Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster

If you’re not a subscriber to Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox then here’s what you missed today: Information Foraging: Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster (Alertbox June 2003)

Basically the article confirms what I’ve been saying for the past year. Do not hide your content under a bushel. Instead, make it compelling and make it easy to get to with a minimal of effort.

As Vincent Flanders would say, “Don’t confuse web design with sex.” Or to quote Nielsen’s Alertbox for June 2003:


Humans are under less evolutionary pressure to improve their Web use, but basic laziness is a human characteristic that might be survival-related (don’t exert yourself unless you have to). In any case, people like to get maximum benefit for minimum effort. That’s what makes information foraging a useful tool for analyzing online media.

(note, the bold emphasis is Neilsen’s, not mine!)

So what does this mean to you the church web master? Lose stuff like the useless Flash intros to “get people in the mood.” In fact, get rid of splash pages altogether.

And those “movie like effects” such as page-transitions and/or swipes, or maquees? Stop it. Your purpose driven users don’t want to have to wait for their compelling content.

In other words, give your purpose-driven users what their looking for, and remove anything on your site that gets in their way.

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ClarkConnect’s Cool Linux Gateway Tools

I was tooling about this lazy Sunday afternoon, thinking up some work for some old PCs. So I started to check out some of the various Linux distributions better suited for older, but not necessarily dead i386 machines. I think I found one that might be of service to those of you running, or thinking of running, various network services and servers from your church’s basement. ClarkConnect.

According to their website, this Linux distro “transforms standard PC hardware into a dedicated broadband gateway and easy-to-use server. The award-winning Linux-based solution includes firewall and security tools, along with file, print, web, e-mail, proxy, and VPN servers.”

Foo, the kid just woke up from her nap and Mom is a bit under the weather. If any of you get a chance to place with this toy before I do, please, leave a comment and let us know how the Free Home Edition works out for you. Unless of course you’re using the Pro edition, in which case, you’re certainly more than welcome to regail us with copious V’s on how this system has transformed an old PC into a new firewall, web server and file server. Though personally, I think I’d prefer to keep the later two as far separated as possible.

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FeedDemon BETA now available!

FeedDemon, written by Nick Bradbury, creator of TopStyle and HomeSite, makes RSS as easy to access as your email.

That’s because FeedDemon is an aggregator that enables you to quickly explore the world of RSS from your desktop without having to visit hundreds of sites.

If it’s half as good as TopStyle, then I’m sold.

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National Do Not Call Registry

The National Do Not Call Registry

Registering your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry means that most telemarketers cannot call your telephone number if it is in the National Do Not Call Registry. You can register your home and mobile phone numbers for free. Your registration will be effective for five years … starting 3 months after you register.

I plan to sign up today so by October 1, I can eat my dinner in peace and avoid those annoyingly illegal autodialers. Though I’m sure I’ll still get calls from scam artists who will claim they’re not covered by the act.

Now if they’d only do the same for spam!

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St. Louis Catholic Church, Alexandria Virginia

At least they got their <title> tag right. That’s how I felt after visiting the website of the St. Louis Catholic Church, Alexandria Virginia. I discovered this site back in early April when sang the Schubert Ave Maria and the Malotte’s Our Father ( Lord’s Prayer) at my cousin’s wedding there. Beautiful church, wonderful acoustics, a robust music program, and a very cool priest, yet none of it reflected in their website. At least that was my initial opinion back in April when I put the site in my draft queue.

Image Bloat

As of this past weekend, it appears they’ve made some improvements, including adding some pictures of their beautiful facilities on their front page. Unfortunately, one image is 667,386 bytes large, the other is 363,701 bytes large.

The problem? Once again, we find a site where the web master doesn’t realize that the HEIGHT and WIDTH arguments of the <IMG> tag do not physically reduce the size of the image. In this case, just declaring the height=”388″ and width=”211″ in the HTML means you still get all the bandwidth banditry of the actual 2393×1265 image the end-user actually receives. What the webmaster here needs to do is invest in a graphics application, such as ULead’s Photo Impact, then

  1. physically reduce the image size (in the graphics app).
  2. color optimize it into a JPG
  3. FTP it to the site.

My results converted the 667,386byte image into an easier on the bandwidth 23,609 byte progressive mode image. Your mileage may vary.

Java Applets

The next thing I’d address would be the use of Java applets to render scrolling news, and rollover buttons. I’d get rid of them. IMHO, Java for rollovers should be replaced with cascading style sheets applied to hyperlinks. Yes, users of the antiquated Netscape 4.78 won’t benefit from them, then again, does a user of such a old and limited browser want to see rollovers at all? Moreover, someone with visual disabilities will in that they’ll have no problem seeing the CSS-based hyperlinks as opposed to those rendered with a Java Applet.

