Guest post: Hello my name is… and I’m a Flashaholic

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Digital & Online

R.D. Gavel, avowed Flashaholic and travel agent, is the owner of Whimsical World Travel, specializing in vacations to Disney destinations. She is currently at work on a new website with a focus on experiential, luxury travel, and is taking web design classes as part of a twelve-step program to overcome her Flash-dependent behavior.

Hello. My name is R.D. and I am a Flashaholic.

My addiction began slowly as I navigated through the web running up against a lot that was boring or just plain bad and a few wondrous places that drew me in and made my smile.

Yes, in the days of dial-up I would sometimes move away rather than watch the agonizingly slow page load but, today, there are few flash sites which don’t reward us for just a couple of seconds’ patience.

When it came time to start on my own website the issue became much more complicated.

How do I get the look I want and still allow people to find us? I learned that even professional web designers are sometimes not really knowledgeable about Flash. I sometimes get negative feedback about my decision to utilize Flash on our site but, right now, it’s the right choice for us.

So, how do you decide what’s best for you?

I believe the objectives of the site itself should drive the decisions. This seems straightforward enough but if you poke around a bit you’ll find that site design often has very little to do with site goals. Taking the time to consider carefully and prioritize your requirements will help clarify your design directions. While this doesn’t begin to distill all the issues you’ll confront, here are a few things to think about:

What is the purpose of the site?

While all sites might do a number of different things, each generally has a basic purpose. Decide if your site’s primary focus is business or personal. If it’s a personal site or blog, is it monetized or primarily an outlet for your own creativity? If it’s commercial, is it the main portal to conduct your business or an extension of another sales model?

Who is the target audience?

Who are you trying to reach? The demographics of your preferred visitor should play a big part in the design. This can be as simple as hip graphics for a young crowd or larger text for an older generation.

How will visitors be directed to the site?

There are so many ways to draw traffic to a site: search engines, adwords, social media connections, affiliate programs, print media, and advertising, to name just a few. What methods do you plan to incorporate?

Personal preferences

Don’t underestimate the power of preference. Your site is ultimately a reflection of you and/or your business. You should be proud of it. Liz Hover recently posted an interview here with Britt Reints which commented on the importance of doing what’s right for you. You will find far too much advice, a lot of it conflicting – go with your gut.

whimsical-world-travel

So, how did this process work for me?

The purpose of our site is business, and it is one of the major portals we rely on for securing new business.

I looked at many, many websites in our category and, incredibly, could find only one that I liked.

In the travel industry many suppliers offer cookie-cutter websites as a “perk” for doing business with them. In a field so crowded, where differentiation is key, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would voluntarily choose a site that was exactly like thousands of others, but most do.

Unlike many other businesses, the product that we represent doesn’t need to be sold; a decision to buy, either sooner or later, has already been made by the visitor. What we needed to do was sell ourselves; try to convey why that visitor should buy from us rather than someone else.

Our client tends to be upscale but retains an appreciation for whimsy and fun. We used Flash for a one-of-a-kind look to set us apart and make our brand unique and, hopefully, memorable. We were looking for a little bit of the “magic” that is inherent in our product and Flash achieved that for us.

I find Flash effects entrancing and was determined to use Flash for its beauty while trying to maintain site visibility for searches.

We have placed most of the informational component on non-Flash pages so that it will be accessed by search engines, and have been careful to word page headings, image titles, etc. to maximize our presence.

Rather than using promotional methods to vie for the same homogenous group of potential clients as our competitors, we decided to move into more non-traditional areas, such as photography, which are still aligned with our product but provide an added focus on the site.

The interest, buzz, and links this strategy generates allow us to reach out to a different segment of the population who might never run a search for our core product, but may well be interested if informed.  Our blog, still in its infancy, features nothing but unique content rather than a rehash of industry press releases and special deals generally found on similar blogs.

If search engine optimization is the number one consideration, then Flash might not be the best choice. While some web professionals still cling to the notion that a Flash site is completely transparent to search engines, this is no longer true. Nonetheless, a Flash site cannot currently be optimized with anywhere near the success that can be achieved with html pages.

