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Total posts: 38
Last post: April 24, 2017

Understanding the User Experience

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

The web is a fluid medium. What I mean by that is, your website changes to fit the size and shape of whatever device it is being displayed on. As technology advances and our screens get smaller (and larger) and our toasters get smarter, it’s no longer safe to assume your visitors are seeing your website exactly as you are.

As designers and developers for the web, we have little to no control over the end product. It’s not like the print world, where we get to choose our paper, spot check the colors and approve the press check.

A visitor to your website may be at the office where the I.T. department has disabled JavaScript, or their toddler pushed all the buttons on their monitor and now the colors are too dark (or bright) and no matter how much you fiddle you can’t seem to get it back exactly how it was. Or they’re in line at the D.M.V. on their iPhone or Blackberry. Or they’re using the web browser on the Nintendo Wii or Playstation 3. Or…

But you see my point.

Understanding and being aware of these possible scenarios is important because if your user can’t find what she’s looking for, she’ll just hop over to Google and go somewhere else. Have you ever been to a website and been told “You must have [whatever] to view this site”? And all you were looking for was an address or who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds? (it was Curtis Armstrong)

Frustrating wasn’t it?  But lucky for us, modern web design has advanced to the point where we can build your website with all these situations in mind. The web isn’t like a PowerPoint presentation, where we can dictate what pages are shown in what order, on our computer, with the lights turned down just right and an impressive knowledge of 80s movie trivia.

Amazon websites on different devices

Amazon.com does this, as you can see in the image above. On the left is the Amazon we all know and love as viewed in Firefox on my desktop computer. But check out how it looks on the right when I go there on my iPhone. It’s still Amazon, still has all the familiar elements of Amazon (logo, search, recommendations); but adjusts to the device instead of the other way around.

OK, pretty neat, but what about companies that don’t have the budget of Amazon, right? Let’s take a look at a the site we built for the North Coast Challenge race. Using a bit of advanced CSS, there’s a cool effect hidden in the design of the site. If you’re using Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer 7, resize the browser window (go on, I’ll wait) and you’ll see the runners at the top almost appear to be racing. But if you’re using Internet Explorer 6 or below, the technique used is not supported and you can’t see it. 

But everything else is still there.

Instead of disabling the site for IE6 users, or trying to force them to upgrade their browser, the website seamlessly adjusts itself to the limits of its environment, is still completely usable. You can still see the race results, learn about the race, see the photos. And you’d never know you were missing anything if you are using IE6 (and I didn’t just tell you). The content is still there.

Through proper planning and anticipation it’s possible to make sure that your user can always get the information they’re looking for, even if it’s not in the ideal way you’d like them to. Because even if we do build and test for every conceivable scenario possible, tomorrow your new customer could be checking out your site at breakfast from their toaster.

What Is Being Said About You Online?

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Reputation is one thing that every human worries about- nobody wants bad things being said about them. In high school as in business, there is nothing worse than trying to overcome a bad reputation. This may be because its simply human nature to spread the bad before the good. For example, an unsatisfied diner at a restaurant is more apt to tell friends and family about the terrible service or overcooked filet than a diner that left the same restaurant full and completely satisfied. The same goes for any business or organization~ perception is everything!

Now more than even, potential customers and employees are looking for other people's comments, experiences & reviews of companies and products. People trust their peers' opinions and will use their opinions when making a decision. In the past, this may have been through word of mouth marketing or by talking to family, friends and co-workers. Nowadays, this process is occurring online at a rampant speed. It is easier than ever before for consumers (and even employees) to express their satisfaction as well as dissatisfaction with your business online. What one must worry about are the comments that "bash" your company or products. This can be in the form of forum posts, product reviews, personal blog posts, etc. These negative mentions of your company or brand can work their way up the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). These negative comments or reviews can show up on the first page of the SERP when a potential or current customer/employee searches for your company, brands, products, key executives, etc. This can greatly affect your online reputation and may result in lost sales, damaged relationships with current customers and a lack of trust in your organization and products.

As in many situations, it is better to be proactive/preventive than reactive. Brand/company image takes a long time to build and establish. A smart business understands that one must protect their brand in every place a consumer can interact with it- this includes on the internet. You must be completely aware of what is being said about you online, take action accordingly, focus on your own site's brand content optimization and keep this a major priority moving forward. 

The first step is being aware and watch what is being said about you online.

This includes monitoring not only the major search engine results but also blog search engines, video sites such as YouTube, image sharing sites such as Flickr, blogs, forums, product review sites, as well as social media (such as Twitter) & news sites. In order to be fully aware, watch not only what is being said about your organization name but also brands, products, important keywords, executives, etc. 

The second step is to make your website(s) as Optimized as possible.

All digital content should be brand optimized. This content includes: Text content, Video, Images, Audio and Press releases.

