Monthly Archives: February 2013

Validate – Don't Procrastinate!

Have you validated the code on your website? If you haven’t, then now is the time to make sure the HTML and CSS code on your website meets modern standards.

For HTML validation, go to http://validator.w3.org/ and enter the address of your webpage. It’s a free service brought to you by the World Wide Web Consortium (the people who help standardize web code).

To validate your CSS, go to http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/.

The first time you do it, it’s not unusual for the validators to spit out a long list of possible errors, some of which leave you scratching your head. Don’t be intimidated.

The validators are very picky. Also, the HTML and CSS standards are continuously evolving, so there may be some code that is perfectly valid, but which the validators don’t yet recognize.

Research the errors that pop-up. You may find some actual bugs in your code that you missed. The goal is to make sure your site loads quickly and displays properly in all browsers and on all devices. Bad code can cause pages to load slowly or display incorrectly. It can also hurt your search engine optimization (SEO).

If you run into an error you don’t understand, leave a comment. I’ll be happy to respond with an answer.

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Flash & the Dreaded White Box of Death

You have probably heard of the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, and possibly even the White Screen of Death. But are you familiar with the much-scorned White Box of Death? If you use Flash on your website, odds are your visitors are familiar with it.

What is the White Box of Death?

The White Box of Death is the white box that many people see on a website that uses Flash. If you had someone else build your site, it may be using Flash and you don’t even know it.

While Flash is a web technology popular in the late 1990s to provide animation and effects to a website, the problem is that a lot of mobile devices no longer support Flash. Other people whose devices do support Flash have turned it off to save on battery life and load times. Even Adobe, who purchased the technology from Macromedia, is no longer supporting it.

So when a person using a device that doesn’t support Flash (or has it turned off) comes to a site using Flash, they typically see a white box where the Flash content would be.

Why is it a Problem?

If you’re only using Flash to embed a video or provide additional, but non-crucial content, it’s not such a big deal.

However, if the Flash content is crucial to providing users with information or providing critical functionality (like navigating your site or signing up for a newsletter), then Flash is killing your site and driving users (read: potential customers/clients) away to the competition. Even using it to add a slideshow or as part of your home page banner can make our site look outdated and unprofessional. And who wants to do business with companies that are out of date and unprofessional?

What’s the Alternative?

CSS3 and JavaScript are much more versatile, and faster loading, alternatives to Flash. Learning how to use them can take time, but the results are well worth it. If you are intimidated by the idea of writing code, then hire someone with experience with these coding languages. Otherwise, you will be losing sales.

Need More Help?

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Five Keys to Getting the Publicity You Deserve

You’ve got a big gig scheduled for next month – the biggest yet. You’re set to debut a handful of songs that you’re sure will rock the house. But will people show up? To create a following you have to get the word out. You need publicity.

1. Be a Purple Cow

In his book Purple Cow, marketing expert Seth Godin explains how important it is to really set yourself apart, not simply in how you market yourself but in how you do everything. There are countless bands, authors, and artists out there clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame.

But the ones that get the publicity aren’t necessarily the most talented ones. They are the ones that go against the grain and bucking the trends. Consider Lady Gaga, Robert Mapplethorpe, Quentin Tarantino. Don’t be afraid to take your art in a totally new direction. Don’t be just another brown cow. Be a purple cow. Be memorable.

2. Learn to Tell Your Story

Most bios and “about me” pages are so boring you wish someone could give you back the time you wasted reading them. Who the fuck cares that you grew up in Poughkeepsie or that your favorite artist was Andrew Wyeth.

Tell me about the time you how you got kicked out of school for painting a mural on the wall of the girl’s restroom. Make me laugh. Make me angry. Inspire me. But for the love of pizza, don’t bore me. Reporters don’t give publicity to boring people.

If you need help with this (and most of us do), I would strongly suggest contacting Sean Buvala at seantells.com. He is a whiz at this kind of thing, won’t charge you an arm and a leg and he’s an all-around cool guy.

3. Learn how to write a Press Release

If you ever hope to be listed on Wikipedia (and if you want to be considered a notable professional, you should), then you are going to need some serious publicity. Wikipedia doesn’t care what your friends think of you. They only care what legitimate, notable information sources think — sources like newspapers, industry publications, etc.

To get that kind of publicity, you need to learn how to write a press release (or media release as it is sometimes called these days). There are a lot of resources out there including books, articles, etc. where you can learn the essentials. The big thing is providing information that is timely, local and of interest to the readers of the media source you are contacting. Publications are swamped with press releases, but only a small percentage are published because so few are worthy of a reader’s interest.

4. Find the media outlets where your audience hangs out

If you’re band’s musical style is riot grrrl with an electronica twist and klezmer instrumentation, then don’t send press releases to an industry blog that focuses on jazz. They may like your style and originality, but they won’t blog about your upcoming album.

Find out who likes your style. Where do they hang out on the web? What publications (print or online) do they read? Find this out and you will find media outlets that are receptive to giving you some free publicity.