If, however, you want to stand out in the crowd of millions, use or plan to use multiple strategies for pulling traffic, and the visual aspect of your site is important to you, give Flash a chance. Try to keep in mind that you can never be all things to all people; be true to your own vision.

I’m currently working on a new website which will feature other products in our market niche. It will require different approaches because the target customer is somewhat different and the products need to be showcased in a compelling fashion, rather than the company.  Is there going to be Flash on this site, too? Absolutely. No rehab for me.

Diary of a Web Gal is proudly powered by Flash. The theme was originally released by Roy Tanck and requires Flash and Javascript (although it doesn’t break completely if these are missing). Thanks to Geoff Stearns, the use of Flash does not affect search engine ranking. The Flash titles contain complex algorithms that change things like line breaks and font size in order to best accommodate the post titles.

Learn more about Flash.

Follow or foe?

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Marketing

Last week social media and online marketing dude Ari Herzog wrote about his plan to unfollow all his Twitterers and start from scratch.

The Twittersephere watched closely as Ari began rebuilding his new connections one by one.

ari-herzogs-first-follow

That’s because follower numbers and following policies seem to be emotionally-charged topics. Just look at the recent Ashton Kutcher/CNN race to a million followers on Twitter.

Ari’s decision had to do with the value he gets from those he follows. Only a month ago he was following over 500 people on Twitter but during April he changed his strategy and that number rocketed to over 6,000.

You see, the thing about Twitter is that generally if you follow lots of people more people will follow you. But then you run the risk of not being able to engage in any meaningful exchanges because your Twitter stream is flooded with tweets from folks you barely know, and about subjects you have no interest in. Unless you’re monitoring Twitter 24-7, you rarely get to tweet with the folks that you get most value from. So Twitter just becomes a noise.

itty-bitties-robots

There are many folks who successfully follow lots of people because they’re leveraging tools such as TweetDeck allowing them to organise people into groups. I’ve never liked applications like this. It’s just a personal preference. I enjoy going to the Twitter website. End of.

Ari asked his blog readers for their opinion and the concensus was that following less people is better than following thousands if you want to get the most value from Twitter. So Ari paid SocialToo $25 to wipe his Twitter slate clean.

And here’s where the drama is: there are lots of folks on Twitter who will unfollow you if you unfollow them. It’s a big deal to some people. There’s a school of thought that suggests you’re arrogant or a snob if you don’t follow everyone who follows you. Ari has been busy explaining his new follow policy to his followers and I’m pleased that he still seems to have a healthy number of Twitterers listening to his updates.

All of this got me thinking.

What was my own Twitter follow policy? Did I have one? And can I justify my choices?

It turns out I do and I can.

I realised that, like Ari, I only follow folks who provide value to me.

I have around 680 people following me and I follow about 450. I check out every person who chooses to follow me. I read through their tweets and usually click through to their website or blog if one is available. I make my follow decisions carefully. I am also quick to unfollow if I don’t get value from tweets.

Those newer to Twitter might take a while to get used to this type of behaviour. A fellow blogger made her first unfollow last night and immediately had ‘unfollowers remorse.’

squigglemum-does-her-first-unfollow

Honestly, I still feel disappointed if I notice someone has unfollowed me but for everyone you lose there’s another rocking person right around the corner. And I’ve learned not to take it personally and by the same token nor should you if I unfollow you.

Twitter is a merely a reflection of the pace of our lives now. If you don’t have what I want, I move on to someone who will. Heck, that makes me sound like such a bitch. I’m really not. And nor is Ari.

Photo courtesy of ittybittiesforyou via a Creative Commons Licence

My new internet superhero

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Diary of a Web Gal

I get very excited about folks I find that manage to put into words some innate feeling I have but can’t verbalize.

I love folks that just SAY IT LIKE IT IS.

Don’t-mess-with-me-people.

It-just-IS-people.

And today I added to my list of internet superheros (which already includes Steve Krug, Jakon Nielsen and Paul Boag)

Enter Gerry McGovern.

Read this post and weep peoples: website management – you can’t automate everything.

Any person that starts their website management advice with ‘The biggest challenge a website manager has is to understand how humans work, not how content management software or search engines work,’ is indeed wise.

