A company once told me someone had offered to build permanent disability calculators for their website in three months for $7,500. One said six months and $20,000. Recently, another suggested it would take them a year and $40,000. My response is usually some variation on “You’ve got to take that deal. You’re wasting your time talking to me.”
It’s no big secret that building a great product takes a lot of work. The important thing to remember is that just because something is easy-to-use, that doesn’t mean its easy-to-make. 1
Let’s take the iPhone for example. Everyone will concede its an easy phone to use. However, it was released more than two years ago on 6/29/2007. 2 In that time the other players – BlackBerry, LG, Nokia, and Palm have all been trying to catch up. If this easy-to-use phone were easy-to-build everyone would have their own version.
Look, there’s no special magic to building a website like this. Really, anyone can do it. All you have to do is learn the calculations inside-and-out, deconstruct the math involved in the various calculations, learn some client and server side programming languages, learn a content management system, make it all work together, keep current on changes in the law, start all over again each time the law changes, and earn the respect of the workers’ compensation community. Once done, you’ll have your very own workers’ compensation calculator website!
To return to the lesson of the iPhone, building a touch screen phone that can play music and surf the web is totally doable. Doing it right is another matter entirely.
The second worst way to create a website is to build it totally out of frames. There are several workers’ compensation defense firms who have websites built out of frames – and they’re terrible.
In the early days of the internet frames were an easy way to enable navigation throughout a website. Since then easy-to-use intelligent server-side languages2 and client-side languages3 have made building website navigation tools a breeze. More importantly, these other technologies and techniques do everything frames do – only better.
Here are some of the problems with websites created using frames:
Un-bookmark-able. Just as with Adobe Flash, users can’t bookmark specific pages within a website built using frames. This means your website visitors can’t come back to visit that specific page and, more importantly, can’t send a meaningful link to their friends.
Un-navigable. Depending on how someone links to your frame based website, its very possible that they will link directly to an internal frame. This means a website visitor getting to your website from a search engine might never see your website’s name or logo!
Printing. Frame based websites don’t always interact properly with web browsers. When you go to print, you might end up printing the wrong frame. Make it easy for your clients to make a hard copy of the information they see on your website and don’t use frames.
Search Engine Optimization. Search engines are designed to be smart. Even so, search engines still have trouble untangling a website made out of frames. If people cannot reach your website by searching for exactly what you’re about, your website is a failure.
I know why there some web developers sell frame-based websites. From a development standpoint, they’re very very easy to write. Frames are little more than HTML, so they’re if you can create a Word document, you can create an frames-based website. I suppose it would be relatively easy to also recyle parts of that website in a new website. These websites are also deceptively good-looking. When the web developer is showing you a frame based website, you’re going to see exactly what you expect. The “danger” of a frame-based website, as indicated above, is that its so easy for it to be shown to your potential clients in the wrong way or out of context.
I think I also know why businesses invest in frame-based websites. They require so little skill to create that a business can just have one of their file clerks or some high school kid build the website cheaply. The website would be, for all intents and purposes, free.
A website is essentially the 21st century equivalent of a resume. You’re using it to tell your clients about you before you ever get a chance to meet them. These days everyone considers Google to be a verb. If your potential clients are already looking for you through the internet, shouldn’t you try to put your best foot forward? A cheap temporary website is fine … as long as its temporary. As soon as you can afford to do so hire someone to put togther something better.
Website Development Tips:
Never build a site out of frames.
Other web technologies and techniques do everything frames do, only better.
Think of your website as your business’s resume, since that’s what potential clients may see first.
Think of your website like a business suit. If it doesn’t look good on a first impression, a potential client may never even speak to you.
The worst way imaginable for a website to be built is one entirely powered by Adobe Flash animation. I know of at least one workers’ compensation defense firm that has an all Flash website – and I feel sorry for them. Their clients probably never use their website. They’re squandering one of their best marketing tools.
Here are just a few of the problems with Flash websites:
Bandwidth. A picture of the word “website” is much much larger than the text “website.” In a similar way, a Flash website is going to be much much larger than the same information presented in pure HTML. The bigger your website, the longer it will take for it to load.
Maintenance. The smallest change to the website needs to be handled by the original web developer. If you “invest” in an all-Flash website, you’re basically hiring that web developer for life. With traditional websites, you can hire any code monkey to adjust your website.
Unnavigable. Flash websites do not work with the browser’s “Back” button. If your users can’t navigate your website in a normal fashion, they will leave and never come back.
