2019 Annual Letter
This past year I gave web design and my business more attention than I have in years, and as a result, it was a great year. I consolidated my online businesses identity with my online personal identity, published several software projects and brought on several new clients. Meanwhile, the web continued to evolve too as secure sites became ubiquitous and median page size continued to grow. I’m planning to make this annual letter a tradition and intend it to contain a bit of insight about websites for my clients and friends, mixed with some business news.
So, as you look towards web initiatives in 2020, I encourage you to keep in mind two things. First, that 95% of page loads in Chrome are from secure sites (over HTTPS) and second, that growing page weight keeps slowing down sites and frustrating users. I explain why below.
First, if your site isn’t serving pages over a secure connection (so the ? appears,) then you jeopardize your visitor’s trust. It’s most important for transmitting data like logins and credit cards, but even absent those, secure sites boost user experience and search rankings. LetsEncrypt now offers free certificates, so with most web hosts you can get a certificate and enable HTTPS at no cost.
Second, ensure your site loads within a few seconds or you risk losing visitors. When a page is slow, the visitors don’t know if it will take 1 or 15 seconds or more, and they go back instead of waiting. Delays are caused primarily by slow servers, bad configuration and heavy pages. Luckily tools like Google PageSpeed Insights exist to determine what’s slow and offer tips on how to fix it. Often, the gains follow the Pareto principle, and all it takes is reducing the size, quality and quantity of images. As an experiment, I designed my WordPress based homepage to be as fast as practically possible. It’s served over HTTP/2 with compression from a server cache from a single request with no images, and it’s blazingly fast. It loads and is interactive in under 100 milliseconds (less than a tenth of a second.) So, it is possible to have a very fast site!
Beyond 2019, I’m keeping an eye on: the explosive growth of smart home speakers and how the question/answer interface requires site owners to implement structured data elements on their sites; Microsoft’s transition of their Edge browser to Chromium which risks creating a web monoculture; the slow phase out of third-party cookies which should all but end the-shoes-you-just-looked-at style advertising; and the emergence of progressive web apps which should start to shift smartphone users away from apps that don’t provide any special utility. We’ll see what happens with all of that in my 2020 letter.
On the business front, I have consolidated Nat Taylor Web Designs and my personal blog onto nattaylor.com and bid farewell to the once separate taylorwebdesigns.com. I wrote that I thought the division was confusing for visitors and clients, so I hope having everything together makes my services easier to recall. Behind the scenes, the consolidation also means less server maintenance, less mental overhead and better search engine rankings. As part of doing so, I dove into the internals of WordPress in order to implement what is sort of three sites in one for each of my personal blog, my business and East Boston content. Within 2 months of this change my search appearances doubled (although I was also featured in a WGBH piece during this time.)
The story behind the WGBH feature stems from one of the several software projects I published, which included my weather webapp, an in-browser SQL client for AnalyzeBoston, semi-automated structured data generation for Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decisions, letter-writing microsites and a server-side Google Analytics implementation. ZBA decisions are a source of frustration for many Boston residents and the ZBA offers no aggregate statistics about their voting. After I wrote some code to automate the parsing and structuring of what the ZBA does offer and published it, I got a call from a WGBH reporter and a few days later my name was all over wgbh.org and on their radio station! In a similar project, I announced the 1.0 release of a project I developed that offers an in-browser SQL client for AnalyzeBoston, Boston’s open data portal. The portal provides great APIs, and the SQL client makes it vastly simpler to craft queries. In another act of public service, the letter-writing microsites I developed streamlined how activists prompted constituents to contact their Electeds. I also announced my own Weather (web)app, which sources meteorological data from NOAA, and formats them for smartphones. One other project is a server-side Google Analytics implementation, which in the interest of speed, sends anonymized visitor logs without any client-side code. For a nerdy guy like me, it’s been a ton of fun!
In 2019, I worked with 7 clients in various capacities. For the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway, I did a domain migration, set up email forwarding and configured newsletter software; for Gove Street Citizens Association I offered pro-bono hosting and design; for Nutritionist in Boston (my wife Amanda’s business) I did a full site design; for Lashes by Aika I created a one-page business showcase; for Jim Taylor Yacht Designs I did an email migration; for AIR Inc. I did a brand logo design, several microsites and a new website concept; for TreeEastie I did a full website launch, pro-bono hosting, domain registration, set up email forwarding, configured newsletter software and established their social media presence; and for Rhodes 19 Fleet 5 I did routine maintenance and updates. I also started offering free uptime monitoring to all my clients and I’m proud to say that it has already caught two potentially severe problems before they got bad. Looking back, I kept quite busy considering I’m currently working full time as a product manager for Nanigans, a causal inference modeling software company.
2019 was a great year and I’m very grateful for getting to work with so many great clients. 2020 is off to an uncertain start, but I’m optimistic it will be another great year!