Do you own a review site? Are you a new or veteran reviewer? Be sure to visit How To Write Great Reviews, my latest guide!
Introduction Ch.1: Purpose of a request site Ch.2: Service & convenience Ch.3: Tricks in the rules Ch.4: Always reply to a request Ch.5: Too many restrictions! Ch.6: One size fits all Ch.7: Unnecessary? I think not! Ch.8: Tone and attitude Ch.9: Professionalism Ch.10: Common myths Ch.11: Review your reviews Ch.12: Epilogue Extras Sitely

Welcome!

You pull out a small little handbook titled How to offer great service: A guide for those who have request sites. The book seems to be from Meridell, but it looks like half of the author's name has been smudged off. Wanting to pass the time, you open the book to the first page and start reading...

To whom it may concern,

After visiting a few of the request sites around Neopia, it has come to my attention that there are more and more places that make it undoubtedly hard to return to. At some places, I cringe. At others, I'm utterly ignored. Whatever the problem is, it seems less people are paying attention to some of the things that make request sites successful, helpful, and accessible.

I was inspired to write this guide, not only from the perspective of a site owner myself, but as a visitor who frequently requests from various places I visit. If you look to your left, you'll see the table of contents for this book. This guide is organized into different chapters, each focusing on a specific category. I've also decided to offer service requests as well for those who would like additional comments with their specific site.

Last but not least, I hope you will enjoy reading through this extremely long guide and hopefully pick up some tips and suggestions along the way.

Yours truly, Sir Vis--- the 4th of Meridell

Hmm, this seems like an interesting read. Maybe I should start at chapter one...

Updates

Dec.23.2012
Edited the listers.

July.12.2012
New layout! Since I wanted How To Write Great Reviews to be sort of like this site, I made a new layout for this one to tie them together.
I'll be going through this guide and making any necessary changes, mostly to things like formatting and such.
Still looking for affiliates!
I'm also looking for visitor contribution so if you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to send them in!




Extras


QFT: QUOTES ABOVE SERVICE


GOING UNDERCOVER


QFT

Here's a list of quotes that I thought would be a great way to get people thinking about customer service.

Feel free to neomail your quotes in. It doesn't have to be from anyone - in fact, you could even send in your own thoughts about service!


A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.
Mahatma Gandhi

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.
Walt Disney

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
Jeff Bezos

Customer service is just a day in, day out ongoing_ never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity.
Leon Gorman

Merely satisfying customers will not be enough to earn their loyalty. Instead, they must experience exceptional service worthy of their repeat business and referral. Understand the factors that drive this customer revolution.
Rick Tate

Revolve your world around the customer and more customers will revolve around you.
Heather Williams

Every company's greatest assets are its customers, because without customers there is no company.
Michael LeBoeuf

Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they'll come back. We have to be great every time or we'll lose them.
Kevin Stirtz

It starts with respect. If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.
Doug Smith


Going Undercover

My goal was to focus on a specific review rubric found as many sites and see whether or not reviewers were able to deliver concise and well explained opinions. In this section, I'll outline the methods of this "research", my expectations of both the reviewer and their reviews, as well as give some final tips.

Introduction:

This is probably the most "personal" chapter of this entire guide as it takes my own experiences (and grievances) and translates them into something that can hopefully be learned from. Since this section is more "experience based", it's not included as a main chapter. Instead, it's just something extra.

As part of the research, I decided to apply for reviews at various sites. I wanted to gather a lot of examples without having to wait weeks for a single review, so I was specifically looking at Pro/Con review rubrics. Another reason why I chose this review is because I often see many site owners failing to offer a "true" Pro/Con review and so, I wanted to address these issues. These are always shorter than your average review and most of the time the reviewers will offer a set number of points, such as five things they liked about a page, and five things they disliked.

I headed into this "mission" with many expectations, hoping that the reviews would not only be useful to this experiment, but also to my site. For all of the applications, the page to be reviewed is my graphics/request site, The Lunch Box. Here's a summary of the experiment.


The procedure:

- Starting the search. To begin, I was looking for review sites with specific things in mind. I went to many sites and probably looked through the entire list at Soroptimist Directory! First, I needed sites that actually offered some sort of Pro/Con rubric. I was a bit disappointed that many of the top review sites (i.e. those that are ranked at multiple sites) didn't offer this type of rubric, so I had to take my search elsewhere. Combing through the list, most haven't updated in months meaning I came upon a barren landscape of dead pages. In the end, I did manage to submit applications to multiple sites. Most of them were new sites so I thought it would be a win-win situation for both parties. They'll get to practice their reviewing skills and I'll be getting feedback on my site plusdata" for this guide.

- Near the top of the waiting list. I wanted to be one of the top people on the waiting list. This lets me accurately gauge how quickly the site owners are able to put out a review, especially for a short one like the Pro/Con rubric. At most of the sites I requested from, I was the only person on the waiting list. At others, I was the second or third, which was totally fine. I frequently checked their updates, and if I wasn't first in the list, then I would keep note of how long the other people's reviews were taking.

- Blind testing. The most important part of the procedure was that I would not be telling the reviewers that their review may be used as part of this "experiment". This was done for a number of reasons. If they had prior knowledge that their review would be analysed on a more in-depth scale, this may alter their final score, comments, or review organization. I wanted to have the same final product that other people would be getting. In other words, I wanted the same "review experience" that other requesters would normally get. It was only after the review was received that I would contact them again to ask for their permission and letting them know that portions of my review may be quoted and that all comments will be made anonymously.

- Same content across all reviews. I made no major changes to my layout and all of the content that I was uploading on a daily basis were things like icons, and graphics. My daily routine wouldn't be a factor as there were no major changes at TLB. I wanted to keep the site as similar as possible for each person reviewing it. That way, I can accurately see how they're looking at the site, and whether or not they're discussing relevant details.


My expectations BEFORE sending in a review:

- Macro, not micro details. Since I know these Pro/Con types of reviews are much shorter than the regular rubric, I expected that the reviewer would touch on the major issues of the site. Rather than dwell on the tiny details that they'd spend more time on for in-depth reviews, my expectations for these Pro/Con rubrics is that they would see my site more as a whole. This is what I mean by "macro" details. It's the larger picture, so to speak.

- Being clear, without cutting the explanation. Probably the most important thing about these types of reviews is how to state your opinion and clarification without making the entire thing too long. Thus, I expected the reviewer to be able to make their points concisely. As these are quick reviews, they're meant to point out major issues without extra "fluff" sentences muddling them down. Still, the length of the review is a minor issue. The important thing is to identify and analyze. This bit relates to the next point.

- What, why, and how. Like in chapter 11: reviewing your reviews, I expected that they would clearly explain their position whenever they made any remark on the site that could be argued or debated. I was definitely looking at whether or not they included the "what, why, how" explanations. Just because Pro/Con rubrics are shorter doesn't mean reviewers can skip out the explanation and offer their opinion as facts.


My thoughts DURING the review:

- Great communication. At all request sites, I received a prompt confirmation neomail letting me know that I've been put on the waiting list. It was great to see this and I was really impressed with how they opened up a line of communication between the reviewer and the requester.

- Easy to read? Or a big pile of words? A big expectation in terms of organization is that the reviewer would be using bullet points or clearly spaced out paragraphs. Unlike an essay or in-depth analysis that are often in letter format, Pro/Con reviews are often written in a more segmented style, meaning that each point takes up a paragraph.

- Quick service, please! Lastly, I expected to receive my review fairly quickly. Since this was a more casual rubric and took less writing on the site owner's part, I was hoping I wouldn't be waiting more than one week for a simple Pro/Con review. Though I understood that they would be taking their time, this type of review carries with it an underlying notion that the "quick and short" review will be delivered quickly.


My thoughts after receiving the review:

Now, let's get into the deep stuff and analyze the reviews (note that I kept the original quotes as is, even though there were spelling and grammar errors).

In a timely fashion? I received most of the Pro/Con reviews within days of getting a confirmation neomail from the site owner. Thus, I was generally satisfied with the time I had to wait. A review of this type shouldn't take any longer than seven days from the time the site owner sends out a confirmation neomail. Luckily, I had no major issues at most of the review sites. Still, there were some reviews that had me waiting almost a month.

