Posts Tagged Web Design and Development

SEO : the biggest con of the 21st Century?

It seems like an age now since Eoghan McCabe of Contrast wrote his controversial “SEO is Bullshit” blog article back in 2008. That article was followed up a few weeks late with an article titled “SEO is Still Bullshit” which included discussions and comments from some of Ireland’s most respected SEO experts.

At the time, Eoghan’s article and subsequent comments irked me quite a lot. He, like every other SEO sceptic totally ignored the value and definite “need” element of SEO and focused purely on the usability issues that were generated by poor techniques used by most SEOs in order to get websites ranked in the Google search results.

In hindsight and after many more years in this business, seeing the rise (and fall) of (too) many so called SEO expert individuals and companies; I’ve finally woken up to the fact that SEO is in fact total bullshit.

Yes that may sound quite alarming coming from someone who has sold the importance of Search Engine Optimisation for over a decade. But the simple fact is that SEO has probably one of the biggest cons of the 21st Century.

I say this with complete sincerity and assure you that this is definitely not an article designed to create linkbait as was suggested at Eoghan’s reasons for his original article.

Let’s look at the very basic facts surrounding SEO.

  1. Ranking a website is easy!
    Yes believe it or not it’s quite easy to get your website ranked on Google or any other search engine. Granted, the more competitive the key phrase wish to rank for, the harder it is to rank.

  2. Google wants to find Good websites with relevant content
    A very simple fact of the matter is that Google wants to rank websites that are relevant to the search being performed. Searching on Google would be a waste of time if the sites it ranked in the top results were not relevant to what you were searching for. A simple rule of thumb is to build a website that a user likes to visit and is easy for a search engine to find relevant content. That’s not rocket science is it?

  3. SEO is not Rocket Science
    I’m sure you’ve been there before, discussing search engine optimisation with a so called expert and he/she talks in riddles and makes SEO seem extremely complex. Well it’s not – there can be quite a lot to it if you are targeting a competitive key phrase, but in most cases it’s pretty straight forward.

  4. SEO only drives traffic!
    One major misconception I come across with people who know a little about SEO is that they sell SEO as a way to drive business through your company. Well the fact is that all is SEO does is drive traffic. Of course with more traffic, it should in turn produce more sales – putting more effort into focusing on building a website site that will convert as many visitors to your website as possible will in the long run be more useful than having a website that only a search engine can understand.

  5. SEO does not Educate!
    A lot of SEO’s sell SEO as the holy grail in terms of marketing your business. The fact is that SEO only targets people who already know about a service or product you provide. If you have a brand new concept or product that n0-one knows about – SEO will not help you get in front of the people that are likely to buy your product or service.

  6. SEO is just Good Web Design
    Every website we build now includes FREE on-site search engine optimisation – we just call it building search engine friendly websites. A lot of SEOs like to class themselves as elite God like beings that are more important than Web Designers themselves. But they’re not and the reality is that you should be thinking about making your website search engine friendly from the time you start building your website. I used to be shocked at how little HTML knowledge a lot of SEO experts actually have. Iif you don’t understand how a website is built under-the-hood, how the hell can you really understand SEO??

  7. SEO Forums / Blogs aren’t always right and are often taken out of context!
    One of my pet hates is discussing SEO with someone who has read up a little about SEO and automatically assumes that the information they have read is the Bible truth. If you happen to be reading an SEO article online, please check the date the article was published. Chances are the information you have is incorrect or well out of date.Also, please ensure you are taking everything in context and not just jumping at conclusions without testing. SEO is all about trial and error – NEVER assume anything!!

    For a classic example of how unconfirmed theories send shockwaves through a whole industry, read this article – a prime example of an out there theory… http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7594-is-email-reputation-now-a-google-ranking-factor

  8. Matt Cutts is not an SEO
    Yes I’m sorry Matt lovers, but have you ever seen any websites that Matt himself has personally performed a search engine optimisation job on? Well I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t of course! 

    Yes, one thing he has got over us all is that he has inside information. How much is questionable as he rarely seems to throw out anything more than the obvious.

    He’s constantly being taken out of context, with a lot of people taking what he says as “fact”, without reading into the actual meaning of his comments in the overall picture of things.

SEO? The bottom is that anyone can can do it. That sole reason is why we now have a market saturated with SEOs that claim to be God’s gift to Number 1 rankings on Google.

