Website Styles, Trends and the Importance of Updates

The top trends in website design are always changing. As in the fashion world, what is popular in web design today will be considered passé tomorrow. Likewise, what is passé today may cycle back through and become the latest craze tomorrow.

The thing that comes to mind for me is the navigation bar or in plain English, the section of the web page that lists the links to the other pages in the site. In the early days of the Internet, most websites had a column, of site navigation, that ran down the left-hand side of the page. Everyone knew to look there, so it worked.

As things changed over the years and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) issues cropped up with that type of layout, most sites moved to a navigation bar that runs across the top of the page, somewhere. Today, many of those SEO issues have been resolved and sites are starting to use the left column navigation again, in an effort to stand out from the crowd. Like I said… cycles.

While it is not necessary or even reasonable for most people to change their website design on a frequent basis, the age of your site is something to think about. Let me ask you to take a minute and try to think how long it has been since your website design was last updated. If you can’t remember or you have to look it up, there is a good chance it is time to consider refreshing your design. This does not include content changes on the site like adding new posts or updating the site’s text and images. What I am talking about here is the overall style, appearance and layout of your site.

6 reasons to consider updating your site’s design.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does offer some of the most common reasons that you might want to update your site’s design.

1) Outdated Style

While this may not be the most important of the group, it is often the most overlooked. With site design being very trendy, you can sometimes be holding onto a design that looks very dated and this can reflect on the way people view your company. I see this a lot, with more established companies who built a web presence many years ago because someone told them everyone should have a site for business.

The problem comes when they think of it as a “set it and forget it” asset.

Ten years ago, people viewed websites in a different way. Today’s users see the website as an extension of your company and your sales force. If it looks old fashioned, they think of the company as old fashioned. Statistics say that the average lifespan of a website, these days, is 3-5 years. That is going to fluctuate depending on the site, how well it has been maintained and the company or product involved.

Whether your site is new or old, you should regularly review its design to see if it still reflects well on your company, organization, or brand.

2) Out of Date Best Design Practices

There have been so many changes in the best practices for website design in the last several years, that it is hard to count them. Many of these changes not only tend make your site look dated, but some of them are security risks and many of them will affect your site’s ranking in the search engines. Here are just a few of the more common or serious issues we see.

Not Mobile Friendly

These days, a website that is not mobile-friendly (displays well on a mobile phone or tablet) is a serious problem. If your site is not mobile friendly, it is definitely time to update your design.  With so many mobile devices out there and a large percentage of site visitors using them to access your site, it just makes sense to have a site that works well on a mobile phone or tablet.

However, it goes beyond that. Google has made a change to its algorithm that will cause your site to rank lower in search engine results pages (SERP), if it is not mobile friendly. This one is a big reason to update your design. A mobile friendly site will make your visitors and Google happier.

Slow to Load

In the early day of the Internet, everyone connected through a dial-up modem. If you are too young to remember that awful screeching sound made during the connection process, let me just say, it was not pretty. Dial-up connections were slow! What takes me a fraction of a second to download now, took several MINUTES back then.

Then came along high-speed connections and the World was grand. Or was it?

When everything was slow, designers had to make sure their content was as compact as possible, so that it would load easily. With faster connections, many designers got sloppy and did not worry about the size of their files.

Fast forward to today and if your page does not load quickly, people will just give up and leave. Google even states that a site that takes longer than 2 seconds to load, will limit the number of URLs (pages) they will crawl for adding to their index. Slow load = lower ranking.

Still Using Flash

We don’t see this very much anymore, but it was very popular not that long ago. If your site is still using Flash to display its content, you are way behind the time and need to really consider making a change, soon. By the nature of the way it works, Flash has never done well in search engines and the Flash player is being phased out and can be a security risk. Again, if you are using Flash, update now.

3) Better User Experience (UX)

The user experience is just what it sounds like. The way users interact with your site will ultimately make a difference in whether they stay on the site and look around or get frustrated and leave. How quickly the site loads, the way the navigation is set up and ease of finding the right information are some of the main things to consider in the user experience of your website. If your site is slow, clunky and you can’t find information fast, people will move on.

