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Catching Up On The Craziness

December 9th, 2013

There’s never a dull moment here at SSMCreative and it’s nice when the craziness results in satisfied clients.

childrens-allianceWe’ve been working with the Children’s Care Alliance since April to create their online presence. Located in the Lehigh Valley, CCA is a collaboration of local hospitals, school districts and care providers. With the support of the Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Health Care, the CCA is committed to improving the quality of health care for children of the Lehigh Valley. The CCA has developed a health information exchange, the Virtual Health Village, which allows for participating children’s health information to be shared electronically among health care providers in order to greatly improve the continuity of care received by those children.

The site, childrenscarealliance.org, is an educational tool that provides important information for parents and health care providers. The site also allows parents to complete and submit consent forms for their children to participate in the Virtual Health Village.

The site was launched on Monday, November 25th.

open-linkOn Wednesday, November 27th, we launched theopenlink.org. The Open Link is a newly formed organization that joined 2 previously separate organizations in the Upper Perkiomen Valley – The Open Line and the Upper Perkiomen Senior Center. The Open Link provides community services, food and nutrition services and adult education services to qualified individuals in the Upper Perkiomen Valley.

The site, theopenlink.org, is an informational tool that provides important information about the array of services offered by The Open Link to individuals and families in the Upper Perkiomen Valley.

Both designs were implemented as responsive so site visitors can easily access each site from any device.

Cheap, Fast and Good…

February 12th, 2013

HiRes
It’s an old adage – Cheap, Fast and Good – pick two. For years I’ve heard that over and over again in reference to automobiles, specifically hot rods. The phrase implies that if you want to go Fast, be prepared to spend money or to be stranded on the side of the road waiting for a tow – reliability (Good) doesn’t come Cheap and neither does speed.

So who cares and why are we talking cars?  You just want a website and with all the various free blog/website management and image editing software floating around the old interweb, it’s easy to have a Cheap, Fast and Good website done by you, for you…

Ever try to assemble something without the instructions? I’m willing to bet it either took much longer than initially planned or resulted in an unintended, never-before-seen creation that would be better served being banished to the depths of the Atlantic. I once tried to teach myself how to weld on an old car in my parents garage. After I had completely put out the fire, I accepted that perhaps someone with more experience should finish the “welding” I had “started”.  Similarly (or not), a good website starts with an understanding of what the end result should represent AND how to get there. I had an idea of what the finished welding project should’ve looked like, though overlooking the fact that I had no proper knowledge of how to weld could’ve cost my parents their house. Your website is your brand, visible to the world.  A visitor may only give you one attempt at peaking their interest.  Are you sure your wholesale plumbing customers really want to see a picture of you holding Rex your Maltese? Building an e-commerce site? Mishandled transactions could cost your customers their identity.

Sure, a reputable firm will charge you money for their expertise which may negate the “Cheap” part, but the money spent up-front will be used to identify your goals, target audience, marketing strategy, brand and supporting site design and functionality. A proper planning phase allows for better (the “Good” part) brand development and specifies all facets of your website (making programming your site “Fast”). The “Good” and “Fast” will gain new customers, keep existing ones and provide a pleasant, secure, easy-to-manage environment. So, what can’t we weld for you?

The Road to a New Brew

January 15th, 2013

Craft Beer and Branding
It’s been a long time coming, but Weyerbacher’s new brand is almost completely rolled out (two and a half years in the making). It’s been a long process, but the end result is something that they can be really proud of. In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to walk through some of the process, successes and failures that we had throughout the long slog of taking Weyerbacher from the 1990s to now.

The Beginning
Weyerbacher has three key players. Dan, Chris and Chris (President, Head Brewer and Head of Production). In order to really develop the brand, we had to get all three of their views (sometimes very disparate views) on the same page so that we could have some form of consensus for approvals and direction. We started in the fall of 2010 (October 28th, to be exact) with a meeting to discuss the current state of the brand, where each person thought we were and what we thought the general public thought of Weyerbacher. To get to know where you want to go, you need to know where you are and where you’ve been. That may seem like common sense, but even with only 3 people as part of the process, there can be very differing view points (and there were a few).

Where are we?
A lot of the things that came out of the initial discussions left us feeling like we had a lot of room to grow from a brand perspective (of course we knew this, but it’s helpful to define it as well). Weyerbacher, as a brand, is a respected small brewery that makes bold and innovative beers that challenge style boundaries and create incredible experiences through beer. That’s a great brand. Except the visual portion of the brand had not kept up with the physical brand. All of this great beer was packaged in dated materials with a logo that was deeply in need of re-design.

