Find Web Developers
Find Web Developers

The Role of SEO in Web Development With JavaScript

August 18th, 2018

With the ever growing and evolving nature of the internet and the different websites you find online, it is expected to come across with a number of mixed messages along the way. One of the longest debated topics when it comes to the role of search engine optimization in web development is whether or not using JavaScript is a great idea when optimizing a website for search engines.

The online crowd is divided – some people firmly believe that Java should not be used at all, while others think that using JavaScript is essential and contributes a lot to the overall success of a website. If you are one of the many who is considering whether to use JavaScript on your website or not, this article will help you clear your head and let you see both the good side and the bad side of using Java and how it relates to search engine marketing.

One of the main reasons why a lot of website developers and web designers are big on JavaScript is its being simple and providing a lot of options for the website owner – Java is a relatively simple programming language that will let you create several web effects that is impossible for traditional HTML to do. On top of that, using Java in a website also provides a great solution to the common problem of code bloat.

Code bloat is a situation where the size of an HTML file used for a certain web page reaches its threshold, usually the limits set by the different search engines. When your website or even just a single web page on your website goes beyond the specified limits of codes, you will be penalized with a lower ranking in the results pages which is not good news.

On the other side of the fence however, a lot of web developers also think that applying Java will only harm your rankings simply because it makes it harder for the search engine web spiders to crawl on your website for indexing. Search engine crawlers already have a lot of ground to cover these days and crawling through overwhelming volumes of JavaScript codes makes it very hard for them to find what they are looking for.

Search engine crawlers look for keywords and relevant text and information in your website before it gets indexed and ranked, and if you have lots of JavaScript embedded within your website the crawlers will have a hard time figuring out if your website is relevant or not, thus harming your SEO strategy.

All things considered, using Java will not make or break your SEO strategy. As long as you have your online marketing strategy all planned out, you will not have a hard time deciding whether to use JavaScript or not.

Copywriting as a Part of Web Development

August 17th, 2018

A part of web development is copywriting. Excellent copy means it has to be appealing to both readers and to search engines. This combination will help websites to rank highly. A problem occurs when there are space constraints to a site, page layout requirements or other issues.

Because appealing to both readers and search engines is so important, you don’t want to sacrifice one for the other. Adding a big block of copy to the middle of a page may not be the best answer, however, if a page needs content, adding a couple of sentences to the bottom of each section is a good option. Your copy will still be readable and the additional content will appeal to the search engines.

There are some things to remember when writing content for a website.

  • Web users are active. One click and they have left your site. If they don’t see a reason to stay, they won’t. There is a 10 – 15 second window available to capture a visitor’s attention.
  • The longer the text is, the less likely they are to read it. With long text, they will skim it, if they bother to read it at all.
  • Web users don’t believe in hype. If you want a web user to believe you and to believe in you, you must back up your claims.

Four questions must be answered on each page:

  • What am I doing here?
  • How do I do it?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Where can I go, next?

If your design and navigation isn’t obvious, then you need to explain it in the copy. Most visitors will not take the time to figure this information out. If a first time visitor cannot find their way around your site, they will likely never come back.

Unless your visitors are expecting to read something on your page, don’t expect that they will read more than one or two lines of copy.

Understanding your copy is as important as length. Don’t make the copy so complicated that it is difficult to comprehend or make it so the customer will have to think about it because they won’t.

What this means is you want to convey one key idea in just one or two lines. Don’t try to add a third line because if you say too much, then even the first idea won’t penetrate. If your site needs more content, break it down into sections that are one or two paragraphs each. Say what you want to say in the first sentence and then expand the thought into the paragraph. Use meaningful headers. Most people will only scan the headers to the paragraphs and not even bother with the copy on the page, unless it is something that appeal to them. It is better to write only one or two lines with links to another page with the longer copy.

Even when users are expecting to find text heavy content, don’t expect they will take the time to read all of it. Longer copy doesn’t have to be as abrupt as shorter text, but it needs to be as easy to read.

Make your copy clear, but not boring. Lively writing with an unassuming voice is best. Boring writing will turn your reader off and nothing you say at that point will make it through.

