Stressing Out About Your Website Part 1

I recently took on a new client who said they wanted a website for their company. We met, talked, signed the contract and all was good and well and perfect in the world. Until they got home and realized that they didn’t have a clue what they wanted to do and started getting lost in the process.

This is not an unusual development. Setting up a website for your company can be a daunting proposal, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to have a huge website to be successful, although your site could well grow into that. But at the beginning, as someone once said, 99% of success is just showing up. So in my next few posts I’m going to try to destress things and just give you the basics of what you should be doing and looking at. And the first point is:

If you’re going to stress out about anything, stress out about the content, not about the style.

Vincent Flanders runs a website called “Websites That Suck.” And one of his themes is one that I only halfway agree with: Nobody cares about your website. I think people do care but his point is that you have to make your website for your customer’s needs and not your own. Brian Halligan of HubSpot even went so far as to say that no one cares what your website looks like. I won’t go that far, but I will make two points that go hand in hand.

1: In all my years of doing this, I have never, ever, once seen anyone decide to do business with a company because they had a “cool” website.

… and, on the other hand,

2: I have often seen people NOT do business with a company because they had a website that was difficult to use.

So, if you remember anything I’m saying here yoday it’s this: Content is king. Style is secondary.

We’ll get back to content later, but for now let’s look at style. People are going to be turned off by a bad style, but the rules for styling a simple, beginning website are simple and few. And they are:

1: Use clean, appropriate, inviting graphics. No pictures of the CEO’s cat. And make sure the graphics are sharp and not fuzzy. I always tell my clients, when they’re sending pictures, to send them as big as possible. (You can use Dropbox or a Google Drive is they’re too big and won’t email.) I can shrink down a big picture so it comes out nice. But despite what those guys at NCIS do, there’s no way to blow up a small picture so it comes out pixel perfect.

2. Use easy to read, grammatically correct text. And by “easy to read” I mean two things. First, make sure you don’t get too technical and pretend that your customer doesn’t know ANYTHING about your business at all. Secondly, it should be physically easy to read. No goofy fonts, no teeny tiny fonts, and make sure the font color is readable against your background color and doesn’t cause too much eyestrain. And I usually recommend against putting text on top of a background picture. There are just too many variables to deal with and something is going to get lost.

3. Intuitive, easy to use navigation. Web designer Steve Krug wrote a book whose title I subscribe to. It was called “Don’t Make Me Think.” His theme is that the more people have to puzzle out how to use your website, the less they will be interested in what you have to offer. There are studies that say that you only have seven seconds to get people interested in you through your website. If 6 of those seconds are spent trying to figure out how to work your site, that leaves you very little time to make the sale.

And that’s really it! There’s just not that much to it as far as starting to create your site. If you follow those three basic steps, you’re well on your way!

Responsive Websites: Now More Important Than Ever

20I’ve talked before about the benefits of responsive design and the importance of having a mobile friendly website. More than half the internet traffic in the world is now coming from mobile devices. While the desktop is not dead yet, the mobile browser is slowly but surely taking over.

That’s where responsive design comes in. Most small companies can’t afford to create separate websites for both desktop computers and mobile devices. There is such a wide disparity in the screen sizes of mobile devices that it can be difficult as a designer to satisfy all of them. But a responsive design automatically adjusts itself to any size screen, be it a 3000 pixels wide desktop monitor all the way down to a 300 pixels wide iPhone.

And now, as far as your Google listing is concerned, it’s more important that ever. Google just released an update to their algorithm that gives greater weight to whether your website is mobile friendly or not, giving a higher ranking to those that are. So, you may find yourself taking a hit in your Google rankings in favor of your competitors!

I had originally thought that this would only affect searches done through a mobile device. After all, it would make sense that, if you were doing a search on a mobile phone that Google should send you to a site that is designed for a mobile phone. But I am hearing stories now that that is not necessarily the case. Some customers report that after the update came out, they notice an immediate drop in their rankings.

So, now more than ever, it’s time for you to bring your site up to date and see if it’s ready for the future. or rather, if it’s ready for the now! At Marshmallow Fox Web Design, we’re ready to help you make your site responsive and adaptable to any device, and help your business grow!

 

 

OMG!!! MUST READ!!! I JUST WROTE THIS BLOG POST AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!!!

wondering_2858531Nothing.

