Category Archives: Websites

Coding: important + invisible

The unseen best practices in coding and why they matter.

web development process

Design is all about the stuff you can see – the clean flow of information, the pretty pictures, the right choice of colors to inspire your audience. No way. Give me Times New Roman and #000 (black)/#fff (white) any day.

So, this is probably why I never made the design team.

Instead, I work on the structure that supports those designs, and helps them respond to different devices and load in your browser window – whichever one you choose to use. Any code I write needs to be written for flexibility, so you’re not boxed in later on in your site’s lifespan. It must be updateable, efficient, and able to respond to a myriad of user possibilities with relative grace.

The most important coding efforts are the ones you can’t see. So today, I want to highlight a few best practices that I use when coding here at The Simons Group, and why they matter to your project.

Version Control

What It Is:

Version control allows us to take snapshots of the project code so we can see exactly what’s changing over time. It also makes it very easy for me to share my code and work on it collaboratively with other developers.

Why It Matters:

We’re always looking for ways to be more efficient while we’re on the clock. Having sound version control practices in place dramatically reduces troubleshooting time by illuminating precise changes and creating several points in history we can easily roll back to as needed. It can also help to quickly recover in the case of a new update causing a compatibility issue.

DRY Coding

What it is:

DRY stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself. DRY coding means you’ve taken time to think about what you’re going to do with the code, and organized things into a clean bundle. For example, if you have a single primary color in the site, you’ve stored that as a variable (using a language like SASS) so that you call it once instead of writing it out everywhere.

Why it matters:

Again – efficiency is key. Say in two years, your company goes through a rebrand and changes its color from #273758 (medium blue) to # 010825 (dark blue). Think of how simple and seamless this change is if you only need to make it in one place.

It matters to browsers, too. Speed matters, down to milliseconds, whether you’re going for search engine ranking or user experience. Sites with WET (write everything twice) or CRY (constantly repeating yourself) coding create redundancy, which leads to larger page sizes and longer loading times.

Development Tools

What they are:

Sometimes the magic lies in good runtime libraries and package managers (like Node.js, Bower) that help developers quickly add in new features, code snippets, and extensions that can be used in the site immediately.

Sometimes it’s in the setup – using a fast local development environment like Vagrant, or a tool like Browser Sync to improve coding efficiency. Or the right text editor to code (my favorite is Atom) and sync flawlessly with your version control program.

Why they matter:

Coding is like woodworking – part skill and part tools. Having the right suite of development tools at hand, and being versed in using them appropriately, is the hallmark of an experienced developer. Tools might enable functionality, or just make development time more meaningful.

The beauty in efficient coding lies beneath the surface.

So don’t ask me to help you understand which colors work well together. Instead, call me when you need a coding ninja, silent, swift and dangerous with a pair of {brackets}.

How do you use coding to support web design? Tell us about it in the comments?

The biggest mistake you’re making in your website content

content writing for compelling websitesHere’s a quick test: Go to the home page of your website and read the first sentence or phrase. Does it start with “We”? If so, it’s time to change your perspective.

Just like your eyes glaze over when your date drones on about his latest juice cleanse, a prospect will lose interest fast in a self-centered company. You may think you’re providing your readers with helpful information, but simply listing your company’s qualities and product features in exhaustive detail isn’t going to cut it.

To connect with your audience, put yourself in their shoes – it’s about them, not you. Here’s a guide to writing content that turns prospects into customers.

  1. Focus on their needs. What problems are your customers trying to solve? How does your solution meet their needs? Identify the top two or three things you can do for clients, whether it’s save them time through automation software or satisfy their hunger with a delicious pizza, and lead with those in your content.

Bonus tip: Back up your claims with success stories or testimonials from other clients when possible. Hearing a third party sing your praises is much more convincing.

  1. Use active language. Consider this sentence: “Our financial services firm draws on its wealth of experience to create customized plans for our clients.” It’s all about the company, not about the customers it’s trying to reach.

Now try it this way: “Secure your family’s financial future by partnering with our experienced managers to create a wealth management plan.” Clear, personal and empowering.

Bonus tip: Get to the point. Two to three sentences per paragraph are plenty.

  1. Make the call to action clear. Once a prospect has read your persuasive prose, what do you want them to do? Fill out a form? Sign up for your newsletter? Make the path to conversion obvious and compelling by spelling it out.

Bonus tip: If you’re directing prospects to a form, keep it short. According to this Unbounce post, one company saw a 120 percent spike in submissions by reducing its form fields from 11 to four.

What are your best techniques for writing compelling site content? Let us know in the comments below!

Jump-start your company’s growth with SEO

company growth, SEO, business growthEvery company wants to be the first hit on Google. That sort of visibility helps open doors for new business and sets your firm apart from the competition. But marketing managers can’t just cross their fingers and hope for the best; even basic search engine optimization (SEO) involves a lot of strategy.

