Web Design and Engineering Posts at CahillDigital.com


I’ve started blogging on my new company site – http://cahilldigital.com so you will definitely want to add that to your reading list.  My last post was about Responsive Design, Retina Displays and their importance in new site development.  The title is “Welcome to Retina-stan.”

Meanwhile in the present day, designers have to deal with a web that requires a “responsive” design – on that by using media queries will present the appropriate css 3 styles to a browser, be it on a phone, tablet, laptop or whatever. Essentially, we’ve created a variable driven CSS; one of the things we realized virtually from the outset of CSS that was missing.  Say good bye to those funky old conditional comments calls that allowed use to work around that failing.

Now we have retinal displays, which unlike the phones and tablets that require different widths and sizes, actually changes the pixel density of the images and fonts that are presented.  It’s all pretty cool, but honestly, its also more work if you want to do it right.

As usual, a post packed full of useful development goodness, but also important for small business owners. Check it out at CahillDigital.com

The Forgotten 404 Page

There’s a page on your site that never gets any love.  You don’t really spend time thinking about it, your readers hate it when they see it and Google dings you for search if you don’t have it set up correctly.  The lowly 404 page…

Admit it, you probably don’t even know what yours looks like.  Why should you?  You setup everything right on the site, then no one should ever see it.

Wrong…no matter how well you run your site, someone will end up seeing your 404 page.  At that point, you can either give them a fighting chance to find what they want, or you can annoy them and send them running for the hinterlands, never to return.

Some serious 404 sins:

  • ‘We don’t need no 404’ – Redirect to another page on your site, but don’t tell the user it’s a 404.  Leave them wondering what the heck happened. This tells the customer you think you know better than they do.  Users love that…
  • ‘Show them the laundry’ – give them some error code and tell them to email it to the system adminstrator, who will promptly ignore it.  Nothing says ‘we’re clueless’ better than asking your users to forward 600 lines of “stack trace message” to the “admin”.
  • You have reached the end of the Internet‘ – give them a cute, funny error, but no other option.  They’ll laugh, while they’re typing in the url for your competitor.
  • Nah Nah Nah, you can’t find it‘ – Tell them the paqe they aren’t looking for isn’t there, and nothing else.  Give them no options and they’ll find one…that doesn’t involve you.

It gets better.  Google has serious issues with sites that implement their 404 pages incorrectly.  Here are their guidelines…

So what should your 404 page be?  Think of it as an intermediate stop for the wayward traveler.  You need to be there, with something warm and inviting to help them find their way.  Think of the it as the “Chamber of Commerce” page for your site.

  • Provide a clear message – “Sorry, the page you are looking for doesn’t exist.  Maybe we moved it…”
  • Provide a solution – “You might find what you need in our search engine, or possibly in the other links we’ve provided below.”
  • If all else fails, let them contact you – Perhaps I’m old school, but I believe their should always be an email address associated with a website.  If you’re really worried about getting spammed, have them send to you via a contact us form that has anti-spam measures in place.

WordPress gets it…their latest default theme has most of this built in.  Take a look at my 404 page, by going here.  It is the stock page, with the exception of the gremlin image I added courtesy of our friends at TheOatmeal.com.So what am I missing…what else would the perfect 404 page have?  You know where the comments form is…

How to know your Web Designer Isn’t…

I’ve had the opportunity over the years to work with some real first class web designers. People like Mark Hentschel, Jill Cole and Bill Hall, just to name a few.  Unfortunately, there have also been a bunch on the other side who’ve billed themselves as web designers and weren’t…so here’s a list off the warning signs that you’re dealing with a web designer who isn’t a web designer.

  • The design arrives as a flat jpg image that looks like it’s covered in Vaseline.
  • Colors are specified using the Pantone chart.
  • Sizes are specified as Picas.
  • Better yet, there’s no sizes, font info, color info or anything.  They just keep saying “make it look like the picture.”
Every print designer in the world will tell you they can design for the web.  The truth is, the two are vastly different. I’ve vowed that I will never again accept a job where I have to work with a non-professional web designer.  Life is too short to play “swap the pixel” with a moron who’s learning on the job at my expense.
If you are a designer, and you want to get the best result, you should really consider providing at the very least:
Better yet, at this point, a web designer should really be able to deliver a fully functional html/javascript front end with css to which I can hook my stuff up to. That way you’re sure to get what you envisioned.
I swear, the next time I hear “maybe if we made the font a couple picas larger” I will go postal.

Making Shopping Carts Suck Less

I found this  brilliant graphic over at oatmeal (hat tip to Matt Brodeur for pointing the site out) and it hits on a subject that’s been on my mind the past couple days: shopping carts that suck.

The oatmeal crews has definitely hit the nail on the head, so much so that I forwarded the thing over to the other Senior Engineer I work with as well as our Front End Design Lead, intending it as a subject for Monday discussion.  Unfortunately, we fail on numerous of these items today, I’m sorry to report.

I don’t normally copy the full content of something like this, but I have to say, it’s too important not to in this case.

