Friday, October 1, 2010

Praetorian group named among the list of america’s fastest-growing private companies in the inc. 5000

We are pleased to announce that The Praetorian Group has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing companies of 2010. Praetorian Group came in at number 1,929 on the list for the fourth annual Inc. 5000, which ranks the nation’s fastest-growing private companies across all industries.  Within the Inc. 5000, Praetorian Group was named #25 in the Media Industry and #76 in San FranciscoCalifornia topped the Inc. 5000 with the most companies of any state making the list. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Web design warning signs: #1 - Not putting the customer first

In business, I'm a big proponent of the "customer comes first" concept. So are customers – most top companies have a reputation for placing customer interests foremost.

Unfortunately, in web design, too often the customer – the end user for whom your new site should be a key resource - comes last or even not at all. Consumed by trying to make the new site as hip or cutting edge as possible, many designers create beautiful websites that fail completely at servicing the customer - either taking too long to load, presenting confusing navigation or not having the right subset of options. This is the result of the number one warning sign when dealing with Web designers - NOT ASKING YOU ABOUT NOR THINKING CRITICALLY ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER.

Your website - at its essence - is simply a place to engage your customer and meet their needs. A good Web design firm will ask you about your customer very early on in the process. They’ll ask questions like, “What do they do on your site? Why are they there? How sophisticated are they? What tools do they need to best find information about your products/services? What branding, imagery and messaging do they best respond to?”

One of my favorite Web design terms is “use case”. If you want to read a complex definition, check out Wikipedia’s Definition. But for me, it’s a fancy term to describe the different objectives of the people who use your site.

Take an online banking website, for example. As a business owner, I use my online banking site for a number of functions: I check my personal checking account balance; check my business account balance; place stop payments on checks I’ve written; transfer money to pay credit card bills; send domestic and international wires; or research mortgage rates or refinancing options. Each of these can be considered one of my use cases.

An essential way to begin any Web project is to ask and list, “What use cases are we trying to serve here?” If you are redesigning a banking site, you’ll have the ones I listed above and about 40 others to consider. Luckily, for most sites you’ll only have about 10-20 use cases, from “read company news” to “shop for products” to “find a store or distributor”. To develop your list of use cases, think about each type of individual who will be using your site and then identify all of the behaviors they’ll exhibit when they get there. Don’t just think about your different customer segments but also others who interact with your company, such as suppliers, employees or investors.

Like a great company, a great website always starts with the customer. Make sure your Web design firm is on the same page.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Sunday, July 25, 2010 named to 2010 list of “10 Great Media Sites” by BtoB Magazine

For the second year in a row, one of our flagship websites has been included in BtoB Magazine's annual list of "10 Great Media Sites". This year, was recognized as the top site in the business-to-business Trade media category, alongside leading media companies in other categories, such as the Financial Times, ITWorld and In determining the list, sites were evaluated in a number of areas, including appearance; organization and navigation; search functionality; video and other multimedia content; and community/social media (Web 2.0) features. BtoB received a record number of nominations this year, with more than 60 sites submitting applications. The award is a testament to our Fire team's hard work developing the site over the past 5 years.

Check out the coverage:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Web design warning signs: #2 - You are presented with only one design option

No matter how good a design firm or designer may be, they should always present you with multiple design options for the look and feel of your site. Too often, a designer will fall in love with their first attempt. And while it’s not a bad thing for a designer to feel passionate in support of their design, they may be coming at it from a different perspective that doesn’t match your objectives (and why do extra work for no reason?). They’ll pitch their design aggressively and advise you that it’s not necessary to consider other comps because their design is already “perfect”.

Unless they’re going to give you a discount because they nailed it on the first try or their name is Cezanne, have them give you a couple of other mock-ups and make sure that they are reasonably different – not just moving a few blocks around within the same look and feel.

Creating a couple of design options forces the designer to think creatively about the different objectives of the site and overall usability. It will also challenge you to think more broadly about the pieces of your new site and how they come together; often, you’ll want to borrow options from multiple different designs. What you’ll find is that no matter how good the first design may be, you’ll gain insight from the process of evaluating multiple designs that will positively impact the site in the long run – even if you ultimately end up going with that first design.

Good Web design firms understand how a healthy design process works and will present you with multiple options right out of the gate. However, we recommend always specifying the delivery of multiple design options in your Web development contracts to ensure your designer knows what they’re on the hook for.