Interview with Britt Reints aka Miss Britt

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Blogging

Most (make that all) of the blogs I read regularly are about web design and development. So it takes a pretty sparkling blog to attract my attention if it’s not about my online passion.

Enter Miss Britt – a gem of a blog written by Florida-based Britt Reints. Britt is a mommy blogger – proud owner of two gorgeous small people Devin and Emma and wife to long-suffering Jared.

miss-britt-blog-banner

Britt began blogging in 2006 when she was 26. She’s since monetized her blog and has an online store.

She writes about the personal stuff that happens to her… The same stuff that happens to everyone but no-one wants to talk about. (Two of my favourite posts include thongs and Pokemon.)

And it’s rivetting – not in the way that reality shows make us voyers watching other folks’ mess up their lives but in a way that makes Britt a transparent and honest writer. This is real life and it’s hilarious.

Since I found Britt via StumbleUpon we’ve emailed a bit, I became her friend on Facebook and then decided I wanted to share her with you – specificially to look at how she has made her blog a success. And why people like me who don’t read THIS kind of stuff are hanging on her every post.

Why did you start blogging? (What motivated you? Did you read other blogs and get inspired?)

I found out about blogging from a friend of mine (Amy’s Musings) who had been doing it for a while.

I started and stopped a few blogs about being home with my daughter, but couldn’t stay interested.  When I went back to work, I started blogging again and stuck with it.  I guess I liked reading her [Amy’s] funny posts and wondered if I could write, too.

Why do you keep a blog? (What makes you keep doing it day after day?)

It depends on the day.

Sometimes I keep doing it because of all the relationships I’ve made through blogging.

Sometimes I keep doing it because writing has become so theraputic for me. And sometimes I do it just because I feel like I’ve done it for this long – why stop now?

When did you first realise ‘Crap! I have lots of readers?’

Well, I think the term ‘lots of readers’ is obviously relevant. The longer you blog, the more people will find you and read you. About two years ago I got over 10 comments on my birthday and I was amazed!

And then one day someone told me about Dooce, and I realized I didn’t have ‘lots of readers.’

I don’t think anyone really knows how many readers other bloggers have, or what’s ‘a lot.’  It’s like trying to determine who is popular in high school – it all depends who you ask.

Which elements of your blog do you think make it super successful? (and no dissecting of the words ‘super successful’)

From what I’ve been told by people who read my blog, the honesty in my writing is what makes it different from other blogs.

Some people tell me it’s funny. The truth is, I read a lot of honest, funny blogs.

I think the biggest ’secret’ is that I’ve been doing it a while and have met a lot of other bloggers. I think most of my readers are bloggers.

britt-reints

Do you have a writing schedule?

I used to. I used to write every morning. Then I wrote every night to publish for the next morning. I still kind of stick to that schedule, but I also skip days when I just don’t feel like it.

I also sit down in the middle of the afternoon and write if something is really pissing me off.

When did you decide to monetize your blog? How has this gone?

I think I put ads on my blog about a year ago. My thought was that if I could keep doing what I was doing anyway and make some extra money – why not?

It’s gone OK. I make a couple hundred dollars a month from ads and a few hundred dollars from writing on other blogs. It covers my expenses and gives me a little left over.  I think that’s damn good for a hobby.

If you were starting out all over again would you do anything differently to develop your blog?

If I could go back and not write crap, that’d be great. But I think that’s unrealistic. I think you get more comfortable with your own voice and style and boundaries, etc. with practice and time.

So, no, I don’t know that I’d do anything differently.

What advice do you have for folks new to blog writing?

Don’t listen to anyone who tries to give you advice.

Someone is always posting rules and tips and do’s and don’ts and lists of things they hate on other blogs and inevitably, that makes people freak out and wonder if they’re doing it wrong.

Do what’s right for you. Do what you love.

If you’re being true to who you are, you’ll get what you’re supposed to out of it.  If you spend all of your time trying to do it ‘right,’ you’ll start to hate it and won’t be able to maintain anyone else’s standards anyway.

______________________________________________________

Britt mentions Dooce – a popular blog authored by Heather Armstrong.

