By Sarah Haas
As a millennial, I’m part of a unique generation gifted with the context of growing up in a pre-tech world while coming-of-age in a global, tech-savvy landscape. As a result, millennials are the last generation to remember life without reliance on technology, and the first generation to intuitively weave it seamlessly into daily life.
However, I’ve come to realize that being able to use tech doesn’t mean I’m any good at creating it.
Why A Website Matters
Growing antsy in my current job last year, I decided to browse other opportunities. Given my varied background and the overcrowded market, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue but I knew I had to sell myself easily and effectively – within about 10 seconds.
I perfected my elevator pitch and made my resume pop, but it wasn’t enough.
I didn’t know how to tell my professional narrative cohesively, and sending multiple attachments via email was time-consuming and ripe with anxiety over whether the larger files ended up in junk mail.
I knew as a brand I had real potential, but I didn’t know how to leverage it.
I needed a website.
Having a website is now not only common, but it’s totally trending as a professional differentiator, even among people who work in fields not traditionally associated with needing one (e.g.: nannies, bakers, yoga teachers, etc.).
With one URL, I could organize my materials, carve out appropriate categories and effortlessly send any potential employers a relevant deep link accordingly.
Visually Defining My Brand
So I did what most of us do – I made myself a free WordPress page.
The plan was to create a one-stop-Sarah-content-shop with a cool domain name, streamlined design, ample white space and gorgeous visuals. I’d use a simple color scheme with easy navigation between my career highlights, volunteer experience, writing samples and visual portfolio. The best part, I rationed, is that it would be free.
I had worked in digital media for years and was a casual consumer of online content since I was a kid in the 1990s. I knew what made a good website, and so I assumed I could easily handle spending a few hours designing one. I didn’t have the cash to spend on hiring a professional, and – true confession — I didn’t want to be incapable of doing what seemed so easy for my peers.
After all, I wasn’t trying to promote my web design skills – I just needed a digital space to highlight what I was trying to promote: Me.
What Is My Time Worth?
It’s a difficult question. Free rarely means easy, but easy usually costs money.
I knew my time was valuable, but I didn’t realize just what it was worth.
After deciding on a platform and selecting a free template, I spent hours trying to master it, swapping it out, then building pages only to find that they refused to look how I wanted. (Sometimes due to code restrictions, and other times thanks to my own amateur skills.)
Annoyed, I cut my losses and activated a free trial for a paid platform which promised it would be much easier for me to make the website of my dreams. It wasn’t. And then it charged me.
Eventually I lamented my troubles to a designer friend of mine and naively asked if he could just, “You know, make me one?”
He gave a hearty laugh, and then told me his rates.
Turns out that even with a generous “friends & family” discount, time is still money. As it should be.
Both are valuable, fleeting and necessary investments to get results.
It’s up to me to invest wisely.
I knew I could make a website — in fact, I think I made about four during my trial-and-error efforts – and I knew I understood what a good one should look like.
But after endless hours of trying fruitlessly to create something up-to-par, I still couldn’t make my site resemble what I envisioned. Try as I might, it just didn’t look like I wanted it to, it didn’t work the way I needed it to and it didn’t tell the story in way that supported the whole purpose of its existence in the first place.
So now my website idles disjointed and unfinished. I am depleted – lacking creative gusto, and in need of renewed energy if I ever want to populate the site with actual content.
I was so burned out devoting my time to perfecting my amateur skills as a web designer, coder, information architect and expert HTML color palette-picker that I didn’t have any energy left for what I actually wanted to be my focus: My brand.
Invest Your Time Wisely
Anyone can build a website, even me. However, I want to focus my attention on my brand, not teaching myself how to build the website to promote it.
By hiring a professional designer, I can narrow my focus to creating the best content I can to fill its pages.
I accept that my cash-flow is limited, but so is my time. It’s an investment, and if I’m going to invest in myself, I need a site that’s as extraordinary as the person being promoted.
So before deciding whether to design your own website (which can be quite a fun adventure … or a massive time-suck), just ask this question first: How can I best invest?
Sarah Haas is a marketing professional for a Fortune-15 tech company in the Pacific Northwest. She’s also a freelance writer, performs with the local LGBTQ theatre company Fantastic.Z and volunteers with the nonprofit animal rescue group Motley Zoo.
She holds a Masters in Media Studies from The School for Public Engagement at The New School in NYC and lives in Seattle with her two dogs, two cats and multiple streaming media subscriptions. She still believes that the truth is out there.
RESPONSIVE WEB SITES
Responsive web design is not just a buzzword or a passing trend to ignore. Rather, it’s the new standard in professional web design and search engine optimization. It’s common for people to use multi-screen browsing, meaning they may access a website on desktop, then a laptop, and then later on a smartphone. So your website needs to adapt to the myriad ways in which your visitors are accessing it. 2014 was the first year when mobile internet traffic surpassed desktop traffic, and recent reports show that 60 percent of total digital media time is spent on smartphones and tablets.
WHAT IS RESPONSIVE DESIGN?
Simply put, a responsive website displays all the content, images, and structure of that website in a viewable and usable manner, regardless of the device it’s being accessed from. The pages, text and link spacing all adjust to fit the size of the screen, whether it’s a desktop computer or a smartphone.
GOOGLE’S NEW SEARCH ALGORITHM
Whatever your personal preference, the simple fact is that two-thirds of all searches on the internet are done by people using Google; and 83% of all mobile searches use Google. While Bing and Yahoo are contenders, their market share just isn’t anywhere near that. And Google not only says that responsive design is great, it recommends responsive design as the top website configuration.
Beginning April 21, mobile friendliness will be a ranking criteria for websites on Google. Per Google’s Webmaster Central Blog: “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.” (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2015/02/finding-more-mobile-friendly-search.html) The algorithms will favor mobile-friendly sites, using a real-time, page-by-page basis to determine mobile friendliness.
Google isn’t penalizing non-responsive sites so much as now heavily weighing mobile-friendliness in its mix of factors for ranking. To decide whether you need to invest in mobile right now, look at your current website analytics, your target audience, and your marketing strategy. A successful mobile-friendly website is more than one that just fits the screen, so think it through first.
We’re one week into 2015, and even if you’re sworn off resolutions (or have already broken a few you’ve made), there are six resolutions that you really ought to make and keep. We’re not talking about diet, exercise, or finances (though those are good too), but resolutions to keep you on top of our ever-growing digital world.
1. Clean your gadgets. Ever looked behind your computer at the growing dust bunny colony? Yup, me too. Time to get rid of the dust and grime which can cause your computer to overheat and can slow down performance. Don’t forget to shake out your keyboard and wipe off your mouse too! And wipe off your smartphone – scientific studies show that the average smartphone contains more than twice as many germs as a public toilet seat.
2. Back up all your devices. This includes your computer, your phone, etc. Simple rule – if you have it, back it up! There are many options for computer backup including internal, external, network drives, online services, thumb drives, and more. Check out this comprehensive list from Consumer Reports: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/computer-backup-systems/buying-guide.htm . Pick one, back up your data, and protect yourself from possible loss due to a computer crash.
Your smartphone should have a cloud-based backup system (such as Google Drive for Android or iCloud). Make sure you’ve turned the app on and that it’s working.
3. Change your passwords. We’ve written about this before (http://www.webdesignsbylao.com/wordpress/internet-safety/) but it bears repeating. With so much of our personal and work life going digital, password security is more important than ever. The key to online safety is making sure that all of your online accounts are protected by a unique, strong password. Having an account compromised is bad enough but if the stolen password is used on all your other accounts, the problems multiply. Unbelievably, the most commonly hacked password is still “password.” Change them … now. And consider using a password manager.
4. Delete your old accounts, apps and programs. Which accounts (social media and other online accounts) are you still using? When was the last time you used Blogster or MySpace? If you’re not using them, delete them! If you are like the majority of us, your smartphone and tablet are full of apps and games that you no longer use or need. Take a few minutes and erase the one’s you don’t need and free up space for the latest apps.
5. Protect your computer (and smartphone) with antivirus software. No computer system is immune from malware, viruses and trojans. Reduce your risk with a good antivirus program. There are several decent free programs that should be adequate for the average user. Consider Microsoft Security Essentials, Bitdefender or AVG Essentials, at a minimum.
6. Don’t use any browser released before 2013. Yes, I’m specifically looking at those of you still using Explorer 8 (released in 2009), Explorer 9 (released in 2011), and Explorer 10 (released in 2012). This is as much about your web experience as anything else. If you’re not using a modern browser, you might be missing out on something good. Outdated browsers will attempt to load pages, but might not render them as the creator intended. And forget support for any problems you might run into.
So that’s our list for 2015 technology resolutions. Any others you can think of?