The Benefits of Webinars For Learning How to Develop Websites

The Problem

Many small businesses and organizations in the United States are located in rural and often remote areas. This is especially true for wood businesses, whose emphasis is the use of local, sustainably harvested raw materials. However, no matter how remote, these businesses still have to reach a market with information about their product to survive, ie. Market their Product!

A website is a great tool to make your information available to the widest possible audience. Many business owners and organizations will contract with a web developer without knowing anything about what their website should do for them or whether they have found a competent and ethical web developer. Others will attempt to build their own websites without the benefit of web development training.

A few of these folks will put together fine websites with the aid of books and tutorials. Some will find a great developer who does a great job. After almost 10 years of teaching web development classes for business owners, I have found that for many, that won’t be the case. Whether business owners contract their website development or do it in-house, they need to understand the business and marketing principles of the web environment, the technical principles of web development, and how people use websites. That training is available at most community college and adult education centers around the country, but those colleges and centers aren’t necessarily accessible to rural businesses. Webinars can deliver the live and interactive training to any location that has internet access.

What is a Webinar

A webinar is live training that is delivered over the internet through your web browser. Teacher and students can be anywhere there is internet access. I have taught webinars from the back of a restaurant, a university office, a home office, and a hotel lobby. My students have attended the webinars from their offices, their homes, and I don’t know where because I can’t see them!

I can’t see the students, but I can talk to them. In fact, everyone attending can talk to each other via cell phone, desk phone or a headset plugged into their computers. While I prefer to teach conversationally, where the attendees can jump in with questions or comments, I can set it so that my voice – lecture style – is the only one heard. Of course, without the interchange, the students might actually be playing solitaire or maybe only the dog is at the computer, but then students play solitaire and check their email in regular lab courses too. At least, I can’t hear them snoring!

With a webinar, my students can see a PowerPoint presentation I have prepared right on their computers. Or the webinar software can show them what I have on my computer, if I prefer, allowing me to demonstrate how to do something while they give it a try. If a student has a problem completing a task, that student can choose to “share” what is on his or her computer, to get step-by-step help as I watch their computer screen on mine! Of course, that also means that I might see the Solitaire game in process too!

Using a Webinar

The process of attending a webinar is:

  1. Register for the webinar. Some are free, and some require payment.
  2. You will receive various emails from the webinar system confirming your registration and giving you a link to the webinar and possibly a call in number for discussion.
  3. About 15 – 20 minutes before your webinar is scheduled to start, Make sure your internet connection is working and go to the website linked in the emails. You may need to enter a code, depending on which webinar system it is.
  4. If the webinar will be through a headset, make sure the volume on your computer is turned up!
  5. If the webinar is through a phone call, call the number in the emails. Again, you may have to enter a confirmation number, which should be in the emails.
  6. After the software loads in your browser, you should see a list of the folks who have already signed in and a central area for the presentation materials.
  7. There may also be a chat box where you can ask questions before, during, or after the webinar.
  8. Just like in a regular classroom, some webinar presenters like to be interrupted with questions and comments, and others don’t. Whether you can interject questions and comments depends on the set up and software too. The presenter should tell you at the beginning of the webinar, although using the chat system doesn’t interrupt the webinar and is usually available the whole time.
  9. After the webinar is finished, you may be able to download a recorded copy for review.

Other Uses for Webinar Software

The webinar format is also excellent for one-on-one or small group training. I have trained people half way across the country, whom I’ve never met in person, how to work on their own website through webinars. Because the webinar system allows us to talk to each other and look at each other’s computer, it can become as comfortable as a classroom setting.

Webinars can also be used for group discussions and meetings. People all over the country can get together without travel costs and time. It is also a great format for a planning meeting because someone can type in the Notes area and everyone can have a copy of the Notes.

Conclusion

At first, not seeing the people behind the voices can be a little disconcerting. And, your internet connection might cut out or your headset might quit working, or your cell phone battery might die. But in the end, it’s a great system.

The National Network of Forest Practitioners has conducted various webinar topics for wood cooperatives and sustainable wood businesses. If the guys out in the woods can to it; so can you!

Web Design Quick Fixes – Are Businesses Falling Foul of Free Website Generators?

Buses in Cambridge are like web design in Cambridge: reliable, convenient and reasonably priced. However, I am given to understand that the story is not the same elsewhere. Indeed, books have been written on the subject of why such vehicles often come in threes. Suffice it to say that the hidden mathematics of everyday life also extend to the life of a freelance web developer. If I am asked about a particular web design topic or technique, no matter how obscure, I can pretty much guarantee that the question will crop up again very soon afterwards with a different client.

