everything you need to know, all on one site...
This website has been developed for three main non-commercial reasons. It has become a collective effort even since people started to join the forum and I would like to extend my sincere thanks for all the goodwill, generosity, support and assistance received. Many thanks again, and if you find it useful or have a question, simply email me...
Stage 1 : Finding an ISP and Registering a Domain
Registering the domain was tricky. Ideally you would like to use a ".ie" (to signifiy that it is an Irish website) but it is comparatively expensive (relative to .com or .org) and a damned nuisance involving lots of paperwork. That said the .ie domain name is very well regulated and you pay for what you get... In the end I used www.cheapregistry.com and a ".org" to signify that this is a not-for-profit website. It is cheap and cheerful and the registery website allows me maintain where a domain is parked / hosted and where email including various aliases are routed. The latter did not work exactly as anticipated...
Finding an ISP was equally tricky - Irish ISPs quote comparatively expensive prices - since we already have connectivity from a local ISP (paid subscription so that there is some technical support!) we can locate the website anywhere in the world. North American ISPs seem to be by far the cheapest and www.uplinkearth.com was my final choice, at around $ 12 USD per month for a decent set up. In fact their set-up is excellent, their email package even comes with its own autoresponder and to cap it all, they were extremely helpful especially at the start. After a short delay I got the first version of the site up using CuteFTP. You can download CuteFTP (a file transfer protocol package) from www.download.com or www.tucows.com. It is free for an initial trial period of 30 days, thereafter the licence costs c. $ 40 USD. There are a lot of freeware packages available and I'm told MS Internet Explorer 6 supports FTP access, but when I tried to use it, it did not work.
Stage 2: Building the Website : Microsoft versus Netscape
Stage 3(a): Taste is VERY subjective
Taste, aesthetics, design preferences is largely a personal thing. Certain standards have emerged over time, for example relating to the position of navigational buttons at the top or left hand side. The soft design elements - "look and feel" - is still just personal taste.
Some of you will dislike the use of coloured backgrounds. Some will think that it is fine in the context of the colour coding used to aid website navigation. Some of you disliked the original "busy" background - which BTW was a tiny gif made from a photo of a blue shark that was fiddled with using MS PhotoDraw 2. It's available here.
Some of you howled at the bevelled images that appeared on the original home page on the site (old/) and to be fair they have been deleted! To be fair to the critics eliminating the bevelled images did clean the site up, reduce page size, eliminate "below the fold" issues and generally improve the site.
Finally this page is in the font "verdana ref" which was recommended on the basis that it was easier to read that the original California FB font. The site has converted totally to this new font... so you see, we do listen to what people say and change things accordingly. It is important to seek feedback and above all, then act on it!
Stage 3(b): Content has to be WELL PRESENTED
In due course we want to migrate the site onto a database (probably MS Access although there are freeware database options such as MYSQL which are good enough for NASA) but one of the problems with content is how to organise it. If for example you have > 400 fish species on which you would like to display content, a database looks a good option, and according to www.fishbase.org, there are over 400 species of fish in Irish waters!
The first criticism relating to the content concerned the difficulty a visitor had in finding a specific species. We changed the index page to make it alphabetical and hope this helped. This will remain an issue until we migrate the content onto a database back end. Initially large portions of content were broken into sections - small sharks, large sharks etc. - and the graphics content on individual pages kept quite small to keep the download times down to a minimum. We have now devised individual pages for each species to facilitate readers.
Many thanks again, and if you find it useful or have a question, email me...
Step 4(a): Exposure via Directories & Search Engines
I only started to register the website with search engines and directories in December, however some of the engines' spiders have crawled in and we were already appearing on listings. A lot of these portals are asking for fees in return for swift listing and this is particularly true fo those that require a human review of the website (directories). Whether you pay or not is up to you - we have not paid a penny, and as a consequence we still have not appeared on some portals such as Lycos. The key target is the open directory at www.dmoz.org as this acts as the basis for several of the commercial engines and directories. Get dmoz and you get exposure.
