Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Internet and Your Kids - In Time For Christmas

SDOC is getting ready to go on hiatus for Christmas and the New Year.  But we're not on vacation - I'm working to continue projects in progress and I'm still fielding calls from current and future clients.  But this time of year, parents have to step away from the keyboard and focus on their children.

Some of you out there are buying computers for your kids this year.  I'll be doing the same in just a couple of years myself.  It is neither possible, nor even advisable to avoid teaching the use of technology to children.  It's an essential skill, just like the "Three R's" of a few decades back.  Teaching technology is not just about controlling a mouse or using a keyboard - even touch-typing.  It's also learning about life and how to make good decisions.

Years ago, we learned about "stranger danger" and how not to talk to strangers, how adults should ask for help from other adults, rather than from children, and how you don't take a ride from someone you don't know.  When I was in Kindergarten, we read a book called "Nancy and the Nice Bad Man" which taught a very graphic lesson about what can happen when a child takes a ride from a stranger. 

What makes navigating technology more challenging is that today, the "nice bad man" is coming right into our homes through our computer screens.  The danger is greater because without a physical presence, the threat doesn't seem real:  whether it is bullying, extortion, or even just stealing your login information and wreaking havoc on your Facebook page.  The perp isn't just your neighborhood "Chester" that all the parents warn their children to stay away from.  Perps can come from any city, town, or village on the globe - and they do, if you've gotten any 419 email scams lately.

Most of all, technology is just as new to parents as it is to children and it's constantly changing.  Parents have to learn for themselves not to get burned before they can warn their children, or monitor their online activity.

This week I had the pleasure of making a new acquaintance through my LinkedIn profile (see how easy it is to make contacts and why it's necessary to be careful?!) who runs a blog on Internet safety guidelines for parents.  Mary Kay Hoal is the COO of YourSphere - social networking for kids.  In addition to being a safe place for children to learn about communicating via the internet, the blog section provides some timely news on how to keep your kids safe and to help them avoid content you don't think they are ready for.  Before deciding whether and how much to allow your children to use the Internet, get familiar with some procedures and software to make safety easier to maintain.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
From Adrienne Duncan
Owner, SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Small Business Saturday, Close to Home

American Express promoted this past Saturday as "Small Business Saturday", where they encouraged the public to patronize small businesses as opposed to larger corporations.

In a large urban area like Atlanta, shopping between small businesses and large corporations is not necessarily an "either/or" proposition.  Each has its own purpose and place and each fills different needs.  For example, large corporations can provide jobs for those who don't want to be entrepreneurs.  In addition, about every large corporation you can name started out as a single person or a handful of people creating a small business.  Coca-Cola and McDonalds are the first to come to mind.  Coca-Cola began as a pharmacist stirring a big pot of essential oils and sugar syrup over a campfire in his backyard.  So I guess you could say that the most recognized corporation in the world began as a home-based business!

But small local businesses are tied directly to the community where they reside.  They have a greater impact on the local tax base and are often owned by a local resident.  The financial circle is very small and money stays concentrated in the community when their shops are patronized.

Recently I completed a very simple billboard-style project for a local Dunwoody businesswoman.  Susan B Renegar is an HR professional and CPA who has created her own business in accounting for other small businesses in the area.  She has very low overhead, so her prices are much more affordable to other entrepreneurs than larger Perimeter- or Buckhead-based firms.  Plus she's easy to get to:  Dunwoody traffic is no picnic, but you don't have to join the GA 400 parking lot either!

When you are looking for goods or services close to home, please consider the local entrepreneur when shopping.  You may find a hidden gem that is more geared toward your needs and shares your civic goals.

Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce

Monday, November 15, 2010

Logos & Branding - A Practical Analysis

A few weeks ago, the City of Dunwoody unveiled a new series of logos created by contractor Sky Design.
The City has learned a few hard lessons about branding and logo implementation in the process.

