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TIPS, HINTS & ADVICE ON WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT


Please note: because of my commitments to the websites associated with my books, I no longer have time to add new articles to this page. That should not stop you reading them. This is for two key reasons:

1 Because they are mainly about the basics of digital marketing, they still have relevance today, and

2 They represent the history of online marketing - if such a short period can be described as 'history'.

If you want to fully understand the subject well enough to earn a living in the discipline - or just pass an assignment - read them and learn.



I'll start off with some of my own stuff from bygone days. Looking back at all of these I can see how early my opinions on these issues were formed, and I've hardly changed them since. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing ...? Take note, however - some elements are out of date - I'll leave you to work out which.

The first - website objectives - is an article I wrote for inclusion in a Chamber of Commerce magazine circa 1998. Times haven't changed too much - if at all. The second is a website checklist that I used as a handout for some courses I ran as part of a EU funded project. One of my first efforts - dating back to 1997 - the best of sites, the worst of sites was a one page handout for virtually any kind of meeting / networking event / presentation you can think of. Copywriting for the web was another one-sheet handout I used between 1997 and 2002. It was aimed at SME owner managers who were writing their own content. Sadly, they still do - which makes this article still - frightening - relevant. At the end of the 90s and into the 2000s there was a lot written about online CRM [some of the big software providers were heavily promoting CRM systems that collected data that subsequently proved to be useless - but that's another story for another day] - so I used this checklist for SMEs to check the basics of CRM on their sites. The copyright notice on the bottom of the originals show I used it from 1999 to 2002.

You should bear in mind that when I wrote these there were no blogs or newsletters, only a few chat rooms and the odd influential website - and cyberspace [oh yes, that's what it was called back then] was ruled by the techies. Although I was obviously influenced by what some folk were saying [I discovered Jacob Neilsen early on], much of much of what I say in these comes from my own experience out there in the e-commerce trenches before a story on 'dot-coms' was an every-day must for the newspapers and TV.


Here's another from me, and one from another source that gives the same message. Mine - online text presentation gives some of the basics of presenting text online, and then offers examples. The other - ow, my eyes - is not only a message to those who think I [and others] are being too simplistic - or boring - when we say text must be dark on light - but an example of why this is absolutely the case.

These 12 deadly sins of website design come from the BBC - and should be compulsory reading for all website designers.

There is a fair bit written on the subject of landing pages. It's an important subject so I created its own page.

The Content Marketing Manifesto This exemplifies my argument that a website must have something on it that is of value to the visitor.

I was going to list a specific article from this author - but then I thought I would have to list them all. Anybody who goes anywhere near website design should have to study - and be examined on - Jacob Nielsen's work. He has several books you could get a hold of, or cancel a day in your diary and spend it looking over his website: useit.com.

I referenced this guy in a chapter of my 'Online Marketing ... ' book. I came across his work around the turn of the century and liked it - mainly because he agreed with me that techies should not be responsible for websites.

Gerry McGovern talks sense about website management - this one hits the nail on the head by making the point that the key objective of a website is to help the user to achieve whatever it is they are visiting the site for as quickly and easily as possible. Another one from the same author - I'm sure he's said this a thousand times, but he should keep doing so until everyone takes notice [techies: I'm talking to you] - Your website: Just words?.

It's a reasonable argument that the home page is the most important page on the site [though there is a similar argument that all pages are equally important as visitors may link to a page deep in the site from a search engine results page], this article - Creating an Effective Home Page - tells what a home page should include.

This article - when ignorance isn't bliss ... - has some good tips on 'website management' - it's aimed at SMEs, but applies equally to all organizations.

I have long thought that on some sites videos can work [emphasis on some], this article - The Future Of Rich Media On Local Sites - makes a similar point, but offers some good suggestions. As an added bonus, the search engines now list video etc, so it may help with your SEO.

