I cut you man! 5 things we can learn from the Microtech Knives website.

I cut you man! Seriously, it’s rare that I review a non-church nor charity website, but this site was so chock full of great lessons in what not to do on your church and/or charity website, I couldn’t help myself.

The basic message today being: don’t let fear of copyright violations drive your website design.

Site review

So first, let’s analyze and review what we’re up against, starting with the annoying Flash animation introduction that’s so important and relevant to the site’s conversion goals that we’re offered a “skip intro” hyperlink.

Oh but wait, that’s not all. After the little show of factories and knives, you are presented a copyright statement which you MUST agree to before proceeding.

From the language, I’d surmise that the folks presenting the site are likely worried about the images and text of their items winding up on E-Bay.

Basically sending the message “before you proceed, we know you’re here to rip us off.

Oh but wait, click on the menu choice labeled “home” and you’re forced to agree with the copyright statement a second time.

Basically sending the message “hey, we know you lied to us, so let me hear you agree again!” in the form of a copyright notice splash page a user has to accede to each and every time they “go home.”

Oh but wait, click on their “What’s New” menu choice and there’s even more fun.

Click on any images of the new knives, note I said click – not just right click – and once again with you’re threatened with both criminal and civil penalties that could range as high as $150,000.00.

Basically yet another message to their users “stop being the crooks we know you are or we’ll cut you up in court.

Oh but wait, view the source and you see that the site is made search engine hostile by displaying the images of the knives as background images to individual tables, and then overlaying that with a hyperlink to their copyright message via a transparent .GIF image that spans the size of the table dimensions. And don’t expect any use of ALT or TITLE tags to compensate.

Basically a way of telling search engines and individuals with accessibility issues that they’re not wanted nor loved.

Oh but wait, click on their videos page and you get blasted with a single, un-streamed QuickTime video that on my fast computer connected to a T1 froze.

Basically saying “yes, we know there’s this thing called YouTube out there, but we’re old school.

Oh but wait, go the knife care page and you get a short snippet instructional videos or providing a link to their knife care PDF they offer on their downloads page.

Basically saying “if it was hard for us to make this site, so it should be hard to find related stuff all in one convenient place.

Oh but wait, click on their “Newsflash” link on the upper right and you’re taking to a related site.

Basically saying “we wanted to create a navigational experience that simulated what happens to a kid who is sent to camp, following by his parents moving without providing a forwarding address.

Oh but wait, other pages aren’t so insidious, however they’re also not that useful in terms of conversion goals.

Basically, you can click to enlarge an image when you’re not getting hit up with a copyright threat – but even this is problematic. Meaning, if you want people to buy your new knives, then why not transport them to a sales or shopping cart page when they click? Or at least provide that option somewhere. Duh!

Oh but wait, after scuttling the sites usability and accessibility, click on the “Press” menu option and you’re sent to a page entitled “links” where they offer downloadable images of their products!

Basically saying “never mind that we have inconvenienced and confused you everywhere else …

Lessons learned

Okay, so what five things can we learn from this site that are applicable to our church and charity websites?

Taking a page out of the pulpit, let’s try to remember these items using the acrostic “K.N.I.F.E.”

  1. Know – Figure out who these honest users are and speak to them, rather than ignore their needs to threaten the idiots.
  2. Navigate – Don’t make your users have to think. Instead, make sure your menus, page titles and hyperlinks work consistently and easily.
  3. Invite – On the web, overdone copyright paranoia translates to honest users as unusable and annoying.
  4. Find – Determine what are you trying to get the person to do when they visit your site, then lead them to that goal.
  5. Examine – You’re not your user, so don’t assume that your message and/or navigation schema will make sense without engaging in some user and use case testing.

By the way, a bit hat tip to long time, über HYCW cult member, Don Elbourne. As a result of his input, he’s being elevated to “level 5” status with all rights, privileges and honors that go along with said rank.

Don offers several sites worth visiting including:

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5 Things Churches and Charities can learn from Google

So how did Google become a verb? Glad you asked … it did so by building an organization around intelligent people who understood how to grow the corporate needs around what the customer wanted. Put in more “Christian” terms, it’s about satisfying one’s self by first serving others.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Dean, Google is a mammoth, for-profit, corporate entity, how does this relate to my organization?

