Giving Web Design Clients What They Need

Satisfied client

I believe in giving web design clients what they need, which is not always what they want, at least not initially.

I know that sounds incredibly arrogant, so let me explain. I’ve been building websites for a long time. I continue to study search engine optimization techniques (helping search engines to find your website), principles of effective web design, and improving the user experience. I know what works.

So if a client comes to me and wants to register a domain name like Central-Fresno-Life-Insurance-Consolidated.com, it’s my job to try to convince them that that’s not an effective domain name. It’s too long, no one will remember it, and it takes forever to type. (Would Yahoo be where they are today if they had been called YahooHierarchicalWebsiteDirectory.com?) It’s much better to find a short phrase that’s easy to remember, even if it doesn’t match the business name exactly.

It’s not always easy. Clients sometimes have very fixed ideas of what they want, even after I explain that it may hinder the user experience or harm the search engine rankings. So it’s sort of a negotiation between me and the client, which is kind of funny, but I wouldn’t be doing my job responsibly if I didn’t push for the best result for the client.

I also believe in giving clients more than they expect. I want someone to go away saying, “Wow, that guy really delivered.” It’s not even about the money, or future referrals, though those are nice. Mainly I just I love building something elegant and attractive, something unique, something that I can look back at with pride and think, “Cool. I did that.”

Best WordPress Contact Form Plugin – Easy Contact

Contact Us plugin for WordPress

The Easy Contact plugin for WordPress is true to its name

The WordPress program does not automatically include a contact form. There are a few themes that include contact forms, but for the most part if you want a “Contact Us” form on your website, you need to install a contact form plugin.

I’ve tried many WordPress contact form plugins. Some are far too complex for my needs. Some require you to sign up for a third-party service, which I don’t want to do. Some do not include any spam-prevention measures such as a captcha or challenge question (without this, spam bots can barrage you with junk emails).

Some just don’t look good on the page.

Easy Contact Plugin

So I’m a fan of an oldie but goodie – the appropriately named Easy Contact plugin by Scott Allan Wallick. It’s absurdly easy to use, free of course, and creates a simple and clean contact form like the one on this website. It has good security measures, including a captcha or challenge question, or both. It gets a four-star rating (out of five) by users, and has been downloaded a whopping 109,960 times.

The downside is that the Easy Contact plugin has not been updated in more than three years. It was last updated for WordPress 2.6.x. However, I have found that it still works perfectly, probably because it’s so simple.

So if you need a simple contact form for your WordPress website, I recommend Easy Contact.

Web Design Principle: Use “White Space” Effectively

American Web Works logo

One of the most common mistakes that amateur web designers make is to fill every inch of available space with text, images, links, icons, and animated graphics. This creates a cluttered look that is difficult to navigate. The viewer’s eye doesn’t know where to look, and it’s hard to find anything particular amid all the clutter.

Space is important. Here are three important ways to use space in web design:

Website Line Spacing

The space between text lines affects how easy the text is to read. Too little space creates cluttered text. The eye can accidentally skip a line, and letters can actually overlap those on lines above and below.

On the other hand, too much space between lines also makes it difficult for the eye to track from one line to the next. And it gives the text an unfocused appearance.

Often the default setting for line spacing on the web places the text too close together. You can increase it slightly by changing the “line-height” selector in the CSS code.

Padding

Elements on the page should not touch each other. For example, text should not run right up to images or even cross over image borders. The same is true for tables, graphics and all other page elements. There should be at least a small margin of space between these elements.

White Space

White space does not necessarily have to be white, especially if your page has a different background color. The terms simply refers to empty space.

Think of the office of the most powerful financial figure in the world? What do you see? Most likely you imagine a spacious office with a large desk surrounded by plenty of open space. White space makes things seem classy and refined.

On the web, white space – also known as negative space – gives a page balance, contrast and proportion. Used effectively, it guides the viewer’s eye from one important page element to the next, never allowing the user to get lost, while giving the viewer “breathing room”, not overwhelming him.