Next steps
We defined where we are, now we need to define where we want to go and what we want to be. To be continued…

Know BioCycle? You Should!

April 11th, 2012

BioCycle has been the top resource for municipal, agricultural and industrial composting, renewable energy and sustainability since the magazine was founded in 1960. Known across the industry for their vast knowledge and extensive archives, BioCycle established itself as the “go to” for information.

The problem? Their website appeared disorganized and, therefore, was difficult for users to navigate. The site was not visually appealing and did not invite visitors to stay and browse the site. The existing content management system was outdated and limiting. Realizing that their customer base demanded a more dynamic site, BioCycle contacted SSM.

Working in conjunction with BioCycle, SSM developed a design that was true to the BioCycle color scheme while remaining aesthetically pleasing to site visitors. SSM installed WordPress to drive the site providing BioCycle the ability to easily update information, upload articles and incorporate photos. Since the article archive is one of BioCycle’s greatest assets, SSM implemented a search that allows site visitors to quickly return extensive search results. SSM implemented a membership functionality that allows site visitors to subscribe and renew subscriptions easily.

Check out BioCycle’s site and learn something!

MySQL Search and Replace

February 15th, 2012

This might be a simple little thing, but it’s one of those things that saves a truckload of time on a regular basis.  You set up a WordPress site on dev.joker.com so that you can build, test etc… Then you need to go live.  One of the easiest ways to do it is to download the DB, open it in BBEdit and do a search and replace for dev.joker.com/www.joker.com.  Then re-upload it and you’re ready to go.

So what happened to all of the odd characters and line breaks that someone put in without using the correct paste as text or paste from Word button?  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.  This all has to do with charsets and is technically just a PITA.  So what’s a way around it?

phpMyAdmin has a great search function.  Just log in, click search on the tab of the first screen like below:

then search for dev.joker.com.  The results will show you every table that you’ve got dev.joker.com in.  Next we’ll use the MySQL search and replace function:

update [table_name] set [field_name] = replace([field_name],'[string_to_find]’,'[string_to_replace]’);

It’s a pretty straight forward code that I didn’t discover for a couple of years simply because I never thought to look for it (duh…)  what it does is allows you to search and replace any string on any field.  It does NOT search the entire DB which would be great, but once you’ve gotten the list of instances from the global search you did via phpMyAdmin earlier, then you just have to go down through the tables and fields and you’ll be good to go.

One quick note.  The post_content and guid fields in the wp_posts table will both have instances.  You’d figure it out, but I’m just trying to save you a little time.

Why I don’t like Social Readers

February 9th, 2012

We’ve all seen them. The Wall Street Journal has one, Digg has one and we’ve all seen what our friends are reading. And THAT’S precisely my problem with social readers. I don’t necessarily want my friends knowing that I’ve read about Snooki’s miraculous weight-loss. Or that I’ve read something about Corn Syrup’s tie to gluttonous appreciation of old Lost in Space episodes. It’s just none of your business and if I want you to know, I’ll share it with you.

So how do you deal with this? First things first, don’t sign up for the service if you don’t have to. Digg gives you the option of signing up, I decided to ignore it (with the little button that says “No Thanks”.

The WSJ is a little more difficult because they require you to sign up for it in order to read the articles (which is really annoying and a bit of a privacy issue I think). So how do you handle it? Easy, sign up for it and then in the app’s preferences on Facebook set it so that only you can see it in your timeline. That way no one else will be able to see that you’ve got a slight obsession with Twilight and Robert Pattinson ~ you twihard you.

My prediction? This is something that a lot of online media outlets will test out and people will not use it. Then again, I like my privacy and I like being in control of what people see of what I’m doing.

If you’re using it, let me know why.

The Death of IE6

October 18th, 2011

If only it were true. Ask any developer you know about IE6 and you will get a host of facial expressions, hand gestures and words that I can’t use here. There is nothing more frustrating than developing an incredible website that’s working on all browsers and then testing it on IE6. Anyone who tests on IE6 goes through the same (or a very similar) cycle of emotions….

You paste the URL in IE6 and hit return. As it’s loading, you close your eyes and cross your fingers (and maybe toes). Once you feel like you’ve waited long enough, you open your eyes just to find that the page hasn’t quite fully loaded yet. You close your eyes and cross your fingers again. This time you count to 25 and open them again. The site has loaded, but the header image is in your content well or the drop down menus aren’t working or the list goes on and on. You may say a few “inappropriate for work” words, threaten that you will throw your computer through the window or in some rare cases, put your head in your hands and weep. You then spend the next 3 hours tweaking the code. Finally when you refresh, the site looks okay. Just okay ~ never the same as the site on any of the other browsers. You shrug your shoulders and send it on to the client.

