29 Jun 2009


10 Highly Common SEO Mistakes That Designers Make

Before diving into this article, I would first like to state that I am not a designer. I certainly hope I can call myself one in the future, but for now, I’ll stick with what I know best.

Having said that, it’s easy for me to write this article because as someone who has worked with a bazillion designers on so many different projects, I’ve seen every one of these mistakes made, of which I have to go back and correct…which is totally cool because contrary to popular belief, being a designer doesn’t mean you’re an SEO expert. But if you, the designer, can knock out some of this stuff before it gets to the marketing/SEO person, it would play a part in boosting productivity and efficiency, which we all know equals more money in the bank.

The following 10 mistakes are very common, and very easy to correct. If anything, at least you’ll know what to do for your own personal website projects, but I can assure you that your clients will appreciate (even if they don’t know it) the extra SEO effort that you can start them out with.

1. Abusing or Ignoring the Title Tag

This may be the most common mistake made when designing a website (and not just by designers). The Title tag is pretty much the first thing someone will see when they view your website in a list of search results. Not only that, but it’s one of the first things a search engine sees when deciding what to rank your site for.

There are a few ways that this incredibly simple, yet important element can be screwed up:

1. Leaving the Title tag blank (see below)

No Title

2. Stuffing it with keywords (see below)

Title with too many keywords

So if your title tag looks like either of the above, it’s not going to do anything for you SEO wise, and more importantly, a botched Title tag will harm your overall situation as you’ll lose search visitors and with keyword stuffing, potentially be penalized.

So what’s the proper way to format a Title tag? It’s easy, really. You want a nice, (no more than) 70 character introduction to your page, with a main keyword or two in it at most.

Example of a properly formatted Title tag:

Properly formatted title tag

Also, make sure you use your main keyword toward the beginning if possible (just in case your Title is longer and gets truncated), and take the time to create a unique Title tag for each page on your site.

2. Confusing Meta Description and Meta Keywords

Right, right, I know, the Meta keywords tag doesn’t have much bearing (if any at all) on your rankings. The Meta description isn’t seriously high on the priority list, but it’s up there somewhere for a lot of folks. Just hear me out…

All too many times, I’ve seen the two tags flip-flopped around, and instead of entering a nicely formatted Meta description of a page, they jam it up full of 300 keywords AND they do the same thing for the Meta keywords tag. This is a very common mistake, and can easily be corrected.

At one time (long ago), these tags held incredible importance in the ranking of your site (when search engines were stupid), so keyword stuffing everything possible quickly became an effective (albeit blackhat) way to get your site at the top. Of course, this doesn’t hold true anymore, and I’ll go on record of saying that unless I’m being super anal about a site, I rarely mess with the Meta keywords tag anymore because it’s nearly completely useless. The Meta description, however, is something that Google sees and takes into consideration when providing search results, and again, it’s also one of the first things that a visitor will see after performing a search – so properly formatting it is probably worth your time.

A good Meta description should be a nice, 155 character description of your site, incorporating a few target keywords – but make it look “natural”. Usually, describing your site (whether you offer services or products) in a few well written sentences should do the trick, but here is an example of a less desirable Meta description vs. a good one:

Less Desirable

Bad Meta Tags


Good Meta Tags

Why? The “good” one takes advantage of the space they’re given, uses a couple of good keywords without sounding or looking like spam, and gives the end-user a clear and concise description of the services/products offered.

What’s wrong with the less desirable one? It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s too short, and doesn’t fully explain to me what they have to offer, compared to the next guy.

Just like Title tags, make sure you generate a unique Meta description for each page for maximum benefit.

3. Forgetting Image Alt Attributes

A very common mistake made among all is forgetting (or neglecting) to use good alt tags for the images on a page. Naming the image with a good keyword or phrase that describes the image is key to getting the search engines to recognize it (they can’t see what’s in the image…yet). Not only will it help you in places like Google images, but it will also help search engines more accurately identify what your page is about.

This one is quite simple, but just in case you need a visual…here is what the “Alternate Text” line should say for the following example:

Image Alt Attribute

Remember to keep your image sizes as optimized as possible, because you don’t want to slow down load time for your site. This can affect spider performance when they arrive on your page.

4. Too Many H1’s, or None at All

Header tags play an important role in “on-page” SEO, and properly using the available header tags can give the search engines a more clear-cut idea of the theme and idea of your page.

I’ve seen some projects use several H1’s (do they think they’re going to fool someone?), and completely ignore any other tags. The general rule is to use one H1 per page, and you want to use it for that particular page’s most important keyword (in other words, the text in your H1 should pretty much portray the content of the entire page). Then use your H2’s, H3’s and so on.

As a designer, you should know that you can style the header tags any way you’d like, so that shouldn’t be an excuse to use them improperly. H1 tags are huge by default, but with a little CSS, you can hook it up real nice.