It is also important to ensure that online assets from all departments within the organization are optimized- this includes PR, marketing, HR, SEO, etc. This is a tactic to make more of your own content rank well in the search engines. If your own content takes up most of the available space on the first pages of search results, the negativity can be diluted and the negative comments will have less of a chance of showing on the first page of search engine results.

The third step is to Engage with consumers and customers, both satisfied and disgruntled.

Once a negative comment comes up- you must address the issue, own it and react to the comment as soon as possible. Be honest and transparent with the consumer- explain the situation, accept fault if warranted and explain how you will improve/change or correct the problem.

There is a main breakdown of what you can do to help your online reputation in both the short and long term. Both of these should be considered in your online reputation strategy.

Short Term Reputation Management:

  1. Put most of your focus on the Search Engine Result Pages of the major engines
  2. Create a defined brand optimization process that is executed across all divisions of the organization
  3. Make sure all digital assets are optimized

Long Term Reputation Management:

  1. Work to identify, qualify and engage all negative online content by correcting all inaccuracies
  2. Respond to all negative comments
  3. Create open relationships and transparency between content producers (journalists, bloggers & fans)
  4. Focus on getting multiple positive rankings on the SERPs

Online and brand reputation is something that can't be ignored by any company or organization. Having negative listings on search engines for your company or products is like having a picket line outside of your building's front door. It is no secret that people are doing pre-buy research online and you must be in position to capitalize on this by making sure potential customers see and read positive things about your company, products and procedures. 

Don't waste any time, get started now with some of these great online tools to keep on top of what is being said about you:

Boardtracker.com: Monitors only forum posts
Blogpulse.com: Track to see if you are being talked about more or less
Backtype.com:  Track blog comments about brand and keywords
Google.com/trends: Watch up and coming trends in industries
Keotag.com: Track tags in bookmarking/tagging sites
Technorati.com: More tailored to track blog posts and social media sites

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What Businesses Need to Know About Social Media Marketing

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Social media marketing is a new frontier for most companies. There is no shortage of buzz around this new marketing tactic and businesses are anxious to get involved. Since social media marketing is so new, there are some common misconceptions about how to leverage social media to build your brand, connect with customers, improve your bottom line and increase business. Before setting up a Twitter account or a Facebook page, there are some things that must be considered. Some companies may not be happy with some of these things - but if you don't accept social media marketing for what it is, it will be difficult to succeed.

You need to be involved with your social media marketing.

Even if your company decides to hire a social media marketing firm to set up your social media accounts and handle all of your social media marketing efforts, you must still be aware and understand how all of these tactics work together to benefit your business. If you rely solely on your social media marketing firm, there will certainly be a disconnect. There will be less organization, lack of communication and fewer successful campaigns and promotions. 

There is more to social media than Twitter and Facebook.

Social media is a term that refers to a broad range of tools. There are plenty of strategies that your business can try. People don't realize that there is more to social media than Facebook and Twitter. Some other forms of social media include: social bookmarking, social news, social networking, blogging, video, forums, etc. Broadening your reach by using a variety of these tools will provide a better chance of success.

You can't build a relevant audience then forget about them.

Social media marketing is not about building a huge audience, exchanging in brief conversations with them and then moving on. Relationship maintenance is key!  Over time, you need to keep delivering consistent messages and meet your audience's expectations. Once you begin interacting with your audience in a certain way- you must remain on this path. If you change your path, your audience may be turned off- which will put you back at square one and also damage your brand.

Like it or not - social media marketing is a full time job.

If you don't have a team member that is dedicated specifially to social media and is constantly monitoring and paying attention to your social media marketing- you are likely to fail. Engagement and participation in social media needs to be more than one update to your Facebook page or one tweet daily.

Face it- you won't always be able control the message.

If you want your company/brand to be discussed and spread awareness, be prepared to handle some negative feedback and discussion. Having some bad press and negative comments can actually help make your company look legitimate. No company is perfect. Negative comments should be seen as an opportunity to connect with the customer, handle the situtation and in the long run- improve your business.

Social media is helping your business even if you think you are wasting your time.

What is wrong with simply engaging your customers and building an audience for your brand through discussion? In the long run this will build your brand as well as create customer loyalty to your brand. Brand awareness and customer loyalty are likely to lead to your end goals in time. There is no need to include a Call to Action on every piece of information you put out.

Patience is a virtue. This is true not only in everyday life, but also when it comes to social media marketing.

Social media is not a quick fix for your marketing woes. It is imperative that you keep working at it, remain motivated, build your accounts and keep all of your accounts active.

Every tactic will not necessarily work for your business.

Before entering into any social media strategy, you must conduct some research to determine what is appropriate for you. Some companies do well on Facebook while others are more compatible with Digg. It all depends on your business, the resources available for participation and what you feel comfortable with.

