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The Secrets of an Anal-Retentive Webmaster

Webmaster at Work

Ozdachs Updating a Site

I was up on New Year’s morning, changing copyright dates on websites before noon.

Yes, I am anal retentive, an anal-retentive web master, and I know when to use a hyphen.

I am also evangelical about making websites look fresh.

You don’t have to compete with me on editing your website before noon on January 1st. But, please consider these two compelling reasons to do a January cleaning of  your site:

  1. Your potential clients want to know that what they’re reading is current.
    Most Internet visitors get queasy when they see “Happy Holidays” in February or “Enjoy Your Summer Vacation”  in October.  The unease turns to nausea in May and December.

    When I see a copyright date on a site that is years old, I personally wonder if the business is still active and if the information I am reading is still valid.  Intellectually I may know that the directions to a business would not have changed in the past three years.  Still, if the “Find Us” page is dated 2009, a powerful, if irrational, warning trips in my animal brain.  I want to flee to a safer, newer place.

  2. Google ranks pages with fresh content more highly than static pages.
    When Google crawls your site it finds out the date each page was last updated.  It uses the modification date to give an extra boost to pages that were recently changed.  Editing the visible copyright date on each page will make Google think that the pages are recently changed and deserving of extra attention.

If you find yourself getting into the freshening-up mode, here are a couple more tips to keep your site looking evergreen:

  • Only date material – even customer testimonials or company news – when you are anal-retentively committed to changing the information frequently. When the website includes praise from a client dated January 1, 2011, by January 1, 2012 it looks like you haven’t satisfied a customer in over a year.
  • Remove any “Last Updated” notices on your web pages. That type of bragging was automatically added to pages using older HTML authoring tools like FrontPage, but those statements are no longer in style.When the page was last updated yesterday, those messages look great.  But,  the whole page looks suspect when the date posted is a couple years in the past.

Finally, for more information about what you should put in your copyright notice,  read the official US Copyright Office rules.

By |2012-01-04T16:05:04-07:00January 4th, 2012|Web Design|0 Comments

How Not to Avoid Spam

One of my clients contacted me today because people are complaining to him that emails they send are bouncing back.  My client wanted to change the contact address on his website to one on another email server that is more “reliable.”

The email system he’s using is the same that over 20 other of my clients have, and none of them have reported problems with messages to them bouncing back to the sender.  So, I looked at his Contact Us page to see if I could find a problem.

Oh.

When we created the site several years ago, the client was concerned about the amount of spam he was receiving.  Spammers were scraping the website and collecting email address.  They then were clogging the inboxes with the normal collection of get-rich-quick schemes and offers for panacea pills.

So, my client asked me to delete the email link and to instead list his address as Name <AT> domain.com.   His address appeared as mine would if I posted my email address as Galen <AT> ozdachs.com.

This method kept the screen scraping automated programs from collecting his email address.  It’s worked for years.

Ozdachs Contact Form

Ozdachs Business Contact Form

However, there are side effects!  Some percentage of his clients apparently cannot figure out how to cut Galen <AT> ozdachs.com, paste it into their email program, edit it to become [email protected].  I’m guessing that they’re leaving in an errant space or to. Trying to send email to Galen @ ozdachs.com won’t work.

Basically, web surfers expect to be able to click on a link to send you email, or else they want to fill out a form.  You don’t want to make it fancier than these two options because some percentage of your potential clients are not going to be able to figure it out!

I use both ways, an email address that leads to a spam protected mailbox and a contact form, to keep my spam down.

The form on the right is the way to contact me that I provide on my business website.

And, I use SpamArrest to protect messages sent to my personal email account, [email protected]  If you send a message to that public email address, you’ll be sent a message back asking you to click on a link to prove that you’re a human before your email is delivered to me.

These techniques keep the automated mass-mailing messages from appearing in my inboxes.

Of course, determined spammers are going to get their message to you.  Some companies hire workers in poor countries to go through sites and fill out inquiry forms with their spammy messages.  And, other bulk-mail senders respond to the spam challenge messages sent out by services like SpamArrest.

But, the use of forms with a CAPTCHA (those PQAJ characters in the picture at right) and the use of a spam challenge system will stop almost all of those unwanted email messages.