My Open Source Web Dev List

Here is the list of stuff I load onto my machine right after firing it up for the first time:

  1. 7-zip – open source package for handling zip, tar, gzip
  2. WinSCP – ftp, scp, sftp
  3. Putty – in case I need to talk to a server, this is my preferred SSH client
  4. TextPad – all the text editor I need for just about any task. Don’t forget to tell it to syntax highlight PHP and turn on line numbers! (not open source, but cheap and good)
  5. Mysql Workbench – a nice little tool for MySql admin and query browsing
  6. Firefox, Safari, Chrome browsers – gotta test in all the browsers!
  7. Firefox web developer toolbar
  8. Hex Color Finder – use the dropper to get the hex color of anything on your screen
  9. Tortoise SVN – my fav svn tool
  10. OpenOffice – for all the stuff you used to use Windows Office for…
  11. Gimpshop – taking the place of Photoshop (hint: do not install anywhere other than program files – BE SURE!)
  12. Irfanview – batch editing photos, contact sheets, etc.
  13. Handbrake – video editing
  14. Audacity – Audio editing
  15. Tweetdeck – twitter client
  16. Skype – internet phone and chat

That’s it.  With all that loaded, I’m ready for 95% of my computing needs.  What would you add to the list?

The Localized SEO Project Yeilds Fruit

2 weeks after go live, BayStatePowerWashing.com is now fully indexed in Google.  The site initially had Google position only for it’s own name, due to the use for frames in the old site design.  Here is a sample of some of the results:

  • residential power washing massachusetts – #1
  • commercial power washing massachusetts – #3
  • power washing weston ma – #1
  • power washing shrewsbury ma – #1

Excellent progress.  Even better news is that the site owner has the ability now to create new pages which will target other local search terms.  In other words, he has the ability to be where he needs to be.  On top of that, he’s working on fine tuning the marketing message, so we’ve got the fuel to get Google position, and the content to provide the potential customer the right message when they get to the site.  A potent combination.

The even better news is these results are all “white hat” – we’re not using any nefarious techniques to fool Google.

New Site: BayStatePowerWashing.com


Over the past few weeks I pulled together a new site for my friend Ryan Mowry, owner of BayState Power Washing.  The site is built in wordpress and uses a fairly standard template.  Points to consider:

  • This is a test of a new localized SEO tactic.
  • The site hadn’t been indexed yet by Google yesterday, the last time I checked.
  • Site is fully editable by Ryan.
  • We did include a blog, where Ryan will be posting information of use to Massachusetts home owners.
  • I’m not a fan of 100% width sites…

Give the site a check – especially if you’re looking for the best power washing service in Massachusetts for your home or business.

New Book, Site & Forum: LoveYourGeek.com

Last night Karl Susman opened his new site which I developed over the holidays.  The site is to support his new book, “Love Your Geek”, which was released over the weekend for the Kindle and will be arriving in the full splendor of print on February 1.  Many of you will know Karl from his WestsideGadgetGuy.com podcasts, and if you don’t you ought to check them out.

The site is a combination of WordPress and BBPress Forum, designed to foster discussion around the book as well as provided news, reviews, etc.  Technically, it required customization of an existing theme, and design integration with the BBPress theme.

If you’re a geek like me, you’ll love the book.  If you aren’t it ought to be required reading to clue you in as to how lucky your are to have us.

They are your personal “always-on-call” computer “fixers;” your personal helper with All Things Computer. Broken Printer? Screen “not-responding”? Spill coffee on your keyboard? Computer “locked-up,” or just “not working” the way you want it to? You call your resident Geek.

You don’t pay them. You don’t ask them. You just call them – and expect the Geek to be there for you. And, of course, you accept nothing less than, “problem solved.”
In this short book, I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be Your Geek.

Go check out the site!

New vBulletin Theme – Discussnames.com

One of the first tasks I’ve tackled this week was updating both the software and the theme on Discussnames.com.  A fairly simple project, but one with big rewards for the Afternic.com crew, I think.

The project was fairly simple.  Take one vBulletin site that had a completely separate look and integrate it into the look and feel of the Afternic.com site.  No small task, but luckily one I had some level of experience with, having worked on the http://domainersadvantage.afternic.com WordPress project a few months ago.  Still, vBulletin templates are notorious for their ability to frustrate developers and evade integration.  It’s all part of that “a bazillion nested tables without a single id to be found” thing that has had designers complaining for the better part of a decade.

This is really phase two of another project, in which I had updated the out of date software and got things up to date.  Now the site has a nice, clean, professional looking design, vs. the tossed together theme it had been sporting for the past 4 months.

Control Panel Issue

A couple weeks ago I was trying to get access to a site that Karl Susman had set up in his hosting account for a new website.  He created a new user for me to access that specific directory on the server.  Somehow we got permissions or the password messed up and he then deleted the ftp user account so that he could recreate it.

The files were also deleted…all of them.

Four hours later, when talking with the hosting company’s support crew, we were told that this is a default behavior in Control Panel, which many of us use to do minor admin tasks like adding ftp users, setting up databases, etc. via the web.  They noted that they see this problem a lot, so much so that they had a procedure set up to recover files from the last nightly backup.  Luckily, we didn’t need that, as the only thing in that folder had been a basic WordPress install.  Still, that behavior is just plain dumb.  Before deleting files, at least warn the user!