This, my friends, is what is called “clickbaiting.” And sadly, since you’re here, it works.

You’ve seen them … the links that claim something is a “must see” or described as “mind blowing.”

I’ve yet to see one of them that I couldn’t have lived without or that really expanded my mind in any useful way. It’s just a way for internet marketers to get you to click on the link and increase their page views, which in turn makes them more attractive to advertisers.

Maybe I’m being old-fartish but I really, really wish that we could go back to the pre-“MadMen” style when you could just present your product to the customer and they could decide whether they wanted it or not instead of trying to trick the customer into buying something they may not even want or need.

And that’s the way we do things at M. Fox Web Design. We’re not going to promise you the world and not be able to deliver like other firms might do. I can’t tell you that your website will suddenly make your business explode (although it could!) A website is a tool; it all depends on how you use it.

But we will give you the best tool that we can possibly give you. Whether you need content management design, database design, an e-commerce site or just a few simple informational pages, we’ll work with you to project your best possible light to your customers. And at a price that won’t break your bank.

One of my pet peeves as a web designer

286892_1436Just needed to get this off my chest.

One of my pet peeves as a web designer is analogous to this: let’s say that you’ve installed your own plumbing in your brand new house and suddenly realize that you’re having problems with your water pipes leaking.

Do you call a plumber to fix it? Probably, but the plumber is usually going to ask why you didn’t call him to install your plumbing when you really didn’t know what you were doing. And he’s probably going to charge you more for having to decipher exactly what it was you did that caused the problem in the first place.

Another scenario. You get the plumber to come to your house to either fix your plumbing or install your pipes. He gets there and you present him with a bright shiny new set of wrenches and spanners and say “Here are the tools you’re going to use.” He’s probably going to look at you funny, throw your tools in the trash, go his truck and bring in his own.

That’s fine if you’re a plumber. But for some reason, I see over and over again people asking for a web designer to fix a site that they’ve tried to create by themselves without any understanding of the complexities. Or, as has happened to me many times, a customer will call having created a Wix login or signed up for a GoDaddy website builder, paid the money for it and then want me to use it for them.

If you want a website, I’m more than happy to do the work for you. But let me do the complete job. Please don’t do a halfway job and then expect me to salvage the ruins for you. And please don’t expect me to use tools that are going to return a less than optimal result for you.

Thank you. I feel better having gotten that off my chest. Now I am at peace.

How to Tell if You Have a Bad Web Designer

13If you have a bad plumber, your pipes leak. If you have a bad electrician, your wires spark and your house burns down. But web design has been hidden behind such a lot of unnecessary jargon that it can be difficult to know if you have a bad web designer. Here are a few tips.

1: They will try to sell you as bill of goods before they know your needs

One of the things I enjoy as a web designer is getting to know local businesses, what they do,  how they do it, and what their goals are. Armed with that knowledge, I can present them with a proposal that can help them fulfill those goals. Beware of a design company that’s going to try to sell you a website system before they’ve gotten to know you.

I’ve talked about WordPress before so I won’t belabor that point. But as an example, many firms will try to seduce you with a WordPress site without ever knowing if that’s really what you need! It’s a bit like going to the hardware store and having them try to sell you the 1000 piece tool kit complete with rolling toolbox and sliding glass doors when all you came in for was an adjustable wrench. If someone tries to sell you a website before they’ve even gotten to know you and what you need, steer clear.

2: Bad designers use templates

Sorry, folks, but it’s true. Using templates is bad web design. One of the things I like to do is to try to give each of my customers a unique look. One of the things that turns me off of a business when I’m web surfing is a site that looks like everybody elses. I’ve even seen competing companies using the same template!

Template design is lazy design. Any fool can grab a template off the web, plug in some text and graphics and throw it up on the web. That’s not web designing. And if your “designer” is lazy enough to be doing that, how much lazier are they going to be with the rest of your site?

3: A good web designer will work for you!

Here’s a point that I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of disagreement on, but I think it has to be said. But generally we web designers are a pretty arrogant lot. We may put  a lot of fancy JavaScript or HTML5 geegaws and gimcracks on your site. But 9 times out of 10 we’re not doing it to help your business. We’re simply doing it because we can. And the secret is that a lot of us aren’t really designing to impress you. We’re designing to impress other web designers.

