Boagworld Show S06E04

Web & Digital Advice

Digital and web advice from Headscape and the addled brain of Paul Boag... tell me more

Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Thursday, 9th May, 2013

Freelancing, popups and performance

This week on the Boagworld podcast it’s all about the performance of your site, changing your career and discussing the fact that pop-ups just never seem to die.

Season 6:
The estimated time to read this article is 42 minutes
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Paul Boag:
This week on the Boagworld podcast it’s all about the performance of your site, changing your career and discussing the fact that pop-ups just never seem to die.

Hello, hello, testing, testing one, two, three. Marcus Lillington: do you hear me, over.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I’m on the other end of the line, up in Hartley Wintney in Hampshire.

Paul Boag:
Isn’t this telephonigraphic technology amazing?

Marcus Lillington:
How long can we keep this up for? I don’t know.

Paul Boag:
That’s long enough. I think that’s quite long enough. Hello.

Marcus Lillington:
Hartley Wintney 29, that’s my phone number.

Paul Boag:
Do you know I remember days when it was like that; you didn’t have 01258 which is my area code, it would just be Hartley Wintney 451545.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but not – seriously a friend of mine he used to live on in one of the big houses and he can remember, he is – he must be nearly 60 now, he can remember when he was a small boy he was taught to answer the telephone Hartley Wintney 29, that was their number.

Paul Boag:
That’s just amazing, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. It wasn’t completely pulled from the air.

Paul Boag:
So there we go. So you’ve now given away somebody’s phone number.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not that anymore; he doesn’t live in the big house anymore.

Paul Boag:
I remember as well when they started adding more numbers to the area code. It used to be 0258 and then it had a one inserted in it, so yes. And then of course our children will go, I remember when they stopped having phone numbers and we all used Facebook.

Marcus Lillington:
People don’t talk to each other on Facebook. I suppose they might do eventually…

Paul Boag:
Don’t they? Well you can do now. Facebook have started to rollout free calls on there – via it, you see. So it’s all going to go IP, yeah, yeah …

Marcus Lillington:
Really? I didn’t know that.

Paul Boag:
… keep up with what the kids are doing, Marcus, come on.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I know, but and I kind of do that, we use Skype for our many internal meeting calls, that kind of thing but…

Paul Boag:
It’s shit.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s just VoIP in general is shit. Well, it’s not – that’s unfair: sometimes it shit. And that’s not good enough sometimes, sometimes it needs to always work well.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve done – Leigh who is often on the show – was he on last week’s show, I think he was.

Paul Boag:
Yes he was.

Marcus Lillington:
I have forced him to install a landline in his house because he works from home nearly all the time and he, basically he is the kind of designer UX person on the big law firm that we work for in the States. And basically he would kind of drop out of calls every five minutes. So, they are rubbish.

Paul Boag:
I know, but it ranges, doesn’t it? Because it can go from sounding – I mean, we’re on the phone at the moment not that people would be able to hear that because we are recording separately, but we are doing this over a phone because we don’t trust Skype and you get these delays don’t you? And then you end up talking over each other really awkwardly which you don’t get on a normal phone. But, it has to be said, when Skype is working properly it sounds far better than this does. This sounds all a bit crackly and kind of 1940s, doesn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
I think that’s your end, Paul. I’ve got the equivalent of an old Bakelite 1940s phone here but with a wire going from the handset to the phone because I don’t trust the airwaves me.

Paul Boag:
I don’t like new technology.

Marcus Lillington:
So, but anyway someone bought it for me, I don’t think it was my wife, somebody bought it for me for Christmas one year. I thought that’s going to be – what a fat lot of use that is. It’s got no answering machine it or anything. But then I kind of realized that I could just forward my landline here to my mobile permanently. So I only ever use it for outgoing calls and it’s brilliant. And it’s absolutely brilliant and this always sounds great. So, anyway …

Paul Boag:
Oh well there you go. That’s fine.

Marcus Lillington:
… but obviously I am paying BT for the privilege of this call whereas if I’m doing it on Skype, I am not and that’s a pretty major advantage.

Paul Boag:
And also you must be sitting there holding a handset to your ear?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but it’s one of those massive old styley ones, so I’m literally tilting my head about two degrees to put it on my shoulder.

Paul Boag:
That’s very bad for you.

Marcus Lillington:
I know it is.

Paul Boag:
You’ll get told off.

Marcus Lillington:
But it’s such a – it’s just such an old fashioned styley one.

Paul Boag:
It’s so big.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s actually – it’s only one or two degrees, it’s not like a 45 degree angle to get it on my shoulder; it’s massive. Anyway…

Paul Boag:
There we go. So, exciting news Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not, is it?

Paul Boag:
It is, it’s really exciting. We have two audio questions on this week’s show.

Marcus Lillington:
Two?

