Fonts

No matter how many videos, images, and interactive elements a site has, the web is still dominated by text. It is important to decide on and display a font that suits your site’s style, but doesn’t distract from the content.

Choosing a Font

People Perceive Fonts

If you’re not a designer, you probably can’t recognize a font or distinguish one from another. Visitors to your site are never going to say, “Oooh! This is Arial Narrow! How classy!” The goal in choosing a font isn’t to have the visitor react to it directly.

The human brain takes in a lot of visual information and breaks it down to figure out what we’re seeing. We might consciously recognize the shape of a tiger, or the silhouette of a tree. The first thing our eyes do is identify the basic colors, shapes, and fonts we’re seeing.

This is why major newspapers like the New York Times have developed their own proprietary fonts for use in their mastheads. You can recognize a copy of the Times from a block away because its title looks different than the title of any other newspaper. You don’t have to read the words to recognize their shape.

Some Fonts Are Overused

Everybody’s seen Times New Roman on documents because most word processors have had that as their default for many years. Consequently, a lot of hastily prepared signs and documents are slathered with an unhealthy helping of Times. Using that font now suggests that your work was hasty, no matter how professional the content.

Comic Sans suffered a similar fate. At one time using Comic Sans may have suggested a certain playfulness, but now it just looks unprofessional and is almost always out of place. It’s one step above Times New Roman: you took the time to open the Font menu, but not to select anything actually fitting your content. Never use Comic Sans.

Print vs Web

Reading text on paper is a very different experience than reading text on a screen (a whole lot of jazz about additive and subtractive color systems). For this reason, it’s important to consider the font you use and maybe consider one that you wouldn’t normally use on a print document. There is some debate over which fonts are best used for reading on a screen, but most designers lean towards using a font from the family of sans-serif typefaces.

The use of a sans-serif font leads to a cleaner looking chunk of text for a screen. On the other hand a serifed font is often easier to read, and a better choice, when creating a print document. This isn’t to say that you should never use a serifed font when designing a site, but you should most certainly consider the legibility of the font you choose.

Displaying Your Font

Now that you’ve chosen a great font, how do you make sure that it displays perfectly on your website?

Not Everybody Shares Your Fonts

Even if you amass a collection of thousands of fonts on your computer, you’ll still have a problem when it comes to web design: everybody needs to have the same font in order for it to work on your site. Simply writing font-family: “ÜberAwesome Light Italic”; only tells your visitors’ browsers to prefer that font. If your visitor doesn’t have ÜberAwesome Light Italic, the browser will have to fall back on something it does have… like Times New Roman.

Sure, if you load up your page in your own personal browser it will work great, but only because you happen to have the ÜberAwesome Light Italic font available on your own computer. Make sure your page works on a different computers.

You Can Share Fonts… Sometimes

So what’s the compromise? You don’t want to use “boring” fonts that everybody has, but you can’t just use the killer fonts in your own collection either.

If you find a good free font, or if you purchase a font with the right licensing, you may be able to publish your font in a way that lets everybody’s computer download it automatically when viewing your site. An @font-face in CSS lets you point to a font file in the same way you might point to an image that’s used on your site. Your visitors’ browsers will download the font automatically and instantly use it to display your page.

Unfortunately, not all fonts are free, and distributing a font without the right license will just land you in a heap of trouble with the copyright police. You don’t need that.

When All Else Fails, Cufon

Cufon is a compromise. If you can’t publish your font, you can still use it to display any text you want to. Cufon lets you write your page with a different font (any different font) and then JavaScript replaces every word with the font you’ve given it when your visitor opens the site. You’re not publishing the font in a way that others could download it, so you’re not violating any licensing, and you get the look you wanted.

Unfortunately there is a disadvantage to using Cufon: JavaScript has to do all those replacements. Even on a very fast computer with a speedy network connection, this can take a second. Your website will appear for a second with the wrong font, and then the right one will blink into place. It’s a little detail, but it’s not perfect. There’s also the chance JavaScript won’t work for some reason — your visitor has it disabled, or some error prevents it from running. In that case, your ordinary (boring) font will just stay there.