If the public would upgrade their Internet Explorer to anything higher than 6, maybe Microsoft would be kind enough to kill IE6 while it sleeps. By continuing to use IE6, you only encourage them to keep it around. It haunts developers worldwide, waking them up at night. If IE6 were gone, the world would be a happier place where developers could whistle while they work, maybe even throw up some jazz hands when a project is completed knowing that they don’t have to battle the evil IE6.

Please for the betterment of the online world, STOP USING IE6!!!

It’s time…

October 7th, 2011

So you’ve decided that it’s time to develop your online presence? Why now? If you answer “because (fill in the blank) told me to”, stop right there.

If you don’t understand why you want a website, you can’t set goals and expectations for your site. Without goals and expectations, your site will be floating around in cyberspace serving only as an expensive (to you) way for customers and potential customers to retrieve your phone number or email address. Quite honestly, your money could be better spent on something more productive.

If you’re contacted by a company offering web design development or a host of any other services related to online media, stop and ask yourself if your company is ready. What do I mean? If you aren’t ready to devote the time and resources necessary to make your online endeavor successful, don’t half-donkey it. The development process is a collaborative effort between you and the company you hire. Don’t just hand over your brand and reputation to someone you don’t know and hope all goes well. Chances are, in the end you’ll get a product you might be okay with. How easy is it to stand behind and promote something you’re just okay with?

How can you be sure you are prepared to take the dive into the online world? There are some questions that you can ask yourself and others in your company:

Why do we want a website? Define the purpose of your site. Do you just want to tell site visitors your company history or do you want to sell them a really cool gadget that you think will change their lives?

What are our immediate goals for the site? Define what features are needed now in order to meet those goals.

What are our long term goals for the site? You need to understand these in the early stages of the project so that you can be sure the current direction will be able to accommodate those goals.

What is your budget for the project? Be realistic, don’t be outrageous. If you budget $100 for a website, the site you get will look like you spent $100.

Who will be responsible for site upkeep? Sounds like a silly question to ask before you even have the site, but there is nothing worse than an out-of-date site. In fact, you’d be better off without a site. People that use the web to find answers to their questions are looking for immediate gratification. If they happen upon your site and it has prices listed from 2008, they are going to expect those prices when they order and will be disgruntled when they don’t get them.

What is our timeline? The time required for each project can differ since the timeline is based on many variables that must work in conjunction to complete the project. If you need to have the project done in a certain period of time, you need to know that and act accordingly. Don’t wait until you have just 2 weeks to go live before you contact a company to do the work. Chances are 1 of 2 things will happen if you do that, they’ll laugh at you or you’ll get a site that looks like it was thrown together in 2 weeks.

Your website and any online marketing you do is an extension of your brand. You need to cultivate , nurture and grow that brand. That means understanding your options and making the best educated decisions regarding your brand. The company you choose should be able to guide you through the process, not tell you that you need a site just to make money.

Doughnuts, Oil Changes and Websites

August 11th, 2011

I’m going to go off on a little rant here. It’s a bit of a continuation of what’s on our home page, but I think it needs to be further explored.

When I first started SSM in ’99, I kind of went with the shotgun theory of “I’d like to be able to provide every service possible to every customer” so that I wouldn’t lose any business. Throughout the years we’ve been able to keep the majority of our customers happy, partly because we realized that if you’re trying to do everything then you’re going to succeed at nothing. It’s pretty common throughout the universe. We’ve all heard the descriptor, “Jack of all trades, master of none”.  Wouldn’t it be a whole lot smarter to be the master of a few things, know what they are and then find the people who are the masters in the areas that you need help with? Seems like simple logic to me.

Yet a lot of the marketing material that I see for our peers still says, “one stop shop”. Really? Are you offering doughnuts and oil changes too?! I don’t want an application built by someone who also offers hypnosis. I don’t want my marketing put together by someone who will also fix a flat tire. I want them to be sure that they know whether WordPress is the solution or if Drupal or Joomla are better options (which they aren’t, FYI). I want them to be able to foresee issues that might arise that I’m not thinking of just because it’s not my job to know, it’s theirs.

You wouldn’t go to a lawyer that also sold bait. Why would you go to an application developer that also purports to be an expert at language translation. Or an ad agency that also wants to do virus scans for your PC?

Know what you know and know what you don’t and then be clear about it. One stop shop sounds really good, but in the end it just ends up as two different kinds of java.