Archive for the ‘Web Publishing’ Category

To frame or not to frame?

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

I had always been under the impression that a photo should stand out for itself, so I avoided any artificial additions. A photo should “work” on its own, getting the topic or its beauty across to the viewer. All that I would accept is adding a copyright line, which is still an absolute must, given the many hotlinkers and freeloaders around. This photo of Canada’s Morraine Lake would be the perfect example for such a photo:

Morrain Lake, Alberta, Canada

But recently, especially after becoming a regular reader to Jim Goldstein’s blog, I thought that my approach might be too simple. After all, competition is increasing not only on the agency market, but also online. Visitors to a website (and even more so visitors to a photographic website) might expect more. So I thought I give it a try and check whether frames could work on my shots as well:

Morraine Lake, Alberta, Canada

I think the benefits are obvious – first of all, there’s always a clear caption associated to the photo, so that a photo can be easily identified even when downloaded to another computer. The Copperplate font makes the caption easy to read while providing a classy look. But also the image seems to gain strength. The black frame makes the photo stand out; the colors appear to be more intense. Yet, I feel that all the text, and the high contrast between the fine white border and the black frame, somehow clutter the image. These features distract from the main image and message.

For this photo though, I came to the conclusion that the frame works very well. And so I am still undecided whether I should use frames or not.

Web Marketing for Guesthouses and B&Bs

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Every once in a while I check the pages I link to, just to see which sites have changed. This not only serves the purpose of keeping the house clean to provide you with a better experience; it often also recalls nice memories. Yesterday was again link checking day, and to my horror I realized that a number of links had changed, or -even worse- had become obsolete. And I started to wonder – why is that? Why would anyone (in the year 2008) drop an existing website?

We typically link to small businesses (e.g. guesthouses, B&Bs, or small lodges), because this information helps with trip planning. Good, reliable links are extremely useful. Also, we think that directing some free traffic to these sites helps the owners with their ongoing struggle to get new customers, and ultimately to stay in business. Some of these small houses simply can not afford online advertising campaigns which can be quite costly (then again, we do not mind inquiries for paid advertising on our site). :-)

Anyway, I find it strange to see websites for established houses disappear. Take Kellys Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, as the perfect example. It’s a good, affordable hotel, that is conveniently located next to Dublin’s popular Temple Bar quarter. We liked it very much when we stayed there, and I remember that they had an Internet site up and running back then, operating under the domain of kellyshtl.com. The Internet Archive confirms this: here is a snapshot of December 5, 2006. But then *poof* something happened, and the site was gone. At the time of writing, the site is registered with New Venture Services, Corp., a Tortola, VG, based business specialized in acquiring “expired” domains, i.e. domain registrations that have not been prolonged for whatever reason. Today, they serve ads on the site. All the links on homepages, all the business cards and flyers, that have been paid for and distributed by Kellys Hotel, all this now directs traffic to a domain that belongs to someone else who rakes in the benefits. Not good.

Key learning # 1
If you are running a website for your business today, never let your existing domain expire!

Or take The Mount Whitney Motel in Lone Pine, CA. Another small and very nice establishment. They did not run their own web site back in 2003, but they had a full-fashioned entry in a Californian business directory that was operating under the domain ca-biz.com at that time. For years I happily linked to this entry until now the entry was gone (and with it the whole directory). Again, the domain is showing unrelated ads today. The motel owners were smart enough to create their own web site, though: www.mtwhitneymotel.com.

Key learning # 2
If you want a reliable presence on the Internet, go get your own domain! Do not rely on pages hosted with business directories. Such pages can disappear anytime.

And then, a final tip for your web presence: try to keep your site as intact as possible, even when you are introducing massive changes to the content or site structure. Yes, you may be tempted to just delete an outdated page. After all, the content is not up-to-date any longer, so why keep it? But think again: there may be some valuable traffic coming in, for example from sites like zanzig.com who happily link to your pages for free. But when a visitor clicks on a link to a page that does not exist any more, he gets an error message, and may just hit the “back button” on his browser. Another potential customer is gone.

