Ramblings of an IT Consultant

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Do single page websites work?

In blocked drain, Customer Service, ebay, Google, monocle, SEO on November 28, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I have recently been commissioned to build quite a few single page websites.  My clients believe that a single page selling them or  their only product is all that is required.

I am from the school of thought where a website should have lots of pages to attract search engines.  I have a number of sites where this works well,  however other sites only 1 or 2 pages rank well in the likes of Google or Yahoo.

Recently I have been wondering if a well written single page website can fight against its content rich competitors.  My findings were quite interesting.  The first site I tried it on was a site offering a Drain unblocking service –www.mmdrainsunblocked.co.uk.

Basically this site offers plumbing services across the south-east of england.  However a site like this needs to make a fast impact.  If someone has a blocked drain or a leaking pipe, do they need to trawl through several pages to find out which number they need to call, or if the service they require is available?   Saying all of this I was a bit sceptical about the single webpage approach, but the customer gets what the customer wants.

So I set about creating the webpage.  I got in touch with my designer who did a fantastic job of making the site look professional.  My thinking was that we needed to say a lot in an instant to make an impact.  His design was bright and simple.  Now it was over to me.  I then built a content management system allowing the user to modify each section of the new page.  Again if google and the user only have one page to view then content is king,  so it would need to be updated regularly.  We made sure that the key towns were listed with their telephone numbers at the bottom of the page.

Quite quickly we found that the single page approach was successful.  Within 3 weeks the new website was on the first page of google for quite a few search terms.  We still agree there is a long drawn out battle still to be won with this website; as you can imagine there is a lot of competition in this sector.  We will have to review the number of jobs that come in via this approach but the initial findings are promising.

The next single webpage site was developed to help my dad.  My dad sells monocles online using eBay.  He decided he wanted a website so sell his monocles, but there was a challenge.  How can you describe a monocle and make it sound interesting?  I went over and over his eBay advert and just could not find a way to make a monocle sales pitch.  I toyed with the idea of having a history of monocle page, but again I could not come up with a reasonable explanation as to why this website needed one.  After all if you arrive on his site you know what a monocle is anyway.

So this weekend we launched another single page website selling gold monocles.   The website allows you to buy a prescription monocle and checkout with either PayPal or Google Checkout.   The website www.themonocleshop.com has only been around a few days so it’s too early to tell if it is a success.  If it works as well as his eBay page then I am sure it will be!

Have you ever created a single page website or are contemplating it?  Who knows maybe single page well written websites are the future.


Online Shopping: Does the website name matter?

In Customer Service, Online Shopping on November 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm

One of my main roles as a developer is to create online shopping carts for my clients.  The thing is I know some of their concepts are sound.  I also know they have researched the market and their prices are competitive.  We can also get lots of visitors to their sites by using Google AdWords.  So why do these shops never take off?

Quality Meat Online – www.qualitymeatonline.co.uk is a case in question!

This website was created from another website called Foodshack which did not do particularly well either.  Basically the shop is an outlet for a butcher to sell their products online.  This website is currently getting 100 visits a day, with the help of AdWords.  However we have only had 2 orders since the site was launched back in August.  We know there is a market for their products and the price is reasonable.  The website is well designed and comparable to other online stores.   Take www.donaldrussell.com for example,  we know that they turn over millions of pounds a year on their website alone.  Donald Russell are a well-known household name but surely there is a place for sites like quality meat online?

The other thing we can also gauge that because Donald Russell are doing so well they have a massive marketing budget.  They can afford adverts that a small site like Quality Meat Online can only dream about.  But surely the lack of orders cannot be contributed to one or two sites like theses giants.   The market must be large enough for small start-ups?  It’s not like you can have unique meat products, so everyone is selling the same stuff!

Quality Meat Online has a sister site called www.halal-meat-online.co.uk.  This website does reasonably well and take around £200 of orders a day.  Maybe its the niche that makes this website a little more successful than its brother!

It will be interesting to see how these two websites fare over the coming weeks.  They are both about to have adverts placed in the London Metro newspaper and a food magazine called Christmas Feast.  Hopefully that will pull the clients in.  If not I feel my fears might be correct and Quality Meat Online falls flat on its face.  I fear it may be reborn again.  This time with a slightly better name.  Who knows we might get it right sometime!

