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Landing Pages Keep Your Website Working Even If You Are Not

Now is the high-tide of the year,
     And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer

 ─ From What is So Rare As a Day in June, by James Russell Lowell

There is something about June that makes living in Nova Scotia worthwhile. The browns of late winter transformed to greens and our spring cleanup out of the way, we can now look forward to warm lazy summer days.

But while things start to slow down for you, there is no reason for your website to hold back. To keep it working effectively for you all summer, you can do a bit of website “spring cleaning” by setting up landing pages.

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Simple Ideas to Increase Your Web Presence

If your idea of a web presence is just having a website, think again. Although a website is a crucial first step and should serve as a hub for your brand online, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

How are your customers finding your website? Sure, your URL is on your business card and brochure but if your customers don’t know you exist that’s not going to help. Having a presence on the search engines for key phrases relevant to your products and services is vital. So put yourself in your customers shoes and come up with likely key phrases they may type into a search engine and do it yourself to get an idea of where your website ranks.

There are many different components to search engine optimization (SEO), including on-page and off-page optimization (link building), as well as information architecture considerations, so an assessment of your SEO needs is the ideal place to start and get an idea of where you are and where you could go.

Oh and if your customers are looking for your services locally PLEASE go to http://www.google.com/local/add/ and add your business now!

Do you have several unique products that can stand on their own? Separate websites or minisites may be a good strategy for you, segmenting your products and optimizing for search by using unique domain names.

Thinking about having a photo gallery or videos on your website? Using services like Flickr or YouTube can help you spread your brand beyond your website. Don’t forget to tag your photos and videos with relevant keywords and descriptions. Make sure your profile page links back to your website and brand the profile with at least a logo.

Do your customers look to the web for help related to your products or services? If you have the expertise and time a blog is a fantastic way to connect with your customers. Some questions to ask yourself include: What results are you trying to achieve? And who is your target audience?

Having a presence on social networking sites isn’t necessarily vital for every company, yet. It all depends where your customers are. For a quick test, try going to search.twitter.com and typing in the name of the product or service you provide. If you sell mattresses try searching for ‘new mattress’ or ‘new bed’ or if you’re a restaurant try searching “restaurants” near:”Halifax”. See anyone worth talking to?

Is your company B2B? Encourage your staff to use Linkedin. Again, don’t forget to link your profiles back your company website.

This is just the beginning of what you can do to increase your presence on the web, but if any of these tactics make sense for you, the time to start is today. If you have any ideas you’d like to add or any questions please leave a comment!

Optimize your website for search engines to find

I was recently flying in from Boston when I noticed my native West Pubnico from the air, clearly distinctive because of its 17 power-generating windmills, and I remarked how it reminded me of looking at Google Earth on my computer.

Then, it occurred to me how strange a thought this was: that reality was reminding me of a virtual image rather than the other way around. It was life imitating illustration, if you will.

That’s pretty much the way it is. Our sense of reality is becoming viewed more and more through the lens of the Internet, and this is something you need to take seriously if you’re depending on your website to carry your message.

Many people think that all you need to do is create a website and people will find it. That’s akin to printing stacks of marketing brochures and putting them in a warehouse, hoping someone will stumble upon them.

Others think that registering their website with search engines will do the trick. That would be like putting an ad in a few newspapers telling people where they can go to get your brochures.

Still others feel that if you put in enough keywords, then that will make your website popular. It will definitely help, but it’s far from the full story.

If not done correctly, it will hurt more than help. Why? Because search engines don’t like to be tricked. If the keywords don’t match the content and follow search engine rules, then the search engines may downgrade the site in their listings.

But help is available. There is a whole industry around making sure your website gets found by the right people via search engines, a process called search engine optimization. Here are some of the important facets of search engine optimization:

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AJAX Options

AJAX is still a large buzz in the industry.  For some that are just beginning to use this technology, it can be confusing to know where to start.  There are dozens of choices of technologies that will allow you to create AJAX enabled systems, but which do you choose?  Which is the “right” one?

This post will explore some the options we’ve tried as well as the pros and cons of each.

Our experiences in developing web-based applications have not been limited to developing only ASP.NET applications.  We have run the gamut of development technologies though we have standardized on two technologies in particular in the recent number of years; ASP.NET and PHP.

