Good Web Work digital media for the real world Tue, 01 Mar 2011 01:39:21 +0000 en hourly 1 Using real photographs on your website instead of headsets and handshakes Tue, 01 Mar 2011 01:39:21 +0000 GWW (Brian) I’m often surprised by how many websites don’t display photographs of their workers doing their thing, especially when those photographs might be interesting and help the user connect with what’s going on.

So many businesses choose stock photos (headsets and handshakes) because they’re slick, but users are blind to those photos, and would much rather see something real.

It’s easy to understand why users want to see real photographs. They’re trying to figure out whether to hire you or not.

The banal photo of the smiling, headset-wearing receptionist is useless at best. At worst, it might be considered dishonest, if this super-happy fake customer service rep doesn’t work at your company in any way shape or form, but that’s not really a debate I want to get into or the point I’m trying to make.

I just think it makes sense to show your users something real.  If you are a contractor, let’s see some of your work and some of your folks out on site doing what they do.  Show the user what makes you different, what makes you worth choosing over everybody else.

You might think this would be expensive, and it can be.  But it might not cost as much as you think, and the money spent might be an investment rather than just and expense.  It’s probably worth your time to at least contact some photographers in your area to see what they’d charge.

Another thing to consider is that a lot of web designers are decent photographers. Some are better than decent.  Even if your designer isn’t as good as a true pro photographer, the fact that she is building the site might give her an understanding of what kind of photos are needed and how they’ll fit into the site.  This might allow her to get a really good result out of a day or two of taking photos at some point in the design process.  Paying your web designer to do photography may or may not be cheaper than hiring a dedicated photographer — it all depends on which designer and which photographer you’re talking about.

Finally, here’s an unorthodox method you can try if you’re really on a tight budget: Figure out which one of your staff members has the best eye for photography.  If that person can shake loose from his/her other duties for a time, have him/her take a fairly nice digital camera around and take as many photos as possible.  It’s not like you have to pay for film, and with a lot of photos to choose from, you might end up with some good stuff.  The raw photos themselves don’t have to be perfect, just good enough that a talented graphic designer or web designer can clean them up and crop them up into something that will work on your site.

Photos done this way might not be as slick as stock photos, but they’ll almost certainly make up for it by showing something of interest to the user.  (If you pursue this option, be sure to ask your web designer to shoot straight and let you know if the photos are so bad as to be unusable.)

In some cases, the work a company does is difficult to show in photos.  But that doesn’t mean you have to resort to the headset lady or businessmen shaking hands.  In these cases you might want to try some cool hand-drawn illustrations or some interesting vector graphics.  If done right, these could really make your website stand out.  At the very least, they should be better than fake photos (unless they’re horribly executed, in which case they might be equally lame).

If you really want to use cheesy stock images, knock yourself out.  Just don’t be surprised when people ignore the photos, and your business.

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The you/user test Fri, 25 Feb 2011 03:39:59 +0000 GWW (Brian) When you’re working on something for your website, this is a quick and easy little test you can do for anything you are thinking of adding to the site.

The you test

Does this thing work for you? If it’s a piece of writing, is it boring to you or interesting? Would you read it or would you click away to another site and never return?

If it’s a navigation scheme, does it make sense to you or is it confusing?

The user test

Regardless of what the answer to the you part of the test is, the second part of the you/user test is to ask whether you are like the user or different from the user.

If a piece of writing is boring to you but you are a 27-year-old male and the site is for 60-year-old women, maybe it doesn’t matter whether you find the thing interesting.

Then ask whether the actual users of the site are likely to find the thing useful, interesting, boring, etc.

If you aren’t sure, you might need to round up a few of those people, show them what you’re working on and see what they think. You don’t have to do a formal user test with 400 people, but you can do a little quick and informal research.

You can run this little you/user test for just about any part of a website or web presence.

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Two questions to answer when starting a website design project Fri, 21 Jan 2011 04:24:01 +0000 GWW (Brian) Here are 2 relatively simple but hugely important questions that need to be answered anytime you build a website or web presence:

  1. Who is the audience? Old people? Young people? Men? Women? Tech-savvy? Tech-noob? People who love sports? People who hate sports? Music fans? Foodies? Wine lovers? Beer drinkers? Art snobs?
  2. What do you want those people to do as a result of visiting your site? Do you want them to do something on your site? Do you want them to do something after they leave your site? Buy a product? Understand an idea? Know your product exists? Tell a friend? Come back to the site?

Just 2 little questions, but the answers will guide pretty much everything you do in the short term and the long run of building and running your web presence.

You probably already knew this but just a reminder.

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Social media = testimonials page Wed, 05 Jan 2011 06:38:43 +0000 GWW (Brian) Lots of websites have a page dedicated to testimonials from current or past customers and clients. Some websites have testimonials rotating through the home page or in some cases maybe a different one on each page in the footer or the sidebar or something like that.