Paul Boag:
So, by my calculations that means two out of our three listeners have now submitted audio questions, because I mean, I know we had an audio question in last week’s, but it was obviously such a fake accent that it must have been you that recorded that one. So …

Marcus Lillington:
Even I can’t do that bad an English accent. No, it means we’ve got four listeners instead of three as you thought.

Paul Boag:
Shock. Well no, because I mean obviously all of the written questions we have, we’ve just made up. Those haven’t come from real listeners.

Marcus Lillington:
Of course. Of course, yes.

Paul Boag:
So then we have had three audio questions then. So two this week, one last week, so that’s our all three listeners.

Marcus Lillington:
Every – all, yeah well that’s fantastic, 100% success rate. Who else gets that?

Paul Boag:
Of course, I know. It’s impressive, isn’t it? So there we go. I think that shows the level of engagement that we have on this show is 100% of our listeners. There aren’t many places out there – you know there would be social media gurus that would kill for that kind of rate. So there we go. So, should we actually listen to one of the questions and maybe like talk about that?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh go on then.

Paul Boag:
All right, let’s try that.

How can I improve my sites performance?

Hi. I’m Liam. I’m from Ireland. My question is should every website use a service such as CloudFlare or Google page speed to optimize their content? For instance, by reducing HTML sites or combining CSS files. Thanks.

Liam

Paul Boag:
So good question from Lehman; straight into the question, no messing around, no waffle, just pure question.

Marcus Lillington:
Now that was a proper accent as well.

Paul Boag:
I know. That’s another fake accent. It was just such a stereotypical Irish accent.

Marcus Lillington:
I thought it was a very nice accent. I wasn’t talking the piss, Paul. I was saying what a nice accent that man has because we – well, I particularly have a really dull newsreader South of England accent.

Paul Boag:
Yes. And he was so quietly spoken as well. He really doesn’t suit this show, does he, with such a quietly spoken nice accent.

Marcus Lillington:
Anyway, I didn’t really understand the question, so you are gonna have to answer this one.

Paul Boag:
He is asking about performance basically and saying should you make your website perform well.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, yes. I suppose …

Paul Boag:
Pretty short question really.

Marcus Lillington:
You can argue that maybe – I’m going to argue it myself.

Paul Boag:
Now you are going to – you are trying to come up with a scenario where you don’t need to make a website perform well, aren’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
No, I was going to compare it to 10 years ago, for example, where you probably had to – it probably had to be – it depends what you mean by perform well. If you mean just size of the file and the images and things like that, then chances are you probably don’t need to be quiet so concerned maybe.

Paul Boag:
Marcus, I will put you over my knee and spank you with that kind of attitude. What about mobile? What about those poor users out in deepest darkest Dorset like me that is trying to access your website via an edge network.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t care. Why should I care? I was just trying to set the scene, Paul, of why you might think that you wouldn’t possibly need to worry about things. And I suppose there possibly was a gap for a while when we were WAP phones but we had better broadband connections where that might have held some water or weight or whatever. But we’ve kind of gone back the other way now. Although when everyone has a 4G phone, what then, Paul?

Paul Boag:
Then performance will still matter.

Marcus Lillington:
But not for the reasons we just said.

Paul Boag:
No. I think performance is always going to matter. The faster your site, the happier users are going to be. And I think it is a slippery road, I mean the average web page got to something like a megabyte at one point, they just became so bloated because everybody went “oh, we don’t care anymore”. So we had all these wonderful broadband connections and accessing the web was no faster because effectively all the websites got bigger. So I think we should always care about performance and the speed of our websites. And we have got another good motivation to care which is that Google cares.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, quite.

Paul Boag:
And if Google cares and if they will punish us if we don’t make our websites fast and put us over the proverbial knee again, then that’s a good motivation to do it. Google are saying that they are actually – part of their algorithm now to rank your site is based on performance and if it is based on performance then you need to pay attention to it and you need to build sites that perform well, but it’s good anyway. It’s a good thing that you should be doing. In terms of — sorry go on.

Marcus Lillington:
I was going to say it’s not totally black-and-white though, is it? Sometimes if you are – if someone sends you a link and it’s entitled amazing imagery from a gallery of photographers from the 50s or something and you think – and it’s a massive page, you don’t mind waiting for that. And you want it to be as good quality as it possibly can be. So …

Paul Boag:
Yes. I mean, I think – I don’t think it’s about – I don’t think necessarily it’s about page size, I think it’s naïve to get into this kind of argument of all pages should download in 10 seconds or whatever. I think what it’s about is optimizing …

Marcus Lillington:
Quality code.

