Moving Completely Over to the “Light Side”

apple-iieBack in the mid-1980s, my Dad bought an Apple IIe to help him manage his growing medical practice. That was the first computer I had access to. Eventually, he upgraded to an Apple IIgs — with a color monitor even! Knowing what Apple has become since the Mac and the iPhone, these tidbits of my early computer exposure now seem really cool.

But it was the 1980s. My Dad didn’t know then what Apple would later become. We surely didn’t know anything about being cool. Alas, he eventually made the decision to get a PC. I’m not sure of the exact specs, but I think the most capable PC processors in those days were the 386, eventually superseded by the 486 and the 486DX. Apple was a faint memory as we started learning MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

Returning to My Roots

Fast forward to 2011. I had been designing for a few years with CorelDRAW 11 on a PC. My body of work included personal projects and volunteer work for my church. My portfolio landed me an interview and a temporary design job within the marketing department at Self Regional Healthcare. What was on my desk when I arrived for work? A Mac Pro with a 22″ Cinema Display. I realized after my first week that I had begun to come full circle when I tried to close a window on a Windows PC by moving my mouse cursor toward the upper left corner of the screen.


That process of moving full circle was occurring in August of 2012 as I ordered a MacBook Pro for my business. Later that same year, my son traded a small fortune for a brand new iPod Touch (5th Generation). My wife then decided she would try out the iPhone after seeing her sister enjoy hers. The following Christmas, my other son received an iPad Mini. Without realizing it and without really straining for it, we had become an “Apple family” in just a couple of years.

The latest come-home-to-Apple moment was when I decided to jump on a mid-cycle upgrade opportunity and buy an iPhone 5s to replace my aging Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX.

So far, the hardware and software has been brilliant. I did have a SIM card programming issue that Verizon fixed quickly, but everything else has been great as expected. Many of the apps I used regularly on my Droid (Zoho Invoice, Evernote, Wunderlist, Pulse, etc.) are cross-platform. It was really just a matter of installing what I needed and logging in.

Conventional Graphic Design Wisdom?

All professional designers use Apple products, right? At least the good ones do. That is what I thought subconsciously. It just seemed that everybody who was producing really good work was using a MacBook or an iPad. And I guess, from all appearances, I’m perpetuating that generalization. But the truth is that while I was enjoying my new MacBook Pro, it was the PC that had put me in position to afford that MacBook.

When you observe the AJ Design mobile workspace, I have the shiny MacBook Pro. And yes, now I have an iPhone as well. But we would do well to remember that these tools are a means to an end. An Apple product never created anything. What a designer creates is far more important than the tool that he uses.

Password Security Is NOT Optional

If you own a website, there is a good chance someone is trying to hack it right now. Forget a website … if you simply own a computer that is connected to the Internet, you are probably being targeted. Is this some kind of conspiracy-theory-driven fear tactic designed to sell security software? No. Sadly, this is pure anecdotal evidence from the last 30 minutes or so.

One of my websites is powered by WordPress. To beef up security, I use a plugin called Wordfence. I got an email alert from Wordfence that my actual administrative username had been locked after 20 failed login attempts. Of course, I hadn’t tried to log in at all today, so I knew it was a potential attack. Sure enough, I was locked out of the site. But the site was secure. The hacker tried to get in but was met with a strong password (thank you, LastPass).

Wordfence has an intriguing feature called Live Traffic that allows you to see the IP addresses of any users or search bots that have recently accessed the site. I was curious to see the attempted login activity and was shocked to see that there were multiple login attempts from nonexistent admin-sounding usernames. I checked another site I manage and found a similar thing there.

I’m not scared, and neither should you be. But one reason I’m not scared is that my passwords look sorta like this:


And yours should too.

Learn the security options available to you for your website and/or your computer. Stay smart and prevent hackers from even attempting to access anything. But if all that fails and a hacker is knocking on the door, make sure you have a strong password. Use a service like LastPass.

If you use good security practices, you don’t have to worry about global, distributed brute-force attacks like this.

Infographic: A Visual History of Google Algorithm Changes

Snow Storm Pax has pummeled the Southeast United States for three days. It is now moving on to the Northeast, but we in the South are still reeling. Most 2-wheel-drive vehicles are safest in their driveways. Most businesses, schools and government offices are shut down. But for any self-employed folks with a to-do list calling, today is a day of catching up. OK, maybe it’s a day to catch up after spending the morning enjoying fun times in the snow with family or friends.

Before settling in for a couple of hours of moving forward on projects, I wanted to share this excellent infographic from Hubspot and Moz on the evolution of Google’s algorithm. If you own or manage a website, you will be interested to take this in. Click here to see infographic this full size.

