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Web Design & Development Blog

What is Responsive Design?

February 6

If you are shopping for a new website or have been solicited by someone stating that your website is not usable by mobile viewers, then you have heard the term Responsive Design.  The technology is fairly new and it was developed for a good reason. In the last couple of years Responsive Design has become the standard practice for all new websites.

One of the biggest issues web designers face is determining what the site will look like in different screen sizes. Screen size does not pertain to just actual screen size, but resolution and browser window size. Below is an example of what a designer wants you to see and how a 5 pixel narrower browser window affects it.

 DAC-Correct

DAC-Issue 1

When text wraps to another line it causes one of the boxes at the top to become a different length than the others, but only until the window gets a bit smaller and the text wraps in the other box.

Responsive design also limits a designer’s creative freedom to overlap one box into another. With responsive everything needs to be compartmentalized.

The upside to a responsive design is one “site” fits all. This is very important as the number of mobile searches rise. At this writing it is estimated that 1 in 3 of your web visitors is coming from a mobile device. Before responsive design, it was common to have a second site designed specifically for mobile devices.  Google prefers you have one site and rewards you for it.

Here is how it looks on a phone.

DAC-Phone View

 If your current site is not responsive to screen size changes, you should budget for it. To avoid it could cost you a lot more than the price to do it.

Oh, one more thing. Chico Web Design has been building responsive websites since the technology has been available, so if you want a great website with great responsive design we would love to chat with you about it.

 

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.

What You Need to Know About Mobile Traffic

I am young enough to be considered tech savvy and old enough to remember the pre-internet Bulletin Board Services or BBS. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s not important. What is important is the change in technology and the human interaction I have been witness to.
The grandest change since the beginning 2012 is the growth of the smart phone and tablet devices. As of November 2013 mobile devices consisted of 28% of ALL web traffic. Up 67% in just 1 year. The trend line estimates that as of March 2014 mobile devices are already over 35% of ALL web traffic.

What’s this mean to you? If your website is not mobile compatible, more than 1/3 of your potential customers are NOT buying from you.

The amount of time and money people are spending on mobile devices is growing rapidly and yet most businesses are not serving these people — at what cost?

By the numbers, mobile traffic makes up 10% of global internet traffic and next year more people will use mobile phones than PCs to get online. Purchases made on mobile devices exceeded $6.7 billion in the U.S. last year, or about 8% of total online sales. This is expected to nearly double to $11.6 billion this year. By 2015, U.S. mobile sales are forecast to reach $31 billion.

How much of that could be yours?

If you haven’t optimized your website for mobile, you are frustrating visitors with tricky navigation and slow loading times. If you have an ecommerce site, those figures should help you benchmark what you’re already losing in dollars, but a recent survey from Google underlines the damage you might also be doing to your brand by not having your site optimized for mobile.

The survey, which tallied responses from 1,088 U.S. adult smartphone owners, found that:

• Mobile sites lead to mobile purchases. Well duh! Shoppers are more likely to buy a product or service if your site is optimized for mobile. Three-fourths said they are more likely to return to a site in the future if the experience on mobile is good.

• If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, shoppers will go elsewhere. The majority of participants in the survey said that if they can’t find what they’re looking for on your site, they’ll sooner seek out a competitor’s mobile-friendly site instead of switching to a PC to revisit yours.

• A bad mobile experience can damage a company’s brand. A bad mobile experience can create bad feelings about your company. Yes, a bad feeling about your company! Nearly half of participants in the survey said they feel frustrated and annoyed when they visit a site that’s not mobile-ready. It makes them feel like a you don’t care about your business.

If you need help getting your site mobile ready, we have been doing just that for companies in Sacramento, Chico, Redding and the San Francisco Bay area, plus some recent revisions for Ag websites in Texas.

The Use of Balance in a Web Design

September 26

Thinking about the concept of visual balance in a web design would be similar to that of physical balance on teeter-totter. Physical elements have weight that they needs to balance, well so do the elements of a web design. If the elements of a web design on either side of the layout are equal weight, then they balance each other out. There are two main forms of visual balance: symmetrical balance and asymmetrical balance.

Symmetrical Balance

Symmetrical balance or also known as formal balance occurs when the elements of a composition are the same on either side of an axis. If you were to look at a website that was symmetrically balanced you would see that on both sides the figures would be in similar positions and proportions. If you split the website in two both sides would look close, if not perfect, to being proportionately equal on each side. This photo of two fish, one lighter and one darker, illustrates this concept very well. This photo of a passageway with bare trees on each side, illustrates this concept very well. The trees are split perfectly down the middle making each side balanced equally. The trees look mirror images of each other, this shows that the photo is showing perfect symmetrical balance.

For web design, horizontal symmetry is applied to website layouts by centering content or balancing it between columns. Websites can have many different layouts but you want to make sure that the space on the page isn’t jumbled together, making different columns so that users are able to distinguish what content goes with which column. If the user isn’t able to figure out what content goes with each column you might have a problem with your spacing, there should be enough space between columns so that they are easily distinguishable.

Here is one of the websites that Chico Web Design designed for the Boys and Girls Club, this website is an example of horizontal symmetry. Notice the screenshot of the website, the picture in the middle splits the page right down the middle with one column on each side that balances each side. Then look at the bottom of the page at the three columns they have enough space in between each other to notice that there are three columns and if you were to split the middle column in half they would be even on each side. Even though there is a photo and columns below the layout still maintains the symmetrical balance.

There are two other forms of symmetrical balance but are less common in website design. They are, however, commonly used in logo and print design.
-Bilateral symmetry, which exists when a composition is balanced more than one axis.
– Radial symmetry, which occurs when elements are equally spaced around a central point.

Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical balance or informal balance is a little more abstract and more visually interesting in general than symmetrical balance. Rather than mirror images on both sides of the website layout, asymmetrical balance involves objects of differing size, shape, tones or placement. These objects are arranged on a website so that, despite their differences, they equalize the weight of the website. For example if you have a large object on one side of the website and place several smaller objects on the other side, the website can still feel balanced.

The website Inman Group designed by Chico Web Design is a good example of asymmetrical balance. The first thing you notice on the left upper corner is the name of the company in a odd shape with another box with the contact us and the bottom there is content that goes two thirds of the page, on the right side the photo also goes two thirds of the page along with the navigational bar and there is a little column on the right side with company information. The two boxes in the left hand corner are balanced by the little box on the right side bottom corner with the navigational bar, photo and content evening out each side of the website layout.

Take a look at the photo below of the chess game. We all know chess is an exciting game along with this photo that shows asymmetrical balance well. If you were to use something to cover any of the chess pieces it changes the photo, the entire photo would feel unbalanced and unfinished. This is a general concept of the way balance works. Its just like if you had a picture hanging from the wall by a single stud in the wall. If you were to shift the picture on either side barely, doesn’t take much, and the whole picture will be off balance.

Different from symmetrical balance, asymmetrical balance is more versatile and is used most often on the Internet. If you were to look at most two column website layouts, you will notice that the wider column is often lighter in color; a tactic that creates well contrast for the text and main content. The diminutive navigational column is often darker, has some sort of border, or is made to stand out in another way, in order to create balance within the layout.

Browser Trends September 2011

September 19

Here is the latest statistics of the browser market. The table is tweaked a bit to make it so that Firefox 4, 5, 6 are combined into one. Since Firefox is doing the rapid release its hard to separate the figures since most of the users update their browsers as new version appears.

Browser              July          August         Change        Relative
IE 9

7.27%

8.05%

0.78%

10.70%

IE 8.0

26.30%

25.68%

-0.62%

-2.40%

IE 7.0

5.45%

5.07%

-0.38%

-7.00%

IE 6.0

3.42%

3.09%

-0.33%

-9.60%

Firefox 4.0+

17.66%

18.10%

0.44%

2.50%

Firefox 3.6-

10.30%

9.39%

-0.91%

-8.80%

Chrome

22.17%

23.17%

1.00%

4.50%

Safari

5.15%

5.18%

0.03%

0.60%

Opera

1.66%

1.67%

0.01%

0.60%

Others

0.62%

0.60%

-0.02%

-3.20%

IE (all)

42.44%

41.89%

-0.55%

-1.30%

Firefox (all)

27.96%

27.49%

-0.47%

-1.70%

This table shows the browser market share estimated for desktop browsers. The ‘change’ column shows the absolute increase or decrease in market share. The ‘relative’ column indicates the proportional change, for example another 9.6% of users have dropped the browser last month.

IE9 displayed another good month. It progress remains steady but there are a couple solutions if Microsoft want massive adoption. First they should offer Windows 7, the hardware, which runs it, installation, migration and training to everyone for free. The second solution, alternatively, release a version of IE9 which is compatible with XP. The other browsers support XP and still manage to offer fancy features, such as hardware acceleration and CSS3 text shadow.

Firefox 4, 5, 6 is seeing increase in their market share but not at the same pace Firefox 1, 2, 3 are dropping. The rapid releases users seem to like but users are becoming frustrated with add-on compatibility failures and memory usage problems on Mac OS. Mozilla is trying to address the issues that they are having but they are losing user and who knows if they will ever come back to Firefox.

Opera and Safari have little to report on since both the browsers made little gains but neither are in the front running for the top market share.

Chrome is last browser to discuss. Chrome just celebrated its third birthday, the browser launched 3 years ago on September 8th. Chrome usage continues to grow at the same pace, 1% per month, sometimes more. If Chrome continues their current trend, Chrome will overtake Firefox in December 2011 and has already occurred in the UK where Chrome has 23.41% lead over Firefox’s 21.75%.

Chrome is recommended by many, its fast simple and stable and updates without a fuss. Firefox has a range of essentials add-ons for power surfing and development. They both have specifics that might make them better than one another but I want your feedback. Which one do you think is better and why?

Google’s New Service Improving Web Page Load Speed

August 8


Google recently released a new tool called Page Speed Service, which will help speed up the load time of web pages. The new service works by automatically taking care of the optimization on the site by rewriting pages and delivering them to users through Google servers. In testing out the new service, Google said that they have measured 25% to 60% faster load times on several sites. Google also has a gallery and a comparison test that users can try for themselves to see if it really works.

A user must sign up and appoint their site a CNAME for their URL on Google’s own servers in order to use the new tool. Page Speed Service then fetches the content from a user’s server, rewrites the page by applying Web Performance Best Practices, and then sends them back to the user via the world-wide Google server. People will then be able to access a Page Speed Service user’s site again, but this time with faster load times.

This service is only offered to a limited number of web developers right now, but you can request access by filling out this form (what form? Hyperlink?). Google said that after a trial period, Page Speed would be released to everyone. However, there are no further details about the costs, except that Google officials state, “pricing will be competitive.” Google rarely comes out with a plan for a pay service, but this is case where they should be able to charge. Do you think you would pay and use the service to optimize your website page speed?

The Buzz of Google +

July 15


Google has created some hype with their new social network called Google +, which is still in the beta phase with an invite-only status for new users. With close to 10 million users already, it is predicted that it could reach 20 million by the end of the weekend (no longer time-relevant. The information I’ve seen says that it’s already at 25 million users). Nevertheless, this social network has become possibly the fastest-growing product in the history of the Web, which is huge for the search-engine giant since their previous social media efforts – Buzz and Wave – didn’t go so well.

Getting started with Google + is just like getting started with Facebook. First, you create a profile with your personal information. The profile allows you to add a tagline, employment information, education, contact info and a photo scrapbook. If you want to upload photos to your new profile, Google lets you link to your Picasa Web Album, which is Google’s version of Flickr.

Once you’ve created your profile, the next step is adding connections. You can use your Gmail account information to find people or search your Google Buzz account, or find people randomly as well. You can also see who has already added you into their connections by using the tab “People Who’ve Added You.” The most important thing to pay attention to when adding people on Google + is creating Circles, which allows you to group people into categories of friends, family, acquaintances and following. The Circles feature also allow you to control which Circles get to see what on your profile or in your updates. For instance, if you posted something that you don’t want your family members to see and is meant solely for your friends, you have the option to leave family members out and create privacy for yourself. This is one thing Facebook doesn’t allow you to do, which means if you update your status, then all of your connections have the ability to see it.

One of the features that has been causing some hype is what Google calls the “Hangout.” This feature allows you to video chat with friends using a webcam. You might question what the big deal is since you can video chat on an iPhone, iPad, or Skype – but with Google +, users are able to video chat with multiple friends at the same time, just as if people really were “hanging out.” This can be a a cool feature for those busy people out there who aren’t able to see their friends as much as they like. Now, all you have to do is go on your Google + account and click the “Hangout” button and chat with all of your close friends.

Another feature that Google + offers is the” +1,” which allows you to “+1” something that you like – just as you would press a “Like” button on Facebook. You can see how many people “+1” the post and view how popular or interesting the post may be. People are even able to see different websites that you have visited by using “+1.” This helps to show which websites people enjoy the most and in-turn suggest sites to others who share the same interests. The “+1” feature has its own tab on the top of your Google + account for users to click and see what other people like.

On Google +, sending updates also allows you to send photos, videos, links or locations based on updates. You can also choose who can view the post by using the “Circles” feature.

This was an insight of how to get started with Google +. If you don’t already have one, then just be patient. Everybody will be able to join soon enough. But, if you already have one, then I ask: What do you think about it? Do you think you will use this more or less than other social networking platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter?

Finally Businesses Can Choose Their Own Web Domain

June 27

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) approved the growth of generic TLDs that will allow companies and organizations to choose and create domains. The domains are about to change substantially from domains such as “.com,” “.net,” “.org,” to whatever domain name companies want – but they will come at a price.

Businesses have the option of choosing names to match their domain to their brand name or their products. For example, if Coca-Cola were to choose a domain name, they might choose something like “.coke” or “.coca-cola.” Businesses that are all about going green might choose to put their domain name at “.green.”

However, the option of changing a domain isn’t going to be cheap. The application fee alone is $185,000 with an annual fee of $25,000. For large corporations, this may not seem so expensive and we will probably see them spend millions on these domains very soon. We might also see a good portion of corporations in the same industry compete for certain domain names, so let the bidding begin.

“ICANN has opened the Internet’s addressing system to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination,” said Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of ICANN. “No one can predict where this historic decision will take us.”

Applications for new generic TLDs will be accepted from Jan. 12, 2012 to April 12, 2012. New domains should be popping up within a year.

CWD Teams up With 51 Fifty Energy Drink

June 23

Chico Web Design is teaming up with 51 Fifty Energy Drink to make a website to display their product catalog, purchase online, and display their event calendar!

Chico Web Design has already helped 51 Fifty Enterprises create 51 Fifty Apparelwhere they have an online ecommerce store for their apperal.