6 Website Improvements You Don’t Need a Web Design Company For

This was posted on October 7th, 2015

6-improvementsThis might seem like a bit of an odd blog post for a web design company to be publishing, but we think it’s important to be clear and transparent. After all, there are a lot of simple improvements you can make to your website without having to hire a specialist web design company to do them for you. Here are our top 6:

1. Adding information

Your homepage needs to serve a function. It’s not simply the hub from which all other pages link, as the web has evolved and every page on your website is effectively a landing page.

Your homepage needs to respond to basic questions that people visiting the site will have. These are usually wanting to know what services you offer, what you charge and how you can help them. Don’t go selling your company (and definitely avoided the dreaded ‘Here at Company X, we…’ line). Speak to your customer, not from your company.

The five things you need to answer on your homepage are: Who are you? What do you do? What value can you offer potential customers? What makes you different? What should they do next?

2. No obvious forward movement

There needs to be a call to action on every page. Where do you want users to go once they’ve finished on that page? If you don’t tell them, they’ll tell you: they’ll go to another site. And probably a competitor’s site at that. Give them a big button that allows them to get in touch. Throw them your phone number. Give them a contact form. Anything to get them to move on to the next step. People won’t use your menus or automatically want to stick on your website — they’ll be off if you don’t give them a logical, real reason to stay.

The best way to handle this is to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What is the logical next step they’d want to take after viewing this content? If you’re the sort of person who answers ‘They’d want to find out about how our company was formed’ or ‘They’d want to see pictures of our directors and the industry accreditations they have’, firstly give yourself a slap round the face and secondly get someone else — who doesn’t work for your company – to put themselves in the shoes of a website visitor and answer the question.

3. A sign-up box or form with no introduction

Having a sign-up box or contact form in order to harvest email addresses is a fantastic marketing opportunity which you should definitely take advantage of. However, simply having a ‘sign up here’ market with a box and a submit button just won’t cut it.

Why should someone enter their email address? Would you do it with a strange company you’d never heard of? Who wants to sign up to a ‘company newsletter’? Answer: No-one. Give them something. Give them a reason to enter their email address. Will they get exclusive discounts? Free stuff? A call from a salesperson? Let them know!

4. Keep your content up to date

The importance of this really can’t be understated. If your website footer says ‘Copyright 2009’ or your latest news article is from 2013, how do customers know you’re still in business? We can tell you one thing: they sure as hell won’t phone you up to find out. They’ll go off to a competitor who they know’s still in business because they can see it from their website.

The bottom line is that if you don’t put the care and attention into something as simple as keeping your website up to date, the subconscious reading that potential customers get is that you won’t put the care and attention into your products or services either.

5. Don’t overwhelm them with content

What you don’t want is a plethora of buttons and menu choices all over the site. Keep it simple, give users a path through your website to find out the information they require and then get in touch with you. Anything else is extraneous, wastes your time writing or creating it and will likely put potential customers off.

If you keep things basic and simple, you’ll be rewarded by customers who haven’t had to spend hours trawling through a website. After all, the average time users spend on any given website is seconds. Surprised? Make sure you allow them to use those seconds wisely, then.

6. Confusing navigation

Do your website visitors really need to know the biographies of your directors? Nope, so get rid of that page. Do they want to see a testimonials page? Probably not, unless they’re time-travelling from 2003. Get rid of it. Do you need separate pages for Locations, Opening Times and Contact Us? No, they all belong on the same page.

Slim down your menu and navigation by getting rid of extraneous pages and merging them into clear, obvious sections where possible. If one of your menu items could quite legitimately go under another existing menu heading, put it there. People are quite happy to scroll these days. What they’re not happy to do is keep clicking from page to page.

 

Are you starting to spot some themes? As with most web design practices, it’s about keeping it simple and straightforward for the end user. People don’t want a laborious, confusing online experience. They are going online to look for products or services because they want it to be simple, straightforward and effective. Don’t make them go elsewhere.

Keep your content simple, customer-focused and streamlined. Never work from the inside out – always from the outside in. Work from what your customer wants to find out, not from what you want to tell your customer. The likelihood is there won’t be much crossover between the two and your customer will never feel connected to your company. And after all, that’s not a great business move.

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Getting Your Website up to Date Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult…

This was posted on September 28th, 2015

update

Fashions change all the time — that’s true in everything, but on the web it’s even more pertinent. The online world moves so much faster than everything else and new technologies and standards are constantly being introduced to improve everyone’s lives. As a website owner, it’s vital that you keep up with these trends.

