I just got home from critique group and answered a billion email messages, so I’m going to just answer some of the comments you posted today. Tomorrow, I’ll continue with our ongoing discussion on web sites and blogs. Yesterday, I posed the question “Are Pretty Web Sites Effective?” A number of you responded. Let’s look at those comments:
M.L. Eqatin wrote:
But one other question on pictures: Dreamweaver lets you put in little alternate text tags for every picture. Don’t the search engines read those? Somebody told me that google will pick up the picture tags first.
Randy sez: Yes, pictures can be tagged with the “alt” tag, and the search engines will notice those. So, if I have a picture of myself, I might add an “alt” tag that says, “Randy Ingermanson, America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing.” And the search engines would see that. That would be good.
However, suppose I had a pretty banner with my picture and the words (in graphic format as part of the banner): “Randy Ingermanson, America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing.” Would the search engines see those words? The answer is no. The search engines can’t interpret pictures of words. That’s why “alt” tags exist–to let the search engines know what’s in the pictures.
Magically, after complaining about not receiving your newsletter for months and months, this past letter came through. It’s like asking the clerk to help you find a book after searching for hours only to discover it’s been in front of your nose the whole time.
Randy sez: If you have either a Comcast or Yahoo email address, odds are high that they’ve been filtering out my e-zines lately. This is an ongoing problem, and I would love to fix it. Today, I changed my e-zine subscription so that all new subscribers receive a confirmation email with a link that they MUST click in order to complete the subscription. I boo-booed and accidentally had my system send out emails asking all my uncomfirmed subscribers to confirm. They can if they want, but I don’t think it’s mandatory. Those who do should get my e-zine more regularly than those who don’t.
I’ve noticed that your e-zine, and many of the comments that are posted on your blog, fill up only about half of the page. For reading that is great! For printing it out — it takes a lot of paper. I’m sure there must be a reason for that, and I’m not sure it is worth taking up space on your blog to answer it. Just thought I’d ask.
Email programs break lines in different ways. Some will break an overly long line at 60 characters, some at 80 characters, and some won’t break it at all.
That’s a problem, so the rule for e-zine writers is to manually break all lines at around 55 characters or so. That way, they can be guaranteed not to send emails that some programs will display as horribly jagged looking blocks of text.
That’s a problem for those who print out my e-zines. (A surprising number do–something that I never would have guessed when I launched the e-zine.) A 55-character line only takes up half the page or so on a piece of paper.
For blogs, the main text column needs to be quite narrow for comfortable reading on the screen. If you print out the page, that means it’ll be narrow on paper. There, you have the option of manually stretching the page, but it’s still a bit awkward.
I don’t know what the best answer is. The primary mode of reading both my e-zine and blog is on the screen, so I optimize it for that. But it does mess up things for the paper-lovers. I guess you could cut and paste the text into a text editor and remove all the line-breaks. It’s a hassle, but that would at least work.
Me, again! I just remembered that a friend of mine did her own ministry site. She posted all her articles on it. Later, however, when she did a “search” for it, it wouldn’t come up on Google. I don’t know if she tried some of the other search engines or not. A ministry site that can’t be found is of little value!
She called a tech, and got such an involved answer that she finally thanked him and hung up. What can she do?
Randy sez: If you email me privately with the URL of the web site, I’ll look into it and see if I can come up with a reason why Google is not indexing it. I have solved puzzles like this before for my friends. There is always a reason.
The local extension of our nearest community college is offering an evening class, about 15 to 18 hours of instruction, on web pages using FrontPage. I’m thinking of taking this. Any thoughts? Is FrontPage good software for a beginner? From your in-post statement, you seem kind of down on it. I just can’t see plunking down a few grand for a professional site during my unpublished phase.
Randy sez: Go fer it! FrontPage is neither awful nor spectacular. It works quite well and I know at least two good internet marketers who use it. It’s easier for a beginner to use than DreamWeaver, but DreamWeaver is more powerful for experts.
I think it depends on the person who wants the site. It’s the same with yards. I’m in love with flowers and herbs and garden paths, so I garden a lot. It’s important to me. I also love graphics. It’s important to me that my website reflect my bent toward the aesthetic.
I truly believe you can have both. I have a nice looking website that I can change the content on, the best of both worlds.
Randy sez: I would agree. An effective blog or web site can be extremely beautiful, just like a great car can be beautiful. But it’s possible for an effective blog or web site to be pretty plain, just like a great car can be plain. There are some folks who try to make us believe that “pretty” and “effective” are the same thing, and that we therefore MUST plunk down the big bucks. ‘Tain’t necessarily so. I think public speakers are held to a different standard. A public speaker needs to dress well and have a very professional looking site. But writers? Uh uh on both counts.
You might want to comment, even if ever so briefly, on your definition of “pretty”. I can think of several conflicting definitions, such as:
“Layout, white space arrangement, readability”
“Artistic color palette”
“Easy to navigate”
Please don’t get me wrong. All of these “pretty” things on a site are nice to have. But they’re not essential for a marketing platform. Millions of dollars are earned every year by people with pretty dull sites that are not “pretty” by any definition of the word.