Review sites offer a very important type of request, and I think more attention should be paid on the speed of service. Whenever a reviewer is busy or can't deliver a review in a timely manner, they should do two things. First, they need to contact people on the waiting list and tell them that their review is going to be delayed. Unfortunately, I never received any notice like this, so I was left in the dark. Remember to always keep a line of communication open with your requesters! Second, requests should be closed as soon as you think you can't deliver a review in a timely fashion. Leaving them open and putting people on waiting lists just so they can wait 2 weeks for their review is poor service.

Key ingredients are often missing. In many of the reviews, I found that they never clearly explained their opinions, or they failed to bring up that issue again once it was stated. Keep in mind that opinions are not facts. They are completely debatable and need to be explained. As a site owner, this doesn't help me at all. What should I change? More important, why should I change it? Here are a few examples. The italicised text is the actual quote from the reviews that I have received.

Compared to your past layouts, it was strange stepping into the 'new' Lunch Box. Considering some of your past layouts had poor quality, I definitely thought that this layout was one of your first steps, and a big step too, into 'high-quality'. I was impressed by the way you have designed your layout so the navigation looks polished. It really matches your banner on top, which seems pretty futuristic and city-like.

Now, I was hoping that they're going to explain what exactly made the past layouts lower quality, but since we were in the "positive" section, I let it go thinking that they'll bring it up again with a more detailed comparison between the present layout and previous ones. However, they didn't address this in the "negative" section either so I was at a complete loss. I re-read the comment above and was confused. How is my current layout a "big step" into a higher-quality layout? What exactly makes it higher-quality and specifically, what is the different between older layouts and the new one? How does the reviewer define "high-quality"? Does having a "polished" navigation mean high-quality?

As you can see, there's a lot of "what" statements without the "why" and "how". If they added specifically what they thought was "high-quality" about the current layout and what they thought was "poor quality" in previous layouts, then that means I would learn what works and what doesn't when designing a layout.

To be completely honest, I would remove your pixels all together. They take away from the extremely high quality theme of your site. The "Lunch Bunnies" are not the highest of quality, and seem to be quickly made.

The first two sentences are the "what" statements. The last sentence is trying to work as a "why" sentence but it doesn't quite get that far. Whenever something is "not the highest of quality", explain, explain, explain! What specifically made it low quality? There's no explanation here. On the other hand, a different reviewer wrote: Your regular pixels too, seemed quite unimpressive. They weren't shaded properly and the animations could be made differently. The shape and drawing didn't seem high-quality, and this was one section of the site I wouldn't like to visit. Now, this is a step in the right direction. They offer a "why" statement in the second and third statements.

In both examples, they're still missing the "how" statement. In chapter 11, I noted that the "how" statement wasn't needed if the "why" statement is strong enough to support their views. The second reviewer has a "why" statement, but it could have been much stronger. For example, "the animations could be made differently." Differently how? What does it mean to do something "differently"? What is "proper" shading? As you can see, what I'm doing is constantly asking "why" in response to their sentences. Review statements need to be thoroughly explained.

Macro versus micro details
For the most part, many of the reviewers focussed on the macro, and not the micro. It definitely met my expectations for a broader site inspection. For instance, in one review they wrote I noticed your layout and title of your site right away. I thought your layout was phenomenal! I really love the mix of the shades of blues and shades of light pinks. You're navigation is definitely easy to access, which is very good. Unlike some other sites I've been to, the first thing I look at when I come to your site is the title.

Every single statement made here is a macro detail but at the same time, they've explained themselves. Another example of macro details in a review was this: I definitely had thought that was a pretty creative idea, the way you constructed your headers and fonts. In colors of your fonts, for example, you had not made your regular text black or grey, but rather blue throughout the whole layout. To match it, you had a blue divider which I thought went very well with the layout's general color scheme. In both of these examples, the reviewers are referencing things are that basic at every site you go to – layout, header, site title.

Still, sometimes reviewers lapsed into the micro details, which was the type of information that Pro/Con rubrics aren't meant to analyze. An example of a micro detail is this: At the bottom [of the layout], I did notice a bit of grey/white-ish look, but that doesn't really matter. It usually happens when you make something transparent. (sometimes it will make the corners a bit grey). and here's another example: On the side of your layout at the top, there was a blue line which my eyes kept going to on the right side. It isn't nessesary to change this. These statements would be more suited to in-depth reviews because it's focussing on a very tiny detail that doesn't affect the functioning of the site as a whole. Also, if something isn't "necessary" for change, then it shouldn't be included in a Pro/Con review since the idea is to immediately point out major issues instead of the small details. A Pro/Con review also requires a more assertive tone because it's not as in-depth and the point is to say, "look, here are things you need to change".

Though micro statements are completely valid opinions, be careful when including them in a Pro/Con. Most of the time, micro details are things that are irrelevant to the normal functioning of a site. For example, my latest layout for The Lunch Box was a theme that I knew a lot of people would might not understand. Since I'm a gamer, I choose Mass Effect as my theme and put in several references, such as quotes and logos that other fans would spot right away. For every aspect of my site, I always look at it from the perspective of a visitor, but seeing as how theme shouldn't affect how visitors view the site, I made the decision to go with a more "obscure" theme. One of the reviews stated:

On your layout, it says, 'My name is Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite lunch box'. I didn't quite get what this meant, so it looked like a random quote. and I noticed that when I was browsing your content, I kept seeing "N7" at the bottom of the navigation. I don't know what it was for, so I was quite confused. Perhaps saying what it's for would make more sense.

These opinions are completely valid, but ask yourself this: Does this really affect how a site functions? Will this inhibit the visitor from accessing the content in anyway? If a visitor doesn't know the theme of a site, does this somehow make the content low-quality? Now, I'd understand if there was an issue and it was something like "The quote on the layout was a bit too faded and I couldn't read it properly. Try making it a little darker" or "The N7 logo interfered with the navigation and I couldn't use the links at the bottom".

As it is, the statements above from the reviewer didn't add anything to the Pro/Con review. The layout theme doesn't matter because it doesn't interfere with the content provided to a visitor, or the service provided by the site owner. In Pro/Con reviews, stick to things that are more basic, such as organization, layout and navigation, and quality of content. Focus on larger issues that impact the general visitors, such as faulty coding, poor quality in content, or lack of visible menu links.


Were my expectations met?

Yes and no. There were aspects that I thought the reviewers were great at, and other categories where there needs to be improvement in order to better serve site owners who want a review. For example, I've been constantly talking about macro details but most of the reviewers missed an important part of my site: requests. I thought it very strange that barely anyone made comments about the graphic requests offered since it consists 1/3 of my site. Though some reviewers did spend some time talking about the requests, this is a major macro detail that was overlooked on more than one occasion.

For instance, none of the reviewers took into consideration whether or not I offered fair service. What if one of my rules was Only send in a form if I'm in a good mood. If I'm not in a good mood, don't bother sending me a form. Now, that "rule" pretty much breaks every point I've made for positive toning and professionalism there is, but the point is, what if I had that as an actual rule? Many of the reviewers focussed on graphics and resources, which is a great thing. However, more attention is needed in terms of looking at a site from the perspective of a visitor and really being "in the shoes".

Final comments:

Now, I've talked a lot of receiving the Pro/Con reviews. Why not write one myself? Let's summarize this long chapter - Pro/Con review style!

Positive aspects that stood out for me:

Things to be improved:

Final tips:


Sitely


Listed At

Dragon's Lair, The Faerie Compass, Masked, Little Black Book, Soroptimist Directory, Lacuna Directory, Smiley Central, Desolace


Reviews

Collegiate (Rubric: Creative writing; A)


Milestones (hover for more info)

- The Teahouse's SIte To Watch: Featured on Jan.26.2011
- The Bookshelft: Ranked #3 in Coding/Site Guides - Esteem: One of the Reviews Of The Week; May15th - 21st
- Esteem::Ranked #2 in Reviews
- Esteem: One of the Reviews of the Week (Trapped Fairytale's review); Week of May 22nd to May 28th
- The Faerie Compass: ranked #2 in Tutorials
- Soroptimist Directory: Ranked #6 in Coding and Design

Credits
Layout designed and coded by Turnip (Image from Background Bonanza; textures from deviantArt and swimchick; background patter from deviantART, recoloured by me).
All buttons are linked back to their creators.
Resources are from The Lunch Box.
This guide was written by me, and cannot be reproduced or copied in any form without permission.
The majority of the italicised examples were created by me; sites that are named in this guide are used with the permission of the site owner. If you'd like your site or phrase to be taken down, please contact me.