Image Replacements for the Masses

Historically, the only way to publish a font was with an image replacement: you’d make a PNG image of the text you wanted on your page. This has numerous and severe disadvantages. First, the text is not searchable. Google doesn’t know what the image says (so you may not show up in search results for important words on your site), and someone pressing Ctrl+F in their browser to search your page won’t find your text.

Plus, changing your text is no longer just a matter of typing the new words you want; you have to open up your image editor (on a computer with the font installed, of course), and produce a new image to upload with the right name. It gets worse when you have to change the image’s dimensions (e.g., because the new text is longer).

Image replacement is still widely used, but avoid it in any new work you’re doing. It offers no benefits over other solutions to this problem, and the disadvantages are compelling.

Five Reasons To Avoid Having a Flash Website

Whether just starting out with your first website, or a veteran of dozens or hundreds of websites in your lifetime, there’s sometimes that “wow, that’s so cool!” factor of looking at website built in Flash.

However, having a website that’s built in Flash has a number of drawbacks. In this week’s blog post we’ll list the top five reasons to avoid a website built in Flash.

1. iOS

Whether you’re a fan of Apple products or not, there’s an estimated 160 million devices running iOS, Apple’s operating system for their mobile devices.  That’s a lot of iPads, iPods, and iPhones.

That should concern you because iOS doesn’t run Flash. At all. Not even a little bit.

Having your entire website (or even a large portion of your website) built in Flash is closing the door on those people. 160 million is a lot of people locked out of your website.

2. Confusing URLs & Bad SEO

Not always, but most times, the way a Flash site is built makes it difficult to link to specific pages within your site.  Sometimes it is even impossible.

Many Flash sites have crazy URLs for specific sections, such as http://www.mywebsite.com/#/!/143/item-5.  While that may not seem like a huge deal, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to remember that URL to tell their friends about.  Instead they’ll say something like “Go to mywebsite.com,  click on the menu at the top, and wait for it to load. Then click on 143 and finally click Item 5.”  That’s a lot of steps.

There are ways around this using other technologies, but often the Flash developer doesn’t do them or the client doesn’t have the budget for that additional work.

On top of that, search engines hate Flash websites.  They can’t read the content contained on a page, and thus have no idea what’s on your page.  Again, there are a number of things that a developer can do to get around this, but a good percentage don’t.  If a search engine can’t read your site’s content, you’re essentially wasting your time being online.  It’s virtually impossible to survive on the web without search engines.

3. Expensive to Maintain

Most Flash sites are built in a way that makes it difficult to maintain them.  Unlike a traditional website  (often built in a CMS), a Flash website can be sometimes impossible to update yourself.

I’ve heard clients say that their Flash developer required the site to be updated by them. Meaning the client had to pay every time they wanted to update their own website.

It’s tough to say, “a Flash website costs X to maintain,” as there are so many different companies that charge so many different rates.  At any rate (see what I did there?), a non-Flash site can be updated by anyone willing to learn.

4. Fixed Size

Imagine you just got a nice shiny new screen for your computer;  it’s big, beautiful, and uses a really high resolution.  Let’s say you get a 27″ screen and you set it to a resolution of 2560×1600, one of the highest most average computers will run.

Go to a Flash website that’s designed for a smaller resolution, like 1024×768, and you’d be looking at at over 75% empty white space in your full screen browser — a teeny, tiny Flash website in the middle of it.

Looks silly, right?

5. There’s No Reason For It

There’s nothing that you could do with Flash that you can’t do without Flash.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite these days.  There are things that you can do with a non-Flash website that you can’t do with Flash.

A prime example is Google Maps.  To embed a Google Map into a non-Flash website takes just a few clicks and some copying and pasting.   It’s impossible to embed a Google Map into a Flash website.

