Don’t Use Line Breaks to Adjust Alignment

Don't Use  for AlignmentIt is tempting to use a line break (<br />) to “clean up” alignment.

The trouble is, different browsers will insert line breaks at different places. So if you manually insert a line break to “even out” things, the results might look good on some browsers, and not so good, or even disastrous, on other browsers.

You could get something that looks like this:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog a few minutes before the
appeared on the horizon with rifle in hand.

Remember, working in html is not like working in Word: what you see on the screen is only an approximation of what will be seen across various browsers. Results vary under different conditions, especially when it comes to word wrapping.

It’s best to allow the words to wrap where they may, even if the results are not ideal on some browsers.

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Should I Buy a Second Computer Screen?

screens2The answer is YES.

With two screens connected to your computer you can move your cursor easily back and forth from one screen to the next.

Just think of the amount of time you spend switching between tabs on your computer.  Having two screens will make your life easier.  Think of the amount of time you spend switching between tabs on your computer, and think of the time you spend hunting for the tab you want.

With two screens you can view a web page and its source code at the same time.  You can even view two separate parts of the same page at the same time.  It’s a breeze.

Sure, having a second screen is an expense; and yes, you’ll need to make more room for it on your work surface, but the time (and aggravation) you will save will be well worth it.

Questions? Contact Chicago Web Designer Christopher Merrill.

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Websites Get a Good Reputation by Providing Useful Information

inform2Here’s something I hear a lot:  “I want my website to be something like they’ve never seen before.”  A lofty goal, and when you are talking about what the website does, a noble one.  However, more often than not, when a client says this, they are talking about the site design – they want the site to look different from all the other ones.  The problem: When a site looks different from all the others, the user can easily become lost, not knowing where to look or how to navigate.  The result is a website that is not user friendly.  When a site is not user friendly, users will leave immediately.  They are not likely to hang around simply because your site looks “cool.”

Think about it.  When you hear your friends talk about a great website that they have found, they are most likely talking about the information the site provides – not how it looks.

Sure, visuals are important, but not when they replace information.  Take a look at the major players like Yahoo, CNN, The New York Times and Time Magazine.  Their main pages are filled with links to information.  They figured out long ago that users don’t want to see beautiful images on their main page, they want facts.

Need web writing? Contact Christopher Merrill.

Posted in Do-it-yourself SEO | Leave a comment Wishful Thinking on a Grand Scale

healthcaregovThe failure of is no surprise. It is, after all, a website, just like any other website.

I come across this same thing almost daily with my clients. They want what they call “a website” by a certain date, but wait till the last minute to provide me with (1) the specifications of what they want, (2) the information that they need posted, or (3) the functionality they require. Then they wonder why the deadline can’t be met; or they wonder why the deadline was met, but the site doesn’t work properly.

When a site designer agrees to honor a deadline over which they essentially have only limited control, we have what I call the WISHFUL THINKING SYNDROME. They hope everything will work  before being able to test completely, since, to them, it looks like it should work.

When the site doesn’t work (after it is launched), everything goes to pot, because it takes weeks and months to uncover and resolve all the problems. Quality control is needed to ensure that the site will operate effectively under all conditions. Meanwhile users become angry because their time has been wasted trying to make a nonworking website work. And they have a right to be angry. It feels like a fraud; and frankly, it is.

Throw in government bureaucracy and you have a recipe for disaster with all the trimmings. After several delays before the bill was finally law–especially after the government didn’t know for quite some time whether the law would be struck down (until the Supreme Court ruling resolved that issue)–there was no time left.

You can’t set a deadline until you have a reasonable understanding of what is involved in making and testing a website, and you can’t honor a deadline over which you have only limited control. site was doomed from the start. There is no precedent that I know of for a site built on this scale in so short a time, and it was naive for all to hope that it would.

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Use WordPress Mobile Templates to Boost Your Audience

Wordpress cellphone templatesPlugins can be used to create optimized versions of your site for cell phone. Users will see a condensed version of your site on their small screen. This makes is easier for them to navigate and to read your text.

Your text will appear larger on the screen when viewed on a mobile device, and it will wraparound appropriately, whether or not you hold your cell phone in a vertical or a horizontal position. The important thing here is that users will not have to zoom in to read your text and then, once the text is enlarged, have to scroll left and right on each line to read its entirety!

Users who know that your website is optimized for cellphones and tablets will be more likely to consult your site on the go. These repeat visits will boost your rankings, and add to your integrity as well.

Many large sites are choosing not to provide mobile-friendly versions so as to encourage users to download their apps. Apps are poised to take over cell phone browsing completely in time.

Dreamweaver provides template options for mobile devices. These as well as the WordPress plugins will detect when a user is on a mobile device and adapt the design appropriately. Some templates allow the user a choice to navigate between the full version and the mobile-device version.

Confused? Contact Chicago Web Designer Christopher Merrill for help.


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All WordPress Plugins Are Not Created Equal

Research plugins first before implementing them

Research plugins first before implementing them.

WordPress plugins can be a marvelous things, or they can be a curse.

I recently had a problem when a client started to receive about 1,000 emails a day from an unidentified source after I had installed and tested several form mail plugins on their website.

