Friday, September 26, 2008

Site Search Engine

This is my last post about free Google services (for now). This one is about Custom Search by Google. Searching is a very important tool for a website to have, especially for sites with a large amount of content. You can not have visitors getting frustrated and leaving because they can not find what they are looking for.

The problem is, search engines are not easy things to create. If you have ever seriously thought about the prospect, you know it takes a lot of time and energy to implement a good one. Instead, why not use the great search technology that Google has created right on your site?

Google allows webmasters to install code that will allow your visitors to search your site. They constrain all search results to the domains you choose so the results are specific to you. And you can integrate the search results directly into your own template, so it all has a very coherent look and feel.

PS. "Custom Search" is similar to but not the same as "Site Search," a commercial (i.e., not free) service offered by Google.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Google Calendar

The third blog post in my series of great Google freebies is Google Calendar. Google calendar is great for my wife and I. We both share a calendar and we can setup events to remind each other of upcoming appointments. It helps us communicate about our shared schedule.

Beyond this, Google Calendar is great for non-profits for two big reasons. First, everyone involved with a non-profit can have a shared calendar. This way everyone is on the same page and they are totally up-to-date with what is going on. You can also manage assets and room reservations through it, if you wanted. Just like with Outlook exchange server, you can see the busy/free calendar of your invitees when you try to find a good meeting time. And it is all free!

The second reason is that you can embed your calendar in your webpage. This is great for web designers. It takes a lot of programing to get a good calendar back-end up and running. Why not use what Google has done instead? You can do a simple embed of html calendar code (like this one) or you can completely customize the front-end while using Google's back-end. There are just so many options!

Google Calendar has worked well for me and saved me a lot of time. It is worth considering, especially with its low price tag (its FREE, if you missed that).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Email

The next Google service that I would like to highlight is hosted email. This is a lesser known service offered by Google, I believe. However, it is probably the most powerful and most beneficial free service available to non-profits! Google offers free email service for any domain. Non-profits also get enhanced services that businesses have to pay for. You can get as many email addresses as you want, the SPAM protection is amazing, and each account gets over 7 GB of space!!

Once you set it up you get an administrator panel where you can manage all account information. And even though it is Gmail, all of your email addresses will reflect your domain name (e.g., You can also customize it a bit and use your own logo. Additionally, you will get chat and other Google applications automatically. It can really boost in-office communication and efficiency.

I have used this service on multiple domains. I have set it up for the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, and it has been a dream for them. Major universities have also started using it. Fuller Seminary, for example, uses it for all their student accounts.

Check it out. I really think you'll like it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Analyzing Traffic

Google has tons of great tools for webmasters. And the best part is that most of them are free! So, I decided to spend some time mentioning some of Google's free services. They are perfect for non-profits, ministries and whoever else is trying to save some money. This is the first post in a series on free Google resources.

The first Google service I want to mention in Google Analytics. It is a great statistics and web traffic analyzer available to the public. It has all kinds of nifty features and abilities. For instance, it will produce multiple world and country maps of your visitors, it outlines traffic flow, it details traffic sources, records visitor browser information and tons more. You can also set it up so that periodic PDF reports are sent to email addresses you provide--perfect for that monthly report.

It has one drawback: it is javascript based. This means you can only track web page hits, not image loading or anything else. It also means that anyone with javascript disabled will be invisible to the reports. However, with this in mind, Google Analytics is still an amazing resource that everyone should know about.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Virtual PC

As a web designer, I want to make my web pages look pretty in any browser people may use. And, one of the hardest browsers to test for is Internet Explorer 6 (IE6). Unfortunately, my Google Analytics show that a little under half of all IE users use version 6. A slight majority have switched it IE7. But not enough to forget about IE6 users.

To really be certain that my page will look right in nearly every visitor's browser, I test in Firefox, IE7, Safari and IE6. I figure this will cover 95% of my visitors, plus if it works in these there is a good chance it will work in the others (e.g., Opera, Mozilla, etc.).

The problem I ran into is being able to test a site in IE6 and IE7. You can't have both versions installed on your PC at the same time: Microsoft forbids it. To help us designers out, Microsoft has virtual hard drives (VHDs) available with IE6 installed. So, if you download Virtual PC (free) and the install the VHD for IE6 at, you can easily test your design with IE6 on the same computer that has IE7 installed.

There you go. But, this would all be a lot easier if everyone just upgraded to IE7! What are they waiting for?