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Web Design – Filling the Screen

It's not uncommon during a web design project for a client to ask for a design to “fill the entire screen.” The response to that request is: “Whose screen would you like to fill?” The appearance of a web page in a computer screen, or monitor, is dependent on a lot of things, not the least of which is the screen resolution at which the user has their monitor set. I took a look at the last couple of months of one of my higher traffic blogs, as I do on a regular basis, to see how my visitors are viewing the website.

Here are the results:

Screen Resolution
Visits Contribution to total:
1. color 1280x800 1,041 14.53%
2. color 1366x768 896 12.50%
3. 1440x900 726 10.13%
4. 1920x1080 702 9.80%
5. 1280x1024 670 9.35%
6. 1680x1050 630 8.79%
7. 1024x768 582 8.12%
8. 1920x1200 491 6.85%
9. 1600x900 272 3.80%
10. 320x480 125 1.74%

Computer MonitorAs you can see, screen resolution widths of between roughly 1300 and 1400 pixels are most common, with larger resolutions coming next, and the old 1024 x 768 standard making up less than 10 percent of the total. 800 x 600 is long gone. And 320 x 480? That's the iPhone, ranking number 10 at 1.74%.

So you can see that filling the user's screen is relative. Elastic designs can be used to some extent to resize the page to fill screens at different resolutions, but this technique has limits. In the end, it is more important to have all of the content visible to users with low screen resolutions. That means that sometimes visitors will see background on the sides of your web content, especially if they have a large monitor set at a high screen resolution.

Google May Day Algorithm Update

Gone are the days when Google would update it's ranking algorithm only semi-annually. On those momentus occassions the SEOs (search engine optimizers) would fill the forums with posts about which datacenters the new algorithm was showing up on, and what it was doing to their ranking. Google now updates its algorithm on an average rate of nearly one a day, if you are to believe Matt Cutts of Google. Many of the changes are minor, but some are significant enough, and noticable enough to be name, just like in the old days.

The "May Day" update, that showed up last month, in May of course, reportedly has had a significant effect on "long tail" traffic to some websites. Long tail traffic refers to traffic from search phrases consisting of more than three-words. Long tail searches are less competetive and have historically been much easier to rank well in. That may be changing. Google has been messing around with the long tail for some time, both in their natural search algorithm, as well as their Adwords pay per click algorithm. This is likely a move in the same direction, towards big brands and away from a more "democratic" Web.

I promote a number of Websites on Google and haven't noticed a drop-off in traffic, so "May Day" looks like a change that effects websites that get most of their traffic from the long tail. If it is a change that is truely aimed at improving the quality of search results by minimizing SPAM, I'm all for it. If it's a move designed to somehow push people towards larger companies who tend to provide Google with more income, as have been the majority of their updates recently, then it will result in lower quality search results. That has been the way Google has been drifting in the last couple of years. We'll see how this change plays out.

Google Local Business Ads Discontinued

Google Adwords

I received this notice last week, along with all other Google Adwords advertisers:

"Important changes to Google AdWords local business ads

Dear AdWords Advertiser,

We are writing to let you know that we’ll soon begin automatically transitioning the local business ads in your AdWords account. This email gives you an overview of the transition process and how you can enable location extensions, a new and improved way to run local ads and drive traffic to your stores.

What will happen to my account?
Over the next few weeks, any campaign containing local business ads will be automatically enabled with extensions using addresses from your local business ads. This means that any standard text ads in that campaign can show with one of your local business addresses when relevant to the user. You can visit our website to learn more.

In addition, your local business ads will be replaced with new ads that are individually associated with an “address override” to ensure the same behavior as the local business ads they replace. While your text ads in the campaign can serve with any of your addresses, each transitioned local business ad is tied to a single address and will only show to users near that address.

Please be aware that ads with address overrides offer limited flexibility compared to location extensions. Since locations extensions offer many new functionalities in comparison to local business ads, we encourage you to upgrade to location extensions as soon as possible to enjoy the full benefits of this new feature. Visit our website for a step-by-step guide on how to convert your local business ads to location extensions before or after the automatic transition.

We are committed to the success of your local business and value your feedback throughout this transition. Please feel free to share any comments you have related to the process.

The Google AdWords Team"

Google Places

In short, if you do nothing, the local business ads in your adwords account will be transitioned automatically to "location extensions" with address overrides. The address overrides act to limit the display of your ad to within a 10 mile radius of the ad address. This is the same behavior seen with your local business ad, but it's a better idea to just create a new extension, and then delete the transitioned ad with the override. This effectively removes the display limit for the ad. For businesses with multiple locations (in Google Places) it also makes the address displayed dynamic, so instead of multiple local business ads, you need just one locations extension in your Adwords campaign.