A Visual History of Google's Algorithm Changes

Christmas Cards - ready to mail

Making Friends in Business

AJ Design and Marketing aims to provide business-friendly graphic design. Initially, that’s a nice goal or slogan that is full of promise. But over time, given enough opportunities to back it up, I’ve found that offering business-friendly graphic design creates a lot of friendships with the businesses and organizations that rely on my services. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want friends, you need to be friendly. And if you want friends in business, you should be business-friendly.

This year, I sent more than 80 Christmas greeting cards to clients, vendors, and other friends of my business. It was a chore to hand-address the envelopes and add a personal note to the cards, but what a joy!

I thank God for each of my clients and other friends,
and I wish you all a warmly blessed Christmas season!


Our Analog/Digital World

I saw this sign and had to chuckle:

There is more than a little goofiness to the over-use of QR codes. But a QR code — even a regular ole’ URL — would have been quite helpful in this context.

Never forget that calls to action need to be easy to follow!

Support: A Non-Negotiable Quality for Vendors

I posted about problems with comments on my site a while back. This was especially frustrating because I know that blog comments are of particular importance in a holistic approach to SEO. I want people to be able to discover and discuss my site’s content. If comments don’t work, that causes the conversation to be one-way. It was also embarrassing because the “website guy” shouldn’t have problems with his own website, right?

As it so happens, my business was unaffected (so far as I know) by the dysfunction of comments on my site. Not only did projects keep pouring in, but web development projects kept coming too. I have so much work to do that I don’t have time to curate my finished projects for my portfolio. Truthfully, I’m actually engaging in a subtle form of procrastination on another project by taking 10 minutes to write this post.

Thankfully, comments are now fixed. To whom do I owe gratitude? Hostgator. The ace troubleshooter in the Hostgator tech support department fielded my question and worked through the issue with me from the server end. I’m not even completely sure what he did, but comments now work. We tested posting comments from Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and the Android OS browser. It worked like a champ!

Having cheap hosting is great, but having access to a team of support professionals is invaluable. Having a value-priced web developer is nice, but having access to a troubleshooter who can solve future problems for you is critical.

The next time you are evaluating a vendor for hosting or any other service, make sure you consider the total package and not just the upfront price.

Do you run Quickbooks and an online store? Meet your new best friend: Webgility

Several of my clients have e-commerce capability planned for their websites. While it is much easier to do business on the web than ever before, it’s still not for the faint of heart. Customers have options. Millions of them. And if your front-end or back-end isn’t ready for prime time, you had better not even go live. What happens when someone picks up an item and brings it to the register at the same time as a customer on your site clicks “Buy” and confirms their order? Problem.

Enter Webgility and their eCommerce Connector. In short, the eCC synchronizes Quickbooks activity with the activity on your website. Once eCC is in place and properly configured, sales that occur at the point of sale will automatically deduct inventory quantities from your website. And online customers will be added to your Quickbooks customer list. No more manual data entry, oversells, or backorders. This will save time, money, sanity, your marriage, your reputation, etc. You get the idea. Making beautiful websites isn’t easy. But making beautiful websites that integrate with Quickbooks? That’s business-friendly graphic design.

I’m excited about deploying Webgility solutions on a couple of websites that are in my development queue right now. Expect to read future blog posts once we go live. And certainly, contact me if you want to discuss a new project. But if you would like to get started with Webgility’s eCommerce Connector on your own, feel free to click here to learn more and save $20.

Problems with Comments

Hi everyone,

All two of my loyal readers (including you, Mom) may not really care, but I have recently been made aware that some users are experiencing problem when attempting to post comments on my site. I had wondered why it was so quiet in here! So where does the guy who helps people build websites go to get a befuddling problem with his own website fixed? To another more specialized web developer, of course. We’ll get it sorted out soon.

In lieu of comments in the actual posts, if you want to participate in the conversation, go over to Facebook or my Contact page.

Hopefully, this will become more of a two-way street.

Best regards,


Emma, the Web & Graphic Designer Contestant on Wheel of Fortune

Layout of the Wheel of Fortune from Season 30, courtesy of Germanname1990 on Wikipedia

Big Winner!

I saw a rerun of Wheel of Fortune recently, and I happened to notice that one of the contestants was a web and graphic designer. Her name is Emma. She and her husband didn’t make it to the bonus round on this military family edition of Wheel, but the fact that she mentioned her name and her occupation on national television seemed like a potential big win to me as the owner of a small business.

Unless the show doesn’t allow contestants to tell about their appearance, I think the fact that your name and face are reaching a national audience would be worth a blog post or two and some social media updates, don’t you? Surely Emma would have agreed and I would find evidence of that on her website or in social media sites.

I hopped over to the computer to do a little googling after the show concluded. I was very curious to see if I could find Emma online by searching the few pieces of information I recalled.