A similar arguments can be said to use Dynamic HTML (DHTML) over an applet to display the scrolling text. Only, IMHO, I hate scrolling text, and I’m especially not fond of the marquee style scrolling text. Why? Aside from not working on all browsers, one needs to remember that the convention of the scrolling marquee invented to wrap news around buildings using lighted boards back in a day and an age where people didn’t mind spending five minutes looking up to see if the Dodgers beat the Yankees. This user doesn’t exist in the world of the purpose-driven Internet user. They want what they want now, hence, they tend to ignore any text included in such mechanisms. That, and nothing spells Chinese water torture like taking something vitally important and slowly giving it to your information hungry user letter and line at a time.

Compelling Content

Once again, we have a site with compelling content, that has unfortunately been hidden under a bush. Let’s take for example the “About Our Parish Page.” The first thing I notice is that I can barely read the reddish-orange text against the yellowy-red background image. Rule of thumb, make sure your text color and background color contrast each other. Red against white, navy against silver, yellow against green … you get the picture.

It doesn’t help that the background is a textured image as well. Look, I’m not without sin either. Back in 1995, I too used textured background images. But I gave that practice up somewhere between 1997 and 1998 when I discovered Vincent Flanders and what he had to say about textured background images (among other things I was doing wrong). In other words, unless you want to party like it’s 1999, lose the textured background images.

Getting back to the “About Our Parish Page,” let’s talk content. What you get on this page is a single paragraph that tells you where the church is, and how long it has been there, not much else. To learn about their Mission and Goals or their Council and Committees, you need to click down another level of navigation … even though all this content could easily fit on one page. Yes, I know I complain about pages that are too big sometimes, but here is one case where I feel more would actually be less, more-or-less.

Navigationally Yours

While putting all the “About Us” content on a single page would give the reader a more complete picture of the church in a single snapshot (as opposed to three), it does create a minor navigation issue those times you want to hyperlink/permalink the section/content blocks the single page would contain. In those cases, I would employ the same type of anchor link navigation they used atop their Sacraments and Devotions or Music Ministry pages.

A few other notes regarding navigation. They do a good job of offering text links along the bottom of their page. Unfortunately, the link to the home page wasn’t tested. That should be index.html, not .htm. Also, since the site prominently displays the church’s address at the top and middle of the home page, why not equip it with a hyperlink to the directions page, or at least a Yahoo map?

Shine like a Star

Again, here is a church with something to good, useful and saving to say. Unfortunately, IMHO, her voice, is muffled by Java applets, hard-to-read text, and some unnecessary navigation. Here is one case where I might suggest to a church to keep their compelling content, but instead of trying to roll their own site, plug it into a pre-fabbed template, or perhaps use a pre-fabbed-church-website service such as that offered by E-Zekiel.com.

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StrongBad Report: Obligatory HomestarRunner Reading

Though I’ve got a review queued up, I figure I’d depart for a moment with some obligatory HomestarRunner Reading. No lie, if you really want to be a super-mondo-cool church web site designer, you need to understand this stuff:

On that last bullet, I have to disagree on which email was #1. My mostest favoritist email by StrongBad is simply entitled WebSite … and NO, you are not allowed to incorporate those techniques on your church web site.

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{unidentified} Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas

Update – 11pm – Guys, I appreciate the loyal readership, I really do, but I just got an email from the pastor at {unidentified} Baptist Church … and some of you are NOT being very grace-driven.

I was asked to remove the review for some personal reasons on the part of the pastor. I will not discuss the reasons, but trust me, they are legit enough to warrant me removing the post.

There was no threat on their part, no calling the dogs of law on my big fat Greek behind. You guys know me well enough to know that I won’t shrink from that noisy bunch of bretheren out ther always looking for me to make a misque. This isn’t one of those times. The reasons had nothing to do with the webmaster not having a teachable spirit … not even remotely close.

Just trust me in this time and leave the good people (and they are good) at the {unidentified} Baptist Church alone!

* NOTE * for those of you who did flame the pastor, you might want to leave your offering at the alter and make peace with your brother.

UPDATE 7pm
Just received the following email about an hour ago:

Greetings,

I wonder if you would consider removing your review of our website,
{unidentified} Baptist Church?…

thank you

I’m going to take the generally positive review down for now … I am in contact with the webmaster. While I have a policy of standing my ground (this is a one time only event boys-n-girls), I think this is one case where some grace on my part is called for.

