. That will stretch the project out longer when you change things as you go. Tighten up the vision for your site, discuss this with the designer. The more focused you are, the faster you’ll complete the site – and generally pay less too.

What is your working procedure and how will you communicate your progress?

Way too often I hear of designers and clients falling out because of the failure to communicate. And this can happen both ways. The client leaving everything up to the designer until it is finished and finds out that’s not what they want or the designer not communicating how much more work that ‘one little tweak’ the client asked for is going to take.

Personally, I don’t like to work with clients who are too hands on and questions my every move, however it is important the client checks in once a while. Both parties should have a pre-determined check-in time throughout the project just to see if everyone is still on the same page as you progress.

How much support comes with this package deal?

Designers usually build packages around an estimated number of hours, including some support. Do not expect to pay $500 and have people work indefinitely for you, answering questions or tweaking things here and there forever (like asking for a tweak one year down the road and expect it to be a freebie). The awesome designers I know often won’t mind an extra few minutes here and there but they aren’t working for peanuts either.

You have to know that sometimes, what looks like a small tweak to you takes hours of work in the background, to build up before that tweak you asked for can even be applied. A good designer will tell you up front if this will be a problem. This goes back to the scope of the project. Don’t be fuzzy. Be clear what you want. This way you will find working with your designer a whole lot more pleasant and you keep everything under budget.

What kind of after support do you offer?

Sometimes, you just can’t help it. You need more help. It could be immediately following the completion of the project or some time after. Ask what kind of rates you’ll be getting. This again should be motivation for you to keep the scope of your project clear.

What is your normal procedure if the job does not turn out satisfactorily?

When a job is fairly large, paying an up front lump sum is not a good idea. Sometimes people just bail out on you despite your best efforts and research. Other times you may find you don’t really work well together. Because we are spoiled by generous refund policies of other products we consume, we often want to demand a full refund. While there are cases where this is acceptable and OK, but when it comes to web design or any service that you are using up someone else’s time, that’s something they cannot take back.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be paying full price for a design you don’t want. Hash these out before you start. One of the best ways to work this out is to agree on a payment plan. Percentage down to start work and additional payments upon reaching pre-agreed milestones.

What software or technology will you be using to build my site and will I be able to use and update it myself?

I once had someone build an app for me and then ditched me altogether. Now, I have an app built upon technology that very few people are familiar with. It is difficult and very expensive to find a replacement to pick up where he left off. Ideally, you’d want them to use something more in the main stream versus a software that only 10 people in the world know how to work.

Does it cost extra for this software or does anything you recommend to build this site going to require additional license purchased?

This is so crucial to your budget. When you ask this, you will know if the package includes everything or you’ll have to fork out licenses to third parties to get the job done.

We would like the domain name administrator to be in our representative’s name and email. Can you arrange that?

This is so important. Some unscrupulous designers or companies actually hold client sites hostage because they are listed as the Administrators of a domain. When a client wants to leave for another designer, they make the clients pay a transfer fee to release their domain. When a domain is not in your name and contact, no matter what you say, registrars are not going to hand it over to you. Insist this be in yours or a representative’s name and email address.

Can I see a portfolio of previous sites built. Or is there a demo of a site similar to what you will be building us?

This will help you see if a designer tends to gravitate toward a certain flavor in their designs or if they are quite versatile. One is not necessarily better than the other. Sometimes, if you have a clear vision what you like your design to be, it could be better to go with someone who excels at the look and feel you are aiming for. Also demo sites allow you to get a feel of what you’ll bring home at the end of the day.

I’ve worked many sites for clients on various projects. If out of this there is one take away you should get is, be clear about the scope of your project. Don’t generalize. If you don’t know how to express yourself, find examples for the designer to see and tell them what you want and don’t want from those examples. More information is better than inadequate or no information. This always makes a job smoother and least stressful.

Photo by Carl Dwyer

What You Can Do To Solve Tech Issues On Your Own

Unlike larger businesses, most of us are solo entrepreneurs. Which means, we wear many hats throughout the day. Some of us outsource a chunk of that work so we can concentrate on the things we are good at and that is very smart indeed. Trouble is, no matter how large or small your company is, we all have limited budgets or at times, limited people who can work on an issue for us. In order to get things moving we can either hold till those resources are available or attempt to move it along by finding solutions ourselves.SOS

If you do not have a technical person to call upon or have very limited resources to hire help, here’s what you can do.

  • Search the support forum. Many software paid or free, have user community forums where you can get help from. In some communities, help can come faster than the official support because of a strong and loyal user base.
  • Copy and paste the error verbatim into Google or your favorite search engine. That’s how I find my solutions (and learned new things).
  • Look it up on Youtube. Youtube is not just for laughs. There’s a ton of how to material there and this is a great option for those who learn better by visual walk throughs. While you are there, swing by the TechBasedMarketing channel for quick and easy how-to’s to common web tech questions.
  • Ask your followers. You’ll be surprised how many smart people are among your social network and customers.
  • Ask in relevant forums. Some entrepreneur forums have special sections for tech questions and help.
  • Bring your questions and issues to our live helpdesk. Every Thursday night at 9 PM U.S. Eastern time, I hold a helpdesk ‘open house’ where we take questions and help people through Internet business tech issues. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook Page to receive instructions how to join me.

photo credit: fRandi-Shooters

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