  • Just because you spend a lot of money on it, doesn't mean that everyone will love it.  Dunwoody joined the club with The Gap and Tropicana brands who redesigned their logo image and got their heads handed to them by their customers.  The Gap just abandoned the new effort (even though it was very stylish) and Tropicana is trying to work in their new logo identity with the old one.  It happens - you research, you conduct surveys and focus groups, you wear out your font file and your color wheel, and come up with a design that SHOULD be effective.  Then your PR person is issuing statements when your creation falls flat on its face. 

  • Google is your best friend.  Pay attention!  The original tagline for the city was "Smart People - Smart Place".  Sounds good, right?  The City of Plano Economic Development Board thought so too.  They used it first.  To add insult to injury, the tagline showed up on an internet search.  Trademarked or not, there was going to be a conflict.  Plano was on the phone to Dunwoody in about a day.  It's not worth the hassle to use a tagline that's been claimed elsewhere.  The new tagline is "Smart People - Smart City".

  • Large design firms with a lot of experience may sometimes cannibalize other designs. Even inadvertently.  The initial reaction on the local blogosphere was that the original logo looked too similar to both the Walmart and E-Trade logos.  Someone with WAY too much time on their hands lampooned that idea, as major newspapers commented on it.  Could be a coincidence but if the public sees a similarity it doesn't matter.  Others commented that even the unveiling video shown at the Music Festival was recycled from another presentation for another corporation.  Recycling happens.  Can you get away with it?  How lucky do you feel?

  • There may be more issues on the horizon.  The City government teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention & Visitors Bureau to create variations of the main city logo to create a sense of "unity". 

    Here's the problem:  there's a line between being "unified" and being "identical".  When elements of several designs are too similar - either in fonts, taglines, or structural elements of a website, etc - it gives the impression that each design represents a different division or department of the same entity.  The Chamber and CVB are NOT the City government.  They are totally independent of the City.  But the logos indicate they are part and parcel of the City government.  The City ultimately dictated the branding for two independent organizations.  The Chamber and CVB are going to have a major issue clarifying their identities as such.

    "OK, wise-guy, what would YOU do?"

    The rest of this post is purely hypothetical as the decisions have been made and the City, CVB and Chamber are all going forward with what was created.  All images below are copyrighted and may not be duplicated or used elsewhere.

    Scenario 1 - working with the original City logo.
    First, I wouldn't duplicate the logo or taglines for the Chamber or CVB.  They need their own unique identity, just like the PCID.  However, to indicate that several organizations are playing a part in building up the new city an additional logo or icon would be created, with elements of the original for consistency.  This icon could be used on websites, stationery, or brochures to indicate that partnership.  And not just the CVB or Chamber either.  There are a lot of organizations within Dunwoody that are part of its success, including the Preservation Trust, the Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Optimists, homeowner associations, political parties, the Marcus JCC and a slew of houses of worship.
    Here's the general idea:

    Scenario 2 - back to the drawing board.
    Here's another vision of a City logo and civic parternship icon that doesn't compare to Walmart or E-Trade and the tagline passed the Google test.
    The graphic elements are a stylized star; reflecting the new beginning the city had at incorporation in 2008.  The tagline is not only open to new businesses that may establish here, but also to current residents and commuting workers.  Now that Dunwoody is its own city, the population is going to have to advance its interests, even when they're not all in agreement.

    And here's the "partnership" generic logo that other city groups could use to indicate their part in supporting the City.  Note the rearrangement of the graphic element above.  It's consistent with the City logo identity, but the graphic layout and the text indicate a different purpose.

    Branding costs money, time, effort, experience, and expertise.  But no matter how much planning goes into it, a new brand launch is almost always a gamble.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    The Realities of Entrepreneurship for Women

    As most of my friends, colleagues, and customers know, my husband and I are expecting our 3rd child this month.

    Literally, any day now.

    In many if not most major corporations, women recovering from childbirth (or even who have adopted a baby) have six weeks of maternity leave guaranteed before they are required to return.  It's a great policy that fosters mutual respect between the corporation that demands a certain competency in the workforce and the worker who has a private life and a family.