SO, in case you missed it, here are some general bullet points that would apply to ANY church web site:

  • Content is King! Make sure your’s is compelling and up-to-date
  • All of your elements, e.g. content, images, what-have-you should exist to convey the purpose and personality of your church web site.
  • No matter how cool the artwork, color reduce.
  • For larger images you can’t thumbnail, consider rendering images in JPEG Progressive Mode
  • IMHO – I would opt to use a random picture each time the home page was loaded instead of the “Blending Image SlideShow Script
  • Keep your navigation scheme consistent throughout the page. Don’t deviate too far from whatever you establish on your home page.
  • Here is an example of a useful url page that introduces sub-navigation without stepping on the original/established navigational theme.
  • Don’t forget, put the name of your church, your denomination and location in your <title> tag
  • Take your vitamins
  • Look both ways before crossing the street
  • Never take candy from strangers

Continue reading

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What We Say to SCO vs. What They Hear

Some years back, that clever cartoonist of the Far Side defined what I like to call the “Larson’s Dog Syndrome.” Here is a transcription of the dialog in the bubbles over the characters heads:

What we say to dogs: “Okay Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand Ginger? Stay out of the garbage or else!”

What they hear: “blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah”

Which is why this past Sunday’s artistic offering from UserFriendly based upon the original so hilarious … if the whole SCO/*nix saga weren’t so daggumed pathetic.

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Variation on the HoneyPot theme :: the Looback

Kung Fu Grippe’s (KFG) “Honeypot for spam harvesters” got me to thinking. In the past, I’ve often added a loopback email address on a contacts page so that dumb spambots that harvest and email on the fly will send a copy to whomever is hosting the spammer’s operations. That address would be abuse@[127.0.0.1]. Which is okay up until you get into the world of hijacked servers, open SMTP relays and or spambots looking for the well known IP looback address of 127.0.0.1.

So taking some ideas from KFG’s article, I created a bit of PHP that will look up the domain of the spambot/spybot and create and email address for their abuse administrator, such as abuse@verizon.net. Here is how I do it

$GLB_Loopback;
function GetLoopback() {

    global $GLB_Loopback, $REMOTE_ADDR;
    if($GLB_Loopback) return $GLB_Loopback;

    $loopback = gethostbyaddr($REMOTE_ADDR);
    if($loopback && $loopback != $REMOTE_ADDR) {
     $levels = explode(“.”, $loopback);
     $ubound = count($levels);
     if($ubound – 2) $loopback = $levels[$ubound-2].’.’.$levels[$ubound-1];
    } else {
     $loopback = “[$loopback]”;
    }
    
    $GLB_Loopback = ‘abuse@’.$loopback;
    return $GLB_Loopback;
}

Here is how I add it to my church’s contacts page. I created a 1×1 transparent .GIF file, then put it on a place on the page where no normal human would suspect. You can view the source to see how your results vary:

<a href=”mailto:<?php echo GetLoopback(); ?>” title=””><img alt=”” src=”/graphics/email.gif” width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ /></a>

Coming up next … for those of you getting cross-eyed with all the hyper-tech … simple site reviews … I swear (well, not really!-)

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Honeypot for spam harvesters

In case you didn’t know, a ‘Honeypot’ is usually a site, server, a page, sometimes even a network that is configured to draw the low-life, maggot-bearing flies that are spammers. In doing so, those setting the trap record the spammer’s IPs and user agents so they can be blocked, thwarted, poison, and other things spambots and spybots deserve.

Mark Pilgrim showed us a version of one such Honeypot in his oft-quoted article, “How to block spambots, ban spybots, and tell unwanted robots to go to … ” … er … h-e-double-hockey-sticks. In the article, Mark shows us how to set up a page to snare those bot’s that ignore or abuse the Robot Exclusion standard. He then adds offenders to a growing .htaccess file to deny the pests access to his server.

That was back in February. Almost half-a-year later, Merlin Mann at kung fu grippe shows us another ingenious catch and destroy method in his article entitled Honeypot for spam harvesters (now officially Project Honey Pot). Similar to an anti-spam technique for those leaving comments on blogs and bbs’ where one uses a throw-away email address built on the name of the blog and the date (e.g. hycw-21jun03@…), this article gives us a very simple PHP techinque to give spam harvesters what they want, an email address.

Only the address they get is THEIR (the spammer’s) IP address and date sent back to them. Concurrently, the Honeypot records the IP, time and user agent to whom the address was distributed. If and when spam comes in via the harvested address, you have enough information to complain upstream, and to block that particular user agent and/or IP in the future. Pure genius I tell you!

One caveat that the article offers, that I entirely agree with — use a throw-away domain name. Which I have. Hmmm .. perhaps a site with more than one technique? (what you don’t hear right now is the evil laughter billowing through the basement of my house !-)

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