I deactivated all the plugins, but that still wasn’t enough: the offending emails continued to appear every morning in their inbox. So I deleted all of the plugins completely, and that did the trick.

The lesson here is that some plugins can be better than others — much better, in fact. Beware of the plugin that seems dubious; if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Keep a record of which plugins work well — through time — for you, and which don’t.

Be sure to keep all plugins updated, so as to avoid problems down the line. Back up your blog regularly, especially if your hosting company cannot be trusted to provide backups.

Finally, don’t hesitate to rate the plugins that you use so that other users can benefit from your experience.

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Hashtag Your Way to the Top Ten


Hashtags are another way to target your audience.

Hashtagging topics related to what you do is an excellent way to build your audience, and your rankings as well.

Start by searching Twitter for topics that are connected with your business. For examples:


Warning: some of the best topics may be counterintuitive. Use your imagination, and your professional experience, to find keyword combinations that will attract potential users of your product or services.

Include a link to your website (internal links are fine) in your Twitter posting, and accompany the tag with keyword-rich, provocative text. “Stirring the pot” by posting something that is likely to elicit debate can be effective, as long as you don’t go too far over the edge.

It’s that simple. The finesse comes in when you fine-tune your keyword combinations.

Of course, you can use hashtags on your Facebook as well.

Questions? Contact Christopher Merrill, Chicago Web Designer for answers.



Posted in Do-it-yourself SEO | 2 Comments

A Professional Photographer Is Not Always Required

Is Your Smartphone Mobile Friendly?

A Smartphone Can Be a Site Manager’s Best Friend

You may not have to go far to find one of the most powerful new (sort of) web management and design tools around — just reach into your pocket and grab your smartphone.

Sure, professional photographers are really the only way you can get quality images for your site. Still, non-professional smartphone photographs can be appropriate when sharing up-to-date information that your audience may need quickly. Some examples:

  1. Photographs of landmarks for maps and directions,
  2. Photographs of road signs, or signage in general,
  3. Photographs of designed material such as paintings, professional photographs, and graphics (assuming you have the right to post photos of these),
  4. Photographs of people your users will need to be able to identify at an upcoming event,
  5. Photographs taken by non-professionals when the photos are clearly identified as such.

For those with a flair for design, taking high-resolutions photos of fabrics and textures can be useful for creating backgrounds for web pages.

The trick is to remember that your smartphone is available and to use it. Leaning how to use all the features of your camera is a good idea too, since the more you understand your smartphone camera, the more likely you are to use it efficiently. This is especially important when you are trying to catch a fleeting moment, or when you don’t have much time to take the photo.

Smart users are using smartphone cameras more and more. Shouldn’t you be doing the same?

For more information, contact Chicago Freelance Web Designer Christopher Merrill in Chicago.


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Avoid Melbourne IT for Domain Name Registration

website image ordering

A poor hosting/domain name registrar can follow you way, way down the road.

Here is one company to avoid: MelbourneIT.

I ran into many, many roadblocks when a client came to me with MelbourneIT as their registrar.

Melbourne IT is based in Melbourne Australia, and when I tried to contact their phone support (from Chicago)  several times on different days, the phone reception was so poor, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Eventually I gave up trying.

Several attempts at submitting trouble tickets were also ignored. Eventually, I did get the answers I needed, but only after several failed attempts, and I still had to bill the client for the colossal waste of time.

I’ve dealt with many domain name registrars, and MelbourneIT was by far the worst.

Companies I do recommend:

Godaddy’s phone support has been excellent (for the most part). Dreamhost does not offer phone support as part of their regular package, however, their response time and rate have consistently been dependable. They do offer guaranteed callback support, but the cost for this is extra. (Both Godaddy and Dreamhost have had outages — Dreamhost more than Godaddy — but these are rare.)

Your choice of which hosting/domain name registrar DOES matter. It’s never a good idea to skimp on these — a bad choice can follow you way, way down the road; and it may be time consuming, if not difficult, to change to another registrar (it’s not a matter of just a few click to make the move).

Send your comments to Chicago Web Designer Christopher Merrill.

Posted in General Web Design Tips | Tagged | 4 Comments

Adobe Creative Cloud Replaces Creative Suite

adobeWith an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you get access to Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator, as well as an array of other Adobe design products all in one.

Much has been said about Adobe’s recent announcement that it is discontinuing sales of its Creative Suite in disk form, opting instead to sell by subscription only:

Adobe discontinues Creative Suite, makes Cloud sole focus

Many longtime customers are protesting the change, and the debate about costs continues:

How greedy is Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription? Not very

I made the change a few months ago, and after some initial difficulties in setup, things are going smoothly. A particular advantage is that the subscription works for Mac and PC users, eliminating the need to buy two versions.

Initial download of the programs can take a while, and with the Cloud, you are forced to register the product (not always a disadvantage). But the benefits of having updates in one place and of having the software always available online on any computer, are considerable.

Cloud-based subscription is becoming the norm, and while many users object, it is here to stay.

Contact Christopher Merrill (Phone: 773-755-2536) if you have thoughts or questions regarding the change.

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