The web is the origin for the vast majority of business in this country, and that’s growing all the time. We’re getting ever more connected and using technology to our advantage, and if your business isn’t making the most of that technological change you’re going to be missing out — big time.

You’re likely to be worrying a little and panicking at the thought of all that time and effort, not to mention the cost. Fear not. Getting your website up to date doesn’t need to be difficult or even expensive. There are a number of ways you can keep on top of the zeitgeist and ensure that your website is kept as up-to-date as possible at all times.

Keep an eye on what’s going on

This might sound obvious, but keep tabs on the leading sites in your industry to see what they’re doing. If it’s working for them, there’s probably a very good reason for that. We’re not just talking about design, either. Look at the sales process, how orders are handled, search functions, the way in which the information architecture is designed.

You should also look at leading sites that aren’t in your niche, as there are certain industries and sectors which tend to lead in terms of online technology. By keeping fully abreast, you could be the first early adopter in your industry.

Test, test and test again

This is more important now than it’s ever been. It used to be the case that new websites were tested on three different monitor resolutions. That’s now been blown out of the window by people using laptops and desktops and anything from a 13-inch screen to an enormous 4K retina display. The variation is huge.

What’s more, Macs are much more popular, as is Linux and other operating systems. Mobile browsing has taken over desktop and laptop browsing too, so ensuring that your website displays effectively across all of these media is vital to capturing your whole target audience.

Get feedback

Find out what your customers and your target market think of your website from a variety of angles by asking them. Set up a survey or ask them individually, looking at the design and layout, sales process, information and ease of navigation. In any other area of your business you’d want to know what your customers and target market thought, so why not your online shopfront?

Sometimes it just needs a complete overhaul

If you’ve let things slip for a while, you might well just need to bite the bullet and get your website completely overhauled. Maintenance and constant attention is always the best way to keep your website up to date without the large costs or efforts, but if it’s been a while since you’ve given your website some love you might be better off starting again.

That doesn’t need to sound daunting, though. A complete overhaul can bring your website and your company right up to date and help to boost business from the off, showing your company to be a modern, forward thinking business which cares for its customers.

Moving forward

Keeping on top of things is vital. If you’re on the ball and constantly monitoring what’s going on around you, you can implement these changes in your business and use them to your advantage.

Let’s face it: that’s the same as you’d do in any other area of your business, isn’t it? You have to adapt and keep your eye on what’s going on, changing things so that your business can continue to operate and grow. The web is no different, and with it being (potentially) responsible for such an enormous chunk of your business, you really can’t afford to be slack when it comes to keep your website up to date.

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The Tricky Problem of Quality Website Content

This was posted on September 21st, 2015

web-content

For as long as SEO has been around, the importance on quality content has been touted. In fact, quality content has become more and more important as the web has evolved, with Google prioritising good quality websites and articles in their results pages. Sounds straightforward, right?

Unfortunately not. Writing quality content is actually very difficult and is a refined art. It’s actually surprisingly common for people to get a web design company to create the layout and design for their website and then write the content themselves. The result is a fantastic eye-catching design and a load of stuffy content that bores the socks off people.

Would you hire a professional copywriter to create your website’s content and then quickly knock up a website layout for it in Microsoft Paint on your laptop? No, of course you wouldn’t, so don’t do it the other way round!

It could easily be argued that the content of a website is even more important than the design. After all, people aren’t coming to your website to look at your colour scheme or menu design; they’re coming for your content. They want to know how you can solve their problems and offer them what they want, why they should choose you and how they can get in touch with you.

You should, at all costs avoid:

  • Content that’s been generated automatically
  • Pages with very little content (under 350 words, generally) or unoriginal content
  • Hidden text
  • Content that has appeared elsewhere on the web

These are the biggest no-nos in creating website content. Put it this way: Google will know if you’re trying to be sneaky. Doing things the right way will always get you the best results. And it’ll allow you to sleep at night.

Above all, your content needs to be readable. In other words, sentences such as ‘Our innovative team of executives is experienced in providing corporate redistribution solutions to the expanding global marketplace’. *Snore* Put some life into it! Show that an actual person has written the text! (Look at that paragraph there for an example.)

People’s attention spans on the web are extraordinarily limited. They won’t read websites in the same way they read newspapers or letters. They’ll just disappear off elsewhere, to a website with far better and professionally written content.

Your focus should always be on the reader; not the search engines. If your readers love your content, search engines will follow. That’s the holy grail. Your content needs to be interesting, informative and entertaining or people just won’t want to share it. And, let’s face it, the internet is all about sharing these days. We get more and more of our online input from social media than we do from Googling our own stuff.

