Back in the late fall of 2006, after I was let go from my job as webmaster at the school district, but before I accepted my old position at Network Solutions in February of 2007, I made a concerted effort to find a similar job here in St. Louis. One of the local companies that interviewed me was Home Design Alternatives and they were quite friendly and the interview went well. But as preparation for a follow-up interview, they gave me a homework assignment to review their current web properties and write a rough plan for how I would proceed. I sent it in and got good feedback, but they eventually chose someone else for the position. I was cleaning out an old thumb drive the other day and realized I still had this lying around.
I hesitate to publish it here for two reasons. First off, though we never made any formal agreement, HDA may feel that this document is their property. I don't know that I'd agree with this as a legal statement, but I wouldn't challenge them if they reached out to me to ask me to remove it. My second reason is that this is a very rough draft and could have been improved quite a bit. Reading over it now, it feels rushed to me. Or perhaps just incomplete, I'm not sure. I've learned quite a bit more since the point it was written that my entire knowledge base is different.
But I'm not going to make any changes now. I'm not even going to review their sites to see if they have made any changes since then that make my old suggestions superfluous. This is the document in it's original format (converted to HTML of course). Feel free to let me know what you think.
Home Design Alternatives
The following is an outlined plan of attack for the first 90 days and beyond for the web sites under the ownership of HDA. Obviously, further investigation with more extensive knowledge of the various systems from an internal point-of-view may suggest additional avenues with higher priority. Any suggestions or additional ideas from management are of course appreciated.
This is the main external home page for the company and establishes the identity and profile of the company at large for new or current clients. As such, it should be simple and uncluttered and easy to navigate, with descriptive text explaining what the company does. The current site accomplishes this already quite well.
Secondly, I’d improve the underlying code for the layout by removing <table /> tags and replacing them with <div /> tags and more CSS for layout. These changes will not affect the site visually in most browsers but will improve load time and how well it is spidered by the search engines.
As of right now, Google has found and is listing 644 pages for this domain, including a number of pages from a ‘forums’ sub-domain as well as many other internal company linked sub-domains. Only 18 pages have been found on the main site. Currently the forums do not allow anonymous login, so I will have to wait to take a closer look, but I’d suggest putting more links and information on the Feedback Forums home page.
Yahoo appears to only have 29 pages from this domain, and only 13 on the main domain. Yahoo also indicates ~529 inbound links. MSN lists about 8 total pages. Closer examination of these entries and listings will be important for optimization.
I also note that the copyright for this site needs to be updated for 2007. But I haven’t changed that on every one of my personal sites and it is usually one of the last things.
This site is the main site for browsing, searching, listing and purchasing home plans. In it’s simplest form, this is quite a bit like just about any other ecommerce site. However, purchasing a house plan to suit a need is certainly more complex than finding a favorite book, CD or t-shirt.
Valid and updated code with CSS would be the ultimate and continuous goal, so removing and updating code such as this –
<font color="#FFFFFF"> |</font>
- with style sheets will not only help load time, but usability and accessibility. Tables will be replaced with Div tags as noted above.
For better conversion, I suggest having a couple of product thumbnails appear directly on the home page below the search feature. These can be specially featured homes or simple random listings. It reassures and clarifies for the customer that you have what they are looking for and catches their eye before they hit the back button.
I also usually remove text as part of images and actually load it on the page. The linked images on the right hand side of the home page can be updated for this. This will improve readability and will also allow search engines to see this content better.
When a search is performed or a category page is visited, I’d like to see the thumbnails for the products appear higher to get the user’s attention immediately.
Google has 519 pages listed for this domain. Yahoo has 546 and MSN lists about 593.
The copyright date on this site also needs to be updated, even if no changes have been made to the page or the entire site.
I can see no reason to update this page at this time. Two suggestions that I would make include a link to your company’s home page from here and/or a security notice at the bottom warning away anyone unauthorized from attempting to access this site.
Additionally, across the board for all sites, I’d want to settle on a DOCTYPE declaration and double check as many pages as possible for proper code validation. Check here for validation. Currently and as the company continues to grow, valid HTML code as well as on-page accessibility will be very important.
Also, on all sites, there are a few free tools I’d want to install and begin to use for tracking site statistics and improving rankings. They would be Google Analytics and Google Sitemaps assuming that these are not already in place.
Obviously, this plan can get a lot more detailed and is only a rough draft of many different steps that need to be discussed and organized with a better outline before proceeding. I look forward to discussing these plans with you.
As I read it now separate from it's original context, it is a representative list of suggestions I'd make for just about anyone's web site, especially if I was in charge of it. I don't really have many other examples of my own writing posted like this and that would be easy to change. At the beginning of the year, I wrote up a detailed statistics report for the website I manage for Ferguson Christian Church. The elders were impressed with it, but more importantly my wife was so impressed she was actually jealous. I'll have to remember to post that as soon as I get permission.