What the @#$%# is a cache, anyway?

Web developers love to blame all sorts of things on caching issues. One reason we do that is that most all web users don’t fully understand what a cache is, so it buys us some time to diagnose the real problem… But sometimes, it really is the cache’s fault! So, what the heck is a website cache, why do we use them, and how do you fix it?

What is a cache?

Before I can explain to you what a cache is, I need to explain how modern websites work (and why caches are necessary)

Basically how modern websites work is all the component pieces to your site live in different spots: the code that makes the header lives in its own text file separate from the code that makes the footer and the text file that sets the styles. Then the website building script (aka PHP) also has to go to a database to grab things like your settings and the blog/page content, and your images probably live in subfolders on your hosting account. Like so:

You can imagine PHP as a little robot that runs around grabbing the component chunks of the site from their various homes on the hotbar and assembling them for you while you wait, like a build-your-own subway sandwich. Obviously, this takes some doing- both processing power on your website’s host computers, and also time that your viewers have to wait while the website is assembled just for them.

sandwich on yellow surface
Mmm, sandwich.

This style of website design is great for developers- it lets us add new blog posts quickly, or change the header in one place and have it automagically update across all the many pages of your site. But the dark side of that is the additional processing power needed to assemble the site. In the good old days (like, 1994) websites were simpler: we had one text file for each website page and that was that. If you had to update the header, you’d better bust out your copy/paste skills to update it on every page.

But with the added power and ease of updates dynamically-robot-built sites comes a much bigger load time compared to their static counterparts. This is where someone smart came in and said, hey, why not keep the dynamic tools for us website builders, and just take a snapshot of the finished pages and save those to show to everyone else? You get the best of both worlds!

And thus website caching was born.

Caching, essentially, is saving a combination of those website components we discussed earlier- a finished, assembled webpage (sandwich). This makes it much easier to serve up to customers (visitors), because it’s already pre-packaged and ready to go.

websites- I mean, sandwiches- pre-cached and ready to go

To do this, many modern web developers will we have a script running on the website that takes a snapshot of all the pages fully built (cached), saves those somewhere on the server, and serves those to visitors instead of assembling the pages on-demand fresh for every user. But nobody likes a stale sandwich. The robot can be set to update and re-create those cached pages every so often (typically from once a day to a couple times per week).

Why are visitors seeing old versions of my website? They look updated to me when I’m logged in!

There is a tradeoff to cacheing- sometimes you need to wait a little while to see changes you made publish to the live version of your website (the version that other logged out viewers will see). Caching scripts usually have exceptions so logged in users never see the saved copies, they always get a fresh sandwich made just for them. So, if you are logged in as an admin and see the correct (new) version of your site, but Mary Jane in the next office over isn’t seeing those new blog posts, you know the reason: the website cache needs to be updated. You can take a coffee break and rest easy knowing it will automatically be flushed in the next cycle.

But my boss is breathing down my neck! I need this published now!!!!!

I hear ya, friend. Luckily, there’s a button you can press. It varies based on the caching plugin used, but check the admin area of your website for something that says “flush cache” or “purge cache”- that oughta do the trick!

Ok.. I think I understand website caches, but are there other kinds?

You betcha! So far, we’ve talked about the kinds of caches websites make for themselves, but there are other kinds as well, which can sometimes throw a wrench in our website update plans. If flushing your website cache didn’t solve your problem, try these:

type of cachewhat is it?how to flush it
server cachethe computer that stores the website keeps a copy of the finished site to take pressure off of their machinesask your website host or check for caching options in their admin area
website cachea website saves a finished copy of itself to make itself load faster“flush cache” button in your website backend
dns cachethe information about your (whatever.com) domain name is saved across the internet so lookups can happen fasterwait it out, or ask your domain name registrar or cloudflare to flush it for you
browser cacheyour website viewing app (chrome, safari, firefox, etc) saves a copy of the website you’ve already looked at to show it to you faster the next time you try to visit it.many options: delete your browser cache, open in incognito mode, try using a different browser, or do a hard refresh (Windows: ctrl + F5 Apple: command + R)
device cacheyour computer/tablet/phone itself saves a copy of the website you’ve already looked at to show it to you faster the next time you try to visit it.try from a different device or clear your device cache (Mac or PC)
network cacheyour internet provider or router saves the .com lookup information so it can find it again faster next timereset your router, try from a different network, or add a “do not cache” exception to the domain name

I hope this helps shed some light on a sometimes confusing subject. Like many things with computers, the trick is not to get bamboozled! If you need more help figuring out how to clear your website’s cache or just have other website puzzles, feel free to book a time to chat with me for a free 30 minute consult and I’ll point you in the right direction. 🙂

Now, excuse me, I need to go eat a sandwich.

The Hardest Part of Making Your Website

If you’re using a web designer to build your site for you, the actual coding, learning how to connect domain names, and image creation is off your plate-wohoo!

But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook entirely, it still takes some effort to help make your awesome new website a reality. The biggest job on your plate is all about content creation: sourcing the images and writing the text that makes your site special.


What pages do you need for your website?