Here is an example of a successful design process from a recent project at Praetorian. Below is a set of designs for the homepage of a video library for law enforcement departments. You can follow the process:

Three Initial Comps:

Refining and Combining... Two New Versions:

The Final Version:

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Web design warning signs: #3 - Focusing on the latest technology without addressing fundamentals

Web design companies often sell you on the big picture and latest technology. And you really can’t blame them. They are trying to differentiate themselves against their competition and establish themselves as thought leaders. This could include the development of user personalization features, complex data capture or reporting, widgets, social network integration, iPhone apps or flash-based tools.

Good web design takes work – whether that be understanding the customer, creating clean, logical code or optimizing sites using sound SEO practices. Keep in mind that for Web design companies there is little margin in simple web sites and even less in the minutiae that goes into good Web design. Design firms make most of their money on the upfront design, or more complex data and eCommerce-driven projects. Just as a car salesman will try to sell you on top-end features and options, so will a Web design firm try to heap on a number of technological bells and whistles you may or may not need.

A significant Web design warning sign is if your design company focuses too much on the latest and greatest features and technology without first demonstrating a command of the basics of good Web design, which includes many of the items we discuss in this series: usability, navigation, SEO, relevant use cases and quality content. Complex sites take longer to develop, increase the risk of downtime and are much more costly to maintain. In some cases, they can negatively impact usability, navigation or even SEO – especially if they don’t match your audience’s needs and level of sophistication. For example, if you are going with a more complex web site, be careful how often and where you use Flash or JavaScript. Search engines have trouble spidering content displayed by both technologies.

We’ll talk more about assessing your online needs as we conclude this series, but always make sure to carefully think through which feature sets will meet your customers’ needs as you consider any Web project. It’s important to take a phased and informed approach when moving from simple to more complex features, making sure you’ve fully considered the cost, benefit and potential drawbacks of more advanced Web technologies.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

FireRescue1 Wins Maggie for Best Online Publication

I'm proud to announce that our company, the Praetorian Group, won big at this year's WPA Maggie Awards thanking home awards for Best Web Publication - FireRescue1 and Best Web Column - PoliceOne:

Praetorian Group Wins Big at WPA’s 2010 Maggie Awards

Company takes home awards for Best Web Publication and Best Web Column

SAN FRANCISCO - The Praetorian Group, the leading online media company in the public safety market, announced it has taken home two top awards at the Western Publishing Association’s 2010 Maggie Awards. Held in Los Angeles each year, the Maggie Awards honor the best print publications and websites in the Western United States, including top media such as CNET, PC World and Entrepreneur. and, leading online resources for the firefighting community and law enforcement, respectively, took home the awards for Best Web Publication/Trade and Best Regularly Featured Web Column.

FireRescue1 received the award for Best Web Publication/Trade, recognizing general excellence across an entire website, spanning across editorial, graphics, navigation, functionality and overall design. FireRescue1 beat out a field that included its sister site,, as well as other top trade websites such as Private Clubs and Emergency Management.

PoliceOne received the Best Web Column award for Surviving the Streets, written by Lt. Jim Glennon, a veteran of the Lombard, Ill. Police Department and now the lead instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. His monthly column provides honest and straightforward leadership and ethics advice to law enforcement professionals.

“We’re extremely pleased to call ourselves Maggie award winners for the second year in a row, and especially happy to win the award that recognizes the best overall website in our category,” said Alex Ford, CEO of the Praetorian Group. “These awards reflect the contributions of our talented team, all unified by the mission of delivering high-quality, critical content to our audience of first responders.”

The Praetorian Group received five nominations for the 2010 Maggie Awards across both and The five nominations ranked the company among the most-nominated media companies for this year’s awards, and added to Praetorian’s total of 16 nominations over the past 3 years.

The Maggie Awards, the Western Publishing Association's most prestigious publishing event, honors editorial, design and promotion excellence in magazine, tabloid, newsletter and online publishing. The Western Publishing Association has represented magazine publishers and companies who interact with magazine publishing industry for over 50 years. The WPA presents more than a thousand Maggie Award nominations each year to publications across the Western United States.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Web design warning signs: #4 - No Content Management System

A Content Management System, or “CMS” as it is frequently called in the industry, is crucial to effective ongoing management of your Web site. In its most simple format, a CMS allows you or members of you team to add and modify content and page layout on the fly. Without a CMS, you’ll need to hire a designer or pay a development firm to make minor changes – a hassle of coordination and often a deterrent to updating your site as often as you should – or at all. In addition, it’s nearly impossible to implement SEO best practices for even a smaller site without a CMS.