Lastly, thank you for visiting this guide. I hope it was helpful!

Chapter 1: Purpose of your request site

The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary. (Sam Walton)

You want to be able to offer great service? Well, let's get started, shall we? Before I let you continue, I should mention something as well. As you read through these chapters, I will be making numerous references to the visitor or the requester. These two terms are interchangeable and refer to the person who will be sending you the request forms. With that out of the way, I'm sure you're anxious to read on.

There are many reasons why people want to open request sites. For some, making buttons, graphics, or layouts is a hobby meant to pass the time and ease their unrelenting boredom. For others, they see it as a job, and they view themselves as being people who help others. However, one thing is true for both scenarios. Once you open up a request site of any kind, it becomes a service that visitors can access and use.

Visitors to your site are relying on a few things:


I make graphics/buttons for fun.

I have come across this phrase many times, I make graphics for fun. I can REJECT your request if I want to. My question is, why? Making graphics/buttons for fun is not an excuse to reject any form you may receive. If you don't want to have requests sent in or you feel like you need to take a break, then close your requests. Leaving them open when you don't feel like making graphics is a bad idea. It'll only make you more disgruntled when you do get a form sent in. Why not take some time off? Reopen your requests when you're in the mood to make some spiffy banners or snazzy buttons.

So, let's take a look at this again: I make graphics for fun. This is the reason why you make graphics, but it's not a valid reason to reject anyone's form, especially if you're leaving your request status open anyway.

When service needs to go

If service isn't your strong suit, then you should consider taking requests off of your site. This is more suitable for graphics and layout request, where you can offer premades instead. You'll be making graphics when you want instead. For button sites, why not go on a small break or take a hiatus? A hiatus isn't a bad thing at all – it'll give you time to recuperate from the demands of requests, and you'll come back fresh and ready to go.

Additionally, if you enjoy making graphics/layouts/buttons for fun only, then perhaps set up a topic on the help board to advertise that you will be making a few graphics or buttons. This way, you can make graphics/buttons when you want and you won't be pressured by receiving requests or having to organize your time. By the way, notice how the help board is the accepted and most appropriate place to post? That's because you are helping someone! You're offering a very valuable service that not everyone is capable of offering. A lot of people who use "making graphics/buttons for fun" as an excuse tend to see themselves as the only ones benefiting from this service when in reality it's a win-win situation for everyone. You get to spend time on your hobby, and the requester gets an awesome new banner.

The point is rejecting requests based on the fact that you "make banners as a hobby" is poor logic. As you will see in later chapters, I will discuss how rejecting requests "just because you can" is damaging to the presentation of your site in terms of its professionalism, and also its integrity in offering a valuable service. Like I mentioned above, you need to find the real motives behind your reasoning.

Final tips for this chapter:

Chapter 2: Service and Convenience

If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.
(Jeff Bezos)

Nobody knows about online service more than Jeff Bezos and I think this quote really highlights how word of a site can travel in an instant. Two of the most important things about having this type of site is high-quality service and convenience for your visitors. In this chapter, I'll be outlining the major areas that you should focus on.

Requesting area

This is an important element of your site and is where the bulk of your visitors will go to. Usually, this is the page that appears when people click rules or request on your layout. Your requesting area should display all of the information that's relevant.

Rules:
Your list of rules should be in a clear place. For example, it could be near the top of your layout. Another tip is to keep the rules and requesting information on the same page. Keeping rules on a separate page just makes it more likely that people won't read them. Having it on the same page minimizes the amount of clicking and travelling back and forth that the visitor will go through.

Additionally, sites nowadays are opting for the layout link trick. For example, they have a link that says "rules" and a separate one that says "request". However, the link for "request" doesn't work. What the site owner is trying to do here is force the visitor down a one-way road: click "rules" and somewhere in there you'll get the link to the "real" request page. I feel this is totally unnecessary and is inconvenient to the visitor. Whenever I come across a site like this, I assume the site owner had a faulty link in their coding. The initial impression I get is "shouldn't they be sweeping their links?" This reflects poorly on the professionalism of their site and even though I can figure out what's going on, that feeling still stays with me. My second response is to close the window and go to another site. For instance, the waiting list (which I'll talk about later on) should be on the request page, and if visitors have to go through a handful of links just to get there, they're being considerably inconvenienced. Part of the idea of convenience for a request site is getting to the information as quickly as possible, in a manner that's as easy as possible.

When you're organizing your rules, use bullet points to keep things neat. Don't be afraid of writing too much. Remember, the more you write, the more information you're giving your visitors. On the other hand, I've seen sites with three bullet points and have a very compact list of rules. If you're communicating clearly with your visitor and you've included all the important points, then there's no reason why your rules can't be short either. It's completely up to you when writing your rules list.

Lastly, one last tip about the rules is to avoid using text styles. For example,

1. Please credit. For all custom requests, I require you to link back to this site.
2. Fill out the form completely. Use the appropriate forms for each request (button, banner, or layout).

At first glance, you might think that bolding is more convenient - that it highlights the important parts of the rules. However, I have first hand experience and I say this isn't the case. Sometimes, visitors will only read the bolded parts because they feel the rest of the rule or sentence isn't important. Instead, I would highly suggest using plain text or bolding a few words rather than whole sentences:

1. Please credit. For all custom requests, I require you to link back to this site.
2. Fill out the form completely. Use the appropriate forms for each request (button, banner, or layout).

Request status:
The status of your requests should be clear. At a glance, visitors should be able to quickly determine whether you are open or closed for requests. I wouldn't suggest using normal bolded text because it doesn't "pop" out and catch your attention, regardless if it's in all capitals. Even a small red pixel sign like the one shown below ("open") would be more useful since it stands out from normal text.

open

Now, I said that your request should be clear. However, it should not take up too much space. Any request sign that is larger than 100 pixels in height is pushing it. Part of convenience is how efficient your site is. In turn, one factor is the amount of scrolling you have on pages such as your request area. When making or choosing a request status sign, be sure to keep this in mind: practicality. This means avoid choosing overly large signs. Yes, visitors will instantly spot your request status. However, it's an inefficient use of space that could be given to other aspects of your page, such as your rules.

Request form:
A textbox (not a div) should contain the form that visitors will be using to send in. The most appropriate place to put this is right underneath the request status, and above (or beside) the neomail link or envelope. The box shouldn't take up too much space as the important thing is the form itself. Make sure that it has all of the options that you want visitors to provide information for. Below is an example of a banner form:

Name:
Text on banner:
Image: (please describe the image as best you can or post an image on your petpage; include the link in the form)
Size:
Other: (write any other information you'd like me to know)

Your form should be as clear as possible to make sure that visitors are able to completely fill it out. Still, there may be portions that they don't understand. Just because you understand it, doesn't mean all of the requesters will. If forms aren't filled out properly or if something is left blank, then there may be a problem with the clarity of your form, in which case you need to address this and make some changes.

Neomail link:
The link to send in the form should be on the request page as well. Many sites these days use envelopes or other pixel resources to add a bit of colour to their page. Just like with the request sign, the link to neomail you should be very clear without taking up a lot of space. My advice is to avoid those super tiny envelopes since you don't want visitors searching for something that small.

Like the request status, I would advise against plain text. Make sure your contact links stand out against your layout so the visitor can easily find it. For example, you could use graphic signs like the ones below.

TNT's filter change has greatly impacted visitor convenience and there are two major changes that I'll talk about. First is the fact that we can no longer make a link open in a new tab. Secondly, links taking visitors directly to a filled out neomail no longer works. Here are some tips you can implement at your site to try and work around these changes:

Waiting list (optional):
This is an optional part of the general request area that many sites have. If you're a site that sees a lot of heavy traffic and numerous forms a day, then you might consider adding a waiting list to organize the order of your requests. Waiting lists also have another function: it lets people know how many forms you're willing to receive before you close your requests. For example, if your waiting list has five slots, then it stands to reason that when those five slots are filled, requests will be closed. An example of a set waiting list is below.

name @ site (date here)
name @ site (date here)
name @ site (date here)
name @ site (date here)

I can immediately discern the following important information just by looking at this list. One, because there's the inclusion of dates, I can safely assume that requests will be done in the order that the site owner received them (first come, first serve). Second, the site owner has four spots available so requests will be closed when the four slots are filled.