With the advances in jQuery and other JavaScript tools that are available today, there’s no reason to have a Flash website.  If told that you must have a Flash website, it’s not because what you want to be done can’t be done, it’s because the developer simply doesn’t know how to do it.

Why Is My Website Slow, and How Can I Fix It? – Part 3, Optimize Images For The Web

In case you missed parts one and two of Why Is My Website Slow — Inexpensive Web Hosting and Your CMS May Be Your Problem — be sure to check them out.

In part 3 of our series, we explain why unoptimized images can slow your site down. We’ll also provide some ways to get them optimized without quality loss.

Why Is My Website Slow Part 3 - Optimize Images For The Web Image

Optimize Images For The Web

Finding the perfect image to use on your website or blog is often a challenge.  If you’re not the type to create or take your own, you know how frustrating it can be to find the perfect image that gets across exactly what you want it to.

Finding the image is only half the battle; making sure the image isn’t going to slow down your website is the other half.  Normally, it’s not that big of a deal because a lot of people have broadband connections these days.  But imagine you’re in an area that doesn’t have broadband — or their broadband is so slow it might as well be dial-up.

Trying to look through an album of photos that were taken at 10.1 megapixels or better in that situation would be nearly impossible — those images can take quite a bit of time to download, causing a lot of frustration.

Below is an image I took of a temple during my trip to India in March of 2008.  The image is in various formats to illustrate the difference in load times.  Click the image to view the full size and fully realize the difference in load times.

Temple Full Size Image

A 10.1MP image at full size, not optimized, but re-sized using HTML.

Optimize the photo using any image processing software you’d like — I use Photoshop CS5. Photoshop has a great “Save for Web & Devices” feature that allows you to change to various filetypes and image qualities to make the overall filesize smaller. The bigger the file, the longer it takes a visitor’s browser to download.

To get to the “Save for Web & Devices” menu in Photoshop, use the File menu, the keyboard shortcut: Command Modifier iconOption Modifier iconShift Modifier icon S on a Mac, or Control+Alt+Shift+S on Windows.  The dialog looks like this:

Save for Web & Devices dialog Image

Save for Web & Devices dialog

The highlighted areas indicate the filesize and quality. Reduce the quality near the top right corner to make the file smaller and the image load faster.

In addition to adjusting the file type and quality of the image, you may want to resize the image itself.  A 10.1MP photo is 3888px wide and 2592px tall, which is quite large and way to big to fit in any website design.  Resize the image to have it fit nicely in your site’s layout, which will make the image will load faster.

To resize an image is simple, in Photoshop you can use the keyboard shortcut Command Modifier iconOption Modifier icon I on Mac, or Control+Alt+I on Windows.  That will bring up the resize dialog:

Resize Image Dialog Image

Resize Image Dialog

Once the dialog box opens, you can enter new dimensions of your new image.  In this case, I resized my image to 1024×683, but you can choose what dimensions will fit in your site’s layout.  Another thing to consider is that most CMS applications will resize your image for you when you upload it.  WordPress, for example, will create “Thumbnail,” “Medium,” and “Large” sizes of your image when you upload it, which will vary in size based on your image’s original proportions.

When you resize your image, take advantage of Photoshop’s “Constrain Properties” checkbox.  Photoshop automatically adjusts the second property when you change the first. For example, if you change the width, the height changes automatically and the image remains proportionally correct.  That saves you from trying to figure out what size to change the height to without skewing the image.

By no means is this a be-all and end-all of optimizing images.  These are just a few easy to accomplish things that will guarantee faster loading times of any page containing images on your site.

 Recap

  • Adjust your filetype for web – JPG and PNG are better than BMP and GIF
  • Resize your image to fit your site – Resizing with HTML is not optimal as the whole image still needs to load.
  • Only use images that are absolutely necessary.
  • Test your page’s load time – Use a third party service (I recommend Pingdom) to help you evaluate what’s slowing the site down.

Why Is My Website Slow, and How Can I Fix It? – Part 2, Your CMS May Be Your Problem

Last week we talked about inexpensive hosting causes many websites to be slow.  This week we’ll talk about why a Content Management System (CMS) may cause slowness of your site.

