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Your web site is the way many of your customers first get to know what you offer and how it will benefit them. Ideally, that site comes up on the first page of a search engine (SEO, we are looking at you!), but the experience a first-time visitor has on your home page will determine whether or not they come back.

How is your message displayed and delivered? Today’s multi-device using customers are using laptops, phones, and more, to read email, surf the net, and view ads. A clear technological understanding of how that works and what won’t work should define how your message is put out there. For instance, a dancing bunny with wiggly balloons to click on is actually difficult to program successfully because a lot more information is needed and more can go wrong. That same bunny sitting still might be better for your purposes.

Is your web site easy to figure out on different devices? Since there will be users with varying speeds and bandwidths, simple is better than flashy. A good search engine is essential. The home page should have the most commonly sought information right there, easy to see. Tabs or links for further information should also be easy to see and should work when clicked on. Get feedback from your customer base and use it to improve their experience on your site no matter how they visit.

Are you using your data dynamically? There’s more to metrics than click rates. If you aren’t analyzing the right data for the right information, you are simply learning how to play with software and numbers. Know what makes a result statistically significant and numbers start to mean something real. Today we have access to an overwhelming amount of unique data that can improve specific business practices, but it has to be handled correctly.

You could try to figure all this out by yourself, or you could delegate the bulk of it to professionals who already are doing successful web design for others. 

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In the middle of a great post at Moz on mobile-friendly websites, Bridget Randolph points out;

“We are increasingly living in a multiscreen, device-agnostic world.

And this means that “mobile” can’t just be an add-on anymore…Mobile is not a separate channel; it’s a technology. So although at this point there’s “no such thing as mobile” for the user, don’t be fooled: Making it easy for users is really hard. We can’t be lazy. What we need to be doing is asking the right questions.”

Her advice covers 4 phases of the customer journey: discover, explore, buy, and engage. Each category has a lot of good ideas to consider, case studies to look at, and it is set up in an easily read format that is classic technique portrayed. You could use it as a textbook example of how to explain a potentially complicated process.

Every time you add a channel to your enterprise, it is a good idea to do it in a way that works for the devices that will be used to access it. Mobile devices are different in experience than a laptop, for instance. So why would it be wise to take the laptop design to the mobile device without changing anything? Short answer: it isn’t.

So how does that look for web design? It looks like using dynamic serving, different HTML based on user agent while a single URL is used for simplicity. You want to be thinking about the consumer’s experience, and that means a smaller screen needs a different design in order to be effective.

  • How easy is it to find the “order” button from a phone?
  • How hard is it to navigate your site on a tablet?
  • Can the user go from one device to another in a seamlessly synced experience?

Testing all the devices your customers use, the way your customers use them, is a very good idea. We live in an increasingly multi-device, mobile-savvy culture and business has to keep up with it by designing your site appropriately for all the channels your customers will access. You can get help with your web design at reciprocalconsulting.com/web-design.php.

If you go to Amazon.com and look for a product in any category, you’ll discover that their navigation taxonomy is quite robust. You can search the site by keyword to find the product you want. Usually, you’ll get a list of products that match your search criteria, then you’ll be given a list of navigation options (usually in the sidebar) that allow you to narrow your search to name brands, sizes, prices, types of products, etc.

So you want to duplicate this type of sophisticated navigation system on your own website. That’s good. Amazon is definitely the model to follow. But there is one big issue to think about as you build your e-commerce website.

First, nix the dynamic URL parameters. They aren’t going to help you. Each product on your website should have a keyword-based URL, and that goes for the categories and specific page navigation options too.

For instance, if your customer comes to your website searching for socks, your search page should have the word “socks” in its URL. Giving the customer the option to click-through to pages for “tube socks,” “athletic socks,” and “ankle socks” without including those descriptors in your URLs could lead to duplicate content issues, especially if your customers can arrive on any product or category page from multiple locations on your website.