Paul Boag:
… what you have to be as good as it can be. So, sure if you have a whopping great high quality images, and they need to be high-quality images, then yeah sure, make them high-quality images, make them big and that’s okay. But make sure you are also providing lower quality for mobile devices that download quicker because let’s face it, you are not going to be able to make the images big on a mobile device anyway. So, you’re not going to see the same level of detail. Also make sure that you are, as he talked about, minifying your HTML and your CSS and your JavaScript, make sure you are using services like CloudFlare.

So let’s talk through some of the things that you could do, right. For a start – a good starting point it is to minify all of your assets. So things like your HTML, CSS and JavaScript and increasingly now there are all kinds of compilers that people are using, because people are writing more and more stuff in things like LESS and SASS. It means that those have to be compiled before they go into a production environment anyway and so whatever compiler you use whether it be Hammer or Mixture or a Codekit – link in the show notes to all of those, then that will automatically minify it all for you. If you don’t do it that way, then there are ample tools online for minifying code and keeping it nice and small. What that does mean is you have to have two sets of all of your files. You have your kind of unminified version and your minified version, which is fine if you’re working with something like SASS or LESS or less. If it is not, then you might want to look at service side minification. So you can get plug-ins for WordPress, for example, that minify your code for you and keep it nice and small. So there is that is one aspect. Second aspect is reducing the number of calls to the server. As we talked about last week, when we talked about Sprites – do you remember when we were talking about Sprites?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I do. Yes.

Paul Boag:
So the fewer calls you have to the server the fast your page is going to render. So, we talked about Sprites and about combining your images, so that’s one way of doing it. But you could also things like JavaScript increasingly when we start using things like jQuery and jQuery plug-ins you end up having half a dozen different JavaScript files all being called in, which is all a little bit silly and they could all be combined into one file and downloaded in one go. So that’s something else that you could do. You could do the same for CSS as well. You can combine all your CSS into multiple files. I know a lot of people like to split out their CSS into like typography layout things like that. But again, if you are using something like SASS or LESS then you can still do that but compile it all together into a single CSS file that’s downloaded in one go. So that’s something else you can do. Images are another good one. Images obviously take up a lot of download; they are one of the more bandwidth heavy elements of most webpages. So there is a couple of things you can do there. One is you can avoid using images and increasingly there are services that you can do more and more stuff with CSS, Gradients and Drop shadows and all of that kind of good stuff. But also as I was saying in last week’s show, you can use fonts to do icons and that kind of thing. And then also don’t forget there’s things like SVG that can be used for stuff, canvas as well, can be used in some situations to avoid images. When you have to use images, don’t rely on Photoshop. Photoshop when you save an image out from Photoshop, even if you save for the web it basically does horrendous jobs at kind of compressing.

Marcus Lillington:
Compression.

Paul Boag:
…that image, yeah. So, there are all kinds of – it’s particularly bad with PNGs. So there are all kinds of tools, I use a tool called image optimizer, which is ImageOptim – I will put a link in the show notes, that kind of optimizes my images locally but also there are online services, there is Smush.it which is a Yahoo! product, again link in the show notes to that. And you can basically upload your images to that or point it at a website and it will compress the hell out of all your images in one go. I will tell you what I do with WordPress which is that I have a plug-in for Smush.it that integrates into WordPress. So essentially if ever I upload an image to WordPress it automatically compresses the crap out of it for me. So you can do some cool stuff there.

Then obviously there is the option with mobile devices of delivering different images depending on the device. So you provide a higher resolution to a desktop device. It’s interesting this one, because of course a lot of people could be using their mobile device at home on a Wi-Fi network in which case that’s not a problem or equally somebody could be using a laptop tethered to a mobile device on a crappy EDGE connection. So, yeah it’s difficult that one as to what you’d do. In the UK we have the advantage that the network themselves, the cellular network will compress the crap out of the images and Dan Sheerman wrote a post on that a while ago, link in the show notes, about how essentially you don’t really need to do too much mobile-specific optimization because it’s done by the carriers, but we’ve discovered since that that’s more of a UK thing and it’s not as much abroad. So, certainly lots of things there.

The one other thing that he mentioned was something called CloudFlare. Now CloudFlare is a CDN, have I got that the right way around, I want to say CND but that’s a different thing…

Marcus Lillington:
That ages you quite badly, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Does it really, oh dear. So, CDN is a content distribution network, I think is what it stands for. And essentially what it is doing is it’s taking all the assets from your website, your CSS, your JavaScript, your imagery, all the rest of it and it’s spreading it out across servers all around the world, right. So even if your site is hosted say in the UK, traditionally the problem would be is if you were in India, then to access my website in the UK you have to essentially travel through those tubes.

