December 28th, 2010, 5 Comments »
Several times a week, I walk past a commercial office furniture warehouse. There is signage–a series of photos and text–running the length of one side of the building. If you get close to the building, you notice that several panels of the signs look noticeably ‘jaggy’ or low resolution. Other panels look normal. Here’s an example (and here’s another):
Somebody–the sign designer, and maybe the printer–failed at their job. They delivered an obviously substandard result. The owner of the furniture business probably:
- Hasn’t noticed
- Has noticed and doesn’t care
- Doesn’t understand that a better result is possible.
Understanding the How and Why
The third scenario is the one we encounter all the time when we teach web marketing workshops. The attendees are almost always non-technical marketing executives and small business owners. At some point during nearly every session, we hear this complaint from at least one of our students:
I asked my web designer to make a change to our site, and they said ‘no’. They explained why they couldn’t make the change, but I didn’t understand their explanation.
Sometimes the designer’s decision is the right one. But all too often, their answer doesn’t make a lot of sense. A few actual examples:
- “You can’t install WordPress on a Windows server. Launching a blog on a third-party site like WordPress.com is just as good.”
- “It’s impossible to add Google Analytics tracking code to your site.”
- “Drupal is the right solution for your small, simple site.”
I feel for our students. They lack the web designer’s vocabulary to fully understand the conversation. More importantly, they don’t have the technical acumen or experience to properly assess and question their designer’s decision.
In response, I’ll often try to simplify their explanation and provide the student with supporting evidence to counter the designer’s argument. Here, for example, is how you install WordPress on a Windows server. Or here are some reasons for running your blog locally instead of on a hosted service. Occasionally we’ll actually act as a student’s (or more often, a client’s) proxy and negotiate with the web designer directly.
Creatures of Habit
Why don’t these designers give their clients better advice? I’m not sure. Maybe they have out-of-date information. Maybe they don’t know how to deliver what the client asks for. Maybe they’re just lazy. Most often, though, they’re creatures of habit.
Much like web marketers, most web designers are self-taught. And, like any profession, only a smallish subset of them are eager to learn new technologies or keep abreast of industry trends. Just like humanity as a whole, they’re most comfortable with The Way I’ve Always Done It. This phenomenon is exacerbated, I think, by so many web designers being self-employed owner-operators. They’re not surrounded daily by fellow workers who might be sources of industry knowledge or alternative approaches. It also doesn’t help that the world of web design changes rapidly.
I find that a lot of designers’ reluctance comes where their skills brush up against related professions: search engine optimization, copy-writing, eCommerce and so forth. Often the client’s request isn’t directly related to the aesthetics or functionality of their website, but rather one of these other topics.
Web designers don’t have to be experts in these subjects, but they’re often the only web ‘expert’ a small business owner or marketing manager comes in contact with. It behooves them to understand some common best practices, so that they can make good decisions on their client’s behalf.
In writing this post, I’d hoped to write up a bunch of tips to help non-technical people with Negative Nelly designers. Unfortunately, “get yourself a better web designer” is the best advice I could come up with. What suggestions do you have?
Footnote: I should emphasize that this is not some passive-aggressive attack on any of the half-dozen web designers with which we regularly work. They’re all awesome.
5 Comments »
October 31st, 2008, 18 Comments »
For one of our clients, we’re doing an informal series of audio interviews with tech gurus and web geeks about how they manage and back up their digital life. There are various marketing angles on this little project, but one is search engine optimization.
The first interview was with man-about-the-web Chris Pirillo. We talked for about 15 minutes over a dodgy Skype line. I had it transcribed by one of our contractors, and it turned into 2500 words of text.
That’s 2500 words of relevant text that’s reasonably rich with keywords. Assuming a going low-end rate of $25 per blog post, and 250 words a post, that’s $250 of text for the price of transcription and, all-in, about an hour of my time.