And remember: keeping the quality of your content as high as possible doesn’t mean getting your thesaurus out and showing off at all the big words you can use.

If you want to make sure your website’s content is professional, engaging and designed to help you get more business through your website, give us a call and speak to us about our content creation services.

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Get Your Website Ready for Christmas!

This was posted on September 14th, 2015

christmas-website

Don’t worry, we’ve not lost the plot. We know it’s only the 14th of September, but the fact of the matter is that if you’ve not already got your website ready for Christmas you’re going to be losing out on business.

With the growth of online retail, consumers are getting their Christmas shopping out of the way sooner and sooner each year, preferring to get it all done so they can concentrate on the finer details of Christmas preparations closer to the time.

Consumers are shopping earlier

It’s true to say that consumers are trying to spread the cost of Christmas more and more, and November and December is an expensive time for families buying decorations, travelling to see family, ordering the Christmas turkey and all of the other expenses that come with the festive season. With most people wanting to avoid the Great December Rush, you need to have your website ready for Christmas long before November has even reared its ugly head.

The good news is that there’s still time. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that readying your website for Christmas isn’t a case of reactivating the JavaScript code that puts falling snowflakes on your homepage or popping a Christmas tree in the corner as if it’s your living room. We’re talking about a deliberate concerted effort to entice users to get their Christmas shopping done as soon as possible.

Stand apart from the competition

The competition during the run-up to Christmas is huge, so you need some way of standing apart from your competition. One of the best ways is to get in there earlier, perhaps by offering discounts for customers ordering their Christmas shopping online before the end of September or October.

Research shows that customers are likely to spend more on their Christmas shopping earlier in the year as they’ll be able to spread the cost. When it comes to December, most of the Christmas budget will have been spent on decorations, food and other miscellaneous festive items.

Make sure your website’s infrastructure is sound

The likelihood is that the hits to your website will increase over the Christmas period, so you should be sure that your server will be able to handle the load. If you’re on a shared hosting platform you’ll be sharing your server load with other retailers’ websites, too. The last thing you want is for users to be unable to access your website and to head to your competitor instead.

Likewise, if your website is not optimised for mobile viewing you’re going to be missing out on a lot of business. The majority of web browsing is now done on mobiles and a huge percentage of people buy products using their mobile phones.

If your website does not automatically adapt to the user’s device, they’re not going to waste time scrolling and zooming; they’ll go to your competitor’s more accessibly-designed website instead and give them the business. The number of people using mobile devices to buy online is growing each week and will very quickly eclipse the number of people using laptops or desktop computers, leaving you catering only for the diminishing minority.

Make it accessible

And we’re not just talking about mobile accessibility either. Accessibility in terms of payment options (credit/debit card, PayPal, Google Checkout, Bitcoin) will open up the likelihood of purchasing to more and more people. Flexibility is key online, and making the user’s purchasing journey shorter and easier is what’s going to get you their business.

The days of people being impressed by websites and the technology is, largely, over. The internet is now an everyday part of our lives and we want it to be as simple, convenient and comprehensive as we want everything else in our lives to be. Quicker, easier and more complete is the way forward and you should ensure that your website embodies those three key values.

Getting some help

If you know your website probably isn’t up to scratch for the Christmas rush, you don’t need to worry. We’re on hand to help get things ship-shape and get your website ready to ensure your business makes the most of this Christmas.

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6 New Design Trends to Consider on Your New Website

This was posted on August 31st, 2015

new-design-trends

Keeping up with new design trends is an important way to show your users and potential customers that you’re a forward-thinking company who puts their users first.

That last bit is especially important, as new technologies need to be adopted sparingly and carefully in order to ensure that new users aren’t put off. Here are 6 new design trends which have become mainstream enough that most web users will be comfortable using.

1. Ghost buttons and line icons

Minimalistic iconography is big business at the moment, and has been largely spearheaded by Apple’s launch of iOS7. It uses line-based icons and graphics, usually transparent buttons and thin lines to keep things simple, lighter and with a focus on supporting additional photography and illustration. It provides a ‘flat’ interface which keeps things simple in the eyes of the end user.

2. Reduced imagery in headers and backgrounds

It used to be pretty standard for a company’s website to have a title banner across the top with a background image, on which their company name and slogan was superimposed. This is starting to die out now, with more simple design and web-based technologies taking place of these old print-based styles. Bright colour and bold typography is the way forward when it comes to focusing the eye.

3. Material design

Flat, modular design is definitely back in on the web. Clean, minimalistic layouts which use bright colours, ergonomic shapes and simple typography keep things simple for the user, allowing them to navigate your site and find information easily. This style was originally developed by Google, who describe it as being ‘grounded in tactile reality’. Engaging simplicity to enhance the user experience is the name of the game, and it’s been very successful.