Glad you asked …

Here’s yet another list of 5 things you church and/or charity can learn from Google that apply to your charitable operations and/or church website:

1. It’s about not NOT being different like everybody else

In part 2 of LifeChurch.TV’s multi-part series on ‘What the Church should learn from Google,‘  Bobby Gruenewald’s begs the question:

There were already very strong and well-funded search competitors like Yahoo, Lycos, and Alta Vista. Contrary to modern-day perception, Google did not invent the search engine; instead they perfected it. But, have they actually perfected search?

While I entirely disagree with Bobby’s answer, he asks the right question in a day in age when many churches are shedding their uniqueness in their quest for mega-church status … just like every other “community church” in their neighborhood.

Similarly, in 1998, just about every search engine on the block was busy becoming different like everyone else by becoming a portal.

In both the cases of community churches and portal-ized search engines, they stopped focusing on what the customers really wanted and needed, instead they constantly re-invented themselves, junking up their place with all sorts of distractions … when all seeker really wanted was answers.

Google on the other hand Google realized that they would become everyone’s home page if they gave people what they wanted and needed … useful and relevant answers; sans spurious distractions and spam.

2. It’s knowing that you are not your user

Google knows its less about the technology, and more about the judicious use of selective technology to help their seekers find useful and relevant answers.

This is why along with a herd of capable coders, Google hires Interaction Designers whose job description reads:

“Focus on the user, and all else will follow”. That’s one of the key philosophies behind everything that Google does, and we’re looking for Interaction Designers to help drive the design process for new Google products and features. As a UI Designer, you will work closely with engineers and product managers throughout all stages of the product cycle. If you’re a critical thinker with a good design sense, a strong technical background, and an eye for making things better, and if you’re looking for a job where your work can have an impact on the web experience of millions of Google users, then this is the role for you.

So along with the geeky guy who does your church website, does your church and/or charity team him/her up with individuals whose focus is on the seeker?

If so, are they working alone in the vacuum of an empty classroom … creating SiteMeter like situations?

If the answer is the latter, then I highly recommend a quick read the Macromedia Developer Center article entitled “Ready, Set, Go: Usability Testing” as a place to start. It might also be a good idea to test your site across multiple browsers.

3. It’s about innovation, not instant perfection

In the 2006 post ‘Things We Can Learn from Google‘ at Second Wind, author Tony Mikes quotes Google vice-president for search products and user experience Melissa Mayer’s “The Nine Notions of Innovation.”

One notion relevant to churches and charities – some of which can tend to be run by “Type-A” personalities – simply reads:

Innovation, not instant perfection. Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely.

I don’t know of any churches that do that with their programs. It’s been my experience that if a new program falters in anyway, a host of detractors come along to point out its failures and drive the poor volunteer or staff member getting started out the door.

Instead, I might recommend more consideration given to Ms. Mayer’s 9th notion:

Don’t kill projects — morph them. There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged.

Amazing … that grace thing … isn’t it?

4. It’s about looking after infrastructure … theirs and yours

One Google’s lesser known secrets to their success is the fact that in many ways, they’re just like Wal*Mart. That is, they understand the value of not only BUILDING their own servers, but also the power source that keeps them humming, as cited in this article in the San Francisco Gate entitled “Google to spend hundreds of millions on developing renewable energy:”

Google Inc. says it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop renewable energy as part of an ambitious plan to clean the environment and reduce the company’s own power bill …

… Google also hopes to license any technology spawned from the effort to other companies so that they, too, can reduce their reliance on more polluting forms of energy while saving money.

They further extend this philosophy to their user base by providing product on platforms that replaces the most expensive and difficult element to maintain  – the IT guy.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

Microsoft Office doesn’t just cost you $139 per user, it also costs you in money and man-hours required to manage keeping the various products up-to-date, secured, and backed-up on computer hardware that often requires additional disk and/or RAM with each iteration of Office and/or the Windows operating system.

Why bother with all that hassle when Google now provides the education edition of Google Aps to non-profits with current 501(c)(3) status in the U.S.?

So my question is this: what has your church and/or charity done to reduce the cost to congregants in terms of time, travel, money, etc … ?

5. It is about keeping it simple, stupid

Now here’s a point where I feel LifeChurch.TV’s Bobby Gruenewald and I agree, where in his first post of his Google series he asserts:

Make your user interface simple!

Amen! And a thought which neatly closes the circle with my first point, but is such an important point that it bears repeating. Here are three ways to make it so:

  • When it comes to the 20% doing 80% of the work in your church and/or charity? Facilitate them, don’t burden them with a bazillion bureaucratic power games.
  • When it comes to the to the seeker at your door, make it easy, open it for them rather than place a buncha junk in their path.
  • When it comes to your church website, facilitate the congregants and volunteers, and don’t put a bunch of junk in the way of seekers.