So if you take one thing away from this lesson, let it be this:

As a business, you’re always working for the person one step below you.

As a web designer, we should be working for the business who needs a site to promote their goods and services, not ours. As a business, you need to have a website that gives your customers the information they need, easily found, to take advantage of what you have to offer. It does your customer no good if you have a site that is difficult to navigate and doesn’t present information in an easy to use manner. And it does your business no good if I’ve given you a website that features a lot of useless special effects.

That’s not to say that there’s not a place of JavaScript effect on your site. But the line between being a tool to help your business and a major annoyance to your customers is a fine one indeed.

 

Wither WordPress

wordpressMore than once I’ve had customers come to me asking for a website and telling me that they want a WordPress site. The first question I always ask is “Why WordPress?” And without exception, none of them ever can really explain why.

WordPress is largely misunderstood. It originally started as a blogging platform (in fact, it is what is driving this blog!) which metamorphosed into a website design platform. But it still has all of the back end of the content management system which most websites simply do not need. For most simple business websites, it’s inappropriate. It’s rather like wanting to buy an oven to make cookies for your kids and then investing in a huge industrial sized restaurant oven with all of the bells and whistles with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. It may be nice, but it’s way more than what you need.

And in some situations it may be dangerous. There are millions of sites created with WordPress on the net. But since they all use the same technology, if hackers find a way to exploit one, they have a way to exploit millions, yours included. Once again, for simple websites it’s more than you need and the back door that hackers might use to infect your site may well be in all of that extra weight that you’re probably don’t even use.

Portability is another factor. If I want to move one of my clients websites to a new server, all I have to do is take the copies I have on file and re-upload them. With WordPress it’s different. You have to move the database, you have to reinstall WordPress (and make sure you have the right version – I’ve had transfers fail because we transferred a database but used a newer version of WordPress and it all fell apart.) And that doesn’t even include all of the plug-ins that you might have added. They will all have to be reinstalled and reconfigured as well!

I have heard that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is much easier using WordPress as well. But the SEO work that WordPress does is pretty much standard practice for web designers anyway. It just doesn’t add anything that is not “best practices” among most web design firms as it is.

Since you have this huge backend, WordPress can also be very resource intensive. Which means that your website is going to load slower. And it’s probably loading things that your website doesn’t even use.

So, you have a website that is resource intensive, slower loading, needs tons more space than you probably really need and in which hackers regularly look for security flaws to exploit. And which may turn into a nightmare if you decide to switch servers.

This is not to say that WordPress is a bad system. I use it myself. But it needs to be used when it is appropriate. For most sites, it is not and may even make your site more vulnerable as a result.

25 in 14 … and Win Free Web Hosting for a Year!

419846_14072013I’m not ashamed to report that 2013 was not a banner year for Marshmallow Fox Web Design. While necessary, the server transfer did take a lot out of us in terms of time, effort and profit. And we had a few projects that did not pan out as well as we might have liked.

Nonetheless, we soldier on and have decided to redouble our goals for 2014 and set a standard of 25 new or converted sites from now until the end of 2014. And we need your help.

How can you help? By telling everyone you know about us. I have always lived by the maxim “if you don’t like my work, tell me! But if you do like it, tell everyone else!” And that’s what I need you to do. Do you have friends, associates or business connections that may need a website, or are currently unhappy with their current provider? Tell them about us! Post about us on Facebook! Let people know that you have someone who is honest, capable, and reliable and can get the work done at a fraction of the cost that others may be charging.

But, you may ask … what’s in it for me? I’d be asking the same question.

We’ve run a promotion before where we pay you $25 for every referral you send us that result in a signed contract. We’re extending that throughout all of next year!

But, we’re upping the stakes as well. Now, for every referral you send us that at least results in a meeting, your name will be put in a drawing for a years free web hosting! That’s up to a $250 value and money in your pocket!

So … take a look around and help us out … and get rewarded in return!

Why you should not use a free website building service

Free website builders have been popping up like … well, like things that pop up a lot. Some are okay, some are terrible, but all should be avoided as there are pitfalls to all of them which could end up hurting your brand in the long run. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m biased. I’m a web designer and I want your business. But there are some thing you should be aware of if you decide to go that route.

