One of my new favorite podcast and blog is John Jantsch’s “Duck Tap Marking”. It is a must read/listen for all those tech companies out there that have great technical skills but are short on (or dare I say scared of) marketing knowledge. He was a guest speaker on the British “Internet Marketing” podcast episode #112, and that is what hooked me.
It’s hard to explain, but he has a very eloquent and concise way of putting things in to perspective. He also points to tools and software that makes his life easier.
Funwatercraft uses dealers to sell their Hydrobike parts and bikes. To determine and manage each dealer’s territory they needed some tools built into their Ordering Processing System.
To sum up the requirement:
- Get a list of ZIP codes based on a “home” ZIP and a variable radius.
- Be able to add or remove individual ZIP codes.
- Review any conflicts (overlapping territory)
- When a customer calls be able to enter their ZIP code and see the dealer for that area.
- BTW, make it work in Canada too.
To keep it priced in budget, we had to look for some free web services. I found a lot of web sites that allow you to get a list for the US (ex. http://www.free-zipcode-maps.com/) and a very nice site that shows the ZIP Codes visually, Maps.Huge.Info.
I put link to those online tools in the web application for them to do some manual work, however, I still need the main function of auto populating the dealer territory with a set of postal codes. I finally came across this free Web Service GeoNames http://www.geonames.org/
The service is free for light users. You can only return 500 rows and your radius can be no more then 18 Miles (30 km). There is a premium paid service that removes these limits, however, for Funwatercraft, it is more then enough. It also works for most of the worlds.
So, the business flow is
- They create a new dealer record and set a radius.
- On save, it will fetch the postal code list.
- User can add and remove codes as they see fit using the previous mentioned web tools.
Also, in the master search, I added code that will determine if the requested search is a ZIP Code or a Postal code and find the dealer for that code.
It’s pretty slick. Only four hours of work.
When dealing with visual clients, it helps to create a few wireframe mockups of the core functional pages. A wireframe for a website is basically a rough sketch of the page elements and their spatial relationship between them. This helps to make sure everyone is thinking the same way. Clients can see how their ideas will play out before they commit to a more in-depth process.
When I am at a desktop, I use Visio for my wireframe mockups need. However, I came across iMockups for the iPad by Endloop Systems inc. Not bad at all. I found myself sitting in the front lobby of my client’s business waiting for a delivery. I pulled out my iPad and started to wire up another mini-application. I was impressed. I was able to create several screens in a 20 min. sitting on a couch. The desktop/Visio combination is still faster, however, this iMockups app is perfect when you are away from your main computer.
We updated J.R. Hudson from old school asp to ASP.MVC in C#. We didn’t change the style or content, however, the HTML does need to be updated from the old way of tables to the better practice of Div based layout. Also, the Gallery effects is very basic and could enjoy the effects of jQuery
With the new MVC framework, we took advantage with a new SEO friendly URL structure. We used the keywords “custom” and “installations” in the directories for added boost. A couple of things are still outstanding:
- They need more content.
- The images need alt and title tags
- More back links
- Google profile for it’s local listing
Every site should have a site map. A site map is just an xml file that lists all the unique pages that you want to be index. You are literally telling the search engines “Hey, these are the pages that I think are the most important”. It should sit in the root of the web site and should be called “sitemap.xml”. You can call it anything you want, but it seems to be an industry standard. I know WordPress.com uses the “sitemap.xml” convention.
Here is a simple peek at a two page sitemap:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″ ?>
<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9” xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance” xsi:schemaLocation=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd“>
For sites that are less then 500 pages, you can use the free online Sitemap Generator at XML-Sitemaps.com For sites with more then 500 page, you can use Xenu by Tilman Hausherr. This piece of magical software will create your site maps, but it does so much more. I will talk about its extended abilities some other time, but for now, once you get your sitemap in the root directory, you need to tell Google and Bing explicitly where to find it.
Once web sites are built, depending on the client, they tend to be “frozen” with the best practices of the day. This past month we have an initiative to modernize and standardize websites that are over two years old. This includes making sure each website has:
Each of these tools requires that you have control of the site.