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Archive for the ‘Search Engine Optimization’ Category

How to Choose a Web Designer

When choosing a web designer in Sacramento you should consider more than just previous designs. A style you like on someone else’s site may not be what’s best for your site. And it ain’t just about looks. (yes, I used the word “ain’t”)

Before you go live with a new site it is important to consider what your current site is good at. There are three things that are often overlooked.

  1. Conversion: A firm that proclaims that there are User Experience (UX) or User Interface (UI) experts will want to perform some heat mapping studies on your current site and compare them to your new site.
  2. Visibility: What keywords does your current site show up well for and which ones give you the best click through rate? Before you go live with your new website design it is important to study your analytics to see where you have SEO currency and where you do not.
  3. Platform: What platform are you on, what Platform will your new site be built on. If your current site was custom built, and your new site ends up on a WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or other open source CMS, you may find your ongoing support and maintenance costs go up. Learn about the ups and downs of open CMS.

Most of the web design Sacramento has available are shops that have a good design base or a good development base. A lot have both. But few have a real understanding of the UI/UX and SEO elements and these are the ones that will affect you the most.

The beauty of the Internet and web design is that you don’t have to choose a local company. The best web development firm is in Chico, CA (yes, a very slanted opinion but that is how I feel) With the use of technology we can do everything over the web. It’s a beautiful business.

The Best Website Designers in California

web designers in ca

What determines the best web designer in CA

California is home to a lot of great tech companies that demand a great web design. This has led to a lot of great web design companies. So who is the best web designer in CA?

Determining who develops the best web sites is like deciding what the best type of food is. I like Mexican but I very much enjoyed Chinese today. Every business has a different need from there site and thus we should be asking a more specific question, “Who make the best web site for converting clicks into customers?”

Most “Top 10 Web Design Companies” sites judge by the creativity of the site alone. What does it look like? There is no consideration to what the customer experience it or the ability for the site to persuade a visitor to take an action. Shouldn’t that be more important?

Design is important. California is home to Apple where design is everything. But Apple did not succeed because they had beautiful looking products, they had beautifully functional products. Hand any 6 year old an iPad and they will be playing a game in seconds. No instruction manual needed.

Maybe the question should change. “Who is the best web development firm in California?” or “Which California Web firm builds the most persuasive web sites?” I’ll bet my money that not one of the top 50 would be shared among the other lists. And ask who provided the best service, or fastest turn around and you will have yet another completely unique list.

Here are the factors you should consider when determining who the best company to design and build your website should be:

How long has the business been around? Web designers and developers don’t always make the best business people.

Do you guarantee a delivery date? If you ask around I’ll bet that 9 out of 10 businesses did not get their site when it was promised. In many cases it might be as much as a year or more late.

Do you have proof of your customer conversion? If they have case studies showing results believe them, if not, they are likely stating what they think. We have found that what we think is rarely what is true.

Do you have proof of your SEO abilities? Every web business claims they know SEO, but few actually do. Ask for proof. If they are truly good at SEO, they will have proof.

How secure is your platform? Are they using an open source content management system or is the site on a customer CMS?

Best Web Design? That is very relative not only to your personal tastes, but to the objective of your site. The sites that convert the most visitors to customers are rarely the most beautiful. Beautiful design does not usually have obnoxious orange “Order Now” buttons but high converting sites do.

The approach we take is, wire frame a persuasive intuitive site before you hand it over to a designer.

So, who is the best web designer in California? It’s probably the company that doesn’t get much notice. Or it could be the company that posted this blog.

The next big trend in web design- Parallax

In the late 1990’s web design came alive with animation and interactivity when Macromedia (Since acquired by Adobe) introduced Flash. Flash websites were a hot item and the early Flash design and development firms were in high demand and getting as much as $60,000 for 40 hours’ worth of work. The sites were beautiful and fun.

The demise of Flash was 3 fold. The first was security. Hackers found holes that allowed them to gain control of your computer. The second was that Google was gaining importance and Flash sites were not index able by search engines. But it was Apple that delivered the knockout punch when they chose not to support flash on the iPhone.

As web designers stepped away from Flash, website design reverted back to the basics. To add dynamics, scrolling pictures became the norm. In fact, at this writing that is still the most popular type of website.

We are at the dawn of a new age.