Marcus Lillington:
Connect to England.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, so and as we know those tubes get blocked and so you don’t always get the content as fast as you perhaps could do. So with a CDN essentially it is spreading that out so there will be somewhere in India where your content is downloaded from. CloudFlare has turned into quite a popular one because some major hosting environments like Media Temple have got that built in with it. Also it integrates very easily into things like WordPress, but whether it is – and also it has got a free option, that’s the other big thing, you don’t have to pay money if you’re a small site and I run CloudFlare on Boagworld and because it’s free and because –

Marcus Lillington:
Didn’t you have a problem with it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, well that’s what I was coming to is that I have had problems with it in the past. It tends to be a bit kind of temperamental when it goes down sometimes and takes your website with it. So, I think it’s certainly not something I would recommend to a client. I think I would – there are many others, CDNs out there that could be used instead. So there is all these things you can do, and then of course that’s not even taking into account the kind of server side performance optimization that you can do, so in terms of database calls and caching content and all that kind of stuff which to be honest is beyond my realm of knowledge, that’s a kind of much more techie area, about the limit of my knowledge for that is that in WordPress you can install certain plug-ins that do all of that caching and database optimization and all the rest of it for you. So you just install those, set up the default kind of settings on them and hope for the best and it’s pretty good actually most of the time. But I tell you what, it is worth doing. It is really, really worth doing. The performance on the latest version of Boagworld is lightning fast compared to some of the previous versions where I hadn’t taken the time to do this optimization and it makes an enormous difference and it is really worth the time.

Marcus Lillington:
Cool.

Paul Boag:
So there you go, that hopefully answers Liam’s question. Yes, you should be worrying about performance. I know everything I’ve just dumped on you sounds so complicated, but actually it’s not. It’s the kind of thing where you have to faff around for a little while to set it up initially. But most of it just kind of runs and does its thing. If all you do is minify your HTML and CSS, and reduce the number of calls to the server by creating sprites and combining JavaScript and CSS, then that’s a huge step forward. You don’t need to do everything at once and as Liam pointed out in his question, there are some great services out there for measuring the performance and Google’s page test – page speed test, link in the show notes, is a really good starting point and it will give you recommendations of how to improve things and talk you through how to do that. So it really doesn’t need to be quite as scary as it sounds and if I can do it as someone with very little backend server side knowledge then you can do it too. All right, I think that’s – Marcus, you had loads to contribute to that particular question. So thanks for your contribution. You made a big difference.

Marcus Lillington:
Sorry, I’ve just woken up.

Paul Boag:
It’s not really your thing that, is it?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
Should we move on to another question and hopefully it’s something you might have something to say on?

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

How do I make the move to becoming a freelancer?

Hi guys. I’m currently a software developer at a mid-size company and I would like to start my own consultancy. I’ve put together a website and a portfolio, but I am not sure how to begin transitioning from a 40-plus hour work week to freelance work without just quitting my job outright. So thoughts?

Alex

Paul Boag:
Wow, that’s a good question, Alex. I don’t know – I don’t think we are at all qualified to answer this question, Marcus, because of the way Headscape started.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but we have answered this question many times in the past, but not for a long time. We did a whole series on setting up and stuff like – maybe we didn’t. I think we’ve been answer –

Paul Boag:
I think you are imagining this. I don’t remember ever doing this.

Marcus Lillington:
I think we might have been asked a similar question in the past on one or two occasions, but yeah, I mean I just think we should just make some sweeping statements, Paul?

Paul Boag:
Because not being qualified to answer questions has never stopped us before, has it?

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly. I think you should just quit the job, mate, Alex; just walk in, just quit the job. Fingers crossed, there you go.

Paul Boag:
By the way, any advice that we provide in the show is not legally binding and we insert various disclaimers that means you can’t sue us.

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
It’s a difficult one, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Well, no, I was going to say that’s just me being silly.

Paul Boag:
But I mean there is a kind of – it’s difficult, isn’t it. I mean you think about our situation, how we started Headscape, that essentially we were made redundant.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, but we had loads of work to do. We were sort of midway through projects with other – with clients who kind of needed help. So, it wasn’t so bad and if you – but then – yeah, I was going to say even though I was joking around there saying yeah, quit your job, if you’ve got a big client who is – who wants to work with you that will keep you fed and watered for, I don’t know, a few months, then why not would be my attitude, because chances are you won’t be able to satisfy that client if you work on evenings and weekends.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I mean it is terrifying, isn’t it? There is no way around it. I mean even in our situation it was scary. I remember that first week of us going around all of these clients that – and saying, okay the old company has gone under but we are willing to rescue you. There was still that oh, is this going to work, are we going to earn enough money out of this. It’s a scary thing to have to do I think.

