Archive for November, 2015

Guess How Many Words Can Fit on 47 Pages?

My Thanksgiving Project

I have just finished a 47 page document on health insurance with approximately 18,600 words. It is my largest assignment to date and required serious focus as I worked. Health insurance is a broad topic with plenty of research material out there. In fact, the amount of information available is a bit overwhelming. When I’m researching, I may have several websites open at a time trying to gauge which site might be better on one subtopic verses than another.

In this project, the use of non-profit websites exclusively narrowed the search slightly. Even so, with the Affordable Care Act in its 3rd year and Open Enrollment season underway, it is amazing to see how many times the same information is offered up in multiple locations, with different formats and visuals. So many major changes have been implemented and they will continue to evolve until 2022. I played mix and match trying to get the right combination of relevant health insurance information that I thought would work best for the person needing it.

I used to sell insurance and that was helpful on where to start a project of this size. Always explaining products to clients, I knew how often a detailed explanation of insurance can fall on deaf ears if using too many industry terms or complex situations as examples. Changing the way you talk to your colleagues’ verses clients is very important. One of the reasons I don’t sell insurance anymore is due to the difficulty and volume of terms and definitions the general public needs to know to make an informed decision. The products, qualifications, and laws surrounding insurance are forever changing.

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Insurance agents go through state licensing to learn each type of insurance. It is far more important to know where to find the material rather than memorize it because that would literally be impossible. Beyond the basics, companies have guidelines for standard coverage and then throw in something to make their product unique in some way. I was an independent agent and worked with several different companies. I needed to know which company had a policy with a particular aspect my client needed. I had to know which company had underwriting guidelines that met my clients’ situation. There were separate forms for each company and the submission process was different for every single one. Remembering all my agent numbers was as ridiculous as trying to remember my log-in and password IDs on each insurance portal.

The effort involved in getting a client the right policy and understanding it meant I gave considerable quality to my client. Unfortunately, I could not turn out the quantity needed to pay my bills. I find I am much better suited to what I do now. At least my knowledge comes in handy when I am purchasing my own policies or giving advice to others who ask. I am also sympathetic to the lives and personalities of insurance agents. It’s a tough job.

This writing assignment was an opportunity to see if I could provide the immense amounts of material in an easy to read, concise, and comprehensive way. It was a monumental undertaking even with my background. I am hopeful that the client who purchased the content will be able to display it with optimum effect and convenience for their audience. That was the goal. 

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Evolution of the Internet and Web Design

Whether you were here long before the birth of the internet or after, you either can’t believe how far we’ve come, or just really glad you missed the dark ages.

Whatever group you are a part of, take a look at the short progression of digital technology as we know it. Let’s start with the term “Internet” describing a global network of smaller networks that is publicly available and organizationally ungoverned. It is the source of the World Wide Web (www.), email, person to person (P2P) applications, Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), and hundreds of other uses. The digital information used in each of these situations is nearly identical, but each case receives special handling of the data in regard to its reliability, speed, redundancy, and error adjustment. The success of the Internet is based on its flexibility in providing a platform for the different protocols and their distinct needs and uses. None of it existed prior to 1969.

The US Defense Department ARPAnet was the first to bring it online, but it involved common circuit-switching hard-wired between two computers. In 1983, the US National Science Foundation created the first network of computers using TCP/IP protocol. In 1985, domain names were introduced, and by 1991, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and invited the public’s interest.

It took some time for the general public to understand what it was and what benefits there were to using it. Larger corporations were, of course, the first to spend the time and money in programmers to convey the potential. We see individual users attempting general searches and using email accounts on slow dial-up connections.

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It wasn’t long before faster connections became available and then the high-speed broadband connection. The average citizen finally realizes they are able to build their own websites for global viewing. The first sites were only text based using first generation HTML, but it soon incorporated simple images.  By the late 90s, some text effects were added to roll and move text across the screen with elements like Flash. Colors, scroll bars, and hit counters entered the scene.

By 2000, having a website presence was a major deal for a company’s image. Designers were needed to come up with cool new things. Music was being played, color changing text, table-based features, and new helpful page builders with multiple columns and sections for adding more than just lines of text. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allowed changes to background color, text size, and style. The code would transfer to each page within the site.

Javascript was an important element from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s for things like drop-down menus, better navigation, and web forms. It added versatility to content description in Extensive Markup Language (XML). The presentation of the content using HTML was getting more and more refined.

We are already discovering the use of HTML5 to replace both Flash and Javascript and looking to responsive web design (ready for mobile use), parallax (being able to see things from different angles and positions), and more basic flat design (removing extra effects in a scheme that create realism or flamboyant designs).

With cellular phones having web browsers and modem interfaces, they can carry their own Internet access too. Between the use of tablets and phones, mobile design is now paramount in website construction along with the use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The right keywords, tags, and descriptions bring people to you and your website, quickly and easily, no matter where they are and what device they are using.

Most of us use our phone, tablets, and computers for everything from entertainment, shopping, finances, and staying connected with friends and family. Having to return to a world without the internet is something that would be incredibly difficult to do. It has made our lives easier, simpler, and faster, and it continues to evolve at a phenomenal pace.

Can you imagine the world without the internet now? Leave comments here or on my LinkedIn post Click Here.

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Basic Steps to Build Your Own Website

If hiring a professional Web designer is not in your budget, considers designing it yourself. It might sound hard, but due to many advances in technology, it is now easier than it has ever been.

Before you start, determine your website’s purpose. That may seem obvious until you start asking questions.

  • Am I selling a product, a service, expertise, or generating leads? LinkedIn_BG_MarAd_01
  • How do I explain my intent?
  • What will set me apart from competition in my field?

The answers will point you in the right direction on the design elements for your pages such as videos, text, forms, number of pages, blog information, or ecommerce tools.

Who you are trying to reach will also determine your approach to content.

  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What problem can you help them solve?

You will need a home page with critical information about your company like a mission or goal based on the information you learned from answering your questions. Title the page with your company name, a byline, or short description of what you do, location, and logo.  This page will also have the menu to some other useful pages like the services page which is useful to describe what you do and how you do it in greater detail. A contact page is helpful for various ways of reaching you or employees at your business. An about page is an introduction on a more personal level that will let your visitors know who you are and how the business and website came to be.

Next, you need a platform, or what we call a content management system (CMS), for a website template to display this information. If you are like most people, you did not take a computer programming course recently. A template is designed to handle the code that initially structures the site and gives you several different options to choose from so you can find one that best suits your industry and needs. The essentials for a blogging site verses an ecommerce site are entirely different. Make sure the platform you choose is recommended for your particular use. Common platforms would include:

  • WordPress
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly CMS platforms
  • Wix

Some platforms are more customizable than others. You want one that lets you pick different fonts, add images and logos, and change colors. Look for software designed to works with laptops, iPads, tablets, and phones.

Now you can log in to your new platform and begin building. Find your template and start by taking the answers from your planning questions and putting them on the site using text and images that make your message pop. How you convey your material will differentiate you from everyone else so take a look at what your competitors sites look like, find a style that interests you, and modify it in a way that sets you apart from them.

Try different things, show your site to a friend or two for some feedback, test the links you are using, and make sure images show up properly. You will likely make some changes before the official launch of the website.

You will also need to maintain the site with fresh ideas for content including stories, relevant information to your product and services, promotions, or events. Remember that each part of this process can be done on your own or with the help of a professional when you need it.  I’m here if you need me for content.

Good luck! content marketing graphic

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