The Big Finish!

Here are some other relevant links on the topic of what churches can learn from Google that I found while researching this post:

Bottom line? “… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” – Matthew 6:33

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How to improve WordPress widget SEO in 2 edits or less

How do you quickly change the default <h2> tags to <h3> on widget sidebar titles without hacking into the core WordPress engine? Glad you asked, as below I’m going to explain techniques I used at blogJordan.com that demonstrate how find what needs to be edited in your current theme, and them some approaches in how to make the edits – including a global search and replace for the brave.

how to improve your wordpress SEO in 2 edits or less

First let me point out, I’m not one of those overnight experts in search engine optimization, more commonly referred to as SEO. In fact, I find myself annoyed with most posts and emails from self-proclaimed SEO experts. Especially when it comes to articles how how to make one’s church and charity website more search engine friendly … as I’ve found not just a little-bit of plagiarism exhibited … but I digress.

What we’re editing

Kvetch aside, judicious use of header tags will not only help smart search engines better identify key blocks of text, similarly will help make your site more accessible – the latter point as expressed in the Dive Into Accessibility Day 27: Using Real Headers.

The former point best described, and resolved by WordPress forum user ‘TammyHart’ of skinetti.com when she responsds to the question ‘changing titles font from h2 to h4 only in the sidebar?‘ with

Google doesn’t know what a sidebar is, but it does know what a high level heading is and putting the word “Categories” in a level 2 heading is not good SEO …

… Changing the theme’s functions.php … is the right way to fix this …

… simply edit your sidebar.php where it gives the code for the bookmarks like this:
<?php wp_list_bookmarks('title_before=<h4>&title_after=</h4>'); ?>

The Easy way

Given Tammy’s great advice, the easiest to implement this change for a novice (using WordPress 2.5 or greater – using an up-to-date theme) is to:

  1. click on the “Design” menu tab,
  2. then the “Theme Editor” sub menu option,
  3. then selecting the sidebar.php file,

Make your edits, hit the “Update File” button and viola your done.

The Geek way

Hey Dean that’s great, but what if my sidebar.php doesn’t directly call the call ‘wp_list_bookmarks‘ function? Glad you asked …

Yes folks, some theme creators will put the call to this WordPress function in the functions.php, or some-custom-sidebar.php they then “include” into their sidebar.php file. In those cases, here’s what you need to do:

Step 1: Find your themes path
The quickest way I find a theme is to use my browser’s “view source” feature and find out where style.css exists … for example:
http://mysite.com/wp-content/themes/mytheme/style.css
Step 2: Putty an SSH session
Putty is a tool that allows one to create a command line session on their web host’s server – and for today’s example, we’re going to assume it’s a Linux-based server.
Step 3: Change Directory to the the path
cd mysite.com/wp-content/themes/mytheme
Step 4: find and list which file contains wp_list_bookmarks
grep “wp_list_bookmarks” *php -i -l
Step 5: edit the file or files

Oh neat trick Dean, but how do I go about editing the file? Glad you asked …

There are two ways, one is direct for a specific file … the other is indirect and can be used to globally replace a string pattern across multiple files across mulitple directories.

Single File:
Using the text editor available on most modern-day Linux distributions, such as nano or pico, open up the file and edit as needed:
cp my-custom-sidebar.php my-custom-sidebar.backup
nano my-custom-sidebar.php
Global Search & Replace
Using a combination of the xarg command with perl – here are two edits you can make that’ll convert all instances of <h2> to <h3> without losing style, class or other attributes:

  1. add parameters to the wp_list_bookmarks function – and please note, the 2nd argument is to be issued as a single command line (despite the word-wrapping):
    ls -1 *php | xargs perl -pi -e 's/(wp_list_bookmarks)\(\s*\)/$1("title_before=\
    &title_after=\<\/h3\>")/gi';
  2. change any other instance of h2 in sidebar to h3
    ls -1 sidebar.php | xargs perl -pi -e 's/<(\/*)h2(.*?)>/<$1h3$2>/gi';

Hey that’s great, so what are the downsides? Glad you asked …

Backup Everything

Please don’t overlook this step … simply enter this command first:

cp sidebar.php sidebar.backup

Also, with the search-and-replace step, be aware you can potentially send your entire site to “h-e-double-toothpicks” in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful (which is why I strongly advise you make backups).

