The Tortoise and The Hare and Google Entitlement Mentality

June 15th, 2009 by Kimi 3 comments »

tortoisehare

Slow & steady wins the race

It has been a very frustrating couple of months for me as a web designer. The recession is obviously causing many website owners to re-evaluate their poorly performing websites and is also causing them to become more aware of their site’s lack of visibility in Google. For me this has meant an increase in clients requesting website reviews and organic search engine optimization services.

While I am very excited about the opportunities, the influx of new business means that I am also, by necessity, explaining the time and dedication involved in creating a website that ranks high and wide in Google more often. I have been surprised by how resistant many of these perspective clients are to the idea that high search engine rankings require a lot of work. I actually think I have scared a couple of prospects off and they are out now looking for a designer/seo who can put them on the front page of Google quicker! Sigh. Unfortunately there is an abundance of blackhat SEO’s out there that will guarantee to do just that and feed them the lie they want to hear.

When putting together a website review I include recommendations for on-site search engine optimization, locate and point out usability and accessibility problems, critique the site’s content and appearance, research the effectiveness of the keywords they are using and also gauge their competition. The outcome of a website review is a clear, concise list of the problems found on the website and recommended solutions to those problems. When implemented, the solutions are geared to increase the sites performance (conversions) and search engine rankings. To put together a report like this, I spend days pouring through the site itself, reviewing web logs and other analytical statistics. Since I am driven by a desire to see my clients do well, I put a lot of thought and effort into the recommendations. You would think that if a website owner paid someone to thoroughly dissect their site and tell them “what is wrong”, that the resulting recommendations would be good news and welcome information. This is not always the case.

What I am finding is that many clients do not want to hear the truth about Google – that it takes a lot of work to rank well. Their prior blackhat SEO’s have harnessed the power of the Vulcan mind-meld and brainwashed them into believing that high ranking is “actually pretty easy”, all you have to do is stick this exact sentence here and repeat these words 200 times at the bottom of your page.

Here’s a great example if this cheap and easy advice taken from a forum I participate in:

“Optimization is simple. Make a check list of things you want to control and follow those. No worries at all. Metatags, Title, Bold, H1 tag, alt and the list goes on and on.”

See! All you have to do is fill out a couple of meta tags, bold your text, and you now have the ability to control your rankings. Who would have thought it was so easy!

** Note:  There is an extremely funny list of SEO myths over at the High Rankings Forum. It is best read when drinking wine, eating chocolate and possibly wearing your depends!

For some, once this type of “easy” mentality kicks in, it seems impossible to convince them otherwise. Recommendations for improving their site (if it involves extensive work and the setting of long-term goals and expectations) is not only NOT welcome, it is resented.

Unfortunately, I am finding that resistance to hard work and refusal to believe that good rankings take time goes hand-in-hand with another “syndrome” I fondly call the Google entitlement mentality.

Out of curiosity, and feeling compelled to blog my experience; I did a search on Google to see if anyone else had experienced this phenomenon. I found an excellent “rant” written by Jennifer Laycock, Editor of Search Engine Guide.  The content of the article itself didn’t surprise me as much as the date… 2006. Not only is Google entitlement mentality alive and kicking today, it seems to be getting worse!

I recently conducted a site review for a perspective client whose website was failing miserably in Google. There were so many things wrong with the website that it was almost overwhelming, but the biggest problem was evident immediately upon visiting the homepage. There was a spam-filled block of nearly invisible text at the bottom of the page. The site had also participated in a link-exchange program and owned a duplicate website; all big Google no-no’s. One day the site had good rankings, the next day it was gone and it never came back. P-e-n-a-l-t-y!

I completed the review and provided the client with a report (over 50 pages of data pointing out specific problem areas and providing solutions for each), including of course the removal of the blackhat areas. What do you think his response was? Anger at the SEO company that should have known better then to use these techniques in the first place? Anger at himself for not doing more research into the background of the SEO company before hiring them? A fresh determination to clean up his website so visits would begin converting to sales and hopefully his ranking would be restored?

No. He was ANGRY at Google. Why had they not been warned? The nerve! And, he was not very happy with me because I did not provide him with the “exact words for the home page” or the two keywords he should use. The website owner had already hired one SEO to perform “magical tricks” that would get his site to the top of Google, how’d that go for him? Now, he is looking for another.

I’m not sure where this entitlement attitude comes from. People who have not invested any money in a listing, put any thought or work into their site, and have actually gone against Google policy and tried to manipulate their way to the top should not expect anything. Most of these people believe Google is out to get them, when actually Google simply doesn’t want anything to do with them at all. Why would they?

To bring this mentality into better perspective, let’s use another scenario. What if a local visitor’s guide was trying to get off the ground and offered a business a free listing for a while to help them get launched. The magazine did very well in the first year and brought a substantial amount of traffic to the business. If after a year a representative from the guide explained to the business owner that they would have to begin paying for an ad, would the business owner get angry? Would the owner feel that the guide owed them a free ad (indefinitely) and be ungrateful for all the past business they had reaped for nothing? I think not.

Google entitlement mentality almost always leads to an ineffective website. When a client feels his site is entitled to top rankings not based on merit, but simply “because”, he does not value and is not motivated to implement solid recommendations. Why should he have to take time out of his busy schedule or hire someone to write content that makes sense and contains useful information? For that matter, why should he have to make sure his keywords are on his website, or that he is targeting the right keywords at all? He’s not particularly worried that his site does not look professional, or is confusing, or not converting visits to sales? He just wants his site on the first page of Google… and now!  The fact that 70% of his current visitors are leaving in between 0 – 30 seconds after landing on the site does not even factor into the equation. What to do?

For me, attitude after review is becoming the litmus test for which jobs I accept and which I do not. If the attitude reflects that of a “hare”, focused on short cuts and a resistance to hard work, and an underlying attitude of entitlement, I’m not going anywhere near it. Clients with this type of attitude are actually working against you (and themselves) and will ultimately end up with a websites that bomb. They will never be happy, and who wants an unhappy client!

On the other hand, I am very excited when I meet a “turtle”! A client that is not only interested in an honest assessment of their website, but embraces the recommendations and looks forward to improvement has so much potential. Turtles can see the big picture and understand that high rankings are not everything. Not even close. Converting visits to sales, that is the ultimate goal. They understand that “slow and steady” wins the search engine race and ultimately leads to higher, targeted traffic and sales. With a turtle on your team (not unlike a tiger in your tank) you can build a great website. That leads to a happy client, and everyone wants a happy client!

Moving your osCommerce store, Word-Press Blog or Forum from PHP4 to PHP5

May 18th, 2009 by Kimi 1 comment »

Learning via blood, sweat and tears

php4 to php5Just over a year ago, the webhosting company that had been servicing a number of my clients for many years sold out to a new company, Jumpline.com. Jumpline has proved to be one of the worst companies I have ever had to deal with in my career as a web designer. Several times clients were moved to new servers without notice, resulting in stores, forums and blogs being broken. Control panels were suddenly changed to Plesk, leaving customers stunned and scratching their heads. Many of the email accounts were not transferred properly, losing forwards, whitelists, etc., and some email boxes were not even turned on! Problems escalated and some became unsolvable because technical support was either non-caring or non-available. Mostly, Level 1 support did not have the expertise to help and for some reason was overly resistant to moving tickets to Level 2 until many long days had passed. The bottom line… it was time to move to a new host.

I did a lot of background research and settled on a new company. The point of this article is not to promote a webhosting company (I am not a reseller) but since I’ve already told you who the WORST webhost is I’ll just add… HOSTGATOR ROCKS!

In recent weeks I have moved 7 clients to new hosting, including 3 osCommerce stores, 2 Word-Press blogs and 2 Forums. One of the biggest challenges was moving from Plesk and PHP4 to cPanel and PHP5. I encountered many issues along the way, but between tech support going over the top to help me (did I mention Hostgator rocks!) and scouring forums for advice, all of the issues were resolved and life is good again.

Some of the solutions were easily found and some I had to do some serious digging for, so I decided to list some of the problems & solutions here to help others out and hopefully prevent a few gray hairs. I will also be adding some of these solutions (and more) to specific categories in my web design forum as soon as I can, but for now I’ll just focus on getting things up and running.

Reinstalling osCommerce and forums onto a new webhost running PHP5

Moving osCommerce and Forum files to a new webhost is no big deal, but moving a database from PHP4 to PHP5 and getting everything to run properly did prove challenging. On each site it seemed a different problem cropped up, but what was very helpful for me was learning the order in which things should be done.

My new host offered a one-click installation of the most current version of osCommerce, so my first thought was to run the install and let it create the database, upload our store files, and then import our SQL file using the backup restore within osCommerce. Saving you a little time here – that does not work! Here’s what you should do:

1. First you will need to make a backup copy of your database from your old host. Do not make a backup from within osCommerce using the backup tool, instead export the entire database to your hard drive via phpMyAdmin.

2. Next, upload the files from your old host to the new host via your preferred ftp program.

3. After the files have been uploaded, create a database on the new server. The following are the steps for cPanel:

- Click “MySQL databases”

- Under “Create New Database” give your database a name. Write down the name of your new database. Note: The name you select for the database is usually appended to your user name, i.e., username_databasename.

- Once the database has been created click “go back”. You will now need to create a user for the database.

- Scroll down the page to the MySQL Users section. Add the user name and password for the new user and click “create user”. Once the user has been created, click go back again.

- Now that the user is created, you need to assign permissions for the user to edit the database. Scroll down to the section “Add user to database” and choose the user & database name you just created.

- Next you will be taken to the permissions page. Click “all privileges” for the user and “make changes”.

4. The next step really depends on your new host and the level of support they provide. I found with Hostgator that it was best to upload the SQL file that you backed up from your old host to your server (into your public_html directory) and then ask tech support to import the database for you. They are more then happy to do so and seem to automatically problem-solve any issues that may occur.

If you have to import the database yourself, be careful to remove the section of the SQL that creates the database from the file before importing.

CREATE DATABASE `username_databasename` DEFAULT CHARACTER SET utf8 COLLATE utf8_general_ci; USE `username_databasename`;

Since the database has already been created, you will receive an error unless that section is removed.

5. Once your database has been installed properly update your osCommerce configuration files located in the catalog/includes and admin/includes folders. You will need to update your https: path, your database name, database username and database password.

Hope this helps someone to get off on the right foot. I will be posting answers to more specific problems regarding broken SSL and missing forum pages to the Front Range Web Designers Forum in the near future.

Do you own your domain? Are you sure?

February 6th, 2009 by Kimi No comments »

Today I received a telephone call from a perspective client who was interested in redesigning his company website. He had not had a particularly good experience with his original web designer and was looking to end the business relationship and start over with a fresh site and new webhosting. Like many new clients I’ve met over the years, he had entrusted the task of setting up his webhosting and registering his domain name to his web designer. Also, like many of those clients, he was completely in the dark as to what company actually hosted his site or with which company his domain name was registered. Imagine his surprise when he found out that his web designer actually owned his domain name, not him! Makes breaking off the relationship just a little more complicated, doesn’t it?

What you need to know as a client is that many web designers make extra income by reselling webhosting and domain names. A reseller basically enters into an agreement with a webhosting company or registrar wherein they receive a discount for each new account they sign up under their company’s name. The designer/reseller bills their client full price, thereby making a small profit. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is an honest way for a web designer to supplement their income, but this arrangement generally only benefits the web designer and more times than not leads to a host of complications down the road.

Here’s a great example… true story!

A new client calls me in a panic. Their website has been replaced by a screen full of ads, has someone stolen their website? Not at all. A quick “whois” search reveals that their domain name has expired and GoDaddy has replaced their website with a standard ads page until the name is either renewed or sold to someone else. No problem. They can simply contact GoDaddy and renew the name, right? Usually the answer would be yes, but for this client the nightmare has just begun. The “whois” search also turns up the fact that their prior web designer registered the domain in his personal name. That makes the web designer the owner (registrant) of the name, not my client. The web designer sold his company years before and moved out of the country without transferring the domain name to my client or providing him with the password, ID & pin number to the account.

The problem can be resolved, eventually, but not without a great deal of headache and time is now of the essense. What are his choices at this point?

1. He can prove to the registrar that he is the legal owner of the domain. Each registrar has different methods of proof, but all involve faxing various forms of identification and proof of company ownership which takes time; or

2. He can track down the prior web designer (which also takes time) and hope that they still have the login information and are willing to turn it over.

There are other problems that can arise besides domain expiration. Let’s say you hire a new web designer to create a site from scratch using a new webhost. You plan to keep your old site active until the new site is ready to be launched. Everything is going great… new site is done… now all you have to do is change the nameservers to point your domain name to the new website. Problem is you cannot change the nameservers without access to your domain account. Most times when a web designer registers a domain as a reseller they do not provide login information to the client as it would grant access to their main account. Again, the client is at the mercy of the web designer. If they cannot turn over the password & ID for security reasons, then hopefully the designer would be willing to change the nameservers for the client NOW while ownership issues are addressed.

Let’s keep going. Say you have all the emergencies worked out now. The next step is pursuing transfer of the domain into your name. If the web designer is cooperative (we won’t even complicate matters by using a scenario in which your web designer hate’s your guts or works out of his truck) and everything goes smoothly, it can still take months for the domain transfer process to be completed. Consider that a registrar may legitimately deny a transfer request if (among other things):

  1. There is a reasonable dispute over the identity of the person authorizing the transfer
  2. The domain name is on hold due to payment owed for a previous registration period
  3. They receive express written objection from the domain name holder
  4. The domain name is within 60 days of initial registration
  5. The domain name is within 60 days of a previous transfer
  6. The transfer is initiated within 60 days of changing contact information of registrant

So, how do you avoid falling into this horrible headache of a situation? Easy! Buy your own domain name and keep a record of your account ID, password and Pin. Problem solved!

If you have had a web designer register your domain name in the past and you are unsure who actually owns the name, you can find out by doing a “whois” search at Network Solutions. Just pop in your domain name and take a close look at the information that pulls up. The registrant is the owner of the domain name and all verifications will be emailed to the administrative contact.