    Entrepreneurs are literally on their own.  I found out the hard way last year with my second child that there is no such thing as "maternity leave".  Even if your customers' jobs are caught up, even when you announce several times when you are unavailable, even if your entire infrastructure is running on autopilot and your marketing efforts have been put in limbo, women are on call at any time. 

    Here's my favorite example.  I promise, it's 100% true.

    July of last year, my second daughter is born.  She's off to the nursery for a night's rest after a long day.  I've been transferred to family care for the same.  I'm using my smartphone to make immediate birth announcements to be followed up by formal stationery later.  In the process, new mail is downloaded:  including a technical question on behalf of a client who is having a new tool installed on his website.  Two things:  1) everyone in this group knew I was not available this week due to childbirth and 2)  coincidentally, the email had been sent just as I was delivering the baby.  No kidding.

    So what's a mom/entrepreneur to do?  I could have ignored it but I like to think I'm very prompt with replying to requests as best as I can.  Besides, I was bored silly now that the "great work" had been done.  I decided that being in a hospital room was no reason to not be a professional.  This was my exact e-reply:

    Dear XXXXXX,

    Thank you for contacting me.  Yes, I am the correct person to direct this question to.  In brief, the answer is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

    I'm not able to go into detail at this time.  The fact is, I gave birth earlier this afternoon.  There were no complications so I expect to be discharged within a couple of days.

    If I could impose upon you to hold that thought until Monday, I will be back in the office and have full access to my systems and can provide a more complete summary of how to incorporate your functionality into XXXXXXXXXXX's website.

    Sincerely yours,
    (etc etc etc)
    Needless to say, my client and his other contractor were MORE than willing to give me every last minute I wanted or needed to get his code installed!

    While I'd rather not entertain emails from the quasi-comfort of a hospital room, I've finally accepted that when I have access to my home-based office, I'm at work, period.  Doesn't matter if it's 2 hours, 2 days, or 2 weeks after a medical situation has passed. 

    For this week, all of my customers can rest assured that their needs are being met.  I have one last project to put finishing touches on.  All domain names that I have been entrusted with have been duly renewed and secured.  Databases and code have been backed up both server-side and locally.  Updates and training have been completed.  Billing is in its last stages.  I have consulted with the server provider for final troubleshooting and checks so nothing needs attention for a few days.  And yes, I will again have my smartphone with me.

    Stay tuned for more happy customer updates on this blog.  There are two new projects rolling out that I am very excited about, plus a slew of updates.  There are even new projects on the horizon that are being brainstormed at the moment.

    For very brief news, (like, when I'm ensconced in the Baby Factory and it's a bad time to send an email!) follow me on Twitter at @SDOCPublishing.  Even at a time like this I can handle 140 characters!

    Wish us luck!


    Tuesday, July 6, 2010


    The Dunwoody Music Festival is SDOC Publishing's latest site launch.

    SDOC is hosting the site as well as instructing the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce staff in adding to the content.

    The specifications were:  create a site around the colors and design of the new logo and make it easy for the staff to update.  So we started with Joomla CMS and customized a template to match the logo.  Then we created a comprehensive data architecture that will present information in two phases:  registrations and sponsorships, then festival promotion in the fall.  Registrations and sponsorships involve fillable PDF forms to be faxed or emailed to the office, plus email-based custom signup forms for volunteers and info requests.

    More pages are in the background, getting filled in by the Chamber office staff as information is confirmed.  Keep checking back to watch the development!

    The Dunwoody Music Festival (formerly the Dunwoody Fall Festival) is a showcase of musical talent - including a Battle of the Bands! - and a Chili Cook-Off that brings the community together on October 23 and 24 at Brook Run Park in Dunwoody.


