Saturday, January 5, 2008

Tech & Graphic Tools Info

Karlyn's posted a list of the best free web and graphic design tools.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Giving Away The Store, Part One

Giving away the store isn't all bad; in fact, it's even a lucrative business model ~ if you don't get in your own way.

At Infomercantile, Derek (who, in the interest of full-disclosure, is a 'boss') writes about one of our local free newspapers and their idiotic 'upgrade':
In early September 2007, the FM Extra further obfuscated access to their newspaper by wrapping the already difficult-to-parse PDF file inside a Macromedia-format "Flashpaper" Flash viewer. While Google and other search engines do have the ability to provide some searchability within PDFs, enclosing the PDF within a Flash viewer completely eliminates the world's ability to find the FM Extra without already knowing it exists. It is as though the FM Extra put all of their hard-copy newprint papers in an unmarked cardboard box, shoved it under a parked car somewhere in Hawley, MN, and only gave directions to people who explicitly asked where the papers went. One would think that a newspaper that places its print-copies in as many publicly-available places as possible would easily translate the same concept to the internet, but it seems to have slipped their and their webdesigners' grasps.
Not only did they put all of the papers in the box, under a parked car, only giving directions to people who ask, but access also requires a secret password or knock of some sort. This new flash viewer requires the latest version of Macromedia Flash and has officially no viewer for those of us who are Linux based (I should note here that I can view it, but it also freezes my entire Firefox experience and is thus noted as to be avoided at all costs), making all of their free papers unavailable to us.

Unavailable is contrary to their business model where the newspapers are paid for by the advertisers, advertisers who have paid the rates for the large circulation, so why remove online circulation? The purpose of FM Extra is to literally give away their product, and so their decision not to do so on the web is bad marketing (if not just good old fashioned crazy).

Unavailable isn't the only problem. Being found is also a problem. I've mentioned this before, so I'll let Derek at Infomercantile say it:
Newspapers and web-designers alike fail to realize that a large portion of website traffic comes from people who never knew the website existed before and arrive by searching for a term. Those searchers, in theory, are highly-retainable readers if their search results succeed in finding what they're looking for. The FM Extra, by hiring a web designer, spent what appears to be a significant amount of money to reduce their potential audience even further. The FM Extra might be exactly what an online visitor is looking for, but a huge amount of effort has been devoted to making sure those readers never find the FM Extra online.
Using flash means you are non-existent for many.

It's pretty hard to give away the store when you can't even be found.

FM Extra assumes, in the way that makes an ass out of themselves, that folks are going to type in FM Extra ~ and goes further up their behinds to believe that the all the people that do arrive at their site are able to view the free goods via this new gift of the technology gods, Flashpaper.

Given that their target market is the senior shopper who looks for quaint local (happy) news and deals, it seems absurd to imagine they have any interest in downloading the latest version of flash. FM Extra also publishes Memories, and their pitch to advertisers is, "nobody does a better job at reaching those 40 and over than Memories Magazine." We're not exactly talking the gaming or tech-gadget crowd here, especially as these folks are, by their own admission, looking to the past, not the technological future: "Memories readers are extremely loyal, and they love to read about a past they can connect with."

Removing the ability for 100% of their content to be Googled (also seemingly incompatible with other search engine spidering etc.) is dumb enough. But to further aggravate their core audience means the advertisers aren't being served either. The advertisers have paid for placement in publications which are free and available for all, and here they go and remove these possibilities on the web. (If I had paid for any ads, I'd be livid.)

If your product is meant to be read/seen or otherwise given away for free ~ and this includes blogs and websites which exist to promote products which are paid for ~ do not put in place methods and technologies which remove the possibility.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Shoe Fetish?

Naughty Surrealism Used to Sell Shoes - Fashion Mag Gets Controversial (GALLERY)

( V Magazine used a controversial fashion editorial to showcase this season's must-have shoes. Combining images of the female form and stylist Brian Mollov's foot-wear picks for the fall, the magazine spread is tastefully done, yet is still facing a lot of scrutiny by more conservative types.

The ph… [More]

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Site Sponsor Matters

Over at Cozy Frog Titmowse has an article on choosing a sponsor. Most of it I agree with, so I highly recommend it. Especially the, "Maybe the message board philosophers are correct. There is no "best" sponsor ­ there is only the "right" sponsor."

However, there are a few additional points I'd like to make.

When Titmowse discusses testing a sponsor she says, "If you market a sponsor for a couple of months with no results, find another sponsor. If you are making money with a sponsor, keep them."