4) Better Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

While I have listed SEO as #4, that does not mean it is less important. In fact, some would argue it is the most important, me included. I did not list it as #1 because, as you probably have already guessed by reading the rest of the article, many of the other points made relate to your sites overall optimization. While there are many other reasons for a poor ranking on the search engine results page (SERP) or SEO score, mobile-friendliness, site load speed, and user experience all play a role in how well your site ranks. Google is constantly updating their search algorithm. Just because it worked last year, last month or even last week, does not mean it will work today.

SEO is huge for your website. Without it, your site may never be found by those users who may be looking for exactly what you have to offer. Better SEO=more traffic on your site.

 5) The Purpose of the Site Has Changed

Sometimes the purpose of your website will change or evolve as your company grows. It may be that your site was built as a simple informational tool to let potential customers know who you are and what you do. Over time, you may want the site to become more of a sales tool or even a store front selling your products online. As your company changes, frequently so does your site’s purpose.

6) Does Not Work Well with Your Other Marketing Efforts

This one is obvious. If your site is not an integrated part of ALL of your marketing efforts, then you really need to take some time to figure out how to best utilize your website for your marketing purposes. In most cases, your website should be the central hub of your online marketing efforts.

So, What’s Next?

If you have read this far, congratulations! You should now have a better understanding of the value and importance of keeping your website design up to date. However, if you are like most people, you don’t know where to start.

We can help you with that next step.

Contact us and let us have a look at your site and give you a free evaluation of the site’s design, content, and SEO. There is no obligation and we will not try to sell you something you don’t need. You will get a simple, honest evaluation and recommendations for ways to improve your site, if needed.

Oh, and by the way, we know that much of the technical jargon involved does not make sense to most people. We will translate it for you, in plain English. While you still may not understand it all, you should walk away with a much better understanding of how your site works and what you can do to keep it working for you.

Three Marketing and Social Media Trends I Wish Would Go Away (but probably won’t)

We live in an interesting time in our society. We have more ways of communication than ever before. We can share every moment of our lives with complete strangers at a whim. It is the modern day, digital version of trapping visitors into watching your home movies. Many of our younger readers probably don’t know what I am talking about, but let’s move on anyway.

As a disclaimer, I make a good portion of my living working with businesses to improve their online presence. The three topics I am about to discuss are often seen as great methods or devices for businesses to communicate ideas to their prospective customers. Plus, many of my peers in the industry will no doubt balk at the opinions I am about to put forth. However, they are just that… opinions. You can take it or leave it, but if we can’t discuss these matters, then they will continue to progress whether they are valid or not. So here we go…

Clickbait

Clickbait is basically just using a provocative title or photo in an article in order to get people to click through to the article. The article often has little or nothing to do with the title. The goal of clickbait is simply to get you to click through and hopefully subscribe to a list or buy something.

Wikipedia defines clickbait as “… a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the “curiosity gap”, providing just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.”

Now, most of us will agree that this is not the best method of attracting customers. It is the modern day version of “Bait and Switch” where a customer is lured in by a product with a low price and then is pressured into buying a much higher priced product instead. Unfortunately, it works a lot of the time.

This technique is used a lot and it must work for those businesses, because you see it more and more often every day. Just because it works, does not make it acceptable. This is the same thing that can be said of spam email message and I doubt you will find many people who will agree that spam is a trustworthy form of sales.

Infographics

Okay, this one is a bit tougher to talk about, since there are a great many studies that point to the effectiveness of using infographics. What is an infographic? I’m glad you asked.

An infographic or information graphic is just what it sounds like. It is a graphical or visual image that contains data on a topic in a format that is supposedly easy to understand. They are kind of like a flow chart on steroids. If you want to learn more, there are tons of examples on Google.

Infographics are said to appeal to our short attention spans versus reading a lot of information. If that is true of you, then you probably did not get this far in this article, so take a break and go browse through your social media feeds.

In theory, I like infographics. We all want to absorb as much information as we can in a short amount of time. However, the practice of using Infographics is where I run into a problem.