Exploring My Transcription Options
Yesterday I did the second interview in the series with the incomparable Vanessa Fox. I figured I could get the transcription done for less money, and I didn’t want to torture our contractor. I started shopping around for options. I also asked on Twitter, and these were the options that I came up with. The interview is 18 minutes, so I’ll include the pricing for that duration where available (all amounts, presumably, are in US dollars):
Then Avi reminded me of Andy Baio’s experiments in transcription with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk project. Andy has written up thorough instructions on how to outsource your transcription in chunks to workers in the system.
I decided to give Turk a try. It’s a little more work than just sending off the file to one of the aforementioned services, but I’ve always been charmed by Turk’s micro-task model. I divided the transcription into three six-minute chunks and posted the job. I offered $6 per chunk, or $1 per minute. I’m sure I could have gotten it done for less, but I’m looking for inexpensive, not cheap as humanly possible.
Mechanical Turk-Powered Transcription
It was mostly a success. The turn-around time was ridiculously quick. Despite my specifying a turnaround of a week being acceptable, I got all three transcriptions back in less than six hours. The quality seems excellent, though I don’t have a ton of experience with transcription to compare.
Despite my best efforts to ensure it didn’t happen, two workers transcribed the same section. Thus, I had to re-post a section to get complete results. And, of course, I have to paste the three chunks of text together and do some proofing. After Amazon’s fees, I paid $19.80 for 18 minutes of transcription.
Next time, I may just give CastingWords a try, as it would save me time and the difference in price is pretty marginal. There’s some interesting discussion on Andy’s blog about the ethics of pricing jobs on Turk. I was interested to learn that 75% of Turk workers are American, and that they have a variety of motivations for working on the service.
Posting Transcripts for Their SEO Benefits
I wondered on Twitter why more people don’t have their podcasts transcribed. The general response was that, for the hobbyist, it was too expensive. I guess it depends on if and how podcasters are monetizing their sites.
If you can get reasonably good transcription for $0.75 per minute, then you’ve got about 3700 words (my two transcriptions average out to 185 words a minute) to post on one or more pages for $15. Can you generate more than $15 from advertising on those pages over, say, two years? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s worth considering if you’re relying on advertising (and particular Google AdWords and the like) for revenue.
In any case, if they care one iota about SEO, a company has no excuses for not posting transcriptions of audio and video content. It’s not world-changing, but it’s another few steps in the marathon that is marketing.
UPDATE: Speaking of Mechanical Turk, Andy’s fruitful link blog points to the Turker’s Gospel, where Turk workers (‘Turkers’) rewrite Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in their own words.
18 Comments »
April 17th, 2008, 2 Comments »
Just a quick note to say thanks to everybody who linked to Julie’s figure skating blog. She’s now in the number one spot for the Google search ‘figure skating blog’. There’s obviously not a lot of stiff competition, because Brian, Richard and I all have results in the top ten (though that may just be Google favouring newer pages).
For all you aspiring adult figure skaters out there, you can learn how to centre a spin.
2 Comments »
April 6th, 2008, 12 Comments »
A couple of years ago my wife Julie started a figure skating blog. She’s got a particular purpose in mind for this project: she wants to get media accreditation for the skating events at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
One way to do this is to write the most popular figure skating blog in the world, according to Google. She currently sits in the #2 spot.
The goal is to get her up to the top spot, and I need your help. If you’re so inclined, please link to Julie’s blog with the phrase ‘figure skating blog‘. Collectively, we ought to be able to boost her up to the top spot, eh?
To entice you, she’s collected eight of the worst falls in figure skating (Digg that mofo, if you’re thus inclined). It’s, uh, not for the squeamish. My favourite is the hip check that Laetitia Hubert lays on Midori Ito.
12 Comments »
March 25th, 2008, 2 Comments »
Via Amber, I discovered the unusual design for Washlet.com, a site promoting a, uh, toilet. The site is more or less entirely comprised of little bits of video (note to designers: fix your title tags), discussing the pros and…well, just the pros, of their fancy new toilet.