You’ll also note that I limited the range of my edits to the current theme path. Certainly one can recurse all php pages in one’s themes directory piping the following results into your xargs initiative:
find /myroot/mydomain.com/wp-content/themes -name "*.php" | xargs ...
However, before you do that, do me a favor and back everything up:
tar -zcvf mythemebackup.tar.gz /myroot/mydomain.com/wp-content/themes

Recycle your Cache

Also, you may not see these changes take place until you either post a new article – or temporarily turn off (then back on) your cache.

Modify your CSS file

Finally, make sure you’ve got your <h3> (or <h4>, etc …) tags covered in your CSS file. One quick way is simply to find wherever the sidebar <h2> is defined, and add the other header … for example here on HealYourChurchWebsite:
.rsidebar h2 {font-size:14px;border-bottom:dashed 1px #ccc;margin:0 7px 3px;padding:3px 0;}
becomes
.rsidebar h2, h3 {font-size:14px;border-bottom:dashed 1px #ccc;margin:0 7px 3px;padding:3px 0;}

Conclusion

Of course, I tried that with the theme for this site – but the theme is too old – which is why I’m still seeking a replacement for it in the very near future. Still, I got it to work at blogJordan.com and a few others.

So what about you? Got a nifty WordPress SEO trick that will make your church and/or church website more search engine friendly? Don’t be shy, leave a comment in love.

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SUMO Paint – a cool, free online tool to replace that crufty MS Pain’

Online office suites are great, usually missing only one or two applications I need to enhance a presentation and/or document. That missing link sometimes being a paint or paintbrush tool such as Photoshop, Photo Impact and/or MS Paint. That’s okay because there is an emerging set of Software as a Service applications that are online, free, and generally geared at those of us who don’t do graphic arts for a living. SUMO Paint is one such tool that I’d like to bring to your attention.

SUMO Paint has a very PhotoShop-ish approach – without the bazillion features you don’t use – to work in multiple, merge-able layers using brushes, fills, special effects, etc …

Images can be imported and saved both locally to your computer, or to a SUMO/Snap.fi account online. Personally, it would also be nice to reference in URLs and/or import images from online photo gallery services such as Picasa and/or Flickr … but for what I’m paying for it …

As I mentioned before, while not weighed down with all the professional gadgets and gizmos one might find in PhotoShop, SUMO does offer the following tools and effects:

The Shapes Tool
SUMO Paint has a wide selection of unique shape tools shapes-tool.
Layers With Blending Modes
SUMO Paint has advanced support for layers. The layers support these features: Opacity, Blend Mode, Hidelayers
Awesome Brushes
SUMO Paint offers a wide selection of brushes for digital painting and tablet fanatics.
The Ink Brush Tool
The ink mode us a unique feature brushesof SUMO Paint for creating realistic ink impressions. Adjust ink wetness with the ink Brush Tool.
Filters
SUMO Paint has several advanced filters including but not limited to Blur, Berlin Noise, Hue / Saturation, Liquid ink-brushes Waves and Color Balance.
Gradient Tool
The gradient tool is quite advanced giving the option to tweak multiple properties such as linear/radial, filters focal point, spread method and blend mode. The tool has a real time preview, so applying a gradient is not guesswork..
Gravity
The gravity option smoothes the drawn line to curves, making it easy to create abstract and beautiful artwork. The option is available in Symmetry and brush gradient-tooltools.
Shape Trails
Shape trails option creates ghost trails for the shape given, creating an interesting and cool effect. gravity Experiment with opacities to get the effect you want. Shape trails is available in Rectangle, Circle, Pie, Star, Round Star and Blade Star tools.
Zooming
SUMO Paint Zoom offers unlimited levels of shape-trails magnification and a possibility to use anti-alias while zooming.
Symmetry Tool
With the legendary symmetry tool and its multiple properties you can create beautiful symmetrical the-zoom-tool creations. Experiment with symmetry points, gravity and modes to get exactly the result you want.
Color Picker
The SUMO Paint Color Picker is extremely simple and easy to use! You can switch between the the-symmetry-tool foreground and background colors and also type in the color as a hexadecimal value.
Swatches
SUMO Paint has a large selection of color color-picker swatches to choose from.
Smudge Tool
SUMO Paint smudge tool has a big selection of brushes and a possibility to use following blending modes: Normal, Lighten, Darken.swatches
Custom Shape Tool
The SUMO Paint custom shape tool lets you draw your own custom shapes and fills the shape when the mouse button is released.

Oh sure, this relatively new painting resource isn’t without it’s irritations – but as I stated earlier – considering what I’m paying for SUMO Paint

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