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BringTim.com Website Designed by Small Dot Studios and Inertia Unlimited

Site Review by Greg Johnson

BringTim.com is a collaborative success made possible by the design geniuses at Small Dot Studios who teamed up with photography alchemist and web creation guru Bill Adams of Inertia Unlimited.

The site (shown below) is an excellent example of the synergy, creativity, and efficiency that can happen when design and development teams work together.

Below is a review of the site that explores the exceptional design characteristics as well as some areas that could be improved.

It’s well known that budget constraints and the desires of a client can influence the ultimate outcome of site design. So, suggestions for improvement are not a reflection of the designers, but simply a commentary about website design in general.

Click the site image below to visit now.

Graphics & Images. What strikes me immediately as I visit the site are the clean bold graphics. The main landing page is a critical part of any website. It’s like a resume. You really need to make a good first impression and convey the basic information people need to know. BringTim.com accomplishes this with elegant and professional graphics.

Navigation. Sites that overwhelm people with links, banners, and too many navigation options are likely to repel visitors rather than draw them in. An excellent design aspect of BringTim.com is that the top navigation bar is clean and simplistic — providing all that’s needed and nothing that isn’t.

Video. The video set to auto play is an effective way to engage site visitors immediately upon arrival, and it’s well done — which is essential. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. Yet, some photos and videos just mumble and don’t communicate effectively.

Media. The list of media coverage for the product is amazing.

Possible Improvements. These are a few areas I noticed that could use improvement:

  • Layout. In an otherwise perfect site, I noticed that the text layout there’s an odd problem with the font layout for the heading “World’s First Meeting Cost Calculator & Clock” above the product to the left of the video. The text isn’t centered in the area above the product and it almost runs into the gray area above the video. On the Boss Gift page, this isn’t a problem. This really isn’t a usability issue, and most people would not even notice it as a design problem, but it caught my eye.
  • Purchase. It would be nice to have a simple embedded shopping cart option on the website. Instead, the “Buy it Now” link abruptly leaves the site and opens a product page at http://victorystore80.stores.yahoo and unfortunately that Yahoo store doesn’t have the same design elegance as the BringTim.com site. It would help if the store were designed a little better to match the site. Or, if the site visitor were clicking on a link that said, “Purchase from our merchant partner” or something like that.
    • Recommendation. I’d recommend selling the product through multiple online stores such as eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo’s main shopping portal. This will give the product more exposure and allow site visitors to purchase through their preferred store. For example, Amazon Prime members will likely want to purchase it from Amazon. Considering that the product has had some major national media exposure, it would really be worth it to style-up the selling process.
  • Contact. The Contact link brings up a cool window and shades the site. However, there’s a lot of information put in that small window, so scrolling is required. It seems a small pop-up window would be better reserved for times when you want to display a small amount of information. Also, missing is a feedback form. This could include a captcha verification process to help reduce spam.
    • Recommendation. I’d recommend simply using a web page as the contact page. Include the contact information as well as a feedback form. Many sites include essential contact information (like the phone number for ordering) prominently located in the  header of the site or right column area.
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DPO Construction Website for Don Otto by Iowa City Web Design Artist Greg Johnson

Most websites are created as a joint effort between the site designer and the client. Some clients simply say, “Make me a site” and give the designer full-reign over the language and graphics. However, it’s more typical for a client to have specific requests and requirements for the site design, especially when it comes to what’s written on the website and what photos are used. In making the DPO Construction website for Don Otto, the goal was convey and emphasize green and sustainable architecture and construction. I enjoyed working with Don because he was able to easily draw from his experience and knowledge of architectural beauty and function to assist in the process of building his website. It told me a lot about how he builds homes.

Click the website image below to visit the site.

Google Search Results Ranking for Iowa City Website Designers

Great news! A few days ago, I wrote about an impossible SEO challenge…

On September 15, 2011, I’d created Iowa City Website Designers and didn’t develop the site beyond the initial default pages and “Hello World” post. My main goal was to reserve the domain name for later development.