Parallax web design is the future of web design. Parallax, is the word used to describe the effect of the appearance of objects moving at different speeds. When driving, the trees near the road side appear to pass faster than the trees farther away and the distant mountains move even slower.

Why is this design the future? Because a designer can do everything we used to do in Flash without the drawbacks. The sites remain as secure as any custom site and they are fully search engine friendly, sort of.

Some pros of a Parallax site:

  • They are interesting to the visitor which entices them to stay on the site longer.
  • As a marketer animation gives you power to direct the visitors attention to where you want them to go.
  • It is more likely that a web visitor will scroll to the bottom of a site then click another page.
  • When a visitor spends more time on your site, it enhances your Google page rank.

Some cons of a Parallax site:

  • Visitors view fewer pages which is a negative in the eyes of Google.
  • Can be confusing to a visitor.
  • They can be slower loading
  • More costly to develop.

The good news is that a Parallax site does not need to be confusing to the viewer and there are ways to use it its power to get visitors to click on more pages that a standard site which will enhance your page rank with Google. And you don’t have to have a slow loading site.

Designers can get carried away with Parallax design. Here is an example of an amazing Parallax site that great to look at and navigate but slow load. Also, this site was not designed to be easily searched against competitors. http://journey.lifeofpimovie.com/#!/

There are ways to use this new technology to your advantage. We happen to be developing 4 such sites right now. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Will a Non-Mobile Responsive Site Hurt Your SEO Rankings?

Having many SEO clients, I have to adapt quickly to changes in the Google algorithm. I was hustling to do what a rumor had led many of us to believe. The rumor was that you must have one site, which was of a responsive design (meaning it would adapt to different screen sizes) or Google would penalize you. Since that rumor started, Google announced the launch date of the new algorithm, April 21st, 2015. Rumor truths are that you must have a mobile friendly website. Rumor falsies are that you must have one site that is mobile responsive. If you have a separate “moble.YourWebsite.com” site, you are in great shape. The purpose of the new algorithm is to only show mobile friendly website in searches from mobile devices. If you are thinking that all of your visitors are going to your site via a large screen, you are likely wrong. At a minimum 1 in 5 of your clicks comes from a mobile device. Most businesses are getting 2 of 5 clicks from searches from a mobile device. If your site is not mobile friendly, you will no longer be getting these clicks because your site will no longer be showing in mobile searches. If you want to know if your site is mobile friendly you can find out now, before the April 21st roll out. Just find your site in a Google search result and look for the grey text.

mobile search

Can you be found in Chico by mobile searchers

 

URGENCY AND ACCOUNTABILILTY

Urgency_Accountability

A mentor of mine once stated that the two most important ingredients to a successful business are urgency and accountability. In 2011 I wrote another blog with the same first line… http://www.punchstick.com/watch-out-for-the-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing/ but I am using it again here because I think this is that biggest problem with websites.

Once you decide what you want from your website, you should have urgency to get it done. Your web developer will move as fast as you.  If you drag things out by being slow to respond to questions from your developer or slow to deliver content, you will one day wake up mad at your web guy because the site is not done. Having urgency and respecting urgency of others is critical not just for meeting a time frame, but it maintains excitement about the project. When your people and the web team are excited about a job it somehow shows in the results.

The best way to maintain urgency is accountability. At Chico Web Design we make ourselves accountable with our guaranteed delivery time. “Web sites when we say or you don’t pay” and we hold the client accountable by getting them to commit to their role or they forfeit the onetime guarantee. Urgency and accountability go a long way.

Don’t mistake panic as urgency. Panic does not allow you proper time to plan. Failure to properly plan will leave holes in accountability. Panic is the result of lack of planning or failure to execute. Urgency is focus and drive on planning and executing.

When you are so excited about a decision to make change in your business that you begin implementing it right away, you have urgency.

To have urgency you must have an “urge” to do something. Most people only have an urge to make their life less busy. These are the same people who point fingers and say “it’s not my fault” when something is missed. Accountability is how you force some urgency. Set high expectations and hold your people accountable to them. This will give them urgency to achieve. If it doesn’t, you have the wrong people.

How do you Score Higher on Google?

