The Hot Iron

A journal on business, technology and occasional diversions by Mike Maddaloni

The State of Your Web Site

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How I Took An Idea And Made It A Reality

image of The State of Their Web SiteWith all the ideas and events swirling through the Windy City during the recent Chicago Ideas Week, one of those thoughts was what I would like to share here, how I took an idea I had and made it a reality. Though this story took place a few years back, it is still very vivid in my mind.

My idea was to create a piece of marketing collateral for my Web consulting business. In this case, I could leave it would a prospect client, allow it to be downloaded from the Web and simply put it out there in printed format, the last 2 cases would be for anyone who wanted it. Depending on where the prospect was, it could server anywhere from a calling card, functional tool or a call to action to contact me.

Origin of the Idea

In my Web consulting business there were 2 categories for prospects – those who did not have a Web site and those who had one and were looking to possibly redesign and/or rebuild it. Where there were many common elements between the 2 for the sales process, when talking with someone who already had a Web site there was always a level of ambiguity to what exactly they needed or wanted to do and to what extent.

To try to streamline this process in a non-intimidating way, I thought of a form of checklist, where someone could read off the list to see if they had any or all of the items incorporated into their Web site, or at least to pose the questions in the event they didn’t know. In my mind’s eye I had a partial vision of the checklist. I saw it as paper-based, as likely someone would read a question from it then look on their Web site on their computer’s monitor for the answer. I wasn’t sure if there should be a score of some form or not. I was very sure I did not want it to be too technical and I did want it targeted to the business owner.

As for what would be in the checklist I had some ideas, but this was something I wanted to put time into over a period of time, then organize them into the checklist.

Like Rodney Dangerfield’s Joke Bag

The process of collecting the items for the checklist had me recalling a story I once heard about the late-great comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Before he got into comedy, he was a salesman and would write jokes on pieces of paper and put them into a duffle bag. When the bag was full, he had the material he would use on stage.

My approach was similar, yet different, as my duffle bag was digital – consisting of folders on my hard drive and in my email program. The ideas I captured varied from text files to links to other Web sites to email newsletters, where some of these items were direct ideas and others either categories or thoughts. I let this collection come together over a period time (exactly how long I do not remember). Then one day I decided to start the process to build the checklist.

Molding the Ideas into the Finished Product

As the collection process had elapsed some time and I didn’t remember everything I had put together, I decided I would go through them, one-by-one and begin curating a list. This was facilitated with the help of my whiteboard. As I read an item, I checked if it I already had it on the board, and if not I added it in some semblance of order. When all was done, this is what my whiteboard looked like:

photo of the whiteboard creative process

At first glance, it is a mess. But it was the first pass at the organization of the items and ideas. Needless to say it was worthy of a picture!

From here, I started typing up the ideas, and in some cases I would combine like or similar ones. As I typed them up, I erased them from the whiteboard. At the end of this process hundreds of files and emails were in a clean list, just as clean as the whiteboard now was.

The next step was to boil the list down to a manageable, 1-page list, with the top, most important items on it. This was done over several days, as I would look at the list for a while, then revisit it later with a fresh brain. In the end, I finalized a list of 34 items and broke them down into 3 categories – business, content and design. I also came up with some copy to describe the checklist to put on the reverse side of it. At this point I felt really good about the checklist. Well, except for the name of it.

(Queen’s) Landing on the Right Name

photo of Queen’s Landing

The original name I had for the check was, and get ready for it:

The Web Site Redesign Self-Assessment Checklist

Yes, it sucked. Here I spent all of this time and produced what I felt was a quality product, yet the name would surely be a turn-off, and in some cases scare off people. I decided to put the completed checklist aside as I needed some more quality time to get the name right.

On a Friday evening after work, I went for a walk along Lake Michigan. Armed with a good cigar, I just needed to clear my head after a busy week and stretch my legs. As I was strolling by Belmont Harbor, the topic of the checklist name came front in center in my head. I recall shaking said head and saying to myself, “why don’t I have a better title for this” and the gears in my head started to crank.

