What is the .HTACESS file

Posted on October 1st, 2014 by John Giaccotto

799458_89413681The .htaccess file is a configuration file. It stands for Hypertext Access file. The file is used on web servers that run the Apache Web Server software.

In general, an .htaccess file is placed in a directory that is loaded by the Apache Web Server. It is then detected and executed by the Apache Web Server software. The file controls the directory and any subdirectories under that directory.

If you’ve seen an .htaccess file before, chances are it was when you installed a content management system like WordPress Drupal or Joomla. An .htaccess file is one of the many files that are uploaded to your web server when you’re installing these popular content management systems. Most basic CMS users never have to touch the .htaccess file, but it’s there nonetheless.

So what does the .htaccess file do exactly? The file allows you to password protect folders, ban users/allow users by way of IP addresses, stop directory listings, redirect users to other pages or directories automatically, crate custom error pages, change the way files with specific extensions are used, and in some cases, use a different file as the index file.

As a business owner with a website, you might discuss using the .htaccess file to create custom error pages for improved SEO with your web developer. Custom error pages can provide users with links to various pages throughout your site. You can use these pages to provide helpful resources to your users such as FAQ pages or a site map with links to your site’s navigation system.

While you may not need to worry about the .htaccess file as a business owner, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of it and some of the file’s common features. If you’re interested in learning more about it, you can discuss how the .htaccess file on your website can be used more effectively with your web developer.

Will responsive work on smartwatches?

Posted on September 30th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

apple watchSmartwatches are now becoming more widespread. Apple recently launched its version of the smartwatch, the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch joined the ranks of a growing number of smartwatches with many of the features of smartphones and other mobile devices.

As these devices become more common, many in the web design community are looking at how responsive will work on smartwatches. Will responsive design work? Right now, there is no definitive answer.

Smartwatch technology is still very new. Currently, many smartwatches are capable of running mobile apps and some even function similarly to a smartphone. However, in order for responsive to work, it is going to need to be simplified even more.

In response to smartwatches, developers will need to create responsive web designs that perform optimally on an even smaller scale than they currently do. This will mean innovations in user interfaces and responsive design elements.

Right now, the market is still very new. Developers need to consider screen resolutions, operating systems and other limitations to developing a consistent responsive design for smartwatches.

Early adopters of smartwatches will likely have to deal with a sluggish start as developers catch up to the technology. Currently, smartwatches seem to supplement smartphones and have limited functionality. In the future, however, it is easy to foresee an optimized browsing experience for smartwatch users by virtue of responsive design.

Right now it is a blank canvas for developers to work on. What challenges do you foresee in responsive web design for smartwatches?

Should you be using Twitter to find new customers?

Posted on September 29th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

Twitter+logo+2012Twitter is a very powerful tool for business owners. It can be a great way to connect with your existing customer base. However, it can also be an effective way to find new customers. While many businesses use Twitter to communicate with their existing customers, fewer businesses use its full potential in terms of lead generation.

Should you be using Twitter to find new customers? If you’re already using the social media platform to connect with your existing customers, then the answer is yes. You can easily use Twitter to generate leads.

If you’re not already using Twitter, you may want to decide whether or not it is worth the effort to establish a business presence on the social media platform. In many cases, it will be worth your while to start using Twitter for customer interaction and lead generation.

Aside from organic lead generation through retweets and follows, you can actively use Twitter to find new customers. Do a little research into how your target demographic uses Twitter. Once you’re informed, you can engage in conversations where your target demographic will likely be active.

Twitter is all about interaction and engagement. If you don’t have the time to invest in interacting with Twitter users, then you will want to pass on Twitter as a form of lead generation. However, if you have the time to invest, your interaction in the circles where your target demographic will pay off in the generation of new leads.

Once you’ve established yourself as an interesting, engaging Twitter user, people who are interested in your business will follow you and likely become a customer. This form of lead generation doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a powerful way to find new customers.

For example, if you are a realtor, you might want to find out what Twitter hashtags people who are interested in real estate use to engage in conversations. Begin to follow and gradually participate in these conversations and before long, you’ll be seen as an active participant in the Twitter community where your target demographic frequently engages.

