Category Archives: Web Design

Some Principles Of Effective Web Design

Like the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, effective web design is judged by the users of the website and not the website owners. There are many factors that affect the usability of a website, and it is not just about form (how good it looks), but also function (how easy is it to use).

Websites that are not well designed tend to perform poorly and have sub-optimal Google Analytics metrics (e.g. high bounce rates, low time on site, low pages per visit and low conversions). So what makes good web design? Below we explore the top 10 web design principles that will make your website aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, engaging, and effective.

Good web design always caters to the needs of the user. Are your web visitors looking for information, entertainment, some type of interaction, or to transact with your business? Each page of your website needs to have a clear purpose, and to fulfill a specific need for your website users in the most effective way possible.

People on the web tend to want information quickly, so it is important to communicate clearly, and make your information easy to read and digest. Some effective tactics to include in your web design include: organising information using headlines and sub headlines, using bullet points instead of long windy sentences, and cutting the waffle.

In general, Sans Serif fonts such as Arial and Verdana are easier to read online (Sans Serif fonts are contemporary looking fonts without decorative finishes). The ideal font size for reading easily online is 16px and stick to a maximum of 3 typefaces in a maximum of 3 point sizes to keep your design streamlined.

A well thought out colour palette can go a long way to enhance the user experience. Complementary colours create balance and harmony. Using contrasting colours for the text and background will make reading easier on the eye. Vibrant colours create emotion and should be used sparingly (e.g. for buttons and call to actions). Last but not least, white space/ negative space is very effective at giving your website a modern and uncluttered look.

A picture can speak a thousand words, and choosing the right images for your website can help with brand positioning and connecting with your target audience. If you don’t have high quality professional photos on hand, consider purchasing stock photos to lift the look of your website. Also consider using infographics, videos and graphics as these can be much more effective at communicating than even the most well written piece of text.

Navigation is about how easy it is for people to take action and move around your website. Some tactics for effective navigation include a logical page hierarchy, using bread crumbs, designing clickable buttons, and following the ‘three click rule’ which means users will be able to find the information they are looking for within three clicks.

Placing content randomly on your web page can end up with a haphazard appearance that is messy. Grid based layouts arrange content into sections, columns and boxes that line up and feel balanced, which leads to a better looking website design.

Eye tracking studies have identified that people scan computer screens in an “F” pattern. Most of what people see is in the top and left of the screen and the right side of the screen is rarely seen. Rather than trying to force the viewer’s visual flow, effectively designed websites will work with a reader’s natural behaviour and display information in order of importance (left to right, and top to bottom).

Everybody hates a website that takes ages to load. Tips to make page load times more effective include optimising image sizes (size and scale), combining code into a central CSS or JavaScript file (this reduces HTTP requests) and minify HTML, CSS, JavaScript (compressed to speed up their load time).

It is now commonplace to access websites from multiple devices with multiple screen sizes, so it is important to consider if your website is mobile friendly. If your website is not mobile friendly, you can either rebuild it in a responsive layout (this means your website will adjust to different screen widths) or you can build a dedicated mobile site (a separate website optimised specifically for mobile users).

It is easy to create a beautiful and functional website, simply by keeping these design elements in mind. Have you got a website design that needs reviewing or optimising? Or perhaps, you are planning a website and you are looking to get the design right from the ground up. Either way, these principles of effective web design can help your website be more engaging, useful, and memorable for visitors.

Should Know How Big is WordPress Exactly

WordPress is aiming for 50% market share, in Matt Mullenweg’s own words from an interview with Kitchen Sink WordPress:

The next goal is the majority of websites. We want to get to 50%+ and there’s a lot of work between now and then. As the percentage increases, it gets harder and harder to grow the market share, and we have to grow the market share by doing things we haven’t done in the past – really thinking about the onboarding process, really thinking about the integration with social networks, and with how WordPress works on touch devices, which is going to be the predominant computing platform of the future. These things are going to be really important.

What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do.
Right now, WordPress claims a 24% share. We decided to dig through the statistics to try and find out a bit more about where they come from, what they really mean and how WordPress may need to adapt to hit its target – and if such a seemingly ambitious target is reasonable.
Of course, one must bear in mind the scale of the web: 24% market share is huge. As I began writing this post, WordPress 4.2 (the latest version) had been downloaded 48,258,660 times. In just the time until I finished it, that figure had risen to 48,282,215 (23.5k downloads).
So, now, the results of my research – beginning with what exactly makes up that 24% figure and what it means for WordPress.

24%: Says Who?

The figure of 24% (or 24.2%, more precisely) comes from W3Techs’ analysis. Of the websites they monitor, a quarter of all of them use WordPress CMS.
Obviously, not all websites use a CMS – in fact, 58.6% of the websites W3Techs analyzed aren’t using a CMS that they monitor for. There is a caveat here – they may not be able to detect it if the website has hidden it or if the CMS is especially obscure or bespoke. Since that’s not the case for most websites, the figure provided by W3Techs can by-and-large be taken as representative.
Out of the remaining 41.3% that do use a content management system, the figure of 58.6% (entirely coincidentally) resurfaces. So, in terms of market share among websites that already use a CMS, WordPress has already surpassed the halfway mark.

That becomes the case even more if you consider each separate website as an installation, which W3Techs largely don’t – they’ll only count a website as a separate WordPress website if it has its own URL, rather than a * one.

Considering the next most popular CMS by W3Techs’ metrics makes the statistics for WordPress yet more impressive. While not insignificant, Joomla’s 2.8% of the web (as opposed to WordPress at 24.2%) rather pales in comparison – and while WordPress’ use is booming, Joomla’s is declining.
In this light, WordPress’ (and also Automattic’s) influence over such huge portions of the web – particularly the sections that publish – is extensive to say the least.
The figures W3Techs has compiled are, naturally, not a
complete reflection of the web. Even Google can’t know about every single website out there (as hard as it might try). W3Techs actually looks only at the top ten million Alexa-ranked websites on the web. That’s likely to discount quite a lot of WordPress-powered blogs (even active ones) and other websites, so while being a measure obviously designed to make statistical analysis practical, there’s no guarantee that it’s a representative sample of the web. Nevertheless, it does give the best reflection we can really hope to get.

Who Is (And Isn’t) Using WordPress?

As noted, the statistics we’re using are potentially not a completely representative sample, but within that sample, WordPress is by far the most used CMS platform. Although Drupal sites tend to have more traffic, WordPress is in line with most other CMS platforms on that front.

WordPress lags behind Drupal in high-traffic sites, though one could hypothesize that there could be a lot of high-traffic WordPress sites whose averages are pulled down by the sheer number of lower-traffic sites.
However, as I discovered when I looked individually at the top 250 Alexa sites, only six used WordPress and only two of those used WordPress to power the whole website – those two, incidentally, were and
In terms of the highest ranked sites, the trend seems to be that media organizations were using WordPress (quite a common theme in some of the highest ranked sites anyway) to publish less formal content, often from contributors as opposed to the organizations’ editorial staff. The web is undoubtedly revolutionizing the media and these sorts of contributions are rapidly replacing full-paid editorial staff, not least because it’s much easier and cheaper to have subtly “sponsored” content. A prime example is The Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section which, although not WordPress, is a good example as one of the most-read online publications. The debate over whether this is a healthy state for traditional print media is one for another time, but this more “bloggy” content from large organizations is likely to make WordPress an increasingly viable option.
However, the big players are far from everything, and WordPress’ huge share comes from the millions using the platform for their smaller sites.

Even though it makes up ~0.00001% of W3Tech’s 24.2% figure, is a good indicator of what many other, smaller self-hosted sites are using WordPress for: creating pages on a website, often with blogs. Blogging is what WordPress started out for and while it has developed into a full CMS subsequently, this is what a big part of its use is still going to be about. Naturally, there are different interpretations of its blogging features – variously used for traditional blogging, press releases and organizational news – but in essence they’re doing the same thing.
Clearly, for running relatively simple sites, WordPress ticks all the boxes with its core features: ease in picking and changing designs, blogging, page, easy image and file integration, security and friendly UX. Then, of course, there’s the cost advantage.

What Else Could WordPress Do?