Why Is My Website Slow, and How Can I Fix It? - Part II, Your CMS May Be Your Problem Image

Using a CMS May Slow Down Your Site

I know what you’re thinking: “But a CMS makes my site easier to manage!” You’re right. A CMS greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to update a site — it also requires less knowledge to do so.

However, not all CMSs are created equal. They are a lot like our favorite computer  species — Windows v.s. Mac — there are “fanboys” who love a certain one and will bash the others with no sound reasoning.  For every one person that loves Drupal, there’s one which loves WordPress just as much.

So the answer to “Which CMS should I use?” is debatable.

How can a CMS slow down my site?

To not make a complicated process overly simple, when a page loads through your CMS, it runs a bunch of queries to the database containing all of your site’s assets.  Those queries retrieve and assemble all of your content (text, images, page titles, SEO, and so forth) and work with the visitor’s browser to present a full page.

The problem is that databases only execute so many queries per second.  Depending on the CMS you’re using — and the CMS of every other website on your server — that can quickly add up.

When MySQL (pronounced My Sequel or sometimes My S-Q-L) — which is the database that powers most popular CMS applications — hits its limit of how many queries it can process, it queues them up.  What that limit is varies by host and their individual settings.

When MySQL queues up queries, your CMS waits in line to get the files from the database that it needs to display your page.  Sometimes that delay is so tiny you won’t notice.  While other times that delay takes minutes, causing frustration, anger, and a call to your host (who’ll likely claim that nothing’s wrong on their end).

Most systems run a handful of queries when a page is loaded — there is no correct number of queries. This certainly isn’t the only reason a CMS can slow your site down, but database queries are generally the biggest reason.

If it’s not MySQL, what else can slow my CMS down?

Some other things that you want to look at:

  • Outdated software – Most CMSs will give you a warning in your admin area when there’s a new version available — it is important to always upgrade as soon as you can.  Using an old version of any CMS slows your site or presents security vulnerabilities.
  • Outdated plugins/modules – It’s no secret that it’s virtually impossible to use a CMS without at least one plugin or module to enhance the website.   If there’s a new version available, be sure to upgrade.
  • A poorly written theme/design – Your theme may be executing multiple queries that you don’t need to execute. Loading more than you need places more load on the server and can affect performance.

How do I fix it?

There are a number of things you can do to make your CMS-powered site faster.  One thing many people try that likely won’t fix the issue  is moving to another CMS.  No CMS is perfect. Switching from one to another may gain you a nanosecond in load time, but it’ll be a long, and probably frustrating, process.

The best thing you can do is use a caching plugin/module.

A caching plugin removes the necessity for database queries, going about its business in a simple, genius way:  The first time someone visits a unique page of your site, the caching plugin creates a static version of that page — the same page, but stored with all of its content in HTML.  The next time a visitor’s browser requests that page, instead of a bunch of database queries to completely rebuild the page, the CMS can serve up the static version in a fraction of the time. This greatly improves overall site performance.

However, caching does come with some sacrifices.  Until a cached page “expires,” your page may not display new comments correctly.  You may also run into issues if you have dynamic content on your page.  Many caching plugins gracefully handle these pitfalls and even allow you to customize what and when pages are cached.

Here are some of the more popular caching plugins that should help:

Add a caching plugin to reduce your site’s load time, and make you a happy camper.
Stay tuned next week for Part III, Optimize Images For The Web and be sure to check out Part I – Inexpensive Web hosting if you missed it.

Why Is My Website Slow, and How Can I Fix It? – Part 1, Inexpensive Web Hosting

It’s estimated that there are between 250 and 300 million websites on the internet, across the globe. Without a doubt, at least a handful of those site owners are unhappy with the speed in which their websites load.

In this blog series, we’ll evaluate some common reasons why your site my be slow, and what you can do about it.