Marcus Lillington:
It is, but I’m also going to contradict myself again by saying if you go out on your own, chances are for the first year you will work more like 70 or 80 hours a week for yourself, even if you don’t – if you walked out of your job tomorrow and assuming you were capable of getting the work in, you would probably end up doing double your previous hours, which kind of there is a logic to that that suggests then well surely you can do your 40-plus hour a week job and do 20, 30 hours freelancing as well as that, which is what most people do to be fair.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I mean that’s – that is how people do it and it is bloody hard work. And you’re right; I think I look back on those first days of Headscape a little bit through rose-tinted glasses now because I struggle to remember working 70 hours a week. But I think I did, I just think you kind of enjoy it and you are excited by it and it’s all new and cool and so you kind of just keep going and I know a lot of people that have made the transition from working – in some cases working for Headscape and then have gone on to freelancing, I’m thinking about Ryan here. And he basically built up a number of clients in the evenings that he worked for, he also put a lot of effort into building up a network of contacts as well. So, he made a lot of effort to attend conferences, get to know people, so that when he went freelance, not only did he have some existing clients that he was – he had been working for in the evenings, but he also had this big network of people he could ring up and say, hey I am going freelance now, if you hear of anything let me know. And he has made a career out of basically working collaboratively with other freelancers that were doing it before him and have taken him on to kind of help with specific projects and in specific circumstances and so that’s how he’s kind of grown his business and I think that’s the kind of way it works.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, we’ve sent some – the odd inquiry his way, so yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. And then you could look at Rob’s case, Rob Borley who worked with us for a long time. He is another example of a different way of doing it, which is that he was kind of running a little bit of a business on the side doing a few bits and pieces and then he pitched for and won a piece of work that was way too big and he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it while working with us and that was the kind of instigator; when he won that it was like okay now I’ve got to go for it. So there are lots of different ways of doing it. The other way is that I have heard is get yourself made redundant, get a redundancy package and use that as start-up capital.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I mean – and as long as you’ve got somewhere to live and you own a computer and you can – I don’t know. There aren’t that many – to run a web agency or to do web-related work the outlay is not massive, not at all. I mean it’s not like you want to – even if you decided – I don’t know – I’m going to set up a shop and I’m going to sell my own design T-shirts, it would cost you thousands to get enough T-shirts in that shop to kick it off, but you don’t need that.

Paul Boag:
And to get the shop.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, exactly. So if you can work from your back bedroom, you’ve got a computer and Internet connection and a phone I suppose – although as we said earlier, you don’t even need the phone. The outlay is not great, so from that point of view it’s not a massive risk. I mean the – I guess you just need to make sure that you’re earning enough to be able to keep yourself fed and pay the rent or whatever.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the key. I think I would also go through your own personal finances and look at how you can really cut back to the absolute minimum and cut back now. Don’t cut back just when you go free, you know, full-time, cut back now and start putting that money away. Live as if you’re freelancing because then you can – that money can act as seed capital to keep you going in the first few months. But yeah, it’s hard work. If you want to do this, you’ve got to work a lot of hours now, you’ve got to build up a lot of contacts, you’ve got to live as cheaply as you can for a while to get some money behind you and then you got to go for it. But in everybody I have ever spoken to that has taken this leap and gone for it, every single one of them go, I wish I did it sooner and it went a lot smoother than I expected it to and I had work coming in that kept me fed. So I don’t think it’s as scary as it sounds.

Marcus Lillington:
Sorry, we’ve had that conversation, haven’t we. You only ever hear from the success stories. The people who have done it and it worked out for them are the only people that talk about it. You don’t get people …

Paul Boag:
Yeah, you could be right.

Marcus Lillington:
… you don’t get people saying well, I tore my hair out, I got really over stressed; I struggled to win the work. I wasn’t cut out to kind of do deals with people, I just want to do design work or whatever, so I went back to agency work 10 months later. No one talks about that.

Paul Boag:
Well, let’s – okay. Well, let’s see, let’s test that hypothesis, right. If you – if you’re one of the other two listeners to the show and you have either become – if you are a freelancer or have – or tried freelancing at some point, post your experiences in the comments. If you go to boagworld.com/season/6, you will be able to find this episode, this is episode four, and just post your comments in terms of do you go freelancing, what went where, what went wrong, what advice have you got for Alex in this, because the chances are people listening to this are far more experienced at doing this than we are, to be frank.

So get in there and answer Alex’s question, see if you can help him out. Because it is a scary thing to do and I think it’s a thing that a lot of people are looking at doing. What I would – kind of if you do decide to go for it, or even as doing it part-time in the evening, Alex, make sure you don’t underprice yourself. This seems to be a thing that a lot of freelancers do when they start off is they underprice themselves and the reason that they do that is because when they’re doing it part-time in the evening, that – their hourly rate is all bonus money. It’s all kind of – it’s all gravy so to speak, it’s fun money that you can throw around. So you don’t need to make a living out of it, so you tend to underprice yourself as a result.