These two methods work.  Asking your customers to cut, paste, and edit your email address leaves a lot of people out.

By |2011-11-20T12:13:38-07:00November 20th, 2011|Web Design|0 Comments

Just Because You Found it On the Internet, That Doesn’t Mean You Can Use It

Medical transcription for the Legal Profession touted by Lady Justice

Lady Justice as Created by and for Medical Transcriptionists

“I did a Google search and found it on the Internet” is a phrase uttered by clients that starts me shuddering.

And, it is the most common response I get when I ask a client how they got an image that they have sent me to use on their website, in their newsletter, or for other marketing materials.

We’re all so used to finding what we want on the Internet and using for it our own purposes that we’ve forgotten that artists and writers own what they produce.  Creative works in the United States are automatically protected by copyright laws.  At least that’s what I’ve read and have been told by real attorneys.

I am not a lawyer, and don’t play one on TV.  And, I also don’t want to be sued by a real lawyer.  So, I make it clear to my clients that when they give me something for their site, they are telling me that they have the right to use the image, graphic, text, or whatever.  And, when I recognize that it is highly unlikely that my client owns what they’ve sent me, I’ll ask them to confirm that they have the right to use the artistic work.

I think it’s fair that we use only the material we’ve either created, paid for, or have been given permission to use for some other reason.  It’s the right thing to do.

You’re Not Likely to Be Sued When Your Violate a Copyright

Of course, if you find something on the Internet that you like and you use it without permission, nothing bad is likely to happen.  This is common sense, and again, not a legal opinion!

  • It’s unlikely that the copyright owner is ever going to know what you’ve done.  When you’re a small business or organization, your theft will likely go undetected in the vastness of the Internet.  Ignorant owners are not going to sue.
  • In most cases, your theft causes no harm to the owner, so a violation isn’t going to cost you anything.  Even if the owner discovers what you’ve done, it’s unlikely that they have been injured financially or emotionally. And, if they haven’t been harmed, there are not damages for them to collect from you.  So, they are not going to sue.

Most likely, if your misappropriation is discovered, the copyright owner will write to you and ask you to delete their property from your web site, newsletter, or marketing piece.  If you honor their request, the incident will be over.

Of course, there’s always a chance your misappropriation could cost you reputation damage and a lot of money.  If your business should suddenly hit a social media bubble, the owner of something you put on your site could stumble on the theft.  If your sudden popularity caused sudden riches, you’d be juicier target for a copyright suit. And, it’s still wrong to steal!

What You Can Do

If you are looking for a nifty graphic for a space on your web site or other location, there are things you can do that are legal, moral, and relatively inexpensive:

Sequel and Vector among the poppies

Puppies and Poppies.

  1. Purchase images from a stock photo site.  I mostly use Dreamstime which has a lot of pictures and drawings available in a format suitable for the web for $1-$3.  Many of the images are licensed exclusively at Dreamstime and the site has more informal, natural looking pictures than the other stock photo sites I’ve investigated.
  2. Create your own work.  Many of the pictures I use for my clients are my own.  Photos of pretty women, babies, and pets grab readers’ attention and help get your material read.  Besides, I love seeing my dogs on websites and don’t charge extra when I show off Sequel or Vector!  (Isn’t the picture on the right too cute?!)
  3. Ask for permission.  If you see a photo you like, write the web site owner and ask if you can use the image.  Be clear that you cannot pay, if that’s the case.  Most people are flattered to have their photos admired, and you stand a good chance of getting approval.  Over the years I’ve allowed several non-profit organizations to copy my pictures for their use.  I was flattered to be asked!
  4. Fair use. This gets tricky, because I am still not a lawyer. But, there is concept of fair use that allows you to quote and to reprint the work of other people for specific, generally non-commercial, purposes.
  5. Link back, give credit, and talk up the owner.  This is even trickier and probably is a sub-set of “fair use” that a lawyer could explain.  It’s done frequently, with good intention, and without a problem.  An example of this type of copying is the image at the top of this post.  That lady justice is an original drawing by the staff of San Francisco Medical and Legal Transcriptionsist, Pacific Medical Transcription (PMT).  In this case I am showing the artwork in this blog, even though it lives on PMT’s web site.  The web site owner, an Ozdachs client, gets a link to her site with this mention (which will help her in Google searches).  Similar copying can be of book covers that link to the sales page at Amazon.com, product images which link to another online store, or reviews that link to the business being talked about.