4. Microinteractions

It used to be that clicking a link or button would take you to a totally different page. That’s no longer the case. Subtle interactions are the new player in town, with small animations and interactions such as those found when you accept or reject a friend request on Facebook or LinkedIn. The old request disappears and new ones replace it without you leaving the page or anything having to reload. Amazon also uses these effectively, enabling you to Subscribe & Save quickly without having to veer off on a tangent.

5. Interactive infographics

Infographics aren’t really new any more, but interactive ones certainly are. Users can engage with the information displayed and navigate their way through the ‘story’ of the infographic. This enables you to show information in a very effective way which enhances the user experience and keeps them engaged.

6. Full screen videos

This seems remarkably counterintuitive, seeing as web usability is usually focused around not forcing things on users — especially not videos, and especially not full-screen elements. But when this is done carefully, using looping images in HTML5, for example, the effect is far more sophisticated — especially if it’s integrated in a more usable way, as Apple did with their Apple Watch page. It’s not intrusive and it actually enhances the user experience.

And that’s the crux of the whole usability/technology argument: it’s not about new technologies being bad, but about using them effectively to enhance the user experience rather than interrupting it.

If you’d like to speak to us about integrating new design elements into your website in order to enhance the experience for your end users — and potential customers — give us a call to see what we could do for you.

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5 Outdated Web Trends to Steer Clear of

This was posted on August 24th, 2015

outdated-web-trends

Web technologies are moving quicker than ever, but it’s still relatively easy to keep up to speed — especially if you’re working with a web design company whose job it is to keep abreast of the latest developments.

It’s not just about embracing new technologies, either; it’s about dropping old ones which could make users disappear from your website quicker than you can say ‘animated GIF’. Here are 5 seriously outdated web trends you should not be using on your site.

1. Videos and music which autoplay

This is one of the best ways to ensure a user disappears from your website and never comes back. It’s annoying, frustrating and almost everyone switches it straight off or closes their browser. Even music-less videos or animations are confusing and annoying. Statistics show that people disappear very quickly and don’t come back, so it’s certainly not a great idea.

2. Separate ‘mobile only’ websites

When it became obvious how important mobile internet was, web designers and business owners everywhere started launching new ‘mobile only’ websites — sites which would detect you were on a mobile phone and redirect you to a different page, designed purely for mobile. The problem then is that you have two websites to maintain and update, and usually with duplicated content. This’ll get you into all sorts of trouble with the search engines and is best avoided, to say the least. Responsive design is the way forward, keeping all of your content in one place and allowing the design to respond to the user’s device.

3. Using (or overusing) Flash

Flash is certainly still around, but it’s not recommended. Apple phones and tablets, for example, can’t play it so you’ll be losing a large number of your potential visitors straightaway. Also, even desktop users often have Flash turned off (or not updated). In short, it’s a minefield and should be best avoided if possible. There are, after all, plenty of alternative (and better) technologies available.

4. Overusing image sliders

Image sliders are great in their own way, but often get ignored and can distract users. They certainly have their uses, but when they’re overused they can prove off-putting for visitors. If you’re using image sliders, leave them for your website design company to integrate rather than attempting to create your own as it’s important that accessibility is put at the forefront.

5. Showing off your new technologies

Some website owners are keen to have all the latest technologies integrated into their websites to show their users how modern they are. All this will do is confuse people, put them off and make your website bloated and take a long time to load. The result is that people will disappear very quickly and not come back. Give the user what they want, not what you want.

If you’d like to talk to us about ridding your website of dead technologies and making your website more accessible to users, give us a call.

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6 Usability Mistakes That Could Kill Your Website

This was posted on August 17th, 2015

usability-mistakes

Usability is actually a very simple concept, but it’s one that people often get so, so wrong. When people who aren’t professional web designers put a site together, the focus is far too often on the visual aesthetics rather than the underlying functionality of the site. For this reason, you can often end up with a site that looks nice enough but is actually unusable for great numbers of people.

The thing to remember is that all people are different. Just because you can use the website, or your designer or your friends can find their way around it, not everyone will be able to. Simply looking at your bounce rate in your web stats will indicate whether or not people are finding it easy to navigate your website.

It’s all about the user experience, and you need to put far, far more effort into this aspect of your website than most others. Here are some ways not to make your website accessible.