Letting potential customers know how happy your current customers are with your work is a useful thing to do, so it’s not surprising that the testimonial has a longstanding history as a core element of many business websites.

In a way, putting testimonials on your website is just an attempt to get some word-of-mouth marketing going. That’s a fine thing to do and this article is not here to say you should stop going it, but we’re going to look at how social media plays into this kind of thing. Let’s look at the mechanics of how you would add testimonials to your website.

First, you would identify a customer you had worked with who was happy with your services. Then you would probably ask them to write up a little paragraph or something about how much they enjoyed working with you. Perhaps you might even have an email or letter they had sent you expressing their satisfaction, in which case you might just ask them for permission to print an excerpt from that on your website.

It might be that there were some clients you worked with who weren’t happy with your services. Since you figure those folks won’t have anything nice to say, you don’t bother contacting them. They’re filtered out of the process entirely.

With social media, there’s no filter. People are talking all the time about whatever they want to talk about. Sometimes they might talk about companies and products and services they’ve used. Sometimes they might talk about your company. They might say good things. They might say bad things.

You don’t get to hand pick the testimonials that are told everyday on social media networks. You don’t get to filter out the bad ones and highlight the good ones.

That’s just how social media is. You can like it or not like it, but it’s happening.

Of course, this isn’t bad news unless your product is a piece of crap and your customer service is rude and unhelpful. If you’re doing good stuff, word can spread without you even doing a thing.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t include testimonials on your website. It’s just good to keep in mind that the testimonials on the website aren’t the real way word-of-mouth marketing of your product/service is happening.

One other thought: You might be able to use social media to find some good testimonials to use on your website. Depending on the situation, you might want to ask the source of the quote for permission to use it on your site before doing so.

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Fast ain’t the answer Mon, 03 Jan 2011 06:13:04 +0000 GWW (Brian) Most people think the web is about doing things fast. Sometimes it is. Mostly it’s not.

Building a web presence takes time. You might do some fast work one day, but then you have to do it again the next day, and the next day, and the next. More important than doing fast work, of course, is doing good work. When you keep doing good stuff for consistently for a long time, it adds up.

You have to keep going, which takes patience and persistence. If you’re looking for something to happen overnight, or over a month, get ready for a let down, cause that’s what’s coming.

Work hard and think long term. Don’t rush. Stay with it and don’t give up. You’ll keep getting better at what you do and your web presence will improve as you go.

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The web is pretty simple if you let it be that way Mon, 03 Jan 2011 04:45:07 +0000 GWW (Brian) For web designers and developers, the web is complicated. That’s because there’s always new stuff coming around that web professionals have to learn about and deal with.

For other folks who work with the web but don’t actually do the technical work of building the stuff, it’s a lot simpler. If you are one of those people, a small business owner trying to get a web presence or whatever, remember that you don’t have to worry about all the technology out there. You just have to deal with your stuff.

For most people working with the web, the first instinct is to overcomplicate things. Don’t do that. Keep it as simple as possible. Really. It works.

]]> 0 Fri, 17 Dec 2010 05:09:57 +0000 GWW (Brian) Word on the street is that Yahoo intends to shut down Delicious, the simple and useful social bookmarking website that started out as back in 2003. Yahoo bought the site in 2005.

(Check out the Wikipedia entry on Delicious for more background/history)

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Delicious and enjoyed using it, not so much for the social aspect of it but just because it’s a really simple way to keep my bookmarks organized.

The end of Delicious is just another reminder that anytime you offload something to a third-party site, you give up control over what will happen to that stuff later on down the road.

Usually you can do some kind of export, but there’s no guarantee that an export file will include everything you need, and regardless of how good the export is, it doesn’t change the fact that you won’t have the tool available in the future.

Third-party websites that you become dependent on don’t have to get the axe to mess you up either. Sometimes they just change one or two features you were using heavily and suddenly you are in a pinch to find a new way of doing things.

None of this is to say you should never use third party websites/tools/platforms. But it’s worth thinking about how much control you want to give up, and how much of a jam you’d be in if one of these things went away, or changed dramatically, or just had some unexpected downtime.

Trying to have a backup plan for everything can become unrealistic, and eventually will put you in some insane endless loop where you never do anything except plan for every unlikely scenario imaginable. One way to approach how heavily you invest in third-party tools is to consider which things you can’t do without, or how long you could do without them, or how easy it would be to shift to something else if it all went down.

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Web work success in 4 steps Tue, 14 Dec 2010 02:52:59 +0000 GWW (Brian) Here is a simple, 4-step plan for doing better web work that does not involve joining another social media website. This must be magic. Or it might just be really stupid. As with everything else on this blog, do whatever you like with it:

  1. Spend less time online.
  2. Use your online time better.
  3. Get more work done.
  4. Enjoy life more.

I think there’s kind of a myth for people working on the web that if you want to do well in this field you have to be online all the time. Even if you don’t buy into that myth, the constant influx of new digital tools creates a natural momentum to do more, more, more, even if “more” is just another social media time drain or another way to organize an outline of a draft of a plan to maybe do some actual work.