Using Twitter and Facebook for Your Business

TwitterThe terms “Social media,” “Web 2.0,” “Twitter” and “Facebook” are saturating the media, and clogging our spam filters. How many emails or ads have you seen that said something like “Millions of people use Facebook every day. Don’t miss out on the advertising opportunity and get left behind?” In fact I regularly get inquiry from clients asking whether or not they should be on Facebook or Twitter. 

Avoid Web Hosting Problems

Image I’ve been creating websites for over 10 years now, and have had experience with a lot of web hosting companies. Often I get a client who thinks they are saving money by registering a domain and securing a hosting account themselves, before they contact me. Inevitably their hosting company is horrible, and we end up switching hosts at their expense, or I have to charge them a lot more to work around the inadequacies of the host they selected.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about web hosting companies over the years that may save you some pain and suffering:

Selecting a web hosting company:  Review sites are biased. Try to use a search engine to find a good web hosting company and you’ll get a bunch of review sites which rate web hosts and present you with a list of “the best.” The problem is that “the best” just happen to be the companies with affiliate programs the site owner belongs to. They get a cut of each customer who purchases hosting from the affiliated site.

If you want to narrow down your choice of web hosts, just search “[web host name here] sucks” or similar negative phrase. You’ll get a lot of interesting information.

Bundled Web Design / Web Hosting Packages: “Web solution” companies with cheap web design but significant monthly fees for hosting prey on people without a lot of knowledge of websites or the Internet. The cheap website will NOT be customized sufficiently for the business, and will look cheap. By the time the customer has figured that out, they have wasted a good deal of time and money. They are stuck with an ugly, user-hostile website and an overpriced monthly fee, or call it a complete loss and try again.

Hidden Web Hosting Nightmares: These are the things you only find out after you plunk down your money and upload your website.

  • Super slow servers/network. 
  • Buggy software
  • Missing features
  • Undisclosed limitations
  • Incompetent, non-existent or slow customer support

Tips to Avoid Web Hosting Problems:

  • Ask for recommendations. If you don’t have friends or business associates with relevant experience, go to a webmaster board and ask for recommendations. This may have to be offline if posting recommendations is against the board’s policy. Or just ask your web designer.
  • Don’t base your decision on price and feature comparisons alone. That won’t  tell you anything. Sure the hosting package must include required features and be within your budget, but reliability and quality of support are the key differences between a horrible web host and a great web host.
  • Search for negative comments on blogs or review sites. Keep in mind that people are more likely to complain than praise. There are a good number of people who are technically challenged and will blame a company for something that was caused by their own ignorance or unreasonable expectations. But once you start looking through the comments, you’ll get a pretty good idea about which companies are really rotten, and just out to rip off as many people as they can.

Google Toolbar PageRank Updated

Towards the end of October 2009 Google again updated what is know as “Toolbar PageRank.” If you have the Google Toolbar installed on your browser, and you opt in to sending Google information about your internet activity, you can have Toolbar PageRank displayed. It appears as a little green bar that can vary from “0” which is white, to 10, which is all green, and the other nine integer values in between.

Image
Toolbar PR = 3

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Toolbar PR = 6

Google PageRank is a complex algorithm that attempts to quantify the authority of a Webpage, based on the number and various qualities of links pointing to that Webpage. Google considers the authority of a Webpage extremely important for the purposes of ranking that Webpage in search results. Toolbar PageRank is supposed to be a snapshot of actual working PageRank, taken at irregular and semi-annual intervals.

Problems with Toolbar PageRank.

Although Toolbar PageRank appears to be a quick and easy way to measure link authority, those who work with search engine optimization on a daily basis know better.

  1. Toolbar PageRank is updated too infrequently to be useful. A lot can change in 4 to 6 months, and when you are trying to compare pages, keep in mind, when your are looking at Toolbar PageRank you are generally looking at old data. Actual working PageRank is continuously updated.
  2. Toolbar PageRank doesn’t correlate with changes in organic search results. There are problems with translating a complex non-linear algorithm into a 10 point scale. On the lower end, often a drop in Toolbar PageRank reflects a recalibration of that 10 point scale rather than a drop in a Website’s link authority.
  3. Google says their Toolbar PageRank measures are misleading and removed the Webmaster Tools version of Toolbar PageRank from the Webmaster Tools interface for that reason. Why did they keep it on the Google Toolbar? My guess is so they could continue to mine date from your browser.
  4. Toolbar PageRank can be spoofed by a well known method called 302 hijacking. With this method a Webmaster can give a page an apparently high PageRank. This method does not effect the actual PageRank. This method can be used to scam other Webmaster into purchasing what appears to be a valuable link from the spoofed page.
  5. Google Toolbar PageRank display is very prone to errors. The Google homepage is shown below with its normal PR of 10, and erroneously with no PR.

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In short, Toolbar PageRank is not accurate enough to be relied upon for any important decision-making. Although there is some correlation between it and actual PageRank and therefore a pages link authority, a better measure is a Webpage’s position in the targeted search results. After all, isn’t good search engine position your primary objective?

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