5. Always Be Professional

It is one thing to be provocative in your work (and well you should be). But that doesn’t mean being a douchebag to the press. Just because the Arts columnist in your local alternative weekly thought your last effort was pathetic doesn’t mean you should call that person out. Or worse, contact them and try to convince them they’re an idiot who just doesn’t get you.

Be professional. Learn to take criticism. Ignore the trolls. Be nice to the media. It will get you much publicity. If you don’t, they will roast you alive.

Bonus: Use PR Services

Services like pr.com and free-press-release.com are opportunities to get your press release out to publications you might not know about, but who may be interested in carrying your story. Sean Buvala (mentioned above) recently told me he’s had a lot of success with their paid services, in addition to their free services. Definitely worth checking out.

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Getting Listed on Wikipedia

The Creative Free-for-All

One of the great things about the rise of the internet is that it has made it possible for creative professionals to bypass traditional channels. You no longer have to go through a traditional record label or book publisher or art gallery in order to reach potential customers.

But these same opportunities are also open to your competition. So now the doors are open, but it’s become a lot more crowded. And the traditional gateways that (at least in theory) weeded out the talented from the not-so-talented have been pushed aside. So consumers are now forced to sort through a lot more crap just to discover your latest masterpiece.

Talking ‘Bout Your Reputation

The good news is that there are still resources that can help talented acts like yours rise above the competition, or at the very least, establish you as a creative professional worth taking seriously.

One of the big resources is one you may use often (at least I do). Wikipedia, the online crowdsourced encyclopedia, is a great resource for establishing your reputation as a creative professional. But getting a listing that isn’t immediately deleted isn’t easy.

Are You Worthy?

The number one criteria that Wikipedia looks at is notability. What is notability? It’s that vague, difficult-to-quantify quality whereby the outside world agrees that your work really is the best thing since sliced bread, or at least worth taking note of.

A key part of establishing notability is getting the outside world (news organizations, local papers, respected industry blogs, music festivals, industry events, awards organizations, etc.) to recognize your work.  Are you appearing on a panel at Comicon? Have you been nominated for a national award? Has your band appeared at a major festival? Have you been featured in a newspaper or alternative weekly?

Even if you haven’t received such recognition YET, start keeping track of anything remotely notable regarding your creative work. Also start sending out press releases about events (I will be posting about this subject later this week) and submit your work to contests, festivals, and any other place where you an independent organization can select you over your competition.

Wikipedia No-Nos

Another factor that you need to be aware of regarding your Wikipedia listing is that writing it yourself is frowned upon. Wikipedia would rather one of your fans create the listing. Of course, you are welcome to point them the fan in question to various links providing you with notability.

Wikipedia doesn’t like hyperbole in their listing. No matter what your BFF thinks, your band probably isn’t the hottest band in your metro area. And comparing your literary skills in your self-published works to Hemingway or Tolkien won’t win you a lot of notability points with Wikipedia. However, if the arts reporter for a respected newspaper describes your musical style as a mashup of Hendrix and Gaga, well a quote is a quote and perhaps worthy of inclusion.

More Info

A great article from a musician who, after many deleted listings, finally got established on Wikipedia, check out this post by Julian Moore of the band Georgia Wonder.

Wikipedia has specific guidelines for various types of creative works. To get the 411 right from the horse’s mouth, visit their Notability page and be sure to click on the links on the right side of the page for your specific medium.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Do You REALLY Need a Website?

With the rise of so many different social media platforms, some creative professionals are starting to wonder if they still need a website.

That is a legitimate question.

With social media you can do so many things

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram (just to name a few of the most popular) have opened the door to connecting to others across the globe who share your interests. LinkedIn allows you to see someone’s online CV or resume, as well as testimonials.

Then there is ReverbNation, GoodReads, Google+, and of course the latest incarnation of Myspace, courtesy of Justin Timberlake and his friends.

Amazon lets you sell your self-published books. On Etsy, you can sell your handmade crafts. CDBaby can sell your music. And Cafe Press can sell a wide range of bling with your logo on it.

So why have a website?

Well, here are my thoughts.

While being active (or at least present) on a number of social media sites is great for connecting people, these outlets aren’t well suited for creating a customized web presence for your brand. Beyond changing a background image and a profile pic and some select bits of text, there isn’t a lot you can do to brand yourself.

Use a website as a hub

With a website, you can control everything — the content, the structure, the styling, everything. You can create a mood and an experience with a website that is far more powerful than anything you can create on Twitter or Pinterest or Facebook.

With links and imported feeds, you can use your website to serve as a hub for all of your other social media. Not to mention connecting with whatever sites you are using to sell your physical or digital wares.

But Facebook is free…

Yeah, I hear you saying that social media is free. And it is to an extent. But then have you noticed the abundance of ads cropping up on your Facebook and Twitter feeds? Annoying, huh? Your prospective buyers are probably thinking the same thing.

Having your own website isn’t free. And if you are serious about being a creative professional (emphasis on “professional”), then you are going to have to invest some money in a quality web host, as well as a professional designer/developer like myself. That is, if you want a website that looks good regardless of what kind of device or browser or operating system someone is using.

Be memorable

If you want to succeed as a creative professional, you have to be memorable. That means creating a web presence that is as memorable as you are.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.