5. Internal Linking – Not Using Good Anchor Text

This is a simple, yet potentially large issue. Internal linking (meaning, links that link pages of your entire website together) plays a part in your overall SEO situation. Google and others like to see healthy amounts of internal linking, so while its good to get in the habit of linking to your other pages in a proper, SEO friendly way.

To this day, I still see new sites that have fantastic internal linking, but they lack the ability to make the links really work for them by linking with proper anchor text. The most common instance of this is the dreadful “Click Here” anchor text. I have nothing against using “Click Here” for quick blog posts or things like that, but when it comes down to linking products or services, instead of using “Click Here” for blah blah blah, try using an anchor text that describes the page you’re linking to.

Example: Instead of “Click here to see the latest iPhone cases” you could use “Check out the latest iPhone cases” (using “iPhone cases” as the anchor text).

6. Forgetting to Leave Room for Text

Designers love to use all sorts of images and graphics wherever possible, which can make for a pretty page, but don’t forget to leave plenty of room for actual text!

While I hate using the phrase, “content is king”, it really still holds true, and allowing your clients to have a healthy amount of text on that newly designed page will help them achieve better rankings in the long run.

Organize your pages, and don’t be scared of using fancy images and graphics, just try not to overdo it. Simple, really.

7. Dirty Code

Again, I’m not a designer or coder, but I do know that Google and other search engines are not a fan of dirty, cluttered code. Having ugly and messy code can hurt your search rankings tremendously.

You want to make the job of searching the page as easy as possible on the search spiders, so that they’ll keep coming back on a regular basis.

Make sure HTML is validated and W3C compliant, and to go a step further for even more gains, try to bring your website up to 508 compliance, which is designed to allow sites to be accessible by those with disabilities. This is a relatively quiet subject, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that 508 compliant sites enjoy an extra boost when it comes to rankings. Here’s more on 508 compliancy standards.

8. Not Using Clean and Descriptive URLs

You’d think that by now, most people (even those that aren’t that familiar with SEO) would know that a cleaner, more keyword friendly URL is easier for the user and the search engines, but to this day, it’s still common to see URLs structured like this:

While Google and other search engines are still smart enough to find out what the page is about, there is still plenty of evidence that having a keyword descriptive URL will give you an edge when it comes to organic rankings.

An example of a search engine friendly URL:

So, why not play it safe, and make sure your URLs are looking as friendly as possible? Name your pages with keywords that appropriately describe them, and if you’re using a WordPress platform, make sure and change the permalink structure to something like /%postname%/

9. Too Much Flash

We all understand that flash can make a page look extremely attractive (if done right), and that you have a wide range of design possibilities when implementing it.

However, flash is the bane of Google’s existence. While Google and Adobe announced an initiative last year to allow Google to more deeply and thoroughly index and read flash, it’s still not anywhere near an optimal experience.

Using flash in your site should be limited to a supplemental design element at most – and if you remember anything, don’t put any important keyword rich text in the flash element where Google can’t see it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with incorporating a bit of flash into a page, but just keep in mind that search engine’s are still pretty much blind to it.

10. Using Only Javascript Navigation Menu’s

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a fancied up Javascript navigation menu with cool drop down’s and what-not. But keep in mind that search engines cannot read these navigation menus and follow them to their respective pages.

The most common and accepted way to use sweet Javascript based navigation and still allow the ability for search engine’s to discover your pages? Just duplicate the menu in text and throw it in the footer. You’ll see this on 9 out of 10 sites, and it is encouraged by Google to do so.

Are you making any of the 10 mistakes above in your design process?

If so, that’s alright, because it’s never too late to start adapting better SEO practices. Like I said at the beginning, your clients will appreciate the added SEO boost (even if they don’t know it) when you design a site that has a lot of the basics already implemented. Not only that, but the term “SEO” is a hot buzzword and through personal experience, a lot of clients have heard of it, but are not quite sure what it means – so being able to proudly say that your sites are “Search Engine Optimized” could make the difference between them selecting your or your competition.

28 Jun 2009


5 Simple Ways Twitter Can Make You a Better Web Designer

Twitter. The slogan is “what are you doing?”. Everyone has an account. But web designers should be aware of the fact that Twitter is much more than just “I’m eating some cereal” and “I’m driving to work”. In fact, Twitter can make you a better web designer. In this post I am going to show you how you can use Twitter to improve your web designs, learn new design techniques and grow your businesses profile. I can honestly say that Twitter has improved my web design skills more than any other single entity.

1. Follow the best designers

The first thing you need to do is follow the best web designers. These guys are constantly giving tips and hints on how you can improve your designs and as such they will be an invaluable source of knowledge. I make it a habit to keep my Twitter window open all day long and periodically check for updates from these top designers. I can think of at least four occasions when a revolutionary Tweet changed the way I designed one of my client’s websites.