Automattic has been going to a great deal of trouble to expand what WordPress can do, because one of the platform’s greatest strengths is obviously the range of extra features its plugins can add; from forums, to social networks, to eCommerce. The latter is especially important given that Automattic just bought the company behind WooCommerce for US$30,000,000. It’s significant because these are areas where WordPress isn’t used; platforms like Magento, specifically built for eCommerce, has 2.8% of the CMS market share (1.2% overall Web share), with nearly a quarter of a million users. This is one area where WordPress doesn’t control the market as much as it could, and it seems Automattic wants to remedy that.
And who else isn’t using WordPress? Well, that 58% not using any measured CMS at all is quite a large audience to target. There are all sorts of different websites under the “no measured CMS” banner. Many will be using bespoke solutions, perhaps because they feel that WordPress can’t be flexible enough to cater to their individual site’s needs.
It would seem logical that going forward, it’s going to gradually get more difficult to attract more users to the platform. This is because increasingly narrow features will need to be added to attract more difficult users, without undermining the simplicity of the systems its existing users enjoy.
In saying that, the market segment that will obviously have to be tackled since it occupies more than half (even if some gains are made from other CMS platforms) is those websites not using tracked CMS (ie. including bespoke solutions).
Reaching 50%: A Worthwhile Target?

It’s worth asking if that 50% web share is a worthwhile target to pursue, in a number of senses.

Firstly, WordPress and its most influential affiliates (i.e. Automattic) have made clear aims to “democratize publishing”. It could quite well be asked whether this big aim can obtained by achieving an even larger market dominance, potentially pushing out other innovation. Of course, everyone on the internet is free to use whichever platform they please, but aiming to move to what could become an oligopoly or even effective monopoly market could arguably stifle any innovation through new platforms. Many states will regulate, or at least monitor, this in most industries and it could be suggested that this 50% aim could be irresponsible – leading to a less desirable position than the market as a whole is currently in.
Perhaps a more pertinent question is how achievable this particular target is; it’s arguably beyond pointless to have an unrealistic target, even putting aside questions about the consequences of such aims.

While the number of people not using a CMS is decreasing and WordPress is filling the gap, plenty of websites with more custom features – such as eCommerce – will need a lot of convincing to move to WordPress. Many still feel that platforms designed specifically for their needs are better than WordPress with a plugin – and this might apply, for instance, to community sites too: would vBulletin users consider abandoning such a mature platform for bbPress?
That’s not to say that it’s impossible to convert these users from other established platforms, or their bespoke solutions: WordPress just has to offer the best functionality as well as the obvious attraction of the cost savings it provides. Again, that’s not impossible, but it will require a lot of hard work, and potentially more marketing than has been required for the first quarter share. WordPress’ best advocates are its own users, so breaking through into these new areas – a charge apparently being led by Automattic – is going to require a steady stream of people converting.
It seems then, that the 50% target may well be achievable with huge investment in plugins to develop new functionality and resources on top of a modern, future-ready core platform.

Theseus’ paradox is often brought up with regard to the future of the WordPress platform. It’s a thought experiment that asks whether something with all its components changed is still the same thing. But actually, the future seems to lie not necessarily in what the Core platform becomes, other than essential modernization to make it completely fit for a mobile web. The success of the platform in breaking into new areas of the market, as Automattic seems to recognize in its huge investments in companies like WooThemes, is going to be adding the extra functionality with the quality people will need to be convinced that WordPress is better for their needs than the established providers’ services.

The 24% share WordPress has right now isn’t determined by a flawless metric, as we’ve seen. Within the CMS marketplace, it has already surpassed the milestone of half the market share, and now it’s aiming to do that with the web as a whole. It will be up against it to break through into bespoke CMS and non-CMS users’ marketplace though, although it will be essential to tackle this if WordPress is to succeed in what it has set out to achieve.

To do this, it’s going to need to be able to continue proving its worth as a modern platform, something it’s already able to do well, improving with every new version release. More importantly, it’s going to need to show that it’s better than the standalone platforms, by providing functionality through improved plugins. A big focus will obviously be on eCommerce, as more and more businesses take to the web with its growing number of users.

While some questions still remain as to whether WordPress’ and Automattic’s plans are advisable, if it goes about it the right way there shouldn’t be too much doubt that WordPress will extend its influence across the web even more. With its growing support for many languages, there’s a good chance it will become internationally and widely-used for an even more diverse range of purposes.

Tips to Help Your Clients with WordPress SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), most of us would agree, is vital in ensuring the success of many clients’ WordPress websites.

If nobody finds your client’s site, that client isn’t going to get business from it and they’re not going to be able to justify spending any more on it (i.e. on you) in the future. A bit of SEO can make a big difference to your client’s feelings about the Web, and can bring a lot of money your way from projects as a result of recommendations, or anything else that clients needs.
The problem? SEO takes time: lots of it.

Nevertheless, your clients cannot be expected to know how to optimize their sites alone – not least because effective SEO practice changes with such frequency; mostly at the whim of Google’s algorithmic variance. And it won’t do to allow their sites to become neglected – that wastes their money and won’t bring anything new to you in future.
There are ways to get the best of both worlds, though, by making sure your clients have excellent search engine rankings without the necessary steps being too much of a drain on your time – and what time you do invest will be paid upfront and well worth it in terms of overall client satisfaction and future work coming your way. This article will guide you through a few of the most effective ways to make this compromise work for both you and your clients.
Include SEO From the Beginning

First things first: You need to explain what SEO is and why it’s important for your client.
Another point is that keeping things simple to start off with for clients is probably a good idea. Many will not have heard of SEO before, much less thought about how to use it effectively to improve their business; to this end, using Google as the reference point for what you’re aiming at might be worthwhile – and anything else you can do to avoid confusion or information overload for the client. Make things as simple as possible to begin with and you can introduce more at a later date.

One nice easy task to get the client started with is setting up a business presence on Google+ if they haven’t already – they can even do this while their site is still being developed. Although not pure SEO, it will improve their Web presence and make their pages look better on Google results.

Set up new Google+ Business Page.
Setting up a business presence on Google+ can be favourable for the world’s most popular search engine. It’s simple enough that your client should be able to create one themselves.

Take Advantage of Existing Software
As a WordPress developer, you’ve got the power of plugins at your disposal, which can make lots of things easier. SEO is no exception.
Having explained the importance of SEO, you can offer your client an SEO plugin install and configuration on their project for a small extra cost. There are some very good SEO plugins available free in the repository, such as WordPress SEO by Yoast, which includes a helpful traffic-light-style visual representation of how good SEO is on any given post or page.

Yoast SEO free WordPress plugin
You should also use a keyword monitoring tool by adding Google Analytics code or activating the Site Stats module of the Jetpack plugin. These will show the user which keywords are getting them the most success and on which content, enabling them to tailor their future content to cater to these successful areas in a more focused way.
Since you want to give your client a fighting chance with SEO when they first start out, you can offer – again, for a reasonable fee – to have a few of their site’s first pages (e.g. the About page if they will have one) written in an SEO-friendly manner before the site is handed over to them. If you don’t want to be doing this, you can still offer the service but find a freelance writer who’s good at following instructions and has a good grasp of SEO concepts; take a small cut of the fee the client’s paying for the writing.
Offer SEO Training

So far, nothing I’ve suggested will actually be a huge drain on your time – the biggest would be configuring the settings of an SEO plugin, but they’re generally quite good to start with and require only a few minor tweaks. Now, however, let’s consider something that does require more time – but can absolutely be worth it for you and your client if you do it well.

SEO training is something you can have as a separate service, sold independently of your Web projects – although you should advise it for any SEO-conscious client alongside a new website. Using quite a bit of your time as it would do, you can charge a premium rate for it; the justification for clients is that it should overall improve their business’s prospects for the Web if they make the most of their session and go away with knowledge on how to boost their online impact.
What exactly needs to be included in such a training session will depend on a number of factors. Primarily, the client’s current understanding – do they have a vague idea of why keywords might be useful already, or are you going to have to explain that “Google” and “the Internet” are not synonymous? The amount of time available (roughly one hour per session is advisable) and changing SEO trends will also play a part, but the basics probably include:

Reiterating why SEO is so crucial for their business – getting found by the right people equals more sales.
The importance of writing content for their site’s blog regularly. Having a blog will give their rankings a boost in some search engines anyway (an advantage of blog-centric WordPress as a CMS platform) and writing regularly allows them to build a following of people who see them as an authority; post regular, interesting social media updates if they have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other websites; over time, create a large amount of SEO-friendly content for people to find in search engines.
How to write SEO-friendly content, including:
Using the SEO plugin, if you’ve installed one, to create good browser titles, descriptions and perform useful analysis.