Inexpensive Hosting Image

Inexpensive Web Hosting

I once worked as a tech support manager for a pretty large web hosting conglomerate – one that owned many of the companies whose logos you see above.  Working in the industry taught me many things about how hosting actually works.  What it really taught me is that any inexpensive web host is not going to always perform as well as you’d want it to.

Don’t get me wrong, you may get lucky, find a host for $5 a month, and be perfectly happy with it.  Let me explain how these hosts work.

These types of hosts are referred to as “shared hosting.”  In layman’s terms, that simply means that each one of their web hosting servers houses many, many customer accounts — sometimes upwards of a few thousand.  With most of these companies offering the promise of “unlimited” everything (space, bandwidth, domains, email addresses, etc) that means that each of these few thousand customer accounts could be running dozens of actual websites.

How does that affect the speed of a website?  Glad you asked.  A web server, just like your home computer, can only do so many things at one time.   So many page requests, so many database queries, so many DNS lookups, etc.  The number of how many tasks the server can perform depends on how good of a server it is, but it’s generally a lot.

The problem comes in when the server is trying to perform too many tasks at once.  When the server becomes overloaded, it starts to queue up requests, and processes them in the order it gets them.

Imagine the host is a bank with only a few tellers (servers) and many customers (websites).  The tellers can only do so many things at a time (in this example, likely just one) and a queue of customer tasks forms.  The teller finishes with their customer and the next person in line steps up.

Why It’s Not Optimal

A shared host may work just fine for you — it all depends on what your website’s doing, how much traffic you get, and whether or not your website is your only source of income. If your site is your personal blog that only gets one or two visitors a day, you may not care if it takes a few extra seconds to load.

If your website is your business (an e-commerce store, a popular blog, an advertising site, etc) and needs to bring money in, you may run into problems using a shared host.

A shared host, when it runs out of processing power, can have websites taking literally minutes to load.  Imagine you are the person visiting a website: Would you wait around for minutes for the site to load?  Personally, if a site doesn’t at least start loading within a second or two, I’ve already browsed to the next website I wanted to visit.

How to Fix It

Like everything in life — you get what you pay for.  If you only spend a few bucks a month, you will, at some point, be frustrated by either the speed of your website or the support you get when your site is slow.

The obvious solution is to upgrade your hosting to something better.  What’s better?

There are two better types of web hosting – Virtual Private Server (VPS) and Dedicated Servers.

A VPS is the same hardware as a shared hosting server. However,  the VPS limits how many customer accounts are put on the server — making it virtually private.  It’s a big step up because you’re sharing resources (server power) with between 10-100 (depending on the provider) instead thousands.

A dedicated server is the top of the line. It is a single, fully functioning server all to yourself.  No one to compete with for resources.  Unfortunately, a dedicated server can cost you quite a bit more than you were paying for shared hosting.  A decent entry-level dedicated server will run you around $85 per month.  Top-of-the-line servers can cost thousands of dollars a month, but that’s likely overkill for most situations.

I switched from a shared host to a dedicated server in August of 2009 and I was immediately blown away by the difference in speed. We’ve upgraded quite a few times since then, but even that original dedicated server was faster than any host we’d ever used before.

Be sure to check out for Part II of the series – Your CMS May Be Your Problem.

Knowing What Information To Put On Your Website

Often the most difficult process in building a new website (or revamping an existing website) is figuring out what the website should say.  Sure, a designer and/or developer can help you figure out how the site should look, work, flow, and function.  But the actual content on the website – the pieces that are going to catch the eye of your prospective customer – is up to you. After all, it’s your site, isn’t it?

There’s many companies out that that will offer to help you with this part of your site.  And that’s fantastic.  But how much can someone really learn about your company or products after a few phone calls and a meeting or two?

The best person/people to put together the content for your website is you. You know the ins and outs of what you do. You know the history of your company.  You know the services and pricing of your products.  Can you tell a marketing person all of that information? Absolutely.  Will it be as good as if you wrote it yourself?  Possibly.