As I headed south along the lakefront path, I started decomposing the goal of the checklist. The thought process went something like, “it’s where your Web site is now… it’s a point in time… it’s the current state your Web site is in… wait, that’s it – it’s the State of your Web Site!”

I stopped where I was, at a place along the lake called Queen’s Landing and called my office line and left myself a voicemail message on the name so I wouldn’t forget my inspiration. When I got back from my walk I edited the Word document with the name and then registered the domain name for it.

The State of the State Then and Now

Upon completing the checklist I setup a download page for it and promoted it here on The Hot Iron and elsewhere. I printed copies of it to give people in person and to bring to events as a leave-behind. Although the list never was mentioned on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, it would get a handful of downloads each week and I got good feedback on it from prospect clients and current clients as well.

Now almost 3 years after I created the checklist, it needs to be updated a bit, which would come probably after a new brainstorming session on it. That being said, there are many core concepts on the checklist that are still very relevant today as-is.

See for yourself – download a copy of The State of Your Web Site here right now!

Ideas, Visited

Ideas are just that, intangible thoughts. Without any action, they will remain in that state, floating out there. I know, as The Hot Iron is full of ideas I have had over the years. Where I have acted on many of ideas over the years, I am very proud of the creative process I have just shared here.

Your thoughts – and ideas – on the checklist and the process which led to it are welcome in the comments.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 11/17/13 at 10:46 PM
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Monday, January 17, 2011

3 Words For Your Web Site In 2011

photo of 3With the start of a new year, many people come out with predictions or trends they see for the coming 12 months. There’s plenty of great writings out there already, so I will not add to the list (if you want to read a good one, there’s Emily Brackett’s Top 10 Web Design Trends for 2011 That Will Help Your Small Business).

As I was pondering my 3 words for 2011 as presented by Chris Brogan I thought of suggesting 3 words for your Web site for 2011. These 3 words are “guiding pillars to focus on in the coming year” as Chris describes.

My 3 words for your Web site are – Measure, Function and Backup.

Measure – Any decision you make for your Web site (or for your business for that matter) should be the result of facts or planning. Whether these are successful or not are determined by the numbers, and you must measure them to ensure if you are on track, way off, or need an adjustment. Many people do not measure their Web site. This starts with the hits, which many people use Google Analytics to measure. It then continues with feed tracking (for blogs or RSS feeds), social media links, surveying and so forth. If you are not doing any measuring, do so. If you have no data to work with, start collecting it.

Function – As much as a Web site must have great content and look good, it must also work. Links should not be broken. Forms should submit properly and accurately process the information entered. Any unique functionality should not only work but also work in all browsers. Where you may think these examples should be a given, many times they are not. The simple thing is to test your Web site on multiple browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. – and on multiple platforms – PC, Mac, Linux, mobile devices – and see how they look and perform. Ensuring your Web site works means it is working for your customers.

Backup – Do you have a backup strategy for your Web site? Or do you even have at least one, single backup copy of your Web site stored someplace secure? If not, then you should. Develop a plan of what to backup and how often. Backups can be as simple as a database dump or export of orders, blog posts or customer data. It should be done on an interval that works for you. One you create it, test the backup plan, as a backup is no good if you can’t restore from it. Fortunately your Web host more than likely has some form of backup procedures in place. But why wait until there’s a problem to fund out they don’t?

There are a lot of things to consider with regards to any Web site, as I have presented before with The State of Your Web Site. These are 3 core areas from which you can build the success of your Web site. If you have any questions or comments on any of these, please enter them in the comments area of this post below. If you need help to make these happen, please contact me personally.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 01/17/11 at 04:00 AM
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Set Goals For Your Web Site

Editor’s Note – This post is in follow-up and support of The State of Your Web Site, a checklist from Dunkirk Systems, LLC which helps guide Web site owners to objectivity on the current state of their Web site. You can download a free, no obligation PDF copy at TheStateOfYourWebSite.com.

Do you have goals for your Web site? Did you ever think of setting goals for your Web site?! As a Web site is a living, breathing 24/7 representative of your business, you should have goals – even just one goal – set in writing for your Web site. This fact is why it is near the top of the list on The State of Your Web Site checklist.