SEO should leverage your company’s content, website layout and targeted marketing techniques to improve your organic search engine ranking, which can be significantly less expensive than advertising. To ensure your material is relevant and up to date, Google and other major search engines use “spiders,” automated programs that analyze content, to flag keywords and follow links on your site. The spiders and algorithms prevent keyword-packed, but otherwise unhelpful pages from earning top spots on the search engine’s list.

Unpaid, organic search results rely on these ever-changing algorithms to separate quality content from irrelevant pages. Luckily, SEO strategists have identified a couple of key ways for firms to improve their positions online using search-engine-friendly content.

The first step to improving your company’s search engine position is to align keywords in your site’s content with common search phrases for your target market. For example, a television repair company would benefit from searches related to “television repair” or “broken television,” so it should adjust its website’s content to make sure these keywords appear regularly and in different combinations. Incorporating a variety of related keywords throughout your site helps to tick a lot of boxes for the search engine algorithms, while also providing engaging content for your visitors.

Another way to improve your company’s search engine position is through linking. Search engine algorithms evaluate and rank your page based on how it is connected to other credible, relevant pages. Create connections for your site by linking to target market publications and professional firms associated with your industry. You can also use your social media to create valuable inbound links that others can pick up and share with the click of a button.

Starting to incorporate industry keywords and linking to relevant sites can greatly improve your firm’s online presence, but the most important piece of the SEO puzzle is creating a consistent stream of quality content that keeps visitors coming back for more. Leveraged correctly, these strategies can lead to great opportunities for your business’ growth.

Is the spring weather inspiring strategies for growing your company? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

5 tips for world-class staff photos

picture perfect

An up-to-date website typically includes staff photos, regardless of your industry. While staff photos may seem like a straightforward task, they play a huge role in ensuring your company puts its best foot forward. Below are some tips and tricks that will help you make a great impression:

  1. Keep it simple: Intricate photos can be exciting, but you won’t be appearing in Vogue. Keep your images nice and professional, and be sure they reflect your firm and corporate culture.
  1. Streamline backgrounds: You need the flexibility to add and adjust images without bringing in lighting equipment and backgrounds every time you update your photo roster. Make sure the setup gets you the shot you’re looking for without the hassle of bringing in all that extra equipment (and it will likely save you a lot of money).
  1. Keep it consistent: Take each photo in a similar manner. It’s fine to use different poses and colors for different employees, but make sure they share a similar theme.
  1. Use suitable lighting: I can’t tell you how many times I have seen staff photos that are incredibly dark, defeating the purpose of having photos in the first place. Bright, soft lights create nice well-lit portraits.
  1. Know your target market: We all like to flex our creative muscles every now and then, but make sure you appeal to your target audience in all of your marketing initiatives — from pictures to copy.

Does your website include employee photos? Is it true that a picture is worth 1,000 words? Let us know in the comments below.

3 top marketing trends for 2015

video

We may be looking forward to evolving for the new year, but we’re not the only ones. Marketing is evolving, too, and many new trends are on the horizon. After keeping tabs on the latest predictions for 2015, I’d like to share three trends industry experts agree will be hot:

  1. Video will become more popular than ever. According to DigitalSherpa, “75 percent of executives watch work-related videos on business websites at least once a week.” That makes sense when you think about the fact that video helps your customers and prospects understand your products better through demonstrations and that your customers can relate to you on a more human level by seeing some of your personality.
  2. Mobile-responsive design will be king in marketing. Smart Insights predicts that Google will penalize companies that don’t have mobile-friendly websites.
  3. Sales pitches will evolve. Companies are steering away from cold calls and are helping their sales associates become subject matter experts. Lead generators must learn how their company’s solutions align with various budgets and business challenges and focus on solving customers’ challenges.

Have you read about any other trends for next year? Let us know in the comments below.

New project: Altura Group website

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 11.42.44 AM

We recently completed a website for Altura Group, a startup consulting firm. Although they are a startup, founder Dave Marshall has years of experience helping businesses achieve their long- and short-term goals.

We’ve worked with Dave and his right-hand woman, Suzanne Jacob, in the past on videos and a website, so for them it was a no-brainer to reach out to us to develop a website for Dave’s new venture.

Working closely with Suzanne, we developed a modern and professional website to help Dave secure new business. The site uses large, inspirational imagery with Altura’s carefully crafted copy to promote trust, strength and relationship- building.

We’re excited about this site and want to show it off. Check it out here and let us know what you think in the comments.

The value of a great illustration

Illustration is one of the most effective tools for enhancing designs, but marketers and clients often overlook it. They’re missing a great opportunity. When used effectively, illustration is one of the best ways to give your marketing materials a unique personality and make them stand out from the crowd.

Consider this Tiffany & Co. campaign. Illustrator Minna May adds so much charm and life to the company’s marketing materials. In turn, the entire campaign has a solid identity.

minnamay_tiffanyco

The Pollenize website also demonstrates a great way of using illustration. Instead of using predictable photographs of the candidate, the designer chose stylized illustrations of trains, planes, buses and other vehicles to infuse the site with personality.