The best way to tackle it is two fold – first, come up with all of the content you’ll want on your website (which I’ll talk about in a bit), and then have a web professional review it.  Someone who lives and breaths the web is going to be able to evaluate the content not only for grammatical and spelling but can also evaluate the content for web friendliness.

Content written specifically for the web needs to have a few key attributes about it

  • Concise – you don’t have to say everything in Tweet-like form, but getting to the point is helpful. People don’t often want to spend a lot of time reading things on the web.
  • Search Engine Friendly – A web professional can help ensure that your content includes certain keywords that will help search engines find your content and rank you better.
  • Images – it’s no secret that people have a short attention span, especially on the web.  Including some images can catch someone’s eye and entice them to want to read your article.
  • A timestamp – knowing that the information they’re reading is up to date will make them more likely to contact your business.

With that said, some common things that you should think about writing for to include on your website

  • About Us – a short history of your company, when you were founded, who founded you, how many employees you have.
  • Executive Biographies – if your company has an executive team, or board members, including some information specifically about them can give your business a more personal feel.
  • Contact Information – phone number, mailing address, a Google Map embedded on the page, any social media links, etc.
  • A clear message for your homepage – assume everyone that comes to your website starts on your homepage – you have 15 seconds to catch their attention. What will your message say?
  • Services – what are you trying to sell?  A detailed list including pricing will get a potential customer’s attention. A web designer can arrange it in a nice aesthetic way to catch the visitor’s eye.
  • A Blog – while some people will never want to blog in their lifetimes, it can be good for business.  Having new fresh content on your site on a semi-regular basis can draw back return visitors to the site.
  • Products – if you’re selling an actual product, it should include a detailed description, pricing, and multiple images.

What content you should ultimately have on your website depends on a number of factors, including what type of industry you’re in.  A large company selling thousands of products online will need different information on their site than a tiny biological research company, for example.  If you’re unsure about what information you should include, consult a professional.  Either a marketing firm, a designer, or web developer.  Someone who spends their days building the web will be sure to guide you in the right direction.

Improving Your Website Series: Part 3 Add Something New

  1. Add a Google Map. Google Maps lets you easily embed a live map of your location. Don’t just copy an image of a map from Google. Besides being tacky, that discards useful information. Google Maps let visitors pan and zoom the map around your business, perhaps looking for parking, a place to eat or shop after they visit you. You certainly aren’t expected to anticipate every possible combination of errands your visitors may run, but with a Google Map on your page you don’t have to.
  2. Add an RSS Feed. You don’t have to understand RSS to use it. Software like WordPress lets you publish news articles in RSS format. If you’re already using WordPress, it’s probably already doing it for you. RSS allows visitors to keep up-to-date with your content without constantly visiting your website. If you’re an artist who periodically puts out new work, a corporation with occasional press releases, or anyone with news to share, make sure it’s in RSS.
  3. Start a Blog — But Only if You Have Something to Say. Many businesses have gained some public relations points for publishing a blog with true “inside” information. Speak candidly about what’s happening in your business, offer discounts to readers, and publish tips. Remember that people aren’t going to signup to listen to what you have to say unless it’s relevant to them.

Improving Your Website Series – Part 2: Clearing Out The Old

Welcome back to our blog series, Improving Your Website, where we’ll provide you with tips that you can use to improve your website — even as a novice website owner. Part 2 is Clearing Out The Old, where we’ll go over some extremely simple things that you can do to improve your site’s appearance.

  1. Delete the Music.

    People generally dislike autoplaying music.

  2. A musical background may feel like it adds personality to your site, but don’t forget that many visitors will already be playing music or videos on their computer. Your beautiful musical selection becomes annoying background noise. For many people, hearing music play is the fastest way to get them to close the website.

    It will also get in the way of anyone that’s visually impaired from accurately having their screen reader read your site’s text aloud.

  3. Don’t Use Pictures for Words.

    This is bad for SEO and the visually impaired. Try not to do it.