1. Confusing or dysfunctional navigation

It’s important that your site follows a hierarchical navigation structure, divided into logical sections which can be easily navigated by users. It’s all about limiting the number of things the user has to do, including mouse clicks. If a user can’t find what they’re looking for in under a minute, they’re likely to disappear off elsewhere. Orphan pages, masses of white space and a lack of search functionality will all turn off huge swathes of visitors who’ll probably never come back.

2. Setting links to open in a new window

The common view is that opening an external link in a new window will ensure that users stay on your site, at least in one browser tab. This is actually counterintuitive. If the user wants to leave the site by clicking an external link, let them. It’s all about enabling the user to find the information they want. If they don’t find it on the external link, they’ll probably hit the Back button anyway. You should never assume that your website’s so great that you shouldn’t let people away from it.

3. Clutter

There’s a fine line between limiting white space and user clicks and over-cluttering a web page to the point where the user is overwhelmed and can’t find anything anyway. White space is a good thing in moderation and should be embraced. It creates order in your page; the contrast which allows your important content to actually be seen. You know the old saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees? That applies here.

4. Use infinite scrolling sparingly

Infinite scrolling is a great way of putting all your content in one place without having to worry about loading times and clutter. After all, the extra scrolled content will only load if the user explicitly scrolls down and loads it. Brilliant, right? Not exactly. First time users won’t always know about infinite scrolling and key content certainly shouldn’t be placed ‘below the fold’ in this sense. Crowding the top half of your site, though, isn’t great either and can put first-time users off (remember that bounce rate?). For users on slower connections, too, infinite scrolling is not much fun. Use it sparingly.

5. No on-site support

You should never assume that users know how to navigate your website — or any website, for that matter. Make sure you include a help desk system, tech support or even just a simple set of FAQs. These should address problems the user may encounter on the website and should be advertised prominently, especially if you’re using some form of groundbreaking design which could confuse some users. Even just knowing the help and support is there if they need it can be enough to encourage some users to explore more fully rather than panicking.

6. Trying to move towards click-free design

This is an interesting trend, but not one which is without its problems, to say the least. Having a website respond every time you move (or stop moving) your mouse can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re just there to read an article or find some information. Most users don’t mind having to click (after all, they’re used to it) to confirm where they want to go. It’s far less frustrating than being taken somewhere they don’t want to go and haven’t clicked on, anyway.

As you can see, usability can be a minefield. Embracing new technologies is an exciting way of beefing up your website and keeping one step ahead of the game, but the end user should always be the one you try to please. Not everyone will be amazed by new technologies. In fact, most will just be confused. Keeping things simple is usually the best way to approach usability. Very few people surf the web to look at cool designs or funky new web technologies; most just want to find the information they’re looking for, and quickly. Give them what they want.

If you want to ensure your website is fully accessible from a usability point of view, why not give us a call? We can analyse your current design and let you know where you might be able to make some improvements, increasing your ROI and reducing your bounce rate at the same time.

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Mobile Search Overtakes Desktop Search

This was posted on August 10th, 2015

mobile-searchIt’s been mooted for some time that mobile search would soon overtake desktop search, but it has recently been confirmed that in many markets there are more Google searches being carried out on mobile devices than on desktop computers or laptops.

This might sound like just an interesting snippet of information at best, but the truth is that it has huge implications on anyone who runs a business or anyone who has a website. If more Google searches are being carried out on mobiles than on computers, more people will be finding your website on their mobile device than on their computer, which means that your website needs to display properly on these devices.

Research has shown time and time again that if your website doesn’t have a responsive design which adapts for mobile, you’re likely to be losing potential customers who won’t much like the idea of zooming in and out to find their way around a site which doesn’t adapt for their device. A growing number of sites do, and customers will tend to go to those instead — and they could be your competitors.

Web searches overall were up 5% between Q4 2013 and Q4 2014, but this rise — and more — is attributable entirely to mobile search. In fact, desktop searches dropped by over 200 million, with tablet searches up by a huge 1.3 billion and smartphone searches by a stratospheric 1.8 billon. It’s clear to see that considering mobile devices is no longer something to ‘also consider’, but should now be the main consideration.

These principles apply across the board, through to SEO and search marketing but the first step has to come with ensuring that your website has a mobile responsive design which can readily display across a range of mobile devices and tablets. If it doesn’t, you’re now potentially alienating more than 50% of your visitors and potential customers, and that number is growing every day you don’t do something about it.

We specialise in creating websites which are mobile responsive and designed to display across a range of smartphones and tablets, ensuring that your visitors and potential customers will be able to view your content and see your business as one which is at the forefront of technology, enabling them to get in contact with you and potentially become a customer. If you don’t take measures now, your potential losses will only get bigger.

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