Coming up with eye-catching titles.
Writing content of an appropriate length – less than 400 words will generally be considered “thin” content, whereas Google is looking for high-quality, helpful content.
Weaving in keywords to their content, including linking them and making them bold to improve SEO. In saying this, content should still flow well and be interesting for humans to read it or they’ll just leave and it’ll be pointless.
Never, ever, ever plagiarizing content – duplicating another site’s content will lead to penalties, not a quick boost.
Noting again how crucial blogging will be: they need to stick at it, creating a bank of good content, and results will start appearing over time.
Generally, you should try to keep at least the initial sessions as simple as possible – once the client is confused, it’s hard to get back on track without wasting a lot of the session.
Given the ever-changing nature of SEO, you can offer your clients refresher sessions in the future. This way, you keep your clients’ techniques up-to-date, their sites fresh and bringing in business (reflecting well on you as the developer) and keep earning on the sales of the sessions.
You could also consider compiling a booklet for those who have taken the session to refer to (again, this could be sold as an extra if you wish), updating it with new trends. This might also help you keep up if you spend a lot of time doing things other than SEO because you’ll have to dedicate a little time to finding out anything new.

Build a Network of Affiliates

Development isn’t everything in the Web business, but if you’d rather it were, you can make that happen – just make sure your clients don’t miss out on anything important as a result by building a network of affiliates to whom you can outsource various other tasks for them. This does have the advantage of allowing you to have a greater client base as you spend your time only in the one area (development), not in several (SEO, copywriting, and anything else).
If you’re not hot on the idea of giving SEO tutorials then find someone to whom you can refer clients for that training. They’ll still receive the benefits, as will you (active, fresh, successful site to your names) and in fact you could work payment through the agency so you take a small cut.
The same can be the case with freelance writers and SEO copywriters if the client feels that despite SEO training they might not be up to the task, or won’t have enough time. You can negotiate good deals and get the best people for your clients, making your service more valuable and hopefully ensuring your clients stick with you for a long time.
Once you’ve established these ties, you hardly need to invest any more time in them – although you could continue to take a small cut of the fee for setting up the affiliates with the clients. Your clients get good service, your affiliates employment and whilst reaping the benefits of an improved site for your client, you also make a little extra.


The core message here is that you should be making SEO part of your Web development services because it’s important for the client, and for you to retain the client. Making websites more successful is only going to be a good thing for the client and will keep them enthusiastic about the new opportunities you can offer them on the Web. Yet it needn’t be a loss leader: you can make money out of providing and/or recommending SEO services.
Whether you set up the services in-house or do build relationships with affiliates, it will benefit everybody not to ignore SEO and getting business’ websites found in favour of simply pursuing new development jobs (tempting as that can seem). To do the best for your clients, you need these services available in some form – and you can be paid for it, so what could be better?

Know More About Yoast SEO

WordPress is famous for being well designed for SEO right out of the box. All of its features and functions have been built to guide search engines through every post, page and category of your site, so it’s not absolutely essential to install third-party SEO plugins for your sites to rank well.

Though search engines have no difficulty dealing with WordPress sites, users who are serious about SEO often still turn to popular, highly-rated plugins in an effort to supercharge their results. And with over one million active installs, Yoast SEO is the leading plugin on the market.
Yoast SEO is a powerful option, but do users really need all those options to deliver effective SEO, or can they achieve similar results with simpler plugins?
That’s the question we’ll be covering in depth in this article. Let’s start with some basics.
Getting to Grips with SEO

Getting SEO ‘right’ obviously makes an enormous difference to your site’s chances of success, but it’s by no means straightforward. Any WordPress user who’s made it past the beginner stages will know all too well just how involved things can become when you start getting serious about SEO. It’s a moving target; tips and techniques that work one year can fall radically out of favor the next, depending on both trends and the whims of Google.

It’s also worryingly easy to come across outdated or generally dubious advice about SEO while browsing the web, so it’s worth your while getting your head around the basics to avoid getting led down the garden path. Google’s very own SEO starter guide and Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO are two excellent resources to start with for familiarizing yourself with legitimate best practices. You should also consult our recent piece on SEO myths to further clarify things in your head.

Make your way through the resources above and you’ll soon realize that the core set of on-site factors you need to take care of is relatively limited: page titles, descriptions, URLs, navigation, content quality, anchor text, image optimization, correct use of headings and tags are among the main ones.
WordPress plugins that help with these areas while taking both the guesswork and time-sucking drudgery out of the process are worth looking into.

Yoast SEO provides handy options for dealing with page titles, descriptions, and URLs and we’ll be concentrating on these areas for the purposes of comparing it with other plugins. It also adds integration options for major social networks, but we won’t be dwelling too much on that as there are any number of dedicated social plugins that can handle that side of things better.

The other two main standout features of Yoast SEO are XML sitemap generation and URL redirects – the latter being a premium feature. Again, there are dedicated plugin solutions available to handle both of these requirements but they’re certainly pretty handy to have available in an SEO context. We’ll cover options for these as well.
Before we get into our comparisons, it’s worth mentioning that all themes available from Elegant Themes come with a built-in SEO section in the theme options settings which can be a great alternative to using plugins if you’re comfortable enough with using custom fields.
When you navigate to your ePanel, just click on the SEO tab to enable or disable custom SEO settings for your homepage, single post pages, and index page:
Elegant Themes ePanel access.
Let’s move on to looking at how Yoast SEO’s major features stack up in terms of hitting the sections we’ve identified above, and how well it compares to competing solutions these days.

Comparing On-Page SEO Options

Though it’s the best known, Yoast isn’t the only powerful SEO plugin that gives you control over optimizing your individual posts and pages. We’ll be comparing it to three other popular SEO plugins in this article: All in One SEO Pack, SEO Ultimate, and Squirrly SEO.
Each of these plugins has a general configuration section that can be accessed through the plugin’s Settings panel in the WordPress admin area. They also all offer a range of fields and options when composing or editing posts and pages. We’ll start with an overview of what Yoast offers, then look at the comparable sections or options for each of the other three plugins.

Yoast’s General Settings tab serves as a starter page where you can check out their resource listings, set up some personal information, and integrate different webmaster tools such as Google Search Console.

To access the fields where you can customize your on-page SEO, you have to navigate to the Titles & Metas tab where you’ll find tons of customization options for the homepage, post types, taxonomies, and archives. Each section is nicely organized in tabs with title templates, meta description templates, and several other options for each major page type.
Yoast SEO settings.
Yoast also includes customizable options that appear beneath every page and post editor which forcefully remind you to choose a keyword and encourage its use in the heading, page title, URL, content, and meta description of your posts or pages. You can also switch through the tabs to get a page analysis, customize some advanced robots.txt settings, and specify what information you want social networks to use.

All in One SEO Pack for Posts and Pages

All in One SEO Pack offers comparable settings to Yoast’s Titles & Metas tab in its General Settings tab. Rather than using tabs to separate each section, All in One SEO Pack has it all laid out on one page. Just scroll down and you’re able to customize everything from your home page settings to your custom post type settings.
Like Yoast SEO, All in One SEO Pack includes an SEO section beneath every page and post editor too – although minus some of the more advanced tabs Yoast SEO offers. For example, it doesn’t give you a count of how many times you used your keyword throughout the content of your page or post – one of the big highlight features of the Yoast option.
Being the full-feature plugin that it is, Yoast offers a lot more options compared to what you can do with All in One SEO, but that may not matter if you don’t plan on using them. The keyword counter and snippet preview features that come with Yoast are still big pluses though and not having them is a loss.
You can also check out this detailed comparison post to get a clearer picture of how they stack up head to head.
SEO Ultimate for Posts and Pages

SEO Ultimate plugin.
SEO Ultimate is more advanced than All in One SEO Pack and a stronger direct competitor to Yoast SEO. Instead of having a general tab with all the main settings, the plugin adds a handy link to the admin bar that you can access everything from. Roll your mouse over it and you’ll see 25 different features split out into individual tabs.
Beneath the post and page editor options, SEO Ultimate keeps things simple by adding straightforward sections you can fill out for your search engine listing, social networks listing, links and other miscellaneous options. Although the plugin itself has some useful keyword research features built right into it, it doesn’t have any keyword fields, counters, or page analysis features as Yoast SEO does.
Both Yoast SEO and SEO Ultimate offer a generous range of useful features, yet each one provides quite a different experience when you’re actually using it. For example, the Deeplink Juggernaut feature SEO Ultimate offers – which helps intelligently link your content based on keywords – may put the plugin out in front if that’s a priority for you. It also offers some useful social media options that Yoast doesn’t have, like its Rich Snippet Creator and Social Network Listing feature.