Last year I commissioned an exclusive interview with Heather for the National Screen Institute website. Heather is interviewed alongside fellow blogger Maggie Mason. In this one-off interview recorded last summer at VidFest in Vancouver they talk about how they got started and the pitfalls of blogging.

4 free tools to help you create an uber cool website or blog

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Blogging

I’m a bit ubiquitous when it comes to space online. Check out my FriendFeed or Google profile and you’ll see what I mean. I just can’t resist a new opportunity to create another path to this blog or play around with a new online toy.

You might say I’ve been around.

Before I started Diary of a Web Gal I hadn’t a clue about ‘making a website.’ I thought it was something reserved only for those uber-talented people who could decifer all that algerbraic code.

Not so!

During my online travels I’ve found a number of different ways to create a great website or blog with little or no HTML knowledge.

For me, things are different now because I chose to learn more about all that code stuff. But you don’t have to and can still have a super cool space online. The following sites all offer free-hosted blogs. This means you don’t have to pay for anything unless you choose to register your own domain or, in the case of WordPress.com, upgrade your account.

There are other sites but these are the ones I particularly like.

Tumblr

tumblr

A fledgling microblogging site that provides beautiful templates for free. You can check out my Tumble log which is really a mini version of this site but many people use their Tumble log as their primary site.

I highly recommend using Tumblr for your first blog. Tumble logs are known for their minimal look (usually one or two columns). And extremely easy to create. Some Tumblr users have been amazingly creative with their blog but even the pre-designed templates on the Tumblr site totally rock.

Posterous

posterous

A slightly different type of online space. Posterous lets you post things online using email. You email Posterous and they reply instantly with your new posterous blog. I’ve done it and it’s really as easy and pain free as they promise.

I’ve started a space for my art work using Posterous but, again, some people use Posterous as their main location online. Whereas Tumlbr allows you freedom to really customise your blog, Posterous is more prescriptive. One look (a very elegant one) fits all. Check out TwitterJunkies. And your favourite Twitterer Guy Kawasaki is on Posterous to see examples.

WordPress

WordPress.com

Just to confuse everyone there are two different WordPress blogging platforms: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. For the purposes of this post we’re looking at WordPress.com which allows you to create a blog in seconds. The other WordPress (.org) is for self-hosted blogs (which is the type I use) and would require you to pay hosting costs and pay for a domain name (on WordPress.com I would be http://lizhover.wordpress.com/ but I have a registered domain name so I’m http.www.lizhover.com)

And to confuse you even more you can register a domain name and use it on any of the sites listed here. But we’re focusing on setting up and running your blog at no cost in which case you wouldn’t be using a domain name.

I’ve used WordPress.com for several earlier incarnations of my blogs but veered away from it because template choices are limited and I needed to be super smart to make my template do what I wanted. But for the first timer just starting out it’s perfect and very cool. There are some established blogs and big name folks who use WordPress.com so it’s by no means just for beginners. Additional customisation features on WordPress.com will cost a little money. For bloggers on a zero budget you can set up a slick blog using WordPress’ templates and away you go.

Blogger

Blogger

Of all the free blogging platforms Blogger has a special place in my heart. It gets lots of criticism but I used it successfully for ages and highly recommend it.

I spent hours, probably days when I first signed up to Blogger hunting for my perfect blog template. One of the reasons I liked Blogger was that customisation is pretty easy so you can give your blog its very own look and feel. Like WordPress and Tumblr, Blogger provides ready-made templates to choose from but there are many, many others kicking around the web. I like Our Blogger Templates.

Again many established names use Blogger to host their blog.

Conclusion

I’m a big fan of Tumblr and Blogger. If I was starting my blog from scratch I would choose those in a heartbeat.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone interview on Colbert

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Diary of a Web Gal

UPDATE: It was only a matter of time before YouTube removed this video due to copyright infringement. You should still be able to view the interview in one of the places listed below.

If you want to know more about Biz Stone you should check out this recent article from the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle spent a day with Biz.

“It’s a Dr. Doolittle house,” he explains, with Pedro the one-eyed pudgy Chihuahua, two cats, a turtle living with a heat lamp in the shower stall, two opossums in the garage and a pen for crows outside.”

Brilliant!