Luckily, there are a number of free content management systems out there that do a great job running simple sites. Check out Joomla or Drupal or just do a search on Google for “Content Management Systems”. Even blogging software like WordPress can serve as decent CMS for a simple site. If your Web design firm doesn’t bring up content management in your first meeting, run for the hills.

Here are a couple of reference links:

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Web design warning signs: #5 - No staging environment

A staging site is a mock version of your site that is used to test and revise pages before they are live on your real web site. If your web designers do not include a staging web site in their plans for your site development, you have a major web design warning sign.

Working with a design team will always require some back and forth: Your designers will present you with a draft or an idea, you will provide feedback, they will present a new draft, and so on.

For a web design project, it is critical that these drafts function like a real site: that links work, that content and ads are populated correctly. Drafts should also not be visible to users, since they may contain errors, bugs, or unapproved content.

A staging website serves these functions, and should be considered essential to your project. It should be separate, but as similar as possible to your real (or 'production') site. Your designers should plan to set up a staging URL, usually something like or, which is password-protected. Then they can provide you with a password so that you can exchange drafts without interfering with your production site.

Once you have approved a draft saved in staging, your design team can copy it to the production site or publish it live.

We recommending making sure your designers have a plan for a staging site or other test environment. Alternatives like passing files back and forth or making changes directly on a live site can have cumbersome and risky consequences. Make sure to discuss your staging site options early in the development process.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The challenges of lead generation in B2B publishing

Praetorian Group CEO Alex Ford was quoted in a recent cover story for BtoB Magazine about lead generation. In the article, he touches on the challenges of dealing with customers whose primary method for evaluation is leads, and how we've had to educate them on the bigger picture of sponsorship.

“We've stayed away from cost-per-lead and cost-per-click programs,” says Alex. “A lot of the companies we work with say they're only measuring online advertising by the number of sales leads they get. If we're working off that metric, how do we value everything else we're doing?"

Find out what else Alex had to say – take a look at the full article here:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Web design warning signs: #6 - No sitemap

Sitemaps have two separate but related functions in Web design. An HTML sitemap on your site can help your users see the extent of your content and navigate easily. An XML sitemap helps search engines correctly index the structure of your site. Your Web designers should not only include both types of sitemaps, they should also have a plan for keeping them updated, especially if your site content is dynamic.

HTML Sitemaps
On each of the Praetorian Group’s sites, there is a link to the sitemap in the footer of every page. This lets users jump directly to a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the site, to see how it is organized. For example: shows which pages are sub pages of each other, which pages are product pages versus news pages, and so on.

Especially if your site is large or your content changes frequently, users may look for a sitemap page to help orient themselves or locate specific sections.

XML Sitemaps
An XML sitemap is based on a specific protocol – it is a codified way for search engines to learn about what is on your site. Each entry in the XML file shows a URL on your site and optional information such as when that URL was last updated, and how frequently it is updated. This helps search engines find your pages and know how often to check them for new content.

Although many search engines will crawl HTML sitemaps, your designer should be familiar with the XML sitemap format required for this type of sitemap, and the various ways to submit it to search engines. Details are available on

Working with your Designer on Sitemaps
Because they reflect the underlying structure of your site, sitemaps shouldn’t be considered a secondary part of your Web design process. Some designers recommend starting by giving your designer a chart or “wire frame” showing the main sections and sub-sections of your site – this is a basic sitemap, and can grow into the HTML sitemap that will appear on your site.

For both the HTML and XML sitemaps, ask your designer how and when the sitemap will be updated. If you are able to add pages to your site without your designer, those changes should ideally be automatically reflected in both sitemaps. If they aren’t, make sure your Web designer has a plan for doing ongoing manual updating of both sitemaps.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Web design warning signs: #7 - No distinct titles or meta descriptions

Distinct page titles and meta tags are two of the most important elements that search engines like Google and YAHOO! rely on to differentiate the pages on your site and present them to their users in search results. If your design company is building the HTML and coding your Web site, make sure they have a plan for including descriptive titles and meta tags on each page. Or, if you are using a content management make sure they support distinct title and meta tags.

Page Titles

Titles are the text that displays in the user’s browser bar when they come to your page. Every page should have a browser title that reflects the most important content of the page. This is useful for your readers, who will see the title when your Web page is minimized or viewed in a tab, and search engines, which read titles to help determine the topic of the page.

Ideally, the title of each of your pages should be different. For example, the title of is simply “ThinkOnlineNow”. But the title of an individual post page (such as includes the title of the post, “ThinkOnlineNow: Web design warning signs: #8 – No discussion of SEO strategy”. Using “ThinkOnlineNow” as the title of every page would not be as effective.

