Archive for March, 2009

The Land of the Pod

March 8, 2009

Believe it or not – I heard a rumour that the Ipod was named after 2001 A Space Odyessy for the pod doors…ok – podcasting can be a little out there for the novice.  It started for us when I was thinking of how to get more CLE out to the hinterlands at an inexpensive rate.  I looked around at various webcasting ideas – and was almost sold on Skype, but didn’t want to have to force my members into a system that I chose.  I basically lucked into podcasting and again – emphasizing the lazy part of me – I wanted something cheap and easy.  It was when I discovered the notebook function of my new Word for Mac could record a conversation and then export it so that I could then import it into Itunes – I was sold.  BUT – we’ve run into a little problem.  The brown bags we record (thank goodness we aren’t recording a whole day’s program) are HUGE!  Too huge to email to some members whose servers bounce things that big. So we’re now exploring a hosting location to direct members to download the various offerings.  There is some tech support with this as well…oh well – it must be my fate.

Tail Wagging the Dog – Part Two…Getting even more fancy

March 8, 2009

As I started to write out my talk – I started to get excited about some other options that we are working on for our own site which might be good ideas for other SLDOs…

IPhone Design – With more of our members addicted to their Iphones, Blackberries and Treos, we need to adapt our webpage to their needs.  This is still in the early production stage, but I\’m hopefully that by this summer – we will have a decent facsimile to roll out.  One easy option that I just found out about is Intersquash but your website needs an RSS feed.

RSS Feed – RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. If you have a my yahoo page that has various items on it that you customized – you have already participated in an RSS feed. Basically it\’s a code written into a webpage or blog that lets the aggregator know when you have updated it and pushes it forward to those who have subscribed to those updates. If you have ever seen this image on a page  – it means this page has RSS available. I can see that having our calendar of events and the newsletter be an RSS compatible.

Content Aggregator – We have done this already – Top Network – our web guru, set up a news feed for all of the legal news aggregators which then sits on our site.  If a member wanted the latest legal news – that member would direct their homepage to be the WDTL news site – good marketing, if I can brag for a minute.

Wikis If you have ever visited Wikipedia (I think my children get all of their school information here – oh brother), you have visited a wiki.  Basically a wiki is a multi-contibutor webpage or blog.   A wiki is more collaborative than most blogs and can have a lot of contributors.  I’ve been a little slow to adapt this to our website because I’m not quite sure I want a written piece of information that is discoverable out there by the other side.  So this is in the works but for what application – I’m not quite sure yet.  I want our members to be more collaborative and more interactive, but I also don’t want to have to produce it in a legal situation.  It probably wouldn’t be covered under attorney/client privilege.

The Tail Wagging the Dog – Creating the Plug In & Extras for the Website

March 8, 2009

When asked to give this speech – the one that I’ve decided to blog and then do the PowerPoint for – yeah – that one – several of the other EDs asked me to talk about the backend of the website.  Backend – I mean the ugly little code and databases that each of us need to make our website interactive for our members.  This is where it can get a little complicated – and you will probably need to have paid help in developing this part of your web presence.  I don’t mean to give a plug for our web host & all round awesome backup help – but Topnetwork has been a great part of why our members have used the website so extensively.  Also – apparently I push him to create better programming since I’m so demanding.

Before launching a new website or reworking your current site -survey your members.  Surveymonkey.com is an awesome little site that allows a cheap and easy way to survey members whether it’s a 3 question survey for a seminar or a 50 question membership survey.  (I wouldn’t go over 50 questions ever – no-one has that kind of time).  This is how we discovered our members like the little networking events, wanted a brief bank (although they haven’t used it yet) and LOVE the list serve.

So – they asked for it and we built the website for them – one little problem…our tracking statistics for the site doesn’t work, so I don’t know really where people are going (more on that problem later on marketing), so as to our website – who knows where people are landing.

Brief Bank – we have one that members can contribute to, and if someone offers up a brief – I put it in.  Do people use it?  Nope – they continue to ask for the same briefs from the list server.  It’s a long slow learning curve.

