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Insights into the Online World

Everyone has their own way of developing an online form that they believe will get them what they need from their users.  Unfortunately, users will not have as much investment into a form as the developer or owner.  Therefore, it’s best to learn what works and what doesn’t when creating online forms to maximize the information gathering process.  The best way to do this is to see what other people are doing to get the information they need.  Keep the following points in mind when you are reviewing your competitors’ forms:

How they made the form look

If the form looks like it was just copied and pasted directly into the website, this will give users the impression that the website owner either doesn’t care or doesn’t know what they are doing.  Such things to look for are font differences, colour variations, and field element sizes.  It is also incredibly important to show the user what their call to action is.  Hiding the submit button or placing it in an awkward location will not help the user complete the form submission.

How they use the variety of field types

There are many different field types available to the programmer.  Here are some quick guidelines on which standard field type to use in which scenario:

  • Text boxes – good for filling in variable information
  • Check Boxes – can be used for a simple yes/no response request, or if multiple items on a list need to be selected
  • Radio Buttons – used to get the user to select one item out of a small list.  Also easily displays all options to the user for selection
  • Drop Down boxes – used to choose one item from a larger list.  This saves space on the screen
  • Text Area – used for getting the user to enter a large amount of variable text.  Recommended for Comments or Feedback fields

With the rise of HTML5, there are a lot more options available to you, such as “email”, but for the sake of backwards compatibility, it’s best to stay with the standards.

One entry method that is debatable is how to enter in phone numbers.  Should it be split into three columns, allowing three numbers for area code, three numbers for the prefix, and four numbers for the line number?  Should it be a free-flowing field where the user can enter any number of numbers/symbols to represent their number?  The answer to this is determined by your target market.  If you wish to only accept North American numbers, then splitting the field may be best for you.

How easy it is to do what you need to do / How they flow / Ease of use

It is vital that you keep your user’s experience the main focus when you are creating the form.  If the form is disorganized or looks like it was just thrown together, it will turn off the user and they will abandon their submission.  The form needs to have fields located in a simple pattern, and allow easy navigation from one field to another.

An often overlooked piece is tab order.  A majority of users will be using their keyboards and will tab through the fields to continue entering their information.  Nothing is more jarring to tab to the next expected field, only to go into a completely different field that doesn’t make any order sense. 

Try to time yourself going through your competitors’ forms, and see how fast and easy it is from start to finish.  If it takes too long, you’ll know what to do with your form!

How they judge form length

A big scary form is intimidating, and users will not fill it all in.  If your form is too long but a lot of the information is needed, think about splitting it up into a couple of steps or screens.  This will ease the burden of having to enter all the fields all at once.  

The best way to start building your form is to determine which fields are must-haves and which fields would be nice-to-have.  Stick with the fields that make sense, otherwise users will question what the reasoning is behind a field.  

How they determine what is required

There is a reason behind required and optional fields.  If there is information that the owner absolutely must have, it would be set as a required field.  It’s pretty common for the email address to be required, as it can also serve as the user’s username since it is unique.  Optional fields are nice-to-haves that can explain more about the user if they wish to provide it.

Alternatively, some information needs to be split between required and optional.  For example, the Address field is typically broken up into Address 1 and Address 2, where Address 1 is required (the regular field where everyone puts in their street address) and Address 2 is optional (a place where users can enter other information that doesn’t fit within the first field, such as PO Box or apartment number).

How they validate

When a user submits the form, they may not have completed it entirely.  It is now up to the designer/programmer to determine how and where to inform the user that they need to resolve the outstanding issues before the form is submitted correctly.  Depending on the design, the messages could appear right at the top of the page, underneath each field, or have a message box appear.  

Most websites will allow the user to submit the form to the server, and then the page refreshes with the results (Server Side validation), whereas, some websites prevent the user from proceeding with the submission at all (most likely Client Side validation).  It is recommended to use Server Side validation, as Client Side validation can be bypassed.

The best way to see how your competitors handle validation is by submitting a blank form.  You will then get to see the type of validation is occurring, and how they handle the message to the user.

How they guide the user via automation 

You will need to take into account how your target audience is going to be using your form.  If they are more tech savvy, then it’s okay not to guide the user along as much.  Otherwise, some gentle reminders are a great way to make sure you get the information you need.  Do not overdo the guiding hand, as it will only frustrate the user.

Investigate how your competitors use automation to help you through the form.  Does it frustrate you that something which should make sense doesn’t happen?  Automation can save the user time entering the field, but it has to be used correctly to be successful.

How they handle spam

There are many ways to deal with spam, and you can usually see how your competitors do it by  checking the bottom of the page.  You may see a Captcha (letters or numbers mixed in an image that normally only users can read), or an “I am not a robot” checkbox.

The goal behind these techniques is to minimize the amount of unwanted form submissions.  You may not remove them all, and as robots get smarter; you will need to revise your robot strategy.  Seeing how your competitors handle this will potentially give you insight on how to improve your strategy.

How they thank you

This is a perfect opportunity to extend goodwill to the user and create a returning customer with a message like “Thank you for submitting your feedback, here’s a 10% off coupon for your next visit”.  Even though they are complete with your form, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be complete with the website visit.

Think about what you would want to see after you’ve completed a form.  Try submitting to your competition’s forms to see what kind of results it produces, and see if you can improve upon it.

How they follow up

It is good practice that after a form is submitted, an email confirmation is sent to the user to let them know their submission has been received.  Usually it will contain information about the recent transaction that occurred on the website, or it may be as simple as “We have successfully received your info”.  You will be able to tell how much thought your competitors have put into the email by seeing if it looks like a regular, off the shelf response.  It is recommended to review the results in your competitor’s follow up email and see if you can make yours more professional or personal, depending on your target.

This is a great way to leave a lasting impression on your users, so don’t waste it!  

Conclusion

The way the competition chooses which form field types to use, which fields are required, how the form looks and feels, and how they handle user experience shows a lot about the company.  It’s important to learn from their mistakes and be inspired by their successes.  It’s best not to try to make the “perfect” form right from the beginning.  Test it with a small audience.  Once satisfied, then try it on a large scale.  Add Google Analytics to the mix so that you can view how the form is performing.  After viewing the results, experiment and see if you are getting exactly what you need.  Depending on the purpose of the form, its final state is far from finished.  It will evolve into something that works best for your company.

Have a question for us?  You can always use our contact form by clicking "Contact Us" :)

 

Before launching a website, it will pass through a design, and a development stage.

The web designer is the person who communicates with the client, and draws the mockups or sketches and updates them according to the clients feedback. During the design stage, there are almost no limits.  This makes the designer like a villain to developers because they focus on the design of all of the features of the website, and not how they will be implemented.

After the web designer finishes the mockups, they go to the web developer to start the development process. There are some limitations during the development stage:

  • Technology limitations

  • Budget limitations

During the development stage, the web developer is like a superhero because they  implement all the features of the website under the pressure of all limitations.

Technology limitations

There are many browsers/operating systems/devices on the market. Different browsers can or cannot support some technologies, and this forces some limitations on the web developer. For example, if there are smooth rounded borders in the design mockup, and the website needs to function in Internet Explorer 8 then its a problem. Internet Explorer 8 was released in 2009. Then smooth rounded borders started appearing in web design a few years after Internet Explorer 8 was released, so it is not possible to do it in IE8 easily - they are not easily compatible, but it can be done by a super hero

Budget limitation

Sometimes a feature requires much more time to develop than is stated in the initial estimate. So the web developer is trying to keep the project inside of the budget, and it forces them to make the feature a little bit simpler. This requires additional communication with the web designer and another Superhero/Villain fight begins.

And because of these limitations the web developer is trying to simplify some features and the web designer is not happy about it because the design may look differently than the one that was initially approved by the client.

Even if the designer and developer are the same person, then this Superhero/Villain fight is happening internally.

Gauging the customer’s expectations is a critical part of every business.  Whether you’re a small startup or a billion-dollar enterprise, your customers will have certain expectations set for you. Each customer will be quite different from one another so it’s crucial that we ask strategic questions so we can gauge their expectations.

There are many different strategic questions we can be asking to identify what the customer’s expectations are.  One of the first questions that I like to ask once the customer has identified what they’re looking for is “What exactly will you be needing this for?”  This is a great question to begin with because it’ll open the door for us to build rapport and have a better understanding of what the customer is looking for.  In some instances, the customer isn’t as familiar with the product or service they might think they need a particular feature when they really don’t.

A great follow up question we could ask the customer is “What would you be using this for?”  A customer might want something in particular because someone they know also has it but after probing we realize that it wouldn’t be pertaining to them and that they need something different. Asking a follow-up question like this will help us analyze into greater depths what the customer expects from the product or service and assuring it’ll be the best fit for them.

Now that we have a clear cut idea of what they’re looking for and the customer has a good understanding of what they’ll be getting; we can work towards recognizing their budget. Sometimes customers will identify how much they have to spend and other times we have to get a better understanding of how much they’re able to spend.  I wouldn’t recommend asking them directly what their budget is as it may come off a bit too strong.  Instead I’d take a warmer approach by offering them the premium product or service and seeing if they object because it’s out of their budget.  If they object because of the price or they recognize that they can’t afford it, then I’d proceed to asking what their budget is and seeing if it’s possible we can accommodate them at their price or something similar.  Remember, we’re selling the sizzle not the steak!

The quality of the customer service we offer is dependent on whether we’ve reached our customer’s expectations or not.  Once we’re able to surpass our customer’s expectations, not only will we be increasing our sales but now the customer will be more inclined in working with us in the future and also referring us to others. 

 

In the past year, we saw five updates to the Google Algorithm, some confirmed and some not, as reported by Moz in their Google Algorithm Change History. 2015 was the year of “Content is King”.  But where will search engine optimization be a year from now?  

The growing trend of content marketing for business became more accepted in 2015.  Business owners and their marketing teams began to see fully the immediate value of adding content regularly to their website in the form of blogging.

I predict that this trend will continue; we will see more and more businesses jumping on the bandwagon.  With the influx of content being published online, search engines will adjust their algorithms to filter out the filler content and get to the good stuff. We’ve already seen the start of this with the Quality Update in May 2015.  

I also predict that mobile usability, on both smartphone and tablet devices, will continue to influence rankings.  2015 was the year mobile web usage surpassed desktop, making computers the accessory device and smartphones and tablets the primary platform customers are connecting with brands on.  Mobile first visual apps, like Instagram and Snapchat, will continue to grow and drive business.

Lastly, with all the high-profile hacks that have been reported in the past year, user security, especially user information, will be recognized as a significant ranking advantage.  Google has already made the recommendation that websites are on a secure domain (starting with HTTPS rather than HTTP).  Search engine optimization is a growing and changing thing, as consumer behaviour changes we must (and will!) continue to adapt to meet their preferences and needs.