Follow the Best Designers

A bunch of very patient and diligent bloggers out there have compiled some fantastic and valuable lists of the best web designers on Twitter. Here are a few:

TIP: Follow people who live in a different country than you. European and Australian designers are doing very different things than Americans.

2. Tweet some questions

Now that you are following the best web designers on Twitter you need to start asking them questions. The wonderful thing about Twitter is that, for the first time ever, you can connect with your design heroes without feeling like you are really bothering them. In the past you could have sent out an email but chances are you would never hear back. Now you can post a simple Tweet and get an instant response.

Make sure your questions are direct, simple and easy to answer. Here is an example of a Tweet I do every time I finish a new design. The result is about 40 to 100 replies from people telling me what they like/don’t like and as such I am always able to improve the design.


You can also ask question during the design process. I recently asked my followers whether there was a way to “resolution test” my designs on the one computer. Five minutes later I had 20 websites that converted my design to every screen size available. Fantastic!

TIP: Add “@designersname” to your questions if you want to make sure they see your question.

3. Promote your clients

A good web designer doesn’t just design the site and then vanish into thing air. Instead, they should put some initial effort into promoting their client’s business and the new website that they have created. One fantastic way to do this is to use Twitter to create a burst of initial traffic and gain some backlinks. This will do a lot for their Google rankings and help them kick start their online presence.

For example, if you have just designed a website for a local pizza joint (like in the example above) you can Tweet some details about their pizza and promote it to your followers. If you have followers in the area there is a good chance they will retweet your message and your client might even get some orders! Try and be creative in the way you do this.

Promote your clients with Twitter

TIP: Keep your message short if you want it to get retweeted. Remember, the retweeters are limited by 140 characters as well!

4. Get your clients on Twitter

This idea is about taking the previous point to a new level by getting your clients involved with the magic that is Twitter! Obviously this tip isn’t about the design itself, but it is about being a better web designer on the whole. Your clients can get a lot out of Twitter and if you are the one that takes the time to incorporate it into their site, get them involved and get them profiting from it then you will (in my opinion) be a lot better at what you do. It is extremely important to keep your clients and your designs up to speed with the latest trends and avoid being one of these “set and forget” type of web designers.

Here is a great example of how it is done. Terrafolia Flowers is a florist in Montreal and she uses her website to promote her Twitter account and her Twitter account to promote her website. By marketing herself as the “social florist” she can tap into a generation of tech-savvy users and provide a way for her clients to find her again and again. Take a look.

Florist Twitter Page

The Twitter page (above) is used to show some of her latest floral arrangements and provide inspiration for other florists out there. She can also keep in touch with her existing clients in a very informal and friendly way.

Florist Web Page

With over 1,300 followers her Tweets are bound to get some repeat business. Now ask yourself whether any of your clients could have benefitted from this type of interactivity. What a wonderful (and free!) way for them to promote their business on a new scale. They would love you for this idea.

TIP: Make this an additional package in your web designs that you either charge for or add on as a bonus for premium sign ups.

5. Use contests to promote your firm

In the right hand sidebar there is a list of the most popular topics on Twitter for any given day. They are called Trending Topics. At the top of this list for the first part of June 2009 was the word #squarespace. The reason? Squarespace were giving away an iPhone every day for a month if you added that word to your Tweets. The result? Squarespace experienced an avalanche of traffic and got masses of new sign ups for their blogging software packages. I was shocked to see how many of my followers set up new Squarespace blogs during this promotion.

Squarespace Contest

Of all the social media sites it is Twitter that has the ability to go truly viral. The reason I use the world “truly” is because Twitter seems to create a lot of conversions, not just traffic. Stumble Upon and Digg are wonderful for bringing new visitors to your site but these visitors rarely convert to friends, followers or clients. Twitter is different. Squarespace are getting hundreds of new clients paying $30 a month due to some free marketing on Twitter. Imagine what you could do for your web design business.

TIP: Make your prizes concrete items like cash, phones or iPods. People do not respond well to eBooks, free designs or consulting.


Twitter is fantastic because it is full of talented people who are willing to converse with their peers. A few months on Twitter and I guarantee you will re-think the way you look at the web design business. You will modernize, become more effective and learn a wealth of new tips for dealing with your clients. If you aren’t already on Twitter I urge you to sign up today and implement these five tips.

24 Jun 2009


Blogger, Designer, and Self-Employed – Interview with Chris Spooner

Chris Spooner1. To get started, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living?

Sure, I’m Chris Spooner, I work as a self employed designer and run my design blogs, Blog.SpoonGraphics and Line25.

2. How did your two blogs come to be, and why did you create them?

Blog.SpoonGraphics was created over two years ago originally as a little experiment with the WordPress application. I had seen design blogs springing up and decided to give it a go myself. Soon after publishing a couple of tutorials and freebies, the site started to grow in popularity. Many articles and posts later the site is continuing to grow and has reached a fantastic level of popularity in the web community!

Line25 was setup more recently, given the enjoyment I have developing Blog.SpoonGraphics, I decided to branch out and do it all again. I wanted to focus more on web design topics, but with Blog.SpoonGraphics developing a name for Illustrator tutorials, I didn’t want to suddenly switch subjects. Setting up a second blog seemed like the perfect way forward, and Line25 is also seeing some unbelievable growth in the four months it has been active.

3. Where do you find inspiration for your blog posts, and how do you keep coming up with fresh ideas?

Ideas for blog posts tend to appear from general Internet browsing and picking out interesting images from magazines. If there’s a feature that catches my attention, creating a blog post on the topic is a great way to research into the topic further, which also helps polish my own skills.

Blog Post Title

4. How have your blogs come to have such a strong following? What advice would you give to bloggers just starting out?

Keep up the hard work. Even with Line25 having the advantage of receiving an already establishing group of subscribers from Blog.SpoonGraphics, it’s difficult in the early days to keep a consistent level of traffic. Keep the faith and pump out articles that you think would be interesting to fellow designers, sooner or later one will be picked up and receive a decent influx of visitors.

5. Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Browsing design galleries and the work of inspiring designers is always a great help, although I also seem to pick out interesting images from magazines and general things I come across on a daily basis.


6. What first got you interested in design, and how did you go about getting into this industry?

I’ve always been fairly creative minded, and went down the creative route throughout schooling and college. After university I landed my first job as a Graphic/Web Designer at a local small studio. A good website has always been a useful resource for landing jobs and opportunities, so that’s one recommendation I’d give to others.

7. How (and when) did you transfer into the freelance designer lifestyle? How did you turn your work into a personal business and gain your first clients?

I worked on a couple of personal and client related projects in my spare time outside of work to begin with to gain a feel for managing projects completely by myself. After a while my blog revenue increased to cover my basic monthly expenses, which was a great help in making the transition to working for myself. The exposure it has developed online now brings in clients from around the world, along with some really interesting work!

8. Could you describe a typical workday in your life as a freelance designer and blogger?

A typical workday starts by catching up on Twitter and browsing through a couple of links I come across. I’ll then check over emails for the day and respond to clients or messages from my blogs. I usually aim to work on a project or blog post in the morning, and one in the afternoon, so depending on what I have in store at that moment I’ll either work on some kind of web design, a little coding, a logo design, or think of a topic to create an article about. Midday I’ll head off for some lunch, then check over my RSS feeds for some cool topics from the blogosphere. My interesting findings are then posted to Twitter to share with others.

9. Has owning Blog.SpoonGraphics and Line25 helped you find clients, or helped your freelance design career in any other way?

For sure, my blog over at Blog.SpoonGraphics has been a fantastic source of clients, mostly through the exposure it has given online. So much in fact, that I hardly need my portfolio website anymore.

10. What is your general design process now that you have the freedom of freelancing?

My design process tends to vary slightly depending on the nature of the project, but generally an estimate will be created based on an indication of time needed for the work. This is then invoiced as a 50% deposit and the project started with research and sketching. Designs are created and supplied to the client, followed by an invoice of the remaining balance. Between these steps I try to keep the relationship personal and informal, in my eyes there’s nothing worse than all that boring business jargon and malarkey!

11. Finally, what are some of our future goals for your blogs, your freelancing business, and for yourself?

I’m looking forward to developing both blogs further into the future with new posts and useful content; Line25 is heading towards the 10k subscriber milestone so I’m looking forward to that achievement. Outside of blogging I’m looking to continue on with a selection of interesting design projects and generally keep on top of any upcoming changes in the industry!

19 Jun 2009


19 and Successful: Interview with Sam & Zach Dunn

Interview with Sam & Zach Dunn

To begin, can you both tell us a little about yourselves and about your role with Build Internet?

Sam: We’re both going into our Junior year at University of Hartford, and be turning 20 next month.

In terms of the blog, I typically cover Photoshop and jQuery, although I have dabbled in other categories such as PHP and discussion pieces. Additionally I’ve been responsible for the design of Build Internet, now on it’s second revision.

Behind the scenes I have a fair share of involvement in our other projects such as the our upcoming One Mighty Roar company site, which has limited the amount of posts I’ve been able to make thus far, that’s changing soon.

Zach: Seeing as how we’re twins, I don’t have all that much more to add onto what Sam has already said about our background. However, as far as the blog goes I work a lot more on the regular posting schedule with a focus on usability, motivation pieces, and WordPress.

I handle the majority of the community components of blogging. This means that I go out and promote the latest posts, keep the social media up to par, and just flat out mingle in the web niche when possible.

How did Build Internet begin? What inspired you both to create it, and what has motivated you to keep it going?

Zach: We’ve worked on web design for years now. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to actively read blogs in the web design and development niche.