A few other notable campaigns that use illustrations effectively include:

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Chipotle-Bill-Hader-Dakyung-Lee-IIHIH

5

Whole-Foods-Market

spca-poster1

chipotle1

The next time you’re starting a marketing campaign, consider using an eye-catching illustration to grab your audience’s attention.

What do you like about illustrations? Have you used them in your marketing? Let us know in the comments below.

Orchidia: Exhibiting fresh style through a new website

orchidia-ss

We’re pleased to announce the recent launch of Orchidia Fragrances’ new website!

The website is the vision of Ross Sprovieri, executive vice president of Orchidia. He wanted the site to be clean and elegant and to promote user interaction in a unique, yet intuitive way.

The result is an airy design with minimal distraction and easy navigation. Instead of a text-based, top-level navigation, we integrated the elemental icons used to promote the four pillars of the company’s mission: transparency, insight, adaptability and sustainability.

We designed and coded the site as a custom theme for integration with WordPress – our favorite content management system (CMS). The site’s embedded responsive design allows it to adapt to different browser window sizes and viewing devices, such as tablets and phones. The user base for the site is worldwide, so we built the site to accommodate three translations: English, Spanish and Mandarin.

During the development process, we trained key individuals at Orchidia to use WordPress and how to manage the nuances of this particular CMS site. The training allowed the Orchidia team to add content while we were still working on the site development. This combination of efforts allowed for a quicker site launch, and allowed us to troubleshoot and debug any issues with real content in place.

Check it out and use the comments below to let us know what you think!

Don’t let SEO scam artists scare you

Money manHave you ever gotten one of those calls from an “SEO expert” who claims he can guarantee success for your website in organic searches? Or an email that rips your current website apart with official-looking reports telling you all that’s “wrong” with your site?

If so, you’re the target of an SEO scam, along with many other people. The best defense against these con artists is to educate yourself on the topic. I know you’re likely too busy taking care of your own laundry list of responsibilities and don’t have the time and resources needed to become experts, so I created a list of the most widespread SEO claims you should be aware of when searching for the right SEO firm.

1. Unsolicited reports: If an SEO company sends you an unrequested report with a lot of frightening statistics that supposedly cover items such as page rank and meta descriptions, be very leery. These scare tactics typically rely on outdated reporting methods and can cover items that search engines no longer deem valuable.

2. Guaranteed search rankings: One of the scams I see often and our clients tell us about hinges on some sort of guarantee about getting your website to the top of the list or the first page of search results. Having a high search ranking revolves around the age of your content and site traffic.You can increase traffic by providing engaging and useful content, but there are no guarantees.

3. Claims to know the inner workings of search algorithms: Search engine algorithms are intricate and ever-changing. People in the SEO field may know about some aspects that affect rankings, but they’re not privy to all the ins and outs of what goes into each algorithm.These are closely guarded secrets.

4. Content ownership: If you pay for it, you should own it. When speaking with SEO firms, make sure you ask who will “own” the content you’ll be purchasing. Unreputable SEO companies will hold your content prisoner, or if they’re really shady, sell it to your competitors.

5. Cheap SEO: Remember the adage, “You get what you pay for?” This especially holds true in the SEO world. SEO is hard work and requires a serious time commitment to do correctly. If an “SEO expert” claims he can help you for a ridiculously low price, this is most likely a scam. These experts could be reselling the same content to everyone or using underhanded tactics that could ultimately get your site banned from search engines. SEO is always time-consuming and high-quality SEO work is not severely discounted.

6. False expiration notices: Another widely used scare tactic is a false expiration notice. You may receive these notices in snail mail or email. They may claim your domain is about to expire and that unless you renew it, the search engines will drop you and your customers will no longer be able to find you.

These are the top scams I come across regularly. Let us know if you’ve seen other creative SEO ploys.

Beat blogger’s block with 4 tips

QuestionAs you develop an identity for your blog, consider some offbeat options or creative ways to present your content. Keep a list of topics handy when you begin to write so you don’t struggle for content at the last minute.

Here are some ideas you can use immediately:

1. Stand out from your competitors by taking a fresh view. For example, one company posted a blog for an engineer in the perspective of a guide dog. The dog talked about what the engineer did throughout the day. You can also keep things interesting with video, audio, infographics, pictures and links.

2. Make the customer a hero. Write a story that explains how a customer used your products or services to save the day.

3. Satisfy inquiring minds. You know what people ask, so be proactive and answer the questions in detail. You can post one question and answer each week to get more mileage from your blog. Capture readers’ attention by making each question the headline.

4. Showcase your employees. Introduce the team and what they do. Inject personality by including their favorite quotes, sports teams, foods, etc. Here’s an example of how to have fun with employee profiles.

Blogs are a way of expressing yourself. Tell your readers what you feel and what you’ve experienced. Teach them something about your company or share a unique perspective on a topic. Get more blogging tips here and here.

How do you keep the blog content machine going? Let us know in the comments below.