You could possibly use both plugins together if it’s too hard to choose, as long as you make sure to disable the SEO Ultimate modules that may conflict with Yoast.

Squirrly SEO for Posts and Pages

Squirrly SEO is a free plugin offered by content marketing software provider Squirrly. It’s become quite a popular option – particularly for beginners – and has even been recommended by Kissmetrics co-founder Neil Patel.
Unlike Yoast and a lot of other SEO plugins, Squirrly SEO is a very visual plugin that seeks to simplify the world of SEO and carefully guide users through everything step by step (which may be helpful if you have less experienced users or clients).

Squirrly SEO includes slideshows for all of its main features on its Dashboard tab and does a great job in guiding users through available options. Navigate to its SEO and Settings tabs and you’ll see that there’s not a huge amount of customizable settings available, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re looking to concentrate on the essentials.
When you edit any post or page, a bunch of very prominent Squirrly options immediately appear in the right sidebar. You’re automatically asked to enter a keyword so that the Squirrly SEO Live Assistant can tell you how your keyword is being used throughout your content in an easy to understand way: anything colored green is good to go, anything left white hasn’t been set up yet, and anything colored red needs to be fixed.
Squirrly SEO is clearly geared toward newbie users and performs admirably in that context – SEO experts may find themselves needing a little more control.

Social Optimization

SEO is critically important, but there’s no ignoring social media these days either. Making sure that your titles, descriptions, and feature images look great when shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and other platforms is essential if you want to drive traffic through social promotion.
Yoast SEO’s Social tab enables users to inform Google of their social profiles and integrate their site with major social platforms by enabling Facebook Open Graph, setting up Twitter Cards, and adding Pinterest verification and Google+ specific post meta data. That’s more than enough for most users but there are dedicated plugins out there if you want to dive deeper.
Since we’re on the subject, here are three options you can consider as alternatives to Yoast’s social optimization features.

1. Facebook Open Graph, Google+ and Twitter Card Tags

This plugin claims to be compatible with Yoast SEO, so you can use it as an additional social plugin if you want more options like including (or excluding) Open Graph tags and choosing a default feature image if the post doesn’t have one. Yoast has useful basic set-up options for both, but this plugin offers more settings that you can enable and disable for even more effective and efficient sharing results.

2. WordPress Social Sharing Optimization

This plugin gives users complete control over the information provided to social networking crawlers, including Facebook, Google+ Twitter, Pinterest and others. In addition to basic meta tag support for Open Graph, Rich Pins, and Twitter Cards, this plugin will blow you away in terms of all the configurable and customizable options it provides. It should also play nicely when used in conjunction with Yoast SEO.

3. The Official Twitter Plugin

Not only does the official Twitter plugin enable you to integrate Twitter Cards with your site for more media-rich tweets – it also enables users to embed Twitter content and Vine videos easily, with the added bonus of having Twitter buttons built right into the plugin itself. If you heavily rely on Twitter for content promotion, this plugin may be more useful than the basic Card style option Yoast SEO offers in its Twitter tab.

XML Sitemaps

An XML sitemap makes it easier for Google to discover the pages on your site, including pages that may not be as easily discoverable by Google’s standard crawling process.
Yoast’s XML Sitemaps tab enables users to generate a sitemap which is automatically updated any time a new post or page is published. It also enables users to specify post types, individual posts, or taxonomies that should be excluded.

As an alternative to Yoast SEO’s sitemap feature, Google XML Sitemaps is one of the highest rated XML sitemap plugins and has been going strong for over nine years. It gives users even more control over their sitemaps, specifically in terms of setting up post priority and change frequencies. Users can also add specific files or URLs to be included in their sitemaps that don’t belong to their WordPress site.

Yoast Premium Features

We’ve looked at some interesting plugin options you can use to match the main features of the free version of the Yoast SEO plugin but there are also the premium features (starting at $89 for a single site) to consider. Even if you’re sticking with the free version of Yoast SEO, it’s worth looking at other free plugins that may be able to replace its premium features.

URL Redirects
If you have broken links and old pages that need to point to newer pages, you’re going to want to use a redirect tool to stay on Google’s good side. Yoast SEO offers a redirect manager as a premium feature that integrates directly with Google Search Console. If you run a big commercial site with lots of pages that require quite a bit of maintenance, the premium upgrade to get this redirect feature could easily pay for itself in terms of the time it will save you.
If you’re just looking to simply clean up a few of your URLs, Redirection is a popular free plugin that makes it easy to manage 301 redirects and keep track of 404 errors. It’s easy to use and best suited for smaller sites that need a quick and effective tool for tidying things up.

Video SEO
How cool would it be if the videos that you posted on your site showed up directly in Google search results? Yoast SEO’s premium video extension claims to do just that but, as with any SEO topic, there are naturally caveats to consider here.
It doesn’t look like there are any other WordPress plugins out there that offer this. While the official YouTube plugin is quite popular, its focus is on embedding YouTube videos in WordPress.

News SEO
Ranking in search for news is different than ranking for evergreen topics, meaning those who manage news sites may need a different approach. Yoast offers a news extension that creates XML News Sitemaps and editors picks RSS feeds to stand out for Google News.
XML Sitemap & Google News feeds may be a possible alternative plugin for news sites and has attracted some decent reviews from users attracted by its simplicity.

Local SEO
Business sites that target visitors from a specific geographical area have to make sure they tell Google the right location-specific information if they want a chance at a top spot ranking. Yoast SEO’s local plugin claims to help sites optimize this aspect of their information so they can rank better in their local results, and in Google Maps.
Local SEO and Business Listings is one free option if you’re not prepared to shell out for Yoast’s premium package. Its core plugin functionality includes local SEO road maps, a keyword research tool, a competitor keyword spy tool, suggested content submission websites, and a proprietary keyword effectiveness index.

Other Optimization Plugins to Consider

Yoast SEO offers a ton of SEO features but certainly doesn’t encompass everything you can do to optimize your site. For example, you’ll want to do everything you can to improve your site’s loading time since speed is a ranking factor.

Installing an image optimization plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer is an excellent idea for minimizing overall page sizes by chomping down your images to something reasonable. A caching plugin like W3 Total Cache will also improve server performance, speed up download times, and supercharge your site speed when integrated with a content delivery network (CDN).

More Information About Web Design, Virtual Reality, & WordPress

Virtual reality promises massive changes to the way we experience and interact with technology. Despite that, VR has failed to burst into the mainstream. At least so far…
But with cheap cardboard boxes that turn smartphones into virtual reality headsets and intrepid developers pushing for VR standards for web browsers, widespread virtual reality on the web is getting closer and closer.
In this post, I’ll dig into some of the implications of virtual reality on both WordPress and in web design in general.

What Virtual Reality Tech is Available Right Now?

Virtual reality sounds expensive, right? That’s what most people think. But VR tech can be surprisingly affordable, at least if you already have a smartphone. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most popular headset options:

– Google Cardboard – Google Cardboard turns any compatible smartphone into a VR headset for the cost of a few cups of coffee. Yup, about $10-15 can get you your very own VR headset. For a quick overview of Google Cardboard, this YouTube video is a great start.
– Oculus Rift – Best known for being snapped up by Facebook for a couple billion dollars, Oculus Rift creates quality, but expensive, headsets.
– HTC Vive – HTC Vive isn’t cheap, but those willing to shell out ~$800 get what is, by all accounts, an amazing virtual experience.
– Samsung Gear – Samsung Gear is one of the few headsets to rival Google Cardboard in terms of affordability. It costs around $100 but is limited to working with certain Samsung smartphones.
While not an exhaustive list, these are the virtual reality headsets which come up most commonly when discussing virtual reality and the web.

What About Website Support for Virtual Reality?
Getting headsets into the hands of the public isn’t the only problem with virtual reality. We also need libraries to support easy virtual reality implementation for websites. Thankfully, those are coming along well, too.
WebVR is a JavaScript library that offers access to Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, or Google Cardboard in your web browser. Essentially, it aims to make virtual reality available in regular web browsers, rather than specialized apps.
It’s available in the nightly builds of both Firefox and Chrome and seems to be seeing increasing adoption.