So, you just cannot see a pretty picture and snag it for your web  page. But, there are plenty of easy, inexpensive or free ways to get the graphics you want your web visitors to see.

Contact Ozdachs if you need help with your web site and marketing materials!  We’d be happy to help.

By |2011-07-31T10:05:55-07:00July 30th, 2011|Web Design|0 Comments

Feature the Customers You Want to Have

Last week one clients talked to me about changes in her business-to-business industry.  Instead of relying primarily on one type of client, say cat owners, she has determined that in the future the real money will be spent by clients in a different category, dog owners.

My client has done some work with dogs, but most of her web pages picture cat toys and catnip because traditionally her money has come from cat owners.  She has more experience with cat owners, and has a long list of happy cat projects. Still, she knows that in this economy cat owners are foregoing services like hers while dog owners are increasingly leveraging her work to improve their competitiveness.

She asked me about updating her web site to attract dog owners.

Puppy and Poppies

When you're selling to dog owners, your site has to be all about puppies.

Great!  Her site should appeal to the clients she’s determined will be most profitable.

When she spoke with me, she said that the wanted to show up in dog owner’s Google searches.  She suggested that we mention dogs a couple times on her site. She said she didn’t expect pages about dogs on her site, because she knew that historically she had served cats and she didn’t want to mislead future customers about her work.

Growl!

When we update her site, we are not going to just mention dogs.  We’re going to put dogs on the home page and create at least one new dog page. The site is going to howl!

Visitors want to see themselves on the web pages of businesses they are reviewing.  They want to know that the organization is focused on people like them.  They don’t care about history, they care about current services.

To attract the people we want as clients, we need to picture in words and graphics customers just like the ones we want to have.

  • When a church wants to increase the number of families with children, its web site needs to show children playing.  If the only images on the pages are of elderly people in the pews, young parents are going to click away.
  • When a community group wants to increase the ethnic diversity of its members, it needs to show people of all colors participating.  If the only images on the pages are of white people talking together, black and brown people are going to click away.
  • When your company wants to sell more to dog owners, you web site needs to show puppies frolicking.  If the only images on the pages are of cats, dog owners are going to click away.

Your prospective clients want to feel comfortable with the companies they do business with.  They want a connection.

Show them that they belong with you.

 

By |2011-06-27T11:54:58-07:00June 27th, 2011|Marketing, Web Design|0 Comments

A CAPTCHA that Works

I’ve written about the CAPTCHAs that are getting more and more complex — so complex that soon they’ll be comprehensible only to other computer programs that were created simply to defeat the CAPTCHA. (See my Philippic on bad CAPTCHAs).

So what is a reasonable way to keep forms from being filled out by automated programs?  Right now I am voting for a simple-to-read CAPTCHA like the one used by San Francisco CPAs Sterck Kulik O’Neill for their business growth strategy seminars.

Business Growth Seminar Registration FormAs Sterck Kulik O’Neill’s web master, I was copied on the email generated by their old, FrontPage form. There was no protection, and spammers frequently filled in the form with their own sales messages.

A couple months ago I switched out the FrontPage form with a clean, simple form built with tools from Simfatic Forms.

Even though I overrode the default settings in the tool and made the CAPTCHA only 4 characters and I decreased the number of interfering lines down to 2, we have received no spam “registrations”.  The form, its field edits, and its simple CAPTCHA are doing their job… and clients are signing up for the seminars without reporting any frustrations or problems.

Of course, the seminar page is a low-priority target for spammers seeking to break into a site.  The information on the form isn’t being posted anywhere on the Internet, it’s just being emailed to the site owner.  So, high-powered spammers with the latest character recognition programs have not yet tried to exploit the form.

And, unfortunately, the CAPTCHAs in Simfatic’s tool are not ADA compliant (people with visual impairment have no option to click to hear the CAPTCHA read to them). So, we have to make sure that there’s a phone number or alternative contact method available for visually challenged people to register.

Still, for the small business web site, the simple CAPTCHA is a good, common-sense solution.  Check it out!

By |2011-06-15T09:55:24-07:00June 15th, 2011|User Interface, Web Design|0 Comments