I'm so distracted from all this clicking.

What I’m trying to express in the goofy little 4 step thing above is that being online more (or plugged in more or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t necessarily translate to doing better work on the web. Better work is better work. More work is just more work.

Everybody knows having balance is an important part of living well, but some of us get fooled into thinking our work has to suffer in order to achieve that balance. I’m more and more convinced that time spent offline can be just as good for quality of work as it is for quality of life.

Why? What’s the deal? Do I have a problem with hard work?

No, I’m a firm believer in the idea that working hard over a long period of time is the best way to make things happen on the web. But with all the distractions of social media and general entertainment on the web these days, it seems important to draw a clear separation between what it means to “be online all the time” and what it means to “work hard.”

It’s extremely easy to waste time online these days. Some people say that’s OK. They say, “well, we all need to just play and blow off steam now and then.”

Sure, I buy that. But if your online time wasting is taking up 3 hours per day, you might want to look at rearranging things so you can do some real living during that time instead of mindlessly clicking Twitter/Wikipedia/Facebook links until you can’t remember what year it is.

Doing good web work is not about being online all the time. It’s about doing something useful with the time you do spend online.

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What’s the difference between a website and a web presence? Tue, 07 Dec 2010 07:15:02 +0000 GWW (Brian) I’ve written a lot on this website about building a web presence, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to explain the difference between a website and a web presence. This post will try to do that as simply as possible.

Your website is your home base, and in most cases should be located at a particular domain that you own, such as While you might (and probably should) use some mix of third-party platforms like Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/etc., your website is the central hub that ties all those things together.

Your web presence is all those other things, like Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/etc., plus your website. Basically it’s the combination of all the places on the web where you have a presence. See why they call it a web presence?

There are all sorts of decisions that have to be made about which third-party tools you should use to build your web presence and which role(s) each of those will play. There are also plenty of decisions to be made in designing and maintaining your website, and making sure all these things fit together and work together. I’ll continue to write about that kind of stuff but for now I just wanted to try to scribble down some definitions in plain terms.

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WordPress powers 10% of the world’s websites because it’s good for pro and DIY webmasters Sat, 04 Dec 2010 20:48:56 +0000 GWW (Brian) Content is king.

Blogs are the kings of content.

WordPress is the king of blogging platforms.

Some or all of these statements are debatable, particularly the last one. That’s cool. It’s good to have different tools to choose from. I just happen to use WordPress on this site and it’s the content management system I know the most about. I’ve used it to build a lot of sites, some centered around blogs and some that are what you might call traditional websites.

I guess you could say I subscribe to Chris Coyier’s theory of WordPress as stated on the Digging into WordPress website:

Chris Coyier is a real world web designer who has been reaching for WordPress to power client sites for many years. He subscribes to the theory that not only is WordPress capable of powering any website it is almost always the right choice.

One reason WordPress is so often the right choice is that it works and plays well with designers, developers, clients and DIY webmasters. The back end and theme customization options make it highly flexible for people who can code, while the 5-minute install and user-friendly admin panel provide an easy learning curve for folks who can’t (or don’t want to) deal with technical details.

WordPress also has tons of plugins that allow you to extend functionality beyond a base install, and a large and friendly community that can help you get unstuck when you run into a problem. Just type whatever’s going wrong into Google and you’ll almost always find a tutorial or message board post that addresses the issue.

All of this has made WordPress an insanely popular content management system for blogs as well as traditional websites. On this week’s episode of The Big Web Show with Jeffrey Zeldman and Dan Benjamin, Matt Mullenweg says that WordPress is now powering 10% of the world’s websites. That’s staggering, but not all that surprising to anyone who has spent a lot of time working with WordPress. It’s been relatively easy to run a traditional site on WP for a few years now, but it keeps getting easier with new features like custom post types in version 3.0.

I highly recommend WordPress to anyone who needs a website you can maintain yourself with minimal technical skills. You can hire a designer/developer to build you a custom theme, or choose from tons of free ones in the WordPress Theme Directory. For a little cash, you can purchase a premium theme through sites like WooThemes and ThemeForest.

WordPress comes in 2 flavors: the self-hosted version that you install yourself is available at and the turnkey hosted version is at

If you’re a non web geek going totally DIY, I’d recommend the latter. It’s easy to get started and they push out updates automatically whenever a new version comes out. The basic stuff is free, but if you start getting into significant customization, there are some costs that come into play, but nothing outrageous.

Since both the .org and .com versions are the same software (give or take an update here and there), it’s relatively easy to switch from one to the other if you change your mind down the road. Again, if you’re a non-technical user, you might need to hire somebody for a little help with this.

The interview with Matt on The Big Web Show is one of the best episodes of that show yet. I encourage anybody who wants to learn more about the history and future of WordPress to check it out.

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