As we become more dependent on our mobile devices as a method for accessing information, it becomes difficult to find a way to maximize the use of an infographic. There are just too many difficulties in making a graphic that is easily viewable on a small screen. Sure you can zoom in on the image, but you end up moving the image around to see it all and it suddenly loses is cohesiveness. The information becomes less fluid and harder to understand.

There is also the “big thumb” syndrome that comes into play. If you are like me, then you will invariably end up tapping at the wrong spot or time and find yourself on a completely different web site. Then you have to hit the back button and wait for the page to load all over again.

This is the same issue I have with our third topic.

Slide Shows

Slide shows are a popular way to display information on websites, these days. You will see the headline with something like “The 10 Best Programs for Keeping You Organized”. The article will contain a slide show or a series of photos with a brief discussion of each product or topic. In order to get from the first slide’s information, you need to click on the arrow that points to the right or use the next button.

Again, this is great in theory and I like these types of articles when I am reading them on my desktop computer monitor. When I have to view one on my smartphone, however, it becomes a study in futility. It is almost impossible to navigate from one screen to the next without skipping a screen or exiting the article altogether.

When I find one of these articles while reading on my phone, I always tell myself that I will come back and view it later on a desktop, but that rarely ever happens. The answer would be for the sites who use these slide shows to offer an alternative form of the content to the viewer, but this is rarely ever the case. If we forget about mobile users, we do so at our own peril!

Conclusion

I know that it is not likely that these three trends are going to change in the near future, but I hope that maybe we can find an alternate method for sharing information that is a little more functional and helpful. I may be alone in these opinions, but that is a chance I am willing to take.

In the meantime, let me know if you want to come over and watch home movies of our trip to the beach. I can get the projector out and set up the movie screen anytime.

Are You Creating Too Much Noise?

 

Since I consult with companies, organizations and small businesses about their online marketing and their presence on the Internet, I read a lot of articles, study user habits and talk to lots of people in order to keep on top of the industry trends and best practices. I am often confronted with statistics from colleagues and online sources about how often and what you should be sharing on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I am frequently amazed at what I hear and read.

Don’t Buy Into The Lie That More Is Better

Most of the “experts” I hear from seem to support posting to social media sites with such frequency that it is bound to do nothing more than annoy your potential followers. Let’s take a minute and think this through. If you are posting 10, 20, or 50 times a day on your feed, how many people do you think are really reading your messages? Even if you have thousands or even millions of followers, as a business, people will simple skim through anything you post if you are posting that often. They MAY read one or two posts throughout the day or they may just get so tired of your posts clogging up their timeline that they just hide or unfollow you altogether.

I understand that this does not apply to everyone and every situation, but it does apply in many cases where businesses try to share something on their timeline or feed too frequently. The reasons that businesses tend to share too often is that they believe it will help with Brand Recognition. To an extent that is true. You do want to keep your name in front of current and potential customers, so that they will think of your business when it comes time to make a purchase. BUT, do you want to post something so often that they have a sense of being annoyed when they think of your company or organization. I doubt very many of us would want that.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

If you really want to make a good, lasting impression on your potential followers and customers, post things that are relevant to your industry and their interests. Use content that answers their questions about your company and product or service. Show them a personal side of your business. These things are great at building a sense of community around your brand.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, post a bunch of meaningless tripe in an attempt to keep your name in front of your customers and friends. It may take a little bit of work and creative thinking to come up with something worth posting, but the end results will be worth the effort.

A recent example of what not to do in your timeline comes from an oral hygiene practice that recently posed a question on their feed about the age of the oldest pair of shoes in your closet. I can see where this question MIGHT be considered humorous and evoke some responses from their fans, but it is more likely just an attempt at keeping their name in your feed and has nothing to do with your oral health. For the record, this post had no likes, shares or comments, when I checked last.

An example of a good way to post can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/DogSolutions or using the Twitter handle @DogSolutions. This company sells medicine and other dog related products, but their twitter feed is all about funny photos of dogs with captions that are intended to be from the dog’s point of view (bad grammar included). They rarely promote their products, which could be a problem for their business, but they have developed a healthy community of followers. While they tend to only post something once every day or two, their tweets usually garner hundreds of retweets and favorites.