Have you had any website name failures?

Is Christmas just an excuse?

In Just for Fun, Technology on November 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm

For some Christmas is an excuse for a good time.  In the  weeks running unto Christmas, we all rush about trying to find the perfect gift for friends and family, it’s an excuse to spoil them! We also spend the time attending parties, which is another excuse to drink too much and stay out late having a good time. Then when the big day comes it’s another great excuse to eat and drink too much before falling asleep in front of the sofa.

Over the past week I find myself talking to clients about work that they require, and I find myself planning my time after Christmas. I don’t seem to be the only person doing this.  I have also noticed that my clients are also doing the same thing. Today is only the 15th november, so why does it seem that everyone is slowing down for Christmas already?

For me the events of the year have taken their toll.  It’s not been a bad year all in all.  I have a new a wife, become an uncle and had a really good year business wise.  But on the other hand I have had to help my wife with the sudden loss of her mother.  With everything going on I seem to be feeling the need of a long break, and Christmas is the opportunity for that.

Maybe my customers have had their fair share of ups and downs too.  Its been a bad year financially for lots of businesses, tough choices have had to be made and nobody is quite sure what the effects of the governments cut backs has in store for the next few years.  So for them maybe it’s an excuse to take a step back and spend some quality time with the family.

Whatever the reason, for me and a lot of others it would seem that the Christmas break could not come soon enough.  So what is your Christmas excuse?

Dates: Why are they so tricky?

In asp.net, Microsoft, Technology on November 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm

We all have problems with dates in our lives.  We have all forgotten someones birthday or an anniversary, some of us may have had some disastrous first dates or even a blind date!

Today another instance where a simple date got the better of me.  I was doing some work in Access and I just couldn’t get between dates to work.  This is an issue I always seem to have with most query languages I use.  SQL Server makes the issue even more tricky at times.  I am pleased to say it does not look like I am the only one who suffers with dates.  Google has hundreds of articles about date related issues so it can’t just be me.

Does anyone else struggle with dates?  The best date I ever went on was my first date with the current Mrs G!

Feeling Guilty on a Sunday!

In Just for Fun on November 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm

It’s 5:40pm on a Sunday and I have been feeling guilty all day.  Before you wonder, I have not upset the wife, spent all day on the sofa watching sport or even spent all day reading the papers and then dozing on the sofa.  In fact since  getting up after my wife brought a cup of tea to bed,  I have been quite busy.  My day eventually started by making bacon sandwiches and then cleaning up the large amount of mess from making said bacon sandwiches.  I also went shopping for the ingredients for dinner tonight, and finally started to cook dinner.  Later I will have to clean up the war zone of a kitchen!  Oh and dinner is a curry which  is bubbling away quite nicely, just in case you are interested!

So after all of that why do I feel guilty?  Well I have had a busy working week and did not manage to get through all of my work.  I promised myself I would do what had to be done today so I could start afresh tomorrow.  It’s odd because no matter how much I try to rationalise the fact that I deserve time off like everyone else, I still feel guilty.  I suppose it can be hard, working for yourself and finding a good balance.

Before I met and eventually married the current Mrs G, I would pretend to work all of the hours I could,  just to keep myself occupied.  However looking back on those times I realise they were less productive, as I would spend most of my time surfing the internet or playing poker on Facebook.  I was working weekends because my life was unstructured.  I work best under pressure, and not doing much during the week was doing just that!

Now I know I have to put 100% into my day as I want to spend the evenings and weekend with the wife.  This has had a very positive effect on my business and my working life.  My customers are a lot happier and are receiving the service they deserve.  As a result I am getting more work and positive feedback.

In conclusion, I will go finish off cooking dinner, get ready for mindless Sunday night TV and banish any thoughts of guilt from my mind.  If I ever feel guilty again on a Sunday, or a Saturday for that matter, I will force myself to read this post again!

