What’s changed?

Henry Lyons, Owner / Developer

It’s been four years since I started Finestkind Web Design. I thought it might be time for a short retrospective. First, thank you to everyone who has remained a loyal client, as well as those who had to move on to other things and no longer needed a website. My greatest joys are always seeing the excitement from customers who are happy with the work I have done for them. I have been blessed with a great group of people I can call clients. I will not be singling anyone out today, but I may reference one or two of you in a way that will make you think it might be you (and it probably is). My “niche” has been to handle sites for people who are not satisfied with “out of the box” websites from hosting companies. I enjoy listening to customers and creating custom layouts that reflect the business and its owner. Recently I finished a rather large project that resulted in a custom portal for the owner to list items for sale on his own, as opposed to asking me to perform frequent updates. It brought me back to my roots as a Java developer and I was delighted to find updates to the development environment were very easy to learn. I had a similar experience finding a special server to put it on and updating the operating system to handle all the details for running the website in a way that could save the customer money as well as provide a full-featured host to handle all the additional requirements that my standard hosting did not.

So what has changed? The first thing that has changed is the way in which clients are coming and going. At first, I was working with people who generally had a bad experience with a “package deal”. Small businesses are easy prey for the bundle deals where someone shows up, offers you a website and marketing package for several hundred dollars a month, and then sends you reports that seem to make sense, but the results are very hard to prove. Some people have either “outgrown” their need for a website on a particular topic (like a film) or were unable to launch a business for reasons other than whether they had a website. Both of these kinds of clients are hard to see go, because they are great people to work with and I have empathy for the fact that the website was no longer worthwhile. However, not every idea or website is good enough to continue to pay for, and realizing that is important–not just for one’s own ethical equanimity, but to realize that the Internet is not a solution in and of itself. There must be content and hard work that makes it produce. Knowing when to say “it’s over” is just as important as knowing when to say “let’s do this!”

Another thing that has changed is the way in which customers find me. Some have seen my sign on the road in front of the house for years, and finally decide to call. Others have heard of a site that I created and want to know if I have any ideas that would help them.

Social media such as Facebook has learned how to monetize its business model. Technology on smartphones and tablets continues to step backward from the limelight in a way that makes most people in the web design business question where we are going. In my own life, I have returned to school to study some of these aspects of new media and technology initiatives and how to remain innovative. I earned a Master’s of Information Technology in 2017 with a specialization in software application development from SNHU, and am currently taking Ph.D. courses at Capella University toward a doctorate in information technology, in addition to my responsibilities at Finestkind Web Design. This means that I have honed my research and writing skills, and continue to do so daily.

If you have questions about what I might be able to do for you, or are just interested in sharing opinions, let me know, and we can set up a time to meet. I continue to believe that our community is the real magic, and that technology just helps us share it. Let me know if I can be of assistance for your next endeavor.

More Duct Tape and Bondo Than Car

Don’t let this be your website…

In the auto repair business, there is a saying: at some point you have more duct tape and bondo than car.  It’s meant as a joke, and describes many “winter beaters” that are on the road here in Maine.  What it means in the Internet age is that some websites need to be given such a complete make-over that it really doesn’t make sense to keep adding onto what is already there.  The fact of the matter is, that if your website is over five years old, it is obsolete.  There are many ways to tell, including the responsive design issues I mentioned in my last blog, but to be sure, it really requires a professional to do a website audit.

What’s in an audit?

Everyone has a different set of criteria they look for, but some elements of an audit are universal.  The length of time it takes for your pages to load, the proper formatting of script, whether images are customized to be efficient at multiple screen sizes, and what a website might have for referring pages, otherwise known as “backlinks”.  The bigger issue however becomes “how easy is this site to manage?”  If the site requires 25 edits to change one thing that spans across all pages, then it is definitely too much of an antique to be considered “easy to manage”.  Does the page show up correctly in different browsers?  Do your letters overlap in places you don’t want them to?  Can you find what you need to on your site or is it an Easter egg hunt?

Results of an Audit

By getting an audit of your existing website you are taking a look at whether your website is performing correctly for you, or whether it needs a tune-up.  To extend the car metaphor one more level, you are looking to see if you have enough tread on your tires to weather another season, or if you might experience some kind of a blow-out.  The kinds of blow-out that might happen may have to do with whether you need to update content on your website and it turns into a nightmare because no one has properly maintained the site.  It may be that the person who is in charge of website monitoring has left the company and no one has taken time to handle the issue because it is too complicated or the information has been lost.  I have had clients who tell me they do not know where their website is hosted.  Do you know?