As a result, the site became buried on page 9 (position #95) out of 51 million results on a search for the desired keywords (iowa city website designers).

So, this past week, I began a redesign of the site and started working on SEO (search engine optimization). Using my own proprietary and organic SEO promotion methods, a week later, the site is on page 2 (position #19) out of 59 million. The pages showing these results are below.

A a climb of 76 positions in the top 100 is a significant one, and that’s only one week into my promotion of the site — without really having invested much time.

My organic promotion methods are considered “white hat” and fully within the guidelines of all major search engine services, which means they won’t get a site black listed. I’m looking forward to seeing how well the site can perform in search results for other keywords. For now, I’m just working on the targeted keywords in the chosen market.

I’m planning to use the site to help showcase and promote the work of local web designers. If you’d like to be featured on the site, just let me know.

Greg Johnson, Website Alchemist

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Below are the Google search results from 8 February 2012.
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Below are the Google search results from 11 February 2012.
(click to enlarge)

Website Development Supportive Roles – Glossary and Guide to Professional Skills Required to Create a Website

Website Development Reference Document by Greg Johnson

Summary. This article attempts to explore the general categories of people who create websites and what roles they serve. A chart at the bottom of this page shows a simple graphic representation of this. With website development, these people can and often do work independently with great success. When they collaborate, they can active more. Some website development agencies have multiple people on staff, while others outsource when needed depending on the demands of a particular project.

Website Designers. In my mind, someone who is a website designer is a person who probably majored in art and has a degree in graphic design. In addition to having the credentials on paper, they have the experience and skills combined with a passion and love in their heart for creative design work. Whether on paper, or delivered to a computer screen, graphic designers are passionate about inspiring others through the images they create. An example of this would be BrownWingStudio.com.

Website Developer. I believe that a website developer is different than a website designer (an artistically gifted graphic arts person). The developer could be comparable to a general contractor, and sometimes they do outsource the work required to complete a project. In some respects this is good, because they recognize their weaknesses and also desire excellence in what they create.

Website Programmer. Some people who create websites are doing so from a computer programmer background. They see websites as programming code that creates a desired result. Or, in the case of Content Management Systems (CMS), database geeks see websites as simply a universally accessible public database that serves up data on demand in the form of text, images, and media content on web pages. Either way, they see websites differently than most people, and may tend toward minimalism instead of embellishments.

Artists. Those who have artistic skills, but don’t have the technical expertise of a digital graphic designer, can still contribute to the design process of a website. Their aesthetic sensibility and traditionally crafted artistic designs can be an asset. For example, any painting, tapestry, or sculpture can be photographed and placed on a website to make it unique. Sketches and drawings can be scanned in and placed on the web as well. This combining of old-world artistic media and new world technology produces interesting results.

Business Owners. Sometimes a tech savvy business owner will launch their own website simply by signing up for one of the many instant website services offered by today’s hosting companies. In such cases, templates and stock photos are typically used, and most business owners don’t have the time to regularly post new content.

Writers. From a writer’s perspective, websites are all about the written word, and in a world of web traffic driven by search engines, skilled content writers are a valuable resource. Simply because the sheer volume of what they create, a disciplined and prolific writer can create a blog, without even having their own private domain name or custom website, and get considerable notoriety.

Advertising & Marketing Specialists. Those involved in advertising and marketing see the variety of website content like fishing lures. Different content pulls different readers. Google AdSense offers an automated mechanism for evaluating content and serving up ads based on the topics covered in any given article.

Photographers. A professional photographer knows the power of images in advertising, print, video, and on the web. Most powerfully attractive websites are inviting and awe inspiring because of the photos.

Videographers. The popularity of YouTube is proof that we live in a culture drawn to video. Consider that a single YouTube broadcaster with zero budget and a “channel” that has minimal aesthetic appeal amounting to a single-page website can get millions of views and subscribers in the six figures. This fact causes one to realize that a quality video with content people are interested in can trump all the fancy website design you can muster. It’s a testimony to the power of content. For this reason, when an attractive and well designed website includes video, there’s a greater appeal.