The SEO industry has become one that preys on vulnerable companies who will never truly understood how the web nor search engines work, but believe the hype that is discussed at length at nearly every business seminar across the country.

There’s no doubt SEO is important, but its value in most cases has been greatly over exaggerated. For any website to be a success, you must create a search engine friendly website at the very least – whether you should go further depends very much on the competition in your field.

SEO is in the gutter as far as I’m concerned – from the companies that offer you “guaranteed No. 1 spots on Google” to companies who offer “link building services” from websites with little or no value. And of course we have the SEOs who think 301 redirects are the solution to all your problems, it just gets more ridiculous as time passes.

Maybe Eoghan saw all this long before the rest of us, one things for sure… he certainly seen it before me.

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Cool Sites : Nike Better World & Ben The Bodyguard

So much for keeping up the planned “Cool Site of the Week” section on my blog eh? I haven’t posted anything since the 10th of June 2009 no less! Well in fairness, that’s because I rarely see anything that seriously impresses me enough to do a blog article.

Over the last couple of weeks that has changed though. I have found not one, but two seriously cool websites.

Both sites use the same “scroll down” interaction, but one in particular just blew me away the first time I saw it.

Yes that was the Nike Better World website (www.nikebetterworld.com) – now I know this site certainly isn’t the best way to approach web design from a usability point of view, but you can’t but respect what the creative team at Nike have achieved with this website. Not only is the vertical scrolling a pretty neat effect, the parallax effect just blows your mind the first time you see it. Technically it needs a well thought out vision of how it should work in theory, but coming up with the idea in the first place is just amazing.

Another good site on a similar theme is the Ben the Bodyguard www.benthebodyguard.com website. This has been around longer than the Nike Better World site as far as I know and it too is pretty impressive in it’s concept and delivery.

Both sites are using nothing else in terms of plugins – which makes it hugely impressive.

Check them out now, you won’t be disappointed!

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How much does a web design cost? Real Web Design Costs

It’s over a year since I wrote a similar article to this one on what it costs to design a website. Surprisingly, since that last post and with all the turmoil that is happening with the global and Irish economy, little has changed in terms of pricing. What has changed however, is the number of small web design companies popping up all over the place offering cheap web design solutions. I personally take no issue with these companies, unless of course they start comparing their work to the work a professional web design agency.

The problem with web design is that generally speaking, most people don’t actually understand what it takes to design and develop a website. I know from even my circle of friends, they would expect the building of a website to be something that can be done in a few clicks of a button. Of course this is a possibility and one of the reasons there are so many cheap and nasty web design companies in the market today.

We regularly get people telling us that we are “much more” expensive than other quotes they have received. In this case we always ask them to provide us with the proposal from the other company to see where the difference in price lies. In most cases, they are comparing apples with oranges. The service we offer is far superior to the cheaper alternatives. There are of course the exceptions when I can’t even contemplate why a company is going in so cheaply.

Like with every professional service, I think it’s best to look at things in context when discussing pricing around a service you require. Hopefully this article will open most peoples eyes into how a professional website is cost-ed and why.

Web Design Pricing
When we get a call from someone looking for a website designed, the first thing we ask for is an idea of other sites that the client is trying to emulate for their own business. This isn’t to plagiarise their ideas, but for us to get an idea of what the clients expectations are. Our next question would be related to the websites functionality, e.g. do you need to sell anything online, what level of interactivity do you want with the client etc.

Generally speaking, the answers provided will lead us two ways, one needing more questions answered or two, in a position to put together a proposal for the costs involved in the project. With the information received from the client, we can the plan the time we feel is required to deliver a finished website based on the clients brief. If it’s a complex project, it can take quite sometime to put together time-frames expected.

Time Required to Build a Website
Let’s take a simple brochure type website, with a Content Management System as an example of the time  required to deliver such a website.

  1. Design
    Design is a strange procedure that can’t be timed to an exact time-frame. There’s a massive level of creativity required and therefore, you can’t rush it. A typical design can take anywhere from 2-3 days to meet the initial design brief and at that stage, you will probably have one or two ideas developed.

    In all our projects, we work with our client to get a design that they are 100% happy with. If they don’t like what we have delivered, we will keep working until we get exactly what the client wants. Luckily enough, in most cases we don’t have a problem with it going beyond the 2-3 days allocated.

    Total Days: 2-3

  2. Design preparation for CMS integration
    Once the design has been fully signed off, we move onto preparing the agreed design for the CMS integration. This means developing the necessary HTML, CSS and JS code etc. This can take up to 1 day to complete.

    Total Days: 1

  3. CMS Installation & Design Integration
    As soon as the design has been cut up and is ready to be integrated, we start the process of installing the CMS. Depending on the CMS chosen and the complexity of the design, this can take anywhere from 2-3 days to fully integrate. At this stage, we also look after any functionality issues, such as forms, login systems etc etc.

    Total Days: 3-4

  4. Content Insertion
    The final build stage is the insert the content provided by the client. Typically we do a maximum of 15-20 pages of content for a client and then train them up on how to use the CMS to insert their own content if they require more.

    Total Days: 1-2

So there you have it, that’s a typical example of the time required to build a very basic website with a CMS. I haven’t included the time required for meetings, design briefing or testing. The basic nuts and bolts of building the website will take at least 7-10 days, yet it generally takes 4-6 weeks before the whole process is completed.

Web Design Costs
We charge per project basis. It’s not easy for me to give a set figure for the cost of the design and development of a website because requirements differ so much from client to client. Typically speaking, we would be charging anywhere from €2,500 – €3,500 +VAT for a typical brochure site with CMS.

To some that sounds quite expensive, but let’s break that down further to see where the costs come in.

a) Web Designer / Web Developer

A good web designer/developer’s annual salary will be anywhere from €30-40k per annum depending on experience. Since we need two people working on your website design, let’s take a mean salary of €35k per annum.

It costs the employer just over €790 per week (accounting for holidays) to have someone working on the project. The total cost for a 2 week project is therefore €1580

b) Project Management / Meetings
With any project, there is a certain level of project management required. Project management means meetings. As much as we can, we try to have meetings on-site, but most of the time it makes more sense to meet with the client in their offices. This obviously takes someone’s time and costs money for travel etc.

c) Rent, Calls & Other Misc.
A necessary evil of running a business, but we need to put a roof over our heads and buy PCs, phones broadband connection etc etc. Without all this, we wouldn’t be a web design company.

You can throw your own figures at b and c – but even with the lowest level, you can see there is very little margin in the costs charged for designing a simple website.

Cheap Web Design

So now that you’ve seen what the costs involved in developing a typical website, let’s look at how a cheap web design business operates. I say business as opposed to “company” because a lot of these businesses are one man operations run by self employed individuals working from home with little overheads etc. Other cheap web design companies will outsource their work to cheap labour countries such as India, Pakistan or China.

  1. Design
    Generally speaking, most of these companies do one of three things when it comes to the design aspect of a website.

    a) Download  and use freely available templates from the Internet. They then do some basic customisation of the design such as include your logo and other graphical material.

    b) Purchase already created designs from Templatemonster.com or similar websites. Again, there is a certain level of customisation required in this case.

    c) Outsource off-shore – absolutely nothing wrong with this, but the quality tends to be pretty poor.

  2. CMS Integration
    The majority of the cheap web design companies use one of the many freely available CMS solutions such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. Apart from being really easy and quick to install, there are thousands of online resources where they can download free templates to use for their website theme.

Typically speaking, someone could put together one of these cheap websites, that will potentially look like thousands of other websites across the Internet in less than 2 days. If it takes them longer than this, either you are a nightmare client that is expecting too much or they don’t know what they are doing!

The bottom line is that if you want your website design from a professional design agency, expect to spend anywhere from €1,500 to €4,000 for a brochure type website. If you want to go the cheap route, don’t spend more than €500 – otherwise you are being ripped off.

I hope all the information above gives you a good idea of the complete disconnect between cheap web design and professional web design. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to use a cheap web design company, but before you start comparing apples and oranges make sure you completely understand what you are getting from your web designer.

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Choosing a web designer to build your website

Nowadays, most people’s first port of call after hearing about your company is to check out your website. For that very simple reason, your website needs to make that all important first impression that will hopefully help them decide if your company is the business they would like to work with. If your website isn’t easy on the eye, clear and concise, you may put them off and ultimately lose the sale.

If this is your first web project, choosing the right web designer may seem like a daunting task. If you’ve been here before, you are likely to be looking for different things from your web designer. There are so many providers to choose from that finding a web design partner that suits your needs best can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

But before you go checking out every single web designer in the top of the Google search results, you should first establish what your needs are. Do you need a dynamic eCommerce website where you will sell products online or is your website more of a basic brochure type website that will simply give you an online presence? Personally, I’m not a fan of the latter as I believe the majority of businesses can sell something online.

