RF Cafe began a makeover on January 1st of this year. It is a long way from being complete. Since its inception in
1999, RF Cafe has grown rather explosively, and during that time thousands of pages of content have been added.
The task of compiling and presenting all of the information in a useful manner has become daunting, if not
impossible. The biggest criticism I get about RF Cafe is the overall clutter of the pages - way too much stuff
crammed into a small area. Trust me, it has bothered me as much as it has you.
I have tried many times to
come up with an acceptable alternative for spreading things out that would not cause the page to be 2000 pixels
wide or many pages tall, and still be useful. My options have been limited by a combination of not wanting to send
visitors multiple layers deep into the site in order to locate targeted data, not wanting to implement unreliable
dropdown type menus (still not enough standardization to work consistently across browsers and platforms), and
most importantly not having the freedom to reconfigure the entire web page layout because of commitments to
advertisers who were paying hard-earned money to appear in specific locations on the page. At great financial
risk, I made the command decision to change that last restriction at the beginning of 2012. Doing so was key to
being able to accomplish everything else.
Some of the changes are immediately obvious to the casual observer, like the total absence of banner ads in
the right page border. However, there is a lot more to it than that. Up until midnight of December 31, 2011, I had
a total of eight privately-sponsored banner ad slots on every RF Cafe page: two 120x600-pixel banners in the left
border, two 160x600-pixel banners in the right border, one 468x60-pixel banner directly under the top menu, and
one 300x250-pixel banner in the body of every page (usually in the upper right-hand corner). Some pages also had a
300x250-pixel Google Ad buried elsewhere on the page and a 468x60-pixel Google Ad in the bottom page border. That
is a lot of ads, but no more than most news and information websites. One thing I have never done - and never will
do - is blast you with one of those highly obnoxious full-page or overlay ads that appear upon first visiting a
website. I hate that. At present, there are at least three fewer ads per page, so that is the first step.
One result of having Google serve the banner ads is that more companies will have the opportunity to be
represented on RF Cafe. Believe it or not, I have always had a waiting list of companies that wanted to occupy a
banner slot when it became available. My policy has always been to allow a company to remain in a slot for as long
as they want. I often receive feedback that RF Cafe advertising provides that best bang for the buck compared to
any other venue either in print or on the Internet. My rates were ridiculously low (I've been called a better
engineer than businessman). My biggest concern about having the same advertisers in the same slots was the
well-documented "ad blindness" phenomenon where after repeatedly being presented with the same image time after
time, it effectively would become invisible to the reader. I am hoping the new layout will provide a greater
variety of useful options to visitors.
At least one former banner advertiser has figured out that the
Google AdWords program has a targeting capability where you can specify where you would prefer your ad to be
displayed, rather than just allowing their system to do it for you. That company's ad has already appeared
multiple times in the 160x600-pixel banner slot in the upper left side of the page. I'm hoping some of the others
will give it a try as well.
Another major effort for 2012 is going to be trying to get a more interaction
with visitors. The RF Cafe Forums have been around since about 2005, and they used to get a fair amount of
activity. In the last couple years, postings have dropped off considerably. I'm guessing a lot of it has to do
with the advent of social websites providing an alternate venue for idea exchanges, but probably the biggest
obstacle has been the restrictive registration process. Because of flooding by roving spam bots, I had to
implement a registration process where someone had to send me an e-mail requesting a user name and password.
Nobody really wants to go to that trouble, so the forums suffered. Just yesterday I installed an upgrade that
hopefully will hold down the number of spam bot registrants while allowing people to register themselves without
having to contact me. I also placed in the right page border some code that displays the most recent 5 posts in
the Employment forum area and the most recent 5 posts for the remaining areas of the forums. We'll see how that
Another option for social interaction is placing comments areas directly on every page, but that is
kind of cumbersome and it takes up a lot of space on a page. Facebook has easy-to-implement applets for using
their interface, including sign-in, for following comments. I tried it for a couple days and only had one
response, so I removed it. Some of the major news websites use paid commenting systems like Disqus that
accommodate sign-in from most of the social networking hosts like Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, et al. While I am not
averse to paying for a service, it would be preferable to figure out how to expand on the in-house forum if
Tackling the menu layout at the top of the page is the next big hurdle. When I generate an XML
sitemap to submit to the search engines, more than 6,300 pages are included. That is after I recently deleted a
couple hundred obsolete pages. How do you sufficiently provide navigation to that many pages without overwhelming
the reader with options? Sure, most can be grouped into general categories and subcategories and
sub-subcategories, but there simply is not enough space available, and the reader would not tolerate so many
options when he/she is likely only interested in a specific topic. Even those who have time to explore don't want
to be inundated with endless layers of menus or content trees. My solution, if you can call it that, is to include
what I consider to be some of the main top-level items, and then direct people to the Search box for specific
inquiries. Most of the big search engines are aware of just about every page and image on RF Cafe. Still,
something better than what I have is needed. That top region will be going through multiple iterations over the
next couple months.
Page content areas will not be all that much different other than the removal of the
big 300x250-pixel banner ad from the upper right corner. It has always bothered me to have to force the most
important part of the page content to wrap around the big box since it upsets the symmetry of the page right away.
Now, in most cases the 300x250-pixel ad is located farther down the page, out of the primary content. Sometimes it
even put it at the bottom if there is no reasonable way to squeeze it in elsewhere.
Throughout 2012 I plan
to focus on improving the visitor experience in order to encourage repeat visits and interaction. I have read many
articles on website design and search engine optimization strategies. I know what people want (according to the
experts, anyway); now it's just a not-so-simple matter of doing it.
Suggestions are welcome.posted 1/19/2012
These items are an archive of past Topical Smorgasbord items that have appeared on the RF Cafe homepage. In keeping with the "cafe"
genre, these tidbits of information are truly a smorgasbord of topics. They all pertain to topics that are related to the general engineering
and science theme of RF Cafe. Note: There is also a huge collection of my 'Factoids' (aka 'Kirt's Cogitations') that might interest you as well.
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