Step 4(b): Exposure via Forums
I got onto loads of the forums on various fishing sites, contributed where I could and got some good exposure for the site. Forums are important, but as important is that your signature block on the forum illustrates your website, and persuades people to visit it. The site address was posted onto some local bulletin boards but if a board or forum is getting very little traffic, then the impact will be equally minimal. Pick your forums and boards well, based on the audience and the relevance of your site to their interests, or you waste everyone's time!
Step 4(c) : Webrings
The next strategy was to start to join various fishing webrings that are out there. These were put "below the fold" i.e. out of sight on the front page of the site. They still appear on the front page which is a requirement of some of the rings. Sadly the NFSA have removed the page that lists the statistics for the ring, but we had made steady progress up the ring from around 40th when we joined circa 12th by end 2003. What is interesting is that we bring four times as many viewers into the ring as the ring brings viewers to us! Only one of the other rings offer statistics and at this stage I would recommend that you only join rings that are transparent, otherwise you could end up being used to boost another site's rating with no reciprocal benefit.
Step 4(d) : Banner Exchange
The next step was to start looking at banner exchange options, and the first selected was the biggest "Fishclix". It is north american in orientation but covers Europe as well. We also put it on the free service provided by Bpath, as a test before considering their commercial service. One point in considering banners is the ratio between how many times other people's banners are shown on your site and how often you appear on their sites. Ideally it should be 1:1 however in commercial services you would be lucky to get 1:2, half the exposure. To be fair, www.bpath.com was a good learning curve for this aspect of banner exchange. The click through rate (ctr) - the rate at which people actually move ot your site via a banner - currently stands at .1%, that is 1 in every 1000 banner viewers, and according to experts in online advertising, that is not an unreasonable ratio! We have since removed most of these banners from the site as they were a nuisance and started to use pop-ups and other technologies that we had not agreed to (at least explicitly) in the initial set-up.
Step 5(a) :Traffic and Counters
The first obvious item is monitoring traffic. Each time a page is requested it is recorded on a log. This gives an indiciation of how busy or quiet your website is, and also offers important information such as who requested which pages, in what order, when, where the viewer is located (roughly) etc. It does not distinguish between "eyeballs" - a quick glance - and completed page loads - where the viewer has scanned and read the page properly, and this is important. Page counters, a free one is listed on the index page on the site, do not give an accurate picture of site usage or traffic, but it is a good rough guide. As of late January 2003, the site is getting over > 350 visitors a week, and it has been rising steeply since November 2002.
Step 5(b): Traffic and Outages
A second assessment is the service provided by your hosting provider. www.interseer.com offer a free service which reports weekly on outages, i.e. when and for how long the website was not available. This is particularly important for online stores and etailers, but unless you are getting very bad figures back, say consistently under 95% available, then it hardly is a cause for concern. That said you are in theory paying for 100% availability.
Step 5(c): Copernic and Visibility Online
The final aspect of monitoring progress was to use www.copernic.com software (I paid for the upgrade long ago) to monitor the website's visibility relative to other similar sites. It was remarkable to see how important key words were: - for example we now rank no 1 under "sea angling Ireland" which is a fabulous result but we appear way down on the list if we substitute "fishing" for "angling". This led to changes in the index page, with the incorporation of "fishing" into the H1 title. Similar changes are needed elsewhere. Given we are so far behind on the "fishing" keyword we will never catch up - that is the internet for you - but it is not going to stop us trying!
Step 6: The Forum
A massive THANK YOU to Al Glovich and all the techies at www.uplinkearth.com the ISP hosting the site for their assistance (and patience with me!) in using the freeware php script that allowed me publish the forum. Forums are tricky but they do undoubtedly offer the potential to bring people to and regularly back to your website. Clearly the legal aspects and potential liability for what people may post on a forum is a major issue. Equally there is the issue of administrative workload - you would be surprised how much is required! I am hoping the non-profit non-commercial focus and ethos behind this site will ensure that people respect the facility. We can always delete their posts and block them but that is not the ideal solution. The key issue with forums is activity and the quality of the information posted by visitors... what the eBusiness strategists call "member generated content" and there are plenty of good forums out there, each (and this takes time to observe and make proper judgements on) with their own distinctive clienteles. Bar the angling board and Neil's mainly coarse fishing board (see the web links section) none of the forums are specifically for Irish sea fishing. This site may have a small potential audience but I hope it will be active and that the content will prove top quality! Equally anyone who is visiting Ireland for a fishing holiday or holiday that could involve sea angling will find the forum a useful resource.
