Web 101: Website “Look”

In this weeks edition of our new series Web 101, the basic things you should be looking at if you are thinking about a new website, redesigning your current site or just want to be sure your website is as good as it can be, we look at your websites look and how it relates to your company.
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While we strongly suggest that your website be designed by a professional, your input on the design is essential.

Nobody knows your business like you do. You know what past marketing programs were successful. You know what you competition has done which was successful. Your designer needs to know these things too.

If you’ve been in business a while you probably have a corporate identity. You have a logo, letterhead, brochures all designed to immediately bring your products or services to mind. Your website should be part of that identity.

Even if you don’t have a corporate identity, you probably have a logo and color scheme. It is important that these be communicated to the designer, if possible, with the exact PMS or hexadecimal color numbers.

It is also helpful at this stage to provide the designer with the URLs of some websites which you really like with notes on what it is about each that you find attractive. It is also a good idea to also come up with sites you don’t like. These all give the designer some good guideline to start from.

Once the design is presented, it is up to you to look it over carefully and let the designer know what you like, dislike or just want tweaked a little. That way, the end product will be not only what you need but what you want.

Web 101: To CMS or not to CMS

In this weeks edition of our new series Web 101, the basic things you should be looking at if you are thinking about a new website, redesigning your current site or just want to be sure your website is as good as it can be, we look at Content Management Systems and whether you should use one.

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There are a number of ways to build a website. They are:

  1. The static (HTML) method, the oldest of the methods, it is quite stable and almost unlimited in design capability. It does however require knowledge of the HTML coding language.
  2. The dynamic (database driven) process, used to create webpages “on the fly” using a database and special programming languages. This system is used for sites with a great deal of information such as large catalog and e-commerce sites. Dynamic sites are more expensive to set up but easier to maintain for a large site. They definitely require a well-trained programmer and web designer.
  3. The content management system (CMS), is an online system for publishing and modifying the content of a website. A CMS allows almost anyone to make website updates with a simple online interface from any computer with a browser and internet connection. Users can create new pages, add-edit-delete content, upload new pictures and more. While an inexperienced user can create a website without any professional help using a CMS, the product is not always the most professional looking website on the net. It is highly recommended that the initial setup and design work be done by a professional with the client then taking over the maintenance. CMSs also require occasional updates to the programming which can be tricky but are very important. For data information on CMSs see our blog.

It is important to choose which method you want to use prior to the design phase as each method requires a different approach when creating the website. CityCenter Co. is proficient in all three methods of building websites and can assist you to make the right decision.

Web 101: Website Architecture

In this weeks edition of our new series Web 101, the basic things you should be looking at if you are thinking about a new website, redesigning your current site or just want to be sure your website is as good as it can be, we look at what is actually going to be put on the website.

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Now that you have determined the purpose, audience and products of your website it is time to start determining what you are going to put on it. What are the various pages that need to be there?

This is called the site architecture. It often diagrammed out showing the different links between the pages.
Site Architecture diagram
Now that you know what the pages are, what are you going to say and how are you going to say it?

Here are some ways to make your pages a quick, easy and interesting read, while also making them search engine friendly:

  • Start your page with your most important message. You need to get the visitor’s attention and make them want to keep reading.
  • Your keywords/phrases should be used in the first sentence of the page, as the first words if possible.
  • Don’t just write long pages with lots of information. Use bullet points and pictures to clarify and emphasize your point.
  • Use keywords in your bullet items when you’re making your point. This is not only good for the search engines, readers often scan the bullet points first before reading the rest of the content.
  • Use at least 200 words per page and try to use each keyword 2 or 3 times per 100 words without making your content sound stilted or unnatural.
  • Don’t try to use all of your keywords on one page. It is smarter to optimize each page of the site for one or two words and spread the keywords over different pages.
  • Use your keywords/phrases as a natural part of your content. Just be sure you use them.
  • Highlight (bold) keywords in sentences where applicable

For more about writing a webpage read our article Search Engine Optimization – Page Content.

Web 101: What do you expect from your website?

Welcome back to our new series Web 101, the basic things you should be looking at if you are thinking about a new website, redesigning your current site or just want to be sure your website is as good as it can be. Today we look at measuring your success.