SEO and Link Building – The Dilemma

In SEO on November 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about optimising websites for Google and the importance of using Webmaster tools and Analytics to track search terms and traffic to a website.  We were chatting and agreeing on everything until they brought up the subject of link building.

Linking to other websites and getting links back can build traffic and lets google know you are a popular site, but only if the links are useful.  However my friend disagreed and went on to prove how if you type one of their customer’s names into Google it appears on the top of the search results because of the level of his links, even the unrelated ones.  However this can be true of any website, even one without links.  An example of this is a website I built for one of my clients called Xeles.  Now, this website does not link to any other website online.  However in Google it appears on the top of page 1.  So to me this blows the theory of link building out of the window.  I have launched a number of new sites and if they are built correctly they will appear on page 1 if you type in their name with or without external links.

So what does Google say about link building in its terms and conditions regarding exchanges to sites that are unrelated?  They clearly state that this could hinder your pagerank and position in the search results.  However most web designers will disagree that this is the case and still believe that linking to a website with a higher ranking helps to increase your pagerank.  I cannot disprove this opinion, however I tend not to follow it.  An example here is a chocolate fountain hire website that my friend developed recently.  Their links page has links to contact lens specialists.  If I was  looking for their product but found thier links page chances are I would click away.  Why?  Because they are desperate for traffic and have no focus on their products or their customers.

In my opinion linking to nothing is surely better than linking to something unrelated, no matter how desperate you are for your traffic.  Also my fear would be if Google decided to improve googlebot’s ability to detect these links.  I would not want my website dropping in the search results.

One final thought: as of today my WordPress blog has been running for jut over 3 weeks,  and is already on Page 2 if you search for Gallagher it blog.  All of this without link building…..  or is this just luck on my part?

Customer satisfaction: Is it easy to obtain?

In Customer Service on November 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm

If you work for a company or are self-employed, customer satisfaction is a must, especially in the current economic climate. But on the flip side it’s also difficult to achieve with people wanting more for less.

I am self-employed, I really do not have anyone else to blame if a customer is not happy with a service or a product I have sold them. But how can I gauge if a customer is really happy?

For my business it is even more difficult, the main problem for me is that unless the service I give them is monthly, I may never know if they are satisfied. If I build a system, get it through testing and then finally take it live, my first inclination that they may be happy is when they pay my bill!

However unless anything goes wrong or they find a bug in a system, I may not hear from them until they need a change to their system or service. So instead of just waiting I send an email or give them a call every couple of months just making sure everything is going ok. I also make sure that I don’t try to sell them anything during this call. What I have noticed by doing this is that the customer then feels like I care. Which if I am honest I do. My ethos is that if the customer is spending £100 or £10,000 per year they still get the same service.

I have been running my business now for over 8 years and have never needed to advertise. All of my work has been from recommendation and then repeat business. This will not stop me from giving 100% at all times.

The reason for this post was quite a simple comment from one of my regular customers. I have had my share of highs and lows with them in the past, but working for them provided me with a wonderful opportunity to meet my lovely wife. Today they managed to put a smile on my face once again, with a compliment I am not even sure they meant to give. The comment was “I have seen lots of websites that look really professional and I have thought ‘I want one of those’, and now we have one!

So today I am sure that at least one of my customers is satisfied. isn’t it amazing how simple things make your day?

The problem with browsers

In Microsoft on November 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Today I have had a very frustrating day.  As a web developer I am responsible for making sure that a website will display correctly in all current and some historic browsers.

If you are sitting there and wondering what the big fuss is about, I can tell you it’s no simple task.  I usually test using Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer.  However one of these browsers always gives me grief.  If you was thinking anything other than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer you would be very mistaken.

You see Firefox and Safari adhere to all of the rules, they just don’t tolerate sloppy website code.  Internet Explorer is the opposite and seems to thrive on bad web development.  Imagine my surprise today when I had to find a workaround to make one of Microsoft’s own browser components.  Shockingly it would not work in Internet Explorer 8 and 9, but would in both Firefox and Safari.  Now I know version 9 is a beta release but you would  think even as a beta, it would be better than version 8.  If only this was the case!

Lets hope Microsoft’s upcoming release of IE9 Is a big improvement!