Monthly Archives: March 2014

Use Robots.txt to Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

It may sound like something from “The Matrix Trilogy” but Google, Bing and other search engines use programs called web crawlers aka a spiders aka a robots or even agents to search and index the web.

Spiders, Web Crawlers and Agents! Oh My!

Don’t worry! These aren’t mechanical monstrosities or evil subroutines bent on destroying all of humanity or even using us as a convenient power source.

Web crawlers are the programs that search engines use to explore websites in order to list them and rank them in their directories. Except for malware, web crawlers are the good kind of robots.

When a web crawler explores a website, it looks for a robots.txt file. This is a simple text file with just a little bit of code that can instruct which web crawlers are allowed on the site and where they can and cannot go. Often it is used to close off sections of a website that might be a duplicate of another part of the site (such as a separate mobile version or a version in a duplicate language).

Anatomy of a Robots.txt File

The code of a robots.txt file generally looks like this:

User-agent: *
Disallow:

The user-agent section specifies the web crawlers that are allowed or not allowed to index the site. The Disallow section is used to specify which files are off limits.

The statement above says that all web crawlers (an asterisk is a wildcard meaning “all”) are allowed to search the site with no restrictions (because there is nothing after the Disallow statement).

The next example says that only Google is allowed to search the site. All others are banned. The slash after the Disallow statement refers to all files.

User-agent: Google
 Disallow:
User-agent: *
 Disallow: /

For more information, visit http://www.robotstxt.org/robotstxt.html. If you are using WordPress, check out the article by Joost de Valk, one of the co-founders of WordPress, on how he configures his robots.txt files.

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

What Information is Your Website Missing?

People always have a reason to go to a website. More often than not, that reason is they are seeking specific information. If they can’t easily find it on your website, they will give their business to someone else.

What Do People Want?

One of the most important rules in business is knowing your customers and what they want. This includes the information they are seeking when they visit your website.

If you own a retail business, they may want to know what products you carry. If you offer professional services, they may need to know what your office hours are. If you run a restaurant, they may want to know what’s on the menu.

This all may seem obvious, but I can’t count the number of times, I’ve looked up a restaurant’s website on a Monday and wondered if they were open for lunch. Some restaurants aren’t open on Mondays. Some aren’t open for lunch. I don’t want to show up and find the doors locked, so I go somewhere else.

Don’t Assume. Do Your Research.

You might already know what your potential customers are looking for when they pull up your website. But there may be some important elements that you haven’t considered. So you can’t rely on your own assumptions.

Ask existing customers for a list of information they look for on a site in your business. If you can’t ask existing customers, ask potential customers or even business associates.

Make the Information Easy to Find

So where should you put information like business hours? On the home page? In the header or footer of every page? On your About page or your Contact page? There is no single right answer. Just make it intuitive and easy to find.

Use Navigation Menus that Make Sense

I’ve seen websites with a home page and a separate welcome page. What’s up with that?

Or how about websites that have a main Services page, but then list one of their services as its own page. That will confuse visitors because they don’t know how one page relates to the others.

If you have a lot of pages, consider if some of them are perhaps redundant or can be combined with other pages (like a combined About page and Contact page). And make sure that there is a clear hierarchy to the structure of your pages. Similar pages usually need to be grouped together under a parent page.

Visitors don’t want to work hard to find this information, especially if they are viewing your website on a cellphone or tablet. The harder it is to find crucial information, the less business your website will generate.

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.

Understanding WordPress Posts, Pages & Custom Post Types

If you’re new to WordPress, you might be a little confused about the difference between posts and pages. So in this post, I’m going to provide a little clarity.

WordPress Posts

Generally, a post is a type of content listed in reverse chronological order (most recent entries on top). Posts are assigned categories and can be assigned other metadata like tags and featured images. Posts can be displayed in a standard list or in an archive based on category, tag or time frame. Posts are often used for blogs, news listings, etc.

WordPress Pages

A page is actually a special type of post. Unlike regular posts, it isn’t assigned categories or tags. It is not displayed with metadata or in. chronological order. Pages can be hierarchical, which means a page can be subordinate to parent pages. Unlike posts, pages can be displayed using custom templates, depending on the theme in use. Typical pages include a Home page, an About page, a Contact page, etc.

WordPress Custom Post Types

Websites can also use custom post types. If you are an artist or designer, you might want to have a portfolio. So some themes have a portfolio project post type. If you are a real estate agent, you might use a property post type. Custom post types are created in either a theme’s function.php file or with a plugin.