    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Customer News

    Check out the newly-updated SDOC Portfolio at

    Stay tuned also for the new Dunwoody Music Festival website which is in development and will be launched in a matter of a couple of weeks.  There is a placeholder for the time being at  The Music Festival (formerly the Fall Festival) is a presentation of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, another SDOC customer.

    SDOC is happy to announce a new contract with Green Concepts Land Care, a landscaping firm based in Forsyth County that specializes in water conservation.  We are thrilled to work with this new company in showcasing their valuable and unique services.

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Avoiding Potholes on the Road to Telecommuting and Working From Home

    Working from home is as old an idea as America itself.  It enjoys surges in popularity at times, depending on changes in the economy or technology.

    In this particular day and age, the reasons for working from home vary widely.  Some telecommute to corporate jobs to save time, gas, or because their company is short on space.  Others are reinventing their careers after the economy forced them out of their regular job.  Still more see working from home as their contribution to the environment; "reducing their carbon footprint" by using fewer resources. 

    The reason I decided to build SDOC Publishing from a home office rather than establish a separate office comes down to one word:  costs.  I spend less money by using a residential office, I keep the overhead very low, and the savings are passed on to my customers.  Everyone's happy!

    But working from a residence requires enormous planning and discipline that many don't notice at the onset.  It isn't for everyone and the pitfalls are many.  Enough that what I thought would be one blog post may end up being a series!

    Pothole #1:  Working From Home is NOT the Same As Working In an Office

    When working at an office for any business or corporation, there is a management structure in place to ensure accountability for the work done.  A worker who is self-employed or telecommuting actually has two jobs:  labor and management.  Anyone who thinks that  managing employees "isn't really work" has never had to do it!  Residential workers have to get their job done, but they also have to plan their work schedule, evaluate the results, determine ROI (return on investment) of the resources, and determine future goals of the company. 

    So working from home requires more time management skills and more discipline than working in an average office. 

    A written, printed, tangible schedule is your best friend.  Physically seeing blocks of time set aside for all of the above tasks (and whatever else your particular enterprise needs) makes a big difference between accomplishing your business goals and not accomplishing anything.  If you are telecommuting for a larger firm, this type of schedule (with results that show you're following it) will make your manager's job easier in tracking your work.  Which means you are more likely to continue working at home - or even keep your job!

    Pothole #2:  Working From Home is NOT a Substitute for Child or Other Family Care

    Put out the torches.  Drop the pitchforks.  Hear me out before running me out of town for heresy.  In more recent decades women especially have chosen to work from home because it keeps them closer to their children and, supposedly, involved with caring for them at home.

    This is the trap that most parents - moms and dads alike - fall into.  They convince themselves that they can multitask between work duties and home/family duties.  It takes less than a week to figure out why this situation never works.  Here's why....

    Accomplishing work tasks and caring for family members of any age requires two different mindsets.  Splitting attention between two different jobs divides the quality of your performance.  This too goes back to scheduling specific times for specific tasks.  Anyone who attempts to do both at the same time will end up neglecting both the job providing the paycheck, and the people relying on them for care.  This applies not only to children of all ages but other family members - such as seniors or family members recovering from illness or injury. 

    Young children need attention and activity.  People recovering from injury need assistance.  Seniors have a host of health needs - including mental and emotional health.  If you have to work from home (or work anywhere, period) ensure that their care is provided for.  Children are the most flexible:  many work hours can coincide with school and after-school activities.  But younger children may still need a babysitter or nanny - even at home.  Many cities have organizations that provide senior adult activities.  The bottom line is, count the cost:  ensure that it's worth the time you put into your work to get assistance for caring for family members.  Or, delay your work-from-home plans until the cirucmstances change. 

    To be continued...!

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    The Naked Truth About Search Engine Optimization

    I had a fascinating week with individuals contacting me about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for my website business.

    1) A gentleman contacted me on LinkedIn, inviting me to take his sales call. He wanted me to buy into his SEO services and then charge my customers for them. I asked what he provides in his paid service that I don’t already provide to my customers. His boiled-down answer was a “link farm” to generate inbound links, otherwise nothing. I didn’t take the call.