Even though you have a waiting list, you should still reply to every form you get and not just update your list. There's no guarantee that the visitor will visit your site again, and may just hope that they'll hear a response from you. I'll talk more about this later on, but communication with the requester is crucial. You never want to leave them hanging or wondering what you're up to. Additionally, you may forget to update the list, which makes having one a moot point.

Do all sites need waiting lists? Not at all. At The Lunch Box, I finish all requests within 24 hours and only receive a few requests a week. If you finish your requests quickly, then having a personal waiting list would be the better choice (for example, a rudimentary list in Notepad or a written one). When setting up a waiting list and deciding when to close requests, take into account the following things:


Your pick-up area

In your pick-up area, always include a textbox with the code so visitors can easily get their requested item. If it's a button, you should have it linked with a URL and ready to go. Also, include border=0 if it's linked to get rid of that unsightly border. Sometimes, sites do not include preview images of larger requests, such as banners or layouts, and instead only have a textbox with the code. It's important to show the final product, not only to the requester but other visitors as well.

For banners, you can scale down the image by including something like width=100 and height=40 in the image code. Of course, the dimensions can be anything you want. In the case of layouts, be sure to include a screenshot that you can scale down as well. Doing these things will take a few minutes on your part, but it makes it more convenient for the requester and gives them a chance to look over their item more quickly.

Other important information should also be included in the pick-up area as well. For example, be sure to include something like this,

All requests will be moved to the portfolio after 7 days. Please neomail me if you were not able to get your button in time and I'll put it back up for you.

As well, remember to include all pertinent details along with the graphic. For instance, putting the username above the banner or button.

Below are some real examples of sites that have very organized requesting areas. Hover over the image for the site name and drag and drop the screenies into the address to view the full image.

Final tips for convenience:


Your customer doesn't care how much you know until they know how much you care. (Damon Richards)


Providing equal service

I've talked about convenience at length, but let's take a more in-depth look at what constitutes the idea of "service". When opening a request site, it may not be the first thing that site owners think about, but it's a very important aspect to any site. This entire guide is about improving service in general, so I won't go into great detail about any specifics.

First, what is service? Well, there are a lot of definitions that you can search for, but in this guide, I define service as the intangible ways in which the visitor is benefited in some way due to the actions and conduct of the site owner. Providing quality service to your visitors may come at a price for the site owner, such as extra time spent on a re-do, however, the service you provide should center and focus on your visitors. There will undoubtedly be times when you will be inconvenienced in having to accommodate your visitors. As a request site owner, it's your responsibility to ensure that your page offers service that you can be proud of.

Like I mentioned in chapter one, when you open a request site it immediately becomes a service that anyone can access. Anyone. That means every visitor should have an equal chance of having their request made and that there is the same service offered to everyone. I've actually seen a few sites list something like,

Don't request when it's closed, unless you're my friend.

All visitors should be treated with the same courtesy, respect, and service. For example, your "best friends" shouldn't get pushed to the top of the waiting list, or receive special treatment just because you're friends with them. All that you're saying to the "normal" requester is, "sorry, you're not my friend so you're not important enough to receive the same service". If you do have special perks for friends, there's no need to announce that on you site because you'll be creating an environment where visitors will feel less significant. Thankfully, I haven't seen this at many sites so it isn't a major problem. It's just something to keep in mind.

More aspects of "service" will be dealt with in later chapters. To close things off, keep in mind that you may have been the creator of your request site, but you're not the one who is actively visiting your site. In other words, it's the requester's world. Site owners just live in it.

Chapter 3: Tricks in the rules

You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work.
(Laurie McIntosh)

Some people hate them, some love to use them. As for me, I advocate the use of trick devices in moderation. An example of such a device is the commonly used "trick word". We all know what trick words are and we've all come across them time and time again. The purpose is to establish whether or not the requester has read the rules. The most common example is something like this:

Failure to type the word "lunch" in your form, and the site owner may hit the delete button on your request (of course, if you read chapter 4, you'd reply first, then delete, right?). Now, as I said above, using trick words in moderation is fine. I have seen some places using multiple "tricks". For example:

A "double trick" like this is at the very borderline between necessary and unnecessary, though using any more than two is definitely pushing it. An example of a site using a "double trick" method was a button request site called Whimsical Buttons. One of their rules is:

Manners; Pleases, and thank yous. Oh, and if you didn't read the rules, put scallywag in your request

Almost caught you, didn't it? You see, visitors will spot the bolded word (scallywag) and immediately copy and paste it into their form. However, if you read through quickly you might have missed the word "didn't". This double trick acts as a deterrent to those who skim the rules and immediately copy any bolded word or phrases.


Using tricks correctly and efficiently


What NOT to do when using trick devices

To wrap this chapter up, trick devices is a method that not every site uses, which is totally fine. For those request sites that are using them, be sure to ask yourself the following questions.

In conclusion, using these devices is not a failsafe way of making sure your visitors read the rules – it only provides a buffer. Trick words (and other devices) are often the site owner's only choice for testing whether or not someone has read the rules. There are many people that feel using trick words is becoming an outdated practice, but if you continue to chapter 7, I'll argue against this.

Chapter 4: Always reply to a request

People expect good service but few are willing to give it. (Robert Gately)

This is the most important point of this guide, and I cannot stress this enough. If you only take one thing away from this, it should be this. Whenever someone neomails you a request, you should always reply to them. You can take this chance to let them know:

A) that you have successfully received their request by neomail.
B) that you will make their request or not.
or
C) that they have not read the rules correctly.

I have visited and requested from many sites, but have received confirmation neomails at only a handful of them. By not responding to a neomail, visitors will wonder whether or not their request will be made, which may cause them to request again at another site. This may not be so problematic for button sites, but what if they're requesting a banner or a layout? For example, the visitor isn't sure that you'll make their request, so they request and receive a banner from another site. Then, they receive word from you that their request is ready for pick-up, leaving them with two banners when they only need (or will only use) one. This is not only wasting your time, but the other site owner's time as well. Even if you have a waiting list, confirmation neomails is still a must! The visitor may not revisit your site and may count on hearing back from you. Additionally, you may forget to update it.

One button request site that clearly states their intention to neomail you is A La Mode. In the rules, it states,

As soon as I get your request I will mail you back to confirm that I have it and you are added to the waiting list.

This not only shows professionalism on the site owner's part, but actively lets visitors know they can expect a confirmation response.

Replying to everyone is common courtesy, lest you want people to think that you're blatantly ignoring them. As a side note, even if someone has not read the rules, you should still reply. Some sites see replying to someone who has not read the rules as a waste of their time. Their line of reasoning is, "if they can't take the time to read the rules, why should I waste my time by responding? I argue differently. Why? Well, you can take the time to notify them that they failed to read the rules. Stress on them the fact that the rules are there for a reason, and that they are an important aspect of your site. For example, you can neomail the person back and say,

I'm sorry, but you didn't read the rules carefully so I will not be making your request. The rules are there for a reason as they're important and need to be followed before I accept any form. For the future, be sure to read the rules at whatever request site you go to. Thanks!

See? There's no need to deliberately ignore people who didn't read the rules. That message took me less than a minute to type out, but perhaps down the road, they will be more careful when reading through rules at your site and others as well.

Moving on, I have come across some sites that only do requests for a certain amount of people, say for the first five people to have completed forms. If you have this condition at your site, be sure to neomail both the people who will have their requests made and the people who, unfortunately, will not.

If you're a site owner that responds to every request, make note of this in your rules list or somewhere on your site. This way, the visitor knows what to expect from you.

Sometimes if the visitor is unsure, they will send you more neomails unless they've heard from you, asking if you've received their request, if you'll even make their request, etc. I'm sure this can get very annoying for site owners, but a simple solution is responding to a request in the first place – it only takes seconds! A simple I have received your request and I'll start on it as soon as I can. I'll send you a neomail when it's ready for pick-up will suffice. Not only does a reply ensure the visitor that their request has been received, but it also lets them know that they are not being ignored, or that their requests are unimportant. We wouldn't want anxious Neopians running around, would we?

Chapter 5: Too many restrictions!

Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it. (Peter Drucker)

In this chapter, I will be discussing the unnecessary and sometimes silly restrictions that I've come across. At the end of the day, restrictions just make things harder for the visitor and it makes your site seem less user-friendly. I'll be going through a lot of common restrictions that I've seen at many request sites. Unfortunately, these things are common, but hopefully in the future they won't be.


No Twilight, please!

One of the most ridiculous things that I've seen in the rules goes something like this:

I'll make layouts/graphics for any theme, but NO Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.

My initial response is, why bother? The graphic is for the requester to use, not you. As long as the subject matter is appropriate for the site, then the visitor should be able to request it. Your own personal preferences should stay clear from the rules. Your request site should be offering graphics, not personal recommendations as to what you think is "cool" and "uncool". If making a Twilight banner means it's "less fun" for you, take a step back and think for a moment. You'll only be looking at Sparkly-what's-his-face for about 15 minutes. On the other hand, you'll end up with a very satisfied customer who couldn't get their request in at another site because they had silly restrictions like the one above.

For button sites, the most common offender is this:

I don't make featured at buttons, vote for me buttons, guilds, screenie sites, etc.

Again, I ask the same thing. Are these types of buttons so offending to you that you place a restriction on them? Regrettably, this rule is becoming more and more common for button sites. What if someone is actively searching for one of these buttons? These buttons aren't in any way "lower quality" and this is just a baseless excuse. Let me put it this way. Pretend you're making a button for The Lunch Box. You've got your border chosen, the background picked, and the textures ready to go. After some button-making magic, you're finished and the last thing you need to add is the text. Now, instead of typing The Lunch Box, type Featured at TLB. Stop for a moment. Stare at your button. Congratulation, for you have made a "featured at" button! Now, I'm hoping you don't feel so dirty that you need to take a quick shower because a "featured at" button is definitely not a bad thing. In fact, many people need one. So the question is, why doesn't your site allow them?

One of my favourite request sites has to be Box. Let's take a look at one of the rules:

1. I make buttons for anything. Sites, guilds, applications, about me pages. Whatever. If you want a link back button for it, you got it kid.

Now this is more like it! The site owner places no restrictions on the button whatsoever and takes request for any type page – no inequity at all. Any and all visitors requesting at this site will see that their needs are met. The only situation where I feel the owner should not make a button for another site is if the site in question is a button request site, or if the site material is not appropriate for Neopets. I've heard some sites give this reason: guilds/applications/etc sites don't last long. I don't want my efforts wasted. The thing is, are your efforts truly wasted if you're making a button for someone who really needs one? To put things in perspective, check out the quote below.

If we don't take care of our customers, someone else will. (Unknown)


I have the right to reject you. But I won't explain why.

Some sites note that they can and will refuse to make your request for whatever reason they see fit. Why is that? Unless the image or theme the requester wanted was inappropriate to Neopets, I see no reason to just disregard a request to a reason as simple as "I don't want to do your request". It's also very typical that sites that have this as a rule, never neomail the visitor to tell them that their request won't be made, and instead, leave them hanging.

Too many sites these days state that they have the "right to reject you". I'm left to wonder what exactly this rule means and what it implies for me as a visitor. They say they'll reject you, but for what purpose? Look at it this way,

What is listed in their rules: I have the right to reject you.
What it means at face-value: I just won't explain why I'll reject you.

If you have this in your rules, I have a suggestion to make. Explain, explain, explain! Why do you reject? For example, rewrite your rule to make more sense and offer more explanation to your visitors.

I have the right to reject if your site has stolen content.
or
I have the right to reject if my waiting list filled up before I received your request.
or
I have the right to reject if you did not read the rules.

Request sites that have this as a rule never fully explain their reasoning behind this, and I'm often left with the question of whether I should send my request in or not seeing as how there's the chance they might just delete my form straight off the bat. I never truly understood this "rule" – what is this really accomplishing? If you delete forms because of inappropriate topic, then say so! In your rules, state I will delete your form if the content is deemed inappropriate for Neopets.

If you feel you must have the power to delete requests, then don't just put that you "have the right" to do so. Explain why you would delete a form in the first place.

Moving on, here's another example of an unnecessary rule:

If your request is incomplete/very unclear, I will delete your request.

Deleting a request straight away is not only harsh, but it takes away from the quality of service that a site is suppose to be known for. I have many suggestions for sites that have this as a "rule". If a form is unclear in any way, why not neomail the requester back? Not only will you be getting more feedback but the visitor will feel that you are paying attention to their request. The final product will be more tailored to their wants as well. Perhaps there's a language barrier. You simply cannot base solely on a form if the person speaks English fluently or not since they're writing one-word answers beside each option anyways.

The last comment on I will make on this note is that a response takes seconds. Here, let's run an experiment, shall we? While timing yourself, type out the following phrases:

I'm not sure what you meant by faded borders. Can you please clarify?

How many seconds did that take you? While some may argue that this increases the amount of neomails back-and-forth and may increase the time it takes to actually finish the request, the fact that a site owner would ask for clarification shows that each and every request is important and that they are willing to take the time to make it perfect for the visitor. This unnecessary rule falls under the category of saving me time at the cost of service, but at the end of the day would you rather have disgruntled visitors that feel you are ignoring them or happy ones that recommend your site to others?

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. (Jeff Bezos)


Join the high-quality sites club, or else no service.

One of the silliest restrictions is to only make buttons is the following:

I only make buttons (or choose request forms) for high-quality sites.

Let's keep in mind that not all sites start off as the next Soroptimist Directory or Otaku. Does a site that is still growing or starting up not deserve a high-quality button? Should low-quality sites only have low-quality buttons? This is being unfair to those who are just learning about site making and to include a rule like this is completely unwarranted. They're not low-quality, they're just less experienced. Don't discriminate against those who aren't "up to your standards". Your responsibility as a request site owner isn't to judge the sites, it's to make graphics/buttons according to the forms you receive.

Along the same lines, another restriction I've seen goes something like this,

Your site has to be open for at least (insert number) weeks or else I won't make your request.

I understand that this is to make sure that requesters are serious about their sites and aren't wasting your time, but is this really necessary? Think of it this way. The more graphics/buttons you create, the more practice you'll get in the end. I have no idea how many times I tried to get a button for The Lunch Box in the site's early days only to see this rule, making it impossible for me to request. Additionally, I've seen many long-term sites close. A site that's been open for three days? Three weeks? Three years? It's all relative.

Yes, I know that site owners don't want to waste their time but we need to look at the larger picture. How many honest people have sites turned away because of the "site age" restriction? I'd rather make 20 buttons for sites that will close down within a week, than turn away the one person that will use it for their long, enduring site. To put a positive spin to it, you'll get the chance to improve your technique and you'll gain more experience in making graphics and buttons! Many review sites stress the importance of having high-quality buttons and many site owners believe that when opening a new site, having a few buttons ready is a must. It seems that button site owners are completely working against this notion by having the age rule. No one should have to let their site sit there and "age" just to get a button.

The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing. (John Russell)


Other unnecessary restrictions

Your site must have at least (insert number) affiliates or be listed at (insert number) directories.
This rule is too strict and serves very little purpose. Like I've mentioned in great detail above, not all sites will start off with a gazillion amazing affiliates and is completely finished. Also, some sites don't have affiliates. Take this guide for example. I'm not interested in affiliating with anyone at the moment, so should I be denied service because I don't have affiliates, even though I provide helpful information?

Don't make suggestions. I'll decide how your graphic/button will look.
This one's a tricky one, because I completely understand where site owners are coming from when they have this as a rule. Many people feel that by being able to control every aspect of their graphic/button, the finished product will end up being higher quality than if they followed a form. Though this isn't a bad thing in itself, keep in mind that the requester will be the one using the graphic/button, not you. They may have a different opinion on what constitutes "low" and "high" quality. Try giving your visitors very broad options. It would be tailoring the item more to their needs. Something like colour scheme is very simple for the site owner to follow and you can still produce a high-quality item. Plus, it gives the visitors some choice of customization.

Just to wrap things up, if you are an owner of a request site and you have limitations in your rules such as the ones listed above, ask yourself these questions:

Chapter 6: One size fits all

Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game. (Tony Alessandra)

At some sites, I have found rules along similar lines as this,

If you don't like what I made, too bad. I don't re-do graphics.