We looked at a number of technologies to help us implement AJAX in our web applications. The first decent package was Anthem.NET.

Anthem has an extended set of ASP.NET controls that have AJAX built right into them. For example, if you want an ASP.NET Button on your form make the post-back call through
AJAX, you can simply reference the Anthem library and change your ASP.NET Button to an Anthem Button:

From:  <asp:button id=”someId” />
To:     <anthem:button id=”someId” />

And your call back to the server-side processing will be made through AJAX.  Very easy and Anthem has extended all common ASP.NET controls including the DataGrid, DataList and Calendar controls.  Also, Anthem handles both 1.1 and 2.0 versions of ASP.NET.

A draw back to Anthem.NET is that you cannot control the order of AJAX calls to the server.  For complicated forms, the asynchronous calls can be confused and fired out of order.  Anthem is a great solution for simple systems.

Next, we looked at a Microsoft initiative, code named Atlas at the time.  Atlas was in alpha testing and it we decided not to pursue it further until the project matured.  Atlas bloomed into its 1.0 release as ASP.NET AJAX, a much leaner and production ready toolset.  I can’t help but feel that ASP.NET AJAX is the proverbial elephant gun to allow us developers to hunt rabbit. It’s a large toolset that is difficult to retrofit into an existing web application as there are a number of elements that need to be added to the project’s web.config file.  On the plus side, once it is integrated with your web application, making use of AJAX calls is as simple as adding an <UpdatePanel> to your ASPX page. Don’t forget to also add that <ScriptManager> or your calls will fail and the server will complain.  An post back thrown inside the update panel is handled through AJAX.

ASP.NET AJAX may be large, and a bit of a challenge to implement, but it is a very powerful and thorough implementation of AJAX.  Coupled with the powerful ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit, we are deciding to use ASP.NET AJAX more often in our web applications.

As I said earlier, not all of our web applications are based on ASP.NET.  For these systems, we have standardized on using Prototype. Prototype is an amazing JavaScript library that can be easily added to any web page by simply referencing the prototype.js file.  Doing so exposes a number of client side javaScript enhancements including an AJAX model for executing AJAX requests and handling the response.  Prototype is so helpful, that we’ve also used it in a number of ASP.NET web applications for everything from client side UI handling, wiring client side events and process AJAX requests.

We have made tremendous inroads to finding meaningful ways of integrating Prototype with ASP.NET applications to create robust web applications that offer very rich user
experiences.

Introducing Silverlight

“Using the Technology You Don’t Know About to Deliver the Systems You Never Knew You Wanted”

There’s been a buzz in the air recently about this new fangled technology from Microsoft <insert groan here>.   The buzz surrounding Microsoft Silverlight has been building over the last number of months for us in the programming community and has recently come to a head with the official release of Silverlight 1.0 only a few weeks ago.

What is Silverlight?  Silverlight is a technology specializing in delivering rich Internet applications (RIA, another buzz word you may have heard with the whole web 2.0) using a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in.  In other words, it’s a fancy new do-hickey for your web browser that will give you access to some really cool new web sites.

Web sites offering Silverlight content are able to deliver a fully customized user interface with support for embedded audio and video.  Many big companies have begun deploying Silverlight enabled web sites including the WWE, Entertainment Tonight, Home Shopping Network, MajorLeague Baseball, and the DiscoveryChannel.

One of the great aspects of Silverlight 1.0 is that any web site can take advantage of the technology independent of the web server platform or technology supported.  So, if you have a PHP application running on an Apache web server with a MySQL database,
no problem.  If you want a web site that delivers a full on multimedia interface with protected, encoded media files, again… with Silverlight, it’s no problem.

Part of the magic of Silverlight 1.0 is the fact that it is 100% client-side scripted using the Silverlight JavaScript toolkit.  This powerful toolkit supports Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera on Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers and Safari on the Macintosh platform and Konqueror on Linux.   It truly is cross browser and cross platform.

What does the future hold for this budding new technology?  Silverlight 1.1 is already in the works set for a 2008 release.  This next version will extend Silverlight to make it tightly integrate with Microsoft’s ASP.NET web application platform.  This will allow developers to deliver even more powerful web-based applications where the only limit is the developer’s own imagination. Visit http://silverlight.net/ for more information.