Who Is Your Website Designed For?

Your visitors or your advertisers?

If I wake up before 6 AM and don’t have a morning appointment, my routine includes lounging in bed until 6 with my iPad, catching up on the social networks (Twitter and Facebook), Words with Friends games in progress, and perhaps email or RSS feeds. It’s a nice, leisurely way to start the day.

This morning, while browsing through Facebook statuses, I found a link that interested me. It was in the typical “Top Ten” (or in this case, Top 11) format and, from its description, it promised to be an interesting look back at a specific company’s products. I clicked the link and this is what happened:

  1. The page loaded with an ad overlaid on it. The ad was almost full-screen and there was no way to close it. I had to wait it out — about 10-15 seconds, during which time I didn’t tap anything for fear of being transported to another site.
  2. An ad-filled page appeared with a tiny introductory paragraph near the top and the first list item beneath it.

That was it. To see the other 10 items on the list, I’d have to view 10 more ad-filled pages.

Oh, and did I mention that some of those ads had blinking and flashing components designed to draw your attention away from any content you might have come to see? The kind of ads that make you want to shove your fist through your computer display?

Clearly, the site was designed to benefit its advertisers more than its readers. Since the site builders/owners obviously didn’t give a crap about visitors, I closed the browser window in frustration and went on with my life, making a mental note to avoid that site in the future.

Am I the only one who does this?

Am I the only one who cares more about my time than wading through ads and other clutter to find the content I came to a site for? The only one who gives up when she knows the browsing experience will be so full of frustration that it’s best to avoid it altogether? The only one who gets pissed off when its so damn obvious that the site owner cares more about maximizing ad space — and revenue, I assume — than building a solid base of regular visitors?

Does anyone actually click those freaking ads?

I admit it: I hate website ads so much that I installed ad blocker software on my laptops and desktop computer. I don’t usually see ads at all — which doesn’t really matter because I never click them. It’s only when I use my iPad to visit sites that I’m bombarded with this crap. Honestly: I don’t know how anyone can stand it.

And yes, I do realize that many sites exist solely to make a profit. And yes, I do realize that advertising is the usual way to monetize a site. But no, I can’t imagine trashing up a site so badly with ads that it drives potential visitors away.

Isn’t there a better solution? One that provides links to products and services that might actually be of interest to visitors? One that’s accessible and visible without flashing colors and animated graphics?

Who are these sites designed for, anyway?

Spam from a Wannabe Guest Blogger

You have to know how to read before you can write.

Today, I received the following e-mail message, sent to me via my blog’s content form:

Subject: Guest Blog Post on Tech Gadgets

Message Body:
Hello,

My name is [redacted], and I found your blog on a consumer electronic blogroll.

I would love to contribute to your blog by being a guest writer and focusing specifically on technology gadgets. Getting the best deal on tech gadgets like TVs, computers, or smartphones takes some serious strategy. We all know that products like the iPhone get launched at $500 and, within a few months, sell for nearly half the price, but do all electronic goods follow this pattern? When’s the best time to buy? This article gives you the insider secrets, so you can get your gadgets at rock bottom prices.

Are you interested in my writing an article for you?

Thank you for your time and best regards,

[redacted]

Blog Content Guild – 1015 Bee Caves Woods Dr, Suite 102 – Austin, TX 78746

About the Blog Content Guild:
The Blog Content Guild is an organization that provides blog writers with the opportunity to make a living writing about products and services. The writers then work to place their writing on other blog sites that are relevant to those product and service offerings.

(Please let me know if you don’t want to receive any more emails from me or others at the Blog Content Guild.)

PS – I love your website aneclecticmind.com

Screen Door by CharlieUnderstand that I’m in a foul mood this afternoon. I went out to run a few errands, leaving our new dog, Charlie, in the condo’s small walled-in patio. When I returned 40 minutes later, he greeted me in the parking lot. He had escaped by tearing down some metal mesh and squeezing through the back gate. He then tried to get back into the apartment through the screen security door, tearing the screen to shreds from the outside.

So getting a request from someone wanting to be a guest blogger really pissed me off a lot more than it normally might have.

Why would it piss me off at all? Well, he contacted me using the form on my Contact page. And that page has a section with a heading that says:

Guest Bloggers

This is a personal blog. It does not accept guest posts.

What’s more is that the first paragraph under the Contact Form heading says:

First, read the above. All of it.

So this clown used a form on a page that says I don’t accept guest posts to ask me if I would accept his guest post.

I guess when you’re spamming every blogger who you can find a contact method for, it doesn’t really matter whether you a get clear indication in advance that your request won’t get a positive response. After all, spam is spam. Does it really matter whether you target the right audience?

