Pelland Blog

Ten Common Website Mistakes to Avoid

July 29th, 2019

The biggest mistake that many small business owners might make would be to build and maintain their own website. Sure, companies like GoDaddy, Wix, Weebly, and Vistaprint make it look like an easy task that anybody can handle, but do you simply want a website or do you want a website that can effectively compete online? Playing part-time webmaster when your business is at stake is clearly an example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

The next temptation is to hire one of the thousands of amateurs who hang out a “webmaster” shingle simply because they can navigate their way around the basic use of a CMS website building platform. That might be the computer repair shop in town that is trying to keep itself busy or even a family member or that “nice kid who knows a lot about computers” down the road. Inevitably, these people know very little about how to generate effective online buying decisions, and they absolutely understand zero about your particular business and its competitive environment.

Whether you insist on building your own site, or whether you simply want to keep an eye on your webmaster, there are a few common mistakes that you will want to avoid. Usually these mistakes are errors of omission, but they can also be reflections of careless work habits.

  1. Ignoring Mobile Devices: Checking the Google Analytics of two client websites in recent days, I was astounded to see that over two-thirds of traffic was now coming from users of smartphones, with conventional desktop and laptop computers coming in third to tablets. If your site is not mobile-friendly, you are turning away a tremendous portion of your market. Do not be deceived by the fact that almost any website may be viewed on a smartphone. There is a big difference between being able to view a site and actually engaging in a non-frustrating experience. Has your site abandoned the use of Flash (a popular way to present dynamic website content until support was dropped by iOS and Android devices), is content scaling down to the size of the display, does the navigation work with pudgy fingers, and can users tap a phone number displayed on your site to initiate a phone call?
  2. Google Analytics: Yes, that comes next on the list. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made is to have a website without the advantage of running Google Analytics. It is a free tool, it is easy to install, and it provides a wealth of extremely valuable information regarding the visitors to your site, traffic sources, and much more.
  3. Using Templates and Ignoring META Content: I am amazed at how many website titles display as “Just another WordPress site” because the webmaster did not take the minimal time and effort (or perhaps did not have the knowledge) to substitute an appropriate keyword-based title for the default template setting. A site’s title tag is critically important in organic search, and nobody is ever going to search for the term “just another WordPress site campground”, so it should be clear that having that as your site’s title will put your park at a severe disadvantage. Without naming names, I just found campgrounds suffering from exactly this failure located in Wisconsin Dells, WI; Marcellus, MI; Crossville, TN; Antonito, CO; Fletcher, NC; and Calvert City, KY.
  4. ADA Compliance: Many of the factors that determine whether or not a website is ADA compliant involve the same META content that search engine robots love. These include image ‘alt’ tags and a site’s language tag. Other factors are part of a site’s mobile-friendliness, including scalable text. Your site should also maintain a proper contrast ratio between text and background colors, the site should be navigable by keyboard, and videos should be captioned. Very importantly, let people know about any accessible accommodations and facilities at your park.
  5. Orphans: I am not talking about Mickey Rooney and Boys Town. I am talking about pages on a website that fail to link back to the other pages of the site. Sort of like a dead end in a corn maze or a hall of mirrors, orphan pages are very frustrating to site visitors.
  6. Broken Links: Formula 409 is a well-known cleaning and degreasing product that has been around since the 1950’s, but 404 error messages on a website are about as popular as a “door-buster” item at Walmart that is out of stock the moment the store opens and the sale begins. People see these frustrating messages when they click on a broken link, typically because a page has been deleted without updating its incoming links.
  7. Unencrypted E-Mail Links: You would not display your credit card number on a poster in Times Square, and you would certainly not hand out keys to your home or automobile to total strangers, so why would you display an unencrypted e-mail address on your website? Without encryption, the message to e-mail address harvesting spam robots is “Here I am. Come get me!”
  8. Broken Graphics: One of the telltale signs of a beginning webmaster is broken graphics. If graphics are linked to files on a local computer, they will appear normally, but only on that computer. Anybody accessing the page from any other device anywhere in the world will see a broken graphic link.
  9. Slow Loading Images: Have you ever visited a website, only to watch images slowly loading, as if they were being slowly painted onto your screen? Almost inevitably, it is because the person maintaining the site has used enormous photos on the pages then has those images being scaled down to size by the browsers of end users. The enormous files are being needlessly downloaded, then resized, when properly sized and optimized images would have loaded immediately.
  10. Out of Date Content: You would not buy a gallon of milk that was past its expiration date, would you? Well, why would you expect people to “buy” what you are selling on your website if its content looks like it is way past its “best used by” date? Specifically, rates and schedules should show the current year. Particularly when it involves pricing, nobody wants to make a buying decision when there is pricing uncertainty.