If you are looking for a software that will meet your business needs there are several aspects you should take into consideration before you buy. When choosing software for your needs, consider these ten below mentioned signs to see if applications specially tailored for you would be a good choice.

Price

Business is often about money, thus software that is less expensive saves you money automatically. It can be tricky sometimes to determine which solution is more cost effective since inexpensive, or free existing solutions can hide expensive support or upgrading in the future.

Matching your expectations

Every business has competitors in the market that already use similar business processes; uniqueness is what determines your business. And that uniqueness defines requirements for software that you are using. Multiple existing solutions that are on the market will have more or less than you need, but they will never fit your requirements exactly.

Flexibility

Off-the-shelf software limits you to already existing patterns, not allowing you to step left or right from them. Custom developed software can reflect your current needs, and your growing business.

Compatibility with existing environment

Most likely your business already uses certain software or equipment that is unique or very specific. These existing puzzle blocks are not very easy to match with the existing software available on the market. Custom developed applications can fill in the gaps and make the system solid.

Reports

The majority of canned solutions will have basic report systems that might not satisfy your business needs. Constant manual import of these reports into excel and then adjusting them to correspond with your needs can be a real pain in the neck. Software that was developed according to your requirements does not have such an issue.

Responsiveness and reflectiveness

In a fast changing business environment you can not afford to wait until a developer updates released software, if such an update will appear at all. With your own custom software, developers will respond to your requests immediately and make adjustments to exactly fit your requirements.

Usability

Even though existing software might have all tools to complete the job it can take several steps to complete it. Code that was designed specially for your business requires fewer interactions from the user. Simpler means faster and more solid.

Productivity

Time that you spend solving performing tasks that are unique to your business can decrease significantly when you have told specifically built to handle them. You don’t have to use several different tools and control every single step during the work process. Workflow that was automated once will save a bunch of efforts in the future.

Training costs

Using multiple off the shelf applications will require multiple training sessions for your staff. Once developed, custom applications can not only decrease the necessity of such training but even completely avoid them. Developed to fulfill your business process requirements software will be more simpler and more intuitive for users.

Competitive advantage

If you use the same tools as your competitors do that doesn’t bring you a lot of advantages. Improving your tools and their performance does give you such advantages. Attentiveness to the smallest details can make you a leader in the market.

Conclusion: Although custom developed applications might cost more than canned solutions initially, this cost can be a good investment in the future of your growing business. Using better tools will improve the quality of your service and help to raise the bar to a completely new level.

If you're reading this you use websites, but have you ever stopped to think about how they're made? It takes a combination of talent and skill to create a website that looks good and works great. Let's find out if you have what it takes to be a Web Designer.

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Tags web design 
Dec212015

A Google search for inbound marketing TED talk returns “About 70,100 results”.  Narrowing down the extensive list of results to 3 presentations that all inbound marketers should watch is a daunting task.  Thankfully, several others in the industry have done the real leg work for me and compiled their own lists of the top TED talks to watch.  In reviewing these lists, I noticed the majority of recommended talks were given by male presenters.  To tilt the scales in the opposite direction, here are 3 TED talks from female presenters often recommended by inbound marketers to other inbound marketers

How to Make Choosing Easier - Sheena Iyengar

 

Key points to take away:

  • Choice overload causes people to choose not to choose at all
    • “They're more likely to delay choosing -- procrastinate even when it goes against their best self-interest. They're more likely to make worse choices -- worse financial choices, medical choices. They're more likely to choose things that make them less satisfied, even when they do objectively better.” 
  • How to solve the problem
    • Cut - “... if you are willing to cut, get rid of those extraneous redundant options, well there's an increase in sales, there's a lowering of costs, there is an improvement of the choosing experience.”
    • Concretization - “ in order for people to understand the differences between the choices, they have to be able to understand the consequences associated with each choice”
    • Categorization - “We can handle more categories than we can handle choices.”
    • Condition for complexity - “We have to gradually increase the complexity”

 

The Fringe Benefits of Failure - J.K. Rowling

 

Key points to take away:

  • “Achievable goals, the first step to self-improvement.”
  • “Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure”
  • “Some failure in life is inevitable.  It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously you that you might as well not have lived at all; in which case you fail by default”

 

How to Manage for Collective Creativity - Linda Hill

 

Key points to take away:

  • “Innovation is not about solo genius, it's about collective genius.”
  • “... we found that innovative organizations are communities that have three capabilities: creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution.”
  • Companies that innovate “...know how to do collaborative problem solving, they know how to do discovery-driven learning and they know how to do integrated decision making.”
  • “Our task is to create the space where everybody's slices of genius can be unleashed and harnessed, and turned into works of collective genius.”

Sources:

http://www.smartbugmedia.com/blog/8-of-the-best-ted-talks-for-inbound-marketers-to-watch

http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/15-phenomenal-ted-talks

http://www.bluleadz.com/blog/6-inspirational-ted-talks-every-inbound-marketer-needs-to-watch

 

The doors fly open and you’re ecstatic. You just graduated from some sort of design school incredibly excited to start your career; the next step in life. It’s a wonderful, exciting, and terrifying moment all at the same time. There are so many directions you could go. You have your whole life to explore as many of those paths as you like but for now you need to pick one. Do you start looking for a new job? Begin as freelancer? I can’t write this and tell you what you should do. That’s an answer only you can decide. What I can tell you is that it’s going to be a bumpy road. Things are going to catch you off-guard, there will be things school never taught you, and you will have to learn to leave your comfort zone to really succeed as a designer.