Every page on your website should have a single URL before you start adding dynamic parameters and session IDs. Otherwise, you’ll have navigation issues.

One of the latest developments for website design is responsive design. This is a term that is used to describe a website that is accessible from any device and allows the user to experience the website whether viewing it from a desktop machine, a laptop, a mobile phone, a tablet, or some other device. The website responds to the device it is being viewed from.

>Responsive web design is about more than simple accessibility. It also has some SEO benefits.

For instance, responsive websites eliminate the duplicate content issue. If you have a website in HTML that was designed for computers and a separate website that was designed for mobile devices, you’ll either have to rewrite the content for the second site or potentially deal with duplicate content issues in the search engines. There’s no way around it. Even if your mobile site is a subdomain of your main site, you’ll have to face the duplicate content monster.

You also only have to do SEO on one site. If you have two sites, that’s twice the SEO work.

Thirdly, if you have a traditional website and a mobile website, then you’ll have to build links to both sites. Link building is a time consuming activity. You will most certainly duplicate your efforts in social media promotion and other link building activities if you have a dedicated mobile website.

Going forward, responsive website design is going to be one of the most important trends for website development.

Testing is one of the most important aspects of creating new web design. If you have a current website and think you can improve upon it, how shall you go about it? You should test new designs against your old design and see which one performs better.

There are two types of website testing that are popular and recognized by most industry experts: A/B testing and multivariate testing. Which one is right for you?

In general, it depends. However, I think A/B testing is appropriate for most circumstances.

A/B testing is where you take one component of your web page and you test it against a new version of it. For instance, you take your page headline and tweak it slightly then present an A/B test to see which one users like the most. The A version is usually the current web page published. The B version is the one with the new headline. You don’t test any other components on the page.

Multivariate testing allows you to test multiple components at the same time. You can add a new headline, move your lead photo from the right to the left side of the page, and make your sidebar wide and narrow.

Testing multiple variables at the same time can give you an idea about different versions of your page, but it won’t necessarily tell you which variables users are attracted to. In the above scenario, for instance, users might like version B of your web page more than version A, but do they like it because of the headline, the image or the sidebar? All you can is they like the combination of elements better.

This is why I recommend A/B testing over the multivariate testing most of the time. Still, it’s OK to use multivariate testing because the end result is a better website that visitors love.

If you are designing your small business website, one of the decisions you’ll have to make is whether or not to use a theme or build your website from scratch. That is, will it be in HTML or based on a template?

Even if you choose a template, it’s still based on HTML. The difference is, you’ll be using someone else’s framework versus building your own.

There are pros and cons to both approaches.

If you build your own website from scratch, then you control every element. You also take ownership of the problems. So you have to make sure that every element is useful. Your navigation needs to be easy to follow. Your infrastructure needs to be helpful to your site visitors. The design needs to be attractive. And the content needs to be top-notch.

In many cases, these things are already done for you with a website template, but you still need to check them out. Some templates, for instance, offer little to no SEO benefit. But how do you know if you don’t have the knowledge and skills to test them?

This is where a professional web designer can help you. It might be less expensive to have your designer build from a template, but you’ll get a much better website if you allow them to build it from scratch. A good designer can get you a unique look that makes your company look professional and ready for business.

Your call, but be sure to weigh the pros and cons to every business decision.

You’ve decided it’s time to update your website design. Good for you. There’s just one problem. You’ve achieved some pretty high search engine rankings over the years and you don’t want to lose them. What should you do?