List Server(s) – Members love it – it’s one of their favorite things about their membership.  We have an expert witness list serve and a general list serve (for those questions who don’t fit in the section list serves or expert witness list serve).  I know some SLDOs have captured the list serve, but at this time, we have decided not to capture it.  The answers are sent to the inquirer – not to the whole list serve – so just having the question on a database seemed kind of lopsided.  One downside is that everyone gets put on the list serve when they join and have to take themselves off – which can mean a lot of technical support on our part.

Member Directory – Apparently – and I say apparently because it happened before WDTL was foolish to hire me – we stopped printing the membership directory and put it all online.  This confuses the heck out of some of the less technical of our members and they still call me and have me look up other members online for them – but for the most part it has been a good thing.  We were green before our time.  When you visit our site, wdtl.org and go to member services, the membership directory is right there.  This is run from the main database that not only runs our member directory – but is also the back end for registration as well.

Online Registration – this was my first project as the ED for this crowd.  I can’t tell you how much easier it has made my life.  Attendees for seminars can either send me a check and I’ll enter them online or they can register themselves online via a credit card – which is then emailed to our accountant through a secure site.  This saves countless amount of time and effort to track payments and let’s me see in real time how many people are at each event.

Social Networking for the Legal Set

March 7, 2009

I got dragged into social networking kicking and screaming because I wanted to keep track of who my teenagers were connecting with online.  While I never got a myspace page (it went against everything I stood for in terms of web design), I do have a Facebook, Twitter & Linked-in presence.

Here is why I did it for professional reasons – I like to network – I’m strange that way. I am very careful about what I post or what allow people to link to me – and I will admit to vanity googling  – I like to know what people are saying about me and my organization.  I have linked to both non-work and work friends and I think it gives my members a small insight into how my world outside of work works.  

Linked-In is a more business oriented site, but has some drawbacks – if I post something – it doesn’t automatically ping the rest of my network that this item is live.  The Washington Defense Trial Lawyers has it’s own area – and we have some posting – and I like it for that reason – I have to approve anyone who wishes to join that network, so people can feel free to ask questions of other defense attorneys.

Facebook – while less professional – and yes – I have some very goofy friends – immediately pings my network when I have a status change.  For example – I needed corks for a corkboard that I was making for another friend – and while I am a wino – I’m not that much of a wino and was short about 30 corks.  I put that up as my status “Kristin Baldwin Lewis needs corks for a corkboard”…so whenever I ran into someone from that network, either professional or just friends – they handed me a bunch of corks – I had so many that I have enough for two more corkboards.

Twitter – yes I have a twitter account – but I haven’t used it yet….I joined during the presidential debates so that I could track what people were saying in real time and made one snarky remark about someone’s combover.  Frankly – I can’t see the business use of it –  no-one, including or especially my own family – care what I am doing every minute of the day.  So thus I don’t tweet – I don’t even squack…maybe someday.

Avvo….Avvo is an interesting site and if you have small law firms in your SLDO – I would recommend that they pay attention to Avvo.  They are a local Seattle firm that rates lawyers like people rate consumer goods in Consumer Reports.  Attorneys weren’t happy when it was started and in fact – of course – the dotcom was sued and won.  Consumers are visiting the site and having a favorable review will raise attorneys own results in a search engine.  Avvo is not in every city but is expanding or was expanding before the economy blew up.

Resources for the Uninspired or Busy Web Designer

March 7, 2009

When I started to learn web design back in the dark ages of the interweb – in 1995 – we had to do it all via the lovely program of Notepad and I had to learn HTML by hand, which is frankly – a very good way to learn to code things.  I also try to explain to my children (who are teenagers) that I learned to code BASIC on a computer the size of our fridge at a terminal with my coat on because the room was kept cold so the computer wouldn’t overheat – yep – I’m the same age as the dinosaurs and cave people.  Then came lovely WYSIWYG programs that did the HTML for you – it was pretty much just a word processing program – but you still should have known your code because you often had to write a lot of the back end stuff yourself and now……now – you can either pay a designer or get a CMS system – depending on your preference.  