That is the big question that all Search Engine Optimization experts are wanting to know. No matter what you hear it boils down to this; Google wants its users to find the most relevant site to their search. With that said, Google doesn’t want us to know exactly how they determine that because they know we will find a way to cheat it.

The result of the Google secret sauce is the Google Page rank. Whether page refers to your web page or Larry Page is not certain. What is certain is that Google likes sites with a higher page rank. Some of the factors that give you a higher page rank are links to your site. Google views each link as a vote. Early in the game some smart guys started using link farms, web sites that they set up that had no purpose other than creating links to sites to increase Page Rank. Google got wise to this and stated giving weight to the link by measuring the links to the liking site. On top of that they started to penalize sites that had links from link farms. If your website has a page rank of 0, it is not helping you and could possibly be hurting you.

There are a lot of other ways Google weighs Page Rank. One is by having SSL certificate for your site. This is usually just used on pages where you enter sensitive data, but it may now carry relevance in your page rank if used throughout your site. An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remain private. Google likes this because it shows you are willing to make an investment in your site and you are less likely to be malicious.

Ultimately the thing that Google wants more than anything is for the site it recommends to be relevant to the visitor. They measure this by the time spend on the site and the number of pages visited. For this, you have to give your visitors a reason to stay on your site.

Content is what keeps visitors engaged. Video, blogs, photos, illustrations and stories. Everyone wants an exciting site with lots of pages and gadgets but if your copy does not engage the visitor, you are missing the point.

The most recent major change in Google page ranking affected some businesses dramatically. My company was called to consult on how to save a business that sold cell phone batteries online. They were a 10 year old business that had over $100,000 a month in sales because they were always in the top 3 organic searches for “cell phone battery”, but Google started to put more emphasis on location and overnight, Best Buy and Batteries Plus, brick and mortar stores were on top. His business fell to $30,000 in sales over night.  Within 6 months he had to lay off 12 people and close the business.

Unfortunately, the business owner waited too long to call us, and we were too late to help him, but you can learn from their mistake. Keep your SEO strategies current, your site updated, and your content relevant and engaging, and you will have a great foundation on which to build your business.

Chico Web Design

What makes Google Like your site in California

WordPress Websites Good or Bad?

I have watched a lot of technologies come and go since the birth of the World Wide Web (who calls it that anymore?) and what I am finding most interesting is that at with all the efforts to make it simple, it’s getting more confusing.

In the mid 1990’s anyone who could post a static one page website with their picture and bio was considered a genius by most of their friends. Today you can grab a free template spend a few hours customizing it with a WYSIWYG tool and you have a full blown website. Or do you?

WordPress is currently the most popular platform for building websites. Designers love it because they can cut out the developer. Developers like it because it’s quick. Customers like it because it’s cheap to produce.

The one thing that makes WordPress appealing is that it is a CMS or Content Management System which means anybody with credentials to the site can change copy and images with very little training.

For these reasons, its simplicity to develop and use at a very low entry price, the WordPress community and fan base is large. But few speak of the downside.

(Full Discloser, I have clients that WordPress is the best option for. I also have clients that I strongly advised NOT to go with WordPress.)

Things to consider before agreeing to a WordPress site:

1. Open Source– This is good and bad. The good is that it is not owned by anyone. It is a free product and a community is building it. The drawback is that any custom work you pay your developer for is now free to someone else to use. The more complicate and unique you want your site, the more reason to have a custom site.

2. Cost of Ownership– While a WordPress site is the least expensive site to build, it might be the most expensive to own. Some changes you think might be simple, are very costly. As an example, let’s say you want to add a box on the home page to promote an event or special product. Sounds simple. And in a custom site this might be a $300 job. In a WordPress site it could be a $1,200 job. Another overlooked cost is maintaining the site for security and fixes to hacks.

3. Security– This could be the biggest reason to not go WordPress. There are many security flaws which lead to many attacks. The attacks don’t come from a person singing you out, it comes from bots –programs the crawl the web- looking for holes in your site to create havoc.

4. Permissions– You have little control over what a backend user can access. If you grant access to an employee to update a page, they can make changes to things you might not want them to. Many times the changes are accidental and go underscored. If a disgruntled employee has access, you could be in a lot more trouble than if you had a true CMS.

5. Stability– There are a lot of inconsistencies with the API. Sometimes the plugins stop working or the appearance of a section of the site changes. These fixes are sometimes hard to corner as they don’t always reproduce.