It can be intimidating to stare at a blank page. I recommend starting out by looking at other websites in your industry to see what kinds of pages they use- most websites have an about page, a services page, a contact page, and a home page. You might also want a page about your rates, what makes you different, or a store page. Make a list. Once you know which pages you’ll need, the next step is writing some draft copy for those pages.

Writing copy for your website

This can be really intimidating for folks! Remember that aphorism, the perfect is the enemy of the good. It means it’s better to have a website up with some text than to delay making your website forever; we can always make changes to the text later. But with that said, the more final your text and images are, the cheaper the revision process will be.

I find google docs or word documents work great to gather your thoughts and send to your website designer, one doc per page of your final site. Try to keep text content short and sweet- attention spans on the internet tend to prefer bite sized chunks, not huge essays.

Not much of a writer? If you need outsourcing help, please let me know, I have writers and photographers I work with I can connect you with. The good news is, you’re not alone. Let me know if I can support you in any way through this process (remember, it can be the hardest part!).

How to get photos for your website

Speaking of images, I can’t underestimate the value of great professional photos to make your site look its best. Invest in a professional headshot, you won’t regret it. Cell phone cameras are getting better and better these days, but there is still a difference.

There are also some really great free and paid stock photo sites out there, if you are looking for more generic images. If you need something unique like photos of your storefront or you in your office, it’s best to hire a pro.

Other website assets you may need?

learn unlearn relearn v2
Custom infographic I made for the Hustle & Play workbook

Looking for a photoshopped mashup of two images, or to remove the background from an image or a custom infographic, I can help with that!

You may also want to create a custom video for your site, I work with videographers all the time and can recommend one that is a good fit for your project. Otherwise, you can sometimes find free stock videos on youtube or vimeo that are embeddable on your site.

Got your content ready to go?

High fives! The hardest part of building your site is complete. Email your word docs and images to me and I’ll take care of the rest to make your site beautiful.

PS: If you’re building the site yourself, your work is not quite done yet! Check out my free DIY web design resources or get one on one help from a pro to get you started.

6 Common mistakes to avoid when you’re making a new website

Howdy folks, I’ve been making websites for about 20 years and here are my best tips I wish clients would read before they came to me. Hope this helps someone avoid a danger trap!

web designer shares secrets of building websites

1.Just say no to Weebly and Wix. 

I know, they have slick marketing and an easy user interface. It is super tempting. But none of their plans are truly free, and their feature and ability limitations will likely leave you frustrated in the long run- they just hope that happens after you’re already too invested, because they give you no easy way to import/export your pages. If you need a drag and drop editor, I recommend Squarespace, which at least gives you full customization control. It still has some of the same downsides, but their mobile sites and designs are much better, and they give you more creative freedom.

2. Don’t buy your domain name yet!

Yes, it is a great name and I understand you don’t want anyone scooping it up. But, if it hasn’t already been registered in the last ten years, it probably won’t be today. I can’t tell you how many times folks buy a domain name and then talk to me (the web designer). At that point, I can’t help and they’re a big pain to move. Plus, lots of the best web hosting packages offer free domain names as part of it, so you only have one credit card to keep updated. Make your web designer happy- let them set up your domain name for you.

3. Don’t use Godaddy for hosting

godaddy logo warning

They’re the Walmart of websites, except they’re not cheap. Maybe you bought your domain name there already, which is fine (I’ve done it myself, to be honest). But their hosting customer service and support is terrible, don’t let me go into the bad experiences I’ve had with their agents on live chat, we’ll be here all day. Plus, they really nickel and dime you for “extras” that everyone else includes for free- my (least) favorite example of this is $75/year for an SSL certificate to make your site secure, but runners up include really expensive email, privacy, and backups. Ridiculous! My favorite host is wind-powered, great tech support, has that stuff and a free domain name included, and costs $99/year. Total.

4. Research your CMS before you commit

If done right, websites are a long-term relationship. You want the underlying structure to be something flexible enough for you to work with down the road, so you won’t need to rebuild the whole thing from scratch in a year or two. Some questions to consider are: Does it have all the features you need? How easy is it to import/export? Is it open source? How much maintenance is needed? Not sure what this means, no worries, check out this blog post on website CMSs or I can walk you through your options on a free consult call.

5. Be prepared!

Make sure your project has an audience and a profit plan before investing in a nice website. It’s totally okay to start with a handsome single page site (starting at $500) or DIY your first draft before investing the big bucks (most websites cost at least $2 grand to build professionally, and the building cost isn’t easily recouped if you decide after it’s not really a project you want to pursue or the profit model isn’t really there. It’s also great when a client comes to me with a sense of website designs they like, and a sense of what words they want on each page.

6. Shop local

You may be familiar with outsourcing sites like Upwork and Fiverr. These can be much cheaper than sourcing local talent, and the fine folks in Pakistan and India and Budapest (etc) are indeed very skilled and willing to work for less. However, if project management and excellent communication aren’t already skills you have, you may find working with someone overseas frustrating. I’ve had hit or miss results myself. Sometimes you get lucky and get a deal that you’re happy with, sometimes the work delivered is not what you expected, and sometimes it ends up costing way more and you have to start over again. The biggest problem is if that freelancer goes unresponsive or is late, there’s really nothing you can do about it. That’s part of why I never outsource work. I am just too picky about quality and my clients care about deadlines. Better to support your local website artisans and have a phone number you can reach out to anytime for questions and support. Plus, they tend to be awake at the same time as you!