I recently saw this when reviewing the links of Namibia’s National Wildlife Resorts Ltd., the company that runs the Namibian National Parks. They switched from plain HTML to PHP, which made a change in the file extensions necessary, from .htm to .php! They just deleted the plain HTML files, resulting in an error message for anyone accessing any of the old documents. Customers now have to awkwardly look for a way to the new .php page. If you want to keep them, why not make it easy for them and simply point to the new page instead?

Key learning # 3
Be smart about site changes! Try to keep the old site structure intact, and show visitors a way to easily access the originally requested content.

Really, try to not lose any visitor who hits your site. If you make it as easy as possible for him to find the information he is looking for, then your chances are very good that he might indeed become a customer.

Good luck!

I am a fighter now, a SPAMfighter

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

If you are trying to run a successful business these days, one thing will definitely annoy you beyond belief: eMail spam - all those countless mails that reach you unwanted and mistargeted, just clogging up your mailbox. In fact, spam can make the opening of your mailbox in the morning a bad experience, and it may ruin your day. No, I don’t want to read from Jenny who promises a “chick gets nasty stripping from her clothes” and then directs me towards some nasty Chinese porn site. Thanks for letting me know, Jenny, but I am not interested.

SPAMfighter screenshot
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

And so I populated my Outlook Express spam filter with hundreds of terms I do not want to read about: “replica”, “lottery”, “sickest”, “massive”, and so on and so on. You know what I mean – you have seen these mails probably as well. But still some spam mails got through, typically between three to five per day. Even worse, as I entered more and more generic terms, I increasingly blocked also valid mails.

And then I read about SPAMfighter.

It’s a software from a small Danish company that unleashes the power of community upon the spammers. The idea is as simple as it is brilliant: just allow people to identify spam in their mailbox and share this individual knowledge with the community, i.e. among all participants of the program so that everyone can block these messages as well. Now, if the number of users is large enough, spam could be identified in near real-time. Then automate the blocking process, and spam is extinguished for the overwhelming majority of community members. Spammers would have no chance of ever invading your mailbox again.

Birds at Waterhole in Namibia
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

It is a tactic used by nature as well: These Red-Billed Quelea at a waterhole in Namibia behave exactly the same. They know that they need to take up water. They know that there might be crocodiles in the water, waiting for a nice lunch. So they come in thousands and expose themselves only briefly to the risk of drinking. If one gets caught the rest of the community is alarmed and escapes. The majority of the community will be saved from the crocodiles.

And guess what? The software works exactly as advertised! At the time of writing, there were 3,610,409 registered SPAMfighters who have checked 7.8 billion mails, of which 5.6 billion mails were identified as spam (a whopping 72% of all mails). Oh yes, occasionally a spam mail still gets through to me, like about two per week, but so what? After all, I am a SPAMfighter and just hit the “Block This!” button, and then it’s gone. And gone from all the other mailboxes around the world as well. Great, really!

Now, there is a free version of the software, and a more powerful version which is sold at € 25 a year. I signed up for the advanced version, because I came to the conclusion that not only the software and the idea behind it is very good, but also these guys should get the (financial) support they need to run this service.

A great program. If you are being plagued by spam – become a SPAMfighter! It’s great to be a SPAMfighter! :-)

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Please note that I am in no way affiliated with or sponsored by SPAMfighter. I have been paying the full price for the service received.

Hilarious: Flickr wins “Best Practices” Award

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

The recent Flickr filtering discussion (more here, here and here) did not stop The Webby Awards to select Flickr for the award in the category “Best Practices”. The Academy members think of themselves as “an intellectually diverse organization” with celebrities such as David Bowie, Vint Cerf, Matt Groening, Richard Branson, and many many more on the board.

Apparently, these folks are not familiar with (or maybe even approve) the recent practices of Flickr to not announce important changes to the service (like filtering images from users in four countries) and the truly horrible service Flickr provided recently to their paying customers (e.g. by not answering questions for days, or by not announcing a general refund policy for unhappy members who want to leave the service in the light of the changes).

Flickr sees itself in a nice group of winners, though: KFC’s Flavor Station received an award (“Restaurant”), Know Menopause (“Pharmaceuticals”) too, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Experience Paris-Beijing (“Events”), to name just a few. Ah, and Youtube’s unforgettable Lonelygirl15 received the award as “Best Actress”. Hilarious!

Congratulations, Flickr! Way to go! Keep up the good work!