1: You’ll have a site that looks like everyone else’s

Virtually every free website builder is only going to allow you to build your website based on certain specific templates. You’ll recognize them if you wander around the web a bit and sadly, I’ve even seen web designers websites use them. And that’s fine if you want a site that looks like every other site on the web. But your brand should be unique and your site should be unique. If you use a template, your competition is just one click away from having a site that looks just like yours.

2: Basic sites have very basic functions

And if all you want is a basic site, that’s fine. But as your business grows (and that is the point of your website … to grow your business, right?) you’re going to want more and better functionality which a basic website isn’t going to give you. Or, they’re going to start charging you more for the added functionality.

And, when we combine #1 and 2 together we get …

3: Form should follow function

Don’t get lured into the trap of trying to fit your website into a box that it may not fit in. Your business, and the functionality you need in a website should take precedence over the box you’re trying to fit it in. Create the box that your business will fit in; don’t try to stuff it into a box where it may not fit or where it may not be appropriate. A good designer will create a site that fits your business. A free template design tries to fit your business into their box.

 4: Overcoding

Free website builders have to be all things to all people. When that happens, they end up adding a ton of code to your site that you don’t necessarily need. This is what I call “overcoding” and it can really slow down your site. As one who looks at the code behind websites on a daily basis, it drives me a bit crazy to see all the unnecessary coding behind the simplest of sites, especially when it’s taken a while to load in. The prevailing wisdom is that you have seven seconds in which to get your customers attention on your site before their attention wanders off. And overcoding can use up a lot of those seven seconds.

5: The host may require you to add their own advertisements

I was reworking a site for one of my customers one time and they asked me what in the world an advertisement was doing on their site. It turned out that as part of the free service, they were required to put an ad for them at the bottom of their page. (I actually tried this at one time; it worked out that I actually ended up showing an ad for my competition!)

6: Hidden costs

Nothing is free. No matter how much they try to convince you that you’re getting a free website, somehow, somewhere along the line, you’re going to end up paying for it. You’ll pay for it in charges for extra functionality, more web space or bandwidth, or fees after the first free month. You’re going to pay for it with me as well, but at least I’m honest about it and I’ll tell you what your fees are going to be up front.

7: Support

How much support are you going to get from the free services? True, many of them have online tutorials, but as far as talking to a real live person who can hold your hand while you try to sort things out? Not likely.

And do you really want to? You have a business to run. If your sink backs up, are you going to stop running your business to fix your sink or call a plumber? It’s the same with your website. You probably don’t have the time to try to sort out all the ins and outs of web designing. You have widgets to sell! So, go sell your widgets and let us take help you navigate the maze of getting your business on the web.

 

Responsive Design

Back when I fist started designing websites, we had it easy. Back then everybody pretty much had 640 pixels wide monitors. You know, the ones the size of a small TV set. Maybe if you had an advanced system you had a 1000 pixels wide monitor, but those were few and far between.

Nowadays web designers are faced with having to design for devices anywhere from 3000 pixels wide monitors all the way down to iPhones which are only 320 pixels wide. And we have to use the same graphics and text and retain at least a minimum of navigation. It can be a daunting task. You can see a website designed for larger monitors on a smaller device, but it will either be scaled down so small that your customers won’t be able to read it, or it will require them to scroll up and down and left and right to see it all. And basically, web users don’t like to scroll if they don’t have to.

Luckily, a few years ago designers took on the attitude of divorcing the content of the website from the design using CSS, a process called semantic design. And further advances in CSS known as CSS3 have allowed us to create a process called responsive design.

Responsive design is a process by which your website will render correctly on any size screen; all the way from wide desktop monitors down to the smallest cell phone screen while retaining the structural integrity of your site. It uses all of the same files – graphic and text – and automatically readjusts itself to the proper dimensions.

Want to see it in action? Our own site here is a responsive design. Try re-sizing your browser and you’ll see how the elements of the site adapt themselves to the size of the browser.

Why is this important? The alternative is trying to create a different website style for any size browser. Do you want to spend four to five times as much for a single website? And when you have to update the site, you’ll have to update it four or five times over. With responsive design, it’s update once and you’re done.

However the most important reason is this: it’s estimated that by the year 2014, more than half of all web traffic will be on mobile devices. Some forecasters seeing it happening even sooner.

Is your website ready for the coming explosion in mobile web traffic? Contact us at Marshmallow Fox and we’ll help make sure your site takes advantage of the new paradigm.