The toilet-promoting monologues are hilarious because they’re so carefully worded. They never say the word ‘toilet’, and are constantly dancing around the actual nuts and bolts of our bodies and the device’s operations. I kind of feel for the poor actors–they seem so darned convinced of the Washlet’s awesomeness.
I’ve been watching the slow but steady rise of video-centric websites over the past few years. I actually don’t mind this approach at all. However, all of the information should be conveyed and easily available (and linkable) in text form. Why? Arguments for SEO aside, maybe I’m a verbal learner. Maybe I want to cut and paste a chunk to send to my bidet-obsessed friend. Maybe I want to blog about a particular product.
I actually prefer a hybrid model,with video naturally integrated into a text-based site. Coast Capital Savings and Steady Hand do this well.
I was reminded of an amusing Phillips campaign that I blogged about a while back, called Shave Everywhere. They’ve changed the content on that site, but the new stuff looks as good or better than the old.
2 Comments »
January 24th, 2008, 3 Comments »
One of my posts on the popular (but crappy) email newsletter service Constant Contact used to be ranked #3 when you searched for “Constant Contact”.
Finding the site down today, I was reminded to do a search on the company again to see where my site now ranked. My post has been bumped down to ninth.
That’s fair enough, as timeliness should be an important part of search result ranking. However, in the top eight results, there are separate results for constantcontact.ca, constantcontact.org and addme.roving.com. All of these simply redirect to ConstantContact.com, and have few or no incoming links to them.
I don’t usually see that kind of behaviour in search results. I don’t think it’s particularly kosher that Google ranks redirecting alternative URLs so highly. What gives?
3 Comments »
January 22nd, 2008, 9 Comments »
I’ve been running this Knol blog (though, ironically, Google’s project may actually be called Unipedia) with an occasional post, and paying attention to the space. Today I encountered Qassia (link goes to my profile page, as the site is in barely-private beta), which seems to be a startup in the Squidoo, Wikia and Mahalo vein. From their FAQ:
Qassia is a site to which you can add your websites. You can also add your knowledge, in the form of tidbits of information called “intel”. The more intel you add, the better your sites will rank, the more backlinks you get, and the more money you make.
Qassia is 100 percent free, and does not require reciprocal links. You can get unlimited quality backlinks to your websites from Qassia.
Before you get too excited, it’s not real money. It’s Qassia dollars. Which, according to the FAQ again, you’ll be able to spend on “front-page advertising, site-wide links, and other novel ways for you to burn through your hard-earned Qassia dollars”. Er, wahoo.
I built a page, just to check out the editing interface. Like the rest of the site, it’s pretty unremarkable. Clearly it’s just another attempt at the user-generated content plus SEO equals profit equation. None of these sites, as far as I can figure, is a threat to Wikipedia. Google Knol (or whatever), however, may be.
In any case, if you want to check out Qassia, there’s a sign up link on my profile page. In the interests of full disclosure, I get some magical Qassia bucks if you sign up. Maybe I’ll spend them on a puppy. Oh, uh, never mind.
9 Comments »
October 9th, 2007, 11 Comments »
I’ve been doing some reading about ebooks recently, and enjoyed a Copyblogger post about creating ebooks that sell. Brian references an ebook site featuring a book on, uh, writing ebooks.
When I visited the site, I was reminded of a phenomenon I’ve observed in recent years around ebooks and similar digital offerings. You can also see it on GoogleAdSecrets.com and the prolix URL SearchEngineOptimizationStrategies.com.
It’s a particular (and peculiar) kind of website. Really just one very long page, it features a single, centered column, few images, and many bold offers, claims and testimonials. It pretty much defies every major web design trend of this millennium. To the sophisticated web surfer, it looks profoundly tacky.
Clearly it must sell ebooks, though, or people wouldn’t use it. Did one person prove this was the optimal selling strategy, and everybody emulated them? I’d imagine so. The pages certainly don’t inspire confidence in me, but I guess they’re not selling to me.
11 Comments »