Social media marketing does not generate $$$ overnight.

Simply getting involved in social media and setting up accounts will not translate into immediate sales. Social media takes time to generate ROI. Accounts take time to set up, concrete goals need to be set, content and an audience need to be built. There are many ways in which social media marketing can help your business (besides direct sales or leads). Brand building, increased natural search engine rankings, improved customer relationships, etc. are all goals that can tie into your bottom line and generate ROI.

Any company that wants to use social media as part of their overall marketing strategy needs to understand that this new tactic is one that takes time and can deliver many benefits other than simply increased sales.  If used correctly and in conjunction with other marketing activities (both online and offline), social media can prove to be an important part of your business's marketing plan.

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Aztek Development team passes another Microsoft Certification Test (Upgrade to MCPD Web Developer)

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Last week I took the 70-551  exam and passed.

This exam allows me to upgrade my current MCAD certification to the new MCPD Web Developer Certification and was one of the toughest Microsoft exams I have taken so far. 

The typical path to getting your MCPD would be to take 3 separate exams (70-528, 70-536, and 70-547). The 70-551 is an upgrade exam and combines all three exams into one giant exam that consisted of 3 sections.

  • 70-547 - Designing and Developing Web-Based Applications by Using the Microsoft .NET Framework
  • 70-528 - Web Based Client Development
  • 70-536 - Application Development Foundation

Full Details can be found here: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?id=70-551&locale=en-us#tab2

Each section in the exam consisted of around 30 questions and had a time limit of about an hour and a half. Once a section is complete, you move on to the next section and are not allowed to go back to a previous section. Microsoft calls this an upgrade exam but it really feels like I took all three exams at the same time instead of individually.

The nice thing about this exam was that it covered a lot of material specific to things I do every day for Aztek clients (which made some of the questions really easy).

These certifications help us maintain Aztek's Microsoft Certified Partner status. They are also a good way to keep up-to-date on current technologies. With Visual Studio 2010 and .Net 4 framework coming out next month, there will always be new exams coming out for us to pass.

What is Foursquare & What Does it Mean for Your Business?

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Location based applications and services have increased in popularity and usage recently. This explosion is in part due to the power of GPS (Global Positioning System) and the convenience of these tools. One of the newest location based applications to hit the streets is Foursquare. Foursquare is a location based social application that can also be viewed as a social networking site. Foursquare is only in the early adoption phase but has been growing very quickly. The latest reports on Foursquare's rapid growth are rather impressive. About two weeks ago, over the course of 10 days, Foursquare grew by nearly 100,000 users. The most recent estimate from the company puts Foursquare at almost 725,000 users (in less than a year of existence). As with the emergence of any new tool or application, there are many questions and misunderstandings surrounding Foursquare. This blog post should help answer some of these questions, shed some light on this new application and also offer insight into how this tool can be used.

Foursquare is a location based social application that is powered by GPS and your smart phone (including the iPhone and Blackberry). Foursquare can also be seen as a social game. Its main purpose is to let your friends know where you are and allow you to figure out where your friends are at any point in time. Its second purpose is for users to earn points, prizes, coupons and become the "mayor" of their favorite local establishments.

Foursquare as a Social Game

The social gaming layer comes into play when users try to oust the current mayor of local bars, restaurants, gyms, etc. The Foursquare user with the most check-ins at a location becomes the mayor. Points are earned for each check-in. Users are rewarded more points for exploring different parts of the city, visiting multiple spots in one night, bringing people with them, etc. Some experts believe that it is this gaming aspect of Foursquare that sets it apart from other location based services such as Brightkite and Google Latitude. With Foursquare, your check-ins and activity actually mean something and this may be what drives users to this service. The game becomes more important than simply letting people know where you are at all times.

Foursquare can help you find other users in your city through your existing social networks such as Twitter. These connections will help your friends know where you are and will help you find out where they are. Users can add tips and to-dos about establishments that are shared with their friends and the general public. Users can post drink specials, dinner discounts, busiest times of the day and more. The more users in the area, the more tips that will be available. Foursquare's GPS feature knows where you are and offers a way to find out where to go in that area.

Using Foursquare for Business

So how can Foursquare, a location based social application be used for your business and marketing strategies? Much like Yelp with reviews, Foursquare encourages check-ins that in turn create buzz about the establishment. The main goal of any business is to gain more repeat visitors/customers. If your business is active on Foursquare, you can offer customers a reason to come back in the form of points, coupons, mayorship, etc. It is important to reward Foursquare users for their patronship and loyalty through the use of discounts, coupons, etc.

It is also critical to inform patrons that you are an active user on Foursquare. This can be achieved through spreading the word on Twitter, Facebook and your main site. Once users know that you are participating, they will be more likely to come to your establishment to gain points, discounts and bragging rights as the "mayor" of your establishment.

Location based social applications are one of the newest pieces of the social media pie. Foursquare is the first of its kind that offers users something different and gets people involved. It is yet to be seen how much and how fast this application will catch on. It has not yet reached the popularity and usage of sites such as Twitter, but some believe that it has all the necessary tools to become wildly successful once people and businesses begin to understand its usage and potential.

Update: April 16 (4/16) is Foursquare Day. An event that was organized in the attempt to promote this new social medium as well as spread the word on how Foursquare can help businesses and restaurants in cities/towns around the world. Foursquare Day is the perfect chance to at least try this new social medium to see if it can work for you both as a consumer as a business/restaurant owner. Take this opportunity to familiarize yourself and become more comfortable with Foursquare since it could be the next big thing- and you don't want to be late to the party! 

What to know how to get start leveraging this tool to increase your sales/business... read what the company itself has to say about using Foursquare for Business

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2010 eMarketing Techniques Conference in Cleveland, Ohio

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

Last Friday was the 4th annual eMarketing Techniques Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. This event is held at Corporate College every May. I have been lucky enough to have attended this conference for the last 3 years.

I am not sure if it is the spring weather in Cleveland or the great presentations but everyone at this conference always seems so upbeat, energetic and optimistic about our industry. The attendance is always a good mix of Cleveland web design experts, SEOs and social media marketers that want to know what is new and exciting in the online marketing world. I always look forward to this event and I definitely was not disappointed in this year's conference. The conference was so great that I am going to share some of what I learned with everyone today in this blog post!

Keynote Presentation- Fulter Hong (Google)

The day started off with a presentation by the key note speaker- Fulter Hong of Google. Fulter was extremely energetic and provided some great insight into some new things happening at Google and in the search/web industry as a whole. Below are some of the main points from Fulter's key note presentation:

  1. One of Google's product offerings that was unknown to me, and some others I'd guess, is Google Grants. Google Grants is an advertising platform for nonprofits.
  2. Google's mission statement is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." According to Fulter, Google estimates that they are only about 5% of the way to acheiving/fulfilling this mission statement. This shows that Google is far from reaching all its goals and has a strong vision for its future.
  3. Local and mobile are going to be essential moving forward. Companies are going to have to embrace these tactics to succeed. A great spot to start is Google Places.
  4. QR codes are now being used as marketing tools on business cards and other marketing material. Businesses need to understand how to leverage and use this technology.
  5. Microsites have increased in popularity and companies using them have experienced success. Fulter also suggested that before starting any online marketing initiatives to drive traffic to a site, it is extremly important to fix any problems with the site before driving any traffic to it. This can include updating an old site, fixing any bugs, etc.
  6. Fulter also emphasized the power and reach of online video. YouTube is now the #2 search engine.
  7. The key note presentation also included a brief explanation of some "new" Google Products as well as others that are coming soon.  These included Google Goggles, Google Toolbar Translation Tool, Remarketing tools, Rich Snippets, Above the Fold Targeting for the Content Network, Social Search, Google Squared, Promote Your Image (PYI), Google Wave, Advanced Image Search, Click to Call Mobile Ads and Ipad Advertising.
  8. In closing, Fulter outlined Google's "big bets" moving forward. These were: Search & Ads, Mobile, Video & Cloud Computing. And that's straight from the horse's mouth so these four things should definitely be on your radar moving forward.

Breakout Session #1- Jeff Rohrs (ExactTarget)

Jeff Rohr's presentation focused on Subscribers, Fans & Followers in 2010. Of course, in today's terms these would break down as follows: Subscribers- Email, Fans- Facebook and Followers- Twitter. Jeff based his presentation on some important data from his own focus group market research. Below are some of the most interesting parts of this research:

  1. Marketers can't expect the majority of people to be connected all the time. In our industry, we are connected all of the time, but we are the minority, this is not normal for the masses.
  2. 64% of people still check their email first every morning. Followed by 15% checking a news portal (such as Yahoo), 8% logging into Facebook and 5% choosing to visit a news site such as cleveland.com first.
  3. For most people, the internet is a means to connect with friends and family. Others look to the internet mainly for freebies, promos & discounts.
  4. Email: people understand it. They feel in control and are familiar with how it works. There is a comfort level there.
  5. Facebook: main usage is connectivity.
  6. Twitter: is used for immediancy and escalation.
  7. The main problem, over all of these mediums, is still spam. Email spam, wall spam and feed spam. People don't like spam. Period.
  8. In the words of Jeff, "It is an amazing time to be a marketer. It is also a horrible time to be a marketer." 

Lunch Video Presentation- Dan Zarrella (HubSpot)

Dan Zarrella works at HubSpot, a internet marketing company in Boston. Dan, a self proclaimed Social Media Scientist, explained the Science of Social Media Marketing. Below are some main take-aways from his presentation:

  1. Ideas don't spread just because they are "good". 
  2. People have selective attention, they are bombarded by information all of the time. You need to cut through all that noise. It is not an easy task.
  3. It is important to talk to your audience, where they are and in terms they understand.
  4. When using Twitter, it is important when and how you Tweet. Avoid link fatigue and focus on information scarcity and voids.
  5. Inbound marketing is the new way to attract clients/customers- bring them to you!
  6. The main message of this presentation was to: Work smart, not harder.

Breakout Session #2- Pay Per Click & Local Search (David Goebel & Sage Lewis)

This co-presentation was a basic overview of PPC marketing and local search. Below are some quick notes from this presentation:

  1. PPC marketing is still worthwhile, if executed correctly.
  2. Go to Google Places and verify your business today, before someone else does.
  3. Take advantage of Google's website optimizer. It is free and can help you refine your website and marketing campaigns.
  4. Try video extensions and take advantage of Google's new remarketing tool.
  5. The key to success is: TEST, MEASURE, & REFINE!

Breakout Session #3- Advanced Facebook Techniques (Brad Kleinman)

With all of the talk about Facebook these days, it is no surprise that there was a breakout session about Advanced Facebook Techniques. Brad Kleinman's presentaion mainly covered some advanced development options and social plug-ins that are available for customizing your Facebook page. Below are some details from this session:

  1. Social plug-ins can help you with your Facebook marketing strategy. There are a variety to choose from that can be found on Facebook's developers page.
  2. It is a new trend to create a custom landing page to be your Facebook default presence. This is through the use of HTML and FBML.
  3. When working with Facebook, it is imperative to be either educational or entertaining. This is the only way to engage your Fans and keep them interested.
  4. Some of the social plug-ins available for Facebook include: Like Button, Activity Feed, Comments, Facepile and Recommendations. 

Overall, the 2010 eMarketing Techniques was a great experience. It was well organized, full of great presentations and very informative. I think this conference is a must attend for anyone that is part of the web marketing, web design or social media industry in Cleveland. 

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Aztek CEO John Hill named "Top Techie" by Inside Business Magazine

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

In the recent March/April 2010 issue of Inside Business, Dan Hanson names Northeast Ohio's "Tech Elite" and Aztek's very own, John Hill was among them. The article names Cleveland's top technology leaders like AJ Hyland, Jim Cookinham, Roy Church, and Ray Leach.

John Hill is Aztek's CEO and founded the company 13 years ago, making Aztek the second oldest web design and development firm in Cleveland. Aztek passed the 500 mark in total clients this year and has no plans to stop anytime soon.

Congratulations to John and to everyone else named on the list.

Six Common Web Design Misconceptions (And Why You Should Avoid Them)

By aztek on  April 24, 2017

As designers, we strive to learn all we can about your company in order to create for you the best possible web presence, but we can never know your company as intimately as you do. Clients are quite often able to bring great ideas and suggestions to the table that we may not have thought of. The most successful web designs spring directly from this kind of teamwork.

However, just as it is your job to know all about the widgets you make, or the service you provide, it is our job to know all about the web and what makes great web design. Occasionally a client has a suggestion that at first glance seems like a great idea, but may not be effective for a web site. Following are six of the most common misconceptions about web design and why you should avoid them on your site.

Misconception #1: “All links to [YouTube/Google/other external sites] should open in new windows.”

Why You Should Avoid It: There are several reasons why we don’t recommend this, primarily because it’s bad practice to take away control of the browser from the user.  The best way to keep visitors to your site happy is to provide great content and functionality and let them use it the way they want to. A happy visitor is more likely to purchase your product or services, and return to your site over and over again. Users have several options available to them to control how their browsers open links (right click, hold Ctrl while clicking, browser preferences, etc.). Let them decide how they want to browse.

The second reason is that most people are used to clicking a link and seeing the new page load in the same window as the one they just left.  The browser’s history tracks where the user was previously, and all that’s needed to get back there is to click the Back button. When you force a link to open in a new window, the browser starts a brand new history, and the function of the Back button is “broken”. The user can no longer return to where they came from with one simple click.

Clients often think opening a link in a new window is preferable because it keeps their site open and they don’t want visitors to leave their site. While we understand that instinct, ultimately, it’s a losing battle. Repeat after me: There is nothing you can do to keep visitors from leaving your site… short of tying them to their chairs and unplugging their mice and keyboards. Eventually they will leave your site. The question is, do you want them to leave happy because they enjoyed using your site or annoyed because unwanted pop-ups, windows and tabs opened every time they clicked a link?

Misconception #2: “There’s a lot of wasted empty space in this design. It should all be filled up.”

Why You Should Avoid It: In some print media, especially mass marketing pieces like direct mail, empty space is, in fact, wasted space. However, the web is not a print medium, and empty space (also know as whitespace) should be accepted and embraced. Here are some reasons why:

A very busy website
  1. Websites with less clutter are easier to read. Web users don’t read pages, they scan them. A page full of widgets, graphics, ads and text will be much harder to digest.
  2. Web sites with whitespace look “cleaner,” “nicer” and are perceived to be of higher quality. Think of magazine advertising. Lower-end, cheaper products generally have busy ads brimming with loud graphics and text. Luxury brands generally have a nice large photo with a line or two of text surrounded by plenty of space. Consider your website a luxury brand ad, and let the whitespace do its work.
  3. Well planned whitespace is a design element, not “wasted space.” Whitespace can ease eyestrain when reading large amounts of text on a computer screen. Extra whitespace around an important section of your site can help draw attention to it, and it enhances the look of your site by making the design as a whole flow better.

Misconception #3: “Everything has to be bold! It’s all equally important, so it all has to stand out!”

Hinkley Lighting - a nice clean design

Why You Should Avoid It: When everything is bold, nothing is bold. In order to make something stand out or attract attention, there has to be contrast between that item and its surroundings. If everything is “yelling” at the same visual volume, the result is a noisy, unpleasant mess.  As designers we have plenty of different tools to draw attention to the really important messages in subtle, attractive yet efficient ways. Might I suggest whitespace (see above)?

Misconception #4: “We want the visitor to watch a cool Flash intro on the home page.” – or – “We would like to have music play automatically on the home page.”

Why You Should Avoid It: Flash can be a useful tool, but only if it’s done well and enhances the content, message and usability of the site. Flash intros rarely do any of these things. Here’s why:

  1. Many users find Flash intros annoying and hit the “Skip” button as quickly as possible. When was the last time you sat through a whole intro animation to use a website? Especially one you’ve already been to before? Unless you’re an animation or film studio, or your content or product is intrinsically tied into animation or video, Flash intros only serve to turn off users. If you are sure your site needs a Flash intro, consider these questions: why has the user come to your website?  Is it to watch a Flash animation, or is it to buy your product or service?  Why put obstacles in their way?
  2. Flash isn’t search engine friendly. Google has made some headway in indexing the text content of well-made Flash animations, but overall, Flash is still mostly invulnerable to search engines.
  3. Flash isn’t mobile friendly. The iPhone does not support Flash, and it’s unclear as to when it will, if ever. The other major mobile players are either currently testing Flash on their phones or planning tests for early 2010. With web traffic from mobile and smartphones increasing, Flash is not a smart option right now.

The same goes for auto-playing music or sound:

  • There’s nothing on a web page that can be communicated with music that can’t be communicated visually.
  • If your visitor’s speakers are off, or they don’t have speakers, the sound is useless.
  • Deaf users will not hear the music.
  • Many users look for the “stop” button to turn off auto-playing music as quickly as possible.
  • Music isn’t free – unless you’ve secured an original composition and recording from someone, you will have to pay a license for any kind of commercial music, and it’s not always cheap.

Misconception #5: “We really like the content on our competitor’s site. Let’s just take that and reword it a little bit for our site.”

Why You Should Avoid It: It’s a widely held belief that content on the web is copyright-free, public domain, and there for the taking. This is absolutely not true!

Using your competitor’s content not only violates copyright law, it hurts your standings in the search engines. Remember, Google crawls millions of web pages every day, and it compares what it already has to what it finds. If they find your new site sporting content that is very similar to content that’s existed on your competitor’s site for a long time, guess who’s going to get a better search result ranking? Not to mention the fact that those search results will make it easier for your competitor to discover that their content has been appropriated. Aztek has professional copywriters available who can help you develop original, meaningful content to help get your message across.

Misconception #6: “We don’t want people to steal our images. Let’s disable the right mouse button while visitors are using our site.”

My right click menu

My right click menu

Why You Should Avoid It: For exactly the same reason you shouldn’t open links in new browsers – it breaks the expected behavior of the browser application and annoys or confuses users. The right click or “context” menu offers users a number of different and useful options, including printing the current page, bookmarking the current page, viewing the source code of the current page, and of course, viewing and downloading images. In addition, many experienced web users have various plug-ins for their browsers that give them advanced menu options through the right click. Blocking your users’ access to these menus is annoying at best, rude and presumptuous at worst.

The desire to protect your content is understandable; however, just like trying to keep people from leaving your site, there is nothing you can do to keep people from taking your images. If they really want your images that badly, they will find a way. The good news is, there aren’t that many people out there who are that bound and determined to do so.

We welcome your ideas, and we want your input on how we can make your site better. But remember, the web is not a new medium anymore. Web design has been well established for more than a decade, and while technology is always changing, there are some concepts and practices that have become widely accepted as best practice. It’s our job to know what these standards are and how best to apply them to your site. Let’s work together to make a better web.

Page Load Time & Site Speed Google's Next Ranking Factor in 2010

By aztek on  April 24, 2017

Everyone can understand the huge benefits that come with ranking well in the major search engines, especially Google. Google currently uses about 200 ranking factors in their algorithm. These ranking factors and Google's algorithm are changing constantly. It is very important to keep on top of the ranking factors that are most important to Google, such as how fast your page loads.

Late last year, it was announced that site speed and page load time could potentially be the next new ranking factors in the Google algorithm. It is not known how much weight Google places on these ranking factors but it is believed that while slow page load times won't negatively impact your rankings, fast page load times may have a positive effect and help a site move up in search result pages.

Matt Cutts of Google explained at numerous conferences in late 2009 that Google wants the search experience to be as fast as possible and compared searching to flipping through a magazine. This was the idea that led them to add site speed as a factor to Google's algorithm. Site speed is also very important since users expect a fast web browsing experience. If your site can't deliver this, the user will move on to another site that can and this could potentially be the site of your competition.

How can you be sure that your site is up to speed?

There are numerous factors that may lead to a slow loading website, some are more technical than others. A few of these factors include:

  • the use of very large and/or too many images
  • bad coding (excesive use of extra HTML markup)
  • use of excess spaces and comments,
  • improper placement and inefficient crafting of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
  • improper placement of Javascript (if you really want to know- CSS should be at the top of the page, JS on the bottom)
  • overuse of Flash
  • large videos that play onload
  • improper optimization of images (or the lack of image optimization)

All of these could potentially cause slow loading webpages which lead to frustrated users and a bad user experience. These are serious issues that need to be addressed.

Like many site owners, you may not be sure how your site is currently performing in terms of site speed. There are numerous tools that can measure the speed of your website and help you find ways to improve your site's loading time. A few of these tools are outlined below:

YSlow from Yahoo:  Yahoo’s YSlow is an addon for Firebug (used with Firefox). This tool delivers an easy to use and comprehensive report that explains how fast/slow your website loads. Yahoo even goes a step further by providing tips on how to improve your site speed.

Google's Page Speed:  Google also offers its own tool for measuring/accessing page speed.  Google's Page Speed is an open-source Firefox/Firebug add-on. Site owners can utilize this tool and evaluate the performance of their website and get suggestions on how to improve them.

Pagetest:  This tool can be used right in your browser. Pagetest is easy to use and delivers a very accurate measure of what a real user experiences on your site since it uses a real web browser to access the content on a website.

Pingdom Tools: This full page testing tool loads complete HTML pages including all objects and mimics the way a page is loaded in a web browser. 

Whether or not site speed will indeed become one of the 200+ ranking factors in Google's algorithm, a fast loading site provides many benefits to a site owner. Web users expect (I may even say demand) fast web browsing. These expectations have doubled in the past 2 years and will only continue to grow. Your site needs to deliver what users expect.

Fast loading pages also play a major role in how users view your site and its authority. Fast loading and easy to use/browse sites are more likely to generate quality links, return visitors, and be shared through social media than websites that load slowly and deliver a poor user experience.

So, start testing your website today and make all the necessary improvements and changes to ensure that your site is up to par in terms of speed. Not only will this improve the user experience and deliver what web users expect, it might even improve your position in Google's almighty search result pages.

Real Time Conversations Appear in Google and Yahoo Search Results

By Aztek on  April 24, 2017

What is Twitter and Why is it Important?

If you aren't familiar with Twitter, then you are in the minority.

For the last 12 months, Twitter, as well as other social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, has become more and more popular, not only for individuals, but for corporations and non-profits. Twitter was the 2nd highest rated search term in 2009 for Bing.com, right behind Michael Jackson. It was #4 in Google. According to twitdir.com, there are over 5 million accounts registered with Twitter. Facebook has grown to over 350 million.1

In case you aren't sure what Twitter is, here's a brief description from Twitter.com's Business Guide:

Twitter is a communication platform that helps businesses stay connected to their customers. As a business, you can use it to quickly share information with people interested in your company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about your company.2

I use Twitter. It has replaced my RSS feeder in many ways. In a normal day, I follow news sites, both locally and nationally, other designers and developers in my industry about new trends and ideas, and local companies and people to find out about upcoming sales or events, product launches, and what's relevant to their interests.

But, it's not just about following. Just like e-commerce has given me an excuse not to pick up the phone to order a pizza or drive across town to push through a crowded store and stand in line for hours to pick up my Christmas gifts, Twitter allows me to communicate directly and openly, not just with businesses, but with other people who share similar experiences with me. And, that's not a new thing, nor is it something that's going to go away any time soon.

Simple example: When I have a problem or a question on a product I just bought, or a service I use, normally, I do a Google search. Those searches will forward me to an FAQ section or a support forum, or even other users who may have experienced the same issue. I'd much rather go through that process to get an answer to my problem, then call a 1-800 number, sit in a queue listening to an unbearably awful smooth jazz version of "Smooth Operator", and maybe - just maybe – talk to someone who speaks English.