You can find more about posts, pages and custom post types on the WordPress Codex at http://codex.wordpress.org.

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.

Tell Me a Story, Forget the Facts

One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is throwing facts at potential customers in hopes that these will generate business.

EVERYTHING IS 50% OFF! WE HAVE THE BEST SELECTION! OUR TEAM CARES ABOUT YOU! SATISFACTION GUARANTEED! OUR PRODUCT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE! WE’RE NUMBER ONE FOR A REASON! PROVEN RESULTS! FREE 30-DAY TRIAL! NO OBLIGATION!

Why is this a mistake? Because you haven’t established trust. They sound like one-liners from the sleezy guy at the bar–you know, the creepy dude with the tan line where his wedding band was just an hour ago.

A better approach is telling your story in a way that engages people.

Some Examples of Storytelling

If you’ve been in a big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club, you’ve seen the bare metal shelving and the forklifts moving pallets of products sold in ridiculous quantities. The place looks like a warehouse rather than a supermarket for a reason.

The shelving, forklifts and pallets are elements of a story. The story they are telling is that when you buy in bulk, you save money. Depending on what you buy this may be true or it may not. But the experience tells you it is because the story connects with your beliefs about warehouses.

ZenPunk tells the story that we are expert web developers who think outside the box and are passionate about our craft. The grungy geek style of our website, our portfolio and the entertaining profiles of our crew tell the story in a way that is authentic and convincing. We further that story in our blog posts.

 Tell Your Story in a Way that Engages Visitors to Your Site

On your website, focus less on telling visitors the facts about your business. Create an engaging experience through cohesive collection of color, textures, and images that simulates what your product or service makes people feel. Tell visitors about your why. Why are you so passionate about what you are doing? How did you get into it?

When you tell an authentic engaging story through visuals and words, you help to establish trust. You create a desire in people to do business with you.

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.

Why Entrepreneurs Should Learn Basic Coding Skills

Most business owners I know are busting their asses trying to generate more business. Not a lot of time left for ongoing education, particularly in the area of web development. But learning some basic coding skills like HTML and CSS can save you a lot of money and time.

Why Learn to Code?

There are many aspects of business that you must either learn how to do (and do well) or you must fork up the money to hire a professional. This includes furnishing your office, accounting and tax preparation. The same rule applies to your website.

You might think it’s no big deal, but your website is often the first impression someone gets of your business. Half the time, they view it on their smartphone. This is a critical moment where a visitor decides whether or not to trust you with their money.

If they find a sloppy, half-assed, disjointed, confusing, broken, or outdated site that requires them to work hard to find the information or product they need, they leave in a matter of seconds. No joke. It happens that quickly.

Using free pre-made or drag-and-drop themes can only be customized so much. WYSIWYG (short for “what you see is what you get”) editors have limited capabilities in controlling the color, size and placement of objects on a page.

Learning some basic HTML (for structure) and CSS (for styling) gives you the ability to further customize your site, giving it a unique and professional look. And it really isn’t that hard. Most of it is pretty straight forward.

How Can You Learn to Code

There are countless resources to help you learn HTML and CSS. Some are free (like webdesign.tutsplus.com). Others require a fee (like Lynda.com and Treehouse). I personally prefer Lynda.com because they use video courses to walk you through step-by-step. I haven’t tried Treehouse, but it looks similar to Lynda.com and is focused more on web development.

When it comes to learning HTML, I encourage you to focus on HTML5. When learning CSS, focus on CSS3. These are the latest standards for each of these languages and will give you the best and most reliable results.

Once you have a firm grasp of HTML and CSS, consider adding PHP, WordPress functions and even JavaScript to your repertoire. You don’t have to become a master of these, but learning the basics can give you a better site that generates more business.

What if You Don’t Learn to Code

If you don’t learn at least some basic coding skills, you have two alternatives. You either end up with an ugly site that generates little to no business. Or you have to hire professionals like ZenPunk to build you a successful site. We’d love to build your site, but we don’t come cheap. The choice is yours.

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.

Is Your Domain Name Registration Exposing Personal Information?

When you register a domain name, your domain registrar (e.g. register.com, dyn.com, hover.com, etc.) asks for a lot of detailed information. Depending on your business structure, this may include personal information like your home address and phone number.

