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More than a pretty face

Recently one of my clients hired someone to design a secondary website. He had mentioned to me that he planned to use this for coupons and other promotions related to his present site and business, so of course I was concerned that his web designers would do a good job. Too many so called "web designers" really are not: they are artistic types who have learned to use something like FrontPage but really don't know much about mechanics and SEO/SEM (Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing). Really designing a true business website today is a lot more than a pretty face and a few keywords stuffed into meta tags.

Designing a web site without knowing the mechanics is like building without knowing engineering. You may do fine building a shed for the dog, but it wouldn't be good to turn you loose on a skyscraper project. A pretty face is not enough.

So I took a look at these designer's websites and the websites of clients they referenced there. As I later explained to my client, I was a little disappointed: the sites weren't bad, but they definitely weren't superlative. Looks? I'm not qualified to judge, but I assume that was fine. My concern was with the underneath: did the sites validate through W3C, did they have appropriate meta tags, alt tags and inter-site linking? They did not: none of the sites validated, and most showed poor SEO efforts.

Let's take up validation first, because the response from clients often is "Looks ok to me".. and it probably does. But that doesn't mean that it IS "OK" - it just means that it looks OK on your browser on your operating system and at your screen resolution. Now being W3C compliant doesn't guarantee that page will display beautifully under all conditions, but it does guarantee that you've given the browser intelligible information about how it is supposed to look. As I explained to my client: "Why not do it right?". There's really no excuse, is there?

Well, there might be an excuse for specific conditions, but I'd expect to see something very unusual in that case - not just sloppiness. Sloppiness is what I saw here.

Actually, I was even more concerned about the SEO side. Tags ("alt" and "title") and link anchor text are very important today - probably more important than header meta tags. Yet most web designers don't pay much attention to them, or if they do, they don't do them well. For example, adding 'alt="Top"' to an IMG tag will satisfy W3C, but it's not very helpful to a search engine, is it? It's not helpful to a blind person, either. And while "title" tags are optional, they can add value both for search 'bots and for the visiting user.

Another area that concerned me is SEM (search engine marketing). I have to assume that a coupon site is going to be paired with a SEM campaign. Did anyone mention how that campaign is going to be measured? Will Google Analytics be tied into an Adwords campaign? Has anyone defined the possible goals here (printing a coupon, visiting the main website..)? I can't tell that from looking at reference sites, but I did prep my client with some questions to ask.

This stuff is IMPORTANT. Designing a web page is much, much more than making it "pretty".



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© Anthony Lawrence







Fri Aug 3 11:02:22 2012: 11228   TonyLawrence

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Of course the client paid no attention to my notes.. :)



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