At the moment, in the land of web design in Cambridge, the burning web design issue is free website generators. Many web hosting companies offer these programs as a “quick start” to getting your business online. But do they work? If you haven’t got a lot of time, the short answer to the question: “Are website generators any good?” is: yes, for a limited time, then no.

Many business owners make the mistake of thinking that a website can be established and then left to mature like a fine wine. It isn’t the case. You can get immediate positive impact from a website, but after that point, it’s a bit of a labour of love. To keep yourself in the search engine rankings and encourage return visits from customers, you have to work hard at it: tweak page titles, descriptions and keywords; add new material and respond to user feedback. In short, you need to be creating noise around your site (albeit an excited buzz, not an annoying drone…) to keep things moving.

Free website generators address the immediate need, but some can fail to lay the groundwork for a sustainable website.

Use of images

The most common crime of the free website generator is to use images where text should be. This is hugely damaging for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) because search engine crawlers can’t read images, so your content is wasted: it’s not working for you. Text readers won’t be able to read your pages either, so disabled visitors don’t stand a chance of using your site.

Content Management

Many free website generators are intended to provide a starting-point, so once you’ve created your website, you may not have the opportunity to go back and edit your pages. One Cambridge web design client had the experience that meaningless URLs (e.g. A.html, B.html etc.) were being generated and could not be renamed, with the result that his pages could not rival those of his competitors. Changing page titles, descriptions and keywords are all important parts of managing your website which may not be available to you with this kind of program.

HTML validation: An experiment

As an experiment, I decided to run a website generated by one of these free website generators through the W3C Validator, a useful tool for web designers and developers, which can pick up on any errors in the code on the page. Such errors can represent accessibility issues which can prevent visitors from using your site properly. It wasn’t good news. The validator came up with 69 errors, beginning with failing to identify the document type, with no XML declarations at the beginning of the webpage.

You don’t have to be technical to understand that these are quite fundamental problems. The webpage hasn’t even declared what code it’s trying to use, so the validator doesn’t know where to start. Many other errors referred to HTML attributes which are now deprecated (i.e. no longer used) which also suggests that the website generators are not updated to reflect changes in XHTML standards.

Another Cambridge web design client’s website, also generated by one of these free programs, had far fewer validation problems. Why? Because the whole website was made up of images. The only reason the validator didn’t pick up on more problems was because it can’t read images in the same way as it can read text. This goes for Google, Bing and any other search engine you care to mention. If you fill your website with images and Flash instead of text, it can seriously damage your site’s performance in search engine rankings.

Why not try it out yourself?

Think of a search term and Google it. Most likely, on page 1 you will find text-rich websites which run through the W3C validator with few or no problems. Click on the last pages of Google and you will find sites dominated by images or created using Flash.

Sometimes designers make the decision to use images in place of text, mainly for cosmetic purposes. The number of fonts available in most web browsers can be limiting and can lead to a repetitive look and feel. However, with web design as with so many areas of life, you need to know what you’re ignoring. If it is a conscious design, fair enough, and knowledgeable web designers will probably take other steps to boost SEO in lieu of the images. However, if you’re a newcomer to web design, you may not even be aware of this distinction.

I think it is unfair that businesses – especially small and medium-sized businesses trying to economize – can be led to thinking that a free website generator is going to be enough to give their website a fighting chance. It is a false economy. It doesn’t pay to take these errors lightly in web design, because they prevent visitors (especially disabled visitors) from being able to use your site properly and can do serious damage to your Google ranking.

So if you are planning to use a free website generator, what can you do to ensure the quality of the result?

  • Start by searching the site for “web design”, “css” and “html validation”. These issues should be addressed upfront or in support documentation.
  • If possible, view a tutorial or trial the content management system (CMS) to ensure that you can manipulate the design in the way you want and that it’s easy to use.
  • If you can find an existing website produced with the same generator, try running the site’s URL through W3C’s website validator: http://validator.w3.org/ for yourself to see the results. This will let you know whether the HTML the generator produces is suitable.
  • When inspecting other sites, if you can’t highlight text, right-click. If you see the option “Save Picture As…”, you are looking at an image, not text, which could potentially cause accessibility and SEO issues.
  • What are the other options?