But also when you do go freelance, I think people tend to underprice themselves because they don’t take into the – they kind of go, okay, so five days a week with 52 weeks in a year, wow! I can earn a lot of money doing this, I don’t need to charge very much and I’ll still get a great salary. But what you – costs that you’re forgetting is things like you might want to go on holiday sometimes and you won’t get paid for that. It’s a great tweet from Leigh last week who works with us at Headscape saying, just got paid, which is great considering I haven’t really worked very much this month, because he kind of took his whole holiday in one go, and you don’t get that when you’re freelancing.

So there’s holiday to take into account, there’s sickness, if you get ill and can’t work, but then also – really you’re only chargeable, what, 50% of your time at most, because the rest of the time is spent in doing sales and admin and things that aren’t chargeable. So getting your rate right is a really important thing as well, that isn’t what you were asking about, Alex, but it is kind of an important part of the process, I think.

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely. Oh yeah, I mean, we could go on a lot further on this. I’m not sure whether we should, I mean, we start talking about don’t – if you’ve got a bad feeling about a client, don’t take it, walk away, and all of that stuff.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, it’s all of that.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s all that stuff.

Paul Boag:
Well, this is why I do this workshop, don’t I, running a successful web design agency and it’s really interesting that every time I talk about that online, the number of people that kind of jump all over it and oh, I really wish I could go to that, that sounds so good. In fact, I think …

Marcus Lillington:
In a nutshell, get a contract and it doesn’t have to be full of legalese, it’s basically just – if something is written properly i.e. it is full of legalese, then chances are it would probably hold a bit more water, but a contract can be three sentences. I – I’m trying to think of the right words, but basically, I promise to do X and you will – you promise to pay me Y. That’s a contract. So, get it written down, get it signed and get some money upfront. Don’t do all the work and then make it live or whatever or deliver it, and then sit around month after month waiting to be paid.

Paul Boag:
I will tell you when – at some point when things were little bit slower, “ha ha ha”, they ever will be, I’m going to start, I am going to do a kickstarter program, you know kickstarter, where you find out what the people are interested in a product you’re producing. I’m going to do a kickstarter for this and I’m going to do a video series on this kind of stuff, all the things you need to know to set up a web design agency. Just because I think there is such an interest in it. I do know that I think SitePoint to do something like this, I’ll link in the show notes if I can find it to that, which could provide some advice about setting up by yourself and then there is also Treehouse of course that have got this kind of thing on there as well. So you might want to check out those different sources, that might help you out as well, Alex. Okay, shall we move on to our final question?

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

I’ve seen on quite a few designer/agency websites now that when displaying an external link, the target is not set to “new”. Is there any reason for this? Does it help with SEO?

Peter Wilson and DJ Fourth

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Unbelievably, our final question is just a text question. So I’m going to read it.

Paul Boag:
I know, how sad. And in fact it has come from – this question came in different forms from different people.

Marcus Lillington:
There you go. It’s from Peter Wilson and DJ Fourth.

Paul Boag:
We had DJ Fourth last week, didn’t we?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, yeah. The name rings a bell. It was when we had lots of kind of amazing names.

Paul Boag:
The show where we made up all the names.

Marcus Lillington:
He is back again. Yeah, anyway okay, I’m going to read them: I’ve seen on quite a few designer/agency websites now that when displaying an external link, the target is not set to “_new”. And the second question is …

Paul Boag:
No, that’s – it’s part of the same thing. He just keeps going, it’s all one question.

Marcus Lillington:
So it is. Oh dear.

Paul Boag:
For a start, that first one was a statement not question. Marcus, your level of preparation amazes me. Would you like to start that again, so the listener knows what the hell is going on?

Marcus Lillington:
All right, here we go. From the top, good place to start, I’ve seen on quite …

Paul Boag:
What, from the very beginning of the whole show?!

Marcus Lillington:
Start again, that’s it.

Paul Boag:
The whole thing’s been ruined.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m delirious now, I’ve got to go and pack my case, right. Anyway, but I can’t do that because I got another call in a minute. Here we go: I’ve seen on quite a few designer/agency websites now that when displaying an external link, the target is not set to “_new”. Is there any reason for this? Does it help with SEO? I always thought it was bad practice to force a user to click back to get back to your website…

Paul Boag:
And it’s interesting that DJ Fourth’s version of this question is almost the other way round. He was saying; a lot of people seem to be using – opening a new window, and why is that? I thought that was bad practice. So there is obviously a little bit of confusion about this entire area. And this kind of – this whole thing about …

Marcus Lillington:
Do what you like, guys!