I think this is too simple. It suggests that after a few months poor performance by a sponsor is 'all on the sponsor.' This may be true; but it also may not be true.

Sponsor performance also depends upon what you do.

Titmowse covers some of this in her piece Designing With Niche In Mind:
For example, say you decide to promote a BBW paysite. You think the niche is funny. So you build a point-and-laugh free site, chock full of insulting text, degrading graphics and ads for your sponsor. Your site receives all kinds of traffic but literally nobody clicks your ad banners. Why do you think that is? Do you really think that the point-and-laugh crowd is going to shell out money for a membership to a BBW paysite? Did it ever occur to you that your niche-based design insults the very people that happen to like big women and are aching to find a site where they are welcomed and appreciated? Sure, if you design a site that honors BBW models, you probably won't get as much traffic, but the traffic you get will be targeted to sell. You won't waste bandwidth on a bunch of gawking freeloaders.
Design issues aside, there are other matters such as the quality of your posts/articles, your authority, and of course, your traffic. All of this affects sponsor performance.

It's easy to blame a sponsor, go get another. But they aren't the only factor.

Your sponsor can be doing everything right, but if you don't pay attention to these matters, well, sponsor choice just doesn't matter.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blog Field Trip: Limited Floor Space

It never ceases to amaze me that folks with blogs and websites believe their virtual spaces are infinite. Size of hosting/server space aside, I'm talking about the space on any particular 'page' a person sees. When looking at your web design layout or blog template, you do not have infinite space. At least not in functionality. Filling every inch with text links, banners and buttons, boxes, graphics, etc. results in too much information. Like your desk, just because it can hold 500 pounds of paper doesn't mean you can find a damn thing on it if it does.

Fundamentally this is due to human weakness. All those links and banners on a page become a jumble & we just can't take it all in. So if your sidebar (or webpage space) is filled with link swaps, banner trades, affiliate ads, links to your own site goodies and products, it may be too overwhelming for your visitors.

Coming from an extensive retail background, I typically view website page space as retail floor space. You have your front window, which is your content (images, articles, blog posts) and then you have sales floor space. If your blog sidebar is too cluttered you need to simplify to move shoppers (traffic) to your goods. In a real store you make sure shoppers can walk about, giving them isles, and featuring key items. It's no different with your blog or website.

Since this is a field trip, let's look again at Slip of a Girl's blog. I must first warn you that Slip and I discussed this months ago, so her clutter problems have (in large) been fixed, so when you go look you won't see so many of the boo-boos and errors discussed. However, I'm certain you've all had experiences at cluttered blogs; enough to know how 'bad' it can get. Anyway, the 'before' isn't as important as the 'after' ~ and neither is as important as the conversation and process of moving from one to another.

Slip came to me complaining of poor affiliate sales, asking me to look over her blog and give my opinions. Her blog sidebar looked like a to-do list at holiday time. Her links were not grouped (as they are now) so it was one long sidebar-O-rama of links and a hodgepodge of images & widgets.

Most of her affiliate links were/are lingerie related. (It makes sense if she's dishing lingerie to try and get a bit of money for all her work on said bits of nylon and lace.) But there were a few others there as well, hidden in a long list of catch-all links. Our first discussion was on the performance of her links.

Slip said, "Out of the 32 lingerie affiliate programs, I've only had sales from 3 programs. And these are at the top of the blog, so even if it's a short entry these lingerie store links are visible. The others? Maybe one or two sales. I don't see why they are so low with the traffic numbers I am having -- they are sites for lingerie lovers."

After comparing her pile of links to a real store having the lingerie in piles on the floor, she went to work. Slip identified not just which items/links sold well, but those that she simply insisted were part of her inventory (favorites she wants to support). She weeded out the rest. This resulted in a shorter, more concise list of links ~ or lingerie items in inventory if you will.

This also makes sense from an authority point of view. If links are recommendations, you certainly can't be honestly saying you recommend every lingerie store out there, can you? To be authoritative you select the best, the creme de la creme, your real favorites, and ignore the rest.

Next, we addressed the issue of the other product piles on the floor.

Slip defined the other products/links this way, "The non-lingerie links are mixed lot. There are stocking models, cross dressers, personal friends, link swaps with sex blog directories, general fashion sites, a few other stores I like which are not lingerie related... A real mish-mosh."

"So why not break them down as such ~ as much as you can ~ and label them that way?" I said. "This way folks interested in fashion, can find fashion; those into more racy sex sites can easily find them, etc."

Slip did just that, organizing her links in a more orderly fashion. Taking the text link groupings (each category given a header or name in her own wording to allow for personality), and listing them in her opinion of which were most relevant to site visitors (based on her blog entries, popular searches, keywords). In doing this, Slip created isles for shoppers.