You might think this information is kept private on your registrar’s secured computers. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Unless you signed up for a domain privatization service, it’s probably open for everyone to see.

Check Right Now If Your Personal Information Is Public

Go to http://who.is and type in your domain name. Do it right now. I’ll wait.

Okay, what did you find? Is your personal phone number and home address listed? If so, I would encourage you to go to your domain registrar and check to see if they offer a service to make your personal information secret or private. There’s usually a minimal charge for this service, but heck, it beats getting your website hacked, or worse, your identity stolen.

Is it Really Much of a Risk?

The more your personal information is public, the easier it is for identity thieves to hack into your accounts. Identity thieves look for seemingly innocuous personal information (e.g. pet’s name, children’s names, year you graduated high school, etc.) to bypass security measures on online accounts.

You know those security questions you have to answer if you forget a password? How much of that info is on your Facebook profile or LinkedIn account? So having your personal phone number and home address gives criminals that much more ammunition against you.

Don’t believe me? Read this story about what happened to Josh Bryant, the co-founder of Droplr.

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.

A Consistent Style Improves Website Conversion Rates

A common problem on many amateur-made websites is a lack of a consistent style. This is more than just a style issue, though. It can hurt how well a website generates business.

As an example, a heading might be bold and red in one instance and then non-bold, black and all-caps in the next instance. Or a block of text will be flush left in one paragraph and centered in the next. I think you get the idea.

So What’s the Big Deal?

A lack of a consistent style causes a number of problems. First of all, it can make it difficult for visitors to make sense of the information on a page. A consistent style helps visitors visually organize information.

Additionally, a lack of a consistent style makes a page look disorganized, sloppy and unprofessional. Visitors are less likely to trust what you’re trying to tell or sell them. A website is like a job interview. You want to always look your best.

How Do You Create a Consistent Style?

Set Styles for Each Element Type

To make your site easier to read and look more professional and trustworthy, set a style (color, font face, font weight, background color, margins, padding, size, etc.) for each type of element. Elements include body text (aka paragraph text), top-level headings, subheadings, sidebar widgets, etc.

If your subheading in one section has a font-size of 24px and a line-height of 32px and a font-weight of normal, then the subheading for the next section should have the same exact style, unless you have a good reason for it not to.

Limit Font Faces and Colors

Also limit yourself to two or three different font faces, usually one serif and one sans-serif. Typically one font is used for all headings and the other is used for body text. Using too many fonts can create that ransom note effect. Don’t want to scare your visitors away!

You also want to limit your colors. Adobe’s kuler app is a great tool to help you choose a color scheme.

Repeat Non-Text Styles As Well

Other non-text elements (button styles, bullets, etc.) need to have a consistent style as well. So if one button has rounded corners (aka border-radius), drop shadows and a blue color, use the same style for all buttons. It helps to pull it all together.

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.

How to Get Your Website Back Up When Has Been Hacked

You no doubt have heard that Target and Neiman Marcus are among the latest major corporations to get hacked. This should serve as a reminder that getting hacked (whether it’s your website, your email account or your bank account) may be less of an “if” and more of a “when”.

Sure there are things you can do to make this less likely.

  • Use randomly generated passwords stored in a secure password manager.
  • Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Use programs to secure files on your computer.
  • Sanitize input fields and validate the data before using it
  • Keep software up to date (including WordPress, plugins and themes)

But even then it can happen. So then what? What do you do when someone tells you they tried to pull your site up and they got a page saying your site has been hacked?

Back Up Your Site and Get Your Site Back Up

We use the WordPress plugin Backup Buddy. There are a lot of other backup plugins available. We like Backup Buddy because we can schedule regular backups of both the files AND the database. Backup Buddy also makes it easy to get a site back up within minutes.

Another thing you can do is make sure your web host does regular backups, too. Not all do and you shouldn’t count on this as your primary backup, but it’s a good thing to have when you need it.

Don’t Abandon Your Website

When was the last time you looked through your website? Let’s say you run Backup Buddy and keep backups for the last three weeks (you want to set some limits on the number of backups you keep or it can fill up your storage space quickly).

Then you discover your site’s been hacked. So you go to pull up your backups only to learn it was hacked more than a month ago. You might have discovered it in time if you made a habit of stopping by your site every once in a while. Now you’re screwed!

One way to insure this doesn’t happen is to write regular blog posts and look at them. You’re much more likely to avoid not having a valid backup copy.

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.