The value of Blog

As part of my job description with Omni Advertising, I am in charge of writing a blog for their main website, OmniAutomotiveAdvertising.com. It was my suggestion that we start the blog as a strategy to increase our presence on the internet, ramp up our google rankings and develop more incoming and outgoing links to the sites.

According to many of the guidelines, a blog is an integral tool to higher google rankings. Sites such as WebSiteGrader.com advise that the inclusion of a blog will increase your overall score. Prior to starting the Omni blog site, the main website had a very low score, somewhere around 20/100. After adding the blog, and following the other guidelines, the score rose to 53/100! Now, six months later, the site scores 72/100!

Of course, a blog is only a tool. A means to a end, the end being more visitors to your site. While many pages on a website are very rarely update, a blog can easily updated on a regular basis. If your blog is interesting and attracts attention you’ll see a increase in your sites traffic.

Keeping the blog up to date is the challenge. As you can tell from this blog, my last entry was in April. Finding something new to write about can be difficult if you’re not a prolific writer. Writing something that people will find interesting can also be a challenge. Since I write the Omni blog, I spend a lot of time finding suitable topics for that site and tend to neglect this blog.

So, if you want more visitors and higher search rankings, write a blog! It’s worth it.

Is Your Site Accessible?

Last night I attended the Adobe Charlotte Users Group meeting. Guest speaker, Christian N. Abad of Accessible Computing, Inc., gave an animated presentation on the topic of web site accessibility. Accessibility, in this case, refers to how accessible your website is to people with various handicaps or disabilities who use alternative methods to read the content on websites.

I found the timing of this meeting to be right on as I have been researching accessibility over the past month for some of my own projects. In my research I discovered that most ‘sighted’ people, like myself, don’t often think about this subject. We take in multiple sources of information in a single glance.

But not everyone can rely on their eyes for information. This is certainly true of the blind, who often rely on screen readers to surf the net. These machines do exactly what you think. They read the web page, one word at a time. And they do it in a certain order. If a page is not designed for accessibility, finding the information you want could be frustrating to say the least.

Blindness is not the only disability targeted by accessibility. Accessibility addresses issues dealt with by people who are colorblind, or have trouble distinguishing contrasting colors, people with limited use of their hands, or suffer deafness or dyslexia, people with cognitive or neurological disabilities, or even age related disabilities.

In response to these issues, the WW3 came up with a list of accessibility guidelines. In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act, Section 508, to require Federal agencies to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. Simply said, any site receiving money from the federal government are now required to follow the Section 508 guidelines.

So why should your website follow these guidelines. Besides the fact that this would make your site accessible to handicapped people, these guidelines also make your site easier to navigate for everyone. If someone can find what they are looking for right away the odds are that they will continue to use your website and will use your services. The guidelines also help you when it comes to search engine optimization, which will help people find your site to begin with.

Throughout the meeting I found myself nodding in agreement to many of the guidlines Christian mentioned. Many of them seem to be based on common sense, like having navigation links at the top of a page. I was pleased to realize that I already implement many of these guidelines in my design.

Advertise Your Business!

Remember the old addage “You got to spend money to make money”? Well this is just as true today as it ever was. We all know that times are tough and people are holding on to their money a little more than before.

What this means to you, as a business owner, is that you have to do something a little more to get the customer to buy your product. Don’t rely on your old tactics for getting business. Is that ad you’ve been running in the local paper bringing in any new business? What about that yellow pages ad? How’s that working for you? Is it worth the cost of the ad itself? Have you tried anything new lately to boost your sales?

A recent article in the OmniAutomotiveAdvertising blog seems to drive home the point that you need to spend money to make money. Car dealers have taken a big hit over the past few years. Car sales are down for most major automakers. But do they stop advertising? No, they do not. Why? Because the more they push their images the more people are aware of their products.

Do they rely solely on one type of advertising. Heck no! Television, radio, newspaper ads, direct mail, internet banner ads, and websites are all used in a concerted tactic to get customers to buy their product.