Now she had most of the stuff off the floor, but there was still the issue of widgets ~ you know, site script feeds, badges and other automatically updating toys & visuals.

Since a sidebar of all text links (even if boldly separated into groups) can be mind-numbing, these widgets allow for practical matters of spacing (not to mention personality). Likewise, images, buttons and banners. Like mannequins displaying featured fashions, or sales racks with toppers announcing sales, these draw the eye.

The result is a sidebar which a person can scan and readily find what they are looking for.

But the proof is in the cash register; did Slip increase her sales? "My clicks to affiliate sites increased by 50% (not just to those stores I kept on my blog, but I mean overall clicks!) and within days I had sales. I'm not going to retire on this (yet!), but there sure was proof that housekeeping and clearing to make isles works!"

At this point I should make a disclaimer: Slip is one of my affiliates. So I have a bias. *wink* But this too adds proof that wise use of floorspace works; even I noticed her referral clicks increased.

Slip wisely realizes she's not done. "I've made a schedule for doing this housekeeping monthly, including rotating/changing banners, checking dead links etc. This way, I can weed out dead stuff, keep it neat and tidy, just like rotating store stock."

And Slip now uses this whole idea when approached for link swaps.

"Other bloggers noticed the traffic I was sending their way and asked to swap with their other blogs -- or sent friends my way. I now use the 'isles' to evaluate if trading my floor space for their floor space is a good idea. Not just checking if the blog is related to mine in content/visitors, but do they have isles? No sense in me being buried in their link pile -- needle in the haystack and all that. And when stores contact me regarding joining their lingerie affiliate programs, I can honestly evaluate if I want to do it -- and politely decline knowing that I made a good choice and why. Thinking of links as inventory and floor space really helps, especially if I have to say 'no thanks' to them."

So take a look at your website or blog. Are you making the most of your floor space? If not, what are you going to do about it?

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Annoying Your Way To A Skanky Sale

Well, folks, it may come as no surprise that Gracie is one opinionated gal. And when it comes to working on the web, I am no different...

I have an issue regarding the general 'wisdom' of adult webmasters. OK, so what follows *looks* like a long list & more than 'an issue' but really, it is one issue...

I don't understand the desire, no, the marked effort, to annoy site visitors.

Here is a list of standard recommendations for 'free sites' to use to generate income. Note how all of these are more annoying than helpful:

Index or 'warning' page also containing banner advertising, and a link to your site which actually goes to a full page ad for another site. How many times have you searched for some information or personal kink, and ended up in a completely different place, with no clue as to how to get to where you were trying to go? Does it warm your heart or annoy the piss out of you? What reaction are you trying to get from a potential customer?

Put a "No thanks, let me in" link at the bottom of this full ad page, which goes to your site's main page. Yes, after a few experiences with the first bit, you do learn to look for this 'real link,' but does this really work? Have you ever 'accidentally' signed up for a pay site?

Honestly, I did once. (Huge blush, but I was a newbie!) However, after many threatening emails, phone calls, etc. I didn't get my $25.95 back, but I did the future billings stopped...

Did I ever go back to those types of sites again? Hell, No!

When I see that BS, I click back & out. I know I can find another, more honest site to work with ~ *and* I will gladly pay twice the subscription rate!

On your 'real main page' place ads along with your 'real' content. Usually these are obvious, but they drag page load time, and junk up the place.

Between the links to your 'real content' place more full page ads, with the 'No Thanks' links to continue. Jeeze, more of the same crap...

On your small gallery or content pages, load up with more advertising, and free content from sponsors. 'Sponsors' are just advertisers, mind you, so what you have is a loud, annoying, heavy page with little original content what-so-ever.

Place an exit console off your main page &/or other pages, so when a surfer hits the back button to leave your site, you have one more chance of making some money on that same traffic. Yeah, brilliant. It didn't work the first time, the first 10 times, it is *really* going to work when they are trying to flee as fast as they can...

This is the stuff that the so-called pros are trying to teach you & I?!

If this is how to 'maximize your income potential' then I have to say these pros are not making money.

Do any of these tricks really work? Other than the fact that newbies are arriving on the Internet each & every day, and they may be as dumb and clumsy, as I to find themselves paying for the wrong site, the newbie phase is on the down slide.

And it sure doesn't build customer relations.

If you cannot retain subscribers, they are not happy. Unhappy folks do not talk well about your site, or your business. They do not pass links along to their friends, doing your marketing for you.

Even a supposed 'free site' can make money. Respectable money. And they can do it with 'sponsors' certainly, but with tricking surfers?

Not for long.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: You can have an adult business without being trashy.

Take it from a pro. Putting out for cash isn't demeaning unless you make it so.

Offer a classy service that shows respect for yourself & your site visitors, and you will have as much pride as you do cash.

The choice is yours... You can be a $5 skank no one wants, or admits to having had, or you can be earning several hundred dollars an hour by being a classy bit of tail folks want.

So, how are you going to service your customers?

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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Updating Your Website

It's good to occasionally give your site a face lift. It may be to add new features based on advances in technology or on customer requests; it may be just to take your site from that 90's look to a more modern look. Maybe in an effort to increase conversions and sales, to maximize your site’s potential, you're going back to basics & will give everything the once-over.

While it is good to go over your site with a fine-tooth-comb & think about all the changes you could make, the bottom line is to make it better for the user/viewer. There is one fact that you need to keep in mind: any changes on your site will frustrate, confuse & perhaps even piss-off your regular users.

Even the most loyal members, your die-hard daily visitors, will have moments of panic & alienation when they can no longer have their mouse-hand on automatic-pilot & click in the same spot for the same thing, or when there is a new, unfamiliar button staring them in the face. Humans are creatures of habits.

So when looking at your new options, be they bells & whistles or necessary improvements for function, always consider them in relation to your fan-base's reactions.

The easiest way to do this a three-step process.

First, list all the changes you'd like to make, along with the reasons for them.

Second, consider them in relation to the visitor's reaction. Evaluate if the need for change warrants the possible negative reaction.

This is important, not just for the potential loss of members or users, but it's sort of like your bottom-line evaluation: to make the changes costs money & time, and if it isn't going to have a positive pay-off, why do it? (This implies that you have already done this cost v. benefits eval, but if you have not, do so now.)

Third, when making the changes, implement them and educate visitors about them as much as possible.

eBay, for all their other sins, does an excellent job of educating their users prior to site changes. They put up announcements, stating that change X will go into effect in so many days. With this 'warning' comes options for free tours &/or tutorials that not only discuss the change & why they are making the 'improvement,' but show the user what it will all look like.

For those of us who lack employees to carry out the tasks of creating tutorials & contacting members, a simple announcement of pending changes in your newsletter or similar opt-in list will do. Also make an announcement on the home page, in your forums, etc. So that all your members and new visitors can read about the changes.

I also recommend that if you've decided to make several changes that you do so over time, in phases. Too much change at once, even for lovely features requested by users, can throw folks into a tizzy.

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Google Problems?

Often the new adult webmaster thinks that since their site hasn't shown up in Google, it's because Google dislikes adult entertainment.

Google isn't a prude. So content is not your problem. Likely you have a technology issue.

Google uses spiders to search-out sites & pages & bring those finding in as results for the surfer. If you site navigation/design uses some of the following 'tricks,' you may be smashing those useful spiders...

First of all, let me say 'ugh.' Frames are so passe ~ so 1990's, they belong on VH1s 'I love the 90's' to be mocked right along side Tanya Harding.

But honestly, it's not that Google just thinks they are 'ugly,' there are practical reasons for the search engine slight.

With frames, one of the hated features of frames, a person cannot bookmark a specific page ~ at least not as easily as non-frame pages. This conceptual design also makes the spider's work more difficult. Google will find your site, but may not return the ideal page, or it may give the page, without the frames, causing a lack of navigation.

Gracie suggests you just get rid of frames altogether, as soon as possible. Not just for Google, but for your site visitors.

Flash or Image Created Sites
Flash is a huge, showy way of creating pretty websites and entry pages ~ but a real waste of money in my opinion. The same is true of websites designed with nothing but a composite of images. Quite often both of these techniques are used to look impressive and preserve the integrity of special fonts which web browsers cannot read, but as they are all images and no text, search engines do not see them.

Sure, they look nice, but who is going to find you to see them?

JavaScript has traditionally been used in shopping cart systems and other 'high tech' sites for rollover menu images, visitor tracking, and other reasons, but JavaScript cannot be read by Google or other search engine spiders. (Using JavaScript for link swaps and links pages also virtually nullifies search engine spider abilities to use links for ranking too.)

Many Internet users have JavaScript disabled, and those with PDAs & other tech gadgets which have limited or no JavaScript capability means the use of JavaScript should be seriously considered for a number of other reasons as well.

AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript And XML, which means many of the problems with JavaScript will apply.

Dynamically Generated Pages
While Google is able to index dynamically generated pages, this configuration gives a spider too many options, which can cause crashes ~ site crashes. Google, therefore, has limited the number of dynamic pages they will search & index. It's a safety precaution.

A word on the above site design/code issues for those who do not create their own websites. If you hired a web designer or plan on doing so, tell your designer your concerns. A nifty tool to help with code problems, as well as pages or documents on your site which are not linked, is YourAmigo Spider Linker.

A good rule of thumb for avoiding all of the above issues is to remember all pages must have HTML for search engines to find read them.

Doorway Pages
I know these were 'big' back in the day, but most search engines, and most definitely Google, dislikes the hell out of 'em.

Surfers hate doorway pages, which 'promise' content, but just hook & jerk a surfer into a place they don't want to be, or offer nothing in the way of content. So Google wishes to avoid sending their surfers to doorways or splash screens.

Just don't do them. Not only do you risk problems with Google, but you alienate your potential customers.

Other Class-less Cheats
These are sure to get you banned or bumped from most search engines. (I can't believe anyone actually employs these tactics anymore, but...)

* Do not use small or hidden text. (Spamming)

* Do not use popular keywords in your tags or text if they have nothing to do with your site's content. (Stuffing/Spamming)

* Do not participate in link farms ~ A directory with actual content, such as reviews, a few articles etc, those are OK, but auto-generated link sites are bad news.

If you play 'clean,' yes, your 'dirty' site will still get listed.

More Reading:

BoingBoing has an update of a snafu which may be fixed, but contains some generally useful info for bloggers regarding Google.

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Use of Color in Design

If I have to visit one more adult site with a black cave-like color scheme, I'll scream.

Don't get me wrong, there are some sites where the use of black is a good thing, a welcomed thing, but in general, too many sites think 'black equals dark & private' when in reality it can feel like 'dark, dreary, & disgusting.' (I like to feel a bit dirty, sure ~ but in the naughty way, not some 'trapped in a coffin with mud pouring in through the cracks' way.)

Unless you have a goth, BDSM, or a site that deals with power, death, or other related issue, maybe too much black is saying the wrong thing about your website ~ or it just makes your site look like all the other sites out there.

So, what colors are you using in your website? What are they saying to your visitors?

Colors can have both a direct & indirect impact on usability (a visitor's response to your web site), and color can play a huge role in your branding efforts (marketing & design work).

Colors are often categorized as temperatures or seasons, which can give you a rather good idea of possible responses:

Cool Colors (calming) Blue, Green, Turquoise, Silver

Warm Colors (exciting) Red, Pink, Yellow, Gold, Orange

Mixed Cool/Warm Colors Purple, Lavender, Green, Turquoise

Neutral Colors (unifying) Brown, Beige, Ivory, Gray, Black, White

There are some excellent resources to help you more with color definitions, but generally you can use good ol' common sense to help guide you ~ providing you are part of your target market. If you are not, then some research is probably a good idea.

Some folks think that the use of color is not important in web design, but there is far too much study, documentation, and my own personal experience with the use of & response to color for me to dismiss it.

In fact, many companies study the impact & affects of colors to determine more than just their logos.

For example, did you know that orange is used by many fast food restaurants for a reason?

Orange is a color that encourages folk to move out faster, thereby freeing tables for more customers, as well as (one hopes!) makes the employees work faster. So Hardee's used the orange inside, and then took it to another level by using the orange to brand the company.

In order to update their look, Hardee's has since changed to red with their yellow star logo. Red & yellow are still 'active' colors, and red is known to increase appetites, so perhaps they wanted to change their focus from 'fast' to 'eat more.' I don't know for certain, but I bet it has to do with the entire fast food industry changing the focus from 'fast' (which is now a given) to the increasing trend to make us order more ('Super size' it, baby!).

Need another example? Think of your latest lingerie purchse. Be it for yourself, or your gal-pal, didn't you consider color? A white gown is virginal, a red one is racy. A pink teddy is sweet, and a black one is slutty. Your website colors convey that too.

And color is more than the 'mood,' it dictates action too. Think of the colors you use for your call to action: is your 'subscribe button' the right color to not only get noticed, but make them want to act now?

Of course, you also have to view the overall design of the website when you use colors. Do your website colors compliment each other? Do you have so many that the visitor is actually frustrated?

This is the kind of stuff companies spend time evalutating. Coca Cola red, Tide orange, and John Deer Green, these colors are as powerful as the corporate logos. Just as shapes & symbols brand a company &/or products, colors do the same.

If corporate America spends time & money addressing the importance & use of color, can you afford not to?

More reading:

* The use of colour
* The Psychology of Color in Messages

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