Think about these three considerations before you do anything:

  1. Keyword Research – At the heart of your SEO are keywords. You’ll need to analyze each page on your website for keyword usage. Are you ranking for keywords that aren’t searched for any more? If so, your SEO could be outdated. Or perhaps you have pages that still get great traffic for keywords that are still being searched for. Make a list of all the keywords you are ranking for and how much traffic those pages are getting. Also make a note of any relevant keywords you are not ranking for.
  2. Conversions – Traffic is great, but conversions are better. If you have web pages that get a load of traffic, especially from search, but no conversions, then maybe you just need to rewrite the content. Compare your conversions to your search engine rankings and traffic.
  3. Content Anomalies – This is a broad category of content problems that could include duplicate content or low-value content. Perhaps you have a large number of pages with little content on them that could be beefed up a bit. They’re targeting good keywords but just don’t have enough content. Make a list of your web pages that might have some version of a content anomaly and determine what you can do to improve them.

It’s important that you improve web pages that have content problems in your redesign, but it’s also important not to significantly change the content of web pages that are ranking well and converting well. So make your lists and analyze your content before you commit to the redesign.

Let’s face it. We live in a world where beauty matters. I have seen ugly websites get a redesign and improve visitor interaction immediately. The website’s bounce rate lowers, its unique visitors increases, and conversions increase. The same thing can happen to your website.

There are some very simple things you can do to improve the look and feel of your website. Here are 3 ways to improve your web design easily and reap the benefits.

  • Associate your brand with colors – Not too many. Pick two or three colors that you want site visitors to associate with your brand and use those to design your website. Over time, those colors will be associated with your website and brand. Make sure you use specific colors by hex code and not just generic colors like “red” and “yellow.”
  • Write content for the web – People don’t read the same way online. Make your paragraphs short, use bullet points and subheads, and use short and simple sentences. Make your content “scannable.” People will stop and read what they find interesting.
  • Use graphics – “Gray” content might be interesting, but it’s going to be a lot more interesting with graphic enhancements. Use images on your content to break up the content and to add a visual element. Be sure to choose images that correspond to the content.

If you improve your website’s visual design, then you’ll see a huge difference in your conversions and how visitors interact with your website.

When I ask clients what they think the most important element of web design is, I usually get one of several responses.

  • The header
  • Navigation
  • Attractiveness
  • Usability, or functionality
  • Shopping cart
  • Conversions, or calls to actions
  • Search engine optimization

These are generally the most often stated elements by people who don’t design websites. Even web designers will often repeat one or more of these often spoken responses. But the truth is, the most important element of web design is none of these.

So what is the most important element?

In a word, it’s content that speaks to your ideal customer.

Notice that I didn’t just say “content.” That’s because content in and of itself is just a tool. It can be effective or ineffective. It can be the right content for your target audience or the the wrong content.

If the content on your website isn’t written to attract your ideal customer and then close them, then it’s not good content. Period.

The bottom line is, you have to lead your ideal client to the sale. That means your content has to be targeted to appeal to the ideal client and convince them that you have the answer to their most pressing questions. In other words, it has to solve a problem. If your content doesn’t convince your ideal customer that you have the solution to their biggest problem, then you won’t get the sale.

That’s why content that speaks to your ideal customer is the most important element of web design. It’s what gets the sale.

One of the most important tasks to get right in modern web design is site structure. If you do it wrong, it can kill your business. Get it right and it will make your business.

So how do you structure your website so that you drive traffic where you want it and help each page rank optimally in the search engines?

First, you should start with keyword research. What search terms are people searching for within your niche? Make a list of the most searched for search terms. Then pair those up with the right search terms for your business.

Now, group your keywords into categories. If your website is focused on commercial real estate in Key West, for instance, you might have a category for new construction, another category for retail business, one for industrial, and so on. Keep all like keyword terms together in one group.

In each group, take the broadest keyword search term and make it the group leader. That keyword term will be the top level navigational element and will be at the top on your navigation menu.

It will help if you draw a diagram of your website before you start building it. Get your presentation skills ready and draw out your website so you can see it visually. Don’t do any web design work until you have your site structure defined.

When it comes to website design, there are very few absolutes. But I would argue that there are some, namely, the elements you choose to place above the fold.