Some [most?] academic writers will tell you that they are the only folk who 'test' websites. Wrong wrong WRONG. Take a look at this 'story' of developing the conversion effectiveness of a small website. How To Test A Home Page For Conversion Effectiveness, part one and part two. See how much testing is done? Multiple this by heaven-knows-how-much for the likes of Amazon. And this doesn't include specific testing for search engine optimization. As I say in my musing - academic vs practitioner - I would perfer to trust the practitioner's findings rather than the opinions of the hundred or so students that the academic researcher used as a sample to see which website they liked best [no matter how long the equations that were used to test their hypothesis].

Here's another on the subject of testing - Multivariate Testing: What it Is, Why You Need It - this is a reasonably basic explanation.

Although this article is about maps on web pages I wanted to add my own comments on how this is an example of giving some thought to web page content - it will help win customers.

I've included this article as a warning about using any 'free' applications on your site - and I would always advise against 'hit counters' anyway. Soooo 1996 - and useless. Google Loves Transparent Links & Hit Counter Spam

How to Choose Effective Website Photos and Images is an excellent article, well presented and illustrated. So much so that I would suggest it is the only thing you need to read on the subject. Take note, however, it is in three parts - just follow the links from part one.

This one - Passive Voice Is Redeemed For Web Headings - as an example of just how much detail 'proper' copywriters go into in order to write text that sells. Don't be fooled by the title of this one, it is about web page copy - How to Write Internet Ad Copy. And here's another - with examples: Writing TO Your Customers - Not AT Them. More on writing content, this one giving examples of different types of content from its author's own website - Write different types of website content.

Although the title of How To Prep Content For Social Media suggests it is about social media sites, the advice is relevant to all commercial websites. There is nothing new in it [the issues are all covered elsewhere on this page, including in my own stuff from years ago] but it is well presented.

The title of Best Practices for Designing Usable Websites for Kids says it all. However, I would argue that some of these issues apply to some adults.

I've included The Anatomy Of A Compelling Call To Action Button because it is useful - but also because it emphasises just how complex effective website development can be. The examples used show how the big players take details like this seriously. And I mean seriously.

The title of Five great examples of product page copywriting says it all.

Here's an unusual one - but excellent nevertheless. I bet most people don't give a thought to Tips for writing great links.

A little tongue in cheek this one, but some good advice nevertheless - The Top 10 Dumbest Web Site Decisions.

I am a great supporter of the notion that a website should reflect the personality of the organization. One page in which this is paramount [and perhaps the best opportunity to reach potential customers] is the 'about us' section. This article - Making a Good Impression With About Us Pages - makes the point.

Here's an oft-forgotten aspect of the website [and another that is often left to the techies] - 14 Usability Tips for Login and My Account Pages.

We shouldn't be surprised, but apparently women surf the web differently to men, see - Does Your Site Have Sex Appeal?.

It never ceases to amaze me how little testing of different browsers is practiced by website designers, this tool - Test your web design in different browsers - allows you to check a few in one go. My advice is to list only a the most popular or it takes an age, but it's a really good application.

Some good stuff in this article - Cookies, Milk & Kramer: Converting Visitors Into Buyers - read my comments after it for my opinion.

I like this article - Site Redesign: 4 Vital SEO Tips for Web Designers - because it is sensible, it sounds like advice from the trenches - but most of all I like the author's word 'flashterbation'.

Another subject that might be filed under 'well duh' ... and yet so many get it wrong. This article - Top 3 Tips For Writing Effective Headlines - covers the main points. I would particularly endorse the comment that 'When someone lands on your site, they are not actually in your store yet. They are standing outside your store - they are looking at the sign and the window display and trying to decide if they want to come in' - it's something I've been saying for years [maybe its the ex-retailer in me].

This article - Online persuasion - 7 ways to persuade people to buy - covers a lot of what I think is common sense ... but then I worked in sales for many years and it is probably not common to those who have not worked in that kind of environment.

I have always argued that giving some thought to the composition of directory and file names is good practice, here's some research that supports my point of view - Supercharge Your URLs For Maximum SEO Impact.