How Do Virtual Reality and Web Design Intersect?

Imagine a site on the scale of Wikipedia with virtual reality. Instead of reading about famous locations, you could actually experience them through virtual reality. It may be a long way off, but that’s where I see the web going…eventually.
But there are other specific areas in which I already see VR being heavily pushed.

Virtual Reality for eCommerce Websites
I don’t know about you, but the only reason I go to physical stores nowadays is because I want to experience a product in person. Amazon might be cheaper and more convenient, but I can actually interact with the product at Target.
But virtual reality could change all that. Imagine being able to experience products on Amazon in virtual reality. You could see it from different angles, watch it in action. It would be incredible.
It’s not just a pipe dream, either. Some eCommerce sites have already moved to incorporate virtual reality into their shopping experiences. Take IKEA for example. Their Virtual Kitchen experience allows HTC Vive users to move through IKEA kitchen displays in virtual reality:

And companies like Prizmiq are already bringing detailed 3D imaging to product pictures. How long until they can offer compatibility with VR headsets for truly immersive product views?

Virtual Tours for Real Estate or Travel Companies
Another major use for virtual reality is all types of tours. Whether for real estate or travel, virtual reality will let websites in these niches offer immersive experiences. Sotheby’s real estate already made waves by offering virtual reality tours for some of its property listings.

I think such uses will only expand as virtual reality gains traction.

Roadblocks to Widespread Implementation of VR and Web Design

Beyond the rather obvious roadblock of VR headset adoption, there are some other things standing in the way of virtual reality.
Responsive Design
How do you build a website that functions for both virtual reality headset wearers and regular users alike? That’s the major problem designers will need to cope with. Right now, most implementations involve a toggle to move between modes. But is that really the best virtual experience?
And how do you handle menus? Eye-tracking menus work great for wearable headsets but obviously not for desktop browsers.
I don’t have answers to these questions. But I do know that having to grab my headset and hit a toggle button isn’t a very immersive experience. And it probably would relegate virtual reality to “occasional treat” rather than “daily habit.” At least for me.
We already know how massively important page speed is. Are visitors really going to be willing to wait for large 4K 360 degree videos to load? For special occasions, I think yes. But for everyday browsing? That’s a tougher question to answer.

Virtual Reality and WordPress – What’s There?

Let’s start with the big news, it was just announced that all sites will now support virtual reality images and videos. That means the 409 million visitors to blogs every month now have a chance to be exposed to virtual reality images. I only hope this pushes virtual reality more into the mainstream.
And it’s not just limited to – some developers are already making it possible to add virtual reality to self-hosted WordPress via plugins. I did some digging around the plugin repository and I found two promising plugins:

VR Views
VR Views helps you embed 360-degree mono-and-stereoscopic images and videos into your WordPress site. It uses Google’s VR Views library, which makes it fully compatible with Google Cardboard.
To handle issues with responsive design, i.e. users who don’t have Google Cardboard, the plugin defaults to a “magic window” that will work on any desktop or mobile browser, regardless of hardware. The “magic window” allows readers to move their screen around to view the image in 360 degrees of glory but lacks true virtual reality. Here’s a screencap of what it looks like on my web browser:

To create your virtual reality content, you can use any device that is capable of capturing 360-degree videos or images. And once you have your content, implementing it is as easy as adding a shortcode to your WordPress site.

WP-VR-view is another plugin which lets you add Google Cardboard compatible virtual reality media to your WordPress site.
And just like VR Views, it degrades considerably for anyone who doesn’t have virtual reality hardware:

Smartphone users can easily move between regular mode and Google Cardboard mode to take advantage of their VR hardware.

Where Can Virtual Reality and WordPress Go From Here?
I would love to see virtual reality product views for WooCommerce. In fact, Michael Tieso has a post delving into this very topic. He’s even created some experimental implementations of virtual reality for WooCommerce. And while he cautions they aren’t to be used on production sites, savvy devs may want to delve into his GitHub to see what can be done.
I also hope that, with the inclusion of virtual reality for blogs, virtual reality images and videos make their way to self-hosted WordPress without the need for a plugin. It seems like the technology is there, we’re just waiting for it to be accessible to everyone!

Wrapping Things Up

My Google Cardboard is already on the way, so I’m excited to be able to try out some of these concepts for myself.
Virtual reality isn’t quite there yet for the web as a whole. But I think in a few years we’ll be seeing more widespread implementations of virtual reality. With rolling out virtual reality and major corporations like IKEA and Sotheby’s diving in headfirst, it’s only a matter of time.

Improve Viewership In Facebook With Use These Tips

You’ve likely noticed how many videos are published on Facebook each day. So many, that getting yours noticed is more challenging than ever. It’s hard even for an established publisher. For newbies … it’s like heading down a blind alley. Fortunately, you can cut through the noise by utilizing Facebook Live, an in-the-moment feature that allows you to stream live video content in front of your audience.
Facebook revealed that users spend 3x more time on average watching live videos compared to normal videos. Most broadcasts come from regular folks even if big brands attract the most audiences. You can use Facebook Live to deliver exclusive content, how-to videos, behind-the-scenes footage and much more.
Making the Most of Facebook Live Broadcasts

Instead of throwing a bunch of advices at you and leaving you to figure out what works and what doesn’t, I’ve decided to cover tried and tested best practices. You can implement them separately, or simultaneously based on your needs. Here are 5 Facebook Live tips to attract audiences with your next broadcast.

1. Get the Background Right
Take a good look at your background before doing a live video. While viewers will expect you to go with the flow and be a bit raw in the broadcast, you don’t want background noise and unexpected entrants (pets, individuals who’re not a part of your footage, etc.).

Make sure the audience will be able to hear and see you without distractions. Here’s an example of a Facebook Live broadcast by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Notice how he selected a plain background with no hanging objects, and there’s minimum audio distortion.
2. Rehearse
If you have not done a live broadcast before, consider rehearsing. And change the privacy setting from “public” to “only me” before going live. You’ll see the production as it will appear, but it won’t be visible to anyone else.

To start the live video, launch the Facebook app on your smartphone and go to the group, business, event, or personal page you want to use. Then, look for the icon “Go Live” at the middle or bottom right of the screen.

Tap this icon and enter a catchy description for your video. Then record the video, rehearsing how you plan to introduce yourself, what you plan to cover, and how you’re going to interact with the audience. And don’t forget to use friendly gestures throughout.
Change the setting back to public once you’re done rehearsing.
3. Take Measures That Enhance Production Value
If you want your target audience to tune in and stick with you till the end, the broadcast you put forth should be worthy of their attention. On that account, here are some helpful tips:

Pick A Theme: Choose some kind of theme for your live video. You can do a Q/A session, review an item, do a tutorial, take people behind-the-scenes, etc. Also, make notes of the things you want to showcase, call-to-actions you need to make and links you might share.

Make It Visually Engaging: Visual improvisations are key to making people stick around. That means using visual cues and not just standing / sitting idle – something done really well in Liz Melville’s video. You can use anything from facial expressions to objects to visually engage your viewers.

Ensure Your Internet Connection Is Strong: You want to have a WiFi / 4G connection with the strongest signal. Connections that get flakey at times might force you to drop mid broadcast. Ideally, you should be near a WiFi unit when using Facebook Live.

Broadcast Long Enough: Facebook recommends a 10-minute duration for Facebook Live, though it offers a feature called “continuous live video” for publishers who want to broadcast up till 24 hours. Therefore, broadcast for at least 10-20 minutes.
These measures will boast your chances of increasing viewership on Facebook Live.

4. Engage With Your Audience
When you’re using Facebook Live don’t forget to be social. Remind viewers that you welcome their questions. When replying to comments or answering questions, mention the viewer’s name so they know that you are seeing the comments feed.

This is an example of a Facebook Live broadcast done by Elegant Themes. The answers indicate that the host paid attention to the questions at hand. Also, by tagging viewers, he made the audience know that he was actively watching the feed.
Additionally, you can hand pick the best questions and highlight them in a separate social media post, and see how people react to different comments, to learn what type of answers work best. Also, encourage comments, questions and other feedback after the broadcast comes to an end to engage replay viewers.

5. Play to Your Strengths
When you go live on Facebook, introduce your area of expertise to gain credibility with your audience. The more you know about a subject, the more value you can provide to your audience. Direct the broadcast and conversation around your expertise to produce a really powerful broadcast.