Social Organizers. These days, the web is all about social networking. On a budget of no time and no money, a single Facebook page can organically grow to have more traffic and subscribers than a heavily advertised and promoted free-standing website. Increasingly people are living inside the online gated communities created by social networks like Facebook.

Hobbyists. A powerful and influential group not mentioned above, or in the chart below are the hobbyists who launch websites that receive thousands of daily visitors. Search engines favor such sites simply because a specific search on a particular craft or specialty topic may only produce a few meaningful links at the top. If you launch a website about a topic like rock painting, it won’t take too much effort to quickly become the world authority on that topic. The more esoteric and specialized the topic, the more likely it is that you’ll become the #1 search result.

Blackstone-ic.com Restaurant Website by Mike Demuth — Review and Rating

Website Review by Greg Johnson

Introduction. There’s a lot to like about the fresh look of the Blackstone website. The site is as fresh as their food and as elegant and inviting as the atmosphere at the restaurant. So, it’s a good fit and conveys a lot about the restaurant. Because Blackstone is not just any typical restaurant, it’s appropriate that their website is equally unique. Below I’ve written about some highlights of what I think works well with the site. It’s another example of the excellent design work done by Mike Demuth, as well as a good representation of his exceptional ability to match clients with an aesthetic design that fits their business.

Rating. Overall, I’d give the site a 9.5 out of 10, taking .5 off for the use of an email link rather than a feedback form on the contact page, and for the use of a smallish photo on the About Us page. Those items are easily remedied, and I may be in the minority opinion about that email link. Feedback forms are just my personal preference. Otherwise, the site looks great! See the full review below.

About Blackstone From My Perspective. I’m not a regular customer, so I can’t speak too authoritatively about Blackstone. However, a few years back, some friends asked me to dinner at Blackstone, and I still remember the experience. The atmosphere was welcoming, inspiring, and fun. The food was great. It was the perfect setting for our meeting that night. We were having a brain-storming session about a business idea. It’s the kind of place you enjoy enough that you want to stay longer, and enjoy good conversation with friends.

About Us. The About Us page is nice. The description is well written. The photo seems to be a good quality photo and everyone is all smiles, which is important. However, the photo is small in comparison to the other photos on the site, and it looks more like a snapshot photo. I guess I would have expected a formal (but relaxed and happy) photo of the owners with a nicer backdrop.

Adobe Acrobat PDF Pages. It’s increasingly common to find PDF content on the web. In the past, this created issues for people who didn’t have the Acrobat Reader. Those who did have the Adobe Acrobat Reader still had to download documents to open then and view them. It meant being distracted from web content. In my visit to the site, the pages opened in a new tab and looked just like any other web page. I’m using Safari and the built-in Adobe reader function make the experience seamless.

Blackstone Logo. I really like the Blackstone logo, shown at the top of this page. The combination of the narrow and heavy weighted font conveys something solid and grounded along with a kind of elegance in design. It tells me that I want to dress nicely, but I don’t need to be snooty. It’s fancy without the snobbery. That’s just my take on it. The fire design from the ‘o’ is well done and suggests warmth, a stone hearth, or the traditional old-world cooking done with real fire baking. I’m not sure if that’s what it’s supposed to communicate, but that’s what I read into it.

Catering. Something I learned from the website that I’d not known before is that Blackstone offers catering. The Catering page provides just the right amount of information — enough that you know you want to call them for your next event, and the contact information to do so.

Contact. The Contact page is well done. It’s a nice touch that the Google map shows they have 26 reviews with an average of four out of five stars — high enough that you know they are good, but low enough that you know it’s not just their friends who are rating. There’s a “Tell Us How We Are Doing” link on the contact page that’s an email link. I’ve always preferred web-based feedback forms. The email links can be problematic because on most computers they launch the email client (like Outlook), and most people are using web-based email these days. So, it’s just an annoyance. If someone is using a computer that’s not their own, the owner’s email program will launch, along with all their private emails.