Google: emma web graphic designer wheel of fortune

The top search result was a page on a blog that recapped Wheel of Fortune. I scrolled down the results expecting to find more. I didn’t find Emma, but I did notice in the recap that her last name is Rhodes.

Looking for Emma Rhodes

I searched on, looking this time for information on Emma Rhodes, web and graphic designer. What I was looking for was some sort of website or portfolio site that would allow a person to convert themselves from a viewer on Wheel of Fortune into someone who was in Emma’s sales funnel.

Despite my best Google-fu, I didn’t find anything that conclusively pointed to Emma’s business or career. I did find someone named Emma Rhodes that is an illustrator/painter in London, but she isn’t the Emma I was seeking. In my effort to make a connection between Emma’s appearance on Wheel to her revenue stream, I came up bankrupt (sorry for the pun…I just couldn’t resist!). There are several potential reasons for this:

1 Emma Rhodes is a designer, but perhaps she is an internal designer. If she is neither a freelancer or the owner of a firm, she would have no pressing reason to promote her services.

2 Emma Rhodes is no longer a web and graphic designer (the show originally aired on November 9, 2012 and I saw the show on August 2, 2013).

3 Emma Rhodes is interested in growing her business and finding new clients, but she does not have a website — this is hard to believe since she said she is a web designer (unless of course she has fallen victim to the Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes syndrome).

4 Emma Rhodes has a website, but she wants to be one of those best-kept-secret kind of designers.

I am not sure what the actual reason is that I was unable to find Emma Rhodes online. I suppose I would actually need to speak with Emma to solve that mystery.

The flip side of this little exercise is this: Will this blog post, with no special SEO magic, eventually rank well for emma web graphic designer wheel of fortune? I am no SEO guru, but I have learned a few things about content. I bet it will. Only time will tell.

Do you happen to know Emma Rhodes? Are you one of her clients? Please contact me and put me in touch with her. I would love to connect and network with her! It is always exciting to meet other professionals in different markets and learn from each other.


The Secret to Effective SEO: Content Creation

The Rainforest Strategy by Michael Q. PinkI was privileged to receive a copy of Michael Pink‘s book, Rainforest Strategy, when it launched a couple of years ago. It’s a great read for anyone in business at any level, especially those who are leaders or aspiring leaders. In the book Pink explains how he studied life in the world’s rainforests and distilled principles applicable to make any business more fruitful and profitable.

One of the processes he observed is a term he coined called fungigation. You will have to read the book to learn more, but Pink explained that fungigation is the process by which organisms in the rainforest (principally fungi like mushrooms and molds) take abundant waste matter such as dead leaves and transform it – fungigate it – into something useful and valuable.

Mushrooms on the rainforest floor.

This is a caption.

What does fungigation have to do with SEO or creating content? Everything. Let me explain.

I am not a SEO expert, but I have learned a few things over the years through training and practice. No matter how search providers’ algorithms change, the one constant has been and forever shall be content. It makes sense when you stop to think about it. But with all the SEO focus on keywords, off-page links, and increasing traffic, it is easy to forget that content is the central aim of any user of search engines. Content is what search engines index. Content is how search engines match results with users’ queries. Content. Content. Content. Without content, there is no SEO because there would be nothing to search.

Content is why blogging is often so important. No matter how well your five-page website is optimized today, it can’t complete with a similar site that has five static pages and a 275-post blog (assuming the blog is filled with on-message content). And how do you arrive at a 275-post blog? You have to get good (or at least prolific) at creating content.

Content creation. Sounds like hard work to me…

How do you create all this content? You can either hire a blogger or dedicate an extra five to ten hours every week to writing articles and stories for your blog. Or you can call a play from rainforest mushrooms and fungigate your blog content from other sources.

What sources are available to you? Your mileage may vary, but I’ve discovered a goldmine of content in my own business: emails to clients and prospects. I may not block out an hour every day just to write for my blog, but I often take 30 – 45 minutes crafting an email to a client or following up with a prospect. What is in these emails? Lots and lots of content. My emails to clients often include tips on marketing, website development, or graphic design principles. Sometimes I link external resources. Sometimes I provide examples and images. There is a huge body of content that I create as a matter of course in developing relationships with my clients and staying in touch with them. And it is just a matter of fungigation to craft some excellent blog content from these messages I have sent to clients. Remove this opening greeting, expand that thought with another paragraph, insert links to those resources, and in a short amount of time, I will have a new blog post. That is the beauty of fungigation as it applies to creating blog content.

This particular post isn’t pure fungigation, but I can tell you that in the future, you can expect to see more posts that began as emails sent to clients.

It’s your turn now.

What about you? What “shortcuts” have you found to creating content? Share in the comments so we can all benefit.