That’s what Terry White did in this Facebook Live video. He showcased his expertise on working with type in Adobe InDesign CC. The audience were quick to notice his depth of knowledge, and appreciated him for teaching them about typography.

Bonus: Adding Facebook Live Functionality to Your WordPress Site

As you prepare and create Facebook Live broadcasts, you might want to integrate those videos in your WordPress site. On that account, here are your options:
Video URL
Get the URL for your live video by right-clicking on the video and selecting “show video URL” from the tab that appears. You can then copy and directly paste this URL into your WordPress editor.
Facebook Live Video Auto Embed for WordPress Plugin
Available at CodeCanyon, this plugin automatically identifies if your Facebook page has a live video and embeds it. Additionally, you can configure it to display a site wide top notification bar when you do a Facebook Live session.
However, all that convenience and functionality comes at a price. You have to shell out $29 to use this plugin.
Facebook’s Native Embedded Video Player Tool
You can use Facebook’s social plugin for embedded videos to configure the primary settings of your live video and generate an embedded code according to your requirements. Right-click on the live video and choose “show video URL” and wait for the URL to display. Next, paste the URL in the Video Player configurator to generate the code.
In addition, you would be able to choose the pixel width should you need a specific size. Then, click “Get Code” to generate two embed codes for your website – one Javascript SDK, one IFrame. From here on, the simplest way to proceed is copying the IFrame code and placing it in your WordPress editor.

Achieve Success For Your Web Design With These Tips

When it comes to creating websites, whether for yourself or for your clients, success doesn’t come easy. To increase your productivity and keep your output looking fresh and modern, not to mention optimized for search engines and conversion rates, it’s essential that you’re always learning as many new tips and techniques as possible.
So, let’s explore a few different web design tips that can help you out in 2016.

1. Use Style Guides

Style guides are popular in the publishing world. They can come in the form of large books or documents that media publications follow to maintain uniform styles throughout their content. This can include everything from how states and countries are labeled to how numbers are written.
Web designers can create their own style guides to ensure the sites they build have uniform styles throughout. This is especially useful for designers who collaborate with other freelancers. A well-written style guide can help keep a disparate team on the same page.
The style guide Google produced for its own Material Design is a great example of a thorough, well-written style guide. If you’re looking for a more generic style guide or set of rules to apply to your work, be sure to check out our guide to the essential typography books for 2016.

2. Phase Out Sidebars

Sidebars create clutter. They were meant to improve the usability of a site by displaying additional navigational elements, such as links to recent posts and popular content.
Over time, it’s fair to say they’ve been hijacked by savvy marketers looking for a way to display email optin forms and other promotional content that doesn’t always offer much to the user experience.
While in theory sidebars containing links and other useful content should enhance the user experience, in reality, very few site visitors actually use them, at least according to heatmap tests conducted by ConversionXL. Therefore, compromising your site’s design in favor of a sidebar for marketing purposes may not deliver the results you desire.
Try phasing sidebars out in your designs, especially if a site doesn’t really need one. Make your content the most important element on a page by using designs that force readers to focus on it.
If the thought of abandoning sidebars altogether sounds a bit extreme, look for a theme that gives you the option of publishing full-width content, alongside more traditional layouts that feature an accompanying sidebar.
You can do a lot with the humble WordPress sidebar and one web design tip for 2016 is to get smarter with the way you do or don’t use them.

3. Start Your Designs Offscreen

Do you create code and designs on the screen at a rapid rate, without a care of how things will turn out as you know you’ll edit and clean things up later on? If so, why not try a new approach in 2016.
Instead of jumping right in and figuring things out as you go, why not turn to the trusty pencil and paper or use a whiteboard to plan an overall site layout offscreen first. Use this approach to get an idea of where you want specific elements to go, much like how an architect uses floor plans to plot out where windows, doors, and rooms should go.
If adopting a pen and paper doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of great wireframing and prototyping web design tools out there that can help you quickly get your ideas out of your head, before you get started in your development environment.

4. Use Larger Font Sizes

Big typography isn’t a new trend or aspect of design, but it’s still a great practice to follow in 2016. This is because it has the power to grab the reader’s attention and places the focus on your content.
Readability on smaller screens, such as mobile devices, has played a huge role in this trend’s rising popularity, but it also fits in nicely with the ever-popular minimalist and flat design trends.
One web design tip for 2016 is to try incorporating larger font sizes in your designs, such as a minimum font size of 18 points for body text, where it makes sense. This includes any text you place in header images or even the text on a homepage when using a large, hero image. Just make sure you focus on choosing a web-friendly typeface that scales well, rather than agonizing about which size to choose.

5. Create More Space

Don’t fear the whitespace – image by grop /
Too much clutter can distract readers and make a site appear overly complicated. That’s one reason why phasing out sidebars is recommended. However, you should also try creating more space in general rather than trying to include as many elements as you can on a page. Again, it helps a reader focus on what’s important while giving you the opportunity to build better-looking designs.
This space is typically referred to as “whitespace” or “negative space,”. However, this space doesn’t always need to be white, especially if you’re building a website that uses large images on its homepage and headers.
Minimize the amount of clutter in your designs and include more space around and between elements to help guide your users through your site. Whitespace can make it clear where a reader’s attention should be focused.

6. Responsive Design isn’t Optional

Are you ready for mobile first design? – image by MPFphotography /
Mobile device usage continues to grow, especially when it comes to accessing websites. This means that it’s never been more important to ensure your websites are mobile-friendly.
So one key web design tip for 2016 is to fully commit to responsive design. In the past, this simply meant checking off the responsive design box on your to-do list. However, as this technology matures, you need to start considering more than just fluid layouts. Think mobile optimized images, whether hamburger menus are the right choice, and much more.
For 2016, you might even want to embrace the concept of mobile-first web design.

7. Take Advantage of Google’s Material Design

Google’s Material Design is here to stay – image by Google
Google ramped up the use of the Material Design philosophy in 2014, and digital designers have been quick to follow suit.
If you’ve embraced the flat web design trend, then it’s probably time for you to jump on the Material Design bandwagon and update your style for 2016. The core concepts of this web design framework include using layers to create elegant shadows alongside the edges of elements, helping to add some much-needed style and depth to the minimal flat design trend.
If you want to get started, there are some great, free Material Design UI kits around that can help get you up to speed.

8. Expand and Reevaluate Your Toolkit

Are there tasks in your workflow you feel could be more efficient or at least, more enjoyable? Then one web design tips that can help you out is to do a little research and find out if there are any new tools that better meet your needs.
Just as new web design tips are emerging all the time, so too are new web design tools. From hot new free apps like Pixate, through to updates to industry favorites like the Adobe CC apps for web designers, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for something new that could help improve your workflow and enjoyment levels.

9. Simplify Navigation

Placing tons of links in your navigation menu, sidebar, blog posts, and even the homepage may seem like a great way to keep people on your site, but it can actually go the other way. Complicated navigation systems create way too many options for people, so much so that they may decide to leave your site altogether.
Placing fewer items in your navigation menus and eliminating sidebars are great ways to cut down on the amount of clutter that exists on your site. This can allow you to build better-looking designs without compromising user experience or conversion rate optimization.

10. Up Your Imagery Game

Upgrading the quality of the images you use in your work is a great web design tip for elevating your projects. Instead of simply using the free images that everyone else has access to, it might be time to invest in a premium stock image service.
The next level up could be to create or commission your own images from scratch, whether that’s going out and taking high-quality photographs, drawing them yourself, or a combination of the two. Combining typography with your chosen images can be another effective way to make them more original and assist you in delivering your message.
Choosing beautiful imagery for your website is a proven way to assist you in achieving your goals and help your content stand out from the crowd.

11. Phase Out Sliders

The decision between whether or not to use sliders is a highly-debated topic.
However, in most cases, they should really be phased out in 2016, especially if you want to decrease the amount of distractions on your site and make it easier for users to find their way around. Sliders don’t do either of those things. They’re very similar to sidebars. They create way too many options for your visitors to choose from, and very few people actually use them.
If it’s your homepage you’re concerned about, opt for a large header space that uses a unique, well-crafted static design that clearly defines your brand of that of your client. Again, play around with big typography to make static images more visually appealing and come up with better page designs that make sliders redundant.