Education Usability. As the rest of this review indicates, the site has an excellent usability in class for courses and workshops about proper web design. This makes it a good reference and resource for those in the web design business.

Food Menus. Having all the food menus online in PDF format is a smart idea. I’ve helped some restaurants in the past with posting menus online in HTML format. The problem is that most people aren’t comfortable with website design. Even with today’s visual editing systems, PDF sill provides you with the flexibility to create something attractive without using any programming code. Most people want to print menus and put them up at work or on the refrigerator at home. So, having them ready in PDF format is an extra benefit. Printing web pages, particularly those that extend beyond one page, can be a hassle. Inevitably pages get split and often in unpredictable locations — sometimes cutting off text.

Gallery. The Gallery page of photos has been set as the home page for the site. In a WordPress installation, this would be done in the Dashboard under Settings > Reading > Front Page Displays. I usually pick a static About page or Welcome page that set’s the context for a website, but for a restaurant having the gallery is a great choice. I’ll probably use that in the future for client projects.

Mailing List. The Blackstone Club has been smartly configured to use Constant Contact. I signed up, and found the registration process very quick and easy. That helps to not dissuade people from joining. Constant Contact is on the short list of reputable and reliable mailing list services.

Menu Navigation. The navigation menu across the top offers the essentials and nothing more. Just seven links. It’s interesting to note that the Apple website has only seven navigation links at the top. Seven links for a business worth 158 billion dollars. That’s pretty good, and if it’s good enough for Apple, it’s good enough for the rest of us. I like the mouse over black background used in the navigation menu. It’s quick and easy to see.

Mobility. The site seemed to look great and function properly when viewed from my iPad or iPhone 4S. So, it passes the mobility test.

Photos. The first thing you notice about the website are the beautiful photos. If I eventually find out who the photographer was, I’ll put a credit here. Perhaps Mike Demuth does his own photography for the sites he designs (that would be cool). Whatever the case, I like that the landing page (the opening page of the site) is the slideshow gallery of photos from the restaurant. Each photo tells me something about what I can look forward to at Blackstone: colorful and refreshing drinks, artistically decorated and warmly inviting tables and booths, rich delicious deserts, fire places, fresh food with beautiful presentation, and a bar that’s fun, social, and abundant with drink options. So, if a picture tells a thousand words, then there are ten thousand words on their home page! Seriously, though, it really brings home the point that the right pictures on a website can convey so much more than words.

Private Dining. The Private Dining page really sets Blackstone apart from other restaurants and earns it a position right next to other hospitality industry event destinations in our area.

Simplicity & Elegance. It’s an interesting thing about simplicity — it can be austere or elegant. Something I like about the Blackstone website is how it has an elegant and sophisticated simplicity.

Site Design By. I like how Mike Demuth’s tiny logo is quietly and modestly placed in the lower right corner. That’s a nice touch.

Social Networking. The choice of Facebook and Twitter is a smart one. On my own site I have seven social networking buttons in each page footer, but I sometimes wonder if too many cause people to get lost. Facebook and Twitter are probably going to serve the needs of 90% of all site visitors.

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Update. I try to contact designers when reviewing their work. After posting the above review, I contacted Mike Demuth and we had a good exchange about the observations above. A point he made, which is a good reminder, is that sites are often setup by a designer, but subsequently managed by a business owner. With regard to the smallish photo on the the About Us page is a photo uploaded by the owners for that page. (20120214tu1849)

Westwinds Real Estate Website by Intagent.com

One decision in the process of deciding who to design your website is whether to go with a template, custom designer, or a company that specializes in your industry.

Intagent.com is a website development and hosting company that specializes in creating, maintaining, and hosting websites for realtors and real estate companies. In recent years, the site for Westwinds Real Estate of Iowa City was redesigned by Intagent. One of the benefits offered by Intagent is an integrated automated system that publishes listings across multiple real estate listing websites.

Below is the new front page for Westwinds Real Estate.

Click on the page below to visit Intagent and view website samples.