There is the notion that one size fits all, that what the maker likes is what the requester likes. At The Lunch Box, we have something called TLB's guarantee where if visitors are not satisfied with their request, they can neomail in to get it changed as soon as possible. At first, it was limited it to a one-week timeframe where they can neomail me to get something fixed. Now this "guarantee" lasts indefinitely.

Some request site owners will argue that this takes too much of their own time. Again, I stress the importance of service, accessibility, and an openness to help the visitor. If you are adamantly against re-doing a graphic or button, make sure you include this in your F.A.Q. section, and your reasoning behind it or tell the visitors ahead of time that the final product will be the only version they're getting. Additionally, even if you don't offer re-dos, you may even offer the requester to neomail you their concerns so that you can learn what isn't working and what is.

A customer's problems, complaints and anxieties are my opportunities.
(Michael Capaldo)

Let's talk about some sites that have shown excellent customer service in this regard. At Aurora, there is a note that says, If you're not happy with your button, don't hesitate to tell me!. Trapped Fairytales has a similar rule, If you don't like it you don't have to use the button, but please tell me what the problem is and I will fix it. My last example is Dreams Are Reality. One of the rules states, Please actually use the button I made you, or at least let me know if you don't like it! I will redo your button once (: ** PLEASE REFER TO FAQ #3. Reading the FAQ will provide visitors with more information. Of course, there are other sites that offer re-do option as well.

When I read through the examples I listed above, there were many things going through my mind. One thing that stood out for me is the obvious dedication that these site owners have to making sure each request is just right. Their commitment to making things perfect for the visitor shows because they are willing to devote their time and energy into fixing up a request. As a visitor, I would feel more confident that I will be getting the final product that I was hoping for, and that even if I wasn't happy with my request, something can still be done about it. These sites are just some examples of the kind of initiative that we need to see at more request sites.

The next rule belongs in this chapter because similar to the rule above it limit the visitor's options. Have you seen this one around?

You must use what I made for you!

Doesn't this seem a little forceful? If the person does not use your graphic or button, send them a polite neomail asking them why they are not using what you made for them, after putting a lot of effort into their request. What this does is give you more feedback on your graphics/button and a chance to show your site's quality service. You can even offer to make a new graphic/button or alter the existing graphic/button.

At the end of it all, you can't force someone to use the banner or button you made. Again, try not to think of this as being as waste of your time. Stay positive!

Chapter 7: Unnecessary? I think not!

Service, in short, is not what you do, but who you are. It is a way of living that you need to bring to everything you do, if you are to bring it to your customer interactions.
(Betsy Sanders)

There are some out there that think certain rules for request sites are unnecessary, have little meaning, and should not be included. Here are three examples of what people may think as being 'unnecessary' rules:

Not necessary? I say otherwise. Sure, these seem like obviously rules, but the truth of the matter is that if you own a request site, chances are you've received requests using the wrong forms or when your requests are obviously closed. I know I've received my fair share of forms when requests weren't open.

The same can be said about trick words. At the moment, a site owner is limited by his or her options as to ways of testing the visitor if they've read the rules. Neopets doesn't offer a lie detector of any kind and using trick words will add a buffer of protection against those who skim. Yes, they don't catch everyone, but they will catch someone. It's better than having nothing.

This is something I get from a lot of people: "trick words in the rules don't work". I'd say they do. At TLB, I estimate that about 50% of the people sending in requests don't read the rules, which is a lot considering many people feel visitors just "skim" and search for the trick. Just food for thought.

The fact of the matter is that no rule is so seemingly obvious that it should be taken off or left out. The visitor will be receiving more feedback from the site owner – what their expectations are, etc.

Chapter 8: Tone and attitude

Here is a simple but powerful rule - always give people more than what they expect to get. (Nelson Boswell)

Your wording and tone have a huge impact as to how your request site is viewed from the eyes of a visitor. When writing your rules, FAQ, or anything else text-based, be sure to stay professional and keep your personal feelings out of it. It's the internet and it's "only" words, so people's interpretations may differ from yours. It's better to stay safe. There is absolutely no need to be rude or snarky, and being a smart-aleck is completely pointless. You need to be able to keep anything happening in your personal life away from your request site. If you are annoyed that people aren't following the rules, then you can address this calmly instead of creating drama and affecting other visitors. I've compiled a few scenarios that are, unfortunately, very common.

Don't: Stop wasting my time if you're not going to read the rules. The rules are there for a reason. Seriously.
From a requester's point of view, I am always appreciative of the time and effort someone has put into a button for me and I'm sure that many others feel the same way. When I come across something like this in an update blog, I'm absolutely shocked.
Do: There have been some people that are not following the rules completely. Please take the time to read through them carefully!
In this version, you are calmly addressing the issue (people are not reading the rules) and politely suggestion that something should be done about it (people need to read them more carefully).

Don't: Ugh, I'm sick of getting so many neomails asking when requests will be done. I have a life you know!
This not only makes your annoyance apparent to everyone, but it also makes people feel that their requests are wasting your time. Yes, real life and your personal life are more important than Neopets (gasp, can that be true?), but couldn't this be worded differently?
Do: I'm pretty busy in real life now, so requests will be slower than usual. I'll do my best but all requests may take some extra time to complete.
Stay professional, stay neutral. Tell the visitor about the situation, and tell them how you're dealing with the situation.

Don't: If you don't pay attention and fill out forms, why should I make you a button? You're wasting my time and effort.
Again, the attitude and rudeness in this sentence is unnecessary. There can be numerous reasons as to why the person didn't (or couldn't) fill out the form completely.
Do: Please be sure to fill out the form as carefully as you can. If you are unsure about something, feel free to neomail me and I'll try to help you.
In this sentence, you are extending a helping hand to visitors who may not understand your site rules or form clearly. The tone in this sentence is assertive, without chastising the visitor.

Don't: Um, requests that are sent in when it's closed will obviously be deleted. Look, it says closed.
Mistakes happen and sometimes people get overeager. Pretty much all request sites have had forms sent in when requests were closed. However, before we lose our temper, can't we phrase this with a more polite and professional tone?
Do: Make sure requests are open before you send in a request. Forms sent in when it's closed will be deleted.
Be sure to neomail the person and tell them that requests are closed, or they may neomail you numerous times.

Don't: I don't re-do graphics/buttons once they're done so don't ask.
Again, the attitude of this rule is a bit off.
Do: Unfortunately, I do not re-do graphics/buttons when they're done. Sorry for the inconvenience.
This sentence takes a less flippant tone and addresses the issue more tactfully.

Don't: If you don't say "thank you", I won't make you a graphic/button.
Not only is this an unnecessary rule, but it could be rephrased with a bit more tact.
Do: I put a lot of effort and time into your request. A "thank you" would be greatly appreciated!
Though personally I hate begging for "thank yous" and such, I know that site owners put a lot of time into their creations and we'd like to be acknowledged. Requesters shouldn't have to thank you in the forms; the form is to tell you what the requester wants. This "issue" should only arise once you've finished their request, if at all. However, having this as a rule or denying service because someone forgot to say "thanks" is ludicrous. It might be the case that they just forgot, or perhaps accidently deleted your neomail (which I do all the time, in my efforts to keep my inbox relatively clean). Just send them a polite note! Regardless, what should you do if they don't say "thank you"? You move on.

Don't: I personally don't feel bad if someone didn't read the rules and I reject their request. Honestly??! I spend my time, in MY life on these, and you can't even bother to read the rules? It makes me sick just looking at your request.
I'm not even sure if there's a point of having this, and it comes off as being very rude and doesn't consider the needs of the visitor at all. This is probably the worse case example and it's embarrassing to see. The point of having a request site isn't to make visitors feel bad!
Do: (see below)

In this guide, I've offered suggestions and various ways of rephrasing text-based portions of your site so that it presents you in a more professional manner. Though I've been dealing with minor "outbursts", major ones (like the example above) do happen and they are awkward to read, and often, the site maker will say something that offends the visitor. My suggestions? Don't say anything. Step away from the computer, relax, and gather your thoughts. Breathe. If you're angry or annoyed, there's a high chance this will translate to your request site. At worst, you'll be bashing your visitors, and shining a horrible light on your site.