Second hand pickle juice

January 20th, 2009 by Kim Taylor 4 comments »

pickleMost of us are well aware of the dangers associated with second hand smoke, but I would like to “rant” for a moment about another second hand contaminant that is just as insidious, but less spoken of. Second hand pickle juice.

I hate pickles. HATE them. They give me shivers. I hate the way they smell and I hate the way they taste. And you know what? I am not alone. There are millions of people out there that do not like pickles either.

A pickle is not an innocuous food like, say, a potato chip. A potato chip has a mild taste and when laid beside a sandwich can simply be brushed aside if not wanted. Not so with a pickle! Not only does a pickle have an extremely strong (nasty) taste, when placed beside a sandwich its juice spreads over the entire plate contaminating everything it touches and soaks into the bottom of the bread.

Why then do restaurants feel that it is ok to slap a pickle next to your $8.00 sandwich without asking permission?

I have made it a habit over the years to look at a menu carefully before ordering a sandwich to make sure a pickle isn’t included in the description. If it is, I simply beg, “For the love of God, please do not put a pickle on my plate”! Four out of five times my plate arrives with a pickle anyway. After handing the plate back to my waitress, she returns a few minutes later with the sandwich, sans pickle, however the fact that the sandwich still tastes like pickle juice just proves the fact that after spitting on my sandwich the pickle is simply tossed in the trash (or possibly recycled) and the plate returned.

Worse, though, are restaurants that don’t even mention the pickle and simply assume that everyone is a “pickle person”. How arrogant! Would they assume that everyone is an escargot person? I think not! Would a restaurant warn you ahead of time if they planned to pour Dr. Pepper all over your plate? Raspberry sauce? Ketchup? Of course they would.

Now is the time for pickle haters across the nation to rise up and demand our rights! We say NO to drugs, NO to second hand smoke, and NO to second hand pickle juice!

5 big no, no’s when shopping for a web designer

January 19th, 2009 by Kim Taylor No comments »

While not an exhaustive list (I could definitely come up with more!) here are some major things to avoid when hiring a web designer:

1. Don’t let your web designer purchase your domain name for you. Suppose down the road you end your business relationship with your designer OR the designer closes up shop OR moves to another company. Not only is the owner of your domain name MIA, most of the time he has taken the login & password for your registrar with him! If your designer uses his personal name and email address as the administrative contact not only will he receive all notices regarding domain expiration (you’ll be unaware), all changes in ownership will have to be validated through that email address. If the email address no longer exists it gets even more complicated. Bottom line… Make sure you own your domain name!

2. All in one packages purchased from web hosting companies that include hosting, web design and web design maintenance are not always a good deal. Some of the pitfalls can include:

- Paying a monthly maintenance fee even when no updates are required for the month.

- In some cases the web host may retain ownership of the site, so if you change web hosts in the future you will not be able to take your site with you.

- Some web hosts require that updates be made through their company, leaving you subject to the company’s (some time excessive) time frame.

- Most “all in one” companies use template systems so your choice of design may be limited.

- You may pay extra for features that you never use.

Many times it is more economic to find an affordable web host and hire a web designer that charges for updates only when updates are required. You will generally have more flexibility with your site’s design and you can request only the features that you intend to use.

3. Don’t use a web designer that insists on his own design. It is one thing for a web designer to advise you regarding site structure, accessibility, color theory and organic search engine optimization - that is their obligation as a professional and what you are paying them for. It is another for the designer to insist on a web site “look” based solely on their personal taste. It is not unheard of for a web designer to provide a draft to their client and if the client expresses unhappiness with any aspect of the draft for the designer to become offended. This is a sign of immaturity and unhealthy pride. A good web designer should always take your vision and likes/dislikes into account. The perfect website should be healthy, perform well, attract the appropriate customers, AND make you proud.

4. Remember that a web designer is not necessarily a search engine optimization specialist. While a good web designer should be educated and incorporate healthy organic SEO techniques into their design, a web designer cannot be held responsible for the ongoing performance of your site (especially in a competitive market) unless you have specifically contracted for those services. Web design and SEO are two distinct industries that compliment and build upon each other.

5. If you already have a website and are looking for a redesign you do not have to move your site to your designer’s recommended web host. Many times web designer’s resell web hosting and are looking to make a little side money. Though it sounds easy enough, moving a web site is more complicated then you think. First you need to take the “if something can go wrong it probably will” law into consideration. There will be at least 48 hours of downtime, and forms and email links have to be reconfigured and retested. Unless you are using an exchange server, there is a chance you will loose all emails sent during the transition time. It gets even more complicated if a site is running an online store. In that case, configuration files have to be edited at the server and gateway levels, the database reinstalled, and the store retested. You should only switch web hosts if you are unhappy with your current host.