You might also focus on ancillary topics such as interior design, dining, arts and entertainment. People who are interested in real estate in a particular area may also be talking about their interior design interests as well as the arts and entertainment scene where they’re hoping to move. These conversations are all opportunities for you to connect with your target demographic.

What Twitter conversations can you engage in to find new customers?

What makes a beautiful website?

Posted on September 26th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

1445454_72095275As business owners, we all want a beautiful website. However, what makes a beautiful website? We’ve all heard the saying, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” But, perhaps we can all agree on some elements of design that contribute to the beauty of a website.

Stunning Imagery
Websites are a visual form of media. As a result, much of their beauty comes from gorgeous images. Instead of using stock photographs for your website, you can achieve beauty by integrating custom images into your web design. Creating photographic works of art to showcase throughout your web pages is a simple way to add beauty to your website.

White Space
Beautiful websites feature lots of white space around their page elements. There is an inherent beauty in simplicity. White space allows the eyes to focus on each page element without any distractions. While it can be tempting to fill every pixel of your site with “stuff,” avoid it at all costs. Instead, try to create a gallery where you can showcase your page elements.

The selection of a color palette is a key consideration when you’re setting out to achieve a beautiful web design. Work closely with your web designer to select the perfect color scheme for your website. Your color choices need to complement your page elements and represent your brand identity. Allow for plenty of time to select just the right colors for your website.

While it may be easy to overlook, your selection of typography can greatly impact the beauty of your website. Most people don’t notice the typography unless it is particularly egregious or particularly beautiful. Discuss your typography choices with your web designer to make a refined, beautiful selection.

Cohesive Design
What makes a beautiful website? Ask 10 people and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. However, most would agree that a cohesive design is integral to a beautiful website. A cohesive design will allow all of your page elements and design elements come together to form a stunning canvas.

What do you think makes a website beautiful?

The Importance of Efficient Code in Speeding Up Your Website

Posted on September 25th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

708451_64407802Code efficiency describes the speed, reliability and programming methodology used in developing code for an application/website. It is essential to speeding up your website.

In today’s competitive online marketplace, a high performance, fast running website is important to your success. Visitors to your website aren’t going to have any patience for slow loading pages or page elements. Even fractions of seconds count when it comes to load times. Your competition is a click away and you can’t afford to lose business over a slow loading web page.

Here’s where efficient code comes into play. You may have optimized all of your page elements so that they load quickly. However, your pages may still lag. If you’re experiencing problems with slow load times, you may want to have the efficiency of your code evaluated.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, it’s time to focus on code efficiency. Your web developer will focus on reducing resource consumption and minimizing the risks involved in an effort to improve your website’s code efficiency.

There are several ways to achieve code efficiency including:

  • Remove unnecessary or redundant code
  • Use optimal memory and nonvolatile storage
  • Ensure best speed/run time
  • Utilize reusable components when possible
  • Create programming code to ensure data consistency and integrity
  • Develop code that is compliant with design flow and logic
  • Optimize data access and data management
  • Use best data types, variables and keywords

While these are some ways to improve code efficiency, you will want to sit down with your web development professional to evaluate your existing code and discuss a strategy to make it more efficient. Without efficient code, your website will lag behind your competition. In fact, efficient code may be the only thing holding you back from significant growth in your web conversions.

When is the last time you’ve had your website’s code evaluated?

Making Websites Accessible to Visually Impaired Users

Posted on September 24th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

1440528_79415108The World Health Organization estimates that there are over 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired. Of those 285 million, 39 million are blind and 246 million have moderate to severe impairment. Prevent Blindness America estimates that 53.2 million Americans who are 45 or older have visual impairments ranging from mild to severe. Considering these statistics, it is important to make websites accessible to visually impaired users.

Below are a few helpful tips to make your site accessible to the visually impaired:

Enlarged Text
Larger text can mean the difference between your website being readable and unreadable for many people who are visually impaired. Ask your web designer about the possibility of offering alternate stylesheets with larger fonts. You might also consider making the default font larger or offering text-only versions of your web pages. Providing a number of options will allow visually impaired users to access your website in a way that works for them.

