Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category« Older Entries ·
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
Having a website for yourself, your organization or business is a no-brainer these days. Everyone finds absolutely everything online, and if you are nowhere to be found, then you are missing out—big time. The problem is that there are some misconceptions about the whole web space and internet marketing in general.
Harsh reality #1: You gotta get your hands dirty and get to work!
The web is very powerful for business and a website is essential. However, long gone are the days when you could simply “hang your shingle” and expect the phone to start ringing. Getting your website built is only the first step. You have to go to work promoting and driving traffic to your site.
Your website should be a continuous project that you work on all the time. This means constantly adding content, blogging regularly, and adjusting the design to improve conversion rates and user experience. A website that is not continually updated is one that will be forgotten.
Harsh reality #2: It will cost you money.
A website is an investment. There are huge returns from owning a website, but you must see the cost of a website as an investment. Take a photographer friend of mine. She has invested money, time and resources into her website. She’s paid for design, SEO, Facebook ads, design updates and also been paid in her time by diligently blogging.
The returns have been enormous compared to the cost. Last time I checked, she had over $15,000 in business from Google alone, not to mention referrals and Facebook ads.
Without investing in a quality web presence and putting in the work to make the most of her website, that business would not be there. Invest in your website and you will see returns.
Harsh reality #3: You’re going to need help
You can’t do everything. I fall into this trap many times thinking that I can do everything when it comes to my business. The fact is that there are only so many hours in a day. You’re going to need some help. Hire out what you’re not exceptional at. Get coaching on things that you really want to improve on, but get some help.
Harsh reality #4: You need other sources of marketing
While it’s your most powerful and versatile marketing channel, you can’t rely solely on your website to bring in business. Having a well rounded marketing mix is key to any business.
A good idea is to have your website as the center of your marketing universe. Point all of your other marketing channels to your site. This way you can capture leads and get people engaged with your brand.
Having a website is powerful, but it’s also a lot of work, time and money. Unless you embrace these realities and really go after it, you won’t see much success with your web presence. Dedicate yourself to paying the price to see success via your website and you most certainly will.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
It’s no secret that our current world is moving at a rapid pace. It’s almost dizzying. Keeping up your knowledge and skill has never been more important than it is today. That said, it’s never been easier to keep yourself abreast of the latest technology, practice and trends that you need to know to keep yourself relevant as a designer.
Here’s a strategy to stay relevant as a designer:
Sharpen your skills
The first and foremost way to staying relevant as a designer is to sharpen your design skills. Letting your abilities lay dormant will only cause them do die. Constantly attempt to improve your skills by creating things for yourself, organizations you are involved with or by doing tutorials. You will never get to a point where you are done learning about your craft. Practice it regularly.
Read quality design blogs
There is a wealth of information out there and it’s being updated regularly. Subscribe to some top blogs and read them regularly. Study what the experts are saying and implement some of their useful ideas into your work. Keeping on top of what the experts in the design community are saying is key.
Take time to get inspired by the work of others
Having a steady flow of inspiration can be a healthy thing for a designer. It helps you to see what’s possible what is working and what isn’t working. Moderation is key when looking for inspiration. You can easily get trapped into looking at other peoples work for hours and hours without creating anything yourself. Set aside a specific time in the week to see what others in the industry are making and take notes. Then, go and take what you’ve learned and implement it—putting your own spin on things.
Create side projects
Having side projects is a great way to experiment with new techniques and to challenge yourself. You can take on a variety of different projects that will help you hone your skills.
- Create an app
- Design a WordPress theme
- Do pro-bono work
- Create apparel
There are endless site projects that can both fulfill a creative outlet and possibly bring in some extra cash. Start something up today.
Read at least one design book a month
There are many many amazing design books available today. Reading one a month will help you acquire a deeper understanding of design theory and principles. Having this understanding will make you a better problem solver and better able to articulate your decision making to clients or other team members.
Read at least one non-design book a month
Becoming a well-rounded person is part and parcel to becoming a relevant designer. There is a temptation to obsess over design and design related literature. However, reading books outside of your main area of expertise is essential in becoming a professional. Dedicate yourself to reading at least one non-design non-fiction book every month. Doing so will help you to have more understanding of the world around you, making you into a multi-dimensional, more interesting person. This will only help you in your professional career.
What are you doing to improve your skills and personal development as a designer?