12. Learn A/B Testing

A lot of these web design tips are general advice based on current and upcoming trends in the digital space. However, there’s no guarantee they’ll work for your site.
You also shouldn’t necessarily feel obligated to use or forego certain design elements simply because it’s a current trend or now an unpopular style. A/B testing is a skill you can learn to find out whether or not your designs are working or not.
Maybe you or your client want to use a slider or a busy sidebar and don’t want to give in to the conventional wisdom that states they’re outdated and ineffective. A/B testing is a great way to implement a new design and test its effectiveness yourself. Split testing is also an effective way to negotiate compromises between you and your clients, thanks to the evidence that can help back up your recommendations.

All things Need To Know About Build a Mobile Website

Mobile technology experts discuss which enterprises need a mobile presence, the important questions to ask when developing a mobile website, what pitfalls to avoid and what to expect to pay.
As of November 2011, 91.4 million people in the United States owned smartphones, according to comScore. That was an 8 percent increase over just a few months before. And if the trend continues, as most analysts and smartphone vendors believe it will, the number of individuals in the United States with a smartphone will be close to, if not exceed, 100 million by March 2012 — that’s nearly one out of three Americans. And that’s not including the number of people using iPads and tablet PCs, which was well over 15 million as of June 2011, per CTIA, the Wireless Association.

Who are these people and what are they doing with these mobile devices? They are your customers, your employees and your partners — and more than 40 percent of them are using their mobile devices to browse the web (and shop online) and download apps. And that percentage is expected to increase. However, a majority of businesses have failed to “mobilize,” that is, create a mobile version of their website, or a mobile app.

Does that mean that every business or organization needs a mobile website? No. But if you currently have a B2C or B2B digital presence and/or the people you do business with are mobile, it’s time you had a mobile strategy.

Do You Need a Mobile Website?

According to Ted Schadler, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research who covers enterprise issues, you can determine if your organization needs a mobile website by asking the following questions.

Does the organization currently have a website that is regularly used by customers?
Do the people you are trying to reach use smartphones or tablets on a regular basis?
Can mobile provide opportunities that a traditional web presence — or other channels — can’t or doesn’t do as well?
Would customers (or employees or partners) benefit from having information at the moment of decision?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you should probably (if not definitely) have a mobile presence (either a mobile website or a native app, or possibly both).

Think of mobile as “a system of engagement,” as a way to improve the way you engage with customers, employees and partners, explained Schadler. For example, let’s say you run a real estate company, or are a developer. Prior to mobile, if a customer wanted information about a house, she’d have to call the real estate agency or developer or look up the information on her computer. With mobile, however, you can provide prospective buyers with the information they need on their smartphones, when they are right in front of the house.

What to Look for in a Mobile Solution Provider

When selecting a mobile solution provider, “you should go through the same vetting and RFP process as you would for any other type of software,” says John Epperson, the CEO of Ruxter, a mobile marketing company. And part of the vetting process should include viewing and testing out several mobile websites (or apps) the mobile solution provider developed – on a variety of smartphones and tablets (not just the iPhone and/or the iPad).

“How is the user experience?” says Mike Craig, the co-founder and vice president of marketing at Ruxter. Does it have a good user interface (UI)? Are pages quick to load? Is the site easy to navigate? In addition, Craig recommended reaching out to organizations with mobile websites and/or apps you like and asking how many people visit the site — or have downloaded the app — and what the analytics are.

Equally if not more important, find out if the mobile solution provider can help you develop a mobile strategy, as opposed to just a mobile splash page or basic app, says Dan Liliedahl, the chief technology officer at TandemSeven, a mobile solution provider and user experience expert. Do they have both the front-end (i.e., design, user experience) and back-end (i.e., integration) expertise to make mobile truly successful for your enterprise?

How to Develop a Mobile Strategy

One of the biggest — if not the biggest — mistakes organizations make when developing a mobile website or app is making it a standalone project, say Schadler, Epperson, Craig, and Liliedahl. That is, not integrating your mobile website or app — i.e., your mobile strategy — into your broader marketing, sales and customer (or CRM) strategy.

Instead of just thinking mobile, “think in terms of multi-channel,” Liliedahl says, “where mobile is just one channel.”

That said, when developing a mobile website or app, “you need to understand your customers’ goals — and what devices they are using,” Schadler says. What looks good on a large monitor is not going to work on a smartphone. Similarly, don’t assume that what looks good on an iPad is going to look the same on an Android device or a BlackBerry.

Which leads to another critical point about mobile: Despite what Apple may tell you, it’s no longer an iPhone/iPad world. Indeed, as of November 2011, Google had nearly 20 percent more subscribers than Apple did, per comScore. So when creating your mobile website or app, make sure it looks good and is easy to navigate across a variety of mobile platforms (Google/Android, Apple/iOS, RIM/BlackBerry and Windows).

Unlike traditional websites, with mobile it’s all about streamlining information. So “figure out what are the five or six items that are the most vital to your customers,” advises Craig, and get rid of all the extraneous stuff that could slow them down or distract them (e.g., Flash, large graphics or pictures, audio).

Finally, make sure to test your mobile website or app before you release it publicly.

How Long It Will Take and What Will It Cost?

Depending on the amount of work that needs to done, and what you already have in place, it will likely take three to nine months to develop a good mobile website or native app. Three months if your enterprise already has a good service-oriented architecture in place and the mobile website or app is not too complex — “we’re talking a straight build out, HTML5 with a wrapped app,” Liliedahl says; nine months if there’s no real infrastructure in place — that is, you need to build a service-oriented architecture.

As for the cost, while there are sites out there that allow you to create free iPhone apps, expect to pay at least $20,000 to design and deploy a professional-looking, customized, native iPhone app, say both Liliedahl and Craig. Similarly, you can find designers who will create a basic mobile website, with a few pages, for a few hundred dollars. But if you want to create a multi-platform mobile presence that not only looks good on the front-end, but provides a positive user experience and integrates with and leverages your back end systems, expect to pay upwards of $200,000.

While $200,000 may seem like a lot of money, when you consider that there are more than 100 million smartphone and tablet users in the United States alone, and that that number is growing, the ROI can make mobile well worth it. Also, you don’t have to do everything at once. “Start with a small project,” Epperson suggests. “Find out how people are consuming your data.” Then build from there.

Some Easy Ecommerce Shopping Carts for Small Business Websites

Looking to add an ecommerce shopping cart to your existing business website? Here are six fully-featured carts that will meet the needs of most SMBs.
An ecommerce shopping cart is the heartbeat of any online retail site. When shopping for a shopping cart, it’s important to choose one that can be customized to match your business and be flexible enough to grow with your business.

Shopping cart software serves a number of roles on a business website. It acts as an online store product catalog, provides the customer user interface, handles the ordering process and is the interface among the company website, the back-end inventory infrastructure and the payment gateway.

Some small business merchants, when venturing into the world of ecommerce, will start with hosted ecommerce software. These fully-featured and hosted platforms provide everything from domain name registration to the tools you need to build an ecommerce website, all from one vendor. While hosted ecommerce is easy and secure, it doesn’t give online retailers a lot of control, since most functions are managed by the ecommerce service provider.

If total control is what you want, an option for tech-savvy business owners is to integrate a standalone shopping cart to add ecommerce to a business website. These shopping carts are a good choice for small businesses that already host their own secure websites and have in-house technical expertise to configure and manage ecommerce operations.

Here are six fully-featured options for anyone investing in ecommerce shopping cart software for a small-to-midsize business (SMB). Most carts can be either integrated with existing websites or used to create a new site or storefront.

1. 3D Cart: Design Templates, Business Management Tools

3dCart shopping carts serve as ecommerce storefronts. If you already have a website, 3dCart can import the existing design or migrate your business from Yahoo Stores, Miva, X-Cart and others. 3dcart provides customizable design templates as well as business management tools for order processing, shipping, sales reporting and other business functions.

3dCart Pricing starts at $19.99 per month, which is suitable for low-traffic websites with up to 100 products. A Gold account for medium-traffic websites with up to 1,000 products will cost $49.99 per month. All accounts include free technical support.

2. AgoraCart: A Secure, Open-Source Shopping Cart

AgoraCart can support your own code base or can be built using a series of templates. AgoraCart features include customizable store designs, unlimited products, multiple tax rates, more than 10 payment gateways and PCI compliance. The free community edition (version 5.2.x) is supported only though online community forums. Meanwhile, the Gold Version of AgoraCart (6.x Gold) is available for $49.95 and provides additional features and support.

