I have a long quote form on my website. Lately, just in the past week, I’ve received about 5 emails from this form with nothing filled in except a big list of porn links or other obnoxiousness in the comments box. I’m running this on FormMail and do have required fields set up but apparently that’s very easy to get around.

I’m in the process of improving my JavaScript knowledge and had recently done a tutorial about form validation, so I applied that knowledge this morning.

In my quote form I inserted this into the <head> section of my php page:

I made my form name ‘form1’ and added this to the <form> tag:

onsubmit="return validate();"

I uploaded it and tested it. Now when someone fails to fill in one of the fields listed above they get a popup box and it doesn’t let them continue.

I know this might not be effective (what happens if they have popups turned off?) but it might enough to dissuade a casual form saboteur, maybe? If it continues to happen I’ll take further action and keep you posted.

I was at the website of a leading national magazine for creative types tonight and registered so I could post my business. I got through the registration process, kind of a good-sized form, then I hit the submit button.

Or rather, I clicked on the button that was where the submit button is ‘supposed’ to be.

I cleared everything I’d typed because I didn’t actually read the button. After my entries disappeared and I looked again, the buttons were labeled ‘clear edits’ and ‘add.’ Which is fine – except they were reversed from what I would normally expect to see – ‘submit’ on the left and ‘reset’ on the right.

Should I have looked more carefully? Maybe. But imagine if this was a website that was selling things, expensive things. imagine if given a form to enter your billing and shipping info and you got all the way to the bottom and clicked a button. Given two choices, if you were not a total newcomer to the Web, I would be willing to hazard a guess that you would automatically click the button on the left.

Maybe this is because I’m in the U.S., I don’t know if the order of the buttons are the same in other countries. But given that this magazine is published in the U.S., caters to certain regions of the U.S. and is focused on creative types that typically use computers perhaps more than the general population, I’m not sure whether the reversal of buttons most of us probably tend not to even notice anymore was intentional (‘let’s shake things up a bit’) or accidental.

I’m guessing in this case it was not intentional. I filled out another form on this site (carefully reading the buttons before I clicked anything this time) and got a great big MySQL error. So I know that there’s something not right there…

As a web retailer, I have a website that’s simple, straightforward and utterly predictable as possible. I emulate what works for the big retailers, I don’t have any surprises in store for potential customers, and everything is where research has shown that people tend to automatically expect it to be. They reach for a button, put the button right under their mouse where they don’t have to even think. Make the website invisible and the product will become everything.

I think that it’s a challenge to be creative under the requirement of being predictable, but that’s where the fun is. It’s not in flipping elements around, it’s in working within those retail-imposed boundaries to come up with something that’s beautiful, attentive to standards yet still offers a comfortable experience for the visitor who comes to buy, not to be confused.

sitemapping with post-its

Okay, maybe my method does take a little extra work to translate, but this is how I do it.

Post-it notes on the wall make a flexible sitemapping system that multiple people can stop by, contemplate, and make changes to as they wish as long as you leave it up.

I work on PC’s, so I don’t have access to some of the cool sitemapping tools that Mac users can try. Adobe GoLive does have sitemapping built in; I’ve taken a brief look but have not yet used it. Generally I wind up translating my post-it sitemap into InDesign using a template that I’ve developed over time.

But the post-it note way is so easy and is a good way to nail it all down before you have to start moving all those little flowchart symbols and lines all over the place.

I spent a little time today researching how to optimize PDF’s for the search engines. I’ll summarize what I found – but note that this isn’t a complete list, there are a number of other techniques out there.

1) All three major search engines can crawl PDF text – just make sure the file is created in a text-based application like Acrobat or Word. PDF’s created from Photoshop files are not text-based.

2) Create links within the PDF’s content just as you would for a regular web page.

3) Most search engines (including Google) will pick up and use a title element as the title for their results pages, so this is important! To enter a title phrase, click File > Document Properties.

4) If you don’t include a title, Google will instead pull up the first chunk of text it finds in the document itself and use that as the title for the document it its results pages. This can have unwelcome consequences, as you might imagine, so take a moment and put in a real title phrase.

5) Some search engines will pick up the description element (Yahoo will, but Google won’t from what I read today) so it probably doesn’t hurt to enter something here.

6) When finished editing existing PDF’s, click Save As… to save over the existing file and clean up any unused objects.

A few articles about optimizing PDF’s for the web:

How to Optimize PDF Files for Web Sites by Andy King.

Make Your PDF’s Work Well with Google by Duff Johnson.

SEO Your PDF’s by Kevin Kantola.

Typically when we shop at our local best buy, they either (1) don’t have what we want in stock or (2) we’re ignored by the salespeople or (3) we get a salesperson who can’t help us.

Today, however, was very different.

I went in to get a new soundcard because the integrated sound in my Dell 2400 is getting choppier by the day. I’d been standing there looking at my choices for about 30 seconds when a salesperson walks up, introduces himself as the manager and shakes my hand. He asked what I needed and I told him, and he apologized and said he’d get someone to help me. He asked my name (!) and wandered off.

A minute later he’s back with a salesperson. He introduced us to each other and left.

This salesperson was outstanding. I told him my problem – he immediately pulled not the more expensive, but the least expensive Soundblaster card off the shelf.

“This’ll do the trick,” he said, and went on to explain exactly why my integrated sound was failing. I was happy. I took it.

Right next to the soundcards were the video cards. I have a GeForce 5200 in my Dell, not a bad card, but he showed me two others that he said would “blow my head off.” That’s great – I love having my head blown off by great video. He even discussed the computing requirements of Warcraft and my Dell with me, assuring me that it was fine and would be for some time to come.

I was so pleased. I didn’t get the video card, but I’m eyeing it for my birthday.

I thanked him and we parted company. I headed to the cashier. Once again to my surprise I got a gracious friendly employee who told me about their new small business rewards points program. It was free – would I like to join? Of course – I’m a small business and I do spend money at Best Buy from time to time. I filled out the form, paid for my soundcard and walked out.

I had to turn around and look at the sign to make sure it was really Best Buy I’d just exited – it was night and day compared to every other time I’d been there. They did great, everyone I talked to was helpful and knew what they were talking about for a change. So kudos to our local Best Buy.

This is a question I’m confronting right now, as I’m setting up the new hosting section of my website.

To find out, I went through about a dozen of my clients’ sites to find out what they were using. Note that all of these sites are CSS, most validate fully for (X)HTML and are cleanly coded.

I have a few clients with pretty simple static sites of 8-20 pages, a few small (optimized) images but mostly text. Their sites were typically about 70-90 mb on the server.

I have one CMS (Joomla) site with a good number of photos and the equivalent of about 30 ‘pages’ of content; that one’s taking up about 130mb at the moment.

I have a photographer with an e-commerce solution, two databases and about 425 photos (all optimized .jpg’s); this site is around 250mb.

I have another photographer with no e-commerce but an open source image gallery. His image database contains around 900-1,000 images, some pretty good sized but all are (or should be) optimized. The site is around 10 pages plus the image gallery and is at about 750mb.

Finally I have my business website Parallax Web Design. I checked its size when it had 5-6 production sites running, and a total of maybe 8 MySQL databases. It was taking up around 1gb at that time.

So from my experience, I’m pretty confident that I can host a small static site with a 500mb disk allotment. My current host for all of these sites (except Parallax)  offers at a minimum a 100gb plan – this is totally unnecessary for any of my current clients.

Does this kind of measurement hold true for other web designers managing hosting their own clients out there? Do you have small business clients that really need 400gb of space, and if so, what kind of sites are they running?