Only time will tell... why not give it a try?
One of the curious by-products of having a forum is that the index page counter started to zoom up as people started to come back on a regular basis to read, reply or make posts.
Step 7: Ensuring "Quality of Experience":
Ever found a website where the print is so small it is difficult to read - amazing how some website designers miss the obvious, isn't it! Quality of experience is one of those web jargon terms that almost defies definition, but here is my attempt: - it is about the quality of the complete experience a visitor obtains in visiting and interacting with your website.
Up to now interaction on this site was limited to emails whereas with the forum there is an open opportunity for people to converse freely and directly with each other, rather than with the site administrator alone. That is a huge leap forward in that it pushes the site up into the realms of properly interactive websites.
How it progresses remains to be seen... and it is all dependent on the feedback from the people using or visiting the site. Already some new shore marks have been added or updated and this is a key driver behind the site. If it is to be useful, it has to be current. Content may be king but it has to be up to date and even up to the mark!
Step 8: Monitoring visibility:
Since I last added to this page on January 2004, we have been averaging around 500 individual users a week, most of which is down to the knowledgeable band of online anglers chatting away in the forum. A recent tracking survey using Copernic software (which aggregates results from lots of search engines and directories and available free for download from www.copernic.com) found that we were listed at No. 1 in Ireland for both "sea fishing ireland" and "sea angling ireland" - not bad for a shoestring operation!
What was disappointing was to find that fifteen months after submitting the site, www.dmoz.org has yet to list us. This is a problem because the much vaunted global directory project actually acts as the database for most of the big commercial search engines like Altavista, so if you are not in DMOZ, chances are you will not be listed on these search engines... This and paid listings now in use by other engines like Lycos and Google is where a small hobby site like this inevitably loses out
Step 9: A change in direction required?
This site is a non-profit making site and that has been and remains the goal indeed the essence of the site. It is in truth losing a small amount of money in the sense that it brings in no revenue at all, and whilst I do not mind spending a few hundred Euro per annum on my combined hobbies, it would be nice if the site could "wash its face" and if any revenue could then be ploughed back in to develop it further. It is a conundrum. There are plenty of sources of revenue, especially given the site has achieved such a high profile so quickly.
The question that has to be answered now is : where to next and how to get there? Any suggestions? :o)
Step 10: Boat angling and aggregation...
Luke Scully has been one of the most interesting posters on the forum, for some time, and has been putting together an interesting website dedicated to small boat angling on geocities. Everyone said it was a nice site but hated the pop-ups, so we talked in Smyths in Fairview over a pint or two and decided we would try to combine the two sites, here. As an ebusiness strategy this is referred to as aggregation. This was by invitation only. It has not happened yet and maybe never will, but a section for boat owners would be a bonus. To be fair to Luke, Peter, the Clohessys and other boat owners, they have been very forthcoming...
Step11: SWFF and other topics...
People started to post about SWFF - Salt Water Fly Fishing. This is a very rapidly expanding area of the website so we gave it a unique forum and it is developing nicely. We also were lucky to get Nick Rogers to moderate the forum seeing as how he knows a little about this arm of the sport. Wed and KJD kindly volunteered to look after the forums as moderators when I was on holidays and have stayed on since and done an excellent job. We added in some additional areas such as one for competition and club notices. Our enquiry to the IFSA concerning the viability of setting up an internet based SAC with IFSA affiliation has yet to be considered, despite it being presented formally in June 2004. Still all good things come... and who better than anglers to have patience. ;0)
17th September 2004