Meta Tags

Meta Tags are included in the code of your Web pages, but are not displayed on your Web page when viewed through a browser. They allow you to include a short description and a set of keywords for each of your pages. Search engines take the meta description and keywords of your page into account when determining its rank for various search terms. The meta description will be displayed when your page appears in a search engine results listing.

For example, the ‘Body Armor’ page on uses meta descriptions and keywords that include different words relating to body armor, the names of body armor manufacturers, and other terms users might search for when they want to research police body armor. Meta tags are specified in the header section of the HTML:
<meta name="keywords" content="Body Armor, Law Enforcement Body Armor,Police Body Armor, Police vests, Protective body armor, bullet proof vest, kevlar body armor, kevlar vest, kevlar vests, police armor, police protective gear, police under armor, swat body armor, swat bullet proof vest">

<meta name="description" content="Research and buy Body Armor for law enforcement and police. Find products, videos, companies, articles, press releases and tips.">
The description above appears in a Google results listing:

(Click to enlarge)

This text is designed to help people understand what the page is about when they find it via a search engine.

As your designer builds your site’s HTML, they will need to include both titles and meta tags. If they are not familiar with the content of your site, they should either provide you with a way to submit this information for each page, or automatically generate titles and meta tags based on the content the page. Note that meta descriptions are the most important element. There is debate as to whether search engines currently put much weight on meta keywords. You can likely get away with a standard set of keywords that you use across your site and make minor modifications for important pages.

If you plan to expand your site, it is important to work out a system with your designer to ensure that future pages always include distinct titles, descriptions and address meta tags.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Monday, February 8, 2010

Web design warning signs: #8 - No discussion of SEO strategy

As we saw in my last post, web design goes hand-in-hand with search engine optimization. If your prospective designer doesn’t want to talk SEO, you definitely have a web design red flag.

Both the content and structure of your site will help make it easier for users to find your products via a search engine. Let’s examine a couple of key pieces of the SEO puzzle, and discuss why your designer needs to be involved:
  • Site architecture: The way your site is globally put together can affect your search engine ranking. For example, including keywords in the URLs of your sub pages greatly improves their search value. That is, “” might be much better than “” or “”. Pages even further down the site hierarchy can benefit from this kind of advanced planning, like, “”, which now has more keywords in the URL than simply “fly fishing”. Your designer should be considering the overall structure of your site and how pages can be organized the most logically. This will almost certainly improve your SEO as well as overall usability.
  • Keyword-rich text: Search engines will read your page to determine what it is about, so your copy needs to include the keywords your potential clients will be searching for. If your designer wants to create a beautiful, minimalist page with no text, design the site completely in Flash, render the text as an image, or bury the text in a footer or on a sub page, this may work against your SEO strategy.
  • HTML layout: Certain HTML tags, like headers, also clue in search engines that this is the most important content on the page. Your designer should work with you to make sure your page is organized logically to allow sections with headers that represent important words for your marketing niche.
If your designer is not willing to consider and work with you on the items above, be careful. A beautiful site that no one can find will likely not meet the goals of your web marketing campaign.

In addition, other, less visible, parts of your SEO strategy should also involve your designers – check out our next post for more.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Web design warning signs: #9 - Text rendered as Images

Far too often I see important text on our clients’ sites being represented as an image. Good Web development firms stay away from using images for text because they know that Google, Yahoo and other search engines will not index the text; unlike humans, they cannot read text in the form of an image.

Poor Web development firms cut up their design mock-ups into pictures and instead of taking the time to create style sheets to reproduce their layouts in HTML, they’ll just place the images on your site. For example, this restaurant's site uses images to render all its text:

There may be some lost opportunities for search engine optimization here, especially since readers may be searching for keywords like "restaurant" and "special event".

CHIEF, on the other hand, has rendered almost their entire home page as text.

We don’t suggest only using text on your Web site. A balancing design using both text and images is important for usability and SEO as well as creating an attractive look and feel with which your visitors connect. However, it can be easy to get carried away with cool graphics and fonts. This can be especially tempting if a designer pitches you a flash-based web site. While flash applications offer many rich graphical and interactive options, search engines often cannot index the text contained in them.

Make sure your text doesn’t get lost in images or flash by asking your Web design company about their SEO plans for your site. And if your designer doesn’t want to discuss SEO, you may have another red flag -- stay tuned for more on that topic in the next post in this series.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs