Why WordPress?

At least once a month, we get a frantic query from someone with a website they can’t update. Their web designer or developer is AWOL They don’t know how…. can’t remember…never learned how to manage their site. So it’s basically useless.

Can we help?

Unfortunately, the answer is almost always no. We can’t do anything with a proprietary program. All we can do is offer to build a new site on an open source platform (like WordPress) so they don’t ever have this issue again.

why we build WordPress websites

According to WordPress, there are currently 51,494 WordPress plugins.

There are plugins for every functionality your website requires — content management, link checkers, SEO, blogs, calendars, memberships, forms, image compression, spam, and security…to name a few. Lots are free; others are very inexpensive.

That alone might be reason enough for us to be huge WordPress fans. But there’s more.

Robust. Secure. Powerful.

We love that WordPress is an industry-standard, powerful open source platform that offers frequent feature-rich updates and expandability. And that it’s robust and secure in a hack-and-spam-crazy world. And that it’s supported by a huge and active developer community that help one another troubleshoot issues. So if you have a problem with something special you’re trying to do, there are plenty of people to help you solve it.

But the A Number 1 reason?

WordPress meets a huge criteria of ours – usability. Quite simply, WordPress makes our clients’ lives easier.

Not Just A Website

Almost all the websites we build are on the WordPress platform. Because we’re not just building a website for your business — we’re developing what is probably the most important tool in your marketing toolbox. The face of your business. Open to the world round-the-clock. Accessible to anyone looking for the type of products or services you offer.

When you’re busy running a business, keeping your website current may not be high on your list of “must do’s”. But it might be the difference between making a sale or losing out to a competitor whose website is fresh and compelling.

No Techie – No Problem

With WordPress, you don’t need to be a techie to make updates and add new content. Got a hot new product you need to feature on a new page? Simple. Need to add some sweet testimonials to drive new business? Couple of minutes.

WordPress offers an intuitive CMS (content management system) with a short, sweet learning curve. Unabashed sales pitch: training is always included as part of our website development packages.

Generally, an hour of one-on-one is all that’s needed to get you up and running. It’s THAT user-friendly. But we stick around to help you out if you need a little extra support.

WordPress Around the World

Think it’s just smaller companies using WordPress? Think again. A few of the big brands with WordPress sites:

  • Facebook
  • Disney
  • Sony
  • Bloomberg
  • The New Yorker
  • TechCrunch
  • CNN
  • BBC America
  • The New York Times
  • Microsoft News Center
  • Beyonce
  • Star Wars
  • TED

So next time you’re in the market for a new website, find a developer who builds on WordPress. We promise it will make your life a whole lot easier.

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Why Marketing Matters More Than Ever

It happens often. We meet with a business owner who’s struggling to build sales but won’t commit….or hasn’t set aside…. any money for marketing.

How does that work, you ask? Well, it doesn’t.

Our main business is building websites. But we approach web design and development with a marketing mindset because our team has a marketing background.

So before we start building anything, we sit down and talk to you about goals for your business and what you want your new site to accomplish. We’re building a big beautiful online marketing tool for you. It just happens to be called a website.

For people to find your website, a few things need to happen:

  1. It needs to be optimized for search (SEO) so that Google brings your site up when someone searches for your product or service.
  2. You also need to send people to your site.
    You can do this through social media, advertising (print or digital or both), PR, flyers, brochures or handouts, newsletters, emails, direct mail (like postcards), signage, premiums, business cards that you pass out at networking events, etc.

All of the suggestions in item #2 fall under the marketing umbrella. It’s what drives your business and builds your sales. No marketing = not much business.

why you need to market your business
marketing matters

So back to the “no money for marketing” scenarios.

A few examples stand out. One was a man who hired us to build a website for a small gym he had purchased and was renovating. His target market was personal trainers who would use the gym to work with private clients or people who weren’t comfortable at a big gym but needed some sort of coaching. That idea sounded solid and well thought out.

We built a drop dead gorgeous site (OK, so we’re a little biased). But it was sleek and sexy and did everything it was supposed to do. It was easy for visitors to get the info they needed and the messaging was clear and concise.

This was not your one-size-fits-all super gym. It was a small facility — a former house with a beautiful river view, where you could train relatively privately, and then go out in the back yard to relax after your workout. We loved the whole concept. This gym was a little gem.

Until the business model changed.

Classes were added, a few at first, then a lot. Yoga and bar work and meditation. Then floor work and Zumba. Now the “small gym for serious workouts” took on a “me too” slant. Fearing he was missing out on another market (women), the owner modified the original positioning.

Bad move.

Not only were there a bunch of hot new boutique-y gyms in the area, but the larger gyms like FFC, CrossTown Fitness and Equinox were doing great marketing and had huge name recognition. Not to mention swimming pools, running tracks and lots of classes at convenient times.

Our client had not allocated any money for marketing. There was no money for signage which made it difficult to find the place. There was no money for social media (he attempted to do some himself but since he had no idea about how social media worked, that never went anywhere). There was no money for publicity or promotions of any kind. 7 months after we completed the website, he sold the business.

We were bummed because we couldn’t show this gorgeous site in our portfolio. But the client was happy to get out without losing his total investment.

We hate to see this happen. Our goal with each project is to give clients a solid marketing tool that will help grow their business. Seeing a client fail makes us sad.

We use examples like this when talking to new business owners to make sure they’re budgeting wisely and not putting the proverbial “all their eggs in one basket”. Your website can be the most important marketing tool in your arsenal. But don’t let it be the only one.

SEO competition gets tougher every day. Unless you’re able to do considerable digital advertising (as in spending big bucks), you need to stand out any way you can. Good marketing can always help you stand out.

If you’ve got marketing chops and can handle it on your own, run with it. If not, make sure there’s money set aside to hire the experts you need.

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Time management tips to make you more productive.

Some people are naturally efficient when it comes to time management. Engineers come to mind. They think logically and linearly.

Our team is heavy on creatives, and creativity and efficiency do not necessarily play well together.

Our thinking processes tend to lean towards wandering. So, if we’re having a company meeting, a finite agenda keeps us on track. Pretty much.how to save time

We HAVE found some tools that help us work more efficiently. Some of you might find them valuable, so we thought we’d share them.

Facilitating Communications
Our hands-down favorite tool is a tool called Slack. After dealing poorly with unwieldly email threads, we (ok, Steve) discovered this super well-designed communications tool, and we all love it.

Slack lets you organize internal conversations into channels – by project, client or topic. You can create private channels (we use these for proprietary client work) or have open channels if you want to add someone to a particular project – handy if you subcontract people to work on specific jobs but don’t want to give them access to all your channels.

You can search, comment, direct message one another and easily add files, documents, videos and images by a quick drag & drop. It also allows you to share documents from Dropbox and Google Docs, and make voice or video calls from within Slack.

One of the best features allows you to get an alert as soon as someone comments or adds an update in one of your channels. We find this super useful when we’re brainstorming, working on proposals, designing and building new websites, preparing seminars, or need a quick answer from one another. It allows us to work remotely in real time. And no more checking inboxes multiple times throughout the day.

Other than the occasional wandering off topic (hey, we said we’re creatives), Slack keeps us focused while saving at least an hour a day that was formerly spent on email.

Reference Repository
Creatives tend to find lots of material to help them be more creative. Interesting design ideas. Unusual color palettes. “How to” articles. Research for upcoming blog posts. Keeping all that information organized can be challenging. Eventually all the bookmarks you save end up being deleted rather than referenced.

Enter iCyte. iCyte is a web research management tool that lets you save web pages and pdfs with all elements, including links, intact. You can also highlight content of particular interest allowing you to quickly find important elements.

Save cytes under topics you create — we like to set up projects by client or type of reference material. You can also add tags for easy searching and any notes you might want to keep. When you’re ready to retrieve pages you’ve cyted, simply go to the iCyte dashboard to easily find what you’re looking for. You can also share cytes with colleagues, clients or friends.

Streamlining Social Media
Organizing material you want to share on social media can be very time-consuming. Especially if you use multiple social media channels.

We currently limit our WAGW social media to Twitter and Facebook, a schedule that’s pretty easy to manage. But one of us uses multiple social media tools, adding LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest to the mix. She recommends Buffer for managing and scheduling tweets and posts and tracking analytics. It’s easy to use and reliable.

If you’ve been struggling with time management issues, we hope these tips can help. And if you’ve found any tools that you love, please let us know and maybe we’ll share them in an upcoming post.

Fun with Chrome Developer Tools

We love the WordPress community!  This was the weekend of WordCamp Chicago.  As usual, it was a time to learn, to share, and to meet old and new friends.  We’ll be posting some of the interesting sessions here as soon as they’re posted on WordPress.tv.

Steve was a speaker this year, on the topic of “Fun with Chrome Developer Tools.”  (Yes, developers think this is fun!)  Thanks to the many people who came to the presentation and offered comments and compliments!

How do I change the font size? Why is the background blue?  These are questions easily answered through the Chrome Developer Tools. Anyone wanting to do any customization of a web site needs to be familiar with them.  

View this full size in your browser from Google Docs  or download Fun with Chrome Developer Tools as a PDF.

How to craft engaging web content.

So you’ve got a brand new website, and it looks great. Well designed. Smart use of color. Smarter use of white space. Reasonably easy navigation. A business owner’s dream website.

But there’s one problem. Your website simply isn’t engaging.

It looks good, loads fast and seems to work well. But the copy is bland. Nah, it’s boring. It’s not written to entice the viewer but simply to provide information. So visitors to your site just don’t buy in to what you’re selling. They don’t sign up for your newsletter or your blog. They don’t opt for your special offer. They just leave. And they certainly don’t share your site on social media!

How good is that website now? Not very. If you think that site could be yours, it might be time to rethink your web strategy.

content marketing
Anyone reading your copy? Image courtesy of kaboompics.com.

Think strategically. What do you want your copy to accomplish?

Here are six easy tips to get you started:

  1. Think about the problem your products or services solve. Are you telling visitors to your site how you can help them? Don’t make them guess.
  2. Have you defined your target audience? The way you “speak” to Millennials is not the way you should “speak” to Boomers. Your copy style is important.
  3. Never  “assume”. If you want visitors to your site to do something, tell them. Sign up. Click here. Order now. Call now. Tell your friends. Short little sentences. Easy to write.
  4.  Make it easy for visitors to absorb your content. Is your product one that can be marketed with humor? Create a short clever video or hire an illustrator to create original cartoons to get your point across.
  5. Be relevant. Do you offer services for a serious issue…..for example, one that’s health-related? Easy-to-understand charts, infographics, copy with clear steps or bullet points and explainer videos are smart ways to share important information.
  6. Make it easy for visitors to share your content. If you’ve succeeded in bullet points 4 and 5, this should be a piece of cake. People share what they think others in their world will like. Content that’s interesting, amusing, informative, exciting,  compelling.But don’t forget to tell your visitors to share your content. Share icons are important but saying “be sure to share this with your friends” is just smart.

Your website may rank high but if visitors aren’t engaged once they land there, you’ve got a lousy site. Make sure your content is clear, well-written and speaks to your audience in language they understand and relate to.

If you can’t do it yourself, hire a professional copywriter. It’s well worth the investment.

Done or done right?

There’s a big difference between done and done right.

when it doesn't turn out right
Done. But not right!

You’re starting a new business and you’re on a limited budget. Your head is spinning with all that needs to be done, and most of it is being done by you. But you’ve never built a website and you don’t really have time to learn how now.

What to do? Maybe you’ll hire the cheapest person you can find just to get a site up. That way, at least you’ll have something to show for marketing.

Bad move.

Your website is the face of your business, the representation of your brand. The worst way to start a business is to skimp on your brand. Would your skimp on your product? Not likely.

Just because there are build-your-own-website-in-an-hour sites doesn’t mean that’s a good idea for your new business. Think about it.

Suppose your new company will sell customized products online. You need e-commerce and a secure shopping cart. Do you know which one is best for customized products? What about online customer service? How will you handle queries?

Then there are hosting concerns. Who should you use to host your site? Whoever you select better offer SSL or Chrome will label your site “not secure”. Not all webhosts provide SSL certification. Do you have time to research the best vendors for your tech needs?

Speaking of tech…..what about tech support, maintenance and backup? Your site needs to be monitored for dead links and security issues. Updates need to be installed as they come out. (We’re WordPress people — updates, including plugins, come out regularly). Odds are your bargain site builder will not handle that for you. So you’ll need to get up to speed on backend issues. Because you can’t afford for your site to crash or be down for any length of time.

Of course, your site will need to be responsive so that it looks the same and loads fast on all devices…..and various browsers. Do you know how to do that?

Behind the scene is only part of the game. There’s also the front end – how your website looks — your business’s face to the world. Are you versed in UX (user experience)? If a visitor to your site has a bad one, odds are she won’t become a customer.

You need to understand navigation so that visitors to your site find it easy to get around and find what they want. You need some design knowledge so your site is visually compelling. You need to understand SEO (search engine optimization) so that visitors find you in the first place. If you’re not a good writer, it’s hard to write engaging copy. Even if you are a decent writer, do you know how to write for the Internet where patience is not a commodity?

So, yes, you might be able to get your new website done on the cheap. But odds are it won’t be done right. And that’s a lousy way to start a new business.

Is your website SSL? If not, Google Chrome will label it NOT SECURE!

If you collect information from people who visit your website — email addresses, passwords, credit cards – please take a few minutes to read this post.

Google Chrome is about to make some critical algorithm changes that could impact your business.

not SSL
Sorry, your site is Not Secure!

The upcoming Chrome release –expected around the end of the month — will label website pages that collect credit cards or passwords, but are not using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) as “not secure”. This is not something you want visitors to your website to see!

Not sure what SSL is?

See a clear explanation of SSL here.

Pull up your website and check the location bar at the top of your browser window. If your website address starts with “https”, your site is secure. Google will love you…. or at least like you a lot.

If your site starts with “HTTP” (no “S”), your site is not secure and Google will label it as such.

If you collect passwords or credit card info, you need to get that fixed asap! You don’t want to run the risk of a potential new customer coming to your site and being scared off because it’s labeled not secure. It’s much wiser to get it fixed before there’s a problem.

Eventually, all sites will need to be SSL because Google will favor HTTPS pages over HTTP. If you’re concerned with Google ranking (and who isn’t?), you want a secure site whether you collect any information or not.

Check with your website hosting provider to learn how to set up SSL for your site. Some providers offer it free. Others charge a fee.

We recommend hosts that provide free SSL encryption from LetsEncrypt as part of their basic package.

If your site does not currently use SSL encryption, we can handle that for you. The costs will vary, depending on where your site is hosted. Give us a call or shoot us an email for a quote.

And yes, we’re secure! 😉

Nice website. Too bad it won’t bring you any business.

The goal of marketing is pretty simple. Attract, inform, engage.

You want to attract new customers. Then let them know how your products or services can help them. With clear, concise content and compelling graphics. Easy, right?

It should be. But too often, people make it far too complicated. Especially on websites. We’ve all seen sites that made us wonder why a company would ever attach their name to them.

lousy user experience
Lost. I’m totally lost! Image courtesy of morguefile.

Some of the most offensive generally include one or more of the following:

Flowery copy
Way too much overblown copy. Overwriting doesn’t attract. It bores. And boring content doesn’t get read. Instead, keep your copy clear and as concise as possible. If you can’t do that, at least break long copy up into digestible chunks. Or use subheads to make it scannable.

Convoluted navigation
Confusing navigation leads to a crummy user experience (crummyUX). It’s frustrating to have to guess where to click to find what you need. So visitors to your site end up leaving. And going to a smarter company’s website.

Why not make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for? Figure out the simplest way for people to move around your site. The fewer clicks to find something, the better. Make finding information easy.

Poor use of graphics
Compelling images can grab our attention. Bold, bright colors. Unusual designs. Wildly clever visuals. But when graphics make copy illegible, your clever marketing messages go unread.

Mixed messages
Your business might be the best in the industry. But odds are there are only one or two things that make it really special. Focus on those one or two things as key points of differentiation. Streamline your messaging so it has more of an impact.

Hidden contact info
Make sure your business phone number and email are in an easy-to-find place on your site. If you’ve ever tried to call a restaurant from your cell phone and not been able to find the phone number, you know what I’m talking about.

Five easy fixes. Well worth taking the time to do if you want your website to bring you new business.

Did your web firm develop and disappear?

A client was talking about why she likes to work with us. One of the reasons? Our monitoring package. She said it’s a key differentiator from other firms that develop your website and then disappear. Thank you to this client for reminding us that what we do isn’t necessarily the norm.

Which leads us to a problem that a lot of companies face when they’re looking for a firm to design and build their websites. How do you know what you’re getting?

what you want is a web design and development firm
So long, Sucker!

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The Big and the Small of It

Image credit: http://www.morguefile.com/creative/davidpwhelanBuilding a website is an exercise in both forests and trees.

The right words have to be there to draw the right eyeballs, your message has to be clear, and there have to be clear and effective calls to action. These are the forest level functions.

But it’s the little things that can destroy your credibility — misspellings, poor grammar, the wrong font in the wrong place, a poorly cropped image, etc. It’s as if a tree has fallen across the path.

A website is an exercise in first impressions. What impression are you making?

Is it fair to judge a company by a typo, or when they use “your” when it should be “you’re?”

What judgments, fair and unfair, are made about your business based on your website?

Neil Steinberg brings up this point in his May 7 blog post. He wrote

I was walking down Shermer in the old leafy suburban paradise and saw that sign announcing the new place, “Agave Anejo Mexican Grill,” and immediately had this thought: They’ll never make it.”

Why? Their sign was crooked. The restaurant owners were not paying attention to the details. One little thing mars a greater whole. It’s the tree across the path. Once seen, you can’t unsee it. Your expectations have been set.

When you build a website, pay attention to the big picture but sweat all the details. Your mother was right when she said ” you only get one chance to make a first impression.”

Image credit: http://www.morguefile.com/creative/davidpwhelan