I, in my very humble opinion as a current freelance web designer will recommend a CMS system for novices who want to have control over being able to edit the content on the fly.  My SLDO contracts with our host for a CMS system – and it has its benefits and detriments.

Benefits:

  • So easy,  it’s even hard for me to mess it up
  • I can manage it any where at any time – I just log in and edit away
  • The look and feel of the site is guaranteed to be the same no matter how many pages I add

Detriments

  • It’s not Mac friendly – and since we’re a Mac office – I can sometimes screw up the code and have to back to a PC to fix it.
  • I can’t access the source code – so I can’t change the keywords or title of the page for SEO purposes
  • Someone else writes the CSS code – so if I want to play with the look and feel of fonts or navigation – it’s a process

If I was going to build a SLDO site from scratch – I would approach it different – in fact – I would use a system like WordPress here.  Find a host, download the software and then launch.  It has been recommended by other web designers for other clients.  For more information, click on wordpress.org/.  

There are tons of places around the web that give tutorials or templates – here are some that I’ve run across in my research

What has been most helpful in my search for this type of solution is talking to other women techies & developers – they don’t mind dumb questions.  If you get into this – do a search on Digital Eve in your area – it’s a great listserve for this type of support.

Test Anxiety

March 6, 2009

I can’t stress testing your website before launching enough…test, test and then test again.  I learned this ugly lesson first hand when I launched a company website before I had the testing department look at it.  Opps – it had broken links and misspelling and I looked like a fool – so test the site several ways before launching.

First – test it in several different popular browsers – it can be done in one shot at browsershots.org.  A quick run through will show how your website looks to your users depending on their browser.

Second – Have at least 5 different people do a set number of tasks, and while sitting on your hands and taping your mouth so you don’t interfere or give them hints – watch how they accomplish these tasks in your site and whether or not your navigation is clear or even apparent.

If you were feeling really frisky – send your website through a validator and it will check to see if your html or other markup language fits current standards – it’s an eye opener.  You may think it’s pretty but validators often find errors that need to be fixed so that it doesn’t hang up people when they are trying to download the site.

Pet Peeves about Web Pages

March 6, 2009

I can’t give hints about web design unless I let you into some of my pet peeves – and I would LOVE to hear about yours as well.

If you ever have 5 minutes to kill and want to be entertained by some of the worst webpages out there – go to webpagesthatsuck.com.  As my southern ED friends have encouraged me to soften any blow – Bless their little hearts – those webpages – they do suck…probably beyond anyone’s imagination.  Go to the site, look around and promise not to emulate any of those tactics.

Ok – pet peeves (and I have been guilty of these things as well – so I’m not claiming innocence)

  1. Splash Pages or Flash opening pages…maybe I’m just ADD – but I do not have the patience to wait while your splash page opens and I get to wait along with a cute little flashing dog that tells me how long this is going to be..nope – moving on.
  2. Click on the logo page – nope, I’m not going to…next vendor
  3. Audio without my permission.  I hate going to a webpage and have Taylor Swift’s latest start blaring.  Not that I am against Taylor – I just choose to listen to music while I work or while I surf and I’d rather pick my own.  Worse is when the music or noises are just loud and I’m trying to be discrete, i.e. Christmas shopping while my kids are in the room.  They know immediately where I am by the stupid noise – don’t do this to me.
  4. Flashing animations on a page – Yes, Yahoo – I am talking to you.  I hate reading my email while an ad with a dancing girl is going on on the left of the page – it’s annoying, it’s stupid and it gives me a headache and makes me avoid my Yahoo account.  Why would you scare of visitors or keep them away from the content with a dancing ad?
  5. Pages that aren’t complete or under construction – If the content isn’t there – don’t link to that page.  You can tell people that more content will be there in the future if you need to have a place holder, but I think not linking is the kindest of all.
  6. Yicky Backgrounds & Neon Fonts – I know you love flowers or rainbow gradients but for my old eye’s sake – don’t make them your background.  Think zen – think simple – think one color for the background and one or two colors for fonts – and make sure they are readable.  Make sure there is plenty of contrast between text and background for those of us who have a hard time reading neon on neon – I’m weird that way.