Along the way mistakes will be made. It’s natural for any human being to make mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes. Below are the 6 most common mistakes designers make when starting out. I made every single mistake listed here and learned from it. I’m a much better designer now because of it too. Hopefully you will learn something too.

Assuming School Will Land You a Job

One of the biggest lies I have ever told growing up was “Finish High-School, go to College, get a job” and I believed every single part of it. Having a college degree isn’t enough to get a job in the web design industry. Build a strong portfolio with your best work only. Revisit some old school projects if possible and implement those if you’re looking for work. Also stay motivated! It can take a while to find a job in a saturated market and you will need to be persistent.

Not Proof Reading the Content

Over the first few weeks at Modern Earth Web Design my tasks involved creating pages and inserting content into them. Quickly did I learn that it’s wrong of me to assume that all content is grammatically perfect. You need to constantly read the content you’re writing and placing since you should never assume the person who wrote it proof read it. One of the key points of being a designer is to pay attention to detail so prove that you are one!

Working Destructively

One of the greatest things about the invention of Photoshop and Illustrator is that mock-ups are 100% free. It doesn’t cost you anything to create new mock-ups or artboards so why would you save over previous versions resulting in data loss? Versionize your work or save it into a repository. Having the ability to see what solutions you’ve tried before is incredibly valuable to a proper workflow.

Taking Criticism Personally

For some people this might be a big pill to swallow but without it you cannot succeed as a designer. Period. Your client is paying you to evaluate their needs and find solutions through the use of design. If a client doesn’t like a design you shouldn’t fight to the death to keep it. It didn’t meet their expectations. Confirm those expectations and start again.

Not Backing It Up

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times so I’ll try to keep it short. Take a back-up! Before beginning work of any kind on a website or design always make sure you have a backup in case things go south. This is one of those mistakes you only make once before you learn your lesson but you don’t have to!

Ask for Help, Take a Risk

When I first started off at Modern Earth Web Design it was rare for me to ask for help. I wanted to appear competent and able to handle anything thrown my way. Because of this I learned that when I got stuck on certain items I wasted time trying to figure things out on my own instead of seeking help. We are all a team here at Modern Earth Web Design and helping each other succeed will only do us good.

To the contrary to asking for help, it’s also important to take risks. Try something you don’t know and see what happens. The worst that could happen is you learn for the next time.

Overall it would be incredibly rare for you to start a career and not make mistakes. In fact, it would be impossible. Just because you’re done school doesn’t mean the learning stops. Try new things and proceed with caution when you need to. Hopefully these tips will shed some light on what to expect. The learning never stops!

Marketers are Mean

Emma Sadonick-Carriere

Dec142015

“Hi, my name is Emma and I’m an online marketing specialist”.  I can hear you cringing.  I’m well aware that most people don’t really like marketers (or advertisers).  Online marketers like myself are often the culprit behind those irritating ads before Youtube videos, ads on Facebook, and ads in search results.  We’re also the masterminds behind display ads that follow you to seemingly every website.  Or emails that pop-up in your inbox after you look at a travel booking site.  We’re not all bad, and we really do have the best intentions.  The kind of marketer you want working for you should be MEAN

Meticulous

A good marketer will take the time to review all the options, think of every possible angle and how a campaign or an ad could be received.  They’ll look at all the possible platforms and placements, all the variations of the creative, and then go back and double check everything.  Keen attention to detail is vital to effective marketing.  As is an understanding of who you are, what your business is and represents, and who your clients are.  Getting to know these key elements should be the first step to starting any marketing campaign.      

Entertaining

Think of some of the most memorable commercials you’ve seen; for me it Ikea’s Lamp, and the Doghouse series (Part 1, Part 2) from JC Penny.  All three ads are very subtle about including the product they’re selling, they focus on drawing you in with the characters and their story.  Advertising done right does not feel like advertising.  It feels like you’re being told a story.  Different advertising media can be used to tell an entertaining story that resounds with clients, something they can relate to, or something that sticks with them.  

Strategic marketing will determine what media and location will be most effective in getting your message to the right potential clients.  This helps your company - your brand - be in the right place at the right time when clients are ready to make a purchase decision.         

Analytical

Marketers are tasked with telling the story of your business, product, or service, across multiple platforms, often with limited ability to compare “apples to apples”.  With all the behaviour data that is readily available about consumers through tools like Google Analytics, and demographics data from social networks like Facebook, it’s easy to get lost in all the numbers.  Google Analytics alone tracks and reports 80 different data points across 4 different categories.  Facebook allows you to target ads down to people within a 1-mile radius of your business!  

Analyzing all the data that is tracked, noticing abnormalities, and finding their source is just one of the many tasks your marketer will need to handle.  Monitoring metrics, finding the most business-relevant ones, and comparing their effectiveness across platforms is all in a day's work. 

Necessary

Marketing, in all its forms, is a necessary evil.  Inbound, outbound, word of mouth, paid, organic, and traditional marketing all have their time and relevant applications.  Marketers can see both the need of the consumer, and the way your offering meets that need.  Strategic marketers will show your clients how you meet their needs and solve their problems when and where they’re in need, which is vital to the success of your business.  