10 Common Problems Web Developers Encounter

August 16th, 2018

After spending a few years developing websites both big and small, certain patterns seem to have revealed themselves. Over time, you adapt to these issues and forget about them, but the reality is other people will encounter these problems in due course. For that reason, I thought a quick treatise of these common problems was called for.

Considering the same challenges crop up again and again for everyone in web development, it’s interesting to note that different people come up with different solutions to the same issue. The context often defines what an appropriate solution is, so what works for one business may not work for another. Obviously, I can only talk about strategies I myself have used, or ones suggested to me by my peers (nb. there may be other solutions I haven’t considered).

Without further delay, let’s have a look at some challenges, and more importantly, some solutions:

1. Content issues – this happens when a customer either takes too long to supply their content, or what they do supply is amateurish or lacklustre. The most common way I deal with this is to use some place-holder text, with the intent of having the client say “hey, that’s not my text”; this can prompt them to put in their correct content. Another trick is to use a questionnaire to illicit responses from the client. This can be used as the basis for writing rudimentary content (e.g. “what does your company do?”, “who are your customers?” etc). A technique I have used in the past is to turn off pages which are empty (e.g. client: “where’s my press releases page?”, developer: “the page hides itself if there is no text on it”). I recall reading an article some time back which suggested getting a copywriter involved from the start of the project. Having someone work closely with the client at an early stage is a good method for ensuring copy is ready prior to launch.

2. Delays in obtaining the company logo or graphics files – it’s pretty hard to start on a website when you don’t have the client’s logo. Often this is just a case of getting the client to contact their graphic designer to get you the files you need. This isn’t a major issue, but it can cause a small delay which is unnecessary. All you have to do is give the client forewarning that this material is required. This is why one of the questions I have on my Needs Analysis form is “is your logo & branding material ready?”

3. Vague feedback and indecisiveness – this is a situation which can result in not only delays, but rework which isn’t billed for. This really boils down to ineffective communication. A classic example of vague feedback is “I don’t like the design” (a more helpful version would be something like “the design doesn’t communicate the fun and relaxed nature of our company”). The evil brother of vague feedback is indecisiveness, or when a client is unwilling to make a firm decision on how something should be. With vague feedback, patients is the remedy. Some would say it’s a matter of ‘educating the client’, I find that term to be somewhat condescending. If I get feedback like “I don’t like the design”, I would respond with “what in particular don’t you like?” or “can you be a bit more specific, I need more detail in order to get your design right” (the response depends on the client’s personality, understanding the DISC model helps). In the case of indecisiveness, if it’s related to a feature, I will make it an option in the admin module (e.g. an option to show a group of company logos horizontally or vertically). With this approach, the client can set it whichever way they want.

4. Scope creep – the bane of a developer’s existence. This topic alone could span many pages, however I will try keep it simple. Scope creep occurs when a client asks for features which weren’t originally agreed upon. This can be problematic as it can cause delivery dates to shift and displace other work, it can introduce new bugs in established features, and impact on momentum. Some people take a hard line on this matter, suggesting that you should just say ‘No’ to the client. I have a personal philosophy which goes like this “there is no such thing as no, it’s yes – and this is how much it’s going to cost”. At the end of the day, it’s about business, if a client is willing to pay for the work, it’s simply a matter of project management and version control. One technique I use when developing large web applications is to group features together into a ‘mini-spec’. These features would be added to the system after launch and thus constitute a point upgrade (i.e. v1 ;rarr; v1.1). A good suggestion I have also seen is to create a cost-to-benefit spreadsheet in consultation with the client, that way they can prioritize and understand added costs.

5. Undescriptive bug reports – client: “the system crashed” or “the system is buggy”, developer (thinking to himself): “gee, thanks for all the information”. Explaining to a person that a bug can’t be fixed unless they give more detail usually solves this problem. When logging a bug, it’s essential that the person says where the bug occurred, and gives step-by-step instructions on what they did when the bug appeared. If a client knows how to take screenshots and annotate them, even better.