Paul Boag:
Yeah, do whatever you want, we don’t care. It’s not our problem. Suck it up! I mean, it’s also that you could extend this question, couldn’t you, to bloody modular windows that seem to, everybody decided pop-ups were bad, didn’t they, right? Mustn’t have new windows opening. And so now instead of that, they all open these modular windows that are actually just layers over the top of the website. And so we’re just repeating all the same bad practice all over again. So, let me make clear my position on this issue – I’m laying down the law people – I don’t like new windows opening, full stop. The reason that I don’t like it is because it breaks the browser back button, okay? So, because you’re opening a new window …

Marcus Lillington:
That’s good enough, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, to be honest you could stop there. It can be a lot of users – if you sit and do usability tests, a lot of users are still confused the hell, it confuses the hell out of them when suddenly a new tab or a new window is opening, it’s like oh, what’s happened? What was that flash? What’s gone on? So, it causes a lot of confusion. It creates problems from an accessibility point of view for the same reason: the back button is broken and users – if you’re blind, you don’t know a new tab has opened, you don’t know what has happened there, which is the back button has suddenly stopped working.

So, my general feeling is that wherever possible, avoid it. There is no need for it. A user is quite capable of pressing a back button and they’re used to that, it’s a built-in piece of functionality in the browser. In fact, a general good rule of thumb is never, never break any default browser settings really, anything that the browser does by default, don’t override it. And users can open in a new tab if they want to, that’s their choice. And I don’t think you should force that decision on them, if at all necessary – if you can possibly get away with it.

In terms of modular kind of overlays and that kind of thing, again I feel very similar, I think there are places for those, but you have to be so, so careful because when you start doing these kinds of overlays, you’re potentially creating yourself accessibility problems because the blind person doesn’t realize that that overlay is being – has happened and in often cases the focus doesn’t shift to the overlays, right. So then, nothing has happened at all and it’s quite important that you carefully design that. And you can design in such a way that the focus does shift.

So there’s that element, but there is also other problems with it. For a start, that overlay has no unique URL of its own. So, if it contains information and somebody wants to link to that piece of information, then and they can’t do. And this is a problem that often occurs, when you’re updating or filtering or organizing stuff via JavaScript – and I can give you a really good example of where this happens and it’s on a site that I made. And it frustrates the hell out of me all the time and every time I go, I must get around to fixing that, but never have. If you go to headscape.co.uk/clients, okay we have this list of clients and you can filter those clients by sector like education, charity, ecommerce or whatever and the number of times I want to link to just the list of ecommerce sites that we’ve worked on or just a list of charity websites we worked on. But I can’t because I haven’t done the JavaScript properly to enable each of those categories to have their own unique URLs and this is often a problem that happens with kind of these modular overlays as well is that they don’t have a unique URL and so you can’t link to them.

Also the other problem, of course, with modular overlays if I hit the back button to get rid of the modular overlay, I’m not going to. It’s going to take me to the previous page that I was on unless again it’s been coded correctly. So, the long and the short of it, is that there are lots of unintended consequences to things like pop-up windows, to things like modular overlays, and you have to be really, really careful that you don’t kind of majorly screw stuff by playing around with these kinds of things. I’m not saying there never – that there never is a place for them, I think there is a place for all of these things, even opening an entirely new window. But I think they are rare and I think you need to be really careful when you do it. The other thing you need to be really careful for about opening a new window on a click event is that there are many people run pop-up suppressing plug-ins and some browsers even by default are set to suppress these pop-ups. So, there will be many users that will never see that pop-up box that you have opened or that new window that you have gone to because their browser is designed to suppress it because it’s so often used in such annoying ways like for advertising and things like that. So long and the short of it, don’t use it unless you absolutely must.

Marcus Lillington:
I think probably a good rule of thumb is on these type of things, what does the BBC do and do whatever they do.

Paul Boag:
That’s kind of moved on now. That’s not what the cool kids say anymore. Now it’s what does gov.uk do, they are the cool kids now.

Marcus Lillington:
But I was going to – I’m going to provide a comparison to, I don’t know, the Daily Mail online. I haven’t checked, but I suspect that they open new windows. We might get hate mail now from the Daily Mail.

Paul Boag:
Honestly that is – I would say racist, but that’s not right. It’s not classist, it’s webist or something like that.

Marcus Lillington:
Snobbery is what it’s called, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Snobbery, yes that’s the word. I’m now going to the Daily Mail to see if they open pop-up windows.

Marcus Lillington:
They probably haven’t got any external links.

Paul Boag:
No, they probably just don’t link to other people. Let’s have a look, there must be, okay. Oh, they get lots of comments, I know that.

Marcus Lillington:
But I was just trying to find – think of something that has – that’s news, obviously BBC news you can compare that with a commercial news site and see what the comparison is and which one would you rather follow.

Paul Boag:
They use lots of modular overlay windows.

Marcus Lillington:
Do they?

Paul Boag:
They do do that, but I can’t find any external links to kind of get to.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it’s probably policy not to have any.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. It’s interesting what Google does, right, because they have got on their website they have got Google ads, the text ads on their website and I thought that will open a pop-up window, so I clicked on them and it doesn’t. So Google ads by default don’t allow – you don’t do pop-up windows either and I think what Google does is a good indication of what to do and what not to do as well, so.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly, yes.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, so there are certain sites you can learn from. BBC, gov.uk and Google, there you go. I’m reading a fascinating article about sex slaves now, so I’m kind of …

Marcus Lillington:
You’re on the Daily Mail site, aren’t you?