Next time a pesky display ad is following you around the internet, remember the marketer and the company behind it.  What intention did they have in showing you that ad?  It wasn’t just to annoy you.  Some behaviour of yours indicated to them that the product or service they have to offer could meet a need you have.  Consider this next time; what have I searched, or what websites have I visited recently that may be related to this?  Could this solve the need at hand?

When talking about web application development first of all we should say something about their structure.  The majority of web apps will require a database for keeping data, a web server to handle user's/application requests, and a front end (either a developed web page or an app for a specific device) with Graphical User Interface (GUI).  Every part uses a specific type of programming language and as a result the total amount of programming languages in your project can easily reach anywhere between 5 and 10 or more.  Since each language has its own syntax and unique methods the diversity and complexity of your code grows with the number of technologies you are using. That fact makes web development a very difficult process where even an expert can fail.

Luckily the IT industry is an altruist society that is willing to help everyone on our planet.  Meanwhile Web developers create useful apps for people, desktop developers created a bunch of Integrated development environments (IDE) for web developers to simplify their work.

An IDE is the number one tool that you should use while writing your code. The majority of them will automatically check your code for possible typos, code syntax, auto-complete variables and methods names once you start typing them.  They will also simplify compiling, publishing and committing your code if necessary, turning labour intensive tasks to simple actions or even automating them behind the scenes.

The second tool you should use while developing web apps is frameworks.  The most unique code you develop still often consists of multiple identical smaller tasks that developers have automated already.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Using frameworks helps you avoid wasting your time developing something that already exists, or catching bugs after you have finally invented your own wheel.

Tool number three is a version control software. During the development process  requirements of the software that you are working on sometimes change. With version control software you can always track changes that were done to your web application and revert them easily. But that is not the main purpose of version control software.  To develop a product that doesn't look like a simple "Hello World" app within short period of time you will have to work in a team with other developers. That is where version control software is really crucial.  It allows several developers to work on the same piece of code simultaneously.

Let's imagine that you developed a web site for your client and are ready to test it. What can be simpler than that? Just open it on your browser and you are done.  But what if you are developing an application for a new mobile device and don’t have access to the actual device for testing?  Or you want to test the website on several different devices without the cost associated with purchasing each of them? In this case emulators are the answer.  This type of software will allow you to see how your product behaves in various environments without any hassle.  That's tool number four.

Once your web application is released, published, and the client is happy it is still important to keep your eye on it.  Web monitoring is a fifth category of tools that should be used. These tools will help you to track server load, and detect the right moment for hardware upgrades for your growing business.  They will also help you to detect possible malicious attempts by bots and spammers to break your system so you can protect your website in a timely manner.  Gathering statistics is also very important for a deeper understanding of how the current market looks and who your current and potential clients are.

Happy web development!

Having been a part of the world of digital design, marketing and online services for over a decade – I’ve seen the industry evolve and reinvent itself constantly. Through the use of computers and the power of the Internet, any piece of information we chose to seek out, can be available to us in an immediate fashion. Here are some of the biggest game-changers witnessed during my career.

The DNA of your website

In the late 90’s-early 2000’s the majority of websites were built using a table for layout. While this technique gave you pixel-perfect control in most web browsers, it created its own set of issues involving the ease of website updating, adding interactive elements, and fluidity to the layout. Since, through W3C standardization and the promotion of best practices by independent groups like A List Apart the way websites are coded have evolved to provide current day solutions.

The rise of non-desktop devices

There are some markets where visitors will access the Internet online through tablets or mobile devices more frequent than accessing from a desktop computer. The shift in device usage has lead the way for an expansive amount of native application development, and methodologies and languages like Responsive Website Design or JQuery Mobile were established out of necessity, in order to deliver a mobile-friendly or tablet-friendly web. Companies like Facebook have reported mobile viewership is on an explosive rise, while desktop viewings dwindle accordingly. In fact, the percentage of users only accessing Facebook from a mobile device sits at 47%, nearly a mobile majority (source: http://venturebeat.com/2015/11/04/47-of-facebooks-users-never-touch-the-service-on-desktop/).

Google’s unprecedented domination

Over 100 billion searches will be conducted this month (source: http://mashable.com/2015/10/12/google-mobile-searches/) with over half of the searches coming from mobile devices. Google can change the design industry simply by updating its algorithm or setting new rules based on past user behavior. More people searching from mobile devices? Google introduces their “mobile-friendly” search update (https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/6196932) which furthers plays into where and how your website will rank within their search results. This case-in-point where having a mobile-friendly presence is all the more important.

Social media and how we communicate

Early social media websites like Friendster could have paved the way for the juggernauts we use today. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ now rule the social media space. These platforms evolved the way we communicate with our friends and family anywhere they may end up across the globe – and like it or not, these platforms aren’t going anywhere quickly. With the creation of the platforms came new ways to reach clients or potential customers, whether it be organic search or advertisement based. Should your business be actively communicating with the public through one of these platforms – we think so.

Ease of content management and authoring

Keeping your website up-to-date has become a fact of life for business owners. Your website, acting similar to how the yellow pages would in the 20th century, is more often than not, the first exposure point for a new customer. The range of tools and options with which you can keep your website updated has never been more vast. There are many niche content management platforms available, which can be powerful in the right situation, or you can use one of the widely accepted options like WordPress. Powering close to 25% of the Internet’s websites and boasting a library of 29,000 plug-ins, the usage of WordPress has grown year after year (source: https://managewp.com/14-surprising-statistics-about-wordpress-usage). 