Tags: design training, improve your design skills, personal development, professional development, stay relevant as a designer, Web Design, website design
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Monday, July 9th, 2012
Ask most any designer and they’ll tell you that the design process is very personal. What works for one designer, may not work for another. In truth, most of the time, our process is ever-changing. With each project, new ways of doing things come to light and redefine how we approach a design challenge.
Refining The Process
When I started out in web design I felt as though there was a right or wrong process to design. As I grew in the field, I noticed that, yes, there are a few practices that are essential to delivering quality design work, but much of the process was up to me to decide what worked and what didn’t work to help me get to an excellent solution.
Discovery is one of those areas that I feel is essential to any design process. Without a deep understanding of the problem, the objectives, the industry, the message, the history and the audience a designer is merely guessing or pacifying either his own ego or the ego of the client. Neither of which will deliver an effective solution. Knowing exactly what the objective is and the story behind the objective allows for a more focussed approach. (more…)
Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
In working with clients on their websites over the years it’s become apparent that most people put an emphasis on the homepage of their website. I do to. The homepage is an important piece of your online marketing puzzle. It’s a place to engage users and give a distilled, powerful introduction to your brand. The homepage is considered to be the most important landing page of the whole website.
We may need to change our thinking.
The fact is that people will find your site in a variety of ways—many of those ways will not take them to your homepage. If your implementing an SEO strategy at all, you’ll be deep linking to all kinds of pages within your site structure, not just the homepage. You’re most likely getting lots of articles and pages from your site ranked high for long-tail keywords as well.
What’s the point?
Not everyone will be going to your homepage. In fact, the net traffic to sub-pages and blog posts is usually far greater than homepage traffic.
So what is the solution?
More often than not, interior pages are simply a “dumping ground” for content. A simple template is produced and marketers or website managers throw content into the “shell”. It’s time we become more on purpose with the foundation of our websites.
In my view, we need to approach website design from the inside out. Start with designing the interior pages and optimize them for conversion—first. Make sure that we are putting the necessary thought into each interaction. We need to think about the users that are accessing our content from different sources and providing interactions that help them engage with our companies more easily. Once we have successfully designed the “foundation” pages we can then start to design specific landing pages and then finally the homepage.
This is the exact opposite way that most websites are built. I think that adopting this method will create more effective websites that generate more conversions and revenue. And that’s always a welcome change!
Thursday, May 17th, 2012
If you have a website, then most likely you are trying, in some way to get your visitors to do something. With professional service firms, typically, that action is to contact the firm, or fork over contact information (lead-gen). To be effective, all websites need to have a conversion strategy in place. Otherwise they have a good chance of simply taking up space on a server and draining your account of money.
A website should make you money, and conversions is how that money is made.
Here are 10 elements of a high converting website.
Calls to action
Number one on the list is the absolute most important element: Calls to action. Without calls to action the user will have little opportunity to know what you would like them to do. People need and want to know what to do next. By nature, most people aren’t too aggressive, even the ones who seem to be so. They also don’t want to think to hard and have to dig to find out what you would like them to do. Have a clear call to action saying exactly what it is that you would like them to do. Just take out the guesswork and you will be on your way to higher conversions.
Your headlines need to be succinct and compelling. The homepage headline should sum up what the site is about and why it would benefit the user. Always think “what’s in it for them (the user)” when writing headlines.
We would all like to think that everyone cares deeply about our firm’s standards, procedures and awards, but the don’t. All they really care about is their problem and how you are going to solve it. It’s a hard truth but if you embrace it, you will have a lot more success creating effective headlines (and entire websites).
Clear, on-message design
This one is a biggie. Too many times firms settle for sub-par design that is off-message, cluttered and/or has no strategy behind it. While Tommy down the street may have a copy of dreamweaver and only charge $3/hr. you’re most likely missing out on business that could be generated via a well thought out and designed website.
Clear, on-message web design means that the entire site has a defined message that is being delivered throughout the layout, color, typography and imagery. The design should help to not only build trust, but guide the eye, and increase conversions. Invest in design and it will pay you back several times over.
People do not want to think too much. It’s unfortunate, but you have to meet them where they are at. Let’s face it, people are busy, they don’t have time to hunt around your site for an hour to find what they are looking for. Make sure that your site is designed to take the guesswork out of the equation. This goes along with having clear calls to action.
Having an incentive is critical. You need to have some sort of free valuable resource to give people. Simply asking for their information is not only pushy, but a little rude. Put yourself in the user’s shoes. If someone were to ask you for your contact info, you would want something of value in exchange. That’s what I mean by incentive. Give them a no-brainer reason to become a lead.