Be Yourself

While finding a niche in all of the online noise can sometimes be a difficult task, the best advice is often to just be yourself. If you are a small, mom and pop, service business, don’t try to be or sound like you are a business with dozens or hundreds of employees. It will just give customers a false impression of your company and they will not thank you for it when they find out later. Besides, just like there are advantages to working with large companies, there are also perks that come with working with smaller businesses as well.

I run a small business myself and one of the things that my customers tell me over and over again, is that they like the personal service they get from me. Why would I want to lose that? Being true to your size and business personality is a big part of gaining the following you want that is interested in being your customer. If you have tens of thousands of impersonal followers you will likely add less to your bottom line through social media than if you had a few thousand who really liked you and who your company is in real life.

This brings up another pet peeve of mine. Don’t buy followers! If you are paying a service to gain followers on your social media sites, then you are wasting your time (and money). I know it may feel like a good thing, because you think customers will see that you have lots of fans and believe your company is more successful than it is, but it will come back to haunt you when it comes time for a face to face with that customer.

Again, just be yourself and let your following grow with your business. If you use good, honest practices in your online marketing efforts you will gain the following you want and you will sleep better at night knowing you have earned that trust.

What Next?

As always, please contact us if you have any questions or if you would like to find out more about how we can help your company grow their online marketing presence.

4 Online Marketing Principles You Probably Aren’t Using

 

Let’s face it, in today’s economy here in America, most companies have a web site and/or some sort of social media presence that they use to promote their business. We have all been told that we need to have these “pages” and that we need to post “things” to them in order to stay competitive. For the most part, that is true.

All of the online areas in which a company seeks to promote themselves or communicate with customers and clients constitute their Online or Internet Marketing program. This may include things like building a website, writing blog posts, sending out email newsletters, posting photos to Instagram, running a contest on their Facebook page, using pay-per-click campaigns or pinning ideas to your Pinterest boards. But… exactly how does a company create an effective online presence?

Here are five areas in which many if not most businesses fail in their online marketing efforts.

 Failing to Know Your Audience

Whenever I meet with a new client for the first time, I ask them a series of questions about their business. These questions are designed to give me an idea of where we need to start with their Internet marketing program. Each company is different, so each program will need to be customized to fit their goals and needs. One of the very first questions I ask is “Who is your target audience, client or customer”?

This is one of the most crucial pieces of information in any marketing plan. If you don’t know the average age, income, neighborhood, and habits of your potential customers, you will have a hard time targeting them with your marketing efforts. In effect you will be using your marketing dollars as a shotgun. This method only works up close. What you need is to refine your aim and use a rifle with a scope, so that you can hit the bullseye. Knowing your audience will help you target your customers more accurately and at a greater return on investment.

Failing to Create a Plan

The next step in creating a good Internet Marketing Plan is to, in fact, have a plan. Once you have decided who your customer is and know their online habits, you can set up a plan that will reach them by the best possible means.

For instance, if your typical customer is female and between the ages of 18 and 29, you may do well using Facebook as a marketing platform. However, if your audience is male between the ages of 25 and 34 you might do better on Twitter. Of course, that is just a generalization and further research would need to be done in order to find the best uses of your marketing expenditures.

The point is, creating a marketing plan around your customer’s online habits and sticking to that plan will reap the highest rewards for your company and your bottom line.

Lack of Proper SEO

Many companies do not emphasize SEO or Search Engine Optimization in their marketing programs. SEO is a specialty in and of itself. The goal of SEO is to bring visitors to your website by creating an environment that causes search engines, such as Google, to rank your site higher than the sites of your competitors. Proper SEO is ever changing and requires lots of research, constant learning and continual changes to work in an optimal manner. It is well worth the time and effort to properly utilize SEO in your campaigns. There is too much for me to go into in this article, but are lots of techniques that companies can use to improve their rankings in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). You can read some of our articles on SEO on our blog.