Yes, “goal” is a 4-letter word. Whenever people talk about goals, they often cringes or get defensive or have some adverse reaction to it. Even if they have goals for their life or their business in general, when it comes to their Web site, they will wonder why they are needed. With the expense and exposure that comes with a Web site, there is the reason right there to do so.

Where To Start

What your goals should be depend on your business and the Web site itself. If you have a store but do not sell products and services online, your goals would be much different from someone selling online with an eCommerce Web site. A “brochure” Web site is also much different than one with an extensive support forum.

Like anything in business, start someplace with goals, and review and refine as necessary. Write down statements such as “drive more traffic into my store” and “10% of overall sales made online.” Then you will want to ensure your Web site has the content or functionality to accommodate these – a printable in-store coupon and an eCommerce are part of this. Then measure – review your Web site analytics and ask new customers who come into your store how they heard about you. This is a simple example, but a point to start from.

If you are still unclear about your Web site’s goals, talk to your Web consultant. At Dunkirk Systems, LLC we work with our clients, both those with established Web sites or new ones, to set such goals, and integrate their measurement into their overall business analytics and review.

Do you have goals for your Web site? How has the goal-setting and review process worked for you? And if you do not have goals, why? Please share your thoughts in the comments for this post.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 09/30/10 at 04:00 AM
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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Is Your Online Branding Consistent With Your Offline Branding

Editor’s Note – This post is in follow-up and support of The State of Your Web Site, a checklist from Dunkirk Systems, LLC which helps guide Web site owners to objectivity on the current state of their Web site. You can download a free, no obligation PDF copy at TheStateOfYourWebSite.com.

By their definition, branding and logos exist to help you easily identify something. From a parking garage to the sneakers worn by a top athlete, branding matters. This is not the first article to talk about it, and surely not the last!

So why is it that many times we see inconsistencies in branding when it comes to the Web site or other online use of a brand by a company, organization or person? And note I am using the word “consistent” not “perfect” – nobody is going to expect your logo to be in the upper left corner of a Facebook page replacing their logo altogether. But where you can use your brand, it should be consistent with how it is used offline – in print, on products, etc.

This is thus the second question asked on Dunkirk’s The State of Your Web Site checklist. As we previously talked about your brand being prominent on your Web site, it should also be consistent to ensure its effectiveness online.

The measurement of consistency can be very straightforward. A brand guide will outline the parameters for a usage of a brand. Call it the “spaghetti test” for your brand. If it doesn’t meet it, it should be corrected. If you don’t have a brand guide, create one! In its absence though, a person or small team of people should serve as the “brand police” to ensure its consistencies.

So how do these inconsistencies manifest themselves? Many times a Web site is developed prior to the creation of a brand, or vice versa. A level of effort is then needed to ensure the business cards march the Web site, and so on. When a Web site is designed, if creative license is taken too far, it can obscure the brand in the design of the site. Providing a brand guide or guidelines to your designer, and working with a Web designer who not only can create a compelling design but will respect your brand, will also ensure this.

Catching inconsistencies early on will ensure the recognition of your brand no matter where it appears, not to mention The State of Your Web Site being that much stronger.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 09/08/10 at 04:00 AM
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Is Your Branding And Logo Easily Identifiable On Your Web Site

Editor’s Note – This post is in follow-up and support of The State of Your Web Site, a checklist from Dunkirk Systems, LLC which helps guide Web site owners to objectivity on the current state of their Web site. You can download a free, no obligation PDF copy at TheStateOfYourWebSite.com.

There is a reason for having a logo and branding. On the most basic level, it helps identify who you are to others. Whether you are the world’s largest razor blade company or the newest cupcake shop downtown, having a unique look and style and overall package of how you present yourself is important to your company. The same also holds for most all businesses, not to mention organizations and even individuals.

So why wouldn’t you extend this to your Web site? Before you ask yourself why I am asking this, think for a minute and you may recall a site or several where it was not readily clear who owned the Web site! Whether the logo or brand simply wasn’t there or obscured or someplace where it wasn’t expected, not having your brand prominent on your Web site can be a hindrance to your success online.