Create a free report, video, audio seminar or any other kind of digital resource and give it away for free. You will see your conversions start to go up quickly.
Unique Value Proposition
How are you different from your competitors? What makes you unique? These are really tough marketing questions that many firms wrestle with. Answering them and then forming a value proposition is key to high conversion.
Visitors need to know why you are different from the bazillions of other firms out there, and they need to know quickly. Give them what they want. Create your unique value proposition.
Balance of information
This one is tough and has a lot to do with what industry you are in or what your market expects. Finding the balance between too much and too little information is tricky. Having too much content can lead to overwhelm. When a user is faced with too much information and choice it can be, well, too much. They can shut down and simply leave out of confusion.
Having to little information can have an adverse affect as well. It can lead to confusion on the part of the user and they can leave as quickly as they showed up.
The key is to know your audience and to keep it simple. Run some user tests and see how your balance of information works. Then, add or remove as necessary. Try to err on to little info on the homepage. You want to limit the amount of options that the user has as this can lead to inaction and frustration.
Making it easy for your visitors to navigate your site is critical. An assumption that’s often made when it comes to navigation is that the user needs to see every possible option. Giving your users to many options can have an adverse effect and actually make navigating your website harder.
Keep your navigation simple and easy to find. Use a good amount of whitespace, or frame it in so that it stands out from the rest of the layout. It’s also a good idea to stick to conventions with a navigation system. You can be creative, but don’t overdo it. Getting to creative can create confusion.
Think about how your users are going to use your site. What are they looking for and how do you perceive that they are going to get there. Create user paths on a white board, scratch paper or with 3×5 index cards. These user paths help you to visualize the user flow of your site. This exercise can help you structure your site in a way that helps your users find what they need as well as meet your goals.
Finally, a site with no personality will not convert well. Unless you’ve hired the absolute best copywriter on the planet, you’re probably going to benefit from having some personality woven into your website.
Use images of people within your organization or images of happy clients. Breathe some life into your website through color and typography to engage your users. Doing so will build trust and aid in conversions.
Conversions are the name of the game on the web. If you’re looking to increase them on your website think about these 10 points and try to integrate them. Be sure to test after you’ve implemented your changes and measure your results. Keep adjusting until you get the results you’re looking for. Happy converting!
Friday, April 27th, 2012
Building trust online is one of the most important activities that any business owner can be engaged in. Without trust, no one will buy your stuff. It’s that simple.
The challenge is that in the online world, trust does not come easy. While people are generally trusting online sources more and more, there is still a good deal of apprehension when people engage with businesses online.
Here are a few things that can help you build trust online. No one item will instantly build trust between you and your users, but a combination, over time, will position your business as a trustworthy source.
Look Your Best
Invest in the design of all aspects of your web presence. Having a branded, well-designed and cohesive message across all platforms gives people a sense of stability and trustworthiness. If your brand messaging looks disjointed, confusing or just plain tacky, people will tend to trust you less. You may be the most trustworthy business on the planet, but if people don’t perceive you in this way, then they won’t believe it. So, invest in the design of your website, blog and social media sites.
Testimonials are a key ingredient to building trust online. Your website should have testimonials throughout. Having names and organizations of the testimonial giver is critical. Take it a step further and include a photo. You can go even further and include a video testimonial. There’s really nothing more powerful in building trust than hearing a real customer/client sing your praises.
Keep Your Content Fresh
Let people know you’re alive! Having a website that has 3 year old content on it is going to do nothing for your business. Keeping your content fresh will let people know that you are still in business and ready to help them. A stale, old website or twitter feed with month old tweets says that you are either a) disorganized b) don’t care or c) out of business. Activity and updates are what attract new visitors and build trust in your organization.
The best way to keep your content fresh is to schedule time to work on your online presence. Have one day for blogging, one day to add content to your main website, and spend a half hour a day updating your social media outlets. This manageable system will keep your content fresh and not take up too much time.
People don’t want to do business with websites, they want to do business with humans. The more you can ad a human touch to your site, the better. Add photos of you and your staff. Real images let people into your organization. Your users can get an inside look as to who you are and what you’re all about. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple strategy.
Reply to any comments on your blog. Get back to people who contact you through your website in a timely manner. Don’t use an auto-responder for your contact form. Have a real person respond. Start and engage in conversations on social media without selling. Just be involved with the people that you serve.
Building trust is a good amount of work, but it is not too complicated. With a little persistence you can create an online presence that brings in new business that already trust and like you. And, it can do it while you sleep.
What do you think?