Anything above the fold, that is the area that can be seen on any computer monitor in any browser without having to scroll down or over, is prime real estate no matter what website we are talking about. If you want to make the most of your website design, include these 5 elements above the fold.

  1. Your company logo – It goes without saying, but your logo should be above the fold. Preferably, it should go in the header. But you definitely want your website visitors to see it on your page, for branding purposes if anything.
  2. E-mail opt-in form – Do you have a mailing list? If so, make sure your opt-in form is visible above the fold. You will get a lot more opt ins.
  3. Navigational elements – People who visit your website want to find stuff quickly. Make it easy for them. Include your website’s navigation above the fold.
  4. Content – If the only thing your website visitors see when they arrive on your website is your header, then you will lose a large number of them. Make your header visible, but don’t let it take up the entire real estate above the fold. Include some valuable content in that space as well.
  5. Contact information – If you want people to call you, add your phone number to your website in a visible location above the fold. If you want them to Skype you, then make sure your Skype address is visible above the fold. Whatever your primary means of contact is, make it visible above the fold.

>Website design is a creative exercise. A lot of things can be left to the imagination of your designer, but make sure these elements are above the fold on every website you own.

Do you have a book in your head? You can translate that book into formats that are easy to read in the palm of your hand. The two leading e-book publishing formats are Kindle and e-Pub. By targeting your manuscript to these formats you will reach about 90% of the e-reading public.

E-books used to exist in PDF and HTML, and that was it. But that was before Amazon revolutionized the publishing industry with its Kindle.

Amazon has the Kindle Direct Publishing program that allows anyone – yes, anyone – to upload a Word document and have it reformatted for the Kindle. Then you can sell it on Amazon and keep 70% of the profits. Likewise, Smashwords will take your Word document and put it through its Meatgrinder churning out a manuscript in as many as 10 formats. Those include:

  • HTML
  • JavaScript
  • Kindle
  • E-Pub
  • PDF
  • RTF
  • LRF (for older model Sony Readers)
  • Palm Doc
  • Plain Text (download)
  • and Plain Text (view) – viewable as a web page

So what do you do after you’ve published your book in these formats?

The first thing you do is build a website to promote your book. Then you want to drive traffic to your website, but instead of offering the books for download on your website, you’ll offer a link to Amazon and one to Smashwords where people can go to download your book.

There are two reasons why you do it this way. First, even though your book will have a description and other marketing information at both Amazon and Smashwords, having your own website allows you to include more sales and marketing material than either of the other two services and to present in a format that you have more control over.

The second reason you want your own website for marketing purposes is because you can take advantage of the Amazon and Smashwords affiliate programs.

Amazon pays you 70% royalties on every sale. Smashwords pays you 80%. But you can make more money if you sign up for their affiliate programs. That way you can promote the books on your website and receive a sales commission for each copy you sell in addition to your royalties.

If you want to be a published author, you need a hub – a home on the web. That’s what your website does for you. Become an author today.

It used to be that all you had to think about when building your landing pages was how to optimize your titles and headlines, images through alt tags, keyword usage, and a having strong call to action. Is that all you have to think about today or is there more to it now?

I think that landing page optimization has changed and primarily it has changed because users are more savvy now than they used to be.

For sure, Internet users overall care more about design and layout today than they used to. At one time an ugly landing page could still make money, but because most niches now are embattled in some pretty stiff competition, if your web pages don’t meet a certain design standard, then your competition is going to win. Users will bounce from an ugly site to a more attractive site and make a purchase there even if your product is better.

For that reason, web design is much more important today. You want your site to be optimized well and have a strong call to action, but you want it to be beautiful too.

Aside from that, you also want to pay much more attention to metrics. What are you measuring, and are you sure you’re measuring the right things?

For starters, you should know how much of your traffic is converting. You should also measure your social signals, e-mail opt-ins, and anything else that could potentially lead to a conversion. You have to know what web design elements are working for you and eliminate any that aren’t. This often requires A/B testing or multivariate testing in some form.

