Rob Tomlinson's blog

These posts are on a broad range of topics – mostly about web design and development — but off-topic posts are scattered about.

Tuning in to clients

Spending plenty of time working with potential clients is important. Note the word potential: this is before a client has decided to sign up for a website designed and developed by me.

Websites can be very personal and clients need to verify that x is the right person for the project.

So how can this be accomplished?

Well, each client is different, as is each website project. A constant is that both parties need to establish some common ground. This comes about by discussion (by ‘phone or by email – I prefer the latter but do both), and the obvious topic for discussion is websites:

Search engine experiments

From time to time I run some simple search engine tests, both on my clients’ sites and on my own. This helps me get some insight into how well these sites are being tracked by the SEs. I did this again yesterday – and the results are interesting!

(Firstly, a caveat: these results are relevant to 10th March 2009. If I run them on another day, the results may differ.)

The importance of web standards

One of the key selling points of my website development service is that sites I develop conform to web standards, and I keep banging on about this. So why does this matter so much?

To recap: web standards are a collection of international standards that specify what is and isn’t acceptable HTML, XHTML and so on – the code that holds together and structures the content of web pages. They are thrashed out and agreed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organisation headed by Tim Berners-Lee.

Your website: who is the audience you are writing for?

The web has been selling products and services for enough time now for it no longer to be considered a nascent industry. We take it as perfectly natural that a site is promoting something, with some form of sale often being a site’s principle aim. In recent years, attention has been increasingly focussed upon the language used in websites, and upon how this language can be honed to increase the chances of a sale.

Many of us with British origins may understandably find this sort of perspective awkward; after all, we are renown for our reserve and for not discussing financial matters up front, and on the home page. Many people find that being a website proprietor changes that.

Freeconomics: the race to the bottom

King Gillette apparently started it all in 1895 when he gave away his new disposable-blade razors. These razors were useless in themselves, but the disposable blades sold in their billions – and a trend towards ‘freeconomics’ was born.

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper looked at where this trend seems to be taking us: Ryanair flights for $20, free phone calls, free downloads, free advertisements, free newspapers.

Hand-crafted websites

In a separate blog article I cited free website hosting (and development) as an example of the ‘freeconomics’ trend in business, a race to the bottom that removes quality both from the service that is provided and from the website that is produced.

The adage “You get what you pay for” is as true today as it ever was and I’m happy to mount a spirited defence of paying to have a website hand-crafted. So here goes…

Technical support: pushing spaghetti through a keyhole

Technical support. Five syllables and a yawning maw of potential frustration!

Here are the two extremes of the technical support spectrum:

Technical support. Five syllables and a yawning maw of potential frustration!

Here are the two extremes of the technical support spectrum:

How it should work:

  • you send an email explaining the problem, asking for a solution
  • an email comes back (without too great a delay) explaining the likely solution
  • you follow the advice that’s been given and it works!

And the alternative:

Indispensable backup software

Are there any software packages that I’d recommend to the general computer user (for Windows PCs)? Yes!

Meet the Soays

Our corner of the Gers is wonderfully hilly and we’re lucky to have a steeply-sloped 2 hectare (5 acre) field behind the house which is just too steep for a tractor. It’s ideal for sheep and inside the 800 metres of fencing that we’ve surrounded the field with we keep Soay (pronounced ‘sow’ – ‘ay’) sheep.

Meet the Soays

You can read all about Soays at the Soay Sheep Society’s website, and we can vouch for what they say being pretty much the case.