    2) A call came into my office one afternoon from a very young gentleman who tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade me that he was a potential customer. A couple of minutes into the conversation he confessed that he was selling SEO services. I told him getting my clients’ web pages ranked highly isn’t a problem for my company. The call ended abruptly.

    3) In the space of one week I received two phone calls and three emails from companies asking me to “partner” with them in providing SEO from data centers overseas. The time these inquiries consumed was so great I had to put a disclaimer on my website that says I don’t outsource any of my work to any other firm, foreign or domestic.

    The people I encountered in these scenarios had a few things in common. They knew the programming “tricks” of inserting keywords into the code of a website that would get a search engine to rank it. They probably didn’t know how to persuade a customer to buy the product or accept the message once they got to the site. Most of all, they probably didn’t care.

    Whenever a new technology becomes popular, self-styled “experts” pop up like mushrooms after a rain. But how do you tell a real SEO “expert” from a hustler riding the buzzword wave?

    Search Engine Optimization is only one small part of creating the content of a website. It actually has more to do with paying attention to the programming details after the content has been crafted. A true SEO expert is a word craftsman. The first step is always – ALWAYS – to write copy that appeals to the target customer and persuades them to take the desired action. A copywriter for websites has to know who the audience is: the age range, gender percentages, geographic location(s), and educational levels all play a part in how the text is crafted. Keywords, words that one would expect website visitors to type into a search engine to find the site come out of this research.

    What salespeople commonly call “SEO” is the second step in the process. Out of the text crafting and audience research come commonly-used words: titles or adjectives mostly. When it becomes clear what individual words from your text are going to resonate mostly with your audience, you choose those for your SEO strategy. “Strategy” is almost a misnomer; it’s less a procedure and more just paying attention to details. In addition to the text on the page, there are places to “hide” text in ways that put them in plain sight to search engines. Page titles, “alt” tags in images and “meta” tags are the most common and the most useful. The more your most effective words are repeated consistently through your site’s readable text and “hidden” tags the greater attention Google and other search engines will give them.

    The final step in the SEO process is generating “inbound links”: links from other websites to the ones you’re creating. There are all kinds of techniques to accomplish this. Back in the day (ten or so years ago) the hot technique was “website awards”: a graphic badge on the site declaring the site “cool” or “hot” or whatever made a splash. The “award presenter” linked to your site if you displayed the badge.

    Those awards have gone the way of the dodo but the principle remains. You can try a link farm but if one of the human observers for a search engine company catches wind of it, you can bet on your rankings plummeting. I use and recommend online press releases. Again, the word craftsman comes to the fore. You can issue a press release online with anything on it and a link, and you’ll get inbound links. But if the story is picked up and displayed in any news agency you have the added bonus of convincing visitors to see the site, even when they’re not actively looking for it.

    When a fly-by-night SEO salesman comes along, they’re usually only focused on the second step with absolutely none of the research and effort that goes into crafting the site content itself. They’re selling a “get top-ranked quick” mentality that may work in the short term for getting search engine rankings, but probably won’t translate into sales or other action. Any copywriter knows there is no such thing as a quick solution to good copy. It’s true in print media and it remains true on the web.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Who Crowns the King? The importance of website design in reinforcing text content

    I'll never forget the first few weeks of serving on the Internet Advisory Committee at M. D. Anderson.  The idea of promoting any kind of health information on the web was still new.  We were promoting very cutting edge therapy, including clinical trials, and our hospital's name was world-renowned for decades.  All we thought we had to do was follow the practices we did in our research labs and clinics:
    • Take our technical protocols and translate them into everyday-speak for the general public.  The same thing we did when writing informed consent forms for our patients entering treatment.
    • Make sure that any claims we made followed the US FDA and FTC guidelines To. The. Letter.
    • Don't miss any details.  Be ready to answer any questions.  Follow up with everyone we met.
    Pretty simple, right?  After all, "Content is King".  As long as the text was straight, eveything else was secondary.  "Just details."