 
The other options available to you depend on how comfortable you feel with the process of web design and development and the level of commitment you are willing to provide. If you are willing to learn HTML and CSS or have someone in your organisation who is able to do so, you could try http://www.freecsstemplates.org/? This website provides great CSS webpage designs which are already validated and make a great basis for your own site. I used a template recently for a Cambridge playwright and author and found the templates to be well-designed and documented (you do need to retain a credit to the original web designer).

Alternatively, you could employ a local web designer to do the work for you. If you take this route, there are many more options you need to consider, but that’s a different topic for another day. Do your homework Whichever route you choose, the most important element of the process happens before you sign up to any package, whether free or paid. Invest your time before you invest your money – with the best will in the world, it’s the best way to ensure that your expectations are met and your online business flourishes.

Ecommerce Website Development Strategies for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

If you are planning to start your own online business, you have to be familiar with cost-effective strategies used for ecommerce website development. By helping your visitors find their way to your website, you can increase your sales and establish long-lasting relationships with your clients.

Here are some ways to design a user-friendly website that can keep your visitors interested with your products and services.

Create well-defined buy paths

The most effective way to increase your sales is to create structured systems of buy paths. Buy paths can be characterized into two categories: a path that directly leads to a page where clients can make a purchase; and a long path that will detour clients along the way. Instead of leading your customers to this long path, concentrate on bringing them directly to pages where they can purchase your products.

Exceptional ecommerce website development can be achieved by giving your clients a clear idea about what you are trying to sell them. Once they have learned more about your products, they will be more than willing to send you their order forms and contact numbers.

Get your message across

The crucial part in ecommerce website development is to allow your visitors to understand what your site is about at a single glance. Place a general message of six to eight words at the center of your homepage. Look for a supporting image that is directly related to the message you have posted.

After doing this, consult a graphic designer and ask him if your advertisement looks professional enough. Limit the ad size by up to 250 pixels high and make sure that it occupies your site’s full width. Do your best to conserve the vertical space in order to allow rows of your products to fit right below your homepage advertisement. Your products must also be visible enough without scrolling in order to make them accessible to your viewers.

Highlight the buy buttons

Another strategy for effective ecommerce website development includes the need to make your buy buttons obvious to your visitors. Your web pages must be composed in such a way that viewers will not need to scroll down to locate the buy button. If it is too hard to find, your customers might get lost in your navigation page and lose their interest in your products.

Reduce the clicking needed

The longer the path towards your order form, the more likely your clients can get lost or frustrated with your website. Provide them with the shortest way to buy your products by limiting the number of clicks needed to arrive at the page where they can finally provide their shipping addresses and credit card numbers.

Avoid unnecessary graphics

If you want your prospective clients to enjoy their first visit to your website, refrain from including unnecessary graphics, marquee texts and buttons in your navigation page. This will only get in your way of ranking high in search engines and attracting more people to visit your page.

Competitive techniques for ecommerce website development involve the need to keep your pages SEO-friendly and user-friendly. Since search engines will view your navigation page as your site’s foundation, its design will have a high impact on the visibility of your page in search engine rankings. Plan your navigation systems and include phrases and keywords that you are targeting in your well-defined search engine optimization strategy.

As much as possible, you must refrain from using flash images and vibrant colors. These will only confuse your visitors and make them lose their focus. Capitalize on images and colors that will perfectly complement your website’s content and essence.

Organize your navigation page

You can also succeed in your ecommerce website development goals by limiting your categories and leaving enough room for different elements that your visitors are expecting to see in your navigation page. Some of the most important items that you must place in your homepage include your logo, your free shipping offers and the various payment methods that you are accepting. These pieces of information will make shoppers feel more secure and comfortable with the legitimacy of your business.

Use distinct SEO footers

SEO footers are also crucial to cost-effective ecommerce website development. You can use them to separate information pages from your main product catalog. Refrain from distracting your shoppers by adding other pages such as About Us, History and other informational pages.

Hire skilled web developers

If you are not too keen about designing your website on your own, you can hire professional web designers to do all the work for you. Their skills and knowledge regarding successful ecommerce website development will help you reach your target audience in the shortest possible amount of time.

When screening various website developers, take your time while browsing through their sample websites and their portfolios. Choose a company that offers competitive ecommerce solutions for building profitable ecommerce websites. A professional team of web developers will always do everything in their power to make your dream website come true.

These are the most important factors that you need to consider when building your own website. Whether you want to design a website on your own or to hire ecommerce website development teams, a user-friendly and SEO-friendly navigation page will always be your key to success.