It’s The Little Things That Make The Difference

Constructive Criticism

Please indulge me for a minute… you’ve just completed a huge launch of a new e-commerce website. The website does everything; all the bells and whistles of a multi-language, multi-currency, real-time shipping, dynamic inventory, dropshipping, customer portal, full administration, on and on…

You’re feeling pretty good, knowing that no where else can you get everything that you’ve packed into this online presence. Your happy tester/client/customer/fellow developer takes one look at it and says the following:

“Where’s the little icon in the address bar? Why don’t I see it on Google? How much traffic does the website have yet? Can you give me a report on signups, traffic, and other minutia? I changed one of the page names and it says file not found, could it show something friendlier? It doesn’t look right on my Mac with Safari.”

Man, all that hard work, and what’s the response; criticism. Well, get over it. They’re right, you’re wrong. As much as that sucks some times, remember that criticism from colleagues is almost always constructive. You should always be happy that somenoe cares enough to give you feedback. So take the feedback, roll up your sleeves and fix the little things that really make the project, it’s just part of the process.

I’ve always noticed that as cynical as it is, the things you do wrong always garner the most attention, so put some time into the details and try and avoid little mistakes so people can focus on how amazing this application is.

Finishing Tips

Here’s a few tips that I try and remember for every project, perhaps it might help you too:

Meta Information such as keywords, description, and author. Meta information is not dead, even Google uses meta information for search criteria as evidenced by their webmasters section which describes errors found in your crawl statistics referring to missing or duplicate meta information across pages.

Titles. It looks a bit silly having a dynamite page with an Untitled bar at the top of the browser. Not only does it display to the user a proper title for your website/application, but it most likely helps SEO as well.

Sitemaps, both in XML and as user facing pages. Sitemaps provide search engines such as Google and Yahoo quicker information for page indexing which allows these search engines to crawl your website more frequently. User facing sitemaps do actually help some users navigate to the information they’re after. Check out a search for Google Sitemap Generator, where you can find services that generate XML sitemaps for you.

Favicon, yes this is “cutesy”, but remember that brand identity is what advertising agencies get paid millions for! A simple icon can help give visual connections to your users that could make the difference in them finding and remembering you again. You can find favicon generators which convert your uploaded image to a favicon.ico to place on your website.

Robots.txt; Google recommends it, I do it. A robots.txt file helps tell crawling bots where not to look. This free’s up search engine resources by limiting their crawls of non-indexable or unimportant data. A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t want a user to get to a certain directory, throw it in the robots.txt file. Find out more information on robots.txt.

IIS Error Pages (or ASP.NET error pages) provide a way to clean up errors or unexpected behavior. Errors happen, but when they do, it would be a lot nicer if the user sees what’s going on in a friendly, explained way, with similar navigation, branding, and look and feel as the rest of the website. Add pages such as:

  • error.htm (catch-all for non-specified errors)
  • noaccess.htm (when a user requests a resource they do not have access to)
  • notfound.htm (404 errors)
  • etc.

You can wire these up in IIS, or for ASP.NET applications, in web.config (though I would do both personally).

Analytics. Invariably, someone will request some type of benchmarking of how successful the website/application is, and this generally comes in the form of analytics. If no one is asking, then maybe you should be the one. Google Analytics is a good, quick, and easy implementation of analytics for most businesses. However, if you want to inhouse the data, there are several other solutions you can go with. (Webtrends is a pretty large one).

This One is so Important, It Get’s It’s Own Heading – Graphics

Lipstick on a pig…Well, in the case of applications (especially web-based for some reason), great graphics really do cover up a lot. A top-tier designer, is extremely hard to find and can be worth their weight in gold. However, the reverse is usually not true; great applications that look like garbage usually don’t get a first look, let alone a second; there just tends to be too much competition. Graphic design is important for inhouse or business applications as well, not just public facing websites. A design that is well liked by the users acquires much quicker acceptance and in some cases even helps create evangelist-style users. It sounds superficial, especially for most of the developers reading this, but graphics are the single most important finishing touch to any application in my opinion.

I’m sure there are a ton of other tips and common gotcha’s that developers forget to do at the end of projects, so please leave a few in the comments and help us all out!

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