    Then at one meeting we were presented with information gleaned by one of our consultants, a group called "Hamilton Interactive".  These consultants were surveying our visitors determining how they found our site, what they were looking for, did they decide to subscribe to our services, etc.  The primitive version of web audience research made easier by Web 2.0 and other technologies today.

    The results were shocking.  When it came to those website visitors that wanted to be M. D. Anderson patients, they made their decision based on appearance.  They chose the hospital's programs because of how the website looked. 

    No one on that committee slept for at least a week.

    We had utterly no doubt that our medical information was the best there was.  But using our name and putting out that information wasn't enough.  The public and potential patients had to believe it.  That was a critical step that, until then, we had taken for granted.  That's the part that the appearance played.

    There are four steps to distributing information on the Web. 
    1)  The website is live and visible on the Web, and can be found by visitors.  (This is a joint effort between the webmaster, the ISP, and the search engines)
    2)  The visitor reads the content that the webmaster has placed on the site.  (That content is what the webmaster can directly control.)
    3)  The visitor accepts and believes the content to be true and accurate.  (The webmaster can influence this choice, which is the subject of this blog.)
    4)  The visitor acts on the information they see.  (This can also be influenced by the webmaster.)

    So you hire your webmaster, you consult over content, back and forth creating and reviewing and editing until it looks just right.  You go over it one more time to make sure the words you want your visitors to use in a search engine are included.  But the design, the aesthetics, have to underscore the content, convey the feeling that the text is trustworthy and the interactive features are worth using. 

    I've heard some folks ask, incredulously, "Do people really make their buying decisions based on a graphic logo?  Or colors?"  The answer is YES!!!  That's why ad agencies can charge a fortune for 30-second commercials.  Colors and graphics and designs are the persuasive part of your web communications. 

    Here are some items your webmaster should consider when designing your site:

    Color:  Color conveys emotion.  The message it conveys varies between men and women, and in various countries.  Your webmaster should discuss with you who your audience is, who you expect or want to visit your site, as much as what you are promoting.  Then use color accordingly.  There are analyses of this concept all over the web but this is a good one to start with:

    Layout and Shapes:  Men and women perceive shapes and layout differently. 
    Men respond to straight lines and orderly rows and columns.  This is easy to do in a square- or rectangular-shaped computer screen.  Bold.  Simple. Straightforward. 
    Women respond to designs that are asymetrical, or involve curved lines, and random or detailed embellishments.  If you think I'm exaggerating, take a trip to the Womens' Center at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.  Look at the floor:  there's not a straight line anywhere in that linoleum pattern.  Some of the walls in the main entrance are curved as well.  In addition, exam and L&D rooms all have flowered borders decorating the top of the walls.  In the Atrium outside the coffee/snack bar, there is a plaque that goes into deep emotional detail about the color choices in each section. 
    (Here is a slideshow of some of the elements I just described.  Ironically, the womens' center website has a more masculine aesthetic - except for color - in spite of the largely female audience.  Go figure.)

    The old adage is still true:  "Content is King".  You could edit that to say Usability is King too.  But Design and Look and Feel are what put the crown on his head.  You can't have one without the other.  The greatest text in the world won't sell your product or deliver your message unless your website visitors believe what you say.  The website's text is the message, the apperance is the persuasion. 

    Work with your webmaster to make sure your message is being delivered and received at all levels.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Four MORE Signs Your Website Needs an Upgrade

    There was such a great response to my last post about upgrading your website that it's time for a second chapter.  If any of the following apply to you, talk to your web professional or contact SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions for a consultation.

    1)  Your email address does not match your website address.

    Companies will often spend lots of time on getting just the right catchy, snappy name for their website URL.  It's hip, it's happening, all of the customers love it.  Then the contact emails consist of "" or "", etc.

    Take the time to complete the presentation.  Almost all web hosting companies, even bargain ones, provide some email accounts with your service.  If your emailsays "throwaway", that's what your customers will think of your company.