Of course, I just had to see what Blog Content Guild was, so I looked it up. The first item on a numbered list on their home page explains what they do:

We work on behalf of companies who want to increase the buzz in the blogosphere

In other words, advertisers pay them and their bloggers to write blog posts about their products. They basically sell advertisements disguised as objective advice or product review blog posts — just the kind of misleading crap people with low moral standards are willing to publish to turn a buck.

I composed a typically nasty response:

Wow! You’ve already amazed me with your complete inability to read; I don’t have very high expectations about your ability to research and write intelligently about a topic. But then again, writing original, objective content is probably not something folks at Blog Content Guild do.

Maybe if you would have read the information on the Contact page where you found the form you used to contact me, you’d see why you’re not likely to ever write a post on my blog.

But then again, I’m sure your query to me was just one of dozens you fired out to the blogosphere today. Spam, pure and simple. I’m sure you spend more of your time composing and sending spam than writing actual content.

I didn’t send it. I figured that if he really loved my website so much, he’d see it here when he returned to read the latest new content.

Or not.

Elance

What a freaking waste of time.

I needed a logo for my Maria’s Guides website and line of books. I wanted something simple, something that communicated the brand as well as the fact that the “guides” were in print, video, and ebook formats.

I have no design skills. None. I know what I like when I see it and I can often modify something that’s close to what I like to make it more in line with what I need. (That’s basically how I “design” my websites: I start with a theme and modify it.)

At first, I put a request on Twitter for a book cover design. That was a mistake. I got a bunch of responses from strangers linking to their portfolios or just promising they could do the job. (I created it myself based on a few other book cover designs I found online; it’s okay for now.)

Trying Elance

I decided I’d need a pro for the logo design. My budget was under $500, preferably under $300. I remembered hearing about Elance and decided to give it a try.

Elance is a Web site that connects freelancers with people needing freelance work done. It seems like a good idea and I know there are plenty of designers there. So I set up an account and used the “logo” template to submit a request for proposals.

I should have realized that something was wrong when I got six bids within about fifteen minutes. Although I’d set up my budget for less than $500, the bids ranged from $60 to $149. Four bids were from (supposedly) U.S. based companies, one was from India, and one was from Argentina. Most of them linked to logos or business packages they’d (supposedly) designed for other clients. Most were obviously canned responses that showed no indication that they’d read my request for proposals. LIke this:

Hello,

Thanks for reviewing our proposal.
We understand your requirement for creation of logo design. Plz check our portfolio attached.

Also view our elance portfolio :
[URL redacted]

or this (supposedly from a U.S. based company):

Hi and Thank you to review our bid!!
This Bid includes:
1) 7 Initial concepts of logo. (Designed by 6 different designers)
2) A complementary Stationery concept (includes Business Card, Letter Head, and Envelope)
3) EMAIL SIGNATURE without any extra cost. (100% NO COST)
4) Unlimited Color schemes of selected design.
5) Original Copy right files. (All rights reserved by you)

It should be noted that all I asked for was a logo.

I decided to give it a try by picking one of the (supposedly) U.S. based companies that submitted a proposal that didn’t seem canned. Their samples were in line with what I was looking for. The price was very good — only $65 — so I figured I wouldn’t lose much if they completely sucked.

On accepting the bid, the first thing they did was send me a list of information they needed. This was the same exact information I had already provided using the Elance template for a logo request.

So apparently, they hadn’t read my request either.

With my response, I added:

PLEASE do not respond to me with canned communications. I have extremely low tolerance for people who waste my time by asking for information they already have. I realize there’s not much money in this, but that’s not MY fault. If you can’t treat me like a REAL client, let’s end this relationship now.

We got past that and they started submitting designs. The first batch had five. (I’m not sure if I’m allowed to show them; I haven’t paid for this yet and, chances are, they’ll use these same designs again for another sucker.) I liked one of them — it featured a graphic representation of a book emerging from a square — and made some suggestions:

…is there a way that the graphic part can indicate both books and electronic media? Maybe a 3-part icon that includes a representation of a book, an ebook (or tablet computer with writing on it), and a movie? For the movie, the old-fashioned filmstrip kind of thing might work.

“Designing” with Clipart

They submitted two more designs. They were dramatically different and very complex. But worst of all: they looked like they had been assembled by copying and pasting clipart. Clipart drawn from different perspectives and in different styles. I started to get a bad feeling.

I wrote back, telling them it looked like clipart. The response:

These are victor file, but if you don’t like them we will send you more revision.

Ah, yes. I know the U.S. education system is pretty crappy right now, but that’s not the kind of English I expect to get from a native speaker. I began wondering where the company was really based.

The next logo design was closer to what I could use. It included the three icons representing books, video, and ebooks. But the style of each icon was dramatically different. I had to look at the video representation under magnification to figure out what it was. And the ebook representation was just plopped on top of its frame with no attempt to make it look as if it were emerging. And, of course, all three icons appeared to be drawn from a different perspective, so they just didn’t go well together. More clipart.