Paul Boag:
I’m on the Daily Mail site, you can tell, can’t you? Right, anyway, yes …

Marcus Lillington:
It will be Polish sex slaves stealing our jobs probably and ruining our house prices.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. It’s probably Polish sex slaves stealing the job of being a sex slave from us English people.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly, yes.

Paul Boag:
We want the right to be sex slaves too. There we go. So, fascinating, welcome to the world of Daily Mail readers, which means nothing to people outside of the UK.

Marcus Lillington:
No, well just whatever your sleaziest paper is, it’s that one.

Paul Boag:
Is the Daily Mail the sleaziest, I don’t know.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, for me it is the most –

Paul Boag:
There is a lot of competition.

Marcus Lillington:
For me it’s the most unpleasant, let’s put it that way.

Paul Boag:
Yes. I know what you mean, yeah. It’s not the kind of – it’s not as kind of cwarhhh as the Sun is if that makes sense and it’s – but it’s more unpleasant, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t find it anywhere near so racist and narrow-minded, the Sun.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, no that’s true. Absolutely. Okay, so on that bombshell – oh we’ve got, sorry I almost missed the joke.

Marcus Lillington:
I have got two, I looked up a couple of Tommy Cooper jokes, so two…

Paul Boag:
Did you know that Ian, Ian who always emails us jokes has been desperately trying to get jokes to you, but seems to be failed, have you just been ignoring his emails?

Marcus Lillington:
He has failed entirely. He doesn’t know my email address.

Paul Boag:
I’ve given it – well, he was trying marcus@boagworld and he said he didn’t get through and then I gave him [email protected] and that obviously hasn’t got through to you either.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
And he was tweeting you, we were having an entire tweet conversation about you, you’re just ignoring our third listener, aren’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
I have not had any tweets from Ian, it’s Ian Lesky, isn’t it? No, none. Zero.

Paul Boag:
That’s bad.

Marcus Lillington:
Or I’ve not picked any up, anyway. Maybe I should just follow you, Ian, that would be easier, wouldn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, follow Ian.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s a lot easier to just send me an e-mail, [email protected], that gets through every time.

Paul Boag:
But that’s what he has been trying to do and it hasn’t worked.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe it’s going to spam, I’ve got a million jokes in spam.

Paul Boag:
I think you’re spamming. You’ve just written the poor guy off even though he is our best joke provider. Anyway, go on then, what’s these two jokes?

Marcus Lillington:
I went to the doctor’s. He said I would like you to lie on the couch. I said what for? He said I would like to sweep the floor.

Paul Boag:
That’s not a joke.

Marcus Lillington:
What was the other one, I’ve got a whole list of them here and I thought yeah, that will do. A policeman stopped me the other night, he taps on the window of the car and says would you please blow into this bag, sir? I said what for, officer? He says, my chips are too hot.

Paul Boag:
I like that one.

Marcus Lillington:
This is classic Tommy Cooper.

Paul Boag:
If you don’t know Tommy Cooper, link in the show notes because you’ve got to watch some Tommy. I wonder whether he is still funny? I think he is. It was his delivery, wasn’t it? Tommy Cooper was this kind of comedian/magician. I mean his magic was just brilliant, right, because he would always screw it up terribly, but then it would kind of work in the end, wouldn’t it? It was all very, very clever. Very clever man.

This is where Marcus gets his inspiration!

Marcus Lillington:
Wondrous stuff.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, yes, he will be missed and all of that that you’re supposed to say about dead people that were cool.

Marcus Lillington:
He is very long dead now.

Paul Boag:
He is very long dead. So perhaps – does that mean we don’t miss him anymore? Obviously we do because we’re still talking about him.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, there you go.

Paul Boag:
There we go. All right. Well that is this week’s show done. So, next week I think is a normal show. It – I don’t know whether we’re doing it over the telephone or not.

Marcus Lillington:
I think we are on Hartley Wintney 29.

Paul Boag:
On Hartley Wintney 29 next week and then the week after that we will be live from Future of Web Design.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Except not live, recorded at.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, well live at –

Paul Boag:
So I have no idea how that’s going to work.

Marcus Lillington:
We could be – do live at, that would be a laugh, relying on a connection shared by hundreds of other people.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, what could possibly go wrong? No, we will record something at Future of Web Design, hopefully grab some intelligent people to say cool things on the show. It will be good. All right, well talk to you again next week where we will continue with our Q&A session. Speak to you then.

Marcus Lillington:
Cheers, bye.

“Stopwatch” image courtesy of Bigstock.com

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