Making an emergency plan

Sometimes the best thing you can do today, is plan for the problem that might crop up tomorrow.  Do you have a backup of your website?  Do you have someone who is the designated alternate for handling issues that come up with social media and your website?  Can you incorporate cross-training that might handle this eventuality?  At Finestkind Web Design, we help you accomplish that kind of plan in whatever fashion you might choose.  If you want us to keep a copy of credentials and website backup, we can do that for you.  All of my hosting clients have a website that includes a regular backup.  Does yours?

Is your website showing signs that it might be time to overhaul?  Please let us know.  We are here to help.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

Five Reasons to Make Your Website Responsive

The first thing that most clients ask me when they want to know about responsive design, is what advantage it has over traditional “boilerplate” designs.  Here are some of the best reasons:

SEO

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is important to everyone who competes for position in search results.  The keywords you use have a unique result in every search engine.   If you are a photographer and someone searches for “photographers in Maine” that will yield a different result than say “local photographers”.  Every search engine has its own criteria for what raises or lowers your site in the search results.  Responsive web design is a characteristic of your site that means your web pages automatically adapt to different screen sizes.  By incorporating responsive design, Google has stated that as of 2015 their algorithm ranks sites with responsive design higher.  Why?  Well, one reason is that the majority of web searches are taking place on mobile devices.

Duplicate content

Did you know that Google actually penalizes you for “duplicate content” if you have a separate set of web pages for mobile devices?  If your website uses .mobile or .mob to define some of your pages, then you do have this double coverage, and Google is ranking you lower for it.

Forward thinking.

The decision to incorporate responsive design is one way to plan ahead for what the web brings next.  Most people ten years ago would not have predicted that tablets would be popular, or that desktop computers would rank below mobile devices in terms of user preference for conducting their online browsing and shopping.  Who knows that size screen the next device will have, but with responsive design you are in a far better position to adapt to it.

Competitive advantage.

If your site shows up with fonts that are readable on the smartphone without having to go through seven layers of hell to reposition the screen in a way that might give you the information you are looking for without skipping to another page or disappearing completely, that is an advantage.  User frustration with your site will usually go unnoticed until someone is actually having a full-blown meltdown.  Don’t wait for it to get that far!  If you have noticed that your website frustrates you on a mobile device (or anywhere for that matter) then it’s time to make a change.

Choice.

Did you know that with responsive design you can actually create content (photos, text, anything) that only shows up in certain screen sizes?  It’s not only about changing the size of things.  I have one client who has a different slide show depending on which browser you might be using (Safari or Explorer, or Chome, etc.).  Another client has a images that only show up in larger versions of her calendar to save space on small screens where the photo is not as important as the events.

You can get what I call “cookie-cutter” style websites like those offered in basic WordPress packages, and if you design them correctly they can use a theme that has responsive design.  If you have such a site that is not responsive, I can help.  You can opt to either have the entire site recrafted in a personalized way that is not dependent upon the styles WordPress offers, or if you like the page layouts you already have in WordPress, it may be possible to adopt a responsive theme for far less than it would cost to redesign the whole site.  Please call if you have any questions about any of my responsive design advice.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

What Is Hosting?

While many people are familiar with the Internet, some are not familiar with hosting.  I would like to address some of the concerns and questions about hosting, hopefully without being too obvious for those of you who are already familiar with the concept.

So first, what is hosting? 

  • It is the place where you keep your website pages, settings and files.
  • It is a company that provides maintenance of servers where your website lives
  • It is a plan of services you pay for in case you need technical support
  • It is has many different levels of quality and service

Here are a few things that technically aren’t hosting:

  • The IP address that directs people on the Internet to your site.
  • Your domain name.
  • Your social media account.
  • Most of your e-mail.

Second, what kinds of hosting are available?

Some website developers (such as myself) offer hosting through a national company and pay the overhead themselves.  Other companies, including developers, have their own private servers (like the one Hillary Clinton is now famous for having had at her house).  This means that the hosting is physically located somewhere in their office or on their property.  This can be risky, as the protection for such equipment cannot match the larger “server farm” installations.  If you have a website you need to prepare for disaster—which not surprisingly is called disaster recovery.  Some of the potential disasters that these places plan for are fire, electrical outages, hackers, computer hardware failure, vandalism, theft, and loss of Internet connectivity.