Every single day the industry is changing, which is one of the many reasons the excitement of my career has never become stagnant. While learning is an on-going, constant challenge the tools themselves have made it easier for individuals to close the knowledge gap – whether it be using Google to research an emerging topic, seeing an advertisement on social media for an industry conference  or reading an article published through WordPress – the information is available for anyone who wishes to seek it out.

Auditing Your SEO? Use This Free Tool

Emma Sadonick-Carriere

Dec072015

The web is full of tools you can use to audit the search engine optimization (SEO) of your website, but how do you pick the right one; how do these SEO audit tools know what ranking factors to check for? 

Rather than giving away specific ranking factors search engines are looking for, they prefer to tell us what they don’t like and leave the rest for us to guess.  We know the meta keyword tag isn’t used in ranking a website because Google said so.  We also know that deceptive hidden text or “cloaking” can be seen as a violation of webmaster guidelines and is likely to get your site penalized.  Anything that has a negative impact on the user experience, like keyword stuffing, will more than likely drive down your rankings.  

So, why not go right to the source to audit your SEO?  The Google Search Console, formerly Google Webmaster Tools, provides a wealth of data tracked directly from your website.  In the Google Search Console you find reports broken down into 4 key areas to monitor: Search Appearance, Search Traffic, Google Index, and Crawl.  

Search Appearance

The Search Appearance section of the Search Console dashboard contains several reports regarding the appearance of your website in search results.  This includes sitelinks, the links to internal pages of your website often found in Google Search results when you search for your domain.  Google does not allow website owners to specify which pages appear as sitelinks, they are generated based on various factors, one of which is page popularity.  If a sitelink appears for a page on your site you no longer want users to find you can request it be removed from the Search Console.  Other areas tracked under Search Appearance include:

  • structured data or rich snippets 
  • duplicate meta descriptions 
  • long/short meta descriptions 
  • duplicate title tags 
  • missing title tags 
  • long/short title tags 
  • non-informative title tags 

Monitoring these items and ensuring they meet the guidelines noted by Google can help increase your rankings in search results. 

Search Traffic

Search Console can be connected to the Google Analytics property for your website, the Search Traffic Search Analytics report shows the performance metrics Clicks, Impressions, Click Through Rate (CTR), and Position.  This section also tracks how many links to your website there are, who the links are from, what content is most often linked to, and the anchor text that is used in the link.  You can also see if any manual webspam actions (violations of Webmasters Guidelines) have been found on your site and what needs to be done to resolve them.  This section also includes a Mobile Usability report that provides recommendations to improve the user experience on mobile and tablet devices.      

Google Index

These reports show you how your website appears in Google as a whole.  You can see how many pages within your website have been added to the Google index, and a summary of keywords and variants used in your content sorted by significance as perceived by Google.  Ensuring the content on your website aligns well with the keywords you’re aiming to rank for improves your chances of ranking highly in Google search results. 

If you often update your website with information that does not necessarily need to be available indefinitely, you can request old or outdated urls be removed from the Google index from this area of the Search Console.  The requests should be made once you have removed them from the source of your website, as it is only a temporary removal request.  The content must be removed from the source of your website and blocked from crawling to have it permanently removed.  

Crawl

These reports show how your website appears in Google at the individual page level.  Crawl Errors reports any issues found by Google as they crawl your website, this is important to monitor as it can indicate an issue with your website that may be missed in simple day to day use.  Out dated pages that should be blocked and removed are often found in this report.  

The fetch as Google tool allows you to see exactly what Google sees when they crawl your website.  This is important for monitoring how easily Google and end users can access your website.  Slow load times and redirects can cause issues for both crawlers and users; this report will tell you if any action should be taken to improve the user experience.  You can also submit the “fetched” page to Google for indexing.  This is useful if you have made changes to your homepage, or a specific page, that you would like Google to start showing to searchers as soon as possible.    

Sitemaps in this section allows you to submit your xml sitemap to Google.  This tool is particularly useful if you have made major changes to the information architecture of your website and would like for the whole thing to be recrawled, not just a specific page.  These is no guarantee how soon after you submit your website it will be recrawled, but alerting Google a change has been made has been known to expedite the process.

Lastly, the robots.txt tester can be used to make sure the correct pages are available to be crawled across your website.  You can also confirm pages you don’t want to be included in the Google Index are not accessible by search engine crawlers. 

A good SEO Audit tool will check commonly accepted ranking factors like page titles, url structure, user accessibility, and content keywords.  The Google Search Console reports on all of these areas, and more.  Monitoring your website and reviewing the Google Webmasters Guidelines to ensure you meet or exceed them can only be beneficial to the search appearance of your website.

Clients often come to us with a specific requirement they need their website to handle.  This can be a special contact form that sends an SMS to the client, or a calculator to help users with their financial planning.  At Modern Earth Web Design, we compile these requirements and convert them into a website application beneficial to the client and their users.  

It’s important to keep in mind that there is a major difference between a “website application” and  an “app”.  The latter refers to an application you can download from a mobile store, such as Google Play or the iStore, whereas a “website application” is something mainly used within the website or can be major focus of the website.  A great example of a website application would be something like Ticketmaster.  For the purposes of this article, the term “application” will refer to website applications.