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What criteria are you going to use for the site’s success?

How are you going to determine whether your site is successful or not? This is pretty easy when it is a sales site. How many sales does it make? Does it give you a return on your investment?

But what about a brochure site? How do you determine if the site is doing anything for you? You could count how many people see the site every month. But that wouldn’t measure success. If the site is a brochure for your business then you want people to not only see it but to then contact you about what you do. So the measure of success would be contacts from the website, whether calls, emails or responses from an online form.

If your site is informational, with no other agenda, then visits to the site are valid criteria.

Whatever your criteria is going to be, make sure you know what it is at the beginning of the design. That way the site can be created to achieve that criteria.

Web 101: Who is your website for?

Welcome back to our new series Web 101, the basic things you should be looking at if you are thinking about a new website, redesigning your current site or just want to be sure your website is as good as it can be.

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Lesson Two:
Once you’ve determined the purpose of the site it is essential to determine who your audience will be. You might ask yourself these questions:

  • If you are looking for new clients, who is your ideal client?
  • If it’s an informational site, who is the information aimed at? What will they do with it?
  • Who is your target market? Men? Women? Children? What age group? Etc…

This data is important when writing the site content, choosing the images to be used and in all the aspects of your marketing. A site that sells chainsaws most likely will be geared towards men. It will feature pictures of big burly men cutting through large logs. While a site about breast cancer awareness would be written and designed for women and feature very different pictures.

So think about it. Whether you’re just starting a new site or looking to improve the one you already have, take a good look at who you want to see your website and how best to make it attractive and useful to them.

Web 101: What is your website for?

This is the first in our new series Web 101, the basic things you should be looking at if you are thinking about a new website, redesigning your current site or just want to be sure your website is as good as it can be.

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Lesson One:
The first question a web designer should ask is, whether working on a brand new site or reviewing a site for redesign, is “What is the website for?” Your designer needs to know the purpose of the site. Is it for selling a product or service? A brochure site? An educational site? An information portal with links to other sites? Or…? Whatever the purpose it is important so that the site is created with that purpose in mind.

A sales site is very different from an educational site. A sales site has calls to action. It guides the visitor to the product or products available and tells them how to purchase them. An education site gives the visitor lots of information but does not necessarily ask him or her to do anything with it.

Whatever the purpose for the site, to be effective, it must be designed with that purpose in mind. This applies not only when starting a new website, but when evaluating your current website.

We recommend doing this first step even if you’ve had your website for years. Figure out the purpose of the site and then see if the site meets that purpose.

Next lesson: Who is your website for?

Using WordPress? Is everything up-to-date?

Lately we have been having clients contact us about problems with their WordPress websites. They had various functions not working, or displaying incorrectly and asked that we look into the problem.

One for one, the problem traced back to WordPress, or one of the plugins, being out of date. WordPress is constantly being updated to add new functionality and make it more secure.

The plugins which supply additional functionality, such as calendars, contact forms, slideshows and image galleries, need to be constantly updated too. If they don’t then they might stop functioning altogether. Or worse, they might create conflicts which can bring the site down. In the worst case, the failure to update to current versions may allow a hacker to take over your website and deface it or serve up malware.

We are in no way trying to scare you away from using WordPress, in fact we recommend it to many of our clients. We are, however, strongly recommending that all aspects of the site are kept up-to-date. That being said, it has to be done carefully.

  • Check if your site needs updating: Simply go to the dashboard and click the updates menu. This will take you to the WordPress Updates page where you will see what needs to be updated.
    Wp Updates page
  • Check to be sure your host meets the minimum requirements for the update: the current requirements for WordPress are PHP 5.2.4 or greater, MySQL 5.0 or greater, and mod_rewrite Apache module. If not, you’ll need to ask them to make these upgrades.
  • Backup the entire site: Backups ensure that you have an immediate action plan should something go wrong. You need to backup both the database (there are several good plugins for this) and all the files. Especially if your site has been customized.
  • Turn off caching: If you are using a caching plugin be sure and turn it off while doing the changes. Then turn it back on when you are finished. That way you will be able to see any changes the updates make and spot problems faster.
  • Update themes and plugins: Be sure all your plugins and the active theme are up to date. It is also a good idea to update the latest WordPress default theme just in case. This can be done from the WordPress Dashboard Update menu
  • Update WordPress: Click the Automatic Update button and let it happen.
  • Reactivate caching.
  • Check your site: Take the time to look the site over and be sure everything is working right. Check a few pages, some posts, and any special functionality to be sure everything looks right.