I hope by sharing my hard earned lessons, it helps another person avoid the same pitfalls I’ve experienced. If you have other questions or things you’d add to this list, feel free to comment or schedule a free coffee chat where we can discuss your unique project.

How much does a website cost (Oakland)?

So you realized you need a website. Naturally, the first question on anyone’s mind is, how much is it going to cost? Obviously, there’s a huge range of options and in the Bay Area, there are many agencies who won’t even take your call if your budget is under $14k.

At our agency, the average price for a website is about $6,000, and we’ve made simple one-page sites for as little as $500. It’s the best deal in the Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco area that I know of for web design.

Obviously, everyone’s project is different, and the most accurate quote comes after a 30 minute consultation (which you can book for free here!). But, if you’re in a hurry, I have instant quote calculators for Squarespace Website Design and for WordPress sites (what’s the difference?).

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free design tools anyone can use

As a web designer, I often go through a branding consultation with clients who are setting up a new business or nonprofit. In this one-hour session, we figure out the fonts, colors, feelings, and images that best suit you and your audience- it’s kind of like setting up a design language. However, not everyone can afford the 1-4 hour strategy session that takes, so here are some tools and resources for those who would like to DIY their design.

Canva- an entirely web-based Photoshop lite.

I love Canva and recommend it to any client that wants to make their own social media graphics. It’s an easy way to put text on top of images and make some very basic image adjustments.

Google fonts- free fancy web fonts

Did you know you can go to fonts.google.com to see and filter a list of all the google fonts? These are free to use on new web projects, usually pretty easy to download for offline use, and already incorporated into your google docs and slides. Try using the drop down menus to see only certain categories of fonts (like handwriting) or put in your own sample text to see it in action.

Pexels- free stock photos that don’t suck

Of course, it is always better to hire a photographer and get custom shots. But if you’re looking for something a little cheaper, or maybe just a quickie background image for your blog post where you don’t have to worry about copyright violations, check our Pexels. Their quality is excellent.

Coolors.co- color palette generator

Just hit spacebar to make new color combinations. When you see a color you like, press the lock button. It will give you the hexadecimal color codes (those six digit numbers at the bottom) you can copy/paste over to your designer or into your design program.

Magisto – quick and easy video creation

If you want a little video for social media but don’t have the budget to hire a videographer, try Magisto– it’s an app you put on your phone. Just choose the images and videos you’d like, pick some royalty-free music, and it gives you a video! Pretty great.

GifMaker- create animated image files

Gifs can be nice for use in email (where videos are not possible), or when you’re trying to show an animation that doesn’t need audio (like the illustrations on this page! I also like https://ezgif.com.

Cartoonize.net- make photos into cartoons or paintings (for free)

Ok, I almost didn’t put this in here because I’m a designer and I like things to be well-designed (and frankly, this site’s user interface is a mess!). But, I haven’t found a better (free) service out there than this one, if you want some fancy effects on your photos. It’s not as good as hiring a real illustrator to make you a real cartoon or painting, but hey- it’s free!

Lucidchart- DIY flowcharts and infographics

Want to build flowcharts or custom infographics, but don’t have the budget to hire me? Try this site, it is pretty easy to use and has 3 free charts on the free plan. They’re not as pretty as custom-drawn infographics, but they get the job done if you just need to communicate an idea quickly.

Are you DIYing your next design project but don’t know where to start? Get in touch for a some expert help, I have 13 years of experience in web and graphic design illustration. I’d be glad to point you in the right direction and offer you 30 minutes of my best advice, totally free.

How to add a COVID-19 notice to your website (for free!)

Ok, so I’ve had a lot of folks asking me how to get those little colorful info bars at the top of your website- you know, the ones that say you’re still open with modified hours, or explain your safety precautions you have in place, or just to answer that question you are getting a million calls about.

Luckily, it’s easy to put that information somewhere obvious on your site without messing up the rest of your website’s design. Even non-tech-savvy folks can do it!

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The best free way to market your website

Think about it… who’s the best potential client for you, realistically? It’s the folks you already know, who trust you and like you!

So, how do we keep what we do (and our new fancy website!) on the tops of their minds? An email signature is a great start, and best of all, it’s super easy!

How to setup an email signature in gmail

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Is your website responsive?

1. Your site may not be affected.

The best way to check is this website. It’s Google’s test for your responsiveness (aka how friendly your website is to cell phone and tablet users). Just plug in your URL and if it says “Awesome!” in green, you can sit back and drink your coffee with smug satisfaction, knowing your site is safe from the looming SEO disaster.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to just pull up your website on your smartphone and see how it looks: is the text tiny? Do you need to scroll in to read parts of it? Are things overlapping? These are serious issues. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go straight to your friendly local Oakland web developer for a free consultation and we’ll get it fixed. Continue reading