At some sites, I have found that the owner's updates/rules seem to be guilt tripping the visitor. There have actually been times when I thought to myself, am I going to make this person even angrier by sending in my request? If request site owners ever feel the need to bring something to attention, whether it's people not crediting the site or not following the rules, it should be done professionally. This chapter isn't telling you to make your request site devoid of any personality, but rather to employ some tact. I encourage everyone to be witty and show their personality, but keep your negative feelings away from updates, rules, FAQs, and other text-based portions of the site. The atmosphere you present at your site should be welcoming to all visitors.

Chapter 9: Professionalism in text and visuals

To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity. (Douglas Adams)

In this chapter, I'll be focussing on professional appeal, one of the things I look at when I do service reviews. Let's narrow it down to two categories: aesthetics and writing style. Both are major components of a site, as one is visual, and the other is text-based. Together, they have a major impact on how visitors view the professionalism of your request site.

Aesthetics

When I talk about the "aesthetics" of your site, what I'm referring to are the visual aspects – it's what people see. However, it's not only talking about images and other pictures, but also aspects like the use of space, header design, and general organization. Here are a few sections that I'll go over in some detail.

Layout
As the biggest visual on your site, your layout makes a huge impression on your visitors and in some extreme cases, many people judge a site's content based on the layout. Though your content itself should always be more important, don't neglect the layout! Avoid using blurry or low-quality images that will distract the visitors from the things you're offering on your site.

Navigation is also an important part of a layout, so make sure that the menu is always accessible and isn't cut off when visitors visit a new page. One thing I've noticed is that some sites have "disappearing" links. What do I mean by that? Well, let's say a layout has a white background. After I click on one of the links, the link turns white. See the problem? To avoid this problem, make sure that your A:visited style is never the same colour as your background.

Textboxes in your pick-up area
My rule of thumb is that the textbox should be equal in width to the image above it. For buttons, this means a textbox width of 88 pixels and for icons, 100 pixels. As for banners, it should be the width that you scaled the image down to. This makes your pick-up area look neater and the symmetry is more visually appealing. If you're having problems with your textareas "sticking" together, try adding textarea {margin:2px;} in your style sheet to add some space.

Using the space you have to your advantage
Use columns, put things side by side and try to think of ways to save space vertically as this will decrease the amount of scrolling. For example, if you own a button request site, you may want to consider putting buttons in your pick-up area beside each other in a row, rather than have each button take up a single line. Here's a quick example of what I mean:













Look how much scrolling is in the first example, where buttons are placed in a long column! Be sure to use the space you have to your advantage.


Writing style

Once visitors absorb the aesthetics of your request site, they'll be switching their focus to the text-based portions. This is actually an area where a lot of sites suffer. Yes, sites on Neopets are more casual but that doesn't mean grammar goes out the door.

Don't: sumthin in RL come up and i totally 4got!!!!!!!!! D: So sorry!!!!!!!! :( requests r closed for now.... :(
Do: Something in real life came up and I totally forgot! So sorry! Requests are closed for now. :(
Analysis: Using emoticons isn't a bad thing, but using them too much makes you seem less professional. Additionally, I would advise staying away from chatspeak altogether. Typing out "are" instead of "r" makes a lot of difference when people read it. You might wonder why I left the phrase "so sorry" as it is. It's not even a completely sentence and grammatically incorrect to boot. That's because trying to be profession and trying to be an English major are two different things.

I'm not saying that you need to make sure all of your paragraphs have a topic and concluding sentence, or that all of your text is up to standards with university-level English. The idea of conducting yourself in a professional manner isn't asking you to write in Shakespearean-styled text, but rather, paying attention about how you write. The important thing here is to make sure that your message to your visitors is clear and coherent. That is, when they read text-based portions of your site, they can easily understand it. That's why I left "so sorry" rather than rewrite it as "I'm so sorry" because even though the second phrase is more grammatically correct, the first one does just as well when communicating with visitors. If I saw the first phrase at a site I was reviewing, I would not take any marks off for that.

Final tips for this chapter:

Chapter 10: Common myths about service

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. (Mahatma Gandhi)

You can't be professional and original/creative.


Verdict: Myth. This isn't the case of having one thing as the expense of the other. You can be professional and original. I've seen a lot of comments where people want to do things "their way" and not listen to what reviewers or guides say. The premise of being "professional" isn't saying that you have to throw your personality out the window and become polite, uncreative robots. It's not telling you to create your site one way, and one way only. It's more about creating an atmosphere in which the visitor feels welcomed.

Though I've only talked about graphic/button request sites, review sites can be seen as another category of "requests" as well. One example of a request site that has both professionalism and originality is The Teahouse, one of the most popular review sites. The charming narrative that is present on each page is very creative, but is professionally handled as well. The atmosphere that the owner has created is very relaxing to the visitor, and it makes you want to revisit the site.

To sum it up, reviewers and guides aren't telling you to make mandatory changes. We are simply offering you suggestions and more importantly, other alternatives.


The customer is always right.


Verdict: Myth. While we'd like to think that the customer/visitor is always right, that's not always the case. Indeed, the customer has certain rights, especially when requesting from a site, but these are limited rights that usually must conform to the list of rules for request. The visitor is entitled to the services of your site, of which must be clearly delineated and expressed. For instance, if your rules say that your site doesn't offer re-dos, and the visitor demands that you re-do their button, they are not right to ask you this. However, if you don't state whether or not you offer re-dos, the visitor has the right to ask. As another example, if the visitor hasn't read the rules, are they in the right? No, because they haven't done their part in reading the rules.

In the end, you need to understand your rights as a site owner, and the rights of the visitors. You should be able to express these conditions in a clear manner, with fair reasoning and not just state, for example, "I have the right to reject your request".


Service doesn't make a huge difference.


Verdict: Myth. Because of my negative experiences at some request sites, I was actually inspired to write this entire guide! I wondered why is it that some request sites are very professional and service-oriented, while others aren't. It got me thinking to how people can be poorly treated at request sites and what kind of impact that has on both the site owner and the visitor's experiences. At request sites - whether it's buttons, layouts, or reviews – an exchange is occurring between two people so it stands to reason that attention to service can make a difference. Providing quality service doesn't have to be a lot of work for the site owner, but it does make a big difference for visitors.

Chapter 11: Review your reviews

Too often we think we can act without explaining and take decisions without justifying them. (Peter Mandelson)

Instead of writing up multitudes of new chapters based on review sites, I'll just direct you to one of the most helpful guides out there: Review Site Awareness, a special event organized by Rika at The Teahouse.

In this chapter, I'll be outlining what I feel is the most important aspect a reviewer should keep in mind: explanation. It isn't enough to say that a layout is "low-quality" or that you "didn't like their graphics". When site owners apply for reviews, they are actively seeking opinions, suggestions, and comments about their site. By making sure you're offering the best explanation you possibly can, you'll be giving them more help!

Key ingredients to a helpful statement

Every statement made about an aspect of a site should contain three major ingredients which work together. Let's take a look at what they are.

What: This is the opening statement. Whether it's a broken link or mismatched colours on a layout, the "what" statement makes note of the issue that you're addressing. Most of the time, this observation is what constitutes the reviewers opinions. Thus, it can be debated.
Why: Follow up the "what" statement with a "why" statement. This reinforces your opinion in the "what" statement by giving the reader explanations as to why you made the statement that you did. This statement explains the problem and gives justifications as to why the reviewer's opinions are valid.
How: Finish off your thought by telling them "how" to fix the issue in "what". The requirement of the "how" statement is debatable and in most cases, it isn't offered. Though the "why" statement is the most important, explaining how a problem can be avoided or fixed is also very useful. In essence, having a well arguedwhy" statement is enough. Still, for the sake of this guide, I'll include the "how" statement in the following examples.

Keep in mind, this formula works with both positive and negative comments. I'll show you some scenarios and apply these "key ingredients" to make review statements that are informative and helpful.

Examples of how to use the key ingredients

Scenario #1: You're starting a new review on a site and beginning with the "First Impressions" section, you load up their petpage and the first thing you notice is the layout. Unfortunately, your first impression is quite negative. It seems that their image is too large and there's some side scrolling. Additionally, the image is low quality because it's quite blurry.

Building your statement(s):
In this scenario, there are two problems that are outlined: side scrolling, and the low-quality image. Because the issues are very different from one another, it's best to address these two issues separately to keep your thoughts organized and clear. First, let's deal with the side scrolling. I'm going to write as if I was the reviewer (note that in the "final" review, I wouldn't have "what" or "why" followed by a sentence. I'd just combine all three points into a structured paragraph).