It's a hassle to through the traditional channels anymore to get answers. I'll avoid it if possible and, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Mainly because, after the frustration of sitting in queue, talking to multiple people (or phone-bots), I've wasted more time and energy than anyone could have possibly wished upon me.

But, with Twitter, I can send a tweet about my experience with the product or service, and within a short amount of time get a response. Maybe by the company's technical support department or by another user who had a similar issue. Just with a tweet, I've started a conversation.

A few weeks ago, I finally received my Google Wave invite. I signed in, started to look around and immediately got stuck on something. So, I posted my problem on Twitter and within 5 minutes, someone gave me the answer I was looking for. With Twitter, it's easier, it's instant, and it's convenient for everyone involved.

But, that's just a user's experience. If you have a company, you've got a message to deliver. How do you get that message across? Normally, you'd advertise.

In advertising, you have many different choices of how to get your message across. Whether that's buying ad space on a billboard or in a magazine, running commercials on TV and Radio, creating a website and email newsletters, or even leaving business cards at the local café. But, when you do this, you are placing the ad with the hope that your customers will see it. Unfortunately, there's really no way to guarantee that people will open up that page in the magazine, or keep the radio on when your commercial airs, or look up at the billboard when driving down the highway. All you have to bank on is hope.

Why try and reach your customers where you think they'll be, when you could reach your customers where they are. Again, there are over 5 million users on Twitter and over 350 million on Facebook.

Unlike traditional advertising, Twitter, much like most social media, is a place for open conversation. It's not just a one-sided message, but a way for you to build a relationship with your customers.

How can you get involved in these conversations? Say you make a computer program. Search for your brand on Twitter and it's quite possible you'll find people talking about their experience with your product. If they are having a good experience, you can share tips with them to help them get an even better experience. Other users can do the same, sharing their experiences while continuing the conversation. Or, maybe they're having an issue using one of your programs, or talk about ideas they wish your programs would do. You immediately are able to talk with them about how to fix the issue, or even thank them for their suggestions and add them to the list of modifications in your next software update.

With that direct connection to your customers, you have a greater ability to not only keep them happy, but keep them loyal. You can offer coupons, post links to your site news and blogs with information that your customers will find relevant or even post about new developments or new events happening within your company.

Does using Twitter to connect to your customers really work? According to Dell Outlet, they can accredit more than $3 million in revenue to its Twitter posts.3

It's not going to work the same way for everyone, but there are plenty of case studies on Twitter's business site that may give you some ideas of how to utilize it for your company and your needs.

Why A Business Should Use Twitter Now?

Okay, I know. This is probably getting really old. It's easy for me to say that Twitter is the route to go for all businesses. Actually, anyone can say anything about Twitter or any other Social Media platform and what it can do for your business. Some "gurus" even go as far as saying you can make thousands in 30 days. That's not what I'm here to say.

At Aztek, we are a company that develops websites for our customers. One of our main focuses during every phase of our process is deciding the best way to help our customers be found on the search engines.  From the coding, to how your content is worded, to how your content is organized, or even how the site is designed, it all plays a factor in your reach-ability. And, talking with many of our clients, being found in the search engines is one of the most important parts of their web sales initiative because those search results are major sources of traffic and the generation of leads.

Globally, Google is used for about 80% of all internet searches while Yahoo reaches 6%.4

How does this all relate? Last week, both Google and Yahoo incorporated Twitter and Facebook in their search results reach.5 Not just as static results, but in real-time. When someone makes a post on Twitter or Facebook about your company or your product, it automatically appears in both Google and Yahoo in a real-time stream.

Try it. This link will show the Google results for "Dell".

Now, when someone searches for your brand, they won't just find results to your site, but they will also have a live look into your product and your customers' experiences with it. Why shouldn't they also find content contributed by you and your company? You have a chance to be a part of those conversations, but without taking part in social media, you're being left out when, in some cases, your customers need you the most.

So… should you start using Twitter?

We aren't an advocate for any specific social media platform. Nor are we claiming Twitter will make you thousands. But, with the integration of Real Time search results, streaming from both Twitter and Facebook (and most likely many other similar services in the future), it should cause concern that your search engine traffic might be misdirected from reaching you because of it.

Sources
1 http://www.facebook.com/
2 http://business.twitter.com/twitter101/
3 http://business.twitter.com/twitter101/case_dell
4 http://marketshare.hitslink.com/
5 http://googleblog.blogspot.com/

Related Links
50 Ideas On Using Twitter - http://www.chrisbrogan.com/
Social Media B2B - http://socialmediab2b.com
Twitter 101 for Businesses - http://business.twitter.com/

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