    Maybe you’ve scanned your beautiful restaurant menu to preserve all the gorgeous artwork and uploaded the image to your “Menu” page. But pictures of text are hard to read and (worse) search engines don’t know what they say. So anyone searching for the name of a delicious dish on your menu won’t find your site. Never publish an image if you can write the words directly on the page.

  4. Delete Outdated Content.

    Outdated Content is bad for your search results ranking

    Finding years-old events on an “Events” page calls all the other information on your site into doubt. Have your prices changed? Are you even still in business? Deleting your old events entirely (and not having any) is better than having outdated information.

  5. Never Say “Coming Soon” or “Under Construction”.

    Under Construction and Coming Soon pages make your site look unprofessional.

    The phrases “coming soon” and “under construction” are ubiquitous on the web. You think you’re boasting about great new features you hope to add soon, but visitors will think your site is just a work in progress. Don’t forget your visitors aren’t viewing your site as often as you are. If you publish an “under construction” page today, a visitor loading it tomorrow may think it’s been that way for years. Launch new content when it’s really ready.

    If your content isn’t ready yet, work on it offline.  And when it’s ready, publish it to your site.

  6. Get Rid of Your Splash Page.

    Splash Pages merely slow down people from getting to your content.

    The Internet moves quickly, and when visitors arrive at your site they want to find the information they came for. The attractive (and perhaps expensive) introduction animation or “splash page” artwork you have may look amazing, but it’s not why people came to your site. The very first thing a visitor should encounter is a useful piece of information or a menu to find what they need.

    Delaying their finding of that information will likely cause you to lose that visitor.

Improving Your Website Series – Part 1: Get The Basics

Welcome to our blog series, Improving Your Website, where we’ll provide you with tips that you can use to improve your website — even as a novice website owner.  Part 1 is Get The Basics, where we’ll go over some extremely simple things that you can do to improve your site’s appearance.

  1. Add Pictures

    This caught your eye, didn't it?

    Even the best design for your site will look generic and boring without some images. It is important to use images related to what your business is. If you wash cars, share some pictures of clean cars. If you run an accounting firm, show some snapshots of your staff.

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to include images on your site.  While none is too few, there’s certainly a case of too many images.  In addition to finding the sweet spot with the number of images, their location and how they’re arranged can have a big effect on your site’s appeal.

  2. Make Contact Easy

    Use a contact form for visitors to fill out

    Whether your site will have a fully-functional contact form, a simple e-mail address, or just your phone number – it’s certain that if you don’t have any contact information on your site, you’re going to lose visitors and potential customers.

  3. Share Your Prices
     

    You may want to insist that customers call you for a quote — both so you can vary the price to the customer’s requirements and so you can use the call to help make the sale. However, not everyone who visits your website is going to call. Give at least a rough estimate of your costs online. People who can’t afford your services may be driven away (but did you really want to spend time trying to sell to someone who won’t ever buy?) and others will appreciate knowing what they’re in for.

    Sharing your prices will help your clients know which service they want.

  4. Organize Your Content

    Organizing your content will help your site visitors find it more easily.

    What are your visitors trying to learn when they get to your site? Try to put answers to the most common questions in prominent areas (e.g., the first links on your main menu). Having lots of information is great, but be sure you’re telling your customers what they want to know.

    Having all related information grouped together will help your site’s visitors find similar content with minimal effort.

  5. Publish Your Essentials

    Your homepage could be your one shot to tell people what you do. Make it count.

    You can see on our homepage that we have a clear message about who we are and what we do.  Making sure your homepage has a clear and concise message about what your site is about will help people know what you’re all about — without having to search your site.

Your website can do more than you think

Many times, when we’re first getting project requirements from a client, they’re unaware that a website can do any vast number of things.

When a client’s first envisioning their website, many often think of the bare minimum – displaying content to potential customers.  While, in most cases, displaying content to potential customers can mean just the bare minimum, sometimes building additional functionality into your website can display your content in a more pleasing way.