Choosing the type of web design companies that you’d like to approach can come down to many factors. Can they build the type of website you require? How long have they been in business? What is their portfolio like? And probably most importantly, how much will it cost?

It’s always good to have a budget in mind, especially when prices can differ greatly from designer to designer. Just to give you an idea of realistic budgets, using a reputable web design agency, who deliver quality custom designs you should expect to pay anywhere from €1,500 to €4,000 for a brochure type website. If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can get websites from as little as €300 but they are like to be prebuilt templates with little room for customisation.

When you’ve decided what you need, it’s time to find your new web design partner. The easy thing to do is to run a search in Google, but it’s probably best if you seek recommendations from others. Try and build a shortlist of no more than 3 web design companies that you think you’d like to work with.

One thing to remember is that it’s not important if the design agency hasn’t worked in your industry before. Just because they don’t know your industry doesn’t mean they won’t be able to deliver a quality website. In fact, it’s probably best that you work with a company that haven’t worked with a similar business to yours. The best web designers will want to see the website they build for you succeed. They will be eager to learn about your business and as the relationship grows, you will probably divulge a lot of inside knowledge of how you sell your business to help them understand what you need from your website. Can you imagine if they were telling another client all your secrets? All that hard work you put into making your website a success, simply being passed to a competitor.

When you’ve decided to request a proposal from your chosen web designers, it is important to brief them properly. If they don’t understand your requirements the price they quote will either be too low or too high. If the price is too low, this will lead to problems in the future. Web designers love to call it “feature creep?. This is where the client hasn’t explained their requirements properly, the designer feels that the request is extra work and inform you that they will want to charge extra. This can lead to a breakdown in the relationship which is a common occurrence in web design projects. I’m sure you’ve heard of someone who has a web developer who doesn’t answer calls or has gone missing from the face of the earth, well this is generally the reason why. The other side of that coin is where the designer over estimates your requirements and give you a massive estimate. Web designers are all too aware of this “build me a bebo? syndrome. Bebo of course would cost hundreds of thousands of euros to build, whereas most clients don’t even need 20% of the functionality for their own website.

After you have received your proposal and you like what you see, the next step is to look for references. Ask the web designer to provide you with a list of referees that you can contact and make sure you ring at least one of these. Find out key things like, did they deliver what you requested, did they do it on time, are they good to work with etc.

Finally, you should meet the chosen web designers – just like you would an interview. If you take your website seriously, your web designer will essentially become part of your team. If you want to get the best from them, treat them like you would a good member of staff.

Now you are ready to make your decision. Remember to treat this relationship as a long term one. A good web designer will always respect the clients who respect them. As your project comes to an end there will be changes required, some large and some not so. If you’ve a good relationship with your designer, they will be happy to make these changes without charging. But equally, if your designer tells you that it’s more work than they expected, let them know you are willing to pay them for their extra work. Good web designers aren’t easy to find, so if you’ve found one, cherish them!

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HTML5 – What’s it all about and why should I care?

In the wonderful world of the Internet and web development, techies love creating the latest buzzwords. But it’s the other marketing types who love to latch onto these buzzwords in some vein attempt to sound technical and of course create a new little industry for themselves that irk me a lot.

The “Web 2.0” buzz term seems to be becoming a little stale in the minds of marketeers, so now they have started to latch onto the latest and greatest development in the world of the web in the shape of HTML 5. We’ve even heard Steve Balmer of the Apple use it as an excuse not to put Adobe Flash on this “i” products. But unlike “Web 2.0”, HTML 5 is actually “something” and not just a concept for marketers to use in their sales speeches.

HTML5 is put simply the next generation of HTML. It is a massive overhaul to once very static and limited mark up language. No longer will we have to rely on third party applications such as Adobe Flash to play videos or even third party javascript to create a WYSIWYG editable form field. From a web designers point of view, this takes away massive headaches. From a web user point of view, it should reduce the number of third party plug-ins required to view a website. There’s so much more to HTML5 that I could easily write a book on it. Suffice to say, it’s definitely an exciting time to be involved in the web industry and be part of this revolutionary change.

Someone posted this image on Twitter today (I’m sorry I can’t remember who you are!) which exlpains it better than I ever could. Even for the non-techie, looking at what features are supported or will be supported by the leading browsers is an interesting read. A lot of people will clearly have to change their browser of choice to be part of this change!

HTML 5 - What is it?

HTML 5 - Click to enlarge!

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