Here are 14 common misconceptions about website applications:

Anyone can make an application

While this may be true for smaller website applications, this is not the truth for much larger, more complex systems.  There can be a lot of layers when it comes to larger systems, like an events system where you need to consider all variables such as early bird pricing, tickets selling out, wish/waiting lists, etc.  For these types of large multi-layer systems it is best to work with an experienced professional.    

Website applications are just contact forms

In some cases, yes, website applications are just that.  However, some contact forms can be trickier than expected.  Some contact forms have additional steps or dependencies that a simple plugin may not be able to solve.  Website applications can be event systems, forums, blogs, member directories, image galleries, bulletin boards, and member-only sections.  There is no way that all website applications could be considered “just” contact forms.

Users will go through specific paths

When developing website applications, you tend to follow a specific path where everything works correctly, and you cannot possibly think of any other path anyone would ever take.  Enter: the user.  When I debug code and “try to break” the website application (meaning I try to find ways to cause errors or make something happen that shouldn’t), I always go off the beaten path.  Of course I ensure that the normal path works solidly, but my curiosity always leads me to a “what if I do this…” mentality.   

Users also go through the website application without any guiding hands, and they may be seeing it for the very first time.  During development you need to take into consideration, user skill level and knowledge of technology.   This mainly depends on your target audience, but you still need to be prepared to accept a level of tolerance of errors throughout the website application.  If the website application was found to be 98% issue free, would this be acceptable or do you need to invest additional time to get it to 100%?

Designers are best suited to create user interfaces

Understanding  how a user flows through a system is required when  creating the user interface.  A designer can design a visually appealing website, but if the user can’t find the content they want the website will not serve their needs.  As a quality assurance specialist, I understand users’ frustrations because I am a user too!  It irks me that I am not able to simply go through a checkout if I have to keep jumping through hoops to get to where I need to go.  The best user interface comes from those individuals that understand client’s needs.

Users will use every part of your website application

No matter how much blood, sweat, or tears you put into it, very few end-users will experience absolutely everything about your website application.  You can spend enormous amounts of time developing one portion, only to find out later that users do not use it at all, or that it is not something they can easily use.  For example, you have a baseball team management system, and you have built a function that automatically updates their batting average.  This system records all “at bats” and all hits by having the user manually enter the values per game.  In reality, the user determines that it is too cumbersome to type in all the values, and only wanted to enter in the average themselves.  This is one of the reasons why writing out the specifications to the project at the beginning is vital.

Start building a web application immediately

As a developer, I have the urge to start developing website applications immediately.  I jump in feet first and start coding.  Through my years of experience I’ve learned that it is *vital* to develop project specifications that outline what the end product needs to accomplish before a single letter is typed in code.  This gives you and your client clarity as to what the website application will do and what the client will expect as the end result.  Building things immediately without specifications in place can lead to  having  to go back and do patch work.  And yes, throughout the project there may be changes, but with a solid foundation to start, the changes will be easier to work into the system.

If I can do it on my computer, I should be able to do it on my phone

Simply put, there are things that you cannot do on your mobile phone for administration purposes.  Things such as file uploading or proper/high quality photo manipulation should still be done on a computer.  In the future, with newer and better technology, computers may go the way of the dinosaur and everything will be easily achievable on a mobile device.

Web applications are going to work in all browsers all the time

With new technology comes new, exciting features.  And as they say, out with the old, in with the new; items that used to work without issues in the current website application no longer work as they should in the new browsers.  There are a LOT of cases where the engine that runs a browser may completely render “div”s (building blocks of HTML) in a different way than it used to run.  It would be amazing if we could predict all the new changes that every browser could come up with so that we can future proof our website applications, but in reality, there is absolutely no way to do so.  The safest route would be to follow the W3 standards and keep the website application up-to-date with these.  They are guidelines for creating website applications and websites that the majority of browser authors adhere to.

The website application is bug-free

As any experienced developer knows, a website application cannot be 100% bug free.  There will always be a case where on the twelfth day of the twelfth month at the eighth hour and the moon is glowing a certain way that something happens in the software that was unexpected.  It is unrealistic to assume that your website application will be bug free.  It is the tolerance level you need to be satisfied with in order to consider the project complete.

The website application is built and complete, no more work is needed

A website application is never done.  There will always be new requests, new tweaks, ugly bugs, and new standards that need to be followed.  These come in the form of government restrictions that need to be followed, to client’s determining  that they need  the application do something it currently doesn’t, and everything in between.  There is always room for improvement.

The web application was working fine yesterday, and now it isn’t.  Nothing changed on my end…

When a website application is being worked on, sometimes things change that affect the user’s view of the website.  This could be a new CSS code entry or a file that is renamed.  Users may go to the website application and find things aren’t as they remembered.  Most often users need to clear their cache.  Every browser takes copies of the website’s html and stores it on the device to speed up access to the website the next time it is accessed.  This leads to an older version of the file being used instead of the newest code.  There are many ways around this, such as content-expiry or adding “?v=1.0.X” to the css to force the browser to download the newest version.  The quickest and easiest way is for the user to hit CTRL+F5 which clears the cache and does a hard refresh.

It's a small update, should be quick

It is important to thoroughly think of what consequences a small update could have, and to make sure all aspects of the update are taken into consideration.  For example, if the client wanted to add a new field to their mortgage calculator and provides the formula for it, as a developer we need to make sure that field works correctly based on the formula provided, as well as making sure that this field gets reported correctly if the report is to be stored after the calculation is complete.  Always keep the big picture in mind when doing a “small” update.