By testing your landing pages for better optimization and conversion you signal to the world, and your in-house team, that you are serious about building your brand. It all starts with effective web design.

If you want a sure-fire way to kill your website and ensure that it doesn’t get traction in the search engines or that visitors stop by for a quick look and leave, then follow these web design principles.

  1. No social media icons – Leave off the social media icons. No one’s going to share your content anyway. Truth is, people do share content. And they’re sharing it more all the time.
  2. Don’t include graphics – No one likes pretty pictures. Fill your web content space with nothing but text. Lots of it. Heck, go even further and don’t break for paragraphs. Do everything you can to make your web pages gray.
  3. Noindex, nofollow – Add the meta tag “noindex, nofollow” to every page on your website. It won’t get crawled or ranked by the search engines and no one will ever find you. You’re sure to live out the rest of your life in obscurity.
  4. Talk down to your readers – You’re smarter than they are. Show it. Readers love it when web content talks down to them, puts them in their place. You’ll get lots of repeat visitors to your site with that. Not.
  5. Don’t do any internal linking – Links are overrated. Why would you want your web pages to link together? Why encourage site visitors to visit more than one page? They came to your site to see the page they’re on, so keep them there. Actually, studies show that website navigation is one of the most important things for site visitors.

If you noticed the inherent sarcasm in this post, good for you. Now, don’t you think it’s time to learn how to really design web pages?

There are several mistakes that website owners make when it comes to navigation menus when they attempt to use their navigation for SEO purposes instead of focusing on user needs. And all of these are fixable.

  • Multple navigation elements – I’ve seen websites with a fancy navigation menu at the top of the page and the same navigational elements in the sidebar followed by navigation links in the footer. Why? Pick one method of navigation and stick with that.
  • Too many pages in the navigation element – Do you really need links to your archives, categories, tags, author pages, and related content? Some of this is overkill. Usually, if you nofollow your navigation links to your archives, categories, and tags pages, then you’ll get much better optimization.
  • Complex site structure – Keep it as simple as possible for the type of website you have. That’s easy when your site is only 10 pages. But what if it stretches out to 100 or 200 pages? Or worse, to a couple of thousand? It’s OK to have different navigation menus for separate sections of your website, but keep the navigational elements simple. Don’t overcomplicate them.
  • Over-Optimization – Generally speaking, any time you include a navigational element solely for optimization efforts, then you are setting your website up to fail. Ask yourself if it helps your site visitor? If not, eliminate it and look for other ways that you can optimize your website.

Navigational menus are established for users, not search engines. That doesn’t mean you can’t optimize them, but optimizing your navigation menus is really simple. Use the best key phrase for each page on your website and use that key phrase as the link in your navigation menu. If your on-page optimization is spot on, then that should be good SEO. If not, you might need to re-write your on-page content or pick another key phrase to optimize for.

WordPress once was thought of as nothing more than a blogging platform. It was considered – and still is – the premiere blogging platform on the Web. There’s good reason for thinking of it that way. No other blogging platform offers the same level of design flexibility with search engine optimization benefits and maximum functionality.

Today, however, WordPress is thought of as more than a blogging platform. It is a blogging platform PLUS. And that plus is a big deal.

It is being billed today as a content management system. That means you can use WordPress to upload all of your website’s content and you can build a full-fledged website using it to manage your content from beginning to end. However, there are some pitfalls.

As an example, if you use WordPress’s media upload features and you decide to move your website to a new server or host, then you’ll have to migrate those photos and images and if you aren’t careful you could lose them. It’s much easier to make a website transfer with a traditional HTML website. You simply drag and drop your folder to the new server and you’re done. It’s not that easy with WordPress.

That’s just one example. Designing WordPress also comes with its own set of headaches. For instance, are you going to use an off-the-shelf template? Be careful because a lot of them are not optimized correctly for the search engines.