Many common visual impairments such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy generally lead to decreased contrast sensitivity. People who suffer from decreased contrast sensitivity due to these types of visual impairments find it difficult to see the difference between similar colors and brightness levels.

In order to make your web pages more accessible, you can add more contrast between your page elements. You may also want to avoid any techniques that would prevent users from being able to highlight elements or change the default behavior for highlighting. Keep in mind that visually impaired users often use highlighting to increase the contrast as they browse websites.

Some visually impaired users are affected by color blindness. When possible, you might consider offering alternate color schemes for visually impaired users. You’ll want to pay particular attention to actionable elements such as buttons. Avoid common color combinations that affect color blind users such as red and green or blue and yellow.

Desktop vs. Mobile
Allow desktop users to browse your mobile website. Mobile websites are often ideal for users with visual impairments because they are simplified versions of the standard website. You can often boost the accessibility of your website with little expense simply by opening up your mobile website to desktop users.

Keyboard Shortcuts
Adding keyboard shortcuts will improve the usability of your website for visually impaired users. Instead of straining to see a cursor or mouse pointer, users will be able to navigate with arrow keys and other quick and easy keystrokes.

5 Must Read Marketing Blogs

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 by John Giaccotto

Screen shot 2014-10-03 at 11.09.59 AMThe field of marketing is continually evolving. As a business owner, it’s important to keep up with the latest marketing trends and strategies. Reading marketing blogs is an easy way for busy business owners to stay up-to-date. With this in mind, here are 5 must read marketing blogs that even the busiest business owner will want to bookmark for regular reading:

1.Seth’s Blog Seth Godin is a best selling author. He offers up valuable insights in his blog in small digestible portions. As a business owner, you’ll appreciate his “riffs on marketing, respect and the way ideas spread.” Seth’s Blog is a must read for anyone who is interested in becoming better at marketing.

2.Briansolis.com As a business owner, it’s important to understand the effects of emerging technology as it relates to business, marketing and culture. This blog offers insights into how emerging technology is impacting society and in turn your business. Visit this blog for thoughtful articles that will make you think critically about your marketing campaigns.

3.Unmarketing Scott Stratten blogs about viral, social and authentic marketing in Unmarketing. His expert insights will help you boost connections and engagement with your customers by developing a stronger, more trustworthy brand. You’ll gain an entirely new perspective on marketing by reading this blog.

4.Copyblogger Marketing requires strong content creation. This blog will help you improve the quality of your content in fun, readable feature articles. There is a wealth of resources on this blog for marketers who are looking to generate, strong, compelling content. Articles discuss everything from writing headlines to brand storytelling.

5.Buffer Blog 
Visit Buffer for a wealth information about online marketing with a focus on social media.   If you’re looking for insights into buyer behavior and marketing, you will appreciate the depth of the well-researched articles offered by Buffer. Expect quality over quantity from Buffer. Posts are typically long form and feature rich, valuable content.
What marketing blogs would you add to the “must read” list?

How can you simplify forms?

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by John Giaccotto

467739_62740221Forms can be powerful lead generation tools. However, many forms are far too lengthy for the average web user. It’s only natural for you to want to get as much information from your users as possible in your forms.

However, if you make your forms too long, you’ll be losing out entirely. If you’re looking to improve the conversion rates on your forms, it may be time to simplify them. It’s better to get the basic information from your users and follow up than to create lengthy forms.

Here are a few easy ways to simplify your forms and optimize them for higher conversion rates:

Reduce the Number of Form Fields
Go through your forms and strip them down to the bare essentials. What do you need to know in order to follow up with a person filling out this form? In most cases, you can reduce your fields down to a handful including name, email, phone number and a few other basics specific to the form. Aim for 5 or fewer fields as the optimal number for your forms.

Self Identify
Instead of creating a list of options to choose from for your fields allow the person filling out the form to self identify. For example, if you are a B2B company, you can create a “Job Title” field instead of offering a preset list of common positions. This will allow you to craft a much more effective follow up reply because you will have more accurate information about the person.