While all this sounds like a lot of work it’s not that bad once you’ve done it a few times. Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable or don’t have the time, CityCenter Co. will be happy to do it for you.

Survey for Effectiveness

Want to make your website more effective? It’s easy if you know what your visitors want. But how do you find out?

One of the best ways to find out what your clients want is to ask them to take a short online survey about your business, your products or whatever it is you want to know. There are several online survey companies which you can use to create a really professional looking survey. An example of these is SurveyMonkey.com.

It is also a good idea to offer some sort of incentive to intice people to take the survey. We at CityCenter Co. offer a small magnetic flashlight with our name on it and the chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

It can be very valuable to know what your clients want to find on your website. Online surveys are a great way to find out.

Want to find out more about online surveys? Try taking ours. We’ll even give you a free gift and a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Start here!

What about free build-it-yourself websites?

We have recently been asked by a couple of people what we think of the free, build-your-own website solutions which are being promoted on TV and by spam. Two which were mentioned were Weebly.com and 1and1.com. So we decided to do some research.

Both sites offer proprietary content management systems (CMS) with which someone can build a website. They each offer a number of templates which you can work with and a variety of functionality you can add, either for free or at a nominal charge. Once you have created your site, it is hosted at the company you used.

The advantages are, of course, it is cheap and easy. Weebly.com even offers a limited free version. Any of the systems we looked at will create a simple website.

There are, however disadvantages which, in our opinion, outweigh the advantages.

  1. The systems are proprietary. That means you are stuck with the company forever. You cannot move the site to another host if the host decides to change the pricing structure.
  2. Your site will disappear if the company discontinues its service, or goes under. We have a current client who used a proprietary CMS and the company has since disappeared. We have kept the site going but it has several glitches which we cannot fix as we do not have access to the underlying code and there is no one to ask.
  3. You are limited to the design and functionality offered by the host. If you want to do something which they do not offer, you are out of luck.
  4. Although it may look easy, putting a website together will definitely take a considerable amount of time. And you will most likely want some modifications or features that simply are not possible.

We, at CityCenter, prefer using an open source CMS like WordPress, or Joomla!, or Drupal, which can be moved to another host without the loss of data or design. As they are open source, there are developers working on new design templates and functionality which are then available to you. WordPress, for instance, has literally thousands of design templates and functionality plugins available at little or no extra cost.

There are also a plethora of books and on-line tutorials available to assist you with creating and maintaining the site. And with open source solutions there is professional help (like we provide at CityCenter)  to assist you in creating a professional looking site which you can then maintain without further assistance.

Which CMS is right for you?

There are many different CMSs available. Many are proprietary to a certain firm or webhost and many are open to anyone. We recommend the latter as it does not tie you down to one company with your website under their control. The three most popular (and free!) CMSs available to anyone across the web are WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal. Which system is best for you depends on your specific needs.

If you are interested in using a content management system for your website your first step (after hiring CityCenter Co. to do the conversion) is to determine which CMS is right for you.

WordPress: It has available, an excellent system which provides, through third party developers, a large variety of easy to add functionality such as photo galleries, contact forms, slideshows, calendars, banner ads and much more. Examples of WordPress sites we have created are www.fedde.com, www.rosebowl-renovations.com, and www.melindalee.com.

Joomla!: This is a more robust CMS for larger, more complex sites. It has a great deal of functionality built in or available through third party developers and can grow handle almost any sized website. Examples of Joomla sites CityCenter Co. has worked on are www.skatepasadena.com and www.descansogardens.org.

Drupal: Another powerful CMS, Drupal is an excellent choice for websites that rely heavily on a database for dynamic content. Many government (such as WhiteHouse.gov) and entertainment sites are built with Drupal. An example of a Drupal site we designed is www.uppcolleges.com.

If you are interested in discussing which solution is right for your website, feel free to contact CityCenter Co. at 626.449.0100.