My point here, however, is that your marketing campaign should always include information or links that drive potential customers to your website. Social media pages and posts should also reflect this same attitude and direction. In most cases, your company’s website is the best source for initial contact and information about your business. If your site is not ready for prime time or you are utilizing another platform as your primary point of contact, you should re-evaluate this situation to see if it is the best option for your overall marketing strategy and plan.

Lack of Consistency

Consistency in your marketing plan is probably one of the most overlooked areas in most company’s marketing strategies. Keeping your name in front of potential customers is important and helps with brand recognition. You should set up a schedule in your marketing plan that includes what social media platforms you plan on using and how often you plan on posting to them. Your plan should also include how often you will send out email newsletters, write new blog posts, and any other programs that are a part of your marketing plan.

Many companies fall into the lie that you have to post something to your Facebook page at least three times a day or write a new blog post three times a week. It simply is not true. In fact, that may be too much sharing for many of your potential customers. If we are honest, I am sure there have been companies or people on social media that you have unfollowed or hidden, simply because they were “junking up” your feed. I know I have.

While posting to your Twitter page several times a day may be appropriate for certain companies, it is up to each business and marketing planner to decide what is the best fit for your individual needs. If your budget or the amount of time you have dedicated to marketing only allows you to post once in a while, that is fine. The key is to be consistent. Set a schedule and stick to it. You will be surprised how much content you have created in a year.

Final Thoughts

Your marketing plan for your company is just that. It is “yours”. You need to develop a marketing plan that will work for your company, your budget and your goals. With a little bit of effort and by following the tips in this article, you should be well on your way to achieving a successful online marketing program for your business.

As always, we are here to help with any needs you may have in setting up and running your marketing campaigns. Contact us to find out more.

Have You Fallen Victim to the “Good Enough” Syndrome?

Everyday, we walk around with a small camera in our pocket. We call it a cell phone. These small, compact cameras are amazing. I am often impressed with the image quality that they are capable of producing. Like many people, I enjoy taking photos of events or places that I am visiting for my personal use or to share with others through social media. It is a great way to keep those memories in an easy to carry, convenient manner and for friends and family to keep up with one another. I am always reminded, at times like that, of the saying “The best camera is the one you have with you”.

However, this trend has a side effect in marketing and advertising that I call the “Good Enough” Syndrome. Simply put, what this means is that we have become desensitized to what true, high quality images really are and the importance of them in your marketing and advertising efforts, as a company.

We are now so accustomed to the quick grab “selfie” quality images and many companies will use these types of images in their marketing campaign. Am I saying that there is no place for these types of images? Absolutely not! If you are in a service industry, for instance, and you want to post a photo of a job in progress to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, by all means, post away. It is a great way to show what happens during a normal day in your company’s work life. Many customers will enjoy seeing this and, in that context, they will understand if the quality is not top notch (although you should still use a good quality image).

The problem I see, lies in the fact that companies are now starting to use these types of photos to show off their products and services on their websites and in printed marketing materials. When they weigh the cost of hiring a professional photographer to do high quality photos of their products vs the cost of just using ones they can create for themselves, many companies and individuals decide that their own photos are “good enough”. In your online and traditional marketing and advertising efforts, this is unacceptable!

This also applies to your office staff and management team. Many companies place photos of their staff on their company website and I think this is a great idea. This gives potential customers a face to put with a name and it increases the “personal touch” feel of your company. However, if you take a photo of your office manager that is too dark, out of focus or has some weird color cast while they are wearing a t-shirt and standing if front of a door in their office, you probably are not going to increase the public perception of your company. That may sound far fetched, but I have seen companies do this on their web sites.

No matter what your product or service is, it is still very important to show that product or service in the best possible way. I am not suggesting that you engage in false advertising. I am merely saying that your product or service, your corporate headquarters, and your employees are all part of your Brand and you should always strive to show that Brand in as professional a manner as possible.

Look at it this way, if your competitors are settling for “good enough”, then your company will truly stand out from the crowd if you are engaging in high quality, professional marketing practices. Don’t settle for “Good Enough”.