With the vast number of technologies available to web developers and designers these days, there’s very little a website can’t do.  For example, in recent months we’ve built websites that have shopping carts (which is nothing new to the web), photo galleries, customized contact forms, rotating banner images, and more.

The biggest thing that your website may be able to do that you’re unaware of, is the ability to let you edit it yourself.  Many people often think “I don’t know how to build a website” or “I can’t edit my own website”, so they employ a company to make updates for them. (Which is a service we offer, but don’t sell much of.)

Using a revolutionary application called WordPress as a CMS (content management system), you can easily login to an administration interface, and modify any piece of content on your website, without knowing a single piece of the technology involved.  WordPress provides what’s referred to as a WYSIWYG editor – that’s an acronym for What You See Is What You Get.  What does that mean for you?  It means the editing interface essentially works exactly the same as Microsoft Word has since the dawn of time.  And it means that making changes, or even adding new content, is something anyone can do.

Using all of the available technologies out there today allows your website to perform any number of functions.  When coming up with a list of ideas that you want your website to do, go crazy.  Be imaginative. Come up with something you’ve never seen before, and we’ll do our best to create it for you.

The bottom line is – no request is too far fetched.  If it exists on the web, it can be duplicated. If it doesn’t exist, we’ll see what we can do about being the first.  We love a good challenge.

The importance of a good website

Overview

In today’s internet-savvy culture important to have a good website. Not having one could be a detriment to your business if your website is poorly done, or doesn’t exist at all.

There are many different reasons to have a website – the first and most important is that people want to know about you or your business before investing the time to come to your store.  Let’s say, hypothetically, that you own a hardware store.  Before taking the trip to your store (however far from their home that might be), someone would likely come to your website for a number of reasons:

  1. To find out if you sell a particular brand of lawnmower
  2. To find out if you’ve got a particular lawnmower in stock
  3. To get directions or hours of operation
  4. To get your phone number to call and ask you to hold their new lawnmower

Let’s also say that you hypothetically do have a website.  Do you have all of those answers on your site?  Are they easy to find?  Can people easily find your contact information or search your site?   Take a look at your site from the customer’s perspective for a moment – would you be able to find the information you need without getting frustrated?

If the answer is no, then your site could use some improvements.  If you think the answer is yes, your site could probably benefit from the advice of an expert designer.

Being Objective

One of the hardest things to do is be objective about your own website. Even more so if it’s something you’ve built yourself.  It’s hard to see the faults of your own site because you’re used to using it. You may have even designed it. That’s where the help of an expert can come in handy. A trained web designer can spot design problems quickly and suggest fixes that will allow your customers to find information easier. One of the more important things in website design is referred to usability testing, which hardly gets done because a) it’s a pain to do and b) it can be expensive.  However, it’s extremely important.  How it works is rather simple – you get a handful of people completely unrelated to you or your website, tell them absolutely nothing about your website, and give them tasks to do on the site (search for something, buy something, etc), and document how quickly they can accomplish the tasks and if they get stuck or frustrated on a task.  If they can’t figure out how to complete the tasks you’d like users to complete – buying a product, finding your store hours, etc. -, your site needs some improvements.

Why Does It Matter?

So, why is this all important?  If someone can’t get around your website or find the information they’re looking for, they’re extremely unlikely to stick around long enough to find out about you, and even more unlikely to travel to your store to give to purchase something. You want to make things as easy as possible for the potential customer – the easier it is for them to find information, the more likely it is that they will purchase something from you.

Summation

Having a website is a responsibility.  You’re expected to keep it up to date, make it usable, and represent your business in a proper manner. This can be a daunting task for a small business owner (or even larger businesses!) and is where the services of an expert can help. Having a well designed, easy to use website that clearly conveys the message of your business  and displays the information people are trying to get about your business can put you leaps and bounds ahead of your competitors.

New website design

We’ve launched our new website design after months of working on it.  To celebrate, we’re offering 15% off all design services through the end of June, 2010.

What do you think of our new site?