6. Deposits, pricing and payment problems – not taking a deposit when working with a new client is unprofessional and exposes you to unnecessary risk. However, deposits aren’t as much of an issue when dealing with long standing clients. Having a good pricing structure for small projects is also important (e.g. projects under $5,000). A good general structure is 20% deposit, 70% milestone payment when most of the work is done, and the final 10% when the client signs off. The 10% final payment is very helpful in situations where a project stalls for whatever reason. There is also the issue of clients saying “but another developer said they could do it cheaper”. In such a situation, you need to demonstrate the value you bring to the table above and beyond your competitors (e.g. quicker development time, face-to-face meetings as often as required, etc). Another major problem is clients that don’t pay their bills on time. The majority of clients are reasonable business people and will respond positively to a courteous reminder, for example: “hi Tom, just a friendly reminder, have you had a chance to pay the last invoice I sent? It was due one week ago. I would appreciate if you could pay this invoice as soon as possible. Let me know if you need to discuss it. Thank you” – will there still be people that attempt to take advantage of you? Of course, but you’d be surprised how far good manners will get you in the business world.

7. Project malaise and uncommitted stake-holders – this can bring a project to a grinding holt, quite literally. It occurs when a client loses interest in their own project or decides to focus their energies elsewhere (usually on more pressing areas of their business). There may be times when this is understandable, for instance if a client is about to launch a new product or needs to spend time on ‘disaster recovery’. I don’t have a sure-fire solution for this problem, other then being proactive (e.g. get on the phone, communicate). If you have the time and inclination, you can take onboard tasks which were originally assigned to the client (e.g. communicating with the graphic designer directly to get graphics files). That said, you have to be careful not to pressure the client too much, this can actually cause something of a backlash. At the end of the day, it’s up to the client if they want to stall their project. If you have a good payment structure in place, you won’t be unfairly penalized for the delay in project progress.

8. Dealing with third parties or vendors – adding a third party to the project introduces risk because your power to influence outcomes diminishes. Not only has an additional communication channel been added, but so have potential bottlenecks. Take for example a fully-fledged ecommerce enabled website. Here we have three additional third parties which need to be dealt with during the course of the project:
1) the client’s bank has to be consulted with to setup an Internet Merchant Account,
2) a SSL provider has to be contacted to setup a certificate to allow for secure shopping, and
3) a credit card gateway provider has to be involved to provide credit card clearing facilities.

There’s a lot of potential for hold-ups there. The best answer for dealing with third parties is to get in early; arrange things which you have less control over towards the start of the project, before they are needed.

9. Best practice advice being ignored – for some people no amount of logic or statistics will satisfy them, they just want it their way (e.g. “there doesn’t need to be a home page” or “i want scrolling red text at the top of my page”). In situations where the request flies in the face of best practice standards, I say the following and then get on with the work: “my professional recommendation is… but it’s up to you how you would like it”. I am a firm believer that the customer is always right. That includes them having the right to make choices which diminish the effectiveness of their product. Some developers have a hard time ‘doing the wrong thing’ on a client’s project, but if it isn’t immoral or unethical – get over it.

10. “I want something like Facebook, how much?” – this is an all too common request, any developer worth his salt will have the warning bells go off early when they hear something like this. It may not be Facebook or Amazon which they want cloned, it can be any leading website with majority market share. The other tell-tale sign is a ridiculously low budget. Many developers will outright turn down these kinds of projects as they see it as a waste of their time (nb. the client may be ‘fishing’ for free system analysis consultation). Answering the ‘how much’ question can be dealt with by providing a ball-park estimate with a wide variance, for example: “the project could cost between $10,000 and $20,000, I can only provide you with a fixed price once a specification is written”. This brings us to another important strategy to weed out the time wasters. Have the client pay for the creation of a functional specification before agreeing on the final cost of the project.

I would have liked to cover some of these points in more detail, but this article is really meant as a brief treatment of commonly encountered problems. There have also been many other important items left off the list, so don’t be surprised if you see a sequel to this article in future.

Special thanks goes to the people of Stack Overflow forum for their valuable input.