Among my comments to try to fix this one up, I said:

The second panel doesn’t look like film. Consult this link http://www.jeffjonesillustration.com/[redacted] for something closer to what I envisioned. A reel of film with a strip of film coming out.

I should note here that the image I linked to as an example is one of many copyrighted images by illustrator Jeff Jones. Mr. Jones sells the rights to his artwork for use as stock images. I did not buy this image; I was just using it as an example.

Apparently, the “designers” I’d hired thought that they could use this copyrighted image in my logo. In the next revision, that exact image, scaled to fit, was part of the logo. They’d also managed to completely misunderstand my instructions for the ebook reader image in the third panel of the logo.

It was pretty clear that:

  • They had no real design skills.
  • They had no artistic ability.
  • They heavily relied on clipart to create logos.
  • They likely didn’t understand English enough to follow instructions.

Yes, I Know that You Get What You Pay For

Now I know what you’re saying: You get what you pay for. But understand that I was willing to pay more. This isn’t the first logo I’ve had designed — the others cost more. I picked this “design” company based not on the fee but on their proposal and samples. I don’t know where the samples came from, but it’s pretty clear to me that the people I hired did not design them.

By this point, I was fed up. This had been going on for a week and I was at the point where I dreaded opening my next email from them. I wrote:

I’m trying to understand why this is so difficult for you folks. Do the people working on this project read and speak English?

First of all, you CANNOT use the film clipart I linked to as AN EXAMPLE because it is copyrighted. If I use that in my logo, I will get sued. You should KNOW this.

Second, when I said that the tablet computer representation should have writing on it like an ebook, I didn’t mean to put the word “ebook” on it. I meant using lines of fake writing so that it looked as if it were showing an ebook. Also, laying a rectangle on top of a square does not match the design elements of the first frame “book” which is emerging from the frame.

Clearly this is NOT working out. I cannot understand how you folks have gotten good reviews unless the people you worked for were satisfied by your use of clipart to create “custom” logos. I don’t need to pay someone to do that. I can do that myself.

I cannot use what you’ve created and I’m tired of going back and forth with you on this. What an incredible waste of my time. I will contact Elance directly on how to resolve this issue.

And I got online with Elance and sent them a request for help:

I put in a request for a logo design. I got a bunch of very low bids, most of them from organizations that obviously did not read what I was looking for. I picked one I thought knew what I wanted.

For the past week we have been going back and forth on this. I’m supposed to be getting a custom design and what I’m getting is cut and paste clipart. When I offered a link to a sample image on the Web, the “designer” used THAT copyrighted image — if I included that in my logo, I could get sued!

These people are obviously amateurs, have no talent, and cannot follow instructions. I want to end my contract. I am willing to pay 50% of the agreed upon fee to cover the work done. I cannot use the logo as is and will have to pay a REAL designer to come up with something I can use. Please help me resolve this so I can move on and get the logo I need.

I’m still waiting to hear back from them. Believe me, 50% is generous for the aggravation I’ve been dealing with. What I’m willing to pay for is the idea, which I helped them develop.

[Update: They've agreed to the 50%. I guess people like this will take any money they can get.]

Apparently Freelancers Know Better

Now when all this started going south, I tweeted:

If this Elance experience is indicative of what it’s like to work with all Elance service providers, this will be my LAST time using Elance.

A Twitter friend tweeted back:

I tried providing service on elance, but would always get undercut by clueless people from india.

So that’s what it’s all about? A web-based service that leads you to believe you’re helping out local designers who are trying to build a client base. Instead, you’re sending business overseas to “design factories” manned by clipart manipulation experts.

What do you think? Do you have any experience — good or bad — with Elance? I’d like to hear a story with a happy ending.

Just Say NO to Flash

Are you as frustrated as I am about Web sites relying on Flash?

I need to share a little rant here.

Flash LogoUntil recently, I never realized how many Web sites are built around Flash. I’m not talking about sites that include Flash animations here and there. I’m talking about sites completely contained in a Flash animation.

Like this monstrosity: http://www.stingraysushi.com/

Stingray Sushi is a restaurant. Its site includes a menu, which can only be viewed in that Flash animation.

Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look for a restaurant when I’m on the go. I’ll whip out my iPhone or iPad, open the Maps app, and search for restaurant. Or I’ll use the Safari browser to Google a specific restaurant. Either way, my goal is to see the Home page for the restaurant so I can learn more about it and the food it serves before I drive/walk over. To do that, I need to be able to see the Home page or, at least, a menu.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I’ll never be able to see the Home page for Stingray Sushi on my iPhone or iPad.

Now you might want to blame Apple for this. After all, it’s Apple that decided that it won’t support Flash.

But I blame the Web developer. Apple mobile devices, including the iPhone and iPad, have been available for nearly four years. Apple is currently the fourth largest seller of mobile phones, with millions of iPhones out in the wild. Apple is also the top seller of tablet computers, with millions of iPads out in the wild. Developers who continue to base entire sites on Flash are basically thumbing their noses at iPhone/iPad users, telling them that they simply aren’t important enough to view the oh-so-valuable Flash content on their Web sites.

I have two words for these developers, and they’re not “thank you.”

So when I reach a site I can’t view on my device — whatever that device is — do you think I’ll visit that business?

Do you think that I’m interested in rewarding a business for the frustration their Flash-based site has generated by actually buying something there?

There are alternatives to Flash. Many alternatives. HTML 5 is one of them. But apparently, Web developers would rather lean on a crutch like Flash than move forward with new, more compatible technology.

Why does this continue to be an issue?

Just say no to Flash.

New Social Networking Scam

Another story from my inbox.

Yesterday, the following e-mail message from “Ben” arrived in my e-mail inbox. It had been sent using the contact form on this blog. Here’s the text with the identifying information redacted.

Hi,

My name is Ben and I’m working with the [dedacted TV channel] to help spread the word about their new outdoor photography show, “[redacted name of show].” The second episode airs [redacted date/time] and follows [redacted host name] as he photographs the red rock canyons of the American Southwest.

I came across your wonderful blog and I thought you might be interested in doing a post to let your readers know about the show and help spread the awareness. Any posts that you put up will go up on [dedacted TV channel]‘s Facebook Page and/or their twitter page- so it is a good way to get some publicity for your own site. I also have a copy of [redacted host's name] ‘[redacted host's book]‘ which I could offer out to you for your time.

I’ve put some info about the show, pics, and videos below just to give you some background. If you have any questions or need more information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks for your time and let me know if you are interested as it would be so great to have your help.

Best,

Ben

What followed was a bunch of links to content in various places that evidently showed off the show. (I admit that I didn’t follow any of them.)

Bryce Canyon DawnI received the message on my iPhone while I was stuck waiting for a tow truck (long story) and, because of that, didn’t really read it carefully. At first, I was flattered. This well-known TV channel had found my blog, liked it, and wanted to work with me on some publicity for their show. This made me feel really good because, as regular visitors here know, I do a lot of photography in red rock country in Arizona and in Utah. It looked as if I were getting a bit of recognition.

But when I got back to my office and re-read the message on my computer screen, I realized that the message was obviously boilerplate. Nowhere did it mention my name, the name of my blog, or any other identifying piece of information that might make me think it was written specifically to me. “Your wonderful blog” could be a nice way to refer to anyone’s online drivel — provided you wanted to make them feel warm and fuzzy about your project.

I’d been duped.

Or almost duped.

I then took a closer look at the domain name on “Ben’s” e-mail address. It wasn’t from that TV channel. I popped the URL into my browser and found myself looking at a Web site for a company claiming to be “social media marketing & publicity specials” that “develop strategies and execute initiatives, which generate conversations & cultivate relationships between brands and publishers.” In other words, they con active members of the social networking community to tweet and blog about their clients.

For free.

Well, the client doesn’t get their services for free. It’s Ben and his company who get the services of the social networking folks for free. Free authoring, free placement of the ads, free “buzz.” Ben and his cohorts just send out boilerplate messages to lure in unsuspecting bloggers who apparently have little else to write about. Along the way, they get these bloggers to look at the content on their clients’ sites, bumping up the hit counter to show immediate results.

I’m wondering how many bloggers fall for this strategy and how many thousands of dollars Ben & Co. rake in weekly by copying and pasting boilerplate messages on the Web.

I composed my response:

Ben,

I’m interested in this, but admit that I’m a bit put off by being ask to write what’s essentially an advertisement and place it on my own blog without compensation. Not quite sure how this would benefit me. A few additional hits to my blog would be nice, but since my blog does not generate any income for me, getting more hits is not really that important to me.

I also wonder how many dozens (or hundreds) of other bloggers you’ve contacted. Your message was very generic and could have been sent to anyone with a “wonderful blog.”

Now if I were offered compensation via exposure for my helicopter charter company (http://www.flyingmair.com/), which specializes in aerial photography over red rock areas such as Sedona and Lake Powell — well that might interest me a bit more.

Or is your message just another bit of spam to get ME to check out this site? So far, it’s a FAIL.

Any interest in making this more appealing to me?

Maria

I’m waiting for a response that likely won’t come. Why should he respond to me when he probably has dozens or hundreds of other bloggers taking the bait?

In the meantime, Ben has indeed given me something to blog about.