I believe in this so much that it is the #1 question asked on Dunkirk’s The State of Your Web Site checklist!

Why does this matter? Web visitors have a short attention span, and this has been proven with user testing. If within a few seconds a visitor to your Web site cannot determine whose Web site it is as well as find the information they are seeking, they may go elsewhere.

Making your logo prominent on your Web site and carrying through your branding to the Web site are not a matter of ego. You have invested in these, and they should be present on your Web site. Companies of all sizes may have Web standards developed along with their branding and logo to help guide this. In the absence of this, working with a graphic designer who understands the importance of branding – ideally the same designer who created your brand and logo – will help extend it to the Web.

By doing so does not mean your Web site will lack creativity. A creative designer will be able to prominently incorporate your brand and logo into your Web design! I have seen cases where the logo is “buried” somewhere in the Web site or landing page in the name of creative design. Buried can be defined as the logo being modified to fit the design but lose qualities unique to it, aligned to the right or bottom of the Web page so it is not readily seen “above the fold” of the Web page or simply left off. A balance must be struck to reinforce who you and your firm are with a great design.

A final tip is to make your logo a clickable link to your home page. It is common practice to make your logo a fast-track to the top of your Web site.

Ensuring your brand and logo are easily identifiable on your Web site is one step towards improving The State of Your Web Site.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 06/25/10 at 04:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dunkirk Systems, LLC Releases The State Of Your Web Site – A Self-Assessment Checklist

image of The State of Their Web SiteDo you know The State of Your Web Site?

From a client or prospect meeting to a summer picnic, I am involved in many conversations about Web sites. Some people brag about how much they love their Web sites. On the obvious flip-side, many say they hate their Web site. As the conversation flows to some depth, I often find in most cases people cannot quantify what it is they like or dislike about the Web site. By quantifying. I am referring to elements of a Web site which may be working or not working for the site owner, but no specific knowledge of which ones and their status.

In short, they do not know The State of Their Web Site.

To help add clarity and guide change to a Web site, my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC has developed The State of Your Web Site. It is a free, no obligation self-assessment checklist where a non-technical owner of a Web site can review the 34 questions on the checklist and move toward an objective answer to this question. You can download a PDF copy for free at TheStateOfYourWebSite.com.

Emphasis On The Non-Technical Owner

One goal of The State of Your Web Site is to help the non-technical owner of a Web site. Why? From our experience at Dunkirk, which includes my own personal experience with developing software for over 20 years, most “owners” of a Web site or any business application is they are not technical. They may understand technology, but they are most likely not programmers or technicians. Despite this, it doesn’t mean you cannot recognize issues or opportunities for improvements with your Web site. These questions are at a level where if the answer is not known or found to be at issue, a more thorough check by a technician can be made to gain its scope and make a recommendation.

Focus On Business, Content and Design

The checklist is broken into 3 categories – business, content and design – and each has specific questions related to these areas, and of course all can be answered from a non-technical aspect. The idea was where you could place this checklist in front of you, go through each question and navigate through your Web site to see whether you can check it off or not. These are not trick questions – they are presented in a straightforward, objective manner. That being said, someone may not know what a question is asking, which is another opportunity to learn.

Get Your Copy and Learn The State of Your Web Site

There is no obligation or any requirement of your name and personal information to get a free copy of The State of Your Web Site checklist. Feel free to pass along the link to your friends or colleagues, or simply send them a copy of the checklist! But once you use it, you may have questions on some or all questions presented, not to mention you may be ready to take the checklist to the next level and want an detailed Web site assessment. We do have a contact form on the checklist landing page where you can contact Dunkirk, or you can use the contact form on our Web site at DunkirkSystems.com.

In-Depth Converation On Each Question to Follow

Going forward, I will feature in-depth conversation on each question on the checklist here on The Hot Iron. I welcome your questions and comments on each. Together, we can all have a firm grasp on The State of Your Web Site.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 06/23/10 at 04:00 AM
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The Hot Iron strives to present unique content and perspective on business, technology and other topics by Mike Maddaloni, a Web and business strategist based in Chicago.

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