Thursday, March 29th, 2012
In a recent statistic around 75% of small businesses do not have a website. On the one hand, this is a tragedy. These small businesses could be missing out on a substantial amount of leads and new business.
On the other hand, this is a good opportunity for those small businesses to get online the right way. If you are thinking of getting your first website up, or if you already have one, here are some things to avoid when designing your website. Unless you want to annoy your users and lower your conversion rate!
Have a “Splash” or “Intro” Page
Ok, so you’ve got this amazing flash video presentation that you paid thousands for showing your products and services saving the world. It’s stunning, it’s entertaining, it’s dynamic and it’s going to annoy the pants off your users. Literally, the only people who care about this are YOU (and maybe your mother).
Your website users don’t want to see a fancy video presentation, usually. If they do, they want to have the control to start and stop it. Waiting 2 minutes for your splash page intro to finish is just making people angry and they will most likely leave your site. You may think it’s cool, but just don’t do it!
Have Auto-play Music or Video
It’s tempting, I know. You want to “set the mood” when people arrive. But, think about it. Many people listen to their own music while online. Now, when they visit your site, they hear your song clashing with their music causing a super-annoying soup of sound—not what you were going for.
What about the user who has their speakers or headphones up REALLY LOUD and forgot that they were on. All of a sudden your awesome music comes on and scares the daylights out of them! Again, probably not the impression you were going for.
Music is great to have on a website, just let your users control how and when they listen to it!
Have An All-Flash Website
Sorry to all the flash developers out there, but, flash is simply unnecessary these days. It adds no value to a website, and the few instances that flash would be semi-appropriate (like content sliders and image galleries), jQuery does a fine job.
If you are thinking of having your whole website built-in flash, just don’t do it. No one will be able to see anything on your site using an iPhone or iPad, your site will load slower, and Goggle won’t index your content. Just not a good idea and a great way to annoy your users.
At the end of the day, it’s best to stick with conventions. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Give your users control over their experience and you will have much more success online.
What else annoys you when visiting a website?
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Many business owners know about blogging. They know that it can help their business. However, there is an apprehension to actually getting down to business and writing out a post.
This is completely understandable. Not everyone is excited about writing. Especially for business! It can be difficult to know what to write about and what content would be useful to users.
Here are a few things to help you get started
Write Posts That Help
Before you start a post, think, “How is this going to add value to my readers?”. This will prevent you from writing just about your business and your accomplishments. Not that it’s bad to write about those things, just keep those posts in moderation.
Try and write helpful posts that give some sort of value to your readers.
Break Up The Content
People scan web pages, and rarely read long paragraphs. Break up your content with headings and/or images. Write short, easily digestible paragraphs that deliver quick information. (more…)
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
As we all know by now, mobile is the new black, pink and whatever other color you can think of. Mobile is not going away anytime soon and it is increasingly becoming integrated into our lives. In fact, studies show that mobile web browsing will outpace traditional desktop browsing within 2-3 years. Some studies say even sooner.
For business owners and marketers, this shift can seem daunting as it ads in a huge layer of complexity and perceived cost. What approach do you take? Where do you start, and when?
The when part is really up to you, but for the how piece of the puzzle, I would look no further than Responsive Design.
Here are 6.5 reasons why you should consider updating your company site to utilize Responsive Design.
1. You Will Save Money
Before the practice of Responsive Design was widely adopted (it still isn’t, really), if companies wanted to have an optimal mobile experience of their website a separate set of templates or a device-specific app had to be designed and developed.
As you might guess, this can get quite costly. One site for iPhone, one site for iPad, another for Android etc. Then, what happens when a new device comes out? Make another website or app specific to that device? I’m guessing most business owners don’t want to spend that kind of cash just to keep up.
The beauty of Responsive Design is in the fact that it enables your site to fit perfectly in any screen size. One website, all devices. That means that your website only has to be developed once, significantly reducing the cost. (more…)
Friday, March 16th, 2012
When I meet with clients for the first time, they are often very excited about starting or revamping their web presence. Many times, in the excitement, they haven’t given thought to what types of content/pages they want to have on their site.
While every business is different, these five pages are essential to a business website. The titles could change a little and maybe one or two top-level pages could be added, but generally, users want to see this info about your business. This list is a good starting point for most businesses out there.
Ok, pretty obvious, I know. But it’s worth mentioning. Your homepage should be unique to all your other pages. It should be simple, clear and provide essential information to the user in a short amount of time.
Here’s a list of effective homepage elements: