Friday, 18 October 2013 13:28

Digital Analytics Fundamentals: Passed

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The Google Analytics Academy has introduced a new course (this is the fundamental one - more advanced to follow). Anyway - I passed it earlier and figured I should probably put it on my poor neglected blog (working on something good for the blog in the meantime though - stay tuned!). Digital Analytics Certificate
Thursday, 01 August 2013 17:06

Website Design

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Web Design

When I first meet up with a potential client, I'll always ask them to show me some sites with designs that they already like, so I can get a feel for the sort of thing they're looking for.

For me, interpreting a client's vision of what they'd like their new site to look like without that sort of guidance and visual signposting becomes next to impossible. The good thing is that we don't need to know the actual visual web design brief to get started - we never start with how it'll look, always with how it will match your online customer base.

Before we start building a site, we work on online market research and structural planning to ensure that each page will target a term that is used by the client's target market - be it specific to the service or product they provide, or have a more informational feel to it.

This type of research lets us make sure that the site is actually going to be useful, and is going to match the intent of the client's market, so the term 'website design' for us is much more than just picking a colour scheme - it's about how we'll split out every aspect of your business to ensure if you can provide it, the people searching for it will find out that you do. It's about ensuring that you provide all the information a potential customer needs in order to decide to make that first contact and get in touch or make a purchase, and it's about showing off your expertise in such a manner that the site becomes an authority within your market.

Web Development

The vast majority of people use the term 'web design' as an umbrella term that incorporates the actual development of a site. When we're building a site however, they're fairly distinct parts of the process.

This wasn't always the case - used to be that design and content were intertwined, and as such, whenever you wanted to change a bit of text on your site, your website designer had to adjust the design elements of the site to suit. This was pretty time intensive stuff, so when cascading style sheets (CSS) and content management systems arrived on the scene allowing us to separate content and styling, it heralded a new era where users could add or edit content without needing to know their way round html or photoshop.

So when we look at a website build process, we start with the planning - the keyword research, structural plan and content generation, than we consider the platform - content management system, dedicated e-commerce or hybrid, and we create a database for the content and start to create the structural elements that contribute to the functionality of the site itself. The flexibility of content management systems and their ability to be restyled while keeping the same content means they can stay fresh with regular updates, and our clients can add news & blogs or edit page content easily, and for that reason, we simply don't do website design for static websites anymore - everything is content managed.

There are multiple factors that affect the design of a website once we understand the market and the platform - what do your competitors do that you like, what aspects can we include to maximise conversion of traffic into leads when that traffic arrives, and what is the best way to guide users to the desired action. All of this is dependent on the online marketing goals of the business itself. Are we looking for a quick sale, an enquiry, or raising awareness about a cause or brand? All these aspects are important, which is why the 'which sites do you like the look of' question, really just gives us a direction - a lot of the time, we can improve on what we're shown as the sites may be aesthetically pleasing, but that isn't necessarily imply that they are commercially successful.

Successful web design is much more than a visual process; it's the development of a carefully researched and constructed market-led tool that achieves specific goals. Goals that are usually in line with an organisations overall marketing strategy. As such, you should also be considering how your existing marketing strategy would integrate into your site, but that's something we'll look at in another blog.

Thanks for reading,

Mark

Friday, 26 July 2013 11:43

Building an optimised multilingual site.

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Ingles Agora - Multilingual Site

Inglês Agora is a site for a language school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and has been my introduction into multilingual site design and the giant pile of additional work that doing a multilanguage site involves.

There are shortcuts to this sort of thing - you can just install a google translate widget and let Google translate the content itself, which might be fine for businesses that don't have language as a core aspect of their offering, and are just looking to allow a basic understanding of their services internationally.

In this case however, the site needed to be fully optimised in both English and Portuguese - and given that Google's translation service, while excellent, is far from perfect, that meant unique, authoritative, optimised copy for each service and supporting pages in both languages. Not to mention translations of all structural aspects, meta descriptions, page titles and so on, and so on. Google translated content could be used as a starting point perhaps, but this site needs to sell in both languages, and so all the Portuguese content needed to be written by a fluent speaker.

The workload was almost the same as two site builds - although there's only one design, the amount of time ensuring that the various language options work as intended took up a considerable share of the development schedule. Although I'd hope this would get faster now I've done it and am familiar with the intricacies of this type of site, it takes a great deal of planning and tracking to ensure every aspect of a site is mirrored and associated correctly in another language.

The Platform

We went with Joomla 3 as the platform, natively responsive thanks to twitter's bootstrap, and as it turns out, very logically set up for multilingual sites.

Once the system is told that multiple languages will be used, and the system language packs are installed (translates the standard Joomla system content), you can select a default language. For development, I used the English version, once dev was completed, I moved it to Brazilian Portuguese.

The site detects the location of the user and presents a language choice automatically based on that - of course, the user has the option to choose the alternative if they'd prefer.

Every menu option must be associated with it's alternative language counterpart. As must every article. In development, I duplicated articles and added a language-dependent suffix to everything I created so I wouldn't lose track of which was which - Translating these titles into their Portuguese counterparts was the last thing I did.

The blog is the only thing that stays the same no matter which language you're viewing in. It'll show blog entries in both English and Portuguese, as that fits the nature of the language school.

From an optimisation perspective, we have solid, authoritative, original content throughout in both languages. Title tags and meta-descriptions are all translated (individual title tags for every menu item adds a bit of work, as usually I'll have a fairly standard umbrella term title tag that I automatically append to the page title itself).

I added some schema microdata, which admittedly uses a productontology link to an English language school definition - I'm going to wait and see if an alternative from the Portuguese wikipedia should be introduced for that side of the site - I shouldn't think that'll be an issue yet though.

Joomla 3 builds in nice language alternate Href links in the header of each page, which saved me a ton of work too.

So now the site is live and working well - we have the primary social network pages set up and integrated, and it's on to the content strategy - which will hold the key to the site really performing. There's some reasonable competition for the target keywords, but nothing outstanding, so I'm looking forward to seeing just how well this site will rank on google.com.br.

Obrigado pela leitura!

tudo de melhor,

Mark

Friday, 21 June 2013 19:20

Why you should consider a theme

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If you move within circles of web designers, you might sometimes get the impression that using a template as a basis for a website design is a bad thing.

I guess it's maybe the equivalent of choosing a new house- you can draw up a plan, hire an architect, buy a plot of land, dig the foundations and place the first brick, or you can choose a house with a structure you like and then redecorate, maybe add an extension. Think of the time/labour implications of doing either.

The typical objection to a template site would be that you don't want your site to look like anyone else's. Given the clean look of a lot of modern web design, and the fact that the choice of template designs and layouts available today is massive, you'll only need to visit a site like themeforest to get a general idea of the variety available to you, and additionally, there are many businesses such as Rockettheme which specialise in templates for specific website platforms (content management or e-commerce).

As such, the likelihood of you finding something that will both suit your taste and (once customised) be unique in your online market is very high. This saves us a lot of design time (interpretation, alterations) which we can put towards optimisation, social network integration and content.

The best themes are also very flexible, so typically we can use as much, or as little of the theme design you choose.

It's not the best choice for blue chip companies, because they have the budget for full time development and site management, but for the vast majority of small to medium sized businesses it makes a lot of sense.

  • Because we save time coding the way a menu should work, we're able to properly optimise the site
  • Because we know you already like the layout, we can start work on content faster.
  • Because the theme is already responsive to mobiles and tablets, we can get cracking on your social networks.

The truth is that the vast majority of sites are built on a theme of some type. Web developers typically have a library of structures we can use for specific layouts, and banks of code for slideshows and menu structures are available online. Even if you aren't using a commercial theme, it's unlikely you are getting something coded from scratch.

It's also worth considering how many times you've left a site because you recognised it was built on a theme versus the number of times you've left a site because the design or layout was bad.

To sum up, using a theme for a website means you can get a better optimised online marketing tool for a price that is the equivalent of a new site design and build from a traditional web design agency.

You can see the theme this site is built on here. Have a browse through some of their other templates, we use them a lot.

We still offer bespoke design where it suits the client, but this approach will usually be the best choice for any business which wants to get a professional looking, well optimised site online fast, and on a small business budget.

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