Basics of Good Web Design

March 6, 2009

This should have probably been the first post – but I’m working my way backwards through my presentation for the upcoming DRI SLDO ED meeting (enough initials for anyone?)…so here goes – my highly opinionated version of good webdesign (to be followed by my pet peeves of modern & not so modern web design).

  1. Easy Navigation – Before you even start to build a page – please, for everyone’s sake, draw out your navigation either in a diagram or hierarchy format and play with it, move it around.  I usually write each page out on a sticky note, put it on a large piece of paper and then I have various novices to the site or to the subject come and tell me where they would go.  You are going to be very bored with this after a while – but it will save you a lot of hair pulling out later.
  2. Consistency of Design – nothing is more horrid than going to a front page and then the design elements don’t carry forward to the other pages.  Pick a look and stick to it all.  You wouldn’t change the logo for organization on every printed piece, so why would you change it for every different page on your web?  Top that all off – it irritates me – and as my fellow ED’s will tell you – I’m not pretty when irritated.
  3. Quick on the Draw – how many times have you been to a website and it takes FOREVER to load?  Do you stick around?  Probably not. Make it fast loading is a good website – which means graphics should be clean & small, code should be clean and minimize the multimedia.
  4. Short Attention Span Theatre – The best advice I ever got for web design when I worked for a dotcom was that people have gotten used to webpages being succinct because we have evolved into having short attention spans, thanks to all of our various devices that demand our attention constantly….thus writing for the web should be snappy and short.  Messages should be clear and to the point…and so I’ll stop right now with this topic.  You get the picture.

See – web design isn’t that hard – just stick to these 4 points.

Another Look at Title Tags

March 6, 2009

I realized after I wrote the whole blog on SEO for the lazy – that I forgot to really emphasize the importance of a Title tag….that little thing that goes on the top of each page in the browser.  I used to be especially lax about making sure the title page was appropriate and pithy because I just didn’t get how important it is – well….it is important.  More than just making each page look individually different and giving a good description – it will also help the various robots & spiders of web search engines find and categorize the page.  Smack on my own forehead and back to re-titling the pages I was working on…

Search Engine Optimization for the Lazy (i.e. me)

March 6, 2009

I am the world’s laziest person – so if given the option – I’ll always take the easiest way.  Creating SEO for a webpage is no exception.  I’m also cheap – so when someone offers to optimize my pages for me for a mere $1K+…I gringe.  

Important things to keep in mind with SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

  1. Keep your content up -old, unaltered pages won’t come up in the search
  2. Keep your content relevant – interesting relevant pages come up more in search – old, stale pages can stay that way
  3. Research your keywords – here is where the lazy comes in.   Ok – I do read the page and pull out an appropriate sentence for the title but keywords are always hard – especially when your whole webpage is basically about one thing. i.e. – I used to design a page for a meat packing plant (don’t ask), it was hard to come up with interesting and unique keywords for hamburger or bacon.  This is where I would turn to this tool – http://www.google.com:80/sktool/#.  It gives you a suggestion – based on your webpage, as to what keywords might pull interest and what your competitors are up to.
  4. As I said before – give good title
  5. Make sure you provide a robots.txt file.  If you don’t know what one is – here’s a quick (it’s not easy ready) tutorial –  read up on it.
  6. Clean code is readable, searchable code – keep it clean.
  7.  Don’t flash or splash your first page (more on this annoying little habit later)
  8. Tricks don’t pay off – don’t use false ways to get more traffic, i.e false links, little hidden words, duplicate pages will get you dinged
  9. Be patience – while it is an automated project – just think how many pages are out there.
  10. Include your webpage in all of your correspondence, i.e. any printed brochure, your business cards, your signature on your email – everything to drive traffic.
  11. Realize – that in the legal business – driving people to the SLDO website probably isn’t going to increase membership – it’s just going to make it easier for your members to find the site to use.