These are only 10 common mistakes that webmasters frequently make. The overall best advice is to avoid working with that webmaster in your mirror (or that clever kid down the road) and to choose one of several professional companies that understand the campground industry and with reputations you can trust. You have better things to do than look for mistakes on your website … or to deal with the consequences of those mistakes.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

ADA Compliance and Your Website

February 10th, 2019

In recent weeks, a growing number of campgrounds have received letters and phone calls from legal entities raising questions regarding their websites’ compliance with ADA standards. In this case, ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA was a natural extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in all aspects of public life. At its signing, President Bush said, “This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.” In 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not even exist, and interpretation of the law today is far from simple.

The ADA is comprised of sections referred to as “titles”. Title I prohibits discrimination in the workplace by any employer with 15 or more full-time employees. Clearly, this applies to the hiring practices of larger campgrounds. Title II prohibits public entities from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities” by excluding them from services and activities. Title III requires that newly constructed or altered public accommodations comply with ADA standards. For campgrounds, considered “public accommodations”, this is why your new restrooms and other remodeled facilities must be universally accessible. Titles II and III have also raised issues regarding accessible swimming pools and accommodations for service animals. Titles IV and V cover telecommunications (closed captioning) and miscellaneous provisions that are of lesser concern for your business.

Title II Is the Basis for the Current Problems

Originally applied to state and local governments, the definition of what constitutes a “public entity” has become far more broadly interpreted. The Internet and websites (which, as you recall, did not exist in 1990) are now being challenged as “places of public accommodation” due to the way in which they are accessed. This interpretation has been encouraged by legal challenges; most notably the Winn-Dixie case in 2017, where a plaintiff in Florida was successful in one of over 175 (as of November 2018) such lawsuits that he has filed against businesses with websites claimed to be partially inaccessible to the blind. His attorneys were awarded over $100,000.00 in damages. In addition to South Florida, popular federal court jurisdictions for the filing of such suits include Western Pennsylvania, California, and New York City, according to Forbes Magazine.

Regulations regarding websites were slated to be finalized in 2018, but those standards were put on hold under the Trump administration. On the surface, that would appear to be a prudent move that provides relief for small businesses. Unfortunately, actual regulations (as ill-advised as they may have been) are replaced by extensive recommendations, and a “Wild West” of lawsuits appears to be on the horizon. The ability of robots to search for vulnerable websites has opened up new opportunities for eager attorneys representing not only the blind but individuals with low vision or cognitive impairments, as well as the deaf, using either computers or mobile devices.

In lieu of regulations, highly confusing recommendations have been put forward by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international standards organization that develops protocols and guidelines for the Internet. Its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developed a set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most recent version being WCAG 2.1, released in June 2018. The guidelines are broken down into three levels: A, AA, and AAA, where “A” is the most basic and “AAA” is the most extreme.

Meeting “AAA” standards would be prohibitively costly and would severely impede the online marketing efforts of most businesses. On the other hand, most websites are already in compliance with the “A” standards. In the event of a legal challenge, it is widely believed that a small business that shows a good faith effort at providing “reasonable accessibilities” on its website would prevail in its defense. This appears to translate into an attempt to meet as many “AA” standards as practical. The people who will face the greatest challenges are do-it-yourself webmasters. On the other hand, no website design company will realistically ensure 100% compliance with the existing standards.

I am not an attorney. Should you receive any communication regarding the ADA compliance of your website, you are advised to contact your attorney for legal guidance.

Presuming that you are simply taking a proactive approach, the following is a list of some of the most important “A” and “AA” standards.

  • Create “alt” tags (text alternatives) for all images and media files.
  • Identify the site’s language (typically “en-us” to indicate “English” with the “United States” subtag), allowing text readers to more easily identify the language used.
  • Forms should be properly tabbed for easy keyboard navigation.
  • Offer alternatives and suggestions for input errors on forms.
  • Provide a consistent navigation and layout throughout the site.
  • Ensure that text may be scaled up to 200% of size without causing horizontal scroll bars to appear or breaking the layout.
  • Ensure that text and background colors maintain a high contrast ratio.
  • Allow users to pause and stop any moving content.

Many of these standards have been long followed by website designers for a variety of reasons. For example, “alt” tags that are used by text readers are also read by search engine robots, and tabbed forms enhance usability for all users.

If you are interested, the far more extreme “AAA” standards partially include sign language translations for all videos, text alternatives for videos, 100% keyboard access, definitions for unusual words, explanations of words that are difficult to pronounce, text using a basic reading level, and no time limits or interruptions of page content.

There are online tests that will allow you to check your website for compliance red flags. One of these is the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool. There are other fee-based online service providers that offer tests and remediation. One such site that I found at the top of a Google search had an image with a missing “alt” tag right at the top of its own Home page, a very basic compliance failure. We are wading through some very murky waters. As always, you need to stay informed. With typically narrow profit margins, it is hard to imagine any business that would willingly fail to welcome all potential guests.

This post was written by Peter Pelland