    2)  "ImageReady Slices"

    What is ImageReady?  And what is a slice?  About ten years ago, as web design became more complex and intricate, it was difficult to download these gorgeous new images.  They took forever to appear in a browser.  So a technique was created to split up big beautiful pictures into "slices" - like squares of sheet cake - so the image would download faster.  It worked!

    But that was ten years ago.  Today elements can be "layered" on top of each other like transparent sheets of paper which not only makes it easier to create beautiful designs but also makes it easier to translate your web images into your print materials.  Ask your web professional how they created your design.  If the word "slices" comes up, either your design is outdated, or the web professional is!

    There is one exception to the above rule:  if your site visitors are using older browsers (like Internet Explorer version 6.0 for example) you may have to generate your site using an older technique.  Your site statistics (provided by your hosting company) can tell you what kind of browser your visitors use most.

    3)  The Search Engines Can't Find You

    Your site has been active for months, even years, and yet when you type a phrase in a search engine related to your site, you're nowhere to be found.  Welcome to "what's the point".

    Your site will get more visits if the content that visitors can read or the functionality that they can use is always fresh and updated.  That takes some time and effort, but so does all kinds of advertising.

    Many older sites used a piece of code called "meta tags" to help search engines find them.  They are pieces of text not visible when you view the website, but search engines and browsers can read them.  There was a time when less-than-scrupulous designers would pack the meta tags with all kinds of garbage just to attract search engines, even if it wasn't relevant to what the site was about.

    Google and all other search engines got wise to this trick.  Meta tags are not seriously used to rank sites in search engines anymore.  The search engine reads the text actually on the page.  So when deciding what you want to say to your customers, use words that you want them to find you with on a search engine.

    4)  The Copyright Holder Notice on Your Site is Not You

    This is not just an issue of effective Internet market, it is a core issue for any business.  Make sure when your website is created that the contract clearly states that you own your own content!  If it sounds obvious, it's not.  There were many conflicts early in the growth of the Web whether the website designer owned the content created, or if the business contracting their services did.  Older websites may have a copyright notice indicating the web company owns everything you gave them for the web.  Which will put you in a real bind should you want to make changes, or if you're competing with another company for customers.

    All sites created by SDOC Publishing are owned by our clients.  We only reserve the right to credit for creating it.  Our clients own their content, including any graphic creations, and they hold ultimate legal responsibility for it as well.  That point is always clearly stated in our contracts.  \

    If you're ready for a current, state-of-the-art effective web presence for your business or organization, now is the perfect time to contact SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions.

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    The Rest of the Story: Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce website

    What I look forward to most on this blog is being able to go into greater depth on the thought process behind each site that SDOC creates.  This is my first discourse on what goes into a major project.

    The City of Dunwoody voted to incorporate itself in 2008 and began operating in December of that year.  During the summer, right after the vote to incorporate passed, a group of local business owners organized the Chamber of Commerce.  This was a unique step:  to have a Chamber representing the business community at the same time the residential community founds the city.  That was an additional point of view in play when it came time to elect a mayor and council and decide on ordinances and fees.

    The Chamber is now and has been from the beginning a volunteer organization.  SDOC Publishing signed on as a founding sponsor - one of 36 local businesses to chip in the startup resources to get it going. 

    Audience:  We knew from the start that we had to have a two-pronged approach.  First, we had to be a credible voice on behalf of the business community, which consists of about 2500 registered business organizations within the city limits, most of them very small, often family-owned enterprises.  These interests had to be addressed evenly with the larger organizations occupying the Perimeter.  That was the easy part.  On the other side was the residential community.  This one was going to be harder because there was a long and storied history of local residents feeling their rights were trampled by an indifferent (at best) county government in bed with certain business interests.  Hence the incorporation effort.  Any business entity was regarded with the deepest possible suspicion.  So we have two audiences,  in a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship, but not necessarily trusting each other.