First statement

What: When I first entered your site, I noticed that there was some side scrolling because your layout image is too large. My screen resolution is 1024 x 768.

Why: This is a problem because it makes your site seem less polished and the side scrolling will be inconvenient for people viewer your site. Make sure that your layout is optimized for display in all screen resolutions so that each and every one of your visitors can have the same positive experience at your site.

How: My advice when designing layouts is to use a size of 1024 x 768 or less. This is the most common screen resolution for computers today so you'll be including a large percentage of your audience. If you want to be even safer, aim for a layout size that's 800 pixels wide or less. Older computers had screen resolutions of 800 x 600, but they're being phased out so unless your visitors have an ancient computer, you can safely assume that your layout will fit.

Second statement

What: The main image for your layout is very blurry so you may want to consider changing it.
Why: Blurry images always attract negative attention and it makes the layout appear low-quality because there's no clear focal point for the visitor.
How: Whenever you choose an image for your layout, make sure that it's very clear and high-quality. Staying away from already blurred images will help. Additionally, avoid blowing up images and making the original picture larger than it was. For example, if you find an image that's 500 pixels by 200 pixels, it shouldn't be resized any higher than that since this will degrade the image.

Analysis
As you can see, the "what" statement presents the issue, the "why" statement is the reviewer's explanation, and the "how" offers advice. In the first example, I did some extra research relating to the issue and found optimized screen resolutions and included this for the visitor. Note how in the second example, the "how" statement offers multiple ways to help the site owner.

This scenario dealt with a problem that may not be apparent to the actual site owner. For example, if they have a larger screen resolution, they won't have the same side scrolling issues. Because the problem is essentially "hidden" from the site owner, you need to be able to apply clear reasoning on why they should change a part of their site that they don't have an issue with.


Scenario #2: The owner of a relatively older graphics site has asked you to review them. They've been open for about 4 months now, and they've applied for an in-depth review. After going through their site, you realize that they don't have a lot of content (specifically, banners). However, you're very impressed with the high-quality content as it's some of the best you've seen.

Building your statement(s):
You should root out the key facts to focus on: older graphics site, not a lot of content, high-quality. From there, you can begin to structure your statements. In this situation, you can talk about all three issues in one large paragraph, or perhaps you'd like to separate them. Since the issues are very intertwined, I'll discuss them as a whole. See if you can identify the three statements: what, why, and how.

Statements: Your site has been active for four months, but you lack the amount of content that is normally seen with older sites. You don't offer a lot of content, and given that you state that you're a banner-focussed site, there isn't a lot to choose from. However, what you currently have on your site is very high-quality. The icons were well colourized, especially the second one because the sharpness makes the image "pop" out. All of the banners were well cropped, and the text placement is perfect because the focus is on the text. Because you've been open for quite some time, having a page that doesn't offer a lot of content with few updates in between means that you won't be getting visitors returning to your site. Though you may get new visitors from time to time, be sure to focus on giving people reasons to return to your site. Additionally, adding more content means more choice for visitors.

Analysis

Now, this was a very brief statement based on the issue at hand and you would definitely need to add a bit more to the "how" statement, but you get the idea. Discussing content amount is always a tricky thing because site owners do have outside lives and they get busy too (this is a true fact!). Keeping that in mind, you don't want to go out and bluntly say "Make at least two banners a week" because that would just discourage them. Instead, give them reasons as to why they might want to increase their production and nudge them in the right direction.

Scenario #3: You are currently writing the organization section of your review for a fellow review site. Completely impressed with the way they've handled the organization of their site, you have nothing negative to say at all.

Building your statement(s):
One of the most common mistakes a reviewer can do is not explain their positive statements. Remember that even though you have no problems with something you should still give your reasons as to why you think so.

What: I thought your site's organization was fantastic!

Why: It was very easy to navigate the site because you've organized your site's content in a meaningful way, dividing the content into appropriate pages for easy access. Also, I like how you put your site's portfolio on a different petpage. This just makes it much faster for the main page to load and since the portfolio isn't a majorly important part of your site, it makes sense to put it on another petpage.

How: In this case, a "how" statement wouldn't be necessary. You're already telling them why you think they're doing a great job, so you don't have to offer any suggestions for change if you feel it isn't needed.

Analysis

Writing down the negative aspects of a site is important because it can improve the overall site. However, spending time talking about the positive aspects can be just as useful. Even though you don't have any particular issue, you should still explain why you thought they did a great job. By telling a site owner what you thought worked well, they can keep on doing the right things.


What? Why? How?

The more you explain yourself, the more likely it is people will take your opinions to heart and make changes around their site. Reviews are meant to be an analysis, rather than a "to-do" list of things to change. If you're a reviewer, be sure to "review your reviews". Ask yourself if you've fully explained your stance. Here's a simple exercise you can do. While reviewing a site, you're most likely going to be making quick notes on the side (the "what" statements). Every time you write an "issue" down, ask yourself why? Then write down your explanation. Read the new explanation and ask yourself "why" again. Keep on repeating this until you have something like this (drag and drop for full view):

The explanations "end" when you are unable to continue asking "why". By then, you've most likely fully explained your stance.


General tips, hints, and suggestions

Use bullets or space our your paragraphs. The major problem that most review sites have is that they clump their entire review into one giant paragraph. Sometimes they use line breaks to create a "new" paragraph, but this doesn't work because line breaks do not make a space like paragraphs.

Put yourself in the mind of the site owner. Yes, you're reviewing their site from the eyes of a visitor, but you should also try to look at their page from the site owner's eyes. Why do you think they made the particular choices they did?

Even if you THINK you're going to be busy soon, close you requests! There's nothing worse than having disgruntled people waiting weeks for their review. They should never have to wait that long to receive feedback. Along the same lines, limit your waiting list to something manageable. When designing your waiting list, think about how long the last person on the list will have to wait. Unless you're finishing a review a day, a waiting list around 10 or more is too much. You're likely going to deliver poor service to those at the end of the line.

Give analogies and examples. References, screenshots of their layout, links to outside guides and tutorials – these things will help them learn and is part of the "how" statement.

Final tips for this chapter:

Epilogue: The Final Thoughts

The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service. (William H. Davidow)

I have written this guide not only from the eye of a person who requests a lot of buttons from various sites, but also as an owner of a request site. Throughout these chapters, I hope I have given you things to think about, from restructuring your rules, to keeping a professional appearance on your site.

Final advice, tips and suggestions

yooyuballplanet wonders, what would Neopia be like if every request site offered excellent service?

Closing the book, you notice that someone has written something on the back. Taking a closer look, you realize it's an address with a small note attached,

To my dearest friend,

I understand you're looking for someone to critique your request site. Well, you're in luck because I've found the perfect solution for you. Below this note, I'm written the address of a special place that can help. Let me know how it turns out.

Yours truly, Sir Vistrue




Heads Up! You're about to leave Neopia!

You've clicked on a link that will take you outside of
Neopets.com. We do not control your destination's website,
so its rules, regulations, and Meepit defense systems will be
different! Are you sure you'd like to continue?



It is a journey
I must face...alone.
*dramatic music*
I want to stay on Neopets,
where the dangers of
Meepit invasion
are taken seriously.
Heads Up! You're about to leave Neopia!

You've clicked on a link that will take you outside of
Neopets.com. We do not control your destination's website,
so its rules, regulations, and Meepit defense systems will be
different! Are you sure you'd like to continue?



It is a journey
I must face...alone.
*dramatic music*
I want to stay on Neopets,
where the dangers of
Meepit invasion
are taken seriously.
Heads Up! You're about to leave Neopia!

You've clicked on a link that will take you outside of
Neopets.com. We do not control your destination's website,
so its rules, regulations, and Meepit defense systems will be
different! Are you sure you'd like to continue?



It is a journey
I must face...alone.
*dramatic music*
I want to stay on Neopets,
where the dangers of
Meepit invasion
are taken seriously.
/help/bumper/headers/log-in-to-facebook

NEOPETS, characters, logos, names and all related indicia
are trademarks of Neopets, Inc., © 1999-2014.
® denotes Reg. US Pat. & TM Office. All rights reserved.

PRIVACY POLICY | Safety Tips | Contact Us | About Us | Press Kit
Use of this site signifies your acceptance of the Terms and Conditions