To learn more about the effective use of white space, take a look at a leading magazine like Time or Cosmopolitan. See how text and images are bordered by white space. Check out the ads. You’ll notice that the product is often featured prominently with a lot of empty space around it. This ensures that the eye focuses on the product and is not distracted.

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Web design is not only about what we put in, but what we leave out. By thinking carefully about layout and space, you increase the visual appeal of your website and transmit your message more powerfully.

WordPress Security Tip: Delete Unused Themes and Plugins

Safety tip - don't forget the cape

There are a number of things you can do to protect your WordPress website against hackers, viruses and malware infections. One is to delete any themes and plugins that you are not using. The more themes and plugins you have installed, the more hiding places you offer for malicious code to hide.

It’s not uncommon for viruses to hide in the code for plugins.

A lean and trim website is a healthy website.

Building Better Sites With WordPress

Wordpress logo

Wordpress websites are powerful, flexible and attractive

I build WordPress websites. That’s not all I do – I also write informational articles, web content, technical material, motivational essays and poetry – but it’s one of the main things I do.

WordPress is a powerful, flexible platform that allows me to build almost any kind of website. It offers a wide array of features, the most important of which is that a WordPress website can be instantly and easily updated through a browser. If I build a WordPress website for you, you will then be able to log in to the website through your browser and add articles, photos, video, news, etc. You will have full and easy control over your website.

One very cool thing about WordPress is that there are thousands of “plugins” available that can add additional functionality. Plugins are programs created by third parties for WordPress. They can be easily installed and can add functions like a discussion forum, support for multi-author blogs, e-commerce capability and much, much more.

In addition, there are thousands of “themes” available. Themes are essentially website designs, though some of them include additional functions. They can be installed with a single click, and can instantly change the appearance of the website. Many themes are stunningly professional and beautiful. They range from simple to highly complex, type-focused to image-oriented. Some are online magazine designs, some are intended for corporate websites, and some for blogs. Some of the best themes are sold by their creators, but many are free.

I could go on and on about WordPress. There is a huge online community that supports this platform. It is regularly updated against threats, and with superior features.

I create WordPress websites, and I’m good at it. If you want to have a website built – any kind of website – contact me. My fees are reasonable, and you’ll be pleased with the results.

- Wael Abdelgawad

Securing WordPress – No “Admin” User

I’ve been studying up on ways to “harden” WordPress websites against hackers and malicious code attacks. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s safer if the WordPress Admin is not actually named “Admin”. So I’ve been going back through all my WordPress blogs and fixing this.

You cannot actually change a username, so I’ve been creating a new user with Administrator status, then deleting the old “admin” and attributing all the posts and comments to the new user.

So if you create a WordPress blog or website, my advice is to change the default “admin” username to something else.

WordPress Makes it Easy

Wordpress logo

I build websites of all kinds, but I specialize in a free website creation platform called WordPress. I’m a huge fan of WordPress. It allows for easy and instant updates to the website, creation of custom links and navigation menus, easy uploading of photos or videos, and you can change the appearance of a website with a single click by using any one of thousands of free themes.

There are also fancier, very professional looking themes available for under $100.

The first time I created a WordPress website it took me almost two days just for the setup. Since then I’ve created dozens of WordPress sites, and now I get the website off the ground in half an hour.

If you’d like me to build you a website using WordPress, let me know. I can build it, design it, and tailor it to your needs, then hand it over to you. From that point on you can update the website easily, using only your internet browser.

Amazing Free Online Image Editor

Pixlr, a free online image editor

I use Adobe Photoshop to create and modify images at a professional level. Photoshop is a very expensive program (several hundred dollars for a single installation) so I was amazed the other day when I was checking out free online image editors, and I found one that contains many of the same basic tools as Photoshop. It’s called pixlr.com.