    Original Goals:  at the beginning, the goals were constantly evolving.  It was very hard to pin down an approach when new information was coming in weekly, sometimes daily.  This project was one of a kind in that it was a daily experiment.  The original goal was to be a resource for that developing information.  Information initially transmitted was:
    • Progress on City Ordinances
    • Minutes of City Council Meetings
    • Progress on Licensing Standards
    • Networking and Organizational Events
    • Opinion polls for the general public
    The official City website was not functioning at the time; the Chamber site was a key source for ordinance documentation in a searchable format.

    Current Goals:  Because of the aforementioned friction between business entities and the residential community, the Chamber decided to promote very user-friendly functions that brought member businesses and their customers together.  This includes:
    • Member Business Directory
    • Job Posting Board
    • Special Offers/promotions page
     For our members, the Chamber wants each member company empowered to promote themselves to the public.  So all of the above information can be updated by member businesses themselves, pending review by the Chamber office staff. 

    Finally, the site had to communicate the Chamber's participation in Dunwoody life.  An event calendar promotes events sponsored by the Chamber or its members.  Committee chairs update their respective blogs with event recaps, or city council meetings and agendas that will impact the business community.  Members have a private forum to discuss Chamber matters among themselves outside of formal meetings.

    Technology:  From the beginning the Chamber decided to use an open-source Content Management System (CMS) both for cost and ease of use for the numerous volunteers that would be coming and going over time.  The original site was created in Joomla.  The idea floated at the time by TPTB (The Powers That Be) was that modules and plug-ins would be used to create business directories and any other function we needed.  The design was a template that was modified to customize the appearance and coordinate with the new logo.

    For 18 months,the IT team tried to use these tools to create the site TPTB wanted but there was always a conflict between modules, or something slowed the system down, or the office staff couldn't generate the reports they wanted.  It was always something.  So the decision was made in the summer of 2009 to drop Joomla and switch to Drupal.  For the IT team, it was not a big difference.  But the office volunteers were going to have an issue because the types of content were not as cut-and-dried into sections and categories.  Plus, permissions were more complicated even as they were more precise.  But the old questions of building databases inhouse and testing combinations of assorted modules followed the switch.

    Finally, the Chamber leadership decided to outsource the member services.  Chamber leadership and the IT committee reviewed presentations by several companies and chose ChamberMaster.  (This was my recommendation as well.)  ChamberMaster functions are tunnelled through the main Drupal website, but remains separate.  This decision solved several problems.  First, it eliminated any chance that a regular member would accidentally get access to the main content of the website outside of member services and make unexpected changes.  Second, the member services interface is much simpler for the average internet user.  Third, ticketing and other online payment systems are secured in a separate area that does not require manual maintenance by the Chamber staff. 

    Design:  Look & Feel
    The original design was based on the concept that TPTB were looking to convey a sense of optimism and excitement of a new beginning.  Thus, the original colors were the colors of sunrise:  blue and orange on a white base.  These colors were also popular at the time in TV ads.
    When the CMS was changed to Drupal, a new template was required.  The emotional point had not changed but fashions had:  shades of blue with bright spring yellow-green were becoming popular.  A basic template was chosen with that palette and then customized to make the appearance unique to the Chamber. 

    Finally, a graphic accent to support the text-based logo.
    The symbol needed had to be a simple representation of the local business community, where neighbors own the local storefront, where there is a great comfort with business.  The sense of mutual community that was the goal.    The design is an American colonial-style cupola; this structure is found scattered all throughout Dunwoody in small business areas that subscribe to the Colonial architectural style.  Even gas stations have them!  A photograph one bright and sunny afternoon, then a few Photoshop steps to render it into a soft pencil/charcoal drawing and voila!  If you've been to Dunwoody, you know what it is, and what it means:  good neighbors and good business. 

    And that's the story!  Feel free to post comments if you have any questions.  This is the thought process that goes into a website - the abbreviated version anyway!