It's only one bug…

This is a developer’s nightmare.  You fix one bug, only to cause a ripple effect that causes a hundred more bugs!  GAAAAAH!!! The best way around this would be to make sure your foundation is built as strong as possible in the beginning.  The next best way is to try to see the big picture and step through what your proposed change will be and its impact on the system before you make any significant changes.

Creating a website application means instant revenue

When a website application has been tested thoroughly and is ready for release, it is time to push it live.  At this point, some clients think that they will start immediately generating revenue from their efforts.  If only it was that simple… With a combination of advertising, customer base, and time, a well developed website application will produce results.  

 

These are just some of the most common misconceptions of website applications.  Remember that not all website applications are simple and that they don’t magically get completed right away.  It takes time to make sure the application is thought out well first, and in the long run will save you a lot of headaches.

Responsive Design. It’s probably one of those buzzwords you’ve heard around and you might have an idea what it means but can’t quite see the whole picture yet. We at Modern Earth Web Design love Responsive Design for a multitude of reasons and we will be covering exactly what Responsive Design is, how it affects you and your users, and why it’s important.

 

What is Responsive Design Exactly?

In today’s day and age it’s nearly impossible to predict how users will be viewing your website. Users will be accessing your site on Macbooks, Android Phones, iPhones, iPads, desktop computers, and even smart TV’s.You might have a good understanding of what sort of devices your user base will be accessing your website from but the truth is that you don’t know 100% where all of your users are coming. 10 - 15 years ago you could simply design a website for your average desktop computer and get by just fine, but the year is 2015 and you would be hard pressed to find somebody without some sort of smartphone or tablet in their pocket. A successful modern website needs to provide a proper environment to these users otherwise they get frustrated and leave your website, and nobody wants that.

Responsive Design is the ability for your website to support all of these devices, big or small, and provide an enjoyable experience for the user. My parents always used to tell me “work smarter, not harder.” and in the realm of Responsive Design it couldn’t be more true. It might sound like quite a task, building one website that can support every single kind of device, but it’s a lot easier than creating a specific website for one specific device. Think of it like your smartphone;not only is it a phone but it’s a web browser, email client, calculator, gaming device, and so much more. In regards to responsive design, it makes much more sense to create one unified website that can support every single device. Everything about the website is more organized, unified, and easier to maintain for you and your users.

 

Mobile Websites Vs. Responsive Design

In 2007 Steve Jobs unveiled the world's first iPhone. It wasn’t the first device to feature a mobile browser but it was the one device that ignited a flame in the web design community to do something about the current state of mobile websites. We had to act fast. Users wanted an experience that was easy to use on their phones, but desktop websites couldn't keep up. With years of trial and error Responsive Design came to be but before that desktop websites had a separate mobile counterpart.

Mobile Websites were a separate website from the usual desktop website. When visiting a website it would detect if you were on a mobile device or not. If you were, it would take you to a website similar to “mobile.example.com” instead of “example.com”. For the most part this worked. It gave users an experience that they could use on their devices and deter users from leaving however user now had to remember two different URL’s. Because the mobile and desktop were technically two different websites, two different websites needed to be maintained creating twices as much work than one website (if you’re committed).

Eventually Responsive Design came around and “swept through the nation” as they say. The ability to provide users a proper mobile experience while maintaining one website outweighed the value of a separate website for mobile users. Of course both approaches feature pros and cons but each situation is different and needs to be evaluated by a professional to determine which route is the best way to go.

 

Mobile Internet Usage is Increasing

No custom built website is fully responsive out of the box. It takes work to design and tweak a website perfectly for the end-users. But is it worth it? I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this before or even while you’re reading this post. 

 

Smart Insights, Mobile Usage 2015 - Modern Earth Web Design - Online Marketing Winnipeg

 

According to Smart Insights, Adults spend more time on their mobile device than their desktop device. As any sort of business owner or entrepreneur it would be foolhardy to ignore this platform. Sure users can access desktop websites on their phone however it’s hard to use, specific features of a website don’t transfer over well and almost always leave users frustrated and cause them to leave your website. A responsive interface will keep them on your website and keep your users happy which reflects incredibly on your website.

 

Improved Search Engine Rankings

On April 21st, 2015 Google, the world's largest search engine (maybe you’ve heard of them?) updated their algorithm to favour mobile friendly websites. Meaning when a user makes a query on their device, Google will favour websites with a responsive layout placing their rankings above other websites that do not support responsive design.

Want to see how your website ranks in Google’s eyes? Try out their Mobile-Friendly Test to see how responsive your website is. If your website didn’t do as well as you hoped here is a list of tips to follow:

  • Increase text size for mobile users so it's legible without zooming
  • Use a proper mobile navigation (dropdown menus don't work on mobile!)
  • Ensure that users don't have to zoom in on your website to use it
  • Resize images to decrease page load speeds

And those are just a few simple tricks that will help immensely with how Google views your website. Once your website is responsive Google will index and crawl your website again and is likely to place it back into the rankings for searches done on a mobile device.

 

Responsive Design is Here to Stay

At the end of the day Responsive Design is definitely worth the initial investment. It helps to create a positive impression of your business with your users, lets your user experience a proper interface on your website, and can even increase your search engine rankings. It’s 2015 and the pros outweigh the cons immensely. If your website isn’t responsive yet it’s not too late! Contact us today at Modern Earth Web Design and we will help you convert your website to a responsive design your users deserve.