Pixlr allows you to create a new image, or upload an existing one and modify it. You can add type, create layers, paint, and much more. If you’re familiar with Photoshop then you’ll have no trouble using the Pixlr suite of tools. If you’ve never worked with Photoshop then you may have to puzzle some of it out, or it might actually help to buy a book on Photoshop.

Web Design Principle: Make it Easy

One of the fundamental laws of web design is, “Make the experience easy for the shopper/reader/end user.” Don’t complicate things unnecessarily. If you are selling something online, remove any barriers between the shopper and the purchase.

Jared Spool is an expert in the field of usability and design, and the founder of a website usability consulting firm called User Interface Engineering. On that site he discusses one simple usability fix that resulted in a revenue increase for his customer of $300 milion in a single year!

The client, a major retailer, had an e-commerce website that required customers to register just before checkout. Returning customers were asked to log in.

Spool’s usability tests found that first-time buyers resented having to register. Many quit the process rather than registering, even though the registration process asked for nothing more than the usual shipping and billing information. Repeat customers often could not remember their login names and passwords. Many had multiple registrations created over many years. Of those who used the password reminder request to send the password to their email, 75% failed to complete a purchase. In short, one simple registration form was wreaking havoc on the client’s sales process.

On Spool’s advice the design team removed the registration requirement and made it optional during checkout. The number of buying customers increased 45%, and sales went up by three hundred million dollars in the first year!

Don’t think like a seller. Think like a customer. If there’s an objective that you want your customer, reader or subscriber to reach, then remove all barriers to that objective. Make it easy and your customers will thank you and reward you.

Learning Web Design

Learning to design your own web pages is not as difficult as you may think, at least not when it comes to basic websites with text and photos. It can also be a lot of fun. Many website creation programs claim that you need no knowledge of HTML or programming whatsoever. However, I have yet to come across a software program, content management system, or even blog system whose use is not somewhat simplified by a knowledge of basic HTML. I’m not saying you need to take a college course. Just a quick lesson would help tremendously, so that you can recognize the most common HTML tags and make minor changes to your web page.

Beyond that, I’d like to recommend specific books, programs or websites within a number of different categories that you may find useful.

1. Best Web Design Books for Beginners

  • Learning Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide to HTML, Graphics, and Beyond
    Jennifer Niederst is one of the pioneers of web design, and is one of the best known web designers in the world. Her book covers all the basic concepts of web design in a clear and easy to understand way, including HTML, graphic design, links and web hosting. I strongly recommend this book.
  • HTML, XHTML, and CSS, Sixth Edition (Visual Quickstart Guide)
    I really appreciate the excellent Visual Quickstart Guides put out by Peachpit Press, and this one is no exception. They are easy to read, well designed and cover an excellent range of material, starting at the very beginning but also including carefully selected advanced material as well. Library Journal says, “Peachpit’s “Visual Quickstart” guides are real meat-and-potatoes works for beginners.”

In future posts I’ll be recommending specific resources within the following categories:

2. Best Web Design Software for Beginners, Marketers and Affiliate Sites

  • XSitePro by Intellimon Limited
    I highly recommend this program. I have used many different web design programs, including PageMill back in the old days, Frontpage, Dreamweaver, GoLive and others. Recently I purchased Intellimon’s XSitePro and gave it a whirl. I was amazed at its ease of use and efficiency. Of course XSitePro doesn’t have the full-bored power of Dreamweaver, but if you know nothing about HTML and you want to quickly create a search-engine friendly website, XSitePro makes it a snap. It comes with an excellent tutorial that will quickly have you laying out your page and plugging in your ad or affiliate links if you have them. It automatically creates a site map as you go, and analyzes your site to make sure it’s search engine friendly.

3. Best Web Design Software, Intermediate to Advanced
3. Best Image Design Software
4. Best Software for Marketing or Affiliate Websites
5. Best Blogging Programs
6. Best Content Management System