I know. I can hear you saying, “Oh, but I’m just a small business. I can’t do all of that”. WRONG! There are steps every business, small and large, can do to increase sales. That newspaper ad not working. Try getting a better ad designed. Yellow pages not pulling them in? Maybe you should try online marketing. Radio or TV out of your budget range. How about opening a YouTube account or posting a pod cast.

Don’t have a website? Why not. Websites are not that expensive and if they are designed well and optimized for the search engines correctly they may be your best option. Let’s face it. Newspaper subscriptions are down. Fewer people are listening to mainstream radio anymore. More and more people are relying on the internet to get their information. I can’t remember the last time I looked in the yellow pages, opened the newspaper classified ads or even listened to a radio ad. And I am not a minority. If I need to find something I get on my computer and search for it.

Wake up people! If your business isn’t performing the way you want it to, do something about it. We can help you get that new improved newspaper ad. We can design a website for you. Contact me now and get more customers for your business!

Dang Good Graphics

I am very happy to announce the official formation of Dang! Good Graphics LLC. After a long period of procrastinating, researching how to incorporate, more procrastinating… I finally decided the time had come.

When I began researching how to incorporate I was a little intimidated by the sheer number of resources I found on the internet, most of which were difficult to interpret. I had all sorts of questions like, “Do I really need to incorporate?”, “What is the best way to incorporate?”, and “What type of corporation is best suited for my business?”  I Googled “North Carolina Incorporation” and quickly found tons of information from the state government. Did that help? A little. But I still had tons of questions. And how much was all of this going to cost.

Then a couple people told me to go to LegalZoom.com. I filled out a short form and in no time I had filled out all the paperwork I needed. And it cost me a heck of a lot less than if I had gone to an attorney. Even when I had more questions I just dialed up LegalZoom and they answered them for me. Of course, they can not answer legal questions, so I may wind up going to an attorney for the more difficult questions.

So Dang! Good Graphics is now open for business!

The Smart Alecks Returning?

For those of you who have seen my portfolio you already know about my association with The Smart Alecks. This 22 minute animated cartoon was a collaborative effort led by my friend Tom Alexander. His idea for the story revolved around a rag tag group of misfits led by Jimmy Gibbs, a lovable, South Philly jazz musician and diehard baseball fan.

After almost six years of waiting it is now rumored that The Smart Alecks might be making a return. In fact, since the YouTube posting of a clip on January 31st, the clip has already been watched 63 times! Could the rumors be true?

When we began planning the project back in ’01 we decided to use Flash as the animation tool. I was very comfortable with flash and felt that it would be the best choice for the job. This was long before other animation tools, such as Toon Boom came along. Never having done a character driven full length animation before proved to be a learning experience on my part. I pretty much had to learn how to do everything from speech patterns to walking cycles. It took over nine months to complete the animation, sitting at my computer after a full day of working at my “real job” and working late into the night.

Now, with the possibility of a new life for The Smart Alecks being bantered about, I find myself sitting by the phone, waiting for the call. Hello!! Tom!! I’m waiting!

Increase Your Sites Ranking

One of the ways to increase your sites rankings is to, a) have a blog on your site and, b) get the blog listed in a blog directory like Technorati. If you are curious about how your site ranks with the billions of other websites on the WWW, check out WebsiteGrader. This site will perform an analysis of your site and offer suggestions how to improve your score. Topics include: On-Page SEO: meta tags, Headings, Images, Interior Page Analysis, and Readability Level; Off-Page SEO: Domain Info, Google PageRank, Google Indexed Pages, Last Google Crawl Date, Traffic Rank, and Inbound Links; Blog Analysis, Blog Ranking and more.

Technorati Profile

To Flash Or Not To Flash

Should you design your site in Flash? This has been an area of controversy ever since the first flash based websites hit the internet back in the mid ’90s. When I first started using Flash 2 back in 1997 it was basically used as an animation tool. Sites like GaboCorp, (archived version here) and Eye4u, began using flash to build websites that used cool motion graphics to create seemingly seamless web experiences. While these sites were impressive they did have their detractors.