You could use a premium framework, but those cost money. You could end up spending as much money to design with a WordPress site as you would to pay for a custom HTML design, and have fewer headaches.

While I wouldn’t say don’t use WordPress for your next web design as an absolute imperative, it’s important to know the dangers and pitfalls before you make that decision.

The best time to start thinking about whether your website is mobile ready or not is when you start developing your site. One tool that comes in handy for a savvy website developer intent on building a mobile-ready website is mobiReady.

So what should you incorporate, or not incorporate, into your website to make it ready for mobile browsers?

For starters, strip your website of all Flash elements. The won’t be visible in most mobile web browsers. Also, frames are difficult to parse for mobile browsers as well, so dispense with them too. And while you’re at it, strip away any code that bloats your website and makes it load slowly. If your website is too large, mobile web browsers will have a difficult time seeing it.

If you’re building your website on a content management system, try to find a module or a plugin that converts it for mobile browsers or makes it easier for mobile browsers to parse. Again, test your website on a mobile test page before making it live.

Mobile browsing is here to stay. And with smart phones becoming more and more popular, it will some day be as common as browsing the web on a home computer. You might as well get ready for that day now.

If necessary, design a separate website for mobile browsers that looks like your company site but is built just for mobile users.

There are a lot of website design companies online that purport to build you a custom-designed website, then use an off-the-shelf web template. Sure, they modify the template, but that’s hardly “custom.”

A custom-designed website is one where the web design company takes your concept and builds you a website from scratch. The language used for the website is immaterial. It can be PHP, CSS, JavaScript, ASP, or a combination of the above. Or something else entirely. But they code the website from top to bottom. And they do it with sound search engine optimization strategies in mind.

Web design isn’t rocket science, but it’s not exactly Cracker Jack box thinking either. There is some creativity involved.

A good web design company can take your company image, your logo, your brand, and design a real website that captures the personality and essence of your brand. It is unique. It is custom designed in the truest sense of the word.

When you are in the market for a custom web design, take the time to interview companies first. Find out what their web design strategy is. Do they take an off-the-shelf template and modify it or do they truly build you a website from the ground up?

UGC stands for user generated content. If you use it, it means less work for you, more monetization opportunities, fewer time management hurdles, and possibly even better content. In most cases, it also means more website traffic.

User generated content can be solicited in any number of ways, however. And it can take on many forms. It can be straight textual content, other graphical content, photographs, videos, social networking content, or a mixture of the above. But how do you get people to send you their content to start with?

First, you should build your own content and get the pump primed. Once you’ve attracted a certain level of traffic, start building your platform. Then, put a call out on your website, in your e-mail blasts, and in forums within your niche.

You should make it easy for your website visitors to upload their content. Add a membership feature to your website and give each member the means to add content within their own community profile area. That content can be anything they desire, but you should encourage content that compliments the content you’ve already loaded to your site and that attracted people to it in the first place.

User generated content is how savvy webmasters build communities today. But you must build the platform.

Last Christmas shopping season was a record-breaking season. In fact, Cyber Monday (November 29, 2010) was the biggest online shopping day in history topping $1 billion in sales. Are you ready for this year?

Whether or not we’ll surpass that landmark day in online sales this year is a big question, but it’s not out of the question. In fact, it’s quite possible.

Online sales have increased year over year for the past three or four years. The trend is developing. More and more people are getting comfortable shopping online and the Christmas season is the time when they are most likely to break down and whip out their credit cards. Online merchants should be ready. And if you’re not ready by now, you’re not likely to be ready.

What’s it take to succeed in online commerce? You have to have a website ready to take orders. That means you need an attractive web design with clear and easy navigation and a safe and secure payment system. The No. 1 factor in whether online shoppers are willing to buy from you or not is whether you build trust. If they don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you.

Cyber Monday is just around the corner. Are you ready? Let the shopping begin.