A big motivator has been the successes of other bloggers in the niche. Take Jacob Cass for example! To me, Jacob represents a great example of how a student can get a solid head start into a career while still attending a University. It’s absolutely amazing to see the amount of diverse client work Jacob has brought in as a result of his blog. David Leggett is another great example of a young guy managing high quality blogs that actually impact thousands of people.

Sam: We were both avid readers of several web niche blogs and wanted to dive into it ourselves. I would say the community has been one of the most pleasant surprises of all, immersing ourselves in it through our blog has caused us to make some great connections.

What do you two write about on Build Internet? Who should read your blog?

Zach: We (try to) write about useful things. Our articles are meant to spark discussion or food for thought on the topics important to the web niche. We post under the mentality that sometimes people just need to have their attention brought to the simple overlooked possibilities out on the web.

Everyone has seen the “30 Amazing WordPress Theme Widgets” style posts out there, but not everyone realizes how easy it is to do it themselves. We like getting people to do things rather than just show them good looking things without explanation week after week. We try to empower people by giving them bite-sized bits of good internet and give a direction for real applications.

Sam: First off, everyone should read our blog. Now if I can be more specific and slightly less bold – anyone in the web or graphic design niche would probably benefit from clicking around. We also try to discuss trending topics or business practices via articles. Odds are if someone is visiting this blog, they’d enjoy Build Internet too. See how I wove in that shameless promotion so seamlessly?

What is it like to be so successful in the online world at such a young age? How do you balance college, the aspects of offline life, and your growing blog?

Zach: I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression about our success. Even though we’ve experienced phenomenal growth in the past six months, I wouldn’t define us as a clear cut success just yet. We’ve still got plenty of growing to do, and a lot of that comes with balancing time.

During the college year our availability changes by the week. Since there are two of us running the blog together, it made it much easier to stick to the every 2-3 day posting schedule which has worked so well for us so far. Our biggest motto is to “Stay social”, and I think we’ve done a good job at that so far.

The New Office

Sam: I get a kick out of this question because while I am appreciative of where we are right now, we still have a long way to go when compared to fellow niche blogs like Tutorial9 and Smashing Magazine.

My friends IRL (that stands for In Real Life, it’s an acronym that saves me bundles of time), laugh occasionally because of the pretty open love affair I have with the internet. While I have been known to do some marathon hours, most particularly in the development of my Supersized jQuery plugin, I keep social too. The whole education thing just limits how frequently we can post new articles.

I wouldn’t normally ask about income in an interview like this, but because you both are as young as me and most of my readers, it’s inspiring to know about income potential at such an age. How much do you make off of Build Internet, and does it function like a business in some sense?

Build Internet is directly tied to One Mighty Roar, which is our web design and development business. The income from the blog has been a moderate success and it’s brought in enough to fund things like our new office and other various costs related to running the blog and business.

I’d rather not get into exact specific numbers, but our chief income comes from BuySellAds (which is an easy number to calculate…hint hint). Adsense brings in a couple dollars a day, and we’ve got a few leads for clients from it too. All in all, we’ve managed to fund some cool things but it’s nothing to get excited about yet.

We’re hoping in the next year to reach an income level from the blog where we can fund paid guest posts in the style of larger blog networks like Envato. We’ve had a few guest posts already for exposure alone, but it should really be a compensated in the future.

Sam: As an added bonus, Build Internet functions as a miniature PR agency for us. We’ve gotten contacted from all sorts wonderful individuals.

Your blog is about web design, development, and business. When and how did you become interested in these fields? Tell us a bit about the history of both of you on the Internet.

Zach: Looking back it’s been funny to see where we came from. Our first website (since taken down) was built at the beginning of high school using copy and paste Dreamweaver snippets. We registered with a .tk address and was filled stuff that only had value to the people who made it.

In high school we started with the computer science route, but it was too much math and not enough creativity. We jumped over to the web design side of the hall and founded Cazzu Media at the end of our Junior year in high school.

We’ve grown a lot through client work and side projects since then. One of the biggest changes made is the company name. A number of factors led to the change in branding. The least of which is the unsavory meaning of the word Cazzu to southern Italy (We’re sorry). We’re currently finalizing the name change to One Mighty Roar, and we’ll be moving forward with some exciting client jobs.

Sam: I got a kick out of the whole art and creativity thing throughout elementary school, did the computer science track in high school, and somewhere in between decided I hated cubicles. When I put all of those things together I decided that web design was the perfect three way polygamist marriage between art, coding and creativity.

Is there any advice or tips you can give to someone just starting out a blog, or with online entrepreneurship?

Zach: Overall, the best advice is the most obvious. Be useful, even if you think it may be obvious. Don’t think that you can produce content without any clear cut direction. Try to fit in and complement your niche rather than top all the existing players. The blogosphere is not a cutthroat competitive area, and there’s always room for more quality blogs.

I find my best content comes from things where I’m learning in the process too. That’s why I suspect our jQuery tutorials are among the most popular. I teach myself for the tutorial, and then teach others based on my attempts.