6. Traffic Spikes– Out of the box, WordPress is not optimized to handle large traffic. It can be, but most websites owners don’t want to spend $200 to $500 a month in hosting fees.

7. Search Engine Visibility– This is argued but in my personal experience I have seen a drop in web traffic after switching to WordPress. We tested two sites in where the only change was the platform and in both cases the traffic dropped. We think it is due to the lack of clean code or lack of uniqueness form other sites.

The main questions you need to ask yourself before deciding on what platform you want your site on are:

1. How often will I be making changes to my site?
2. How much traffic do I expect?
3. What would be the impact if my site went down?

If your answers are “Often, little and none”, you are a a candidate for WordPress. Otherwise, you should consider a custom platform.

What to Know Before You Choose a Web Developer.

Planning a website redesign is something most small businesses think about every 3 years or so. And this is primarily because they were never really happy with their current site or it’s because the business has evolved and now wants more from their website. With a little foresight and participation from a point person in your organization the right web design built on the right platform will make future changes simpler and the need for a redesign un necessary.

Introducing new technologies to an established business can be painful. Business owners usually end up trusting the one person in their company that knows the most about the internet. What we find is that most self-proclaimed “experts” don’t know what they don’t know. So while trying to save their bosses some money, they inadvertently end up costing their employer more than needed.

Before you chose the company that you want to work with. You should consider these few issues.

  1. What is the goal of your site? Is it to capture leads or to set as a brochure? Do you want to create transparency or would you like to have an interactive form that educates while collecting data to help you close deals? Will this site be your storefront and main source of income?
  2. How will you be pushing traffic to your site? Are you going to market to potential customers via mass media or are you going to send existing customers to your site.  Do you want people to find you with search engines?
  3. Will your potential website visitor be able to easily fide what they are looking for? Navigation can be fun and highly technical but the simpler route is usually the best.
  4. How much of the site will change frequently? Do you need to be able to change things on your site at a moment’s notice, or will most of what you say on your site be static for a long period of time?

There is a lot more to consider but time spent on these 4 points before you reach out to a web developer will help you determine what kind of platform your site should be built on. Different technologies hide behind your sites design and navigation and have a significant up front cost.

Building your site on an open source CMS platform like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal will cost less up front. These are easy to develop. However, changes in the future can cost more. Please don’t confuse site changes with simple copy or image changes. These CMS’s do that very well. It’s adding a section on a page or a new functionality that create issue.

The most important thing to remember is that the cheapest solution is not always the cheapest in the long run.

Why Content is Crucial for your Website

If you are an experienced user of the Internet then you have probably heard the phrase “Content Is King”.  For those who haven’t, we’re here to tell you why quality content is crucial to your websites success. The content on your website is a great way to communicate with your target audience and get their attention. One of the best ways of drawing users into your website is to write content that is relevant to what they are looking for. Users will come back again and again to your website for resources if they know that the information is valid and written well.

In today’s technology age, users want their questions answered immediately. Making the content captivating, brief and easy to read will give the users their answers the quickest way.

Before you begin to write your content it is ideal to research what keyword terms or phrases that you would like to rank for when a user is looking for your website. Your website may not rank on the search engine’s first page for every single keyword term or phrase, so it is good to pick a set of words and phrases that will provide maximum search volume. Your content should contain targeted keywords or phrases, but you don’t want to overdo it by adding the same keywords over and over again. Your keywords should show up 2 to 6 times for every 100 words. Adding keywords to the first 25 words of text is important as well.

Meta tags and descriptions should have your keywords, and be relevant to the content on your webpage. Page titles let users know what is on the page. This is displayed at the top of the browser window.  The Meta description should give a brief summary of the page’s content. The title tag and page description are both key elements to search engines when they spider what is on the page. Make sure that the text you use is an accurate description of your website. Not only do search engines spider your title tag and keywords, but they spider your content. Because of developers injecting websites with faulty keywords, search engines have caught on and programmed their algorithms to make the content on a website more relevant than it’s Meta keywords.

Use header (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) tags as headings to paragraphs. This document structure lets users know what the section of content is about without reading the entire section. Search engines spider your header tags before you content, so it is important to label these correctly. It is good rule of thumb to use one main header tag (H1 tag) on a page. Using multiple will make the header not as relevant.

The content on your website can also help with backlinks if users think that your website has quality content. Backlinks assist to show the search engines that your website is relevant, popular and deserves a higher ranking.

Quality content can separate you from your competitors. There is always competing websites in your niche. By writing quality content you stand out from the rest and look professional. If you have a website that is flashy and has cool colors, it doesn’t mean that you have the best user experience. A great design doesn’t compensate for awful content. User experience is crucial and should go hand-in-hand with design.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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You might have heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before but those who haven’t might ask, What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? SEO is the on going optimizing of a web site by updating and improving the external and internal aspects in order to increase the sites traffic from search engines. SEO deals with many aspects from building links and marketing the uniqueness of your site, to making it search engine friendly, to recognition of key terms and phrases that help generate traffic. Search queries, the words that users type into the search box which contain key terms and phrases most suitable to your site, carry exceptional value. The ultimate goal is to gain as much search engine traffic as possible to gain exposure because exposure can make or break an organization.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The next question you might have is how do search engines find your web site or sites you are searching? Search Engines need a way to “crawl” the web and index all the different sites and documents, the way they do that is by using links. The link structure of the web assists to bind together all of the pages on the web. Search engines automated robots called “spiders” or “crawlers” can reach billions of interconnected documents through the links. Once the pages are found they are stored into gigantic hard drives to be recalled when needed in a query.

When designing your web site you might want to make a checklist to make sure that your site will be found by the search engines.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)You want to make content indexable to the search engines, the way to do this is make the content HTML text format, or else the search engines will not be able to read it. The engines can’t read images, flash files, java applets and other non-text content, actually they are virtually invisible to search engine spiders. There is a way to make images in gif, jpg or png format visible to spiders by assigning them “alt attributes” in HTML, this provides the search engines a text description of the visual content. Also, with flash or java plug-in contained content can be repeated in text on the page.

The link structure of a site needs to be crawlable so that the spiders can browse through the pathway of a website in order to find all the pages on the site. Even before that though, search engines need to see content so they can list the pages in their enormous keyword based indices. Your website might have great content, keyword targeting and marketing but that won’t matter if the spiders can’t reach those pages.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The keyword usage and targeting are very important to website. Keywords are the building blocks of search and language. When the engines crawl and index content of pages, they store all the keyword based indices. The search engines have millions of small databases based on keyword terms or phrase. They measure keywords that are used on a page to determine relevance of a document to a query. The keywords are prominently used in titles, text, and meta data.

Title tag is the title on top of the website and should be a clear, concise description of a page’s content. 70 characters is the maximum amount that will display in the search results. Keywords should be included in the title tag because it helps with your site ranking. Start your title tag with a brand name mention to increase brand awareness and higher click through rate. Make sure that title tag is captivating so that you will pull in visitors to your site.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Meta Tags are intended to provide a substitute for information about a website’s content. Meta robot tags can be used to control search engine spiders activity on a page level. The meta description tag exists as a short description of a page’s content. The meta description advertises what your website has to offer, this draws users to your site. Meta descriptions shouldn’t be longer than 160 characters.

Usability and user experience are second order that influences on search engines ranking success behind keyword placement, links and site structure. Search engines are able to measure the sites popularity, which lets the search engine know that the site is of high quality or is not up to par and no one wants to link to it. Crafting a thoughtful, empathetic user experience can almost guarantee that users will come back to your site. Encouraging sharing, bookmarking, return visits and links signal to search engines and contribute to higher ranking.

URL structure is important because you want users to be able to easily and accurately predict the content you’d except to find on the site, so make sure your URL are appropriately descriptive. Minimizing length and trailing slashes makes your URL easier to copy and paste and fully visible to search engines. If your targeting keyword terms or phrases they should be included in your URL. Create a simple static URLs. Use descriptive real words, instead of meaningless numbers or figures nobody can remember. Use hyphens to separate words in a URL.

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

There are many ways to get links and link building is a big part of SEO work. Many sites offer directories or listing of relevant resources that you can submit your site to. You can get customers to link to you. Building a company blog and make it a valuable, informative and entertaining resource. Create content that users want to share with others and inspires natural linking. Lastly, build content that can be shared through a citation based licensing agreement.