3. Avactis: The Visual Shopping Cart

The Avactis ecommerce shopping cart requires no programming skills to set up or manage— when designing or customizing your website, you use a visual CSS Editor and visual layout editor.

Avactis can be integrated with existing websites or used to create a new website and storefront. The shopping cart software offers a number of management tools and useful ecommerce features for merchants, including price-based discounting, customer reviews, and Facebook integration.

The free Avactis shopping cart software is PHP-based and is embeddable in existing PHP sites. You can upgrade to obtain additional features; one-time payments for Avactis shopping carts range from $249 to $449.

4. CubeCart: Reporting Options, Sage Integration

CubeCart gives small business owners many reporting and customer management options. The store administration dashboard lets you set product options, view sales and inventory data, manage customer accounts and view sales reports. The sales reporting tool, meanwhile, allows you to display and export custom sales reports for third-party spreadsheet software and integrates with Sage Accounting software.

CubeCart Lite is a free cart that can be used for up to 100 customers and 250 orders. The paid version, CubeCart Pro, offers all features with no limits and provides access to the code for a one-time payment of $180. Other services, including copyright removal and upgrade services, are also available.

5. ProductCart: Hundreds of Shopping Cart Features

EarlyImpact’s ProductCart is PCI compliant and features hundreds of ecommerce shopping cart options for design, functionality and back-end management. If you’re just getting started with ecommerce, you can use ProductCart’s design tools to create a new online store.

The license for ProductCart (Standard version) is $695. The Build to Order version, which includes a product configurator for more complex products and services, is $1,495. Other services for installation, technical support, hosting and mobile commerce are also available.

6. Zen Cart: Community-Contributed Additions
The open-source ecommerce shopping cart known as Zen Cart provides community-contributed additions to the software than can be applied to your shop. Plenty of documentation and help with your cart is readily available in the community forums, too.

Designed by shop owners, programmers, designers and consultants, this cart features a template-based system to select a design for your cart and to configure product categories, sales discounts and shipping and payment options. Nearly every piece of information about your products can be customized and managed within the Zen Cart Admin view.

Zen Cart v1.5.0 requires PHP 5.2.14, MySQL 4.1.3 and Apache 2.0 (or higher). It can run on Windows/IIS servers, but Linux/Apache servers are recommended. For those who need help with ZenCart, the product’s website provides a list of affiliated service providers.

Some Ways to Not Screw Up Your Website

Wondering why your website is not attracting more visitors or why your conversion rates are so low? Web developers, designers and customer experience experts explain what you might be doing wrong.
A lot can go wrong when it comes to building a business Website. To find out some of the biggest mistakes companies make when redesigning their website–or launching a new one– surveyed Web developers, Web designers and customer experience experts We cite the 12 most often problems, as well as how you can fix or prevent them.

Mistake No. 1: Forgetting who your audience is. Your senior management team is not the audience for your website. Your customers are. But all too often companies forget this, creating content they like instead of content their customers will like–and click on. “Customers need to feel that you relate to them,” says Charlie Claxton, principal and vice president of Creative Strategy at Produxs, a customer experience and design firm. Therefore companies need to “know as much as possible about [their] customers and clients… and deliver a website that accurately and appropriately speaks to [their] audience.” Remember, while you may think your website is about you–your products and/or services–it’s really about your customers.

Mistake No. 2: Not going mobile. “Approximately 20 percent of all Web traffic is via a mobile device,” says Darren Hill, co-founder and CEO of ecommerce provider WebLinc. “If your site forces your customer to fumble through a nonmobile interface, then your customer is likely to leave the site.” The solution: make sure you site is optimized to be viewed on mobile devices. If the platform you use does not include this option, there are plenty of inexpensive tools and services that can help you create a mobile version of your website.

Mistake No. 3: Changing your URLs and not redirecting them. When asked about some of the biggest website mistakes they had encountered, respondents cited this mistake the most often. “During a site rebranding or redesign, companies forget to 301 redirect all of their old pages to the correct new page. This leads to a terrible user experience and it is very bad for search engine optimization (SEO) since the value of those links is not passed to the new URL structure,” says Michael Freeman, senior manager of Search at ShoreTel Sky, which specializes in cloud-based phone systems.

The solution: “Work with IT before the switch to ensure that all URLs redirect properly to the new site. This is done easily using a tool like Xenu’s Link Sleuth. Take a copy of the old XML sitemap and crawl all of those links. Take note of any that do not return a 301.”

Mistake No. 4: Using jargon, empty marketing terms or clichés that don’t tell visitors what it is you actually do or sell. “Tell your audience what you do… in simple language,” advises Kelly Garrett, the president/creative director of Ekcetera Marketing and Design. And “don’t assume everyone knows who you are and what you do.”

Mistake No. 5: Stale or static content. “In today’s search society, organizations want and need to be found,” explains Michael W. Byrnes, Jr., president of Byrnes Consulting, LLC. “The search engines are going to use content as the biggest factor when they rank websites.” So you need to frequently add new, relevant, descriptive (i.e., search-engine-optimized) content to your site.

Mistake No. 6: Not integrating with social media sites. To be successful in today’s social media-driven world, companies need to provide links to their social media channels (e.g., Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter) on their websites, on the Home page as well as on product landing pages (if appropriate). “Whether that is as simple as a Twitter feed, integration with Facebook or a full-blown branded community with functions embedded in the content pages, if a company wants its website paid attention to, it must have social elements,” argues Peter Friedman, chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, a user content management company.

Mistake No. 7: Using Flash. “It’s hard to believe companies are still using Flash on their websites,” says David Millili, CEO of web developer Pegasus Solutions. “Flash can and will negatively affect your chances for sales on a retail site. For one, it won’t work on mobile devices, including any Apple mobile products,” he points out. “Secondly, content featured in Flash can’t be crawled by search engines, meaning you cannot easily search engine optimize Flash sites in the same way you would a Java-created site.”

Mistake No. 8: Not including an email marketing signup form on your homepage. “Think of all the lost prospects who aren’t ready to press ‘buy’ but liked what you were saying and would eagerly sign up for your sales funnel (i.e., your email marketing newsletter),” but you don’t have a sign-up button or form, says Liz Lockard, the owner of Liz Lockard Marketing Consulting. “Email marketing is one of the best marketing channels for ROI–the Direct Marketing Association puts email marketing’s ROI for 2011 at $40.56 for every $1 invested.” And if you don’t have an opt-in/email marketing signup on your homepage (or on relevant landing pages), you are losing prospective customers and sales. (For companies looking for an email marketing service provider, Lockard recommends Aweber or MailChimp.)

Mistake No. 9: Not doing UX (or usability/customer experience) testing. “Avoiding UX testing is generally a huge mistake,” says Michael Beck, senior marketing specialist at OpticsPlanet. “Most companies are concerned with cost, but simply asking a co-worker to conduct a few tasks in the new layout can highlight otherwise inconspicuous [and costly] issues.”

Mistake No. 10: Not testing the site in multiple browsers and form factors (i.e., mobile devices) before going live. One of “the biggest mistake we’ve seen, and a mistake we made early on, was to not test our website in all browsers and on different screen sizes,” explains Sandip Singh, the CEO and founder of crowdfunding website Go Get Funding. “Sometimes things simply don’t work in some browsers or the layout might break.” That’s why Singh recommends that all companies view their website on multiple browsers (IE9, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) and on various mobile devices (iPad, iPhone, Android) before going live.

Mistake No. 11: Taking cybersecurity for granted. “Antivirus software will only get you so far,” states Alex Berry, vice president and general manager of Enterprise Services at Neustar, which advises companies about cybersecurity. “Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks — targeted, malicious spikes in Web traffic designed to take out a website — are not only on the rise, they can cripple your sales, lead generation and customer service,” he says. Indeed, “according to our recent survey of IT professionals, 67 percent of retailers who had experienced a DDoS attack said the cost of website outages were more than $100,000 per hour — about $2 million a day.”

The solution: make sure your operating and antivirus software is kept up to date, constantly monitor your site and have a backup/disaster recovery plan in place.

Mistake No. 12: Not monitoring/tracking visitor behavior. The best way to find out what works and what doesn’t on your website — i.e., what your customers like and don’t like — is to measure it, using an analytics program. “Measuring and monitoring analytics is the best way to understand user behavior,” argues Tim Gray, a content strategist at Blue Fountain Media. “Yet so many business neglect to set up even basic monitoring tools, [even though] Google has an excellent and powerful analytics tool that is free and easy to use and install.”