Cohesive Call-to-Action
Make sure you have a cohesive call-to-action throughout your form. For example, if it is a registration form, you would want to create a “Register” button as opposed to a standard “Submit” button at the end of the form. It may seem like a small detail, but all of the elements in your form will come together to create a strong call-to-action if you are careful. Ultimately, a streamlined form will lead to better conversion rates.

While it may require some effort to simplify your forms, you will see an improvement in your conversions over time. Web users have a very short attention span. If your form requires too much time, users will simply abandon their effort to register, sign-up or perform whatever call-to-action you are asking of them.

What tips or tricks do you have for simplifying forms?

What is a Sitemap?

Posted on September 19th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

1327908_14330343A sitemap is a file used to list the web pages of a website. The purpose of a sitemap is to provide search engine web crawlers such as Googlebot with an overview of how the content of a website is organized. While sitemaps may not be necessary if a website’s pages are linked properly, they can be helpful to improve the web crawling of websites.

Large Websites
Sitemaps are particularly useful for large websites. Web crawlers are more likely to overlook new or recently updated pages on large websites. As a result, sitemaps can be an effective way to ensure that your large website is accurately crawled by the search engines.

Large Archives
If you have large archives of content pages that are either isolated or not linked to each other, a sitemap is helpful. Listing pages that are not naturally referenced to each other will help search engines to crawl them.

New Websites
Sitemaps can be very helpful to web crawlers when they are crawling new websites with little to no external links. Without a sitemap, search engine web crawlers may not discover pages with no links to them.

Additionally, you can use sitemaps to provide search engine web crawlers with metadata for the pages that you list. You can include metadata such as when the page was updated, how often you change the page as well as the page’s importance in comparison to other pages on your website. You can also provide metadata in regard to specific content types such as videos, images and mobile content.

While sitemaps are a helpful tool in your toolbox, they are not the end all be all. Search engine web crawlers may not index all of the pages you’ve included in your sitemap. Remember, crawlers use complex algorithms to index pages, so a sitemap is not a foolproof means of ensuring that your site is indexed the way you want.

Should you use a sitemap? Sitemaps are useful and are often beneficial. They don’t come with any penalty, so it doesn’t hurt to use them for your websites.

Windows Metro Design – Does it work for websites?

Posted on September 18th, 2014 by John Giaccotto

metroMetro is the modern interface designed by Windows. It is the default in Windows 8 and was designed with the casual user in mind. The design is striking because it is flat, stripped down to the basics and colorful.

However, is it user friendly? It really depends upon what you’re sitting down at your computer to accomplish. If you’re looking to catch up on your Facebook timeline, post a selfie or browse through your photos, you probably love Metro.

In essence, Metro is designed for content consumers. Users who need a more powerful interface to create content may be a bit frustrated with the default design found on Windows 8.

So how well does a simple, flat Windows Metro design translate to web design? Does it work for websites? Again, it really depends upon the purpose of the website and the target demographic. The key to adapting a Metro inspired design to your website would be to hone in on the purpose of the website.

In most cases, people visit websites to consume content. Metro is an ideal design for content consumers. However, as a business website, users may also visit your site to purchase goods and services. Work with your web design professional to determine the best design to suit the needs of your users.

Perhaps you can adapt a Windows Metro inspired design to your website. For example, each color block in the design might be used for a different category of goods and services. Additional blocks might include your company’s about page, blog and contact pages. You can really make your website easy to navigate using a Metro design if you carefully plan it out.

In fact, a Windows Metro inspired design can be used very effectively to direct users to take various actions simply because of the way it is laid out. Metro is designed to make the most used features easily accessible. If you focus on this aspect of Metro for your web design, you’ll be able to provide your users with a streamlined user experience.

Is a Windows Metro inspired design going to work for every website? Certainly not. It all depends upon how the design is executed. Some people love Metro, others hate it. You know your target demographic. Ask yourself: Is the Windows Metro design something that would be attractive to the type of people who visit your website?

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