Search Engine Optimization. Or, SEO, as it is known in the business. If your website is basically a bunch of moving pictures, it can’t be indexed by a search engine, so it doesn’t know what your website is about, so it doesn’t know when to show it to people who are searching for exactly the kinds of things you are trying to sell.
Repeat Business. If your website is meant to be something people look at once and never return to, I suppose its fine. The problem with a Flash website is that it will not allow users to bookmark or link to particular pages. This means if your clients really love a particular page on your site they can’t e-mail the link to their co-workers!
I know why web developers sell Flash websites. These websites show off how great you are at creating swooshing logos and nifty pages transitions. And, if your client ever needs a little change, they have to come back to you or pay someone else to build them a website from scratch.1
I also know why businesses invest in Flash websites. They want something stylish and unique. In reality all truly successful website forgo snazzy animations for functional user friendly pages. If Amazon, eBay, and Google don’t build their websites out of Flash, why should you?
This isn’t to say that Flash animation doesn’t have its place. It think its great for product demos, presentations, and banner ads. Its an excellent way to present information in a graphical format. That said, you should never ever purchase a Flash website.
Website Development Tips:
Never build a site out of Flash.
Never use Flash to show words.
If its good enough for Google, its good enough for you.
Focus on what your customers want to see, not what you want to show them.
Make it easy for your customers to tell people about you.
Heaven forbid you have a new hire or, you know, the law changes. [↩]
Last week a website user notified me of a problem he was experiencing with this website’s rating calculators. He’s been a regular user for nearly a year now. When he tried to perform a calculation the calculators would just show waiting indicators without showing the answer. If he closed the browser window and reopened it, it would sometimes fix the problem. To complicate matters, his coworker was having a similar problem.
Worst of all, this problem had been plaguing them for two weeks. If you have a problem with this website, let me know as soon as possible so that I can track down the last change to the site to see if its causing a problem.
My troubleshooting went like this:
Get a detailed description of the symptoms.
Try to replicate the problem.
Reiterate the problem to make sure I’ve got it right.
While working to diagnose and fix the problem, offer a temporary fix (putting up a temporary site for their use).
Look into recent changes in the website (going back two weeks).
Since I couldn’t replicate the problem, ask additional questions.
Does the problem occur at a particular time of the day?1
These browser helper objects are notorious for interfering with normal browser operations. Worse, you can’t rule them out based upon when they were installed because they’re constantly downloading and installing updates to themselves. [↩]
Double clicks send two requests to the server – and might be confusing the browser. [↩]
Two computers on a single network could be a coincidence, a sign of a problem with the website, or a sign of a problem with the client’s network. [↩]
If not, its a problem with that computer. If so, could still be a problem with either the website or their computers/network. [↩]
Tell them how to tell if there’s an error and how to give you the error code information. [↩]
They may not care for the constant updates, but they will know you’re on the case. [↩]
How can you make their job easier? Well, the good news is you don’t have to, I’ve given you all the tools to make your office run faster and more efficiently, saving you time and money.
MPN’s. Medical Provider Network lists, complete with logins and passwords. Whether you’re on the applicant or defense side, your staff is going to need access to these lists. You can find a doctor for your client or so you can give a list of doctors to opposing counsel.
EAMS DWC to ADJ Number Search Engine. Chances are you’ve got cases with more than one “legacy” Board file number. With this search engine, you can search for the corresponding EAMS ADJ numbers. And, you can search for as many Board (or ADJ) numbers as you want at the same time, just by separating them with commas.
EAMS Office Search Engine. When your staff is filling out documents for you, they’re going to need to know the correct name and address for all the parties. When they need to call opposing counsel, they can also look up the phone number with this search engine.
EAMS Document Type and Document Title Search Engine. Your staff needs a quick way to find the exact EAMS document type and EAMS document title for every document cover sheet getting filed with the Board. Sure, they could comb through four or five pages of 3 point font on the Board’s form. Or, better yet, they could search and find exactly the document type and title they need.
EAMS Body Part Codes. There are 62 different body part codes in the EAMS system. There’s no need to keep the EAMS chart on hand, just tell your staff what body part you want on the form and have them look it up on this website.
DWC / WCAB / EAMS Forms. There are now more than 130 different forms, new and “legacy”, available on the DIR website. There’s no reason your staff should have to scroll up or down looking for the right form. Type in a few characters and get a direct link right to the exact form you need.
Date Calculator. Sure, everyone in your office could have their own date wheel. In my experience, date wheels and money charts are two of the most commonly swiped office aides right after the good stapler and scotch tape. With a date calculator built into the website, all of your staff can quickly and easily calculate the number of days between two dates or what day it will be in a certain number of days.