There is a middle ground as well which is called “co-location”.  This is where I might own a server but keep it at a server farm or other Internet service provider with the understanding that they do not touch it unless I authorize it.  This means that I am responsible for hardware failures, software updates, and the rest of the things that server companies handle for you normally.  Some companies use co-location as a way to reduce some of the physical risks and save money on the maintenance plan fees.

If I need a shopping cart, is the hosting plan different?

In a word, yes.  Companies that offer e-commerce solutions must be able to provide secure (SSL) connectivity to the financial institutions that process payments.  An e-commerce hosting solution is different because:

  1. It requires a certificate authority that is used to verify your identity to the credit card processor (and similar organizations).  This certificate has an annual fee and can be purchased through a third party or through your hosting company in many cases.  When you see a “set-up” charge for e-commerce hosting, this is one of the reasons why.  Installing a certificate can be easy or time-consuming, depending on the server and the shopping cart software.
  2. There is a higher level of liability for the hosting company if lost sales were to occur due to any hosting failure, even short lapses in website uptime.
  3. In the case of a security breach, the risk is greater because of the personal data stored online.

What about bandwidth?

Most of my clients are not large enough to warrant a surcharge for bandwidth.  If you shop around, you will find many companies that are quite concerned with how many visitors you might have and how much data you might be transferring (for example, are you a video-oriented site?).  If you are a startup, you may have no idea how much bandwidth you need.  It is a simple matter of talking to your hosting provider to get an estimate of what the limits are and what fees would be if your needs were to grow.

Final thoughts

When you choose your hosting provider, make sure to ask the questions you might ask when you are leasing a car: When can I have it?  How safe is it?  What is the monthly payment?  Can I trade it in?  What happens if I miss a payment?  Can you repair it if I get into a crash?  What would that cost?  Do you have a loaner vehicle?  What happens if I go over my mileage limit?  There are many other such questions, but you get the idea.  Consider something you are familiar with, and then apply your experience in that area to the decision of where to get hosting.  I am always interested in speaking with potential new clients, regardless of whether they already have hosting.  Feel free to leave any interesting experiences you have had with hosting or questions in the comments section below.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

A Reflection of You

You can create better trustworthiness in your website design by keeping in mind that it is an extension of yourself, your business, and your character.

I recently visited a website as part of doing research for a customer. I had never been to this particular site (which will remain nameless) before and wanted the answer to a specific question. Immediately I encountered a pop-up asking me to subscribe, follow and join their site. I did not even have enough time to really understand what their company was about, much less whether I wanted to join them. This kind of shotgun approach turned me off wanting to do anything other than to find a less needy company.

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression. This clever aphorism might make you chuckle, but the truth of the matter is that in a crowded Internet with thousands of similar sites, your first impression is everything. Why? Because it defines you in a way you may not even be aware of. Here are some things to look at when creating that first page that people will see as you for the first time:

  1. How are you dressed?
    In other words, is the presentation professional? Hopefully you wouldn’t wear loafers to a serious business meeting. Nor should you clutter up your home page with advertisements for meaningless click-bait. Show your good side: attractive photos, recommendations, and, above all, relevant content.
  2. Did you arrive on time?A slow website will likely deter potential customers. Some may blame their own Internet connection the first time, but consistent failure to deliver will diminish your business. Monitoring services are available to keep tabs on your website delivery speeds in case the hosting becomes unreliable, even for a short period of time.
  3. Are you prepared?
    The customer may need a while to sort out whether they are interested in your services. Have you taken the time to answer potential questions that you know come up in your everyday business away from the Internet? Being prepared also includes being direct about how to order what the client might want. If the purpose of the site is to sell a book, the button to buy that book needs to be on the first page in some way.
  4. What is your reputation?
    This aspect of website trust is available through third parties as well as your own proudly displayed testimonials. The Better Business Bureau for example, has a widget that will grade your business and engender a certain level of trust. Displaying your SSL certificate or “hacker-free” testing medallion can also help if you are an e-commerce site.
  5. Can we talk?
    Making the phone number visible, tap-able, clickable, etc., can be enough to create some trust as many sites are unreachable in any way other than e-mail. Having a live person on the other end rather than an answering machine is even better. If you are unable to take your calls as they come in, make sure to check your messages as frequently as possible, and give your potential customers an idea of how long it will take you to get back to them.

You can create better trustworthiness in your website design by keeping in mind that it is an extension of yourself, your business, and your character. Making a good impression is just as important as having a good product. Indeed, when you are shopping for a good website designer, be sure to ask the hard questions up front and know whether they are willing to make your website trustworthy as well as snazzy-looking.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.