Almost from the moment flash sites started springing up there were people putting them down. Why? Well, they went against the convention at the time. People like Jakob Nielsen didn’t like flash because it “constitutes a usability disease”. To some extent that was true. Flash designers came up with new ways to present their vision. It didn’t always follow conventional thinking. Navigation was often difficult, to say the least, if it was there at all. As quickly as people had begun to praise flash the opposite happened. Long ‘skip intros’ became a websites downfall.

You can still find websites with skip intros. The experimental sites are still there. A lot of ‘designers’ still use flash for their portfolio websites because of the ‘wow’ factor. But not all flash is bad. The current version of 2Advanced is a great example what fash can do today. Of course I still like version 2, and I am amazed at how far flash has advanced in the last ten years. And sites such as CityCenter.com have merged flash and video for a high gloss presentation.

Flash still has it’s place on the web but it still presents some obstacles. The main problem would be the inability of the search engines spiders to see inside of flash. If the spiders can’t see it they can’t index it which means the site won’t show up high on the search query. If you want visibility, your probably better off not using flash

If you really want to have some flash content, why not use it sparingly. A introductory animation on the home page can still make a great impact. Slide shows and product showcases can be presented using flash. Video presentation using flash can often be downloaded faster than QuickTime or WMV video. Just look at YouTube!

I am not against flash. Far from it. I am a flash fanatic. But flash is not always the best way to present your product on the web.

Shopping Cart Options

During the past week I have had about four inquiries about adding shopping carts to websites. Now I know that in the past I have talked to some web designers who all said that shopping carts were a pain to deal with, so I was somewhat hesitant to dive into shopping carts. What I found in my research was both encouraging and not so.

With my clients I tend to host their sites on IPower.com servers. I’ve used IPower for over 7 years and, for the most part, I’ve been very happy with them. I noticed that they have a ShopSite shopping cart already available with their accounts. And, it is free of charge with the ipower hosting for up to fifteen items. But of course nothing is free as I found out as I researched a little further.

In order process credit cards on your shopping cart orders, you must have a merchant account and a payment gateway account. Luckily ShopSite has a list of preferred providers that can set up these accounts. The merchant account transfers money to your bank account. The gateway account processes credit card transactions. Most of the companies I researched were charging $15 – $25 per month for a merchant account and $10 and up for a gateway account. Some companies also charged additional fees. And then there are the transaction fees for credit cards. Some of the companies charge 2.2% and $0.20 and up per transaction.

Beware of companies that charge set-up fees, annual fees, cancellation fees and long-term contract fees!

Of course there are other options to sell items online. I often see sites that use PayPal. PayPal offers no monthly fees, no set-up fees and no cancellation fees and their transaction fees range from 1.9% to 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

Google also offers their Google Checkout option which charges 2% + $0.20 per transaction. If you have a AdWords account, for every $1 you spend on AdWords each month, you can process $10 in sales the following month for free through Google Checkout

So, should you set up a shopping cart to accept credit cards or use a service like PayPal or Google CheckOut? One consideration is the processing time. If you set up a gateway account the processing is usually completed immediately. With PayPal and Google CheckOut, the order is placed while the customer is online, but the processing happens afterwards meaning there is a delay before the process is complete. Also, using one of these options requires that both you and the customer open an account to use these services. Some customers may not want to open accounts so this should be a consideration when weighing your options.

If you are thinking about selling items online there are many ways to do so. If you want to set up a shopping cart on your site, first make sure that your server is set up to do so. Does your hosting company already have a shopping cart option? If not, can you integrate a third party software solution into your account. Do you have a merchant acccount or do you need to open one along with a gateway account? Or could you use PayPal or Google CheckOut? And, can you afford the cost of online transactions?

Whichever option you choose, make sure that it is the best choice for selling your product.

New site design

As you probably noticed, the new BarryPavel.com website design has now gone live!! I feel that this redesign is more streamlined than the previous version. I decided to go with the black background to bring more attention to any of the graphics on the page. Additionally, I decided to add some more content than in the previous version. I’ve even brought back and rewrote my bio which I had on the site a couple years ago. Hope you enjoy!