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
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
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
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 goes.
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 possible.
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 January 19, 2012