Often resulting in a 'techies' vs 'marketing' argument is the use of Flash-type technology. My viewpoint is that it rarely makes the page better for the user, and so is best left out. This article - Are Distracting Cycling Images and Messages Hurting Profits? - not only agrees with my point of view, but offers some sound research-based reasons why we are right.

I said earlier that I wasn't going to list specific articles from Jacob Nielsen, but this one - Writing Style for Print vs. Web - makes simple a complex issue that few even realise is an issue - never mind pay it any heed.

This article - Are You Committing the Marketing Sin of Assumption? - is another one of those that made me smile because it includes what I think are statements of the glaring obvious. That is not a criticism of its author, however. It is a damning indictment of web designers and online marketers who still make these mistakes - don't they read websites like this one?

Part of consumer generated content [so perhaps this link should be in my 'social media marketing' section] are customer reviews and endorsements, this article - 6 Tips For Tapping Synergies Between Product Reviews And Email - suggests how you can collect them for your website.

These are pretty basic concepts, but their presentation is a bit different, and there are some good examples included in More Deadly Sins of Site Design.

It has always been my belief that the words are the most important part of a website [customers - and potential customers - do not go to a commercial website to admire the graphic design], and writing the content is probably the most difficult element of website development. Writing sales copy is even harder. This article - Use Verbs as Labels on Buttons - uses a basic usability example to show how changing the words in a 'call to action' can be the difference between a sale and lost opportunity.

If you have read this - and other - pages on this website, you will be aware that I emphasize the importance of the textual content of a site. And yet so many web developers ignore its value. This video - The Story of a Sign - brings home the point perfectly [stay with it, it gets off to a slow start].

Although on the face of it, this article - The Sensual Shopper - is about email, it is equally useful for website developers.

I have included this article - Don't Settle for Web Site Mediocrity - for two reasons. First off, it offers some sound advice. Secondly - and this is for students, rather than practitioners - take note of the poor referencing. In the first paragraph two sources are listed, but not referenced fully, and at the end there are some tips on colour. Now, as it happens, I agree with the colour issues - but if you are writing an academic paper [assignment] these comments would be considered to be subjective ie where are the references to the research that supports these comments?

As any sales person will tell you, the 'call to action' is a key aspect of a sale - that phrase or question that prompts the customer to say 'yes, I'll buy it'. Online, the call to action is too often ignored or left to staff who have no experience or skills in the area. This article - Calling You to Action - emphasises its importance, and offers a few tips on what to look for.

Changing the domain name of an established website is not a decision to be made lightly, this blog [and its comments] - Econsultancy Site Migration and SEO Impact - makes it clear just what a task it is.

I'm pretty sure these all appear elsewhere in the content of links from this page, and I hope I got most of them in my books, but as a 'don't do this' list, this is quite good - 50 swinish ways to annoy web users.

Download speeds are an emotive subject - and from early in 2010 part of Google's algorithm - this article - Speed still counts for web users - not only addresses the key issues, but provides a whole wedge of links too. Test the download speed of your own site on Web Page Test [the homepage of my site came in at 1.6 seconds - I can live with that].

This a good example of how designers and marketers should work together to generate ROI for a website. Left to their own devices, designers normally produce buttons that look good and show-off their skills. Marketers want buttons that users will click on - see Button Balance.

Although the title of this article - In House 5 Essential Concepts For E-Commerce SEO - suggests it is about SEO, there is more to it than that. I have included it here for its advice on how to structure e-commerce websites.

Online forms should be something that are easy to use - and relatively easy to design - but there are many examples of poor design [eg this form goes to the bottom of the class ] - here are some good tips - Web Site Usability For Improving Online Forms.

I've added this one because [a] I agree with the majority of the 25, and [b] it's nice to be able to point at lists like this one and say; 'look, it's not only me that says these things', see - 25 reasons why I'll leave your website in 10 seconds.

My Internet Marketing book does little more than introduce the basics - there are many specialist skills required within all aspects of the subject. Here's one that is absolutely essential to an e-commerce site, yet so many get it wrong; Do Your Site Visitors Push Your Buttons?

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