Last piece of advice is to have idols. Not a stalker sense, but just have accomplished people in the niche who you look up to. It helps to have someone to aspire to when you’re putting together a plan of action. For us and blogging, it was people like David Leggett, Jacob Cass, and other 20-ish year olds with quality content.

Sam: Be the most candid, genuine, real human being possible. When starting a blog you are trying to reach out to a community of real people, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be one too. Be conversational and get involved in the community to build an audience.

What are your future plans for Build Internet, other projects, and for yourselves?

Zach: We’re going to hopefully continue to build up the readership on Build Internet. Sam and I are both currently working on a number of guest posts for other big name web niche blogs.

Sam: We are aiming to expand the reach of the blog by driving up RSS and Twitter subscribers and increasing the frequency of posts. Additionally we have One Mighty Roar, our company site, which will serve to be a hub for our client work and our blog network. We are currently in the process of getting some quality blogs together under the One Mighty Roar network, we already have The Nonsense Society (an art blog), but there will be some hip new additions in coming months. We’re royally stoked.


Also be sure to keep a lookout for Zach and Sam’s new blog, Officeal — planned to open in early July. It’s going to be a blog about awesome offices — pretty interesting stuff — so keep checking on for when that launches!


17 Jun 2009


Top 10 Twitter Tools That Will Have You Tweeting Like a Rockstar

Twitter has quickly become a force to be reckoned with – just ask any major cable news agency. Fancy, Armani suit-wearing news executives around the world are still trying to figure out why all they see are cute little blue birds flying around everywhere they look, along with the occasional whale that fails. Twitter has truly become a mainstream, real-time information dissemination platform that is rapidly becoming the unofficial official news source of the entire planet.

With that being the case, and especially with the latest breaking news action in the Middle East (for which Twitter seems to be their last remaining resource to communicate), I thought it would be nice to go over a top 10 list of useful Twitter applications, tools and resources that will help you to better organize your Twittering experience. You may as well get familiar with them now, because many top social media experts claim that Twitter has long passed the “fad” mark in the social media timeline. If it’s here to stay, then it’s time to learn about all the cool stuff you can do with it.

Let’s do this.


This one may sound obvious, but guess what the number one Twitter tool is? That’s right, Twitter itself! You see, not all that long ago, Twitter lacked some key features that tweeters needed at their disposal – such as the ability to “RT” (retweet) with the click of a button, a list of trending topics in the sidebar, and other little odds and ends that make tweeting so fun and easy. While in reality you don’t technically need all of the other fancy tools I’ll be talking about below, they will help boost your Twitter experience to the next level. Just keep in mind that if you’re in a rush, and want to tweet something quickly, it’s easy to just log on to with your username and get it done.


Talk about super organization, Tweetdeck is easily one of the most popular Twitter management clients out there. Eventually, as your Twittering becomes more crazy, fast and confusing, (which tends to happen when you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of followers) so you’re going to need to bring in the big gun. Tweetdeck definitely qualifies as a big gun. After installing Tweetdeck (an Adobe Air app), immediately you’ll see dozens of features and opportunities to manage your Twitter stream. Separate friends from colleagues and family, key in on certain keywords that were mentioned in your stream, sort your replies, narrow down specific topics being mentioned – I mean the list literally goes on and on. Oh, and did I mention you can simultaneously post to your Facebook account as well? Sweet.

As with any great application, there is an evil dark side – and in this instance, it’s another case of a great app being a complete resource hog. Recent Tweetdeck updates have addressed this issue, but it’s still not quite as efficient as it could be. Most will agree that it’s worth the trade-off.

Download Tweetdeck here.


3. Twhirl

Another Adobe Air based application, Twhirl is another highly popular Twitter management platform that certainly gives the above a run for its money. Perhaps one of the coolest things about Twhirl, besides the easy to use interface, is the ability to post to other sites like Jaiku, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and more. Packing a URL shortener and TwitPic powered image uploader; Twhirl brings the heat when it comes to managing every aspect of your social networking experience. Oh, and for the spelling challenged, it has built in spell checking. Sometimes it’s the little things in life…

Start playing with Twhirl here.


4. TwitPic

What would Twitter be without the ability to quickly post up pics of that wicked huge quadruple bacon cheeseburger you just ordered? Seriously though, pictures make Twitter what it is. Whether a tornado just blew through your town, or you just spotted Justin Timberlake naked on the beach, passing this info around is crucial to your social standing. TwitPic easily reigns as the top Twitter image uploader, and many applications and tools integrate TwitPic for ease of use.

When using TwitPic, you can post pictures to your Twitter stream via your computer or smartphone, which is definitely a must. When a picture is uploaded, it will show the number of views it gets, which is quite satisfying for those of us with massive egos to maintain. Best of all, it requires no extra signups or registrations – if you have a Twitter account, you automatically have a TwitPic account.

Check TwitPic out here.


5. Tweet-Later

The ultimate tool for those that like to work ahead is available in a free and paid version. The free version includes the ability to schedule tweets to go out at specific times, send automatic direct messages to new followers (which can be annoying to some folks), URL shortener, automatically unfollow those who unfollow you, and all sorts of cool little time savers that most would appreciate.

The paid version, of course, includes all of the free version stuff, plus the ability to weed out spam (which is huge), manage multiple Twitter accounts, run your own Twitter bots, and a nice selection of other enhancements to fully and completely automate your Twitter experience. The paid version of TweetLater costs around $30 USD per month, but there is a free trial that will allow you to test every function before buying into it. For most average tweeters, the free version should suffice.

Sign up for Tweet-Later here.


6. Group Tweet

So whether you’re tweeting for your company, or your boy scout group leaders, Group Tweet is a sweet little deal that will allow you to send group tweet to specific groups you set up in its interface. Perhaps you want to send one message to your web development team, and another message to your designers – well, this is the tool that you absolutely must have.

Using Group Tweet is as simple as setting up an account, registering your group on, and having all group members follow the special account you created, and viola! You can tactically send out messages and keep the lines of communication flowing. Best of all, it’s free.

Try Group Tweet here.


7. Twitter Counter

For those of us that need data (and ego inflation), there is a super cool online tool available called Twitter Counter. This awesome Twitter stats tracking tool will tell you everything from the amount of followers you’re predicted to have in 30 days to your average follower growth per day.

Best of all – they have graphs, charts, downloadable badges to show off your count on a blog or website, and just all kinds of fun and potentially valuable data that you might need personally or even in a company environment.

Personally, I love the “Twitter Rank”, which shows where you rank among your people, or even where you rank on a global scale. Twitter Counter is free to use, and if you love analytics, this is about as specific as it can get for Twitter.

Play with Twitter Counter here.


8. Twello

With a cool name like “Twello”, it’s hard to ignore this super directory of interesting twits. Let’s say you’re interested in following people that are into cooking, or energy, or real estate. Whatever it is you fancy, the first place you should visit is Twello.

Twello is a massive directory of twits that are broken down into all sorts of categories, and chances are good that if you’re looking for a specific group of people, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Twello also allows you to link to your personal website along with pretty much any other social networking site you have a profile on.

At the time of this writing, Twello (a service of sports nearly 5 million user profiles.

Start your Twello profile here.


9. Monitter

Let’s pretend the world is experiencing several breaking news events that you’d like to keep track of simultaneously. As you probably already know, Twitter is the best way to get real time news from ground zero. But unless you’re wanting to open several instances of Twitter search on your computer to follow each keyword or tag relevant to each unique situation, there is a better way.

Monitter allows you to monitor several different keywords in one handy interface, with real time updates. Today was the first time I’ve ever used Monitter (due to all of the goings on in the world right now), and I must say that I’m highly impressed! The information flowed very smoothly and there were no hiccups that I noticed.

Monitter is free to use, and it looks very sharp and crisp. It also allows you to specify the monitoring of tweets within a certain radius of a city or town, which can come in very handy for local events.

Try Monitter here.


10. Twitterholic

Last but definitely not least, is Twitterholic. This clever site allows you view the top 100 tweeters of all time (which Ashton Kutcher is leading the pack with over two million, with Ellen DeGeneres close behind) and best of all, it allows you to enter your Twitter username and it will pull stats within your city or location to show where you rank.

Not that this information is important, but let’s be honest, it’s fun.

Have fun with Twitterholic here.


Hopefully you’ve learned a little more about the top 10 Twitter tools that are available for you to use. Sure, there are literally dozens more, but the one above seem to get the most attention, and I’m sure a few were left off the list that should have been there (depending on whom you talk with). At any rate, the tools and services above should give any Tweeter, rookie or veteran, a lot of extra help in managing and having fun with their Twitter stream(s).

If you have suggestions for tools that should be included, by all means leave them in the comments below.

16 Jun 2009


Interview with Steven Snell – The lifestyle of a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer

Interview with Steven Snell

1. First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living?

I’m 30 years old and my wife and I live in suburban Philadelphia (in New Jersey). It’s kind of hard to say exactly what I do for a living. I’m a web design, blogger and freelance writer, but I kind of bounce around in terms of the balance between the three. Sometimes I feel like spending more time working on sites for clients, and other times I may put that on hold and dedicate more time to freelance writing. Fortunately, my work allows me some freedom to pick and choose at times.

2. How did these two design blogs start, and what motivated you to create them?

Vandelay Design Blog

The blog at Vandelay Design started about two years ago. At that time I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. My goal was to put some articles on the site in hopes that the content would help to draw search engine visitors and ultimately lead to some clients. Before too long the blog started drawing way more traffic than I ever expected and I started noticing that many of my readers were other designers rather than people who would be looking to hire a designer. At that point my focus with the blog shifted and I’ve never really used it to directly promote myself or my services, which was my original intent. started in July of 2008 because there were some things that I wanted to do with the site that I didn’t feel were completely appropriate at Vandelay Design. Even though I don’t use the blog at Vandelay Design to promote my services, it still is a portfolio site and that comes with some limitations. I wanted to start a more community-oriented site that could include things like a design job board, a gallery, and a news section, in addition to a blog. To me it made more sense to start a new site since there was really a new purpose.

3. Were your blogs always community based? (If they weren’t, how did you begin to create community around them?) How has a sense of community enhanced your websites?

The community at Vandelay Design is actually what got the blog really moving in the right direction. At first I was just using the blog as a way to publish articles, like I said earlier, I really didn’t understand the community aspect of blogging or social media. I started getting some traffic, somewhat unexpectedly, and people started commenting and linking and that is really how I began to learn about blogging. In some ways I feel like the community around the blog was stronger when there were less readers because I would be familiar with most of the commenters and I had more time to visit their sites and interact there as well.

At both Vandelay Design and the design blogging community is largely responsible for any success that I’ve had. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of great links and meet many awesome people that have allowed the audience at both sites to grow. Without that I don’t think I would still be blogging.

4. I’ve seen you around the blogging community over at Smashing Magazine, FreelanceSwitch, PSDTuts+, and many others. What is the freelance blogging lifestyle like?

Freelance blogging has been great for me. I actually never set out to be a freelance blogger but I was offered a position with Daily Blog Tips after I submitted a guest post and I almost said I wasn’t interested. I decided to give it a chance and I really liked it. It’s a great way to get exposure and links to your own blog, but the best part is that you get to meet some very influential people. It’s been really cool to work with people like Vitaly Friedman from Smashing Magazine and you can learn a lot about what it takes to run a successful blog just from being involved on a small scale. The downside of freelance blogging is that it does take a lot of time if you’re writing detailed posts, and that is time that you lose for working on your own sites. The last few months I’ve really cut back on my freelance writing because I have been focusing on some of my own projects.

5. Where do you find motivation and inspiration for everything you do, from web design to writing?

A lot of my motivation comes from the desire to run a successful business. I worked for several years in typical corporate America jobs and it really made me hate that lifestyle of working for a company that cared nothing about me or my future. So even though those people don’t care and would never really know whether my business is successful or not, I still have the attitude that I’m going to succeed in my own way to show that I don’t need a job from them.

In terms of design inspiration, I get a lot of it from design galleries and blogs. I try to also mix in inspiration from offline sources, but since I spend the majority of my time online I often find myself going there first.

6. To what would you tribute your overall success? Is there anything specifically that helped you become as well-known in the web design community as you are?

Well, I still have a long way to go before I would consider myself to be successful, but whatever success I have been able to have along the way I would attribute to consistent effort and a great network of friends and colleagues. I look back at the first few months of blogging and almost none of my blogging friends from that time are still actively blogging. Most got discouraged and gave up, or realized it just wasn’t that important to them. Blogging for an income takes consistent work, even when things don’t seem encouraging. Once I got my first small taste of blogging success (I literally went from about 10 visitors in one day to a few thousand the next because of an appearance on the Delicious front page) I became determined to grow my blog and that has kept me motivated ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to get some really great readers that have supported my blogs, and getting links and mentions from others in the community has been huge.

7. What advice would you give to anyone just starting out in the field of web design, or freelance blogging?

For web designers my advice is to find what you truly enjoy and follow after that. Some people love freelancing and others prefer working as an employee. And some people want to start a small studio of their own. Even though you may be a designer, those situations are all very different. My advice is to evaluate the differences and see what fits best with your lifestyle and your goals. And also, always be working on your own skills and abilities. I know I have a long way to go as a designer, but at least I can feel good about the fact that I’m moving forward.

For those who are interested in freelance blogging, my advice is to be assertive. If you don’t have much of a profile yet, the freelancing jobs are not likely to find you. Be willing to take the initiative and contact some blog owners about the possibility of writing for them. Taking action always beats not taking action. Also, I would advise freelance bloggers to work on building their own blog(s) at the same time. Constantly writing posts for other blogs can be very draining, and as soon as you stop, the money stops coming as well. By having you own blog that makes some money you will be better off.

New Gallery Sites

Steven has also just started up 5 new gallery sites, so be sure to check them out below. All are a great source for inspiration!

Cart Frenzy

A showcase of excellent e-commerce web design.

Cart Frenzy

Type Inspire

A Showcase of excellent typography design.

Type Inspire

Minimal Exhibit

A showcase of minimalism in web design.

Minimal Exhibit

Folio Focus

A showcase of outstanding portfolio websites.

Folio Focus

Blog Design Heroes

A showcase of excellent blog designs.

Blog Design Heroes

15 Jun 2009